Sunday, January 20, 2013
I know several young married couples expecting their first baby, and I’m reminded of myself when I was expecting for the first time. I would daydream about the baby and what life would be like after the baby was born. I would stand in front of the crib, one hand on my belly, the other lying where my baby would one day sleep. Was it a boy or a girl? What would it look like? What would it sound like? I knew my life would change; I just couldn’t comprehend how ... or how much. Put it into perspective ... the kid is what, maybe 9” x 21”, and they sleep most of the time (hahahahahahaha ... oops, sorry), so how much trouble can something that little be?
Oh, if I had only known!
I saw a baby card one time that said “Babies are God’s way of telling you you’re getting too much sleep.” I thought it was funny at the time. I didn’t know it was true. I’m sure I pushed myself too hard after I had my baby, which didn’t help my sleep deprivation, but I think that’s typical of most wives and mothers. Your husband goes to work, leaving you with a shoebox-sized poop machine that eats every four hours. It takes what, fifteen to thirty minutes or so to feed it, right? I figure he’s guessing I’ve got an hour or two tied up in that screaming bundle of joy in a days time ... that leaves me roughly six or seven hours to clean the house to a blinding shine, whip up all his favorite meals, look beautiful when he comes home, and be rested, amorous and attentive when we go to bed. Not only that, with all my free time, he surmises, I can take care of all of those pesky projects I never had time to do when I was “working”. “Working”, by the way, is a lot easier than caring for a newborn!
I had my first child in September of 1990, the second in October of 1992, and the third in June of 1994. I didn’t get more than four or five hours of uninterrupted sleep again until the turn of the century!
I did what I thought was expected of me. The house was always clean. The laundry was always done and dinner was always on the table. And I was a zombie. I was back into my “real” clothes in record time, and everyone marveled at how I did it. My secret, you ask? I was too tired to eat! Oh, I made sure to eat as well as I could, and I made sure my family had hot, nutritious meals, but by the time I got everything ready, I was exhausted ... and after dinner I had to clean the kitchen, pay attention to everyone, and whatever else was on my plate that night ... all while holding a screaming infant. I was simply too tired to eat any more than I did ... and everything I ate went straight into making milk and keeping me alive!
Aside from requisite feedings and diaper changes, you want to hold your baby (which really eats into those six or seven “housecleaning” hours). You want to hold her when she’s sleeping and watch her make silly faces. You want to hold her when she’s awake and try to coax some sign of recognition out of her that “Yes, I know you’re my Mommy and I love you.” After a couple of months of waiting for that smile, however, you do get it ... and you’re so deliriously happy you momentarily forget you haven’t slept since the Eisenhower administration!
Babies also don’t sleep “half the time”. For those of you who don’t know, that’s an urban legend. I don’t think my first baby slept more than a few hours total the entire first year of her life ... and when she was awake, she was either eating or crying. Being a new mother, I wondered what I was doing wrong. Was she hungry? Wasn’t I eating enough to make good, nutritious, filling milk? Should I supplement her feedings with formula? Did she have a dirty diaper? No. Did she have diaper rash? No. She didn’t have a fever, she was soiling the required number of diapers and gaining weight, so she wasn’t sick ... so what was it? What was I doing wrong? (New mothers always assume it’s something they’re doing wrong).
She was what they used to call a “fussy baby”, then the more politically correct “high-need baby”. High need my butt! She was more like a diva on steroids!! Fortunately, she eventually grew out of it. (“Eventually” being the key word here.)
When you finally get that mini-vacation from the baby ... i.e., a trip to the grocerystore ... you discover yet another joy of a breastfeeding mother of a newborn. As you’re happily shopping ... alone (do I hear angels singing?), you look down and discover your milk has let down, and you’re sporting two wet targets on your breasts. At those times, you will never have any bra pads with you, and it will never happen in a shirt with a print that could perhaps hide it somewhat. It’s always in a solid color, thin shirt ... and unless its winter and you’ve brought a jacket or coat, there’s nothing you can do to hide it. So, your mini-vacation is cut short, you whiz through the store buying only what you absolutely have to have and race home ... only to find your husband in the driveway, pacing with a crying infant he can’t pacify. This is, however, one of the few times you don’t have to ask him to carry in the groceries!
