I met a man named Reinhardt on my way home from the playground this morning. He walked up beside me and said that I looked happy.
I was wearing a smile.
“You look at peace with motherhood, confident,” he said.
I had to laugh. He caught me on a morning when I had slept well the night before.
He said, “Your little one is at peace because you’re at peace.”
I looked at my youngest and noticed she was sitting quietly in the stroller. But it was because she was tired. She had spent an hour running around the playground, chasing leaves and bubbles and practicing going up and down the slide. Surely my state of mind was irrelevant.
Reinhardt was in the mood to talk, and I hadn’t realized it, but so was I.
We connected over that common ground of parenthood. He was an older man with grandkids, and we began to talk about the decision to have children. It wasn’t much of a choice as me and my peers would define the word. In his day in Austria, it’s what young married couples did. I suppose in his day it’s what all married couples did everywhere.
So I told him about the time when my husband and I drew a pro and con chart to help us decide whether to have children. We were 30, and quite naturally for us the cons outweighed the pros, so we scrapped the idea. We decided it was best to continue sleeping-in and traveling and working at our leisure. Who in their right minds would want to interrupt that for kids!
He asked what changed, and I said that five years later my husband thought we’d regret it if we didn’t. I said that I had only wanted a dog, but then on some level I suppose I knew my husband was right, and so “we did it”.
Reinhardt said that even if you read all the books and talk with other parents, you could never fully understand the impact that children will make. He said it was better this way. The world would be a lot less populated if we did.
We went silent then for awhile.
I thought of my friend who adopted three kids. All at once. I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of her first sleepless night. Pregnancy prepares you for a lot: uncomfortable days followed by broken sleep at night, the feeling that your body isn’t yours anymore (which is a precursor for your life not being yours anymore), and the slow anticipation of change. There’s a physical build-up that you don’t get if you adopt.
She went from one night of sleep to never being able to sleep the same again. I have to laugh because I know, the way all parents know, that at some point she had the thought, “what was I thinking?” Because we all have it. We are all clueless about the change that we’re about to undertake. Yet we do it anyway. Because we’re emotionally ready, and a pro and con chart can’t account for that.
Reinhardt broke the silence by speaking of his sons. They are 30 and 32, and each have two sons of their own. He said that at my children’s ages, they are cute and fun, but the real joy begins when we can reason with one another and speak on a variety of subjects.
He smiled, and there was pride on his face and in his voice when he spoke of their accomplishments. One is a diplomat in Hanoi and the other lives in the US, real estate I think.
He said that it was fun revisiting parenting as a grandparent. He gave a hearty chuckle and then patted me on the back. “Because I can go ride my bike when I want to. The hard part belongs to someone else now.”
I thought of my in-laws who are coming to visit next week. Is that how Oma and Pops feel when they see my oldest having a tantrum? Do they laugh because they can get up and go for a walk or go in their room and avoid disciplining?
I wondered about the joy he had when he spoke of his grandchildren. Was his love for them as intense as the love he had for his sons? That thought frightened me. It was a new kind of vulnerability that’s beyond my understanding right now.
I know not all parents experience the kind of relationship Reinhardt has with his kids. Sometimes as children we are slow to forgive our parents. We stifle and sabotage the relationship unknowingly because we don’t understand what they’ve gone through.
I was in the pool with my eldest who was about a year at the time. I was talking with another mom about how we feel closer to our parents now. It was at that moment I realized how much my mom loved me. I felt humbled. And so very small. There was not a worry that I’ve had that she’d not already contemplated. I also felt empowered by her love.
For all the books published, there are no hard and fast rules to this thing called parenting. We wing it. It’s a journey of trials and errors. It’s a guessing game. The only true thing, the only thing that is consistent and unwavering and reliable is our love.