Apr 12, 2018

nothing compares?

I always chafe at the notion that once a professional becomes a parent, all other ambitions fall a distant second to the new identity of caregiving. It’s not that I don’t understand the broad brush of the sentiment—because yes, of course, there’s nothing like the commitment of parenting, nothing like the arrival of a child to permanently alter a life. But the truth about work and parenting is more interesting than that, and I find myself trying to explain it these days.

To wit, here is one thing that is true: Parenting has an extraordinarily powerful and efficient headshrink effect on work-as-identity, work choices, day-to-day problematic work issues. My children are very proud of what I do professionally in the abstract, at the their young ages, but they don’t really care about my job. And that fact is two-sided in the best way: They don’t care if I was really good at it on any given day, and they don’t care if I was a spectacular failure. Needless to say, this has a bracing and salutary effect on the ego.

And certainly, when I think about how best to use my time in a week, or a month, or a year, I am considering who I want to be with them every bit as much as I’m considering my career. I am taking in the freckle pattern on the one child’s nose, and testing my back strength to speculate how much longer I can carry the other, when ragdoll-tired at night, to bed. I am pleading with the neural functions of long-term memory to kick in at the high pitch of their voices and the wonky shapes of their emergent big teeth. So yes: Knowing them and shaping life with them is a force like the moon and the tide.

But here is another thing that is true: I am among the most fortunate people alive, because I have choices about my work. So I feel as wildly ambitious as I’ve ever felt, because I am marking time in a way that’s augmented by the idea of their lives in the future. How might I do work that will at least be available to them in a way they can recognize and enjoy and respect, even if it’s only for them and, in a hundred years’ time, for very few others? To be awake, naming the beauty and strangeness of this life: to lasso the slippery passage of time and give it form. It’s work I want to do for me—and I do so hope it’s for the use of others—but it’s also for them.