Parenting is like signing up to become the live-in caretaker of an uninhabited, breathtakingly beautiful tropical island…full of dependent monkeys. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you have to bring the monkeys with you.
Earlier this summer my husband and I sat in a pizza restaurant with members of our extended family including four children under the age of five. The kids behaved reasonably. No one threw food, screamed, or ran in circles around tables. The adults only occasionally repeated age-old phrases like “use your inside voice”, and “keep your hands to yourself”. Not to be outdone by the adults, the two four year-olds used age-old phrases of their own like, “I have to go potty.” The babies used the sense of smell to communicate similar needs.
On my third trip to the bathroom I passed three young women sitting at a high table. They looked unrushed and unfrazzled. They wore made up faces and outfits that lacked the utility of needing to easily wipe clean of vomit while enabling nursing an infant in public without flashing anyone. Small, cute purses occupied little spaces between them rather than backpacks of parenting in public survival gear. While time ticked down at me counting seconds until someone needed something – hot pizza cut up, a crayon that fell on the floor, or a nursing session on my right side leaving me with laughable attempts to use a fork with my left hand, time seemed to count up for these ladies multiplying their enjoyment of the evening with each moment that passed.
From somewhere in my mind memories of girls’ trips and girls’ nights out flooded around me. We took silly pictures on a rock wall overlooking the Pacific Ocean, had weekly “Dawson’s Creek” watching parties, went on midnight ice cream runs, and had secret water balloon fights (for which we were never caught) in the hallway of a dorm. We had no monkeys. In fact, we were the monkeys sometimes finding laughter, sometimes finding mischief, and oftentimes finding both.
Minutes earlier while holding our infant daughter in the aisle so I could give her to my husband while I went to the bathroom, an older lady from a nearby table spontaneously brought a handful of napkins and wiped baby spit-up off my shoulder. She smiled, squeezed my shoulder, and told me she didn’t want the spit-up to get in my hair. Perhaps her interaction with me flooded her with her own memories of holding sweet smelling babies and sticky hands. This part of life, this crazy, beautiful, and exhausting island, sometimes plays out like an episode of “Survivor”, and sometimes it pauses with watercolor sunsets, swirling blue ocean waters, and the feel of the sand between my toes. That evening, as my path crossed with generations of women reminding me of both my past and my future, I thought about monkeys and smiled.