My kids are making me unhappy?

Last week I spent a chilly late autumn afternoon in my warm car, shielded from the wind as the sun beat through the glass and the heated seat wrapped itself around me, hugging me with as much love as a seat warmer can give.  I was done my classes for the day and had no pressing errands to run before my kids got out of school.  I had time to waste.

There are so many ways to waste time, or as it might also be called, spending time.

 I’ve been known to spend time, and arguably money, in Marden’s, specifically the shoe department.  But like I tell my husband, “Babe, unless you’ve felt the rush of sprinting back to your car with a pair of strappy, sequined, purple Giuseppe Zannoti 7-inch spiked heels in hand, marked down from $595 to $47.99, you can’t possibly understand the criminally-insane high of getting something for practically nothing!

 “You plan on wearing those heels any time soon?” he asked me, holding the shoe upside down, presumably because he wasn’t  sure in which end a foot would even go.

 “Of course not” I replied, mildly insulted, “I’d break my ankle in 14 places.”   That’s not the point.

 My point is, there are many ways in which we spend or waste our time.  My car was warm and my time was free so I slightly reclined the seat and spent it right there.  I turned on the CBC just in time for Sook-Yin Lee’s “Your DNTO” and I won’t lie, it made me happy.  Canadian talk radio reminds me of home, and not just because I grew up three feet from the Canadian border, but because the Canadians, just like my mother, give it to me straight.  “I don’t care that you want to watch the MTV, we aren’t getting cable television and these homemade jeans are just as nice as store-bought jeans.  Now go watch French Sesame Street.”  My mother said to me.  On my 14th birthday.

And as I look back at myself on the playground, in my mullet and hand-sewn pants, talking about “Mr. Dress Up, Circle Square or The Friendly Giant” I wonder how many times I was mistaken for that weird Canadian foreign exchange student who lived in the woods.  It wasn’t until I hit the teenaged years did I realize that mentioning last night’s hilarious episode of The Royal Canadian Air Farce was guaranteed junior high social suicide.  Luckily for me, that was just around the time my slightly eccentric father got a math teaching job at my school and all my social suicide needs were set for years to come.  I may or may not have previously mentioned my life growing up as the math teacher’s daughter, but an experience such as that needs years of external processing.  You might want to click “next blog” if you’re looking for a writer without baggage.

I love the CBC radio.  They give me good ideas that compel me to pause and think.  They make me belly laugh until I do that snorting thing.  They share real stories, uncovered in the sticky residue often left behind by political correctness.  I’ve trusted them for as long as I can remember.

 And then one chilly late autumn afternoon, as I reclined in my car seat, they told me a story about how having children actually makes people unhappy.

 I sat bolt upright in the driver’s seat, looking around the parking lot to see if anybody else had heard that too.  But everybody else seemed to be going about their normal business.  I turned back to my radio as the internal dialogue ensued.  What the heck was that all about, CBC?  Did I hear you correctly?  Having children makes us unhappy?  That doesn’t make any sense.  Have you even met my children?  They’re unbelievably charming, so charming that they’ve been known to hypnotize me into un-grounding them with just a hug and a few words of their undying affection for me.   And witty!  Gone are the days of “because I said so” and here are the days of “no, you said do my best and lights out at a reasonable hour.”  My children are smart, CBC, so thoughtful, and have beautiful eyes.  They’re nearly smarter than I am and have no problems telling me so.  Daily.  Are you sure you haven’t met my children?  They’re remarkable people and I can’t imagine who wouldn’t be happy to have them around.  Constantly.  You should think before you speak, CBC.

 I don’t know where you’re getting your data, but us parents love our kids, from the moment we fumble from our cozy beds at 5:50am to pack their lunches because they’re too picky to eat cafeteria food, to the moment we roll up in the carpool lane after school and they’re glaring at us because we don’t look cool enough in our Subaru Forester and we’re pretty much the most embarrassing thing on the planet, we love our children.  Even when I want to remind my teenaged daughter that my father brought me to school in a third generation 1982 Chevy Custom 3 speed on the column (that would often stick between 2nd and 3rd gears, requiring the driver to park the truck, get out and tug on the rope attached to release the sticky gear, even if you were on Main St), I just smile as she slumps in the front seat of my 2010 vehicle.

