Sometimes life rolls along such that Jon and I do not even realize how different it is to live with a child who can communicate her needs and understand that others around her have their own. We get up in the morning, pour her a bowl of cereal, and settle in for a peaceful breakfast, forgetful that a few years ago the same half hour was spent not in pleasant silence but in screams, wild gestures, puddles of juice, and tears because not everyone in the house used the same language. We spoke in English. She spoke in Utter Discontent, a cacophonous dialect of Fuck You.
And then days like yesterday happen when she is so physically and emotionally tired from having played with her friend for most of the day that the portions of her brain in control of language are too fried to make connections, too spent to send the right word down through her mouth and the only thing that makes it out is a cannonball of indiscriminate consonants. And what should have been a pleasant dinner together was instead a good hour of CANNNNNN’T! WONNNNNN’T! to a hearty rhythm of DONNNNNN’T! All because a bean was touching a piece of cheese, and in case you didn’t know, such is the recipe for the end of the world.
I will admit to resorting to this kind of behavior when I am that tired, but the difference is that the adults around me are more than welcome to tell me to shut up. As her loving and doting parents, we are discouraged from using such language with Leta, and so we have had to get a little more creative: “stop it,” “cut it out,” “if you don’t stop screaming I’ll staple your lips together.”
The frequency of these types of tantrums has decreased dramatically in the last year, but when they do occur Jon and I experience an uncomfortable yet familiar panic, and one if not multiple parts of our bodies will twitch with the memory of those endless nights spent pacing the creaky wooden floors of our old house, of not knowing if the screaming would ever end. Sometimes they give me full body shivers that start at the top of my neck and move slowly down through my toes, a physical manifestation of the realization that somehow I made it out alive having lost only a few gallons of blood.
And yes, I know we’re headed right back into those endless, sleepless nights, but ah hah! I am now fluent in Utter Discontent! I can conjugate the verbs and assign the right pronouns! And there is even the tiniest possibility that this baby might not be as skillful a screamer, which sort of brings up all sorts of things that might be different this time around. What if this one actually likes dogs? What if she eats food? What would it be like to live with a kid who likes to be cuddled?
Conversely, what if this one isn’t as good a sleeper? What if this one likes to climb furniture? What if this one is actually curious about light sockets?
Of course, we have no idea, and such is the risk and adventure of parenthood. But these risks and these sacrifices, I think, are a fundamental component of this unique experience that has given me more insight and understanding into other human beings than any other of my life. And all of this is to say thank God we chose to have children. Thank God for those endless, sleepless nights. Because I now know what I know. Because raising Leta more than anything else in my life has helped me piece together the puzzle of what it means to be human. I understand my own childhood so much better, understand my own parents so much better, and there is so much about myself that I have tried to improve that I didn’t know I needed to improve until I was reduced to a late night pair of pacing legs.
So much more makes sense now, and I don’t know if there is any other way I could have gained this type of insight into life. And I think this is what a lot of us are talking about when we say it feels like we were let into a secret club, a club we didn’t know existed until we got here, like we had no idea there was this much to know until our children showed it all to us.