O: Mommy, what did you do before I got here?
There is this gap between the type of parent you imagine you will be and the type of parent you are. The hypothetical conversations about attachment parenting, discipline, rules, and diapers that take place between partners or friends are the breeding ground for those definitive statements about things we'll never do. They start from a seed of judgement but grow from our own self-doubt and fear.
I try to look back on pre-O Kate's ideas about parenthood fondly and gently. I admire her enthusiasm and regret only her absolutism. I try to remember her when I'm talking to people who don't have children yet. I try to stifle my laughter, my eye roll, or my snide remarks, when they share with me the things they think they'll never do.
I forgive her for her naïveté. She couldn't know. She couldn't know how terrible and wonderful it would be all at once. She couldn't know how much she would be willing to give up for sixty-seconds of uninterrupted silence. She couldn't know how the long stretches of complete boredom and drudgery would be punctuated by moments of sheer, blinding, white-hot bliss. She couldn't know how badly she would need community, how isolating and lonely being a parent can be. She just couldn't.
The type of parent that I am today is kinder, more loving, and more flexible than pre-O Kate could ever imagine. She dances in the rain, does cartwheels, and goes to bed without finishing the dishes. She has learned that there is joy in the smallest things. She eats ice cream right out of the container and has french fry parties. She makes mistakes, big, terrible, unfixable mistakes, that she forgives herself for and learns from, or at least tries to. I could have never even conceptualized the parent that I am, because the parent that I am has been shaped and molded by who my children are becoming. I owe them a debt of gratitude for that.