The Second Time

Hello in there, little one. By now you may or may not have figured out that I’m your mom. You know me. I’m the one that’s been sending down all the spicy food and middling renditions of the Hairspray soundtrack. If that doesn’t ring any bells, I’m the one who set you up that sweet-ass punching bag, though once you’re on the outside you have to call it a bladder like everyone else.

I really am glad you’re in there. I hope you can sense that. What I hope you can’t sense is the absolute pants-shitting terror I feel about your impending arrival.

It must be confessed that I didn’t feel this with your sister, or at least not in the same way. Most of my fears were nameless, shapeless things that lurked in the 4 AM shadows of my mind. With your first baby, you have no idea what you’re getting into. When they arrive, the shock of it is like being pushed into ice cold water. What I didn’t know was that postpartum depression would hold my head underneath. It still keeps me up at night how close I came to drowning.

I was not the mother that I wanted to be, that my baby deserved. I hope I can do better for you. But I have to remember what you are and what you are not. You are wanted, wished for, loved beyond measure, my very last baby arriving on your own terms with your own story to tell.

You are not a do-over or a second chance. I saw your precious face on that ultrasound and whatever name we decide fits you, I promise that Mulligan isn’t it.

Here’s what else I can promise you. Songs. Stories. Cuddles. The certainty that your rugby hooligan sister will probably put you in a headlock at some point. The equal certainty that she will do the same to anyone who tries to mess with you. A dad who will be the best example of a man that you will ever need. A mom who will do her level best to keep her head above water and give you the start in life that you deserve. Your diaper being put on the right way around at least 90% of the time. A family that loves you and can’t wait to meet you.

I’m up for it if you are, sweet baby. When you’re ready, I’ll be waiting. Ten weeks to go.

board3d2

Dear New Mom

Dear New Mom,

Look at you! You did it! You survived the birth process! Or the adoption process, in which case holy crap, look at you. Just as painful, more drawn out, and they don’t give you any drugs. Go you.

In any case, you did the thing and now you have a child. I could tell you this time with a new baby will be the most exquisite and rewarding time in your life. But you did not come here for me to straight up lie to your beautiful, tired face.

The shit is about to get real and I am about to tell you all the things I wish someone had told me. Or, quite frankly, the things they DID tell me and I didn’t listen.

  • You have to eat food. More than once a day. Actual food, not just whatever was within reach when the baby latched on or finally fell asleep on you. You might think this is the most obvious thing in the world. In a normal universe, this would be true. This, however, is Sparta, and when you are twelve hours deep into your day and your vision starts to swim because the last thing you ate was a handful of Ritz crackers yesterday, you will wish you had taken this advice. If you can’t remember to eat, designate someone to remind you.
  • You’re probably going to bonk the baby’s head on a doorframe at least once. You’re probably going to cut them with the nailclippers at least twice. Everyone’s done it, even if they won’t admit to it. They’ll be fine. There’s a reason they don’t remember the first year. It’s either nature or head injury but in either case, it works in your favour.
  • I don’t care how much you adore your partner, there will come a point in time where you look at them and truly, madly, deeply loathe them with every fibre of your being. It will probably go away. Don’t make any permanent decisions in the first year. Divorce is expensive and you are too tired to cover up a murder without getting caught. If you find it’s not going away, there is no shame in talking it out, either with your partner or a counselor. It will get easier. You will even have sex again! (Caution: this occasionally leads to more babies.)
  • Memorize the phrase “This is what works for us.” A new parent draws more unwanted and shitty opinions than the average internet comments section. No matter how well-meant, you are about to be faced with a barrage of advice that may or may not have merit. It is okay to shut it down. “Thanks, but this is what works for us.” End of conversation. Done. You can figure this out yourself, just like people have been doing since the dawn of time. That said…
  • Accept the help. Oh my god, I cannot stress this enough. If someone you trust offers to watch the baby for an hour so you can sleep or shower or go scream into the void for a bit, do it. It will probably save your sanity. You are going to need your sanity.
  • Post-partum anxiety and depression are no fucking joke. I mean it. If you even start to think you are heading to the bad place, seek help. You are not alone.
  • Breastfeeding is amazing. Formula is amazing. Any combination of the two is amazing. Feed that kid. Anyone who tells you that you’re doing it wrong can go choke.
  • You may have held your baby for the first time and felt that incredible rush of maternal love everyone talks about. And… you may not have. For a while, it might feel like your home has been invaded by a tiny stranger. You might even look at this squalling loaf of infant and resent it for disrupting every single bloody thing in your life. You might feel this and then feel impossibly guilty. Don’t. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It makes you a human being who is in the depths of the kind of change you can’t comprehend until you’re in it. Eventually, you will love that child more than you ever thought possible.
  • You are perfectly within your legal rights to punch anyone who asks you if your baby is sleeping through the night yet. (Okay, you are within your rights to imagine it in vivid detail.)

You’re gonna do just great. You really are. You can stop reading and go take a deep breath now.

