Heather Chapman: Profile in parenting
Right now, this very second, I’m hiding in the laundry room with my computer, which is almost out of batteries. One floor up, my children are calling for me and begging for sugar. It won't be long before they find me, and I’ll have to say no regarding the sugar (my 27th “no” in 24 hours), and then, when they ask dejectedly for grilled cheese sandwiches, I’ll have to admit that we don’t have any butter. Or bread. Or cheese.
It’s been that kind of day.
Twelve hours ago, when I started writing this introduction, the kids were asleep and the house was clean. Sitting quietly with my laptop and coffee, I actually had the nerve to begin my first draft like this, if you can believe it:
I grew up on a cotton farm in Arkansas, not far from the Mississippi River.
Now—three snack times, one glitter incident, two play dates, four loads of laundry, several questions about the color blue, and one laundry-room hideout later—that opening line seems somewhat grandiose. Also a bit much, perhaps, were the paragraphs that followed, in which I explained how farm life shaped me into the mother I am today: confident, strong, ready for anything.
I guess I was trying to introduce myself properly, so that I'd end up sounding like a parenting expert. But now, I find myself crouching low beside the washing machine. So, maybe I’ll skip the life story and settle for a few bullet points instead.
* I went to journalism school in Indiana, and that’s where I met my husband. A few days into our courtship, he pointed out his home state of Nebraska on a map and gave me a lecture on football—specifically, why running the ball is so much better than passing the ball. He talked about it a lot, actually. A LOT. We got married anyway, because he’s so cute, and because he knows so much about science. Football and science. And grilling meat. Football, science, and grilling meat. It’s enough to build a life on.
* We had our first baby when we were still in grad school, and I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I spent the first few days of my daughter’s life congratulating myself on a fabulous career move. Nesting all day? In my pajamas? And this could be my job? I was the bomb. “Parenting,” it seemed, meant nursing the baby and wondering where in the world Matt Lauer would turn up! But then one day, colic set in. The baby stopped sleeping and started crying, and motherhood became the obstacle course that I am still running today.
* By “obstacle course,” I mean a never-ending series of worrisome parenting issues, including but not limited to: the Napping Hurdle, the Zip Line of Mommy Guilt, the Rock Wall of Nutrition, the Tunnel of Bad Attitude, the Mudslide of Mom-Can-You-Wipe-My-Butt, and the Maze of Kid-Who-Bites-Other-Kids-at-the-Park. As I understand it, there is no real finish line, but I have enjoyed several smaller victories so far.
* We thought maybe one baby was enough, but then two things happened: my husband published an important paper, and we took a celebratory vacation without our daughter. Nine months later, we had our son. He came out looking a little like a troll doll, but now he’s a very handsome six-year-old.
* In 2003, we moved to Ann Arbor, and we loved it right away. I spent the next few years discovering little pockets of town that made me love it more. And I’d say to my husband, “No pressure honey, but if you get tenure, we can live here forever.” And, “No pressure, honey, but if you get tenure, the kids will never know the trauma of moving someplace that’s not nearly as wonderful.” Well, ha! He did get tenure, and now this is our home.
* I really enjoy being a parent in Ann Arbor. Motherhood is still an obstacle course, but resources here make it easy to find my footing. There’s our wonderful elementary school, and our library, and the abundance of green space. Most of all, there’s my neighborhood, where I’ve found a constellation of exceptional women who teach and help me every day.
Later, I’ll call these friends and admit to the laundry room debacle. I imagine they’ll respond by reminding me how quickly things can change. Lofty ambitions are whittled to perfectly functional bullet points. Sleeping babies become colicky, then sleep again. A move to the right city makes everything easier. A beleaguered friend feels restored after a phone conversation. And (in lieu of grilled cheese) there is sometimes enough loose change in laundry pockets for a Cottage Inn pizza. Thinking of these small victories gives me the energy to climb back up the basement stairs and stumble gratefully into the rest of this day.