There is a question doing the rounds on Facebook: What movie quote best describes your life?
At first glance, that seems a tough one to answer. Do they mean my life right now? Or are they talking about childhood, the awkward teen years, the misspent youth, the dawning of middle age?
If I narrow it down to the present, then the choice is obvious and automatic. It comes from one of the few films that captures the chaotic, frightening and exhilarating moments of parenthood.
I’m talking, of course, about Jaws.
In my opinion, no truer words about parenting exist than those uttered by Chief Brody when he comes face to face with the behemoth shark he has set out to kill and he realizes he has set himself a task way beyond his capabilities:
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Aw, hell, yeah.
Because as much as you think you’re prepared to be a parent, you’re not. You may have hired an expert fisherman, brought a marine biologist on board and prepared to stay out till the job was done, but eventually you will be forced to admit that your child is a 2-meter-long great white shark with a taste for human flesh and a personal vendetta against the good people of Amityville.
Ha-ha. Kidding. Maybe.
To be fair, there are people who don’t feel overwhelmed by parenthood. I met one once. The memory is hazy, since it was a few weeks after my first child was born and I was anemic and exhausted. In a breastfeeding support group, an impeccably dressed woman without a scrap of vomit sticking to her told me motherhood wasn’t challenging at all.
“It’s just such a privilege to be a mother,” she said, as she nursed her infant and her toddler played contentedly at her feet.
Unsure what kind of support she was meant to be providing in a support group, I went back to “nursing,” which meant squeezing back tears as my son flattened and abraded a part of my body that deserves much greater kindness than an infant can give. (Why, oh why, can’t breast milk issue forth from a less sensitive part of the body, say, the callused soles of our feet?)
We were interrupted by Little Miss Privilege hrieking because her toddler had walked into a door knob. Flying across the room, infant still at one breast, she dropped to the floor and lifted her shirt so the older child could latch on to the other breast.
“She finds it comforting,” she told me, as her toddler stood and nursed with tears streaming down her face.
Holy hell, I thought to myself. If she thinks that’s easy, I’m am 100 percent f—ked.
But for the most part, people I have encountered find parenthood as daunting as I do. Because you can love your children to pieces, they can be something you wanted all your life, and they can still be your most formidable challenge.
Believe it or not, the physical part is the easy part. You can get by on little sleep, lowered standards of hygiene and scraps of food caught on the fly and survive. By my count, for eight years.
It’s the psychological aspect that can make you want to give up. When my son was an infant and cried, I was convinced he was in terrible pain. When he went on walks strapped to my husband’s chest, I was convinced he would catch the plague. (To be fair, we lived in London.) When his nose became clogged from a cold I was convinced he would stop breathing.
The first night my son slept by my side, I was wide awake and breathless in terror, constantly reaching over to check that he was still alive. It was then that I realized I would never sleep soundly again. Even though the delicate newborn years wouldn’t last forever, there would always be something to worry about. From nightmares to bullies to broken hearts and brutal life lessons, he would have to suffer and there WOULDN’T BE A DAMN THING I COULD DO ABOUT IT.
Damn straight I needed a bigger boat. Or a shot of Jaegermeister.
Of course, I’ve relaxed a bit. It’s impossible to operate at that frequency for long without imploding and when the universe throws the degree-of-difficulty crap it has flung at my family, you just gotta sack up and deal.
But if there were ever any words that gave me more comfort in my “Oh s**t!” moments of parenting, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” tops the list.
That and “Sweep the leg” from The Karate Kid. I mean, right???