Last month, E turned one, so naturally I wanted to write up a little something-something for his birthday. It got me thinking about an email from a reader, who said she appreciate that I write about motherhood versus writing about my son.
I would've never thought to word it that way, but she was right, and I felt grateful for the distinction. I will always want to write about my experience of motherhood in order to find the lines of similarity with other mothers, and note what seems unique or unusual or even commonplace to me. I will always want to talk about the stuff nobody else is really talking about, not openly, and I will always want to read other stories of motherhood as well on a whole range of topics.
But I'm not a mommy blogger. Nor will I write about my child's life at this moment in time, even though he can't talk or walk yet. That's an important distinction, though the two are entwined.
Other moms might feel 100% comfortable sharing small anecdotes from their babies, and trust me, I looooove tagging along for that journey. I will like all your cute Instagram photos, I swear. I will tear up and laugh at your essays about what your kids are saying at age four. I will peer from across the Internet, kindly, or revel in what you choose to share with me real-time in real life. However, for me, the whole writing and blogging and posting experience is separate from my child. He is a part of it, sometimes, but not always. He is what made me a mother in the first place, so I'm grateful that his entry into the world shoved me up against the corners and cracks of my heart, mind and spirit—so I could see, and write, more clearly with all of you.
In honor of his first birthday, then, I want to share what he's taught me about motherhood thus far, which in turn, translates into what he's taught me about myself:
- Lots of truly wonderful moments are simultaneously hard as hell. See: childbirth, marriage, buying property, career, time management, family, "balance", working out, patience, et cetera forever.
- I often resent the endless neediness that accompanies parenthood, and at the same time, I cherish the gift of that same thing from my own parents. I think it's okay to feel the weight of responsibility, concern and love and also revel in the beauty of it.
- "Mothers are keepers of bodies." I recently read these words by Courtney E. Martin, and they struck a chord in me. I never realized how much I would love the tactile parts of mothering. Some days, I miss breastfeeding: that sense of physical connection unlike any other. Other days, I miss being pregnant, which is funny because I didn't really love being pregnant while it was happening, but now I look back with wonder and awe about keeping little E by my side 24-7. And every time he grabs my hand, tugs at my shoulder, snags his fingers in my hair, gives an open-mouthed kiss and snuggles into my lap, I want to squish him back inside me. That's so weird, but moms, you get what I mean. It's the whole "your heart is living outside of your body" sentiment.
- I can't do it all. And I'm not supposed to.
- Ask for help and then accept it. Seriously, accept the freaking help!
- Most of the stuff I worry about is not important. Most of the things I'm looking at on my phone can wait. Most of the feelings I have will pass, for better or worse. Everything is temporary.
- So many experiences are AMAZING: like dog tails, and light bulbs, and snowstorms, and books with flaps, and a bunch of people clapping in the same room at the same time, and raspberries, and music playing, and climbing two stairs, and long necklaces that jangle, and clothes hangers that click and clack, and walking holding onto someone's hands, and dumping a bowl of Cheerios on the ground, and opening and closing doors. The world is magical, and deserves a loud OOOOOOOH.
- My son thinks I'm beautiful, even when I've got three giant breakouts happening on different parts of my face, lines around my eyes, a wrinkled sweater that was supposed to go to the dry-cleaner a month ago, frizzy yet greasy (whyyyy) hair in a half-hearted bun and a crooked tooth. He thinks I'm beautiful, even still, and worthy of a giant smile and a big hug, so I try to offer that to myself, too. (Alternate title: how to come face-to-face with your own vanity and then get over yourself.)
- Mac and cheese is a perfectly adequate dinner. Take-out is a lifesaver. Eating pizza for four meals a week is fine, especially if you eat a salad as your side dish every time.
- It is easy to put your kid first. It is harder to make time for yourself. Prioritize self-care, date nights with your husband, phone calls with your friends, yoga so you don't go crazy, and a quiet cup of coffee in the morning. But stop being a martyr. Quit with the self-imposed pressure around being perfect and doing everything right and living for your child 100% nonstop all the time. You're a woman, and a writer, and a wife, and a sister, and a friend, and a citizen, and a manager, and a runner, and a reader, and many more things. It's okay to care about these other things, too, and sometimes even more than your son for a given moment.
- You don't have to pick up your baby every time he cries, but boy, does it feel good to pick up your baby when he cries.
- Find a breakfast and lunch routine and stick with it. Just makes life easier. For me, that's fruit and hard-boiled eggs in the morning, protein bar for a snack, and some sort of leftovers/sandwich combo for lunch. I don't overthink it.
- Bathtime is the best. Making a mess is fun. Being naked part of the day is kinda nice.
- You are stronger than you think.
- You know when something doesn't seem right. Listen to yourself. Trust yourself.
- Life is so very short, and it can change in an instant, so be present for the good and the bad. Hard days will shift into easier ones. Effortless, peaceful moments might be brief, but take all the pleasure you can from them; bank that shit up for later.
- Don't forget about the people who knew you before you became a mother. Those pieces of yourself matter, even if they've changed.
- Anyone can have a baby, but not everyone can parent. It's so hard, and so incredible. Thank you to the mothers and fathers who have paved the way for me, and who help me parent better.
Happy first birthday, E. You light up our life.