Love,
A mom who survived to toddlerhood

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Dear Moms of Older Children,

HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELP I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING HEEEEEEEEEEEELP

 

 

 

The Worst Thing

The Worst Thing

One morning last week, I took Zee to the park. She set off at a dead run towards the swings, running through that uneven playground gravel that makes me feel like I’m tromping around on terraformed Mars. On the rare mornings we get to spend together, we usually get the park to ourselves. This day we were met by a small herd of kids and a pair of moms who were obviously old pals. I smiled politely at them and the toddlers they were pushing in the swings and urged Zee to say hello in that singsong voice you use with your kids when you’re acting as their publicist. They nodded at me and returned to their animated conversation.

“Yes, you knows her. Her boy is the age of yours.”
“Oh, yes, her! He’s the oldest one, is he?”
“He’s the only one she got.”

A significant look passed between them. A sigh. A tsk-tsk-tsk.

“Sin, isn’t it? My dear, that’s the worst thing you can do is only have one youngster.”

I froze, hand outstretched toward my one and only baby as she reached up to catch clouds.

They didn’t notice, since they weren’t talking to me or about me. I didn’t respond. Part of adulthood (the largest part, I’d argue) is knowing when to keep your mouth shut. Still, it rankled.

I can still see the faces of some of the children I met during my short student internship working in foster care. When I close my eyes I can remember babies, babies, with blue dotted arms and eyes as blank as a new sheet of paper. I wonder where the ones with fetal alcohol syndrome and attachment disorders wound up. It’s been ten years and I am still waiting for my mouth to form an answer to the plaintive wail of “But WHY can’t I see my mommy?”

I have listened to women cry as they lament another month’s failure in trying to conceive. I have heard the pain in the voices of friends who, when asked how many children they have, waver as they picture the ones they buried or never held. Truthfully, I have been the woman with a dull ache in her chest as she puts away yet another size of not-so-little clothing, wondering if it’s another baby she wants or just another chance to do it right instead of all the ways she messed it up the first time, and wondering if that’s a good enough reason to bring another life into the world.

There are worse things.

It’s unclear as to whether Zee will be an only child. If that comes to pass, whether it’s by chance or by choice, I hope she will always know how very enough she is for us. My god, this incredible blue-eyed girl, my only sunshine. She could never make us feel like we are lacking anything. She is not part of an incomplete set. Anyone else who comes along would only enrich something that’s already so wonderful. If this is the worst thing, we will be okay.

What a Deal!

Have you been looking to expand your family? No? Well, let’s say you want to expand your army of tiny people for garden gnomes or Civil War reenactment or world domination or whatever. I don’t know your life or hobbies. Look no further! I have just the thing for you.

I will grant you, she’s not mint condition. She’s been out of the box almost two years. She runs like a dream, though, if your dreams involve cheetahs on methamphetamines. Appearance is mostly good, aside from a few dings here and there (which will probably buff right out) and a haircut that took place over the course of a week and forty episodes of Bubble Guppies.

Aside: What the fuck is wrong with that show? Don’t give me that “guppies” bullshit. I know what a guppy looks like and I know what a mermaid looks like and I will not be hoodwinked just because mermaids are apparently copyrighted or no one at Nickelodeon could be bothered to Google basic marine life. Also, they have water balloons and campfires so are they or are they not underwater? I lie awake at night wondering about this.

Where was I?

Oh, right. Care and feeding. This is not at all difficult. Basically her favourite food is whatever you had the previous night and she fed to the dog. You might be fooled into thinking that her asking for a particular food means she will eat that food, but you really can just save yourself the time and squish it between your own fingers before throwing it in the trash. Of course this does not hold true for fresh fruits and berries. The more expensive and out of season, the faster they will disappear into her tiny gullet. “No matter,” you think. “We have an orchard in sunny California.” Well, I hope you also have a cat because now cat hair is her favourite food, unless of course it’s on tonight’s menu.

She comes with all her own clothes and toys and books, so you don’t need to worry about that. I hope you like Dr. Seuss, because you’ll be reading Green Eggs and Ham fifteen times a night! Hahahaha, I’m only kidding. I don’t give a shit if you like Dr. Seuss or not.

I am happy to say that she is super smart. You might think this means she is exceptionally trainable, but people think all sorts of wrongheaded things, don’t they? Anyway, she knows all about trapezoids and the alphabet so if that’s useful to you when you’re figuring out how to reset your phone’s language to English, have at it. If you can figure out the context of her whole monologue about birds and ghosts in her room, let me know because I am thisclose to posting a separate ad for an exorcist.

If you have some level of hearing loss or, failing that, are used to the piercing shrieks of birds of prey, this could be just the kid you’re looking for. Don’t contact me tonight, because she is currently a sleeping cherub surrounded by golden light and the laughs of fairies. Wait until her inevitable transformation into a demon ferret by lunchtime tomorrow.

Call me!

Marks

It took me by surprise when I saw it.

It was almost two years ago. I was getting ready for work and trying to button my jeans, to no avail. I leaned over to try and somehow magic some more fabric into the thighs and there it was. A little stripe, faint as crayon on the white of my belly. My first stretch mark.

