My own mother once remarked that Philip and I had “the perfect life” (her words). We did as we pleased, came and went as we pleased, worked little, played much and, when we worried, we worried about what I called our “problems of luxury.” We were responsible for each other, the odd pet, and little else. In essence, we were cruising through life with the sun on our faces and the wind at our backs, but aware of the “reality” of the lives of others through work, family and friends. We heard about it all and lived it all vicariously, especially on the airplane jumpseat, “You won't believe what my son did this weekend!”, “I was up until 3 in the morning with a sick kid”, “I was so happy that Aaron passed math this semester.” I remember thinking, “whew, I'm so glad I don't have to deal with all of that”! And, almost simultaneously feeling, a little wistfully, “I wonder what it would be like to be someone's parent?” Silly me...
You see, life and circumstances and “the universal consciousness” must have been paying attention. Because they all conspired to turn my reality, Philip's reality, our reality upside down and sent us an early mid-life wake-up call named Joaquin. That changed everything! Our self-focused “perfect life” was over. A bucket full of icy-cold “OH SHIT!” was dumped squarely on our heads and we, too, tasted the bittersweet flavor of parenthood. Against all the odds, both Philip and I were soon sharing stories, asking advice, lamenting seemingly earth-shattering decisions just like every other mom or dad that we'd shared a jumpseat, meal or exercise class with for years before. 4 a.m. Alarm, after 4 p.m. Pickup from swimming, after two-days-a-week at school as a PTA “mom”, after “DO NUMBER 11!”, after years of seeing Philip only in passing because of our opposite schedules, after “I've had it with your bullshit rules!”, after....
You get it. If your palms are sweating reading it the way that mine are writing it, you REALLY get it! Let's just say that Lagos trips don't scare me the way they likely once would have.
Because, against all the odds, I have been someone's de facto parent. Perhaps the greatest lesson learned in the process is that the process has NO END. Parenting, de facto or otherwise, is forever! The sublime and the abysmal wrapped up in one, not-so-neat, life-experience altering little package with its seemingly universal interrogative:
How did I do? Was it enough? Too much? Will I ever really know?
Today, I live in gratitude that my “perfect life” took a little detour.
(But I've gotten REALLY CAREFUL about the things that I'm wistful about!)