One of the advantages (or disadvantages, you decide) of a horrendous winter season, is the opportunity to consume enormous amounts of streaming media in a short amount of time. Put your judgy-hats away unless you called the Northeast home for any part of 2015. While a hundred or infinity inches of snow were falling, I enjoyed the entire six seasons of Parenthood in a startlingly short period of time. It was to the point that Jon would notice a look of distress on my face and ask, “What’s happening with your TV family?” just knowing I needed to vent.
Along with the depressing realization that I spent no less than sixty-something hours of my life 'with' these fake people, came the upside of the many epiphanies, moments of self-reflection, and increased anticipation and appreciation for moments had and to-be-had in parenthood.
Two of my first years as an adult were spent as a full time, live-in nanny thousands of miles from home. I left a culture where family and children are seen as the crown-jewel of existence, a worthy aim to base one’s life upon.
I entered a culture where forming families was something many people did but not as a central act. Having children was something that was done, eventually, after much of life had already been lived and it was time to make a couple of investments into carrying on the family name. I was looking forward to seeing life from this new perspective.
Moving to the Big City to nanny is much more about experiencing a new place, being independent while still having the safety net of a surrogate family, and being able to make good money with few expenses, than it is about being head-over-heels for kids.
I didn’t take my native culture to New York with me. I had always been dead-set on marrying later, having children later, and having them because I wanted them, not because of any social, religious, or cultural pressure. That’s how I went into it, but nothing could have prepared me for the depth of feeling I would develop for the children I lived with, loved, and nurtured over the next few years. It was as close to motherhood as I would come for almost a decade.
Nannying is amazing birth control. There is no misunderstanding the amount of work a kid is once you have been responsible for them for an extended period of time. In the years since, I have often said that working in childcare taught me two things:
1) raising children is no joke- I need to be ready to give up a lot to do it right (or without going insane) and,
2) raising children is the only thing that is going to bring me the greatest joy possible.
It occurs to me that these days the latter statement could be seen as somewhat controversial, as in, some kind of comment on 'best ways for humans to live life'. It’s not a comment. It’s just my life.
For a slightly rebellious 19-year-old trying to form a new identity and become as cosmopolitan as I could, the realization that motherhood would bring me great joy came spontaneously and simply. It was so pure that I didn’t feel the need to expel it or question it as I did most other things.
I remember two distinct moments where the knowing occurred.
The first, I was playing on the trampoline with the two-year-old. Like most kids his age, he was extremely active and rarely sat still. I laid on my back, and out of the blue he toddled over, lay down on my chest, and held perfectly still. I can still see the yellow fall leaves against the bluest sky because we stayed there for what felt like an hour, in baby time.
Amid the duelling chaos and monotony of caring for a toddler, I felt my heart soar with love. I knew this child; I had put forth my best efforts to help raise him, and the love we shared was the payoff. Even though he wasn’t actually mine, I had yet to find anything else in life that so consistently brought me the feelings of joy and satisfaction that being in his company and watching him grow did.
It felt so natural and aligned with the truest part of myself. Even though I hadn't before seen myself as the quintessential 'mothering type', I knew in that moment that motherhood was for me.
The second moment was when I was a few months from leaving. I was bored out of my mind, playing an overused board game with the same kid for the upteenth time. Suddenly I looked at him, like really, really looked, and I felt an overpowering sadness come over me from missing him.
My leaving was a long way off, he was sitting right in front of me, and honestly right then I would have rather been doing something else. Yet still, as I was with him I missed him, knowing he wouldn’t be mine forever.
In both of these moments I distinctly felt that there was no way to find this particularly potent and unique form of love and joy without family. Unique in that it isn’t always fun or pleasure-inducing like the more popular forms of love, yet it can always be found to be meaningful and soul-stretching.
As the years went on, I no longer felt ashamed of wanting children of my own. Choosing motherhood stopped being the old-fashioned cliche, the easy way out, or the thing you do if you can’t find something better to do.
I learned that it wouldn’t be a digression from my life’s progress; rather, it would require the ultimate use of skills and attributes I had worked my whole life to acquire. It wouldn’t be a 'time out' from the real challenges of life; instead, it would reveal my greatest weaknesses and provide a custom built arena for their refinement. In short, it would take the best of me.
