Parents who watched the 2014 Winter Olympics will remember the commercial that made them cry. A plump, diapered baby steps, falls. Her mother picks her up. Several other babies fall and their moms help them to their feet. The same children, a little older, puffy in snowsuits, venture onto ice, fall and get picked up by their moms. An earnest piano melody proceeds patiently before becoming a violin swirl, circling itself yet inching slowly forward as the children grow older. They hurt themselves. They cry. Their moms are always there, selflessly picking them up, comforting them. It looks exhausting. The kids try harder and harder things: on snow embankments, in skating rinks. The scenarios become treacherous. The moms watch with fear, with compassion, their vigilance invincible. Failure becomes triumph; the children are Olympic athletes, and after winning the gold, they skate/ski/snowboard to give their careworn moms waiting on the sideline hugs of gratitude.
If I find myself repeatedly watching this commercial on YouTube, it’s because I need the fantasy it offers: that all the tedium and toil, all the incalculable hours are leading somewhere amazing, and that when I arrive, what I have accomplished will finally be appreciated by all as I’m awarded the gold medal of parenting. Indeed, the commercial does more than promise this reward; it tries to give parents a bit of what they want while they watch. And what they want, it seems, is not actually to reach the grand finale of parenting, but to re-experience the whole thing in a different way. The ad condenses the raising of a child into two minutes, gathering all of the boring, stressful moments and turning them into steps in a slow, heroic climb to victory, rolling together the little disconnected bits of feeling into a satisfying whole, a big glistening snowball of pride, joy, yearning, love, suspense, wistfulness and hope that feels like how you think parenting should feel and lets you imagine what it would be like to feel that way every moment you spend with your kids.