Reflections on a Decade of Motherhood

by Abby on June 8, 2016

My oldest son turns 10 today. I started blogging when I was pregnant with him. I’m glad I did, because I have a record of my thoughts and feelings as I made the transition to motherhood, memories that otherwise would have been blurred, misremembered, and even lost entirely to sleep-deprivation and aging brain cells.

Newborn firstbornYou know how some people claim their baby slept through the night at 6 mos. old, or that they loved every second of their child’s infancy? I have cold, hard proof that isn’t true. But I also have proof of the small, fleeting memories I would have forgotten: the unblinking, dark-eyed gaze of my solemn newborn, the clean-laundry smell of the sunny nursery, the impossible softness of the soles of tiny, bendy feet that have never touched the ground.

I also might have forgotten how funny parenthood can be. Like how no one warns you that the baby might pee in his own face, or that your toddler will have long, dramatic tantrums over the shape of his grilled cheese, or that your almost-10yo will randomly ask you, “Mom, do you think when birds burp it tastes like worms?”

I would not have forgotten how hard parenthood can be, but I may not have remembered the specific rage you can feel when a nosy stranger makes a critical comment at exactly the wrong time—say, as you’re wrestling your toddler into the car seat for the fifth time that day and are grasping at the end of your dangerously frayed rope. I may not have remembered how hopeless you can feel when your child begins to understand death and has LOTS of questions about it late at night.

I can trace my journey over the past 10 years from those universal new-mom fears about whether the baby is sleeping and eating enough and being irreversibly damaged by the background noise of the “Today Show” to the more specific and personal worries that older children bring. Is he making friends? Is he struggling in school? What do I tell him about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, where babies come from, and when? And what about THE INTERNET?!

I went from over-preparing for a birth I couldn’t control to feeling constantly underprepared for navigating my child’s dental care, schooling, emotional wellbeing, and screen time. I have now settled into another, different state. Acceptance? Surrender? Wisdom? It depends on the day.

The Baby WhispererSome days I feel like I am woefully under-qualified for this motherhood gig. I can no more diffuse a 7yo’s tantrum over having to go to piano lessons than I can set parental controls on a Kindle. (That is: not at all.) Other days, I think that raising humans is what I was meant to do. My children are healthy, intelligent, loving, (mostly) joyful people who eat vegetables, don’t litter, and are kind to babies and animals. I’m rocking this!

At one point, I feared I wasn’t “ready” to have kids. Ha! Are you ever? I thought, “How can I teach someone All Of The Life Lessons if I haven’t even figured them out myself?” Well, I’m glad I didn’t wait, because here it is a decade later and I still don’t have life figured out. But I was wrong about the life lessons, and who would be teaching whom. Mostly it’s my kids teaching me, but I have realized I know some stuff too. Like how to make a paper pinwheel and a face out of fruit. And that everyone gets sad sometimes, friends do move away, and dogs and people die and everything will still be OK.

Chillaxin

They teach me that you can be really, really mad at someone and even scream and stomp and say horrible things, but that you still love them. And you can apologize with a hug or a misspelled note. They teach me it’s OK to be yourself, and it’s OK to have fun, and it’s OK to put on your pajamas and cuddle up on the couch at 4pm if you feel like it.

I do not mourn the loss of their babyhood or wish I’d cherished it more or that time would slow down. We can’t control time or our children or the rest of the world. But we can choose when we want to slow down, what we want to notice and remember, and what we want to share with the world.

Happy Birthday, Miles. You’ve made me a better person and our little corner of the world so much brighter. I love you.

Me and my boy

 

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Marie Kondo folding clothesSomewhere along the line, women’s perspectives got majorly messed up. I’m not naming names (Sheryl Sandberg, Marie Kondo), but somehow we have absorbed the barrage of information and opinions coming at us and emerged with the idea that all successful women are killing it at Fortune 500 companies and folding their thongs. (Seriously! There’s a how-to video about it.) And also making adorable, creative treats for school parties. (Bear with me.)

It was the thong-folding and the treat-making that finally cut through my cluttered brain and gave me a perspective check. I know, I know: it’s impossible to have it all, or all at the same time, anyway. Who even wants to? It sounds exhausting. No one really does it all, all by herself. Work/life balance, blah, blah, blah …

I know all this. And still, I find myself consumed with shame when a contractor shows up at the house unexpectedly and I have to kick laundry piles and Lego towers out of the way to clear his path to the hot water heater.

Still, I feel guilty about not volunteering more at the kids’ school since I “only” work part time.

