The first time I heard Cat Stevens’ “On the Road to Find Out” (as a teenager, while watching Harold and Maude with my beloved “Island of Misfit Toys” friends), the song broke me open in that teary-eyed, truth-that-knocks-the-wind-out-of-you way. Taking the first shaky steps of what would become a decades-long odyssey of self-discovery, I had found my anthem: “I left my happy home, to see what I could find out . . .”
In the ensuing years, I chose to leave my metaphorical “happy home” many times, traipsing out of a sometimes hard-won comfort zone, rucksack on my back, seeking transformation. I left my home state of California (after three years in Upstate New York, I came running back), I left my first marriage (to a man who was my best friend), I left straight life for lesbian love (enter Tracie, the romantic lead in my relationship show), I left San Francisco for the suburbs (something I’d sworn I’d never do), I left my job as a professor to become a freelance writer (warning: do not try this at home), and then Tracie and I joined hands and took a wild leap together, leaving Couplesville for Parenthood (warning: try this at home only if you’re really, really sure you want to).
Before our two sons, B-man and K-bird, arrived, I had learned that creating change means welcoming the unknown, and welcoming the unknown means confronting the aspects of myself that I meet only in the dark alleys of my psyche: my fears, my insecurities, my control-freak tendencies . . . yeah, the list goes on, but we can stop there for now.
Given what I’d learned about change, when Tracie and I kicked off the TTC process, I viewed parenthood as a path of emotional and spiritual growth. Thank the Great Forces of the Universe for that, too, because if I didn’t see parenthood that way, by now I would have 1) left a screaming bundle of joy under one of those “Safe Place” signs at the local hospital, or 2) walked through one of the sliding glass doors those signs are affixed to and checked myself into the psych ward. (I mean, let’s be honest here, those sleep deprivation years: brutal.)
Instead, each time a parenting challenge has levied what could have been a fatal blow to my sanity, I have grabbed that phrase like an oxygen mask and strapped it over my face: parenthood is a path of emotional and spiritual growth, parenting is a path of emotional and spiritual growth, parenthood is a path of emotional and spiritual growth. And it has worked. This phrase turns my attention away from the challenge d’jour, and raises that all-important question, “What do I need to learn here?” (Hint: usually the answer has something to do with “patience,” “acceptance,” “compassion,” or “humility.”)
Cue Mr. Stevens: “The answer lies within . . . ”
Anyone who has sported a belly-full-of-child (or an infant-tucked-in-carrier-of-choice, for that matter) knows how strangers like to spew unsolicited advice and warnings. My favorite stranger warning came from a woman standing behind me in line at Target, who was eyeing my prego physique when she said, “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.” I smiled at her, eyes sparkling with an enthusiasm she may have taken as psychosis, and said, “You’re right. I can’t wait to see what will happen!
So much has changed since that check-stand pronouncement. B-man, who was riding shotgun in my belly that day, is now an eight-year-old with a penchant for poetry, a wicked sense of comic timing, and an aversion to anything that looks like hard work (including but not limited to washing his own hair, putting books back on shelves, and tying his shoes). K-bird, who joined our family about five minutes after his older brother had finally learned to sleep through the night, is now a six-year-old who hopes to be a “bubbling, fizzing scientist” when he grows up, but meanwhile he’s happy drawing pictures of exploding volcanos, labrynthine skateboard parks, and machinery that removes bruises from apples.
But one thing hasn’t changed: I still can’t wait to see what will happen. I have no idea what adventures these kiddos have in store for Tracie and me in the coming years. But I do know this: I’m done leaving my happy home in search of transformation. I’ve got plenty to learn right here.