You can’t describe how much work it is to be a mother, and even if you could, no one would believe you ... nor would they be discouraged from following you down the path to parenthood. My little sister, Bonnie, used to baby-sit my three kids while I ran to the store, or needed (wanted) to do something without the kids in tow. After she married she desperately wanted a child. She had to have an operation AND used fertility drugs to accomplish this. After watching my kids, I would have gone home and given myself a hysterectomy with a butter knife ... yet she voluntarily went to extremes to create one! I know what it is ... every childless person looks at someone else’s destructive, spoiled, bratty, temper-tantrum-throwing child and thinks “My child will never act like that.”
Yeah, keep telling yourself that, Honey!
When Bonnie first moved back here, she lived with me until she found a job and an apartment. She was very vocal on what I did wrong as a mother. Bonnie had no children, so her opinion and advice went in one ear and out the other. She nagged me day in and day out ... and I didn’t skip a beat ... it was just background noise. She had a baby of her own in 2003. It wasn’t too terribly long before she came to me apologizing profusely . “How could you stand me, Jackie? I would have thrown me out!!” I told her it was okay ... mothers seldom take child-rearing advice from the childless!
Remember the Goldie Hawn movie “Private Benjamin”, where she tells her sergeant that there’s been some kind of mistake, that she signed up for the Army that had the condo’s, pool, spa, and golf resort (or something like that)? That’s how I felt ... "Uh, I signed up for the motherhood with the sleeping, happy infant that only cries when it’s hungry and the smell of it’s poop doesn’t cause lung damage.”
I’m with Bill Cosby ... babies are false advertising. I’m not sure what God does to a baby, but it’s kind of like getting into a new car. The smell sucks you in and lures you right to the finance office. By the time you come down from your new-car-smell-high, you’ve committed the next few years of your life to paying for it.
Okay, I’m exaggerating (I’ve been known to do that), but that doesn’t change the fact that those sweet, young, pregnant women are going to feel like they’ve been hit by a Mack truck in a few months! They’ll not only long for sleep, but they’ll dream of taking a shower ... and when they do get to take a shower, they'll try to remember a time when they took a shower without sticking their head out every few seconds to see if the baby is crying. They’ll long for the day when they don’t have to step over baby gates to enter and exit every room (those ones at the top of the steps are particularly tricky!). And they’ll yearn for the day they can put out their nice things again ... that is, the few that weren’t destroyed before they finally broke down and conceded that their child really was just like everyone else's ... and that's because all those destructive, bratty, spoiled, tantrum-throwing kids weren’t all necessarily bratty or spoiled ... they were just being kids.
You know they’ve crossed over when they can sing all the songs AND do all the hand motions and dances along with Barney and his friends ... or whoever is on public television these days ... and they’re beyond redemption when Barney no longer annoys them.
I can’t wait to go to my kids houses at 3:00 in the afternoon, only to find them (still in their pajamas!) knee-deep in toys, clutter, laundry, and dirty dishes. They’ll look at me with the same fear-filled, helpless look they did when they were little and climbed too high in the tree and needed me to rescue them ... and I will. I will rescue them. I’ll take the baby, send them to the shower, clean the house, and fix them a snack.
They’ll emerge clean and refreshed, thanking me profusely, and exclaiming how amazing I am. I’ll smile and nod in selfless agreement.
I love my kids and I can’t imagine my world without them. They have triggered the extreme of every emotion possible ... pride, anger, joy, fear, frustration, confusion, exhaustion, depression ... and most of all ... love. Is it more work than I thought it would be? Unequivocally. But ... is it worth it? Yes, it is.
Would I do it all over again? In a heartbest ... but I would worry less, enabling myself to enjoy everything more. I think that's why everyone loves being a grandparent so much ... you get all the fun and only a few hours of the work. You get to enjoy them more because you're worrying less. That's my biggest regret in life ... that I didn't enjoy being a Mommy as much as I could (or should) have because I was just too busy being a mother.