I have been busy for approximately eight years and nine months. My son turns nine in December.
Sure, I was busy before kids. I held a full-time job, read a book a week, socialized with friends, and maintained my physical appearance with a rigorous exercise regime and healthful meals cooked from scratch over a glass of wine. My daytime hours were occupied no doubt, and I even mustered the energy to go out in the evenings to concerts, festivals, restaurants and the like.
Come to think of it, if you were to measure busy-ness by the sheer number of hours passed doing things other than sleeping and mindless activities in front of a screen, perhaps I was even busier before I had kids.
But here’s the thing, perhaps ‘busy’ isn’t the most accurate descriptor of life in the parenting realm. Busy doesn’t quite describe the three harried hours of pacing floors between 1 and 4 a.m. that defined the first three months of my son’s life, nor does the word quite do justice to the never-ending barrage of tiny, tedious tasks that I have performed day-in and year-out in the interests of building small human beings. And it certainly doesn’t describe the uninterrupted hour of TV my husband and I have watched faithfully between 8 and 9 p.m. for almost nine years.
No. Perhaps this parental experience of busy-ness can more accurately be described as the most peculiar and delicate balance of ‘full’ and ‘empty’ ever known to mankind.
The best way I can think to illustrate this dichotomy is this: Recently, one inordinately hot day, the neighborhood kids nominated our home to play host to the block party that erupts on a near-daily basis during the summer. This involved a lot of sprinklers, dirty feet, wet towels, countless drinks of water, and counteracting trips to the bathroom.
This situation required me, on no less than 30 occasions, to abandon the meal I was cooking to cross the room to close the patio door behind an excited child on their way to and fro. No big deal, right?
If you are a busy, childless person who happens to be reading this, I challenge you to engage in the physical challenge of closing a patio door 30 times within the span of an hour. Try making meatballs at the same time for a more authentic experience. Now ask yourself, how did this challenge make you feel? Annoyed? Inconvenienced? Perhaps you found the whole exercise a little bit ridiculous?
And, may I ask, on the 15th time, did you scream “For f*ck sake!” within earshot of an unsuspecting toddler innocently eating cheerios in her high chair? Did you, 24 of the times, politely at first but with increasing fervor, call out to the backyard something like “Can you close the door, please?”
Did you choke back tears because the look on the neighbor-boy’s face when you shouted that he’d just let a wasp in the house reminded you that you have, in fact, turned into your crochety Auntie Michelle after all?
Then, knowing that, did you snap at him five more times and slam the door anyway? Did the physical act of closing the door 30 times finally drive you to actually lock the door just to prove your point and then open it again to realize you’d caused a five-year-old to pee himself on your doorstep?
That is the difference between being busy and being full.
Being a parent is being full of demands, and emptied of patience. Being full of love and completely emotionally drained. Having a to-do list full beyond capacity and not enough hours in the day to complete them. Vowing that tonight will be the night that you will have 10-out-of-10 sex with your husband, but then falling asleep watching Netflix instead. Again.
Being a parent is trying to nurture your child’s social well-being with a backyard full of kids while making meatballs and trying to keep the flies out and the air-conditioning in. Knowing that your life will never be richer and wanting to appreciate it, but feeling the sands of time slip through your fingers in a haze of diapers, soccer practice, and spilled yogurt.
Being a parent is feeling equal parts guilty and giddy when you take 15 minutes to flip through your social media feeds. Being full of a purpose you never even knew possible and empty knowing you will always fall short. In awe of your own power, which created living, breathing perfection yet utterly at the mercy of fate as you watch that bit of perfection navigate the perils of an unforgiving world.
Nope. Busy doesn’t even begin to describe it.