Puke is a part of my hero’s journey, apparently.
My son refuses to blow his nose. We used to get him to blow it by inviting him to participate in a booger contest, but the novelty of that has worn off. So, last night, the accumulation of all of the snot and boogers he sucked into his tiny body and swallowed over the last few days finally erupted in the middle of the night.
Crying from my son’s room ripped me out of sleep, as it does. And I went into his room to find vomit on his face, shirt, and bed. There’s something about this type of sleep disruption that puts me into emergency mode. Without really thinking about it, I knew I had to clean it up. Be gentle. Not gag at the smell and the wet spot on my own shirt (probably puke).
These types of moments are like what you train for as a parent, right? If parenting was a job, these are the scenarios for which you prepare. There’s no standard operating procedure, though. No, reference manual. Just a dark room, a crying kid, and puke.
My Hero’s Journey
This morning, in a moment of synchronicity, a friend shared a piece about parenting from The Cut. The essay is an excerpt from a book by Jessi Klein called I’ll Show Myself Out. In the piece, the author reflects on an experience shopping for nom-noms at Target. And how mundane and banal events like picking up emergency refills of your kid’s favorite snack may perhaps actually be a part of your hero’s journey.
“The truth is that motherhood is a hero’s journey. For most of us it’s not a journey outward, to the most fantastic and farthest-flung places, but inward, downward, to the deepest parts of your strength, to the innermost buried core of everything you are made of but didn’t know was there.”
The hero’s journey has been traditionally something that only men embark upon, but Klein suggests that the seemingly trivial day-to-day activities of a mommy are actually as worthy of a grand tale as the struggles of your favorite male protagonists.
But, instead of embarking on an epic journey in exotic and unknown lands, “A mother’s heroic journey is not about how she leaves but about how she stays.”
I think this is probably true for any primary caregiver, not just moms. For anyone who gets up in the middle of the night to check on a crying kid only to find puke and tears soaking their tiny bed. For anyone struggling through the Sunday mid-afternoon boredom of a rainy day. For anyone picking up random items of clothing from the floor for the 600th time today.
I’m infinitely thankful for a partner who often takes on much of the mundane responsibilities of parenting. I can’t imagine how challenging it would be to maintain any semblance of yourself if I needed to give all of myself to parenting all of the time.
“Every mother you know is in this fight with herself. The sword that hangs over her is a sword of exhaustion, of frustration, of patience run dry, a sword of indignation at how little she feels like a human when she so often has to look and behave like an animal. Mostly, it is the sword of rage: the rage and shock of how completely she must annihilate herself to keep her child alive.”
Parenting is boring. And it will make you feel like a robot or an animal, only existing to keep your tiny human alive. But, it’s also exciting. And you can expect any number of crazy and hilarious and frustrating things to happen at any time of the day or night.
Despite the boredom, despite feeling unappreciated, and despite cleaning up puke and boogers in the middle of the night, part of a parent’s hero’s journey is sucking it up and being there.