By CL Bledsoe
I always struggle when my daughter is away. I feel untethered, like I have no purpose. I’ve never been any good at vacations, either, if you’re wondering. I have to have plans, a regimen. I’m the kind of guy who has always looked at vacations as a chance to finally catch up on some work. I’ve long been a workaholic. One would think I’d have more money.
Free time and solitude never used to bother me. I think that there are two things about becoming a parent that change a person irrevocably. I don’t think I would’ve understood this before I became a parent.
The first thing is the fact that you are now responsible for another person for their entire life. They totally depend on you. I don’t mean like how a dog needs to be walked; it’s much more intense than that. Everyone knows about the sleeplessness that comes with a newborn, and the scares when the baby stops breathing or chokes or gets sick. I imagine every parent has saved their child’s life more times than they can remember.
The thing that really gets to me, though, is the burgeoning independence. I know that might sound weird, but hear me out. A parent teaches a child to be independent, to eat, crawl, walk, dress themselves. Our lives are subsumed, dedicated to the child, and at each milestone, there is joy but also sometimes a little sadness. That baby who used to only sleep if you sang to her doesn’t need that anymore. It’s an interesting thing that everything we do as parents is meant, in a certain way, to break our own hearts. Of course, it’s a bittersweet thing — emphasis on the “sweet,” because as our children push away from us, our love for them grows as they become more and more themselves. They don’t need you to sing, but maybe they need something else. A car, probably. Hopefully not bail money.
The second thing is that you are no longer the center of your own life. And thank God! When my daughter was younger, I couldn’t sleep nights. Or, if I did, I’d wake up and have to go check on her. When I make meals, I think about my daughter, growing, more than I think about keeping myself from growing... When I think about going out, doing things, I think about what would be good or fun for her. This didn’t happen gradually, for me. It happened immediately when we brought home a crying baby and didn’t sleep for several months. I’ve never been in the military, but I imagine my experience was something like the idea of breaking a person down and building them back up with discipline. I learned to value sleep in ways I never had before because of its scarcity. The same with quiet.
As my daughter grows and becomes more independent, there’s more room for me, as well. The new me, I’ve been building. I could sneak off to see some movie that’s too old for her, go someplace she wouldn’t like. And that’s necessary, but what’s fun about taking her to the movies is that a lot of movies aren’t actually that good, but she doesn’t know that yet. So watching a kids movie with her is more fun. The same is true of a lot of things.
It’s only going to get worse. As she gets older — now that I’m divorced, especially — I have to find meaningful ways to fill my time.
When I’m left to myself, I binge watch TV, eat junk food, give poetry readings; the usual degeneracy. I don’t really know what to do with myself. What do I even like anymore? Music? God, why do the bands have to start so late? Movies? It’ll be on TV soon; why spend all that money? Hiking? Ugh, so much nature! Besides, this evening, with no one else around, I could get so much work done…