Friday, August 15, 2014

Lessons From Motherhood

The first nine months of it anyway.

I love being a mom. Even more than I ever thought I would. Most people don't know this about me, but I've always wanted to be a mom. Even through my tomboy stage. Even when I wanted to be the kind of world traveler that never settles down. Even when I wanted to write novels (I still kinda want to do that). Even though I would have denied it if you had asked me when I was younger, the truth is through every stage of my life I have held a secret desire to have children. In fact, when I was in high school a friend of mine had to have a medical procedure done to ensure her health that had a possible side effect of not being able to bear children. She cried at the prospect. I cried with her. I cried as her friend. I cried out of sympathy. And I cried for fear of it one day happening to me. I've wanted a lot of things over the years, my wants and desires have changed with each stage of my life in unpredictable ways, but my desire to have children never wavered. I sometimes questioned if it should happen or if it would happen, but I always wanted it. And now? I have a beautiful baby boy.

I am a mother.

Despite the fact that I have wanted this for so long, I still sometimes am blown away by that last part. I AM A MOTHER. I'M THE MAMA. Where's Mama? Right here, because, suddenly, I'm Mama. I'm the one who is supposed to mother. I'm in charge of this little life. I love it and it terrifies me.

See that is the thing about having wanted children all my life. I always dreamed about what it would be like.  Y'know, I thought about when they go off to school, when they need comfort, when they go on a first date, when they get their heart broken, when they have amazing accomplishments. It is a little like dreaming of being a soldier, even if it means going to war, but forgetting about going through boot camp first.

I never thought about the infant part. How hard it would be. What the challenges might be. I knew I'd be exhausted. I knew I would love my child. I did not know to what extent on either account. I'm not sure either state can be described with the limited ability of human language.

Nine months in and I'm still learning. I love it. And since many of my friends have become or are becoming parents themselves, I thought now might be a good time to share some of the lessons I've learned thus far. You might disagree, or not care. That's not really the point. As always this blog serves as a form of my own self expression and if you don't like it, too bad, so sad.

1. There is a reason child rearing is meant to be handled by both parents. It is a team sport. You have to be on the same side and help each other out. Having said that, I now think successful single parents are the closest thing that reality has to superheroes.

2. A lot of the things I thought about parenting before I became a parent were stupid. "You can always just..." "I'll never let my kid act like that." No, you can't. And yes, you will. Why? Because you must pick your battles. Some are more important than others. Some can be saved for another day. Others must be fought and MUST be won immediately. You'll know when it happens to you. In my house giving up the pacifier outside of nap time could wait until 8 months old, but kicking Mama during diaper changes had to be dealt with without delay. Drinking a bottle on his own? Negotiable to a degree. Throwing food? No, sir.

3. Other people will give you more advice than you can shake a stick at. Smile and nod. Just smile and nod. You can tell them off in your head, but do try to avoid doing it out loud. They think they are helping. Really, they do.

4. Other people will also try to tell you what your child is ready for. "Oh, he should be doing (insert arbitrary milestone activity that has nothing to do with mental, social, or physical development here) on his own by now." And might even try to force your child into it. Try not to strangle them. Even if they wait until you're not looking, and make you miss a "first" that, while arbitrary, was still important to you to see. They mean well. They don't realize they have just stolen a moment from you. He'll do it again soon and you can watch in supportive amazement then. As for the meddler, they think they've done you a great service. Even if it is through clenched teeth, say thank you and move on.

5. Love is not finite. Just when you think you couldn't love this small creature any more than you already do, something happens and more love flows forth from you. I didn't know human beings had such a capacity for love before parenthood. I understand God's love for us just a little better now. I'm not claiming to understand it completely, mind you, just to understand it better than I did before.

6. You can survive on a lot less sleep than you think. A lot less. A LOT less. And then your child will sleep through the night and you'll get used to getting more again. And then, one night, he'll get sick or have a nightmare and you'll be up all night again. And you'll survive. And you'll want to slap every person who tries to tell you how bad caffeine is for you.

