Nobody goes into parenting knowing what they’re doing. I mean, everybody thinks they know what they’re doing (or at least pretends to). But nobody knows.
I feel bad for firstborn children. I am a firstborn child. I know what it’s like.
Parents do the best they can. Mine certainly, in my estimation, did a stand-up job. But I was the first. Which means they had no fucking clue what they were doing.
I didn’t realize it when I was a child, this reality that they were clueless, which I’d say is a testament to how awesome they were. But in retrospect, especially now that I’m a parent with children of my own, it’s pretty clear, if only in the way they parented me versus the way they parented my younger brother.
I was the prototype. The test run. The ultimate experiment, just like every firstborn child that came before me and every firstborn child that follows me. Including my own firstborn son.
I was so young when he was born. Twenty-seven. So young.
I know lots of people have kids before 27, but for me, a decade later, 27 seems so, SO young. Because it is. It was.
I did the best I could — am doing the best I can.
That’s a lie.
I have made so many mistakes, I cringe at the thought. I continue to make so many mistakes. Daily. And I constantly worry about the long-term impact those mistakes are going to have on my children.
My firstborn in particular.
Because my firstborn? He’s exactly like me, a realization I’ve come to recently, but really, if we’re being honest, something I’ve kind of always known.
He’s highly sensitive. Anxious. Prone to depressive thoughts. More emotionally intelligent than he is mature. An old soul. An empath. And carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders despite not even knowing what the world is all about yet.
And it’s fucking terrifying. It’s. Fucking. Terrifying, knowing what’s in store for my child. Knowing the struggles he will face. Knowing the uncertainty and the emotional turmoil and the sensitivity and the heartache and the stress and the fucking bullshit of his own mind’s creation that he will deal with.
He recently confessed to me, after we’d had an argument, a post-punishment-talk-session-gone-wrong in which I’d begun crying against my will (which I’d just read in an article was a TERRIBLE thing to do in front of a child, to cry and break down, which only made me more upset) because I realized I was failing — EPICALLY FAILING — that it’s not me who makes him upset but himself who makes him upset.
He gets upset for no reason, he said. It’s just, sometimes his mind starts traveling to unpleasant places — starts thinking about catastrophic scenarios without reason or provocation — and he doesn’t know how to handle them. Nothing suicidal, thank God, but rather a series of What If? scenarios of which I, myself, am all too familiar.
I know these feelings. These thoughts. These inescapable, unwelcome fantasies. I know them. I KNOW THEM.
Because I used to have them. I still have them. They are the product of anxiety, these persistent, worrisome, life-altering thoughts. And I’m medicated because of them.
And because he’s my firstborn child, it’s taken me nearly a decade to ask him the question I should have asked when he was in preschool, when I first suspected he suffered from similar afflictions as I: Would you feel better if you saw a doctor who specializes in helping people whose brains sometimes have these thoughts?
YES, he said. I think so, he said.
What took me so long? I wondered. Why am I just now asking him this question, just now seriously considering getting him professional help?
But I know the answer. It’s because I didn’t want to know — didn’t want to believe — that I might have passed this affliction on to him. That he might be just as fucked up as I. Because I wanted to believe it would take care of itself. That he was just a kid, and that’s how kids behaved, how kids thought.
It’s because he’s my firstborn. And I don’t know what I’m doing. And because I don’t know what to do.
But I’m going to figure it out. For him. For younger me, who desperately wishes someone had asked the same question. I’m going to figure it out. We’re going to figure it out.
He may be as fucked up as I am, and I may be late to this party, but dammit, it’s not going to define him. Just as I’ve finally decided it won’t define me.