I cried right then and there in the bathroom. Not out of sadness, but of sheer joy and relief. This baby was growing enough that no matter what happened, I could point to this tangible proof that it existed. It wrote the first line in a story of hope.

Now, I can look at myself in the mirror and see all the places where nine short months marked me forever. My body is written all over in silver and white and seashell pink. It’s a map of joy, of pain, of the kind of love that threatens each day to break my whole self open.

Motherhood has challenged me in so many ways. In those early days of post-partum depression, I sometimes wondered if I’d made a mistake. I pressed tearful kisses and apologies to her tiny face and priced plane tickets in the middle of the night. Even now that time has mercifully blurred that period into something like the dim memory of a nightmare, I still sometimes cannot shake the feeling that I am letting her down. Doing my best falls far short of what she deserves.

There was one awful night that I had to put her in the crib to wail because, for the briefest flash, I understood all those warnings to walk away before you did something you would regret. I have never been so terrified before or since. As I sobbed outside her room door, I called my mother and asked how she did it. How was she so much better at this than I was?

The answer to that, she said, was that she wasn’t. Not at first. She had nights just like mine where she sobbed along with me. I didn’t remember them. But she did.

We are so hard on ourselves. We see all our mistakes, all the things we should have done instead, all the ways in which we could have been better. Every mother in the world has ten stories she can tell you about how she messed up, and at least one that she will never talk about because it’s too painful. These children, though? They’re okay. They’re growing and thriving and learning. They’re creating art. They’re inventing things. They’re putting out fires and helping each other in times of need. They love us. We must be doing something right.

My mother told me once that mothers are born with their children, but it’s so far beyond the delivery room. It swells up in the silence of waiting for the ultrasound tech. It’s drawn tight as a bowstring in a social worker’s office. It bursts forth the minute you lay eyes on the person you’ve waited for for months or years or just this side of forever. What she meant was that you grow and learn with your child each and every day you’re with them. You may never have held them in your body or in your arms, but once you have held them in your heart, you are not the same person you were before. The real stretch marks cannot be seen.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.

Patience Zero

Everyone told me that becoming a mother would change me. I, like a fucking idiot, took that to mean that it would change me into a better person. On the days in my third trimester where I had to quarantine myself in the house with the blinds shut and the doors locked lest I give birth in jail, I would rub my rounded belly and promise the wriggling little being inside that I would be a more patient person once she was born. I had visions of becoming one of those really zen people who don’t have mini-strokes whenever they read internet comment sections. You know the type. Soothing voices, flowy clothing, like the human equivalent of chamomile tea. Yoga instructors. Cult leaders. That Venn diagram where they overlap, which is basically a circle.

The thing is, I’m still the same shitty, lazy, short-tempered person I was before I got pregnant. Problem is, I’m now responsible for a human life. A human life whom I love more than all the stars in the sky, but one that makes me question why evolution has allowed human beings to be able to emit sound at that pitch. Not only am I responsible for ensuring the survival of this small pigtailed girl whose life goal is apparently to emulate Super Dave Osborne until she is removed from my care by the state, I am also supposed to support her emotional well-being and model good behaviour.

I mean, fuck me, right?

Just a few months into her sophomore year of life, it’s still far too early to tell if I’m really screwing up. She has almost thirty consistent words and you can say all of them on network television, so at least those fears haven’t come to fruition. We have a close bond in spite of all that bottle feeding and vaccinating and nighttime readings of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’. Some nights I put her to bed and watch the soft glow on her feathery golden eyelashes and feel I’ve done a good job. And then there are the nights spent choking tears back into the black hole in my chest because oh god, I am not the mother she deserves. In spite of all the tantrums and torn books and mac and cheese smeared into the dog’s fur, the person I’m always most angry at is myself.

It’s kind of become the thing to compare yourself to Pinterest Moms and while I tease sometimes, I have the utmost respect for someone who has the energy and inclination to put together a dollhouse made of milk cartons. It has working lights that run off a generator powered by coconut oil? That is some next level shit and you should be working for NASA. I don’t feel bad about myself compared to crafty moms because it would be like feeling inferior to Fitzroy River turtles because they’re able to breathe through their asses. No matter how amazing it is, I am just not built for certain things. You know who gives me that sick feeling in my stomach? The moms who handle stressful situations while just exuding love and patience. The ones who seem to intuitively know how to elicit the best responses from their children. They’re the ones who would never dream of throwing perfectly good pancakes in the trash because their kid screamed rather than eat a bite of them, who would never respond to a wail over the baby monitor with a whispered “Christ, what NOW.”

I know there’s no parent on earth who has never had an off day or a moment where they feel they did the exact wrong thing. It’s not for the faint of heart, this business of trying to raise a good person while at the same time trying to be one. All I can do is pledge to try again tomorrow as I apologize with a syrup-sticky hug and pass the Cheerios to a little girl who, for some reason, loves me anyway. I hope for now that’s enough.