Sunday, April 28, 2013

Advice for New Mothers

“But kids don't stay with you if you do it right. It's the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won't be needed in the long run.”

                                                                 ― Barbara Kingsolver

I'm like a short-term stalker.  Random strangers fascinate me and I often find myself gravitating toward them when I'm in eavesdrop and to observe them from a distance so I can create a mini-screenplay in my head about them.  Twisted, right?

So, I was in Target recently and saw an obviously pregnant woman (no, I DID NOT ask her if she was pregnant) and an older woman who looked enough like her that I assumed she was the mother of the pregnant woman.  They had one of those radar-thingies so I then made the leap that they were registering for a new baby (my new career plan should include the word "detective").  That's when the mini-screenplay began to write itself.  I imagined them turning to me, a drained, weary-looking stranger, and asking me for advice on how to prepare for the new baby.  As I turned my cart away from the happy pair, I started a list in my head of PRACTICAL advice for new mothers.  Practical.  Not the stuff they put in baby books that make everything seem like a happy sappy hit parade...practical advice that will keep new moms from feeling like miserable failures when all those smiling moms in diaper commercials sashay across their television screens.

  1. You will be tense.  Bringing a new baby home is TERRIFYING.  We brought Thing 1 home as two people who had never really even held babies.  We weren't the couple who were making cooing noises at Sue and Ted's new bundle of joy.  I was the person holding my hand up saying, "Nope.  I'm good.  I don't need to hold it."  We brought Thing 1 home and sat his car seat in the middle of the entryway and then backed away from him, both of us cocking our heads quizzically at the sleeping CHILD IN OUR HOME.  I was aghast that the hospital let us TAKE HIM.  Did they know that I had killed every single house plant I had ever brought home?  I was horrified that I was now responsible for a human being because if I didn't keep him alive then I would be criminally charged and spend the rest of my life in prison (hello, Lifetime Television for Women Friday night movie).  People will tell you to relax and they will offer up the old argument that people have been doing this sort of thing for thousands of years, blah, blah, blah.  But bringing a new baby home is some WEIRD AND SCARY STUFF!
  2. Crying is not just for the baby.  Thing 1 cried.  A lot.  I cried with him a lot of days.  I had the added bonus of having a husband in the United States Navy.  He would be gone for days, weeks and months at a time that first year.  So it would be me and the baby.  Alone.  On an island in the Pacific.  Rocking back and forth.  Crying.  There were days when I would wake up, exhausted from my days on end of very little sleep, nursing a new baby and figuring out why I had opted for motherhood in the first place.  I would weep and tell myself that I was NOT going to make it.  But somehow, I did.  I gritted my teeth and wept when he wept.  It helped when I joined the Baby Hui ("hui" means "group" in Hawaiian) in Honolulu and was matched up with moms whose babies were all born within a few weeks of mine.  We met once a week and all cried together.  
  3. Life changes...forever.  When you have a baby, you can't just pick up and go for the weekend. You have to think about where the baby will sleep, bringing diapers for the baby, wipes, changes of clothes (babies go through stupid amounts of clothes), pacifiers, and any little stuffed animal that the baby has become oddly attached to.  (Hint: if baby DOES become oddly attached to a stuffed animal, please go and buy FOUR OF THESE right NOW.  And rotate them out so they'll all smell and look the same.  Trust me. I didn't do this and it took years off my life every time one of them went missing. I will now die a full three years sooner.)  You will find yourself singing little ditties about Victor Vito and the famous Banana Phone instead of your traditional 80's favorites.  Wearing spit-up on your clothing and in your hair becomes second're already changing the baby 10 times a day and you just don't have the ENERGY to change yourself, too.  You can halfheartedly wipe that off.
  4. You don't have to be perfect.  I read all the parenting books.  And then I talked to people about parenting.  And then I read more parenting books.  I wasn't even attempting to be perfect, I was just trying to be PASSABLE.  You have a tiny life literally in your hands and it's alluring to think that you can raise them exactly correctly and never raise your voice and never make a wrong decision...but you just can't do it.  Accept it early that you're going to make a LOT of mistakes and that you're going to have days where nothing feels right and you just want to RUN AWAY.  (You WILL want to run away, I promise.)  But you won't run away.  And you don't have to be perfect.  No one expects you to, I promise.  If anyone does expect perfection, you might want to cross them off your Christmas card list.
  5. You will feel like everyone needs something from you.  The baby needs you.  Your husband needs you.  Your co-workers need you.  You need a VACATION.  Moms are valuable commodities and you will not be an exception.  Everyone around you will need you for something and it will feel like you are on-call 24 hours a day.  And you are.  And you will not pee by yourself or shower uninterrupted for more than three minutes for at least five years, perhaps more.  There is no dignity in being a mother.  Your life and your body are no longer your own.  
It's tough work to become a mom.  The metamorphosis is exhausting and time-consuming but it occurs.  I won't say that you become a butterfly in the end....because you become something even stronger and more beautiful than that.

Moms are imaginative
because they can create play out of ordinary household objects.
Moms are strong
because they lift babies and toys and even spirits every day.
Moms are fun
because they make kids laugh even when tears loom large.
Moms are important
because they put their families first.
Moms are loving
because their hearts work overtime every single day.

Target strangers, thank you for allowing me to stalk you.  I hope God blesses you with a bundle of joy that won't break you.  It's a long journey...and not an easy one...but, wow, it's worth it every single day.

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