7. Welcome to the "mommy wars". They are brutal and unforgiving. You didn't breastfeed? Wretch. Breast feeder? Attachment issues.You are using cloth diapers? Crazy Hippie! Disposables? Earth hater! You are going back to work?  You are shirking your motherly duties! Staying home? You are killing feminism!! In the mommy wars every decision you make will be wrong, someone else will always be able to do it better, and NOBODY wins. Nobody. A mom's best ally during the wonderfully difficult first days of motherhood are other mothers who understand what you are going through. Worst enemy? Other mothers who will tell you everything you are doing wrong. Learn who is who and stay away from the latter.

8. Not all wipes are created equal. Some are thicker (great for the especially gross moments). Some smell better than others (or at least less disgusting than what you are using them to clean up!). Some are wetter, or slimier. Prices vary greatly. I, personally, love Huggies Triple Clean. Partly because I can buy them at Costco in bulk and not worry about running out at the most inconvenient time possible. To each her own, though.

9. Not all diapers (disposables, I have no experience with cloth diapers. That's right, I must be an planet hater.) are created equal, either. And not each type or brand of diaper fits every baby. My son can't wear certain brands because he has a longer torso, and they don't fit him at all (he ends up with "plumber's crack"). While we started off LOVING Pampers Swaddlers, as he got bigger and started moving around more, I grew to really appreciate Huggies Little Movers with the double grip strips. Although, I sometimes use Pampers Baby Dry at night these days, because they do better to get through a long night. Wait. You mean you use two different types of diapers? You betcha. Anything to get the job done. I've joined both rewards programs and redeem my codes, too.

10. Consignment shops are awesome. You can sometimes buy kids clothes that have never even been worn, for less than half the original price. Worth it.

11. Nothing can distract your child long enough for you to get a potty break, or even brush your teeth, quite like Mickey Mouse. I have always loved Disney. I even worked at one of their stores years ago. LOVE Disney. Now that I am a mom and Mickey Mouse affords me a couple of minutes at a time to take care of my own needs, Flight of the Bumble Bee style, while teaching my son about primary colors, counting, letters, shapes, etc, that rodent is magic. Doc McStuffins with her check up song also helps us get ready for doctor visits.

12. Don't judge me for turning on our TV for 15 minutes a day. Unless we are watching Sports (I tuned in to the World Cup, my husband and I love to watch college football, and he loves to watch the Braves), I generally don't turn on the TV while my son is awake. Sometimes, though, if I have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it, I will turn on Disney Junior for 15 to 30 minutes to give me a few extra minutes to accomplish things. That's it. He only pays attention for maybe 2-3 minutes at a time anyway, so it never lasts long, and then I turn it back off.

13. We have read to my son multiple times a day, and again at bed time everyday since before he could sit up on his own. He is nine months old now and thinks books are the greatest things ever. They are toys to him. He LOVES reading time. Bed time stories are great, but we also generally have reading time each afternoon where I sit and read to him whatever he has pulled off the shelf (another favorite game of his). He giggles, he wants to touch the book, he loves to turn the pages (sometimes even before I'm done reading it). New books are such a treat for him. I love that.

14. Do not mess with nap time. Nap time is sacred. If you miss a nap, the whole rest of your day is shot. My child gets cranky and tired, but too tired to sleep. It's not good. And I miss the part of my day that offers me respite.

15. There is no job greater than that of being a mom. There is also no more difficult job that I know of. When people ask me how I feel about motherhood now, I say it is the best and hardest job I've ever had. I love it. That doesn't mean I couldn't use a break now and again. That's okay, too. It's okay to want to paint your nails, dry you hair, or watch a show you like (y'know the kind without cartoon animals as the main characters). It's okay. It doesn't make you a bad mom. It makes you  human.

16. It's okay to ask for help. My husband is GREAT with our son, and loves to come home and give me a break. He loves getting to spend time with our son after work and the fact that this gives me a little chance to rest is icing on the cake. Sometimes, though, we both need a break. We need to sit together and have adult conversation, with EACH OTHER. We need to call reinforcements. Again, it doesn't make us bad parents.