Still, I fumble for an explanation when my kids ask why WE can’t go to Disneyworld for spring break too, like so-and-so’s family who also went skiing over Christmas break. ($$$?!)

I know we all make different choices and have different priorities and all want the best for our families. And yet, it was still a wake-up call when I heard Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft discussing these matters on their podcast recently.

Quick aside here to say that I am a recent podcast convert. For years I thought, “Who has the time?” Then I realized that podcasts are, in fact, the perfect use of my time since I can listen to them when I want, like on the treadmill, before bed, or waiting for my kids at the bus stop. Now, I’m obsessed. I have about 4 or 5 that I listen to regularly, and several others if the topic interests me.

Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast is one of the more practical ones I listen to. In case you don’t recognize her name, she’s the author of The Happiness Project and a new book on habits, Better Than Before, among other nonfiction books. She’s very sensible and down-to-earth, as opposed to many of the other “woo-woo” spiritual, self-helpy podcasts I listen to where chanting and crystals are required.

Anyway, Gretchen and her sister Elizabeth fascinate me because they seem to really like each other even though they are polar opposites personality-wise. In this particular episode they discuss competitive parenting, among other things.

Elizabeth talks about how because she’s a working mom, but also because it’s not her thing, she doesn’t bake things for her son’s class. So at a class Halloween party, she sees these adorable treats another parent has made and goes into a shame spiral: “I’m a bad mom, I didn’t make anything, I work too much, etc…” before she checks herself and decides to just enjoy the damn treats. Not everything has to be a competition, or a reflection on your own parenting, the sisters conclude.

This was fascinating to me, because I AM THAT MOM who makes cute treats. Check out these BB-8 cookie pops that I made for my 7yo’s Star Wars birthday party:

Star Wars BB8 cookie pops

It never, ever occurred to me that my cookie pops could instill self-loathing in other parents. If anything, I was worried about them judging me for having too much time on my hands and pushing sugar on their kids!! We moms are so messed up.

In this same episode, Elizabeth and Gretchen also talk about how they tried and abandoned meditation, and how they rarely cook and so they don’t have a need for a recipe organization system. This was also fascinating to me, because I DO meditate and cook and organize my recipes! (On Pinterest, FYI.)

I ROCK! I’M WINNING!! Oh, wait … I mean: how great of them to admit they don’t prioritize certain things, and for me to recognize and give myself credit for those things I DO prioritize and do well. Whew! This deprogramming takes some effort.

It was new for me to listen to two successful, likeable, very different women discussing these topics matter-of-factly. They were not justifying, judging, or defending. They were not falling back on self-deprecating humor. (My default setting. Can’t look like I’m bragging about going to the gym regularly, must joke that I mainly go to read magazines and shower in peace. Also true.) They were simply talking about what works for them and what doesn’t.

Similarly, I adored this post by the Lazy Genius Collective on “The Magical Key to Doing it All.” Hint: you don’t. You define YOUR “all.” In this case, she has just 6 items on her list.

My list includes:

Exercising 4 to 5 times a week because I always have and it makes me feel better.

Eating nutritious food and cooking healthy meals for my family most nights. (I am resisting making a self-deprecating comment about their reactions to my cooking.)

Getting 8 hours of sleep a night, and doing my best to ensure my kids get enough sleep, too.

Building downtime into our schedule. This means not signing up my kids for too many activities and not accepting every social invitation. This sometimes results in boredom and sibling squabbles, but that leads me to …

Creative pursuits. It’s been proven that boredom breeds creativity. Having regular downtime allows us to build impromptu igloos with our neighbors, invent board games, make our own spring wreaths, and yes, figure out how to make cute cookie pops. Being creative and making stuff is definitely part of my “doing it all.”

Spring wreath featuring plastic eggs and yellow chicks

What’s not: I do not care much about spend much time cleaning. I am not good at doing my hair, returning phone calls, helping my kids with their homework, or keeping up with the laundry. I don’t fold thongs; I try never to wear them.

I care a little about home décor but you would not know it to look at my house. I care a little about fashion and not at all about nail art. I would rather go to a park or an art exhibit or out for coffee than garden or watch a movie or make a scrapbook.

There are some things I wish I cared about more (having a clean house and a garden), but not enough to spend the necessary time on them. On the plus side, I rarely complain about not having enough hours in the day because I mostly spend them doing the 5 or 6 things that are most important to me.

What about you? What do you make time for in your life, and what do you intentionally avoid or not worry about? Help give me some perspective, please. :)

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