Kids were never really my thing. I didn’t play with dolls or babysit and my worst grade was in Home Ec.
When I met my mother-in-law for the first time, I confidently told her that I was planning on law school, loved books and dancing, hated cooking and cleaning, and wasn’t sure if I wanted children. How’s that for a stellar first impression on a stay-at-home mom?
I thought I might feel differently after we were married. Nope! Kids were cute, but they cramped our fancy free style, took over conversations, and limited our fun. While living in Virginia, most of our friends had children, and Mike would gently rock newborn girls and wrestle with toddler boys. I thought he was amazing and couldn’t believe my luck in landing a guy like him, but by the end of the night, I was so happy for a little freedom from all the nagging and needing. What was wrong with me?
Imagine my surprise when after only 2 years of marriage and while working on Capitol Hill I felt like we should get pregnant. Mike was shocked but willing. I took a breath and followed my gut. After 8 months I found out we were expecting. Mike was in Haiti and unreachable, so my dentist was the first person to know. So romantic.
Our baby boy was born on a cold, February evening and, when his wriggling body was lifted onto my chest, our bond was instant and unshakable. I was officially a mother. In one brief moment, everything had changed.
My love for him was perfect, but my technique was wanting. My diaper changes looked nothing like that first tight bundle the nurses had put on him. I could not, for the life of me, figure out the whole swaddling thing. I made Mike do it so no one would think I was unfit. The first night, my sweet baby screamed, non-stop, for 3 hours in our room. Everyone came to his aid but to no avail. Nothing helped. He finally gave up and fell asleep in my arms. During those 3 hours I realized I would do absolutely anything to protect my baby and keep him happy and healthy. Anything! That feeling was new, sudden and powerful. It was motherhood.
When my mom came through the door of the hospital, I was so relieved! My reinforcement had arrived! She took care of all of us for 10 days…looking so natural and competent as she bathed and changed our baby all while whipping up dinners and vacuuming floors. She made it look so easy. By the time she left, I thought I was getting the hang of things.
I was wrong. After dropping her off at the airport, I pulled out onto the freeway with tears in my eyes. My baby started crying, loudly, from the backseat and it was all over. I pulled to the side of the road because I could no longer see through my tears or breathe through my gasps. The two of us sat bawling in the car together, both of us surely wondering what we had gotten ourselves into and how anyone thought we could be left alone with each other. I kept repeating, over and over again, “I am so sorry buddy, I don’t know what to do!”
I pulled the cell phone out of my glove compartment and called Mike, sounding rather hysterical. He was alarmed, “What happened? Are you okay? Is the baby okay? Where are you?” After a moment of sobbing uncontrollably on the phone, I told him I was sad that my mom was gone and I didn’t know how to be a mom without her help. He was relieved in one way and probably worried in another. He asked if he needed to come get us. I told him I could make it home. I took a breath, wiped my eyes and pulled into traffic. It wouldn’t be the last time motherhood, for me, meant faking it and pushing on until I could figure things out.
It was a process, but every day I became more and more competent. I learned how to nurse without completely undressing, how to change a diaper without getting peed on and how to make dinner and care for a baby all in the same day. I even got pretty good at getting out of the house a couple times each week.
The beginning was hard, but my baby and I were learning together. He had colic and cried more than any other baby I have ever known. We were far away from family, and I had few friends. We spent hours reading, sleeping, walking and watching more HGTV than would be deemed healthy. My days felt like they lasted for an eternity. I would look at the clock to find it was only 11 am and I was out of ideas, plans, and patience. I racked my brain trying to remember everything my mom had ever done and called her daily with questions and updates. I became one of those women obsessed with bowel movements, growth percentages, and sleeping schedules, and I suddenly found all of it incredibly fascinating.
The picture I am painting doesn’t look very rosy, but in spite of the reality, I loved it. It was hard and boring and gratifying and amazing. I was shocked everyday as I watched my baby grow and learn and noticed myself change too. I was suddenly more selfless, less judgmental, more humble, a better me.
Still, I had oh so much to learn. I picked up tricks and tips along the way. A good friend of mine was so great at mothering her 2 and 3 year old that I remember studying the way she did things and taking mental notes for later. I remember moving into a neighborhood in Arizona with lots of stay-at-home moms and being blown away by all they were accomplishing. These women had 3 or 4 or 5 children and had clean and decorated homes. They made bread from scratch. They had gardens and fruit trees and canned their extra harvest. They coached sports teams, ran marathons, helped with homework, sewed pillows, volunteered at school, and taught piano. I had one baby and couldn’t even get the diapers into the outdoor trash can. My talents all seemed better suited for the workforce. At times, I wondered what in the world I was doing at home.
But, I watched, and I practiced. I tried to stop comparing. I asked these ladies to teach me how to do it all. Even after their help and patient lessons, I was still only mediocre at most things, but I was better than I was before, and I was learning and finding joy in my home, even with 3 boys 3 and under. It was hard too, really, really hard. Days ending in tears and sometimes days beginning in tears. Weeks with very little sleep and sickness after sickness, but even during the bad it was still so good.
As my boys got older, I realized that the talents I formerly didn’t deem “useful” in a mothering role came in particularly handy, things like patience, creativity, storytelling, love of the outdoors, determination, passion for learning, willingness to listen, and above everything, the inner drive to be better for these little boys who were counting on me. Those days that used to seem endless now fly by as I try to grasp onto just one more minute in our hurried life. Everything is going by too fast. I wish I had a pause button.
I was never the “kid-type,” and I am certainly not the “ideal mom,” but we have done just fine all figuring it out together. We make mistakes; we forgive; we try again. That’s the real beauty in it all, there is no perfect or patterned path to becoming a mother. Having children has given me an excuse and a desire to be braver than I ever would have been and allowed me to discover not only who they are, but who I can be. As I write this and look back at myself 12 years ago, I hardly recognize that girl. In fact, when I tell people I never wanted kids, they usually exclaim, “No way! You love kids!” And I do, now.
I still see myself as a reader, a dancer, a writer, a woman, a wife, and a friend, but now, above all else, I am a mother.
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