Unshared Experience

You know the saying, “I guess you had to be there,” or when people say, “How will I explain this.” I have always viewed these statements as user error, but since becoming a parent a lot has changed, and how exactly do you describe what parenthood is like to people who are not parents.

That is the challenge of expression. Taking an experience that is yours and describing it to someone that is not you or taking an experience that is not yours and weaving it into a fascinating story. Stephen King is neither an eight year old boy, a mild-aged woman, or an ancient and powerful wizard, but he has written those characters and made them all compelling and relatable.

With this being the case it should not be so hard for any of us to take our own experience and tell it in a way that any halfway literate person can relate to. Writing is a lot like cooking and I am consistently mystified by people that lack that ability. Cooking is simple. You take ingredients, combine them in a specific or non-specific order in a pot or pan, add heat, and after a certain amount of time you have a hot edible meal. For writing language is the ingredients. Nouns, pronouns, and verbs are your proteins starches, and vegetables, adjectives and adverbs are your herbs an spices, and articles, conjunctions, and prepositions are the broth or sauce that ties everything together. Writing and cooking are both simple activities that a vast amount of people find difficult for a confusing assortment of reasons.

But here I am struggling to describe what parenthood is like. I am only a few months into it but I can say that there is little in life better than just looking down into the smiling face of your infant child. Watching their bright, wide eyes studying you. Feeling the warmth of love expanding with in you, and knowing that you had a part in creating such a wondrous creature. Then the little bastard starts their fussing or crying and you are reminded that they are a helpless little thing that isn’t yet able to roll over, won’t be able to walk for months, learning speech will take even longer, and they will defecate on themselves for years.

If I were to attempt to describe parenthood in as few as words as possible I would say it is the combination of the greatest joy a person can feel combined with the absolute and unspeakable horror of the greatest responsibility a person can feel. Congratulations you have brought this wonderful, magnificent creature into the world, now see to their every need. Then you start to wonder if all the joy and happiness is hormones and body chemistry messing with you to make you feel the joy and happiness so you accept your new role as servant to a tiny, immobile tyrant.

Then there is this. I’m now fine with dying. My biggest fear for most of my life has been my own mortality. I vomited giving blood once because it was too comfortable and relaxing and I started wondering just how long it would take to drain all the blood from my body. Now I have fully accepted my own mortality and at 38 years old I am more concerned with the legacy I will leave behind than not leaving at all. It is utterly terrifying to realize I am no longer afraid of dying because I have a lot of life left in front of me and I would like a little bit of that fear back.

There may very well be things in life that are indescribable. Language is not perfect. It is, after all, a construct of man designed to communicate through symbols that our experiences give meaning. Language is excellent at describing the physical and observable world, but not great at describing and explaining complex ideas and emotions. This is why poetry and songs have existed for as long as they have. We’re all sitting here trying to describe our emotions to each other and each and everyone of us is continually failing and the greatest of us are those that fail the least.

Does it matter if I cannot describe exactly what parenthood is like? It isn’t something I could understand until I was living it and I doubt I could help you to understand exactly what it is like until you are living it. There is no replacement for experience. No matter how skilled we are with language there are certain things that are impossible to convey. If you have never stood on a beach on a warm summer day and felt the cool water lapping at your feet as they sink into the moist sand no amount of description will be able to replicate that experience. So while I can stand at the base of my child’s crib and look down at their milk frosted smiling toothless grin and feel the warmth of love and joy rising and expanding within me. unless you have likewise experiences similar it is impossible to convey that moment through language.

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