The Evolution of Children
Since becoming a mother, I have been asked many times, “how do you like being a mom?” or “what’s it like being a mom?” These are simple questions, and generally I give a very simple response, like “awesome!” or “tiring, but totally worth it.” But these questions often leave me wondering… what is it really like being a mom? How can I relate my experience in parenting to something that everyone can understand?
Last night, while chasing my daughter around the living room, trying to corner her between the couch and the wall, to pry the knife out of her hand that she stole out of the dishwasher…. It hit me. I have a ferret.
All children start off as lizards. They are kind of cool to look at it, but a little scary to hold. Their food is unique, and determining how much to feed them and how often is a challenge in the beginning. But eventually that works itself out.
Anything your lizard does is amazing and the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. It sleeps a lot and for the most part moves around slowly in a controlled environment. It craps everywhere and all the time. Your friends want to come over and look at it and hold it, but don’t think they would want one.
Then one day, POOF… the lizard turns into a hamster. It gets even cuter and now has hair that you can brush. It will scurry around all over its cage, playing with its little toys. You can let it out of the cage, but then you have to chase it all over the place and make sure your house is safe for it. At this stage, it's friendlier and will often come to you when you have food or when you are trying to clean its cage. The food is a lot simpler. There are tons of brands to choose from, and sometimes you can give it table food as long as it is chopped up into tiny little bites. Your friends love it! Everyone wants to hold it and play with it, until it poops, and then they give it right back.
One day you’ll be playing with your hamster, and magically right in front of your eyes, it changes into a ferret. It just stands up on its little hind legs and tries to walk, but can’t quite get it. However, it is super-fast at scurrying around now. It steals all of your things and hides them from you. It climbs on everything and rips at your furniture. The cage is now too small, so you set up “play areas” for it – but that doesn’t work. It always finds a way past the gates. Food has gotten even easier – you don’t have to chop it up as much, and it will pretty much eat what you eat. It is now more interactive and loves to snuggle. Your friends can’t get enough of your new ferret!
Everything it does is cool! They love to play with it and bring it little toys, until they realize that it’s now way gassier, and its poops smell like something a grown man would do. So then they leave.
Then, one day while you are watching your ferret destroy everything around you, you call it to come snuggle. It shakes its head and says “no”. Boom! You now have a parrot. You’re kind of excited! You think, “Sweet, now it can just tell me what it wants and needs!” But why would your parrot do that when it can just repeat dirty words you say and bite you? It’s developed these long claws that it loves to sink into your skin. It will scream out “AHHHHH!” when it gets hungry or tired or can’t find the toy it wants – or whatever the hell is wrong with it… You wouldn’t know, because your parrot only says “holy shit” and “no”, then bites you. It does sometimes dance, and that’s cute, but that’s about it.
Your friends think it’s great! They spend time trying to get your parrot to repeat dirty words or train it to do funny stuff. Meanwhile you have to explain to your mom why your parrot keeps saying “bull” and tries to drink beer. It poops often, and it seems like you always have to clean up behind it.
While trying to sleep in on a beautiful Sunday morning, you will feel a thump on the end of your bed. You are slowly waking and trying to figure out what it could be. You feel as if someone is staring at you inches from your face. You open your eyes, and lo and behold, your parrot is now a cat… And it’s hungry. You smile, thinking “how sweet. It came in here to cuddle,” and as you turn to your side to cuddle it, it palm strikes you in the face and screams “EAT!”
You crawl out of bed and realize that it has been awake for awhile. It has knocked everything off the counters, tried to eat some animal crackers and spit those up - on the couch, of course. There are no more cages or play areas; everything is subject to its destruction. There is a designated pooping area, but you have to clean it up afterwards. It rarely talks to you anymore and you don’t know where it spends its time.
Your friends see it as just something else in your house and occasionally take interest in trying to pet it or maybe play with it – if it isn’t hiding. You don’t have to watch it all the time and can let it outside without having to supervise. But now you spend hours wondering where it is and when it will get back, only to have your neighbor bring it home, saying it destroyed her azaleas. You have to apologize on its behalf, even though you hate that neighbor and are secretly happy her azaleas are destroyed. You try to “punish” it for destroying the azaleas, but nothing works. It just looks at you like you’re an asshole. You try to cuddle it – but it wants nothing to do with you unless it’s hungry or cold. You have given up on trying to buy any new food for it. You just get the same thing over and over again, because you know it will eat that.
You spend many years with your cat, just wishing that it wouldn’t hiss at you and run away when it gets mad; that it would just snuggle up at sometime other than only when it is hungry or cold.
Then one day it doesn’t come home, and it is now living with another cat at a friend’s house. Just like that – you have a horse. Even though it doesn’t live with you, it still depends on you to feed it and house it by paying its stable fee. It spends all of its time with other horses and never with you unless you go to visit it. It’s never excited to see you; in fact, it never seems excited at all. If you want to spend time with it, you have to take it somewhere, which means you spending more money because it needs gear and shoes. Your friends ask about it occasionally, but are not really interested in being around it.
I’ve come to realize that I am more of a zoo keeper than a mother. I spend most of my time worrying about the cat and horse years, but always come to the conclusion there will still be wine and beer in 10 years, and that eases my anxiety. I find comfort in knowing that one day soon I will get the satisfaction of being awkward around her friends, and then eventually showing up at her house unannounced and staying all day.