The space between

I often find one of the most difficult and painful things about parenting to be the space -sometimes a sliver, sometimes a gulf- between your hopes and expectations of any given situation and the actual experience of it. More times than I can count, I've planned a date or activity with one or both of the boys which, according to plan, would be relaxed and fun. Perhaps it'd be educational and enriching, perhaps simply silly, hopefully memorable, at the least some pleasant time together. Or I've set aside a day or afternoon with the express purpose of having unplanned time together. Doesn't that sound terrific? Yes, in theory.

Not infrequently, these times turn out to be intense affairs of management and negotiation which leave me feeling frazzled, defeated and a bit sad. Not always, of course, but enough that they seem a seriously vocal minority. As if I'd left the room for a second and when I returned, the kids had turned into a manic subset of needy citizens, all trying to stake their claim and be heard. Wait, I think, what happened? This time is supposed to be lovely and simple (I didn't say easy; I said simple), not exhausting and wild. It's like emotional whiplash.

My perception of the parenting experience is that it's largely one of idealistic hope which draws from a vast expanse of love. You hope that your children are healthy and remain that way. You hope that what you do makes them happy. You hope that the opportunities you provide them foster maturation into good and kind and thoughtful individuals. You do all you do because you love and want the best for these precious creatures you've brought into the world.

That many parents' idealism can never be completely tamped is a beautiful tribute to all we do get from our children. The love we bestow on and receive from them often acts as the best sort of amnesiac. It's certainly one reason women so willingly go through labor and childbirth repeatedly; the pain is erased by the afterglow of happiness (and hormones). It's why parents endure night after sleepless night, give up what raising children demands we do.

But in trying so hard, so constantly over days, weeks and years, you also realize how much harder things are made and/or can feel when between what you hope and what you get emerges a discrepancy. Food for thought.