“The last good night's sleep you’ll have is the night before your first child is born.” I laughed at the woman who told me that. I was eight months pregnant at the time with our first child and thought she was daft. What did she know anyway? Her three boys were teenagers. One had just gotten his driver’s license. Of course she was freaked. When her youngest left for college, I was certain she’d sleep soundly once again. However, my plan to confirm that belief never materialized. We moved back to Chicago and lost touch with each other. Besides, if we had stayed connected, she'd have had the last laugh on me. I haven’t had a really solid, devil may care, snooze until 11 in the morning sleep for the last forty years. Any hope of regaining such a night was abandoned long ago.
“Before I had children, no one told me how completely absorbed I’d become in my children’s lives,” a friend told me as we talked about our children, past dreams and unrealized expectations. “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.”
I had to agree. The odds that all of our children will be in a great place, or even a good place, at the same time are 1000 to 1. Not that either of us would change anything. We love our children and grandchildren, the texture of our lives, the chaos and the tumult. Most days, she paints, I write. But if the phone rings and we hear heartache and struggle at the other end, it’s hard to focus on the work when all we really want to do is drop everything and rescue our child. We listen, offer advice, hang up, worry, consider packing a suitcase and catching the next flight, reject that idea, search for a cheerful gift on the internet, drink another cup of coffee, then call back to see if she, or he, feels any better.
I’m sure there are those who can snap their cell phone shut and get back to work. I’m just not one of them. Neither is my friend. The aftermath of those miserable moments is that she stares at the canvas and I turn off my laptop. What’s the point? We just wish that years ago we knew, on the deepest level, that we’d never return to the carefree place that existed the night before our first child was born. That was before and this is after and there’s no magical return ticket available.