I mean, it is only natural to seek out friendship with fellow parents (fellow caffeine addicts) and partner together in sharing the ups and downs of this new job that epically transformed both your lives - to commiserate together and compare notes on which vegetable your kid isn't eating, pat each other on the back for making it through another sleepless night, and even (dare I say) ask advice when you are surely at the end of your rope and none of the ten books on your nightstand seem to hold the answer of how to get your toddler potty trained. We need each other, no doubt.
But, sometimes, once in a while, it is nice to sit across from someone completely outside of my new peer group and stare into their lives. Work. Dating. Drama. Freedom. Talking with a non-parent friend can be as good as a rerun of Felicity and a bowl of popcorn. It helps me vicariously get a taste of those long lost chapters of my life that I now view with such optimism.
Of course, at the time, drama with a boyfriend or a new conflict on the job with a co-worker was ten times more miserable than the worst day I can imagine with my babies at home (well, maybe not ten times). But, when I was able to be more central to the focus of my own attention, everything around me seemed to hold so much weight. And now - well, if it doesn't effect my kids, then it probably doesn't bother me. Honestly, give me a secure and protected nap time for my toddler, get my baby to eat her rice cereal gruel, and I'm a happy camper for the most part (sleep-deprived, but happy). This is all to say - I love my non-parent friends. They bring me joy and cheerfulness (and sometimes dinner!) and an appreciation of the memories I hold for that time in my life.
Before I had kids, I would have considered myself one of those women who was pretty accurate on my expectations of parenthood. I suppose this makes up about 99% of pregnant women out there. But, oh how there is a vast canyon (a gorge) between what you think you expect...and reality.
I truly had everything going for me - I had 7 nephews and nieces, I had been a nanny throughout the years in my twenties. I had even been the caretaker of premie newborn twins overnight. Yes, there were some things that I totally understood and could anticipate. Other gaps in my knowledge I attempted to fill with books, doctor's visits, even a twelve-week birthing class with my husband. That is to say, if there was a way to get my hands on a piece of knowledge in preparation for parenthood, I found it, swallowed it, and digested it until I was sick (or was that just morning sickness?)
Still, it wasn't until we brought that bundle of joy home with us that we began to fully be able to answer the question that was truly on our minds for the full nine-month journey leading up to it: What the heck do you do all day with a baby?
Oh, sweet, naive, free-as-a-little-bird non-parents. Nothing can prepare you for this answer. The unpredictability of every day since bringing home that baby has only grown - much like the baby herself! I won't drone on and on about how we fill each and every hour (otherwise, what would I have to write about next week?) But, rather, I'd like to submit the following letter...a letter to the parent-friends I knew, back when I was that same non-parent friend coming by to gab about my latest drama...
Dear Parent-Friends of my past,
I had no idea what hard workers you are! Oh my. I have greatly underestimated your day, your endurance, your sheer fortitude in perseverance. I'm sorry that I would get frustrated when you would interrupt our conversations on the phone to tend to your kids. I'm sorry it was super annoying to me that you would alter between baby-talking to your child and then turn to me with a half-listening ear as if there wasn't a kid screaming at you.
I'm sorry I didn't help you fold laundry or do dishes when I came over for dinner. I'm sorry that I would sit and watch TV while you put your kids to bed and I wouldn't even pause the show for you until you came back into the room - and little did I know you were trying to do the speedy-to-bed version of their favorite storybook just so you could spend a few more minutes with me. I'm sorry that I would talk on and on about myself and my life drama and expect you to give me a complete analysis full of sound advice, while I wouldn't even bother to ask you how your day was...or, if I did, I would roll my eyes as if your story about your child losing a library book or not getting their nap was of lesser importance than my "real" issues.
I'm sorry that I didn't offer to babysit more often and for free and without expectation. Did I tell you that I value looking at your life and your marriage as a wonderful example? I'm sorry I didn't support you more tangibly, especially in exchange for all the words of wisdom you freely offered me. I'm sorry I didn't appreciate what you did all day. I'm sorry that I actually thought you had one of the easiest jobs simply because you didn't leave the house all that often. I'm sorry I didn't realize you didn't leave the house all that often because it would take half an army to get you out the door on time - and I'm sorry I would get annoyed when you did arrive late if we met at my place instead.
I'm sorry I didn't bring the outside world to you more often. I'm sorry I didn't ask you more intelligent questions...that simply because I saw you sing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" 8,000 times to your child at bath time I figured you wouldn't be the person to ask about the latest crisis in Africa or what a certain Scripture meant. I'm sorry I didn't think of you as an equal breadwinner in your home simply because your husband has an "employer".
I'm sorry I didn't play more fervently with your children when I came over so that they would sleep better for you that night - because, there I was thinking I knew what exhaustion was since I had stayed up talking with my friends all night. I'm sorry I feared for your style when you would meet me at the door in pajama bottoms. I totally judged you and thought you were being lazy. I'm sorry if I made you feel worse just by showing you how cute my new manicure was. I'm sorry I didn't send you out for a manicure, right there in your pajama bottoms.
I'm sorry I didn't realize what a triumph you were doing with your kids - really, truly, stellar work. They are kind and funny kids and I actually like them a lot, and their clothes almost always matched alright. That was all you - making sure they were polite and in order - and there I was thinking the whole time it might be sort of nice to have a kid someday if they came out like that - easy, polite, and matching and all.
I'm sorry I waited until now to tell you that you are a huge reason I decided to have children at all - and I think of you every time, every day, when I question whether or not I'm actually fit to be the person in charge of these little humans who teeter on the brink of outsmarting me by the hour.
Thanks for humoring me and encouraging me and inspiring me. Thanks for feeding me and making time for me and offering me a glimpse into a future that I can now be confident in living out. I hope I can extend the same amount of grace and wisdom (even an ounce?) to the non-parent friends I now have (Lord Bless 'em).
In all sincerity,