Lessons Learned From One Month as a Parent

It's not what it sounds like.

About six weeks ago, we were celebrating Rob's completion of grad school with a party that lasted long into the night, accompanied by lantern lights, good Scotch, and homemade corn dogs.  Over spinach-proscuitto salad and Buffalo wings (also homemade -- what, do you not know me?!) I got to talking with our friend Bopol, a Congolese expatriate friend.  Bopol is one of a very few people I know who will put up with my French; in fact, he seems to enjoy it and patiently corrects my jumbled tenses and articles.

His niece and nephew would be visiting from France next month, he said.  I would like them.  "Ils sont tres cool."  (I'll let you guess what that means.)

After the third or fourth time he mentioned their impending visit, I gingerly inquired whether they needed a place to stay.  Why, yes, they did!  We said they were welcome here.  I rushed to finish the floors and walls and cart our things downstairs.  For a month we slept on the futon in the study and kept our clothes in the basement.  We carted "les enfants" (who were not children, but not quite adults either) to the train and the bus, from museums to restaurants and movies to shopping malls.  We stocked yogurt, pain de siecle and melon, and when we found they preferred apple juice, pizza and white bread, we stocked those too.  During their four-week stay, we enjoyed many meals and conversations together, and we got a little taste of what parenthood must be like:

It was beautiful to see how well Rob and I complimented each other.  I love to get up early, make coffee and fuss over breakfast (although I had to cut out the middle part after a week-long caffeine rush that took another week to recover from!)  He loves to talk late into the night over a beer and some honey-roasted peanuts.  If one of us had a horrible, draining day, the other was ready to take over as chauffeur and tour guide for the evening.  As corny as it sounds, we couldn't have done it without teamwork.

It was frightening to feel the weight of responsibility.  We fretted when we couldn't pick them up due to schedule conflicts.  We worried when they went off alone.  We were gratified beyond belief when someone else showed them a good time.  And there were long, dark hours when, due to various miscommunications, we didn't know where one or both were.  Late one night Rob got in the car and drove around the neighborhood, knowing it was futile but too disturbed to just sit at home and wait.

It was humbling to see how much must be sacrificed in parenthood.  One afternoon I put headphones on to drown out the piano, which one of our guests discovered and drilled out a Moby-esque rhythm on for several hours.  I could see he was enjoying himself, so I sucked it up and kept my mouth shut.  We did a lot more running around than we usually do.  Food disappeared, and floors got dirty, faster.  And through it all was the pressure of living with people -- not just being polite for an hour or a day, but constantly interacting even when you don't much feel like talking to anyone.

And it was inspiring to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  I vividly recall one evening when I was about to fall apart over the potent mixture of school stress and introvert guilt.  "I don't know why we're doing this," I said.

"Because there's no reason for us to do it," Rob said simply.  Just kindness.  Just love.