This post was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, March 2013 (and as I post it, I am nursing the tender rib I injured reading the baby a bedtime story. Family life! Yes, it is a wondrous blessing. But it is also a fucking health hazard.)
Last year sometime, during the lengthy, stinky process of toilet training my son, I was quietly washing the dishes and thinking about blueberry cheesecake when a sudden screaming battle erupted in the bathroom. It turned out that three year old T-Bone had been struck with a sudden desire to use the toilet, and found it occupied by his five-year-old sister Peanut. He was new to bathroom etiquette, and his solution to the problem was to push Peanut off her perch, mid-stream. Sibling war erupted, and in the heat of battle one, or both of them, pissed on the floor, which is when I ran in, slipped on the puddle and broke my toe. That’s motherhood in a nutshell right there. Half drama, half comedy, and you can forget about dignity. You left that back in the birthing suite.
I remembered this incident recently now that my toddler has taken to slapping me in the face when I read the wrong book/get the wrong cup/mortally offend her in some other inexplicable baby way. And something has occurred to me. We all know that becoming a parent is an emotional journey. Whole forests have been sacrificed to furnish the books that explain in what ways you will be emotionally changed and even scarred by motherhood. This is true: anxiety, rage, all of that angsty stuff comes with the territory. But mainly, motherhood brings incredible joy and wonder and transformative, powerful love. Yes! Hooray for motherhood!
And yet… there is a dark side. Along with the emotional pain, your children will inflict a lot of actual bodily harm upon you too. There is, of course, the straight-up agony that comes with pregnancy and birth. Heartburn. Sciatica. Caesarean recovery. Blistered nipples. Torn perineums. But also, there are many mundane, routine ways for your kids to beat you up, from pulling your hair to kicking you in the genitals (a common and terrible experience for dads, I’m told.)
For instance, T-Bone gave once me a black eye with a chicken drumstick. I’ve also had what is sometimes called ‘toddlers wrist’ caused by a chubby two-year-old Peanut experiencing separation anxiety. She was only happy when carried, for so far and so long that I had to wear a kind of medical arm-Spanx for the duration. Pudding, now 18 months old, ended our breastfeeding relationship when she repeatedly bit me on the nipple. (The pain was bad, but the anticipation was worse.) Currently she’s obsessed with reading, so she hits me across the head with a board book (an underrated weapon with very pointy edges) whenever I stop, regardless of how much I explain that I must, at some point, chop some vegetables and hang washing or else we will be living in squalor, reading Ten Little Fingers by candlelight while cockroaches nibble our filthy toenails. But Pudding doesn’t care about my reasons. Babies don’t negotiate. They move straight to physical assault.
It says something about how absolutely bewitching children are, how much unconditional adoration the heart can have, that we endure treatment that would have us calling the police should another adult inflict it. In short, it’s really good that babies are so damn adorable. Otherwise, they would all be arrested.