I know. I get it. I felt the same. The middle-aged woman in the check-out line behind you is all, “Oh, Honey,” as she stares at your bullet-shaped bump. “Just you wait.” Or a tired mom-friend, gray circles beneath her eyes, says, “Better catch up on sleep now,” as though you can will your pregnant self to sleep longer than 2 hours straight, as though you can abracadabra away your aching hips or your squished bladder. Or a cranky aunt says in her gravelly voice between cigarette puffs, “Let’s just see how much time you have for [insert rewarding personal interest here] once Junior arrives.”

Alright, so that cranky aunt is a caricature, but you know what I’m talking about. People left and right tell you to hold onto your nursing bra because this parenting thing, it’s the hardest thing you’ve attempted since that time you tried to pull a beluga whale through your nostril. Oh wait, that wasn’t you? Okay then, this parenting thing is the hardest thing you’ve ever tried. Ever.

When I was pregnant with my first child, my second least favorite comment was, “Better catch up on your sleep,” as though for the past 32 years I’d been sleeplessly pissing away my nights, having no idea what to do between the hours of 11pm and 7am. But my all-time least favorite comment was, “Enjoy your husband while you can,” like as soon as the baby came out, the man I’d known and loved for ten years would vanish.

Friend, two plus years into this parenting gig, eight months into my second child’s life, I would love to be the person who offers the counter voice to these people. Who says, “They’re just trying to scare you” or “They just want to feel superior” or “They misremember how glowingly awesome it is to provide for a limp and crying and very cute human.” But I can’t be that person. I’m sorry. I have heard of some folks out there who slip into parenting as one would slip into a silk shirt. But like many, I’ve found this role of motherhood to be harder than anything I’ve ever endeavored. Rewarding? Yes. Meaningful? Yes. Life-altering? Yes, of course. But also: really, really hard.

So I don’t think (most) parents are trying to be cruel when they stare at your big belly and offer annoying warnings and just-you-waits.

It makes me wonder, though: Why do we parents do this? What point do we think it will serve? Last summer, I visited a friend who had a four-month-old baby. The baby had just crept out of what baby books call “The Fourth Trimester,” when all Baby wants to do is mimic womb-like activities of snuggling and sleeping for spurts of 20 minutes and waking to a constant stream of nourishment. For a parent, it can be a taxing three months if you’re the kind of person who likes to, say, eat a meal. Or get a shower. Or pee. I watched my friend and her husband pass the baby back and forth, bounce the baby, feed the baby, burp the baby, rock the baby, counsel each other about whether they should put the sleeping baby down, put the sleeping baby down only to have Baby’s eyes peep open the second her head hit the crib mattress. The newbie parents washed, rinsed, repeated.

My friend was the usual version of new-momma distraught. “Why doesn’t anyone tell you how hard it is?” she asked, wisps of hair coming out of her  pony tail as she wrangled her wailing baby back on her boob.

“They do,” my husband said. “I just don’t think we can hear it beforehand.”

Pre-parenthood, I certainly couldn’t hear the warnings. I’d read books, observed other mothers, babysat kids, perused the giant baby stores, but I was still as prepared for parenting as I would be prepared for deep-sea diving: all the simulations in the world will never tell you what it’s really like until you jump right into the ice-cold water and descend.

“How could anyone really prepare you?” my husband said.

A baby swing sat in the hall. Baby toys were scattered across the small living room. The house had been turned into a laboratory for appeasing a baby, and the baby was on the mother’s boob, propped up by five pillows. The mom nodded. She agreed. Nobody can prepare you.

I actually think our warnings to expectant parents are our attempts to reach back in time and prepare ourselves. To garner our oblivious, pre-child existences against the shock of what will hit us. Which we can’t do. So we try to prepare you. Which we can’t do. But we try anyway. We repeat the incantations. We hope against hope that you, that any not-yet-parent, that even our former, earnest, silly selves can ever hear how upside-down our lives are turned with kids.

But when we look back into memory, our former selves don’t hear—they are sitting on couches, idling away another Friday night with a movie. They are sleeping in on Saturday mornings. The 9 A.M. light is illuminating their well-rested faces. Or they are holding long, thoughtful, uninterrupted conversations with partners on rainy Sunday afternoons, daydreaming of what it might be like to maybe, someday, have kids.

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