Parents DO a lot of things. Make the breakfast, make the lunch. Brush the hair, wash the clothes. Start the dishwasher. Listen to sounded-out words. Shoo the kids outside for fresh air. Call them back in for dinner.
Sometimes I like to remind myself: Yes. This IS what parents do. You’re on the right track. Yup. This is it. Keep going, one foot in front of the other.
When Sadie spent a recent night throwing up every hour, I may have said it a little more grimly. THIS IS WHAT PARENTS DO, I thought as I hurried down the stairs with the sick bowl, washed it clean, and brought it back up. (I find it helps to be dramatically resigned to one’s fate, at 3:00AM.)
I was doing so well. I was doing everything that needed doing. I was… getting very little sleep. I was rushing down the stairs over and over again with that bowl so I could clean it and get back upstairs (and back to bed), and after awhile it seemed like a good idea to try to go faster. And faster. And faster, until I was less “rushing” and more “falling in the right direction.” And then I was actually falling. Falling hard on the stairs, landing flat on my back and sending a bowl of vomit flying through the air.
It felt like someone walloped me with a two-by-four. Which they kind of did, if by “someone” you mean “gravity” and by “two-by-four” you mean “stairs.” Gravity walloped me in the back of the head with stairs. YES. TRUE STORY.
That is not a thing parents do. Or rather it IS, but only if they are uncoordinated, and they’ve been up all night, and it’s now daybreak but not really light enough to see where they’re going.
As I was lying there with the wind knocked out of me, I was not thinking “THIS IS WHAT PARENTS” anything. I was thinking OW. And THAT PROBABLY WOKE EVERYONE. (It did.) And OW. (Yes.)
Parents don’t often get to say things like, “Mommy has to rest, guys. Remember? Mommy has whiplash.” Not often. But SOMETIMES.
It didn’t matter that for the rest of that day, I did not make the lunch or brush the hair or read the stories or remind anyone to share or tuck anyone into bed.
All those DOINGS—it turns out they’re not so important, on their own. They’re not the main event. They’re just little pieces of our BEINGS.
Being the ones who love without reservation. Being present when our kids need our presence. Being ready to offer them grace. Being ourselves, and living out what we believe: how to love, how to help, how to be gracious and kind, how to be brave and faithful, how to figure out who you are and what you’re meant to do—and then do it.
That’s it. That’s my list of what parents really do.
It’s deceptively short.
“Vomit duty” isn’t exactly on there, but it kind of is.
Because being a parent is just part of being a person. Being a good parent is the same as being a good person. And being a parent lets you practice being a better person. It’s a path. It’s a practice. We’re never going to Get There. We’re always going to be working at it, I think.
Sometimes working at it means cleaning up the vomit. And sometimes working at it means really paying attention while someone tells a story that goes on longer than most college commencement speeches. So there is some doing involved. But it’s the BEING that matters in the end.
Being yourself. Doing what you can. Loving your babies along the way. That’s what we’re going to do.