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Oregon Family Magazine

Parenthood Is No Picnic (It’s A Safari)

03/03/2015 13:59 ● By Sandy Kauten

Nobody ever said parenthood is a picnic. The perils are not comparable to a whiff of skunk or a few ants in the potato salad. It’s more of a safari, full of ominous warnings and real danger.

You meet someone, you get married and you blithely plan a family. It’s as if you are in a settlement at the edge of the jungle, buying supplies, trying on sporty outfits with epaulets and lots of pockets, then celebrating with a drink in a bar with zebra skins on the walls and ceiling fans slowly paddling the humid air. On the stool beside you is a man in filthy khakis with a week’s stubble on his face. The whites of his eyes are yellow and he smells bad. He grabs your lapel with a shaking hand and says, “My daughter is marrying a guy that I can’t stand and the wedding is going to cost me $20,000.” You look away, thinking, “A crank. The tropics are full of them.”

Conception occurs and the baby grows and begins kicking. Now you are in the jungle, marching at the head of your entourage. The rhythmic throb of native drums begins at dawn and continues all day. It seems to be coming from every direction and it does not stop. There is agitation in the ranks.

You look to your guide, and there are beads of sweat on his waxy skin. He says, “Bwana, the drums warn of childbirth. They foretell 36 hours of labor and unspeakable agony.” You turn around to find all the porters have vanished with the food and ammo.     

“Haven’t these primitive drummers heard of Lamaze?” you say and march on.

The baby is born after 36 hours of labor and unspeakable agony. A perfect little girl. Three months later you put her in a stroller and take her to the park where young moms step forward to admire her. There is a crashing in the bushes and a woman stumbles into the clearing. She is wild-eyed, her clothes hang in shreds and her body has been raked by sharp claws. She raves, “My daughter is 13 and she thinks I’m an idiot and only her so-called friends know anything. But they are malignant dopes!”

Your baby looks up at you with worshiping eyes, and the woman reels back into the shrubbery.

Your daughter is about to start kindergarten, all dressed up and carrying a brand-new lunchbox. With camera in hand, you pose her in front of the school. “Stand over there right next to that cauldron and smile.” A red-faced man sits chest-deep in the steaming water amid sliced carrots and celery. One eye is swollen shut and he is weeping and wailing.

“Hey Mister,” you say. “Could you keep it down? This is a big occasion for us, and I’m trying to get a nice picture.”

“I just p-p-put myself $100,000 in debt to p-p-pay for college,” he sobs, “and my son dropped out in the last semester before g-g-graduation.” A tear rolls from his good eye, down a bruised cheek and into the hot water.

“You should’ve saved up,” you say. Then, as if tossing a bay leaf into his soup, you add, “You probably didn’t read to him when he was little.”

You take your child by the hand and go to meet her first teacher.

Twenty years ago, I announced to my father that my wife and I were expecting our first baby. Dad, who often spoke as if his words were going to be etched in stone, said, “Son, you are embarking upon an adventure the likes of which you cannot imagine.”

The old man knew what he was talking about. Unless you’ve raised a child or two, you haven’t lived; you’ve merely skimmed across Life’s surface, glanced through its brochure or “liked” it on Facebook.

In any given day, raising kids can be as challenging as taming hyenas, as exciting as discovering a lost tribe, as painful as a pantload of fire ants, and as fun as tickling a monkey. Parenthood will propel you through emotional landscapes as jolly as a field of Easter eggs, as scary as an Emergency Room, as thrilling as an auditorium on opening night, and as eerie as the front seat of a car with your child at the wheel. And pervading each scene and transaction, is parenthood’s true purpose – to produce another loving person. That’s the mission and it’s the biggest thing any of us will ever attempt. Yes, every so often you’ll find yourself in the tightening coils of a huge snake, but parenthood is really all about love, yours and theirs.

Rick Epstein can be reached at [email protected]