After having kids, every parent quickly realizes just how much less freedom they have. Your schedule is different. Your sleep is different. What you can watch on TV is different. Where you can live is different. Kids are, as we’ve said, a dose of unavoidable reality–a reality where you are indisputably, almost laughably not in charge.
They decide. Life decides. You’re tied up in the whims and needs of a baby, the moods and commitments of a teenager, the desire to be close to, to support, and to see your adult children (the dream of the crowded table, we’ve called it).
And of course, there is a deeper, more profound loss of freedom that has come over our lives too: suddenly, we are so, so much more vulnerable. Before, we didn’t care so much about what happened to the world, maybe even to us. Didn’t care? We didn’t even think about it! Now, that’s all we can think about. We worry. We fret. We fear. How will this or that affect these people we brought into existence, these precious loved ones we’re responsible for. What if something happens?!
Joan Didion, who so hauntingly wrote about the loss of her husband and then her adult daughter in her books A Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights (both must-reads for any person/parent). We are hostages to fortune, she said of all parents. Painfully, terrifyingly at the whims of a cruel and uncertain world–a world with school shootings, with cancer, with pandemics, with jobs that send people overseas, with drugs, with so much more.
There’s not much we can do about this. There’s no FBI negotiator coming to free us. There is no magic decision or change or insurance policy to protect us. All we can really do, like an ancient Greek hero, is accept our tragic fate–accept it bravely, accept it without rancor or resentment. All we can do, as Johnny Gunther’s mother put it in another beautiful, must-read book (Death Be Not Proud): love them as much as we can while we can.
Support indie bookstores by purchasing your copies of A Year of Magical Thinking, Blue Nights, and Death Be Not Proud at the Painted Porch Bookshop. And if you’re looking for FREE monthly reading recommendations, sign up for Ryan’s Reading List Email—which includes kids books!