I was watching an interview between Jonah Hill and Oprah Winfrey the other day and Jonah Hill was talking about his parents and how wonderful they were. Then he made this statement-- "It was a long time before I realized that parents are people who just happened to have children." I have had that statement stuck in my head ever since.
There is a lot of truth in that one little line. It was only recently that I realized my Dad was just a man....not infallible as I thought for many years. He had made mistakes just like any other parent. Just like me.
What makes a parent then, because honestly it would be quite enough to go through our lives and just deal with our own problems. Taking on superhero status willingly seems plain crazy.
One of the first things that came to mind as I was trying to answer this question in my own head was July 5th, 1989, 3 AM. My water broke. Now it isn't like I didn't know this was coming. I had been waiting for it. Waiting and it suddenly happening were two different realms of reality. Especially when you are twenty and completely alone. Looking back on it, I must have been crazy.
I lived by myself in a little apartment in the Shawneetown complex on the UK campus. When my water broke, I didn't panic. I called the doctor and he said to head to the hospital. So, I picked up my suitcase and walked the short distance to Central Baptist Hospital. I walked in the ER door and up to the desk. The lady looked up at me and asked if she could help me. Apparently from her position she couldn't see my extra large belly and the fact that I was abnormally calm for a woman "in labor" added to her confusion. She stood up and looked at my stomach. Then she called a guy over with a chair and he wheeled me up to the maternity ward and up to their desk. Again, they asked if they could help me. I told them my water had broken and that the doctor had told me to come on in to the hospital. I thought my size kind of gave everything away, but apparently these people were going to need convincing. I felt as though they didn't believe me. I was asked if anyone was with me. I answered no. The nurse took me into a room and had me pee on a strip. Only after she saw the strip did I start to feel like they really believed I was there to have a baby. She handed me a gown. The excitement was starting to set in. In a few hours I would be a mother. Then she asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks. She asked if I was keeping "this baby" or giving it up for adoption. I answered yes, I was keeping my baby.
I know now all these years later, she didn't mean anything with that question. I guess it is really odd to have a young pregnant woman show up alone to labor and delivery. At the time though, it really rubbed me the wrong way. In fact I spent the next 12 hours waiting for Ashley or Aaron (I didn't know yet) to arrive with her question swimming in my brain.
What was I doing exactly? I never one moment doubted I had made the right decision to have the baby, but did she ask me that question because I wasn't going to be a good mother? Was I somehow not capable of what was before me and she knew that for sure? What if I was making a mistake? What if it turns out that I am a terrible mother? How will I know what I am doing?
The truth is, even though the circumstances were different than those of most expectant parents, no one knows the answers to those questions until you live it. I was no different than anyone else. I was, as Jonah Hill said, a person who happened to have a child. A human being who would make plenty of mistakes.
So I am back to my original question. What makes a parent? If Jonah Hill's parents weren't superheros as he had thought when he was a child, what was it that made him gush about them now? Now that he knows they are mere mortals.
I have at times wondered how I parented Ashley at all before the internet, when I couldn't find the answers to parenting dilemmas by using Google. Must be something else guiding me, guiding all parents. Love of course is the easy answer. There is nothing on earth that can ever compare to the truly undefinable love I feel for my children. I believe though that there is something even more complicated than love and there is one story about Benjamin that defines it for me.
Ben was not quite two and doing a lot of the normal mischief that little boys do. One thing he hadn't tried yet was to open the doors to the house. He hadn't shown one bit of interest in venturing outside. Because of that we had made the mistake of not childproofing the front door. I left Ben playing in the living room floor and went to finish up the dishes. I probably wasn't out of his sight more than 10 minutes when I came back to find him gone. We looked all over the house, but couldn't find him. The front door was completely closed, but we went out and looked in the front and back yard. Then we went through the house again. Now I was scared. I went back out the front door and yelled across the street to my neighbors that I couldn't find Ben. We congregated on the front sidewalk momentarily. We could go left or right. We all turned right and started to walk. I stopped and told them I felt like I should go the other way. They kept on in their direction and I turned to my left. All I could think was that someone had kidnapped him. The house next to mine had an alley that ran beside it and I took off down the alley. I probably didn't get fifty steps down that alley when I saw him. He was standing on the deck of our neighbors above ground pool looking down at the water.
My gut instinct had told me to turn left instead of right. That same gut instinct I know has guided a lot of my parenting. It was definitely there with Ashley as we traveled together through those first nine years, just the two of us. Maybe instinct is what guides us all through the journey. This doesn't mean that our instinct isn't wrong sometimes. That we don't make mistakes, but I believe if we follow that instinct and give a lot of love even when it is difficult, we will raise a generation of people able to do the same for their own children someday.
What I hope is that years from now if you ask my children what kind of parents they had, they will smile (maybe laugh) and say we were kind of crazy sometimes, but we always knew we were loved and that they were there for us even when we didn't want them to be. Maybe they will tell stories about mistakes we made with an understanding that we were after all people who just happened to have children. People just like them.
I asked Anna today as we were on the way home from her doctor in Lexington if she thought I ever made mistakes. Didn't take her long to say "Yes!" Uh-oh. I asked her what she meant by that. She went on to explain that sometimes I bought the wrong size jeans for them. Ok. This is good so far. I told her that wasn't quite what I meant. Did she know that sometimes I make mistakes as a human being. "Yes....when you give me a time-out and I don't think I should have one. That is a mistake." I pushed a little more but she told me this conversation was kind of boring, leaned the seat back and fell asleep. Well.....maybe 10 is too young to ponder the complexities of parents as people. That's ok. I don't mind being a superhero for a few more years.