Where I live, people consider themselves accomplished if they can buy a house, own a car, and take one or two vacations every year. For most of my life, I thought these were the achievements my sister and I have stolen from our parents.
After all, we grew up in a modest family. We always stayed in rented houses. We only dreamt of having a family car. And through our first 14 years of life, there were no vacations, but only the traditional summer holiday spent in the countryside, with our maternal grandparents.
Flashbacks From My Childhood
I recall coming back to town in autumn, before school. Our friends were telling stories about going to the seaside or the mountains. We could only tell them stories from harvesting the watermelons.
I recall my parents whispering late at night how they needed to borrow money, a few days before the monthly paycheck was supposed to come in.
I recall my father’s exasperated face whenever I was coming and asking for extra money for school, to buy different books or pay some fees.
I recall my parents’ fights, grown out of the daily worries, tensions, and work stress.
But despite all that, we always had a warm room to sleep in, good food on the table, and decent clothes. Our parents even made tremendous efforts to take us both through the university — all these at the considerable cost of never accomplishing something for themselves.
Or so I thought, for nearly 30 years.
I Had Different Plans. Then, Life Happened
Despite my limited possibilities as a child, I envisioned a different future for myself. I told myself I’d do better than they did. And the only thing I wanted to do just like them was to have children early on. I was that naive to dream of having two children and rock-solid financial independence in my early 20s.
Then I grew up, graduated from university, moved to another city, and got my first job.
Ironically, I still depended on my parents’ financial help to make it to the next paycheck. I hated it. Granted, it was consuming me. But with the burden of a rented studio and an entry-level salary, I couldn’t do any better.
One of the most embarrassing moments of my so-called adult independence was when someone offered to buy me bread.
It was late in the evening, and I’ve made the inventory of my wallet. I had the equivalent of 10 euro in cash and 3 or 4 food coupons. After planning to cook another humble potato meal, I went to the grocery shop. I needed to pay with the coupons and keep the cash for whatever emergency would have occurred — I dreaded the idea of not having a cent in my pocket.
But what do you know, the seller scanned all my groceries and, with the sourest face I had ever seen, spoke the five words that sent shivers down my spine — We don’t accept food coupons.
I was shocked, embarrassed, and everything else you can imagine. I wanted to drop the few items there and run. Go somewhere else where I could use my coupons. Naturally, I was too embarrassed for that too.
And so, I started to scratch the bottom of my wallet, trying to see if my last euros were enough to cover the expenses. It turned out I was short of one euro, and I wanted to put back the bread. A woman sitting in line behind me handed one euro to the seller and told her not to put my bread away.
I barely found the energy to thank the lady, grab my things, and melt away.
It was around that time when it became clear to me that I will never be a young mom. At that stage in my life, I was far from affording to take care of myself, let alone have children of my own.
After all, I decided that I didn’t want to be like my parents and have kids at the cost of letting them take me everything I had or at least the chance of getting everything I could have had.
But My Parents Thought Differently About Themselves
What my parents didn’t dare to tell me, or maybe they didn’t know how to do it, was that while a child takes you everything you had, in return, he gives you everything you’ve never had.
I was 29 when my father told me that my sister and I are the best things that ever happened to him. And that if he were to die then and there, he would have no regrets. Around the same time, my mother told me for the first time in my life, “I love you.”
Apparently, another thing that my parents didn’t have was the ability to express their feelings.
In any case, it looks like I’ve seen it all wrong. My parents did consider themselves to be accomplished. Because we offered them experiences and filled them voids that nothing else could have done it.
I Had To Become a Parent Myself To See Things Clearly
That time I was 29 and got to see my parents allowing themselves to be emotional in front of me? It was just when I was holding my two-month-old son in my arms — sobbing about how everything felt so incredibly hard and how I feared that I’m not going to be a good mom, and how I missed the things from my life that the baby had taken from me.
My parents acknowledged my feelings. A child takes you everything you ever had. It takes you the tremendous benefit of only having to take care of yourself, the freedom of taking risks all by yourself, and the peace of mind that comes from being accountable for yourself and only for yourself.
But hey, they told me, wait until you see what you get instead of all these.
It’s a journey you have to set foot on, so you can see what you’ve been missing through all that time when you weren’t a parent.
It’s a world of the privileged ones, where a tiny wrinkled face can, for a brief moment, wipe up all your tears and worries with a toothless, drooling smile.
A world where you start counting your blessings, not your troubles. A world that empowers you to look forward rather than backward.
All of a sudden, your life will feel so much better. And you become aware of the marvelous human being you’re holding in your arms, eager to find out what your future together will reveal.