Several of my friends have brand-new babies, and visiting them has reminded me that parenthood is hard. Okay, I have a toddler, so this is not something I’m really liable to forget. But seeing that wild-eyed look of the first few weeks does bring back memories.
I fear that I may call down the furies by putting this in print, but in the past several months our family life has reached a manageable and apparently stable level of chaos. This shift from crisis to normalcy coincided with two important milestones: weaning and a reliably decent night’s sleep. But I credit it primarily to garlic powder.
Also frozen vegetables, pre-sliced deli meat, paper towels, disposable diapers, and a hundred other mundane shortcuts. This is not an infomercial for convenience products. It is an admission that, for the first time, I’m really learning that it isn’t possible to do everything well. Balance is a nice word, but the reality is not so pretty. I think what it comes down to is deciding what you really care about, and giving up on everything else.
Which sounds easy, and is, of course, the work of a lifetime. It’s surprisingly hard to know what really matters to you. I enjoy chopping garlic. I like its slipperiness, and the smell of it on my fingers long afterward. And I like cooking fresh, fragrant meals with it. I like being the kind of person who does this. But on weeknights, when all of us are hungry and harried, taking that time and dirtying those extra dishes just isn’t worth it.
Some of the decisions are pretty simple. Cleanliness in our house is at an all-time low. I’ve figured out exactly how much clutter and grunge I can tolerate without losing my mind, and that’s exactly how much cleaning we do. Our clothes are always wrinkled, our yard is always full of weeds, and our car is always overdue for some TLC. Which is fine with me.
But some of them are a whole lot harder. I care about regular exercise, and cooking from scratch, and tending friendships near and far. I care about gardening, and reading, and sex. Everybody knows that life is a series of choices, but when discretionary time is narrowed to naptime and after bedtime the tradeoffs become comically clear. “What shall it be today, dear? An afternoon frolic, or putting in the tomatoes?”
The process of growing up is a gradual paring away of dreams, a pinching back of sprouts of yourself that never took off. For me, these tend to pop up in my New Year’s resolutions. I will learn an instrument. I will get really fit. I will practice yoga regularly. I will find a church community. I want these things, year after year. But I don’t want them badly enough–-at this point in my life-–to follow through on them.