Every parent I know is still the person they were before to varying degrees of accessibility, and if they are not, they are the type of person who was actually just a bowl of oatmeal in the first place, anyway. Like, the kind that isn't steel cut. Yes, parenting changes you on fundamental levels, but as far as I can tell, it never decimates the core preferences so much as temporarily mutes them.
I am fairly new to the parenting gig (22 months and counting) and am eminently unqualified to offer any sort of insight into Parenting as a human universal. But I am not new to being myself (484 months and counting) and am qualified to offer insight into myself once I added "parenting a child" to the mix.
Parenting a child didn't change me. I suspect all it's done is distill my most marked personality traits -- both the good and the, ahem, challenging -- because I no longer have either the energy or inclination to indulge unproductive nonsense, both my own and other people's. If adding "parent this human being" to my daily rota changed anything, it's my approach to time. I'm a lot meaner with it now.
I will never consider myself "lucky" that my dad died suddenly, but I will consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn so much from his death and the aftermath. The first, most lasting lesson I took away was this: I don't have time for these monkeyshines.
Or, to recast the sentiment in slightly morbid terms: If I were to die tomorrow, would I feel like everything I did in the last week reflected what I stand for and what I hope to accomplish? No? Then I need to fix whatever's broken so I'm not wasting my time.
The first lesson in parenting is similar: If it doesn't matter, it doesn't get my time . In fact, new parents quickly learn, even the things that matter barely get time. On a practical level, there's a lot crammed into a day when you're fully present and responsible for two lives.
On a more profound level: I'm only going to have one child.* Assuming my daughter remains healthy and continues to arc along a typical American child's trajectory toward adulthood, I'm going to be managing two lives for less than two decades. That is hardly a blip on most human time scales. I don't have a lot of time with this kid.
I won't lie: the first year was one long, blurred slog where time stretched like taffy at 3 a.m. and the process of trying to figure what in the blue hell it would take to get this baby to stop crying, and oh my GOD, kid, learn to speak because I cannot read minds or speak Screaminese ... sure, that felt long.
But that's over, and now I have someone who can tell me, "Teeth hurt. Rock me, Mommy. Sing," and this? This is so much more fun, and therefore so much more fleeting. Last week, I had a kid who would ask for, "Boo cup, pease!" and yesterday, clear as a bell, she said, "Blue cup, please."
I have so little time with this awesome person, so the time I have with her -- actually, all of my time -- has become that much more valued and valuable. I only have time for what matters to me. And since we are the sum of our priorities and actions, I still have time for me. The only thing that's changed: I'm perhaps a little more direct about who I am.
ETA: The image above was created by Stella Marrs; you can buy this one and more at Buy Olympia.
* Look at this formula: "Years of infertility + surprise pregnancy achieved via traditional means + advanced maternal age + boring, uneventful pregnancy = bright, healthy, happy child." This is the reproductive equivalent of walking into the MGM Grand, throwing a quarter in the slot machine and hitting a million dollar jackpot. When that happens, you don't pull out another quarter. You thank the universe for its largesse, humbly accept what was given, and move on to what's next. The end.