Tonight, after a typically trying pre-shower routine, The Who said to me, while I rinsed his hair, “When I’m a daddy, I think I will know how to be gentle when I wash my kid’s hair because I will remember how it felt to be a kid getting his hair washed and how I always wanted it to be gentle.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” I told him.
“What do you mean?” he asked (as it is his habit to ask questions to which he knows the answer, only to have it validated.)
“It makes a lot of sense,” I told him, “that you would remember your own experience and recall it later in your life.”
“Yeah,” he said.
I kept rinsing, maybe a little gentler than I had been.
“Am I gentle enough with your hair?” I asked him, squinting against an answer I didn’t know if I wanted to hear.
“Yes,” he said. “You are.” And then he smiled against the warm water raining down over his long, wet hair.
A moment later, after the business of showering was done and he was in his bathrobe, wiping down the glass shower doors, he said thoughtfully, “I’m going to marry a woman who wants to have children.”
“Because you want to be a daddy?” I asked. (Maybe I am in the habit of asking questions to which I know the answer, also.)
“Yeah,” he said. And then he stopped and looked up at me. “Is it hard to be parent?” he asked.
The answer that immediately came to mind was, “Are you fucking kidding me? It’s practically impossible.” I flashed back to just moments earlier when I had said, “you have until the count of three to stop whining or there will be no storytime,” (which, of course, had only made him whine more.) He had been standing on the lidded toilet, stark naked, crying about the possibility that the grocery store might not have the exact same frosted cupcake the next time we went in. Moments before that, he had thrown himself dramatically on his bed after having been asked to put the new tube of toothpaste anywhere else but on the floor in the middle of the hallway.
“Yes,” I said evenly. “It can be really hard.” He glanced up at me and I continued. “It can be really hard because, when you’re a parent, you need to sometimes not do the things you want to do because you have to make your kid your first priority.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, like if you really want to go out to dinner, but your baby is sick, you have to stay home and take care of your baby and not go out to dinner. Or, if you really want to watch a movie, but your kid is hungry, you have to make dinner instead.”
The gravity of this conversation was striking. The inception of this line of questioning was when he felt the gentleness of my touch, washing his hair. He was asking about being parented and about parenting his own future children. Maybe he remembered the harsh words we had exchanged just moments before that and wondered how a parent could be angry and frustrated and then, almost at once, nurturing and careful.
“Did it ever get easier?” he asked. “Like, was there a time when it was harder and then I got bigger and it got easier?”
“It did,” I told him. “It did get easier. And it still does. And, even if it didn’t, I would still make the same choice to have you all over again. Like, if someone asked me if, now, knowing how hard it is to be a parent, would I still choose to have a kid, I would always say yes. Because it’s hard, but I can;t imagine not being your parent. You add so much joy to my life. And just because something’s really hard, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Don’t we always say that?”
“Yeah.” He nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, I know what you mean, Mama,” he said and then he climbed into his bed and slid under the covers for storytime.