 These kids are a joy, CBC, and how dare you imply that my happiness levels decrease after having them?  I didn’t know what happiness was until I had children!  I have never felt so grateful, overflowing with love, thankful and full of warmth from the pain medication as I did when my youngest was in my arms and the doctor was sewing up the cavernous incision in my lower abdomen.  And every time I sneezed within six weeks postpartum I would feel the searing, ripping throb of sliced muscle and think “oh, my sweet baby, just look at him.”  And I was happy, damnit.

 It’s interesting that you mention how happiness levels of parents rise when their children go off to college, CBC, and how they are suddenly able to get enough quality sleep to perform complex tasks like sipping coffee, uninterrupted.  I sure love drinking my coffee, and when I’m not refereeing disputes between my bossy middle girl and my whiney youngest son, it’s delicious.  The coffee is especially delightful when I have to drive my oldest son to work at 6am or even better, pick him up from a swim team meet at 2am.  There’s something particularly distinct about a cup of 2am coffee.  It reminds you that instead of sleeping, resting your tired, hardworking body on a warm, pillow-topped mattress throughout the darkest hours of night, your life is no longer your own.

 You keep tossing around the word “sacrifice” CBC, and how making these constant sacrifices for our children can slowly chip away at our very foundations, leaving us Mums & Dads exhausted, spent and sapped of that once- vibrantly energetic glow that attracted us to one other in the first place.

 I think I get it, CBC.

 Kids make us tired, so tired that we actually appreciate and take advantage of the 45 second nap given to us at red lights, letting our heads press into the head rest, hoping the car behind us will give a little honk when it’s our turn to go.  Kids are demanding, not intentionally, but with a confident innocence that comes when strong, reliable parents have your back; it’s just what they do.  They know we love them.  And they demand we do, with our time, our bodies, our money, in every way that we are able, they demand we love them.  And we oblige because it’s why we brought them here.

We wanted this.

And we’re going to see it through because it’s what we do, despite the dark circles, the unshaved legs and the backseat full of crushed crackers and Legos and where the hell is that smell coming from?  I’m behind on laundry, I keep running out of bread, I’m pretty sure there are four important papers on the counter that need my signature and which one of you just asked me for money?  During this series of moments, both good and bad, we accept raising children for what it is: astonishing.  Astonishing that we have the capability to persevere through the toll on our bodies, the sleepless nights, the worries, the anxieties, the sacrifices, the heartaches and the tears.  And equally astonishing that we ever doubted ourselves.

 I’m happy, CBC.  Not in the commitment-free, 21-year-old, “my life is my own” sort of way, which, don’t get me wrong, was really fun, but smelling the top of his sleeping, messy-haired head grips my heart like nothing else in this world ever has.  Of course, maybe it’s because he’s finally sleeping and no longer bugging me for stuff and tormenting his sister, who knows.

But I will give you this, CBC, my parents look suspiciously happy now that I have children of my own.


Renée Chalou

About Renée Chalou

Renée Chalou lives and raises her family in Presque Isle, where she owns a fitness center, LiveWell United. Her oldest son is in his second year at UMO, her daughter plans to attend UMPI in the spring and her youngest son is an active, happy 11 year old in 6th grade. From her life experiences as a homeschooling parent, blending a family, and transforming herself from an overweight, side-line mother to a competitive athlete mother and fitness leader in her community, she writes about what she knows: living life well even when it's not perfect. She writes about finding and clinging to the good even when it would be easy to focus on the bad, no matter what challenges life brings. Life in Northern Maine is wonderful, full of adventures and sub-zero temperatures. It's not for everybody and nobody claims it's easy. But it's a good life, it's hers and she'd like to share some of it with you.