Benediction for parents of young children
Blessed am I for the crying. Really. Blessed am I for that very first piercing wail, for the sniveling and blubbering, for the anger and drama, for the whimpering and singing, for the yodels in sleep. Blessed am I for these triumphs of health and vitality, these clear, if grating gifts of communion and trust. Blessed am I for this silken skin, these pinching fingernails, these wide eyes. Blessed am I for this full diaper, this crusted nose, this spitty bib—life is being lived, this is its smell.
Blessed am I for the food I will prepare, for the bites that go into our mouths and for the bits that land on the ground. Blessed am I to have a dog, or if I do not, blessed am I for the opportunity to get down on my hands and knees three times a day and wipe up, noticing how big and strange the world is from down below. I give thanks for friends and family who cook well and share the spoils, for leftovers, frozen veggies and takeout. Blessed am I for my helpful appliances, for the electricity they need, for running water, toilets, washing machines. Blessed am I that in my worst moments I can still give thanks for my advantages, or at least shortly afterward, or at least now.
Blessed am I for help, for those who share the burdens of my caretaking and for the partner, friends or family who take care of me. Blessed am I for my own strength, innovation and creativity as a parent but also for public television, free libraries, highly infectious mall play areas (which ultimately enhance immune systems) and for public parks.
Blessed am I for the swings in the park, for the queer and lovely snow, for the lively leaves, for the warm grass, for the fascinating mud. Blessed am I for rain boots, mittens, sunscreen, hats, tricycles and wagons, balls, sticks, slides, and all the other little children who are more energetic and fun than I am. Blessed am I for these children’s parents, for their helpfulness and warmth, for the times they kindly keep their mouths shut.
Blessed am I for wheels—whatever child-conveyance they’re attached to. Blessed am I for carseats, seatbelts, safety harnesses and helmets, even if their straps twist maliciously and their buckles give me blood blisters. Blessed am I for doctors and nurses, even when they are wrong or rushed, and for band aids and antiseptic and tissues. Blessed am I for snacks. Blessed am I for a voice to sing with. Blessed am I for ears to hear invented languages and first words.
Blessed am I for bathtime and bedtime, for bubbles and squirt toys, for stories and clean diapers and stuffed animals and tired eyes. Blessed am I for the patience it takes to close these eyes. Blessed am I for the sleeping world, for evidence that nighttime is not playtime. Blessed am I for nightlights and monitors, for swings, slings and rocking chairs and vehicular transport, if necessary. Blessed am I for the moon and stars, for city lights and recorded classical music, for late night television programming and morning caffeine.
Blessed am I for chairs, for the sofa, for a bed.
Blessed am I for these moments of quiet.
Blessed am I for the noise.
It’s probably telling that I had no interest in women’s studies in college. I was so young, so ambitious, and felt so many avenues open to me that studying only half the world seemed limiting. My disinterest was a sign of progress, I thought, suggesting that this kind of scope was a thing of the past, or more accurately a thing for those who were still struggling to have their identities and choices accepted by the mainstream.
I didn’t think I had one—a gender agenda.
Then I got married and gave up my job so my husband could take a better one. We got pregnant and I gave birth in a hospital where hopes for a natural childbirth were laughed at. I breastfed that baby in a country where it is still uncommon among the middle and upper class. I struggled to find childcare that did not offend my sense of what is fair and responsible as an employer and human being. I took on wholeheartedly the management and maintenance of a family and began to feel my identity slipping, sometimes in the direction of a wiser, kinder, more empathetic self but usually in the direction of a harried, brittle, lonely one. I cried a lot, thinking about my mom, the decades of meals and laundry she’d waited through until she could take up painting again.
One night, sick to death of the inflexible schedule of meals, baths and bedtimes I had constructed, I stayed up late watching a movie, reading books, thinking and writing. The time alone was narcotic; I couldn’t couldn’t stop using it. Just as I was crawling into bed with my clothes on, drunk on the life of the mind –the baby began to cry. I was tired past the point of reason but I had done it to myself. For my own stupidity, for my selfishness, for my utter indulgence, I slapped myself across the face.
And that’s how I discovered my gender agenda.
If you haven’t read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, you might want to check it out.