When our family moved back to Brooklyn, our already-complicated apartment search was complicated further by my son being ready to enter preschool. In New York – if you believe the hype – even the preschool your kid attends can influence his future.
We ultimately had to choose between two schools: one that had some potential drawbacks but was in a much more convenient location, and one that had a better reputation but would be a hassle to get to. Life was so much easier when there were fewer people to worry about. Now I have to consider the toddler?
We chose the better, less convenient school. Because — parenting.
When you become a parent even things as basic as choosing where to live become infinitely more complicated. What was once purely about you – What’s the commute like? Are their cool bars in the area? Are friends nearby? Does the local bodega have a good beer selection? – becomes something much more far-reaching.
Every decision you make – about his school (Is it in a good zone?), about where you live (Is there a playground or a park nearby?), about what you eat (Are there GMOs?), about what you drive (Is it safe?) – has bearing not only on your life, but on your children’s lives. Priorities change.
Priorities … yours or your kids?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: parenting is a balancing act. Between your kids’ present and their future. Between your authority and your apathy. Between your life and theirs. It’s easy enough at the start, when you have no choice so you don’t drink because you have to breastfeed, or you don’t go out partying because you have to be up early with the kid. But as your kids get more independent, you get some of your independence back.
Except you never really do. Sure, on a day-to-day basis, on a micro level, you will. Sometimes. Once your kid is three or four, he can spend some time in the other room by himself. She can watch a show while you cook dinner or finish some work or set your fantasy line-up. But in the grand scheme of things? In your mindspace?
You’ll never make another decision without considering your child. The kids are always your priorities.
Should you take that job at the up-and-coming start-up that doesn’t offer healthcare? Is buying sports car practical now that you need room for a car seat in the back? Should you move into a hip neighborhood with a good commute but a shitty school system? Is watching Star Wars with him when he’s only four a good idea?
There’s no more solely looking out for number one. Your comfort and convenience no longer trump all, not when your choices affect your offspring and the potential ramifications are so extreme. Obviously some of these decisions will matter (I doubt watching Star Wars this winter is going to put him on a dangerous path) and some won’t, but – and here’s the rub – you’ll never know which. Which is partially why you need to calm the fuck down.
I’m a firm believer in the unpredictability of this parenting thing. It’s impossible to always get it right.
Raising a kid is like living the butterfly effect. Every little thing you do could potentially be tragic. Which isn’t to say you should over-think the gig, or go full-helicopter on your spawn (to quote myself: I’m raising a person, not a chain reaction.) Who knows if any of that stuff will actually work? What does work is caring.
It’s impossible to know the long-term effects of whatever techniques you’re putting into action, not for a good thirty years. But I do know that making sure your kids aren’t an afterthought, that they are an integral part of your daily life, does have a long-term effect. Love and concern and respect shine through, and will influence your kids in ways both obvious and unexpected.
It won’t make your life any easier, this constant attention and consideration of this new, irrational, often maddening little human being. Factoring his future into nearly every decision you make won’t make things very convenient for you, and your life will be a lot less straightforward. But that’s OK. You’ve had your run.
Now that you’re a parent, it’s your job to make your kids’ lives as simple as possible. Especially when they’re still mush-brained toddlers. Those are your priorities.