If parenting were equivalent to workplace status reports, life would be depressing. If we had to associate our children’s development with tangible progress, it’d be an unending spiral of inadequacy and regret. Several years ago, before we were parents, my wife and I had a few morsels of disposable income. Can you even believe it? We had the great fortune to spend money on frivolous things like our house, our retirement, and entertainment…can you even imagine? Five or six years ago, before the birth of our first daughter, we strolled into a small-town antique store to peruse some handmade crafts and support local business. While I might typically rebuke such an outing—being the cheapskate contrarian that I am—we found an item perfect for our house and, at that time, an apropos keepsake for our coming family: a small wooden plank that exclaimed: The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things.
It’s an unusual transition for most families (ours included), where monies’ assignments quickly shift from pleasures and housewares and entertainment to preparation for an impending child. While my wife and I were not the sort focused on Fixer Upper style renovations, we did allow an occasional diversion into the upgrade of our home. When Eliza was on her way, however, we quickly diverted into a ridiculously conservative lifestyle to anticipate her arrival. Anyways, pre-Eliza, our aforementioned venture into a small town antique store with a four dollar budget (perhaps a slight exaggeration) led us to stumble upon a small, 18 inch by 18 inch planked sign that, as previously mentioned, read The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things.
It was a $12 footnote in our assembly of all things needed for our first child. We stashed it in a presentable yet forgotten corner of our living room and moved forward in preparation of Eliza. The weathered sign lingered in the periphery of our décor for several months prior to our first daughter’s arrival. There may not have been any specific trigger that registered a more profound influence of the sign, but regardless it suddenly loomed large as our lives progressed. Eliza brought joy, elation, and celebration while simultaneously bringing financial distress, expense, and consternation. Babies may be the most joyous and happy experiences of one’s life, but they inevitably bring at least some measure of anxious expense and financial focus.
As we brought Eliza into our house, our focus turned to first our child and then her reverberations across our lives. The more time we had with Eliza, the more time my wife and I focused on the ancillary implications a child generates: everything from diapers to daycare to college savings plans. The more we recognized these unintended consequences, the more we diverted from the more important thesis: The Best Things in Life Aren’t Things.
Believe it or not, my wife and I don’t have everything figured out. So be it. We have piggybacked Eliza with a little sister Everly and still haven’t found all the answers to parenting in the meantime. We have, however, finally understood that familial life isn’t about the monetary footsteps we traverse but rather is focused on the lives we provide for our children. We can laugh and ridicule an anthem focused on the immaterial but the reality is that our young daughters are surely more focused on the time we spend with them and the emotional output we commit. We can provide our children with the very best, but the only thing that truly resonates is the consistent and daily commitment we make as parents.
If you’re a regular reader of ParentalGrit, you know that I often sway into the sarcastic and abstract bents of parenthood; no matter how much I tease, however, I am ultimately beholden to the focused (as much as I can manage J) upbringing of my little girls. Our sign, purchased on a whim and previously forgotten, is a daily reminder that the true joy of parenting lies in the little day-to-day items we tend to overlook. It matters little what vehicle I drop my daughter off to school in or the popularity of the dolls she plays with, what really matters is the time I spend with her and the emotional commitment I generate on a daily basis.
The best things in life really aren’t things, but the experiences and the journey we endure while raising these miniature hooligans. I ignored our little wooden reminder for several years, but it has never been so apparent how valuable the sentiment is since having children. My work as a parent, a father, is so much less the things I provide than the childhood I create for my daughters; it is experiences and fleeting moments that translate into meaning and more profound memories. As for the sign…I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before Eliza snatches it down and turns it into a weapon to bop her sister.