The Physical Discomforts of Parenting by Ori Lenkinski
*originally published in Hebrew in Haaretz
Independence Day, 2016. Tel Aviv.
My husband and I take our 3-year-old daughter on a bike ride to the Tel Aviv port. It’s a very hot day but we want her to see the plane display (Matas). We stop at Landwer for brunch before heading to the beach.
The waiter walks by our table just as I stand up to cut her schnitzel, a jug of lemonade in his hand. About two steps away from me, he stumbles and subsequently pours the entirety of the jug down the back of my shirt.
I am soaked top to bottom in lemonade. Pools of it gather in my sneakers, my underwear are hit, my shirt a total loss.
I do my best to clean myself up in the bathroom and return to our table to finish eating.
We leave the restaurant and head to the beach but the throngs of people on the boardwalk make it impossible to get a good vantage point. As a compromise, and to keep the little one happy, we stop at a playground close to the sand. My daughter wants to go down the slide but it’s bigger than what she’s used to so she insists that I come with.
The slide is a yellow tube. It begins with a horizontal section and then loops twice down to the asphalt. My daughter goes in, dragging me by the hand behind her. As she glances at the slide, panic strikes and she freezes. She won’t go down.
The sun is now directly above the yellow tube, heating it up like a tightly wrapped burrito. The aforementioned lemonade has long ago turned to syrup and is coating most of my skin. Parts of my hair have crystalized with the sugar and are now both crusty and slimy. I am wedged in the tube, one leg forced under my body, the other cranked at an awkward angle behind me. My head is bent to one side as I am far too large for a slide made for ages 0-6.
As I turn to exit the tube to safety, a little boy comes in blocking the light at the end of the tunnel. He doesn’t speak any of the three languages I can communicate in and doesn’t understand that I’m asking him to let us out. He wants to go down the slide. He slowly but surely edges forward towards my twisted mess of a body. My daughter won’t budge. The boy won’t budge.
And there, trapped in the stifling yellow gauntlet, I become acutely aware of the intense physical discomforts of parenting.
This wasn’t the first time I thought about this element of being a mother. I’m not even talking about pregnancy, birth, recovery, breastfeeding, carriers, lack of sleep and all of the other side effects of having a baby. I’m also not talking about the urine, feces, vomit, saliva, snot or ear wax that one must mitigate as a parent. Those are obvious, enormous, incomprehensible. The stuff of science fiction.
I’m talking about something more subtle, more every day, less visible. Those moments where, as the caretaker of a small person, you find yourself eating food that has been on the floor for well over three seconds just because you know a trash can is out of arm’s reach. Or when you trek down your city block with a kid in each arm, each one holding a melting popsicle, sweating like you’ve just finished a Bikram yoga class only to run into an esteemed and immaculately dressed colleague. Those moments when your child stretches out their adorable little hand and demands that you accompany them up or down a slide, on or off a swing, in and out of a Gymboree, bathroom stall, airplane seat, Slip n Slide, ball pit and so on and so forth. Spaces that are too small, too crowded, too hot, too sticky or too gross for your body to fit into.
I thought I was accustomed to physical discomfort from being a dancer. Those long hours in studios where the best answer to August heat is a standing fan, doing contact improvisation with fully grown men who don’t believe in deodorant, chucking myself onto the floor more times that I could count, being swung through the air until I nearly puked, getting accidentally punched in the nose, eye or ribs five to twelve minutes before a big premiere… I once had my chin beach-ball-slammed into the floor during a partnering class in Vienna.
The entire bottom half of my face and throat were blue/black for a month afterwards. I’ve performed on a shelf, nailed three meters up a wall, covered in melting bee’s wax. I’ve filmed movies in the freezing cold waters of the January Atlantic Ocean. I ran up and down the concrete slope of a parking garage in high heels over and over for a six-week run of a site-specific show in lower Manhattan. Had a romantic solo with a recently killed salmon.
But none of that prepared me for the discomforts of parenting.
What is the difference between these physical unpleasantries?
In my professional discomforts, even if I was working for a choreographer, even a bossy one, I could speak up and say, “this hurts, it makes me feel sick, I’m too hot, I’m nauseous, I can’t” and almost always, they would listen and change course. With my kids, no amount of “it’s too small, it’s for kids only, grown-ups can’t go in there,” will convince them that they don’t need me to go with them. And no amount of those gripes will annul the knee jerk response I have when I see their little urging faces as they stretch out those slimy hands and beg that I “COME”.