I’ve tangled with this issue for a while, the impossibility of describing what it is to become a parent. It’s much like explaining three dimensions to a two-dimensional being, or explaining quantum physics and multi-dimensional space-time fabric to a drunk frat boy. Maybe it’s my insatiable need to be understood, to translate complex ideas into understandable prose, but I have to try. So here goes.
Humans are naturally self-centered. You feel this especially as a child and act accordingly, which is why childish behavior is congruent with selfish behavior. Moving into adulthood some people can transcend selfish desires and become very giving people. These are the advanced souls who hand out food at homeless shelters, sell all their belongings to move to India and build wells in dusty villages, and volunteer at animal shelters. But these people run against the grain and most of us still worry about ourselves first and everyone else second. Don’t feel guilty, this is an instinct for self-preservation and a fact that you live in your own head.
Then you have a baby and everything turns upside down. Babies are tyrannical in their selfishness. They never care if you’re tired, sick, or unhappy. They are pure Id, demanding and devouring without cease. This is when the transition hits you like a kick to the gut: you’re in charge of someone who doesn’t care about your needs. Either you dig down deep and find the Provider in your soul, or you become one of those horrifying neglectful parents we see on the news. Amazingly, most people find it in themselves to release their white-knuckled grip on self, and whoa baby, when you do it’s an incredible rush. Your soul has done the most basic thing known to life in the universe: subdivision and growth. It happens on a cellular level and when you’re raising your own child you feel it intrinsically.
So what’s it like to be a parent? Maybe it’s pet ownership times a thousand. It’s also stress times a thousand. I’m like a border collie now because I can never rest until my lamb is safe and under my watch, and I know my task until I die is to protect and nurture. Maybe that little high school project where you carry an egg around for a week isn’t that far off the mark. But in real life the egg keeps growing and amazing you. My daughter is an unfolding lotus, and I’ll sit in the garden of my life watching this flower until I close my eyes for the last time.
Parenthood is putting yourself second. Parenthood is the exhilaration of flight. Parenthood is growing up again. Parenthood is drinking from the cup of love and knowing it will never empty.