I love my son but I hate being a parent.
I’m not surprised by this. I loved working with the French elementary school kids I helped teach English years ago, and they adored me. I chuckled at just how bratty the three-year-old cherub doppelganger I used to babysit could be, even as we’d play together with his toys on cold winter afternoons. I watched five siblings and half-siblings grow up, and loved at least one of them almost like he was my son.
There are abstract things I love about kids. There are parts of me that have never grown up. There will probably always be a nine-year-old Alysa in me, full of dreams and hopes, irrational fears and expectations of the world. And I love her, too.
But I never wanted kids of my own.
Still, my son was planned. He was a choice I made, for a myriad of reasons, and grounded in the fact that I knew I would love him. And while there are times when being a mom makes me sob or scream, of course I love him.
I say “of course,” not to reassure you, but to simply express the kind of love I feel the best way I can. The minute my son was born, of course I loved him. It’s a natural love, something I don’t have to work at, something that’s always there, even when other, harder feelings seem to dwarf it. But there it is, like a cherished object in my pocket, sure and familiar and right. As someone who questions or frets over just about everything, I value immeasurably the few things I know to be true, and this is one of them.
But when you take that love out of it, when you look at my life and all of the restrictions and demands and drama (especially now, in the toddler stage), I feel like I’ve failed at everything I wanted for myself. I often feel drained and dull, or filled with a low-burning angry flame that was never inside of me before.
It doesn’t help that my relationship isn’t a particularly supportive one. Yes, I’ll admit that. It didn’t bother me as much before, but now, alone in a foreign country with a kid to raise, it bothers me in ways I can’t express.
Going out can be a challenge for us. Getting a toddler, even one eager to take a walk or take the Metro, into his clothes or coat, can become the unexpected source of a tantrum. And sometimes I find myself snapping. Inside, I want to burst into tears. Being able to simply go somewhere is something I can no longer do. And then my husband shuts down, or yells his piece. It must be easy to know when we’re leaving if you live in our building.
Outside, things usually get better. Especially for my son. He loves looking at the world around him, loves splashing in puddles or walking along straight lines and pretending they’re train tracks, or spotting planes or the moon in the sky. He loves the Metro, or anywhere there are people and things to see. He loves people. “Bonjour, Madame”, is his new thing to say as we take our seats next to a stranger.
Between my husband and I, there is often tension, and inside myself, there’s also tension simply because of what could go wrong. Will my son continue being the delightful little chap he usually is? Or will he suddenly throw a tantrum? What will set him off? I think of times we’ve had to drag him out of parks or libraries, screaming because he couldn’t take someone else’s toy (even though he had toys of his own with him). Or how, during a puppet show, he roared about not being able to keep petting the hamster a little girl had snuck in with her (what are the odds of that even happening?). So what will happen this time? The question pulls at the small of my back. Many years ago, a friend’s mother used to compliment me on my good posture. Now, I feel I walk the earth hunched over.
This weekend, we ended up at one of the duck ponds in the Tuileries Garden. We took out some bread and cookies I’d packed and started to feed the birds. The ducks quacked their bills, but were no match for the seagulls, who flew heedlessly at us, swirling around in a cloud of flapping feathers white as the statues in the garden and the clouds that spotted the grey sky overhead. Pigeons sat on the edge of the fountain or on the ground near our chairs, mostly calmly waiting. Strange little birds whose black feathers were streaked with gold made pitiful sounds to catch our attention (and crumbs). Two large ravens stopped by. I tossed one a crumb and he expertly caught it, as if he were merely participating in an act we’d been rehearsing for a long time. I did it again and again and he turned in a flawless performance each time.
And there were the three of us, often at war, laughing, sometimes even shrieking with delight as the birds swooped around us, or vied for our attention.
I found myself back to where I’d started, the beaches of my childhood. Is it strange to say that though the seagulls were far from the sea, I smelled the sea in the air and even in my hair somehow?
My son often laughs like this when he feeds ducks, but this time something spread through to us all. Happiness flew into our hearts with fearless wings and made us forget what had come and what could be. Anger, frustration, anxiousness vanished like crumbs.
Like all good moments, I’ll try to keep this one in my heart. When things get hard, I’ll think, “Send in the birds.” If they don’t appear on their own, I’ll try to conjure them in my mind, and hope that they can make me lighter.