17. The first time your child gets sick you will completely freak out. No matter how prepared you are. No matter how calm and collected you normally are. When your child gets sick, your heart will break, your brain will go on the fritz and you will lose it. I mean LOSE IT. No other mother will judge you for this. In fact, you will probably get the pitiful "Aw, you poor thing. I've been there." look from them.

18. The first time your child gets hurt is the same. My son fell on his face. No, really, ON HIS FACE and got a black eye. I felt like the worst human being ever. Who lets their baby get a black eye? ME! That's who. My sister, mom to three boys, never missed a beat. She put a comforting hand on my shoulder and took a look at my son, saying, "That's gonna look nice. The first of many. He'll be fine." He was okay. It took a little more comforting on my part.

19. No matter how hard this phase is, it won't last. I'm tempted to quote every last lyric from "It Won't Be Like This for Long" by Darius Rucker. I liked that song before. Now it sends me to tears. In a good way. Teething? Sleepless? It won't be like this for long. One day soon, you'll look back and wonder how it seemed to last so long, and be over so quickly at the same time. You look down at them at nap time as they are still and quiet and all of sudden think, "How did you get so big? I used to be able to hold you in the crook of one elbow. Where has the time gone?"

20. Your house will never be completely clean again, and that's okay. At least once a day I have to clean up the play area. If I don't, the mess gets daunting. It doesn't matter how much laundry I do a day, how much I sweep, vacuum, or dust, part of my house will always be a disaster. The play area. My son's favorite activity right now is to pull all the toys and books off of his shelves, spread them around on the floor, and to generally make as big a mess with his toys and books as possible. During afternoon nap I try to put it all back where it came from. Otherwise, I look at it before I go to bed and think, "Nope, not worth it."

21. There's no place like home. Seriously. Traveling to see your family is great. Traveling to see your friends, wonderful. But there is nothing that disrupts your baby's sleeping habits quite like being somewhere new. At home our night routine for our son consists of bath time (a few times a week, not every night), teeth brushing, pajamas (and new diaper), hair brushing, story time, and then setting him in the crib, turning on his sound machine and leaving the room. He puts himself to sleep. However, when we are at someone else's house, or at a hotel, it NEVER goes that smoothly. I usually have to turn on his sound machine and rock him until he is so asleep his pacifier falls out of his mouth. And he usually doesn't sleep through the night when we travel either. Vacations are exhausting.

22. Put your child's name, or at least surname on EVERYTHING. Even if he is just going to the church nursery. Even if he is just going to a play group. Seriously. My husband's aunt and uncle gave us these labels that are dishwasher/washing machine safe that had our son's name printed on them. MARVELOUS. I can't tell you how many times it has saved his stuff from accidentally going home with someone else.

23. Toys that have been hidden away for a couple of weeks or months are just as good as new toys sometimes. I have a few of my sons smaller toys hidden away all the time. I keep them separate from his other toys and rotate them out every so often. I hide them in the diaper bag so when we go places, if he gets restless and needs a distraction, I pull one out. He is so fascinated by the "new" toy or so excited to see his old toy that it buys me a few minutes at a time.

24. Is baby fussy? Restless? Go for a walk. There is nothing that will calm my son down faster from a bout of whining than putting him the stroller and walking anywhere. It doesn't matter if it's around the neighborhood, through Target, all around our large church parking lot, it doesn't matter. Outside is usually better, but when it rains, seriously, Target will do. A $10 inflatable baby pool also helps. Let him splash around and get water all over the patio. He'll love it. Instant happiness.

25. Every mom thinks she is screwing it up at some point. You're not. I know it is hard to believe. I'm writing it and I still need encouragement on this issue. Really, though. You'll be fine. And so will your child. And if there are hiccups only the way, don't worry. You have to mess them up a little so they'll be interesting as adults anyway, right? Right?

There are many more things I could write here. A ton more. A myriad. Every day, every minute, I learn something new about my child, about myself, about life, about love. Some lessons are harder than others. Some are more wonderful. All are totally worth it. I've wanted to be a mom all my life. Now I am one. I wouldn't trade it for the world. If my younger self could see me now, she might not recognize me for all the changes I've been through in my life, but she would be elated that I have a child. And you know what? I am, too.