Along with this shift came the awareness that I would need to be patient for the time to be right. I had learned how all-consuming parenthood is, and how unselfish I would need to become to embrace it. I had a lot of work to do, and had to trust that I would be guided to the time and place to start down that road.
As the years went on, I pursued my interests, education, and career in various combinations of time and commitment. I enjoyed incredible relationships of friendship and romance, and spent time figuring out what I believed about God and His role in my life.
I tried to enjoy each phase along the way, focusing more on what I had than what I did not. Eventually, the feeling that it was time to move toward family life became stronger. At times the feelings of longing and sadness when it seemed afar off were overwhelming and discouraging.
I, along with many of my single or childless friends, spent more than a few seasons wondering when our turn would come for what we wanted most. Countless tearful exchanges about our dreams of forming families are engraven on my heart, and my longing on behalf of my friends who are still seeking continues.
There’s an episode of Parenthood where the grandfather of my fake family, Zeek, takes his granddaughter to the scrap yard where her totaled car sits. She had been reckless and almost died in that car while under the influence. No one could get through to her, so of course, Grandpa Zeek to the rescue.
He says, “Amber, you know, I was two years in Vietnam. Do you know what I thought about, what I dreamt about? Coming home, having a family, having grandkids.
I dreamt you, Amber… You do not have my permission to mess with my dreams.”
Naturally, I cried like a baby at this. The line, “I dreamt you” felt like it came straight out of my soul--thank you, TV writers.
But the truth is, in the years leading up to finding Jon and having our son, I literally dreamt them both. There were many times where it seemed that perhaps family life was going to elude me and I was meant for a different path. Plenty of people are, and they have much success in life. Yet my experiences from years before had taken root, and countless quiet nudges over the years had assured me I needed to press on toward this worthy dream.
I tried to live in such a way to be ready for the realization of that dream, preparing to embrace the highs and lows that come with the deal, all while thriving in the life I did have.
Today, a child and a half later, I am still working on actually being ready, and on fully embracing all of it. But I never forget the waiting, the hoping, the dreaming. It truly has taken, and given, the best of me.
There are plenty of difficulties in marriage and parenthood and enough has been written of the hardships. With how ferociously I desired to raise a beautiful child with an incredible partner, I would be severely under-appreciating the realization of my fondest dream if I used this moment to focus on those areas rather than the pure miraculousness of the whole thing. The miracle makes the rest seem so small.
I want to be equal and opposite in my asking and thanking. I asked and asked and asked. Now I need to recognize the gift and thank and thank and thank.
Shortly after having my first son, I was talking with my mom as she shared a regret she carried about her early years of raising children, one I’m sure many parents would cite.
She said, “I wish I would have just sat with them more.”
My mind flashed to my younger self, lying on the trampoline with a baby on my chest. I simply couldn’t wait to have opportunities to “just sit” with my own son. As he has grown, that line has come to mind countless times as I have been in the thick of motherhood.
I never would have imagined that each day I would have the experience of a tiny boy, busy with toys and snacks, suddenly stop what he's doing and run to me. Squealing and beaming, his only desire is for me to hug him and press my forehead against his and giggle. To him, that moment is all there is. To me, pure joy.
Through Him I'll gain my fondest dream...**
Thank, thank, thank.
I dreamt this kid. I hoped for him, I waited for him, I worked for him. As I feel his little brother squirm inside my belly, I dream of him, too. Not a day passes that I don’t remember the tough days of hoping for them, knowing they would come eventually but wanting so badly to meet them sooner. It’s not lost on me that not everyone who hopes, waits, and works does not end up with my same result, and knowing that, I am humbled to have ended up here.
Although the feelings one has while trying to raise a helpless creature into a full-grown, capable person are not always pleasant, this little creature is my dream.
I am happy to just sit with him and forget the rest.
**This Easter, my heart feels extra inclined to remember the reason we are able to be so boundless in our love for one another. Because Heavenly Father allowed His Only Son to suffer and die, then to rise again the third day, I am allowed the sacred privilege of raising my own sons with a safety net. They will live on eternally, and by God’s grace I will forever be their mother. My Savior descended below all, enabling Him to carry me through the darkest days this life has to offer and to enhance my brightest days with added light and meaning.
I am always amazed at how, through the perspective the Atonement brings, life’s follies seem small and the beauty of being with those to whom we are eternally bound so enormous.
I testify that indeed “...through Him I’ll gain my fondest dream”.