a perspective on parenthood

Coming out of college, my goal was to become Interesting with capital I, a real Adventurer. Not like Sally Ride or Dian Fossey, though I admired them both so, but more like a hippie explorer. I fancied Mary Oliver poems, the word Intrepid and my motto: Things Happen When You Leave the House, the house being an easy signifier for things familiar.

Thailand, 1991

Then, during a trip around the world, I became (of all things) a nanny, for two kids whose mother had recently died and something changed. I came home less smitten with world-travelers and their ripping yarns and more awed by people who had thrown themselves into what I was starting to see was the one gig that mattered: Parenthood.

Heading into my 30s, the life I have now—kids and a good man to raise them with—is exactly the life I wanted. I knew that the coolest thing about the coolest people I knew was that they had made great families, families with inside jokes and nicknames and dance moves.

That’s the shore I set out for. But, out there, bobbing around in my double-breasted Dress Barn power suit, I was drowning… Blame it on the Freshman Fifteen I never lost or the Merit Ultra Lights I couldn’t give up or my sailor mouth, but it took a long-fucking-time to find Mr. Right and get a family going.

Now, only 13 years into motherhood, I already want to go back…to the time when tattoos were temporary and bedroom doors were open, when I knew precisely where my kids were and what they were doing, when I could pick up my kids without spraining my lumbar.

Don’t get me wrong, I want the now too. When I travel and call home, it’s so good to hear their voices, I can’t imagine being angry with any of them ever again. Same when they’re sleeping or when I see people hug on the curb at the airport or the days around a memorial service. We had two in our tiny town last year: a great guy named Murray, a young mom named Tiffani. You watch a kid eulogize a parent and you know everything you need to know. Never again will you hurry your husband along as he recounts his commute or his golf game, and you will definitely stop giving the finger to your daughter’s back as she storms away.

But cycling between the kitchen, the desk, and the carpool? It can be hard revel in the domestic litter of dirty backpacks, tangled cords and jock straps, much less the cacophony of clashing siblings or worse, the near silence. What’s the sound of eyes rolling, the tiny click-click of thumbs on smart phones, slutty Rhianna whining from a bedroom radio left on, the sound of marital friction or the mind bending around itself trying to decide when to intervene, when to let them fail or fight or go to that kid’s house you have a bad feeling about?

It’s a lonely business, and then sometimes strangely claustrophobic, but this is it. This is what I wanted and what my very sick friend Liz wants more of and what good people get pulled away from every day, kicking and screaming. This abstract performance art called Family Life is our one run at the ultimate improv…our chance to be great for someone, to give another person everything they need to be happy. Ours to apologize for, to try again for, to get a little more right next time for. Ours to watch disappear into their next self—toddler to tike, tween to teen—ours to drop off somewhere and miss forever.

It’s happening right now, whether we attend to it or not.

Like the after preparing a nutritious meal that no one really liked and a lot of blame-gaming over who moved the laptop charger, your peevish, greasy “young adult” tramps off to take the shower she should have taken two days ago and the day is shot to shit and not one minute of it looked like the thing you prayed for so long ago, but then you hear something.

You head up the stairs, hover outside the bathroom door.

“All the single ladies, all the single ladies…”

The kid is singing in the shower. Your profoundly ordinary kid is singing in the shower and you get to be here to hear it. Unlike whoever’s funeral we went to last, and maybe—hope to God not—our sickest friend, we get to be here, recognizing once again the one thing we must stop forgetting:

This is it. This is the great adventure.


This essay was adapted from Glitter and Glue. Tour details here.



essays about everyday things that matter quite a lot

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kelly corrigan

New York Times bestselling author, host of new podcast: Kelly Corrigan Wonders and PBS show: Tell Me More with Kelly Corrigan