Mother's Day, a day that has been designated to recognize all that is Mother, is fast approaching. Upon reflection, I can honestly admit that I was woefully unprepared to be a mother.
How unprepared was I? Well for much of my life, I was missing the mother gene. I figured one day, sometime in the far future, I would have kids. I never gave it much thought beyond that. When the day came that my friends started vocally pining about having kids, I gaped at them, dumbfounded. I had a cat. Who needed a baby?
What was even more ironic was that because of my career, I was constantly surrounded by pregnant women. Every Monday through Friday I would encounter these women, swollen wide, like stuffed ticks. Often times a toddler would accompany them, straggling behind and crying. Did this make me want to have kids? No. No it did not. It had just the opposite affect, because none of it looked like good times to me.
I remember once, my husband agreed to babysit our neighbor’s 16 month old son Gary while they attended a Laker’s game (that’s right, my neighbors had the good sense to ask my husband instead of me). Gary wasn’t in our house for long before we ran out of ideas on how to entertain him, so we stuck him in front of the TV (thank goodness for In Living Color and Homey The Clown). When it came time to change Gary’s diaper, I let my husband take charge. Along with a new diaper, Gary also got a half container of baby powder on his bum (and judging from Gary’s wide-eyed reaction at being doused with 5 lbs of Johnson’s, I’d say even he realized he was in the hands of amateurs). For a second we sat unsure of what to do, as Gary had obviously been over-powdered. Then I declared, “Finish taping him up, he’s fine!” My husband looked dubious. “Look”, I said, “You want to redo it, knock yourself out, just know you’re on your own.” And thus I convinced my husband to also take the path of least resistance, which meant that Gary sat with a loaded, albeit clean, diaper. Bored with babysitting and slightly agitated that I had to make sure Gary didn’t stick his fat finger in an electric outlet, I couldn’t wait for him to go home. The next week, his parents again asked if we could babysit. My respond was a resounding NO, as we had plans to drink childless margaritas on the patio. I calculated that one experience set my maternal clock back five years.
Then one day in my very early thirties, as I sat waiting to catch a flight to O’Hare from San Diego, I spied a mother with her two children at the gate. The kids were probably about eight and ten years old. I watched the three of them laughing, hugging, and just enjoying each other’s company. There was nothing special about their interaction, yet seeing those kids with their mother touched me in a way kids have never touched me before. It was literally the first time I ever felt the pang of desire to have my own kids.
And soon after, like every other thing I really wanted to achieve in life, I made it my goal to get pregnant, and did.
Except I executed my pregnancy plan with one major flaw: my goal didn’t include any education to prepare me for how much my life was about to forever change. And since I had limited experience with babies and kids, I had no concept of how much my happy go lucky world would be turned on its side and kicked around like a soccer ball.
For example, I actually thought babies slept through the night. I figured, you stick them in the crib at 7 pm and then woke them up at 7 am. What’s the big dilly-o? It wasn’t until I was about 8 months pregnant and sitting in my breast feeding seminar half listening, half day dreaming, that the nurse brought up middle-of-the-night feedings. I was stunned. And when I ran home to tell my husband, who was equally inexperienced, about what I learned, we both decided that would not be our baby. (Shut-up, I realize how lame that sounds now and don’t need you to rub it in, okay? Plus, whoever came up with the term, “slept like a baby” should be punched in the head because it just propagates the myth to those not in the know).
Then there was the whole birthing experience. I tried to read What To Expect When You’re Expecting, but often found myself distracted by other riveting activities such as eating Subway Italian BMTs and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Real World. Which basically prevented me from making it past chapter three. And just like in breast feeding class, I didn’t really pay complete attention during Lamaze either, so I’m sure I missed out on other important tidbits (What can I say? If you speak in a monotone voice, take a long time to get to the point, and don’t crack a couple of jokes, I get bored and think of things to amuse myself). I won’t go into the details of my first labor, suffice to say that besides sucking, it was a BIG learning experience.
Once the baby was here, a new set of issues sprung up. Or should I say threw up? Because sure as shit, no one warned me how gross baby spit up was. And to those pundits who claim baby spit up is minor, I will debate that nothing that involves regurgitated, slimy, curdled milk mixed with various digestive juices, is pleasant.
And oh. OH. OH. OH. No one EVER described the hell that is called the colicky baby. The baby who, for no apparent reason, would cry from 3pm to 7pm every single day for six weeks straight. A cry so relentless and impervious to my attempts at consolation, that wrestling crocodiles would have been an acceptable diversion. Not ONE person explained that to me.
And let’s not forget about poop. Because I also never expected that for a stretch of time, the bulk of my marital conversation would revolve around poop. “Hi Honey. Did the baby poop today? How much did the baby poop? What color was the poop? What time did she poop? Did she cry when she pooped? Did her poop give her a little rash? Should we give her a little prune juice so her poop is regular? Did she have gas with her poop? Do you think we should buy a different brand of diaper that will absorb more poop?”
Also to a germaphobe like me, having a baby took bacteria cleaning strategies to an entirely different level. Chemical-free cleaning concoctions, coupled with steaming sterilization appliances and the absolute necessity for all those who came in contact with my baby the first year of her life to don a hazmat suit, were the norm. And God help you if you were a stranger trying to touch my baby at the grocery store, because I would take you out.
Then there was the U-Haul cargo trailer that was attached to my vehicle to help carry the necessary extraneous baby items I required before I could leave the house: diapers, wipes, change of clothes, changing mat, bottles, milk, towels, three extra pacifiers, baby food, baby cutlery, sippy cups, baby snacks, a bouncy seat, two blankets, toys, a baby walker, a portable gate, a stroller, a baby jungle, a hat, sunscreen SPF 250, and finally, bug netting.
And all this stuff? All this stuff was only in her FIRST year. Can you imagine?
But really, all that stuff was actually insignificant, because nothing, ABSOLUTELY nothing, prepared me for the emotional wallop that came with having children. The joy, the pain, the hope, and the fear, that is all wrapped up in a package and called unconditional love. My life was irrevocably changed: I could never be care free again when the realization that all of my decisions carried the weight of two extra people, squared. I couldn’t even watch my sleeping child, without simultaneous feeling happy and sad. And the days of being someone who practically sweated confidence? Gone. Because now I question my ability to navigate the parenthood maze every single day.
I wonder if someone had given the pre-child me the book, LOVE YOU FOREVER, and allowed me to really see and read it through a mother’s lens, if I still would or could, have had the courage to take the leap.
As I go through this crazy ride called motherhood, I sometimes feel happy, proud, concerned, bemused, tired, sad, confused, and frustrated, but ultimately, I always feel blessed. Always blessed.