Looking at young parents today, I am struck by the intensity of their desire to exercise perfect parenting skills. It makes me remember my own days of active parenting, when I was plagued by doubt that I wasn’t doing justice to our children’s potential or providing sufficient motivation or discipline to help them grow into the perfect adults they were meant to be. We have such hopes when our children are born but all too soon we’re bedeviled by our growing list of failures and shortcomings. Still, despite these embarrassing failures, most children turn out just fine. The freedom to love without guilt is a gift that only comes with grandparenthood, when there are no strings attached and when we’re released from that burden of self-judgment that overshadows all we do as young parents. Thinking back on the moments before the birth of our second child, I recalled the feelings of hope and anxiety that accompany these life-changing events. How would I do this time? Would I screw it up or would I wisely apply the lessons I’d learned from raising our first? As much as I wanted the answers then, I knew my success or failure at parenting would be revealed only in retrospect and probably through the critical or loving assessment of my own children, to whom, as excuse, I would only be able to answer, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
What did I know about the unknown galaxies
of motherhood or you, hovering near the birthing
room door, about the alien role of father.
Parenthood was still just a glorious idea,
like humans landing on the moon.
Shunted aside by the nurses, you could only watch
from the corner as I panted and groaned, caught
in the electrifying grip of my contractions.
To busy yourself, you kept a record of their intervals
as you peeled an orange, letting the torn rind fall
like pieces of planetary crust into your palm.
Between contractions I watched you study
the glistening globe in your hand, tracing its bumps
and creases as if it were some newly discovered earth
whose secrets you intended to learn or one of those
Magic Eight Balls we played with as kids whose answers
we’d wait to float to the surface, telling us
what our future would hold.