Lesbian and Gay Parenting book coverIn a Family Way

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Not What I Thought It Would Be

Posted By on July 1, 2009

Not What I Thought It Would Be
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

I have been at this parenting thing now for seven and one half years. It is as important to me as it is to my kids that I count every fraction of the year, each one marking important milestones. Parenting is not what I though it would be, and I don’t think I was particularly naïve.

As I am trying to write, I am being assaulted by loud kiddie pop music on Radio Disney. My younger son is in the bath. Yes, by himself, despite the endless admonishes in parenting magazines of the possibility of drowning in one inch of water and to never leave your kid in a bath alone, not even to answer the phone. Rest assured, he is only 10 feet from my office, and I’m sure he is alive because I can hear him, even over Radio Disney, because he is dive-bombing off the sides of the tub into about two feet of water. Perhaps you think this is dangerous? I certainly would have thought it was dangerous, downright irresponsible, before I had kids. I thought that bath times would be intimate, and cuddly, full of bubbles, and warm towels, and singing songs. I have discovered that bath time is really about cleaning a huge flood, and trying to dry wet slippery children before they shake themselves (like dogs). My younger son has insisted that he had to wash his own hair, which pretty much meant we would go through a bottle of shampoo a week, until I locked the baby shampoo in the same cupboard with the Drano.

Parenting is not what I thought it would be. I’m not who I thought I be (and as a side note the handsome butch ain’t quite what I thought she was would be either). I guess I just thought I’d have a lot more control.

I remember thinking, when I watched other parents that I simply would not let my kids behave in ways that I find unacceptable. I would just not allow it. Like the other day, when I told my younger son ten times to leave the playground, and he climbed inside the large boat-like jungle gym, to a place that was very hard to reach him. I stuck my head in the window, causing the gaggle of three year olds inside to stare silently at my floating head. I said, clearly, "I am counting to three, and I want you out of there. It is time to go home," He looked at me thoughtfully, hands on hips, cocking his head and asked, "Or….what happens?"and then shrugged and calmly went back to playing.

Parenting is just not what I thought it would be .I have lost any illusion about the expanse of my empire, the power I wield over the small people with whom I share my home.

As I am writing this, my younger son came into the room. He said, "Here is a wet ticket." He dumped a very wet, slimy, ball of paper (I think) on my lap. "I don’t want a wet ticket, "I said, as nicely as I could. "Okay, he said, picking it up" I’ll give it to mommy," and he trudged downstairs to his other mom. A few minutes later I heard "IT’S STUCK." "What’s stuck?" I ask. "My pen is stuck," he says excitedly. "In what?" I tentatively ask. "In the screen," he answers. "In the screen?" I repeat, my voice rising in a question.  "Yes," he says. "I tried to get the big black bug, that one," he points out the window into the backyard "and I when I put the pen in the screen it got stuck."

"In the screen?" I repeat, getting up from my chair. "You mean through the screen?" I said, grabbing the scotch tape off the desk to patch another hole in the screen. Apparently, he later asked his other mom to go into the backyard and find the cap to the pen, which had fallen through the screen when he was reaching for the bug. She tried to explain to him that if we have enough holes in the screens, he won’t need to reach outside for the bugs; they will become overnight guests in our home. He thought this was a great idea.

Parenting is wetter, buggier, than I would’ve thought it would be. It’s a process of small daily destruction, as they slowly burn holes in blankets with the light bulbs, and pour apple juice on my student’s papers, and rip their sheets trying to hang them off the corner of the shelves to make dark caves, and pour small rocks down the drain (the butch reads this over and asks, "Is that why the garbage disposal isn’t working?" "No," I say calmly, "Peach pits."). They somehow manage to do this while barely ever being out of sight for more than a minute. Consummate scientists, they like to "see what will happen."

I had to stop writing because they were hungry for their midday meal, the one that falls between lunch and dinner. It’s now after midnight, as I’m finally finishing this up. I’m trying very hard to meet my deadline of, umm, midnight. I am interrupted by a small child with the requisite pitter-pattering feet, all wrapped-up in a blanket. His face is covered in red magic marker. "I got to go wash up," he says matter-of-factly. I can imagine an outsider asking why he was up so late, or why he was playing with a magic marker, but I’ve grown way past the "why" stage of parenting. I make a mental note to save time to scrub the marker off his face before school starts tomorrow.

Over this past weekend, I spent time with three queer couples, all in the process of starting families. All are suffering from the disappointments of infertility treatments and adoption agencies. They long for children with an insatiable hunger, a longing, a yearning, for a family. They are stable, happy, couples, obviously bonded and loving with one another, and they dream of children filling their homes, theirs lives, their hearts. I trust this will happen for them, in a way that I couldn’t have imagined trusting during my ten years of infertility and squelched dreams. I trust that their lives will soon be full too, as mine has become, full to the point of bursting. I suspect they will find parenting much as I have found it, not quite the way they thought it would be.