Our daughter is spending all of this week with her Grammy and Pappy in Tennessee. Last night, while we Facetimed with her, she gave us this sweet little interaction:
(sad face) Mommy, Daddy, I miss you. Are you coming soon? I have to go play! Bye-bye! (runs off)
Typical crazy schizoid toddler reaction? Maybe. Or maybe it’s one of the most adult things she’s done. I contend that maturity means being able to hold two or more conflicting feelings, attitudes, or experiences without the need to resolve or explain them. Comfort and familiarity with ambiguity is a rather grown-up trait, being able to affirm “yes” and “no” at the same time. I appreciate that my child can, to some degree, hold the mixed feelings of both missing her parents and being delighted that she has so much time to play with her grandparents (and without us).
If parenthood has taught me anything, it’s how to similarly hold conflicting, contradictory attitudes at the same time. For instance, I have had basically the exact same reaction to her being in Tennessee: Wow, I really miss my daughter! Also, I am so thrilled that I have the entire night to myself! I wish that she were here with us and I am so glad she is not here with us. All adults find their way to embracing the various paradoxes of this life; you certainly don’t have to have children. But that sure has helped me develop this trait.
Other contradictions I have learned to embrace as a parent:
I wish my child had a sibling so she could experience those parts of life that only come with having another playmate/enemy living with you. And absolutely none percent of me wants there to be another baby in my home.
I really want her to learn to play by herself and not need my attention all the time. I also love it when she wants my attention.
I hate Curious George, but I love reading and/or watching Curious George with my daughter.
I can’t stand the thought of being one of those parents who is too invested in his child, but I kind of am that parent and am pretty much fine with it.
Other parents annoy the hell out of me when they talk on and on about their child, but I don’t want to hang out with them if they don’t.
I love every single thing about my child, except all those things that drive me nuts.
For instance, I’m thrilled that we are raising an independent, strong-willed girl. And also it is completely infuriating when she is independent and strong-willed.
Not a day goes by that I don’t want my old childless life back, but I would never in a million years want my life to be different than it is now.
Come to think of it, maybe living comfortably within contradictions isn’t something you have to grow into. Maybe we’re born with that; maybe my child’s simultaneous feelings of homesickness and joy at being away are the more natural state of being. Maybe we struggle to get rid of that as we age, desperately trying to land on a single thing and stick with it in the name of consistency, or safety, or clarity, or integration. Maybe maturity means reclaiming our comfort with paradox, of returning to a more innocent, fluid approach to the world. Maybe mental health is about saying yes and no at the same time. Maybe a strict adherence to singularity is what ultimately makes us crazy.
Or maybe it’s children that make us crazy. Whetevs. Sanity is great and I sure work for it, but I also love the craziness of having a four-year-old run roughshod over my life.