Last weekend, in the middle of a conversation about God-knows-what, I had the following text exchange with Maddie:
Which, you know, I’m reluctant to share. Because I’m not even sure the fact that I know nothing is good advice about parenthood. Maybe you feel like you know everything and have enormous amounts of control, in which case I tip my hat to you. (But also, I’m backing away slowly, because clearly, you be crazy). Other than my perpetual advice that overnight diapers are the best things ever invented, the magical thing about parenthood (and pregnancy, and trying to conceive), is that you can’t teach people your secrets, because the only secret is that there is no secret. You can either stress yourself out trying to read and learn everything and at least obtain an illusion of minimal control, or give in to the impossibility of the whole project. Personally, I do a little of both. Wonder Weeks for the illusion of control, a glass of wine for everything else.
When I was in the middle of my difficult pregnancy, I picked up a magazine in the OB’s office and flipped through to an interview with my friend Rebecca. In the interview she said something like, “People say that they lose themselves in motherhood, but I’ve found that motherhood is a great place to find yourself.” I remember desperately hoping that would be true for me, and it turns out nothing sums up my experience of parenting better. People often talk about motherhood in the context of less: less time for yourself, less patience, less left over for your career, less personal style, less sleep. (Okay, the last one is totally true. I know, I know, your baby is sleeping through the night, but I don’t really want to hear about it.) But I’ve found that for me, motherhood is the paradigm of more.
It’s hard to say this without sounding totally absurd, so let’s all just pretend we’re tipsy first. Deal? Deal. Because what I learned in the past two years is that: my kid totally didn’t exist, and then he was this fluttering bean, and then he was kicking my insides, and then he was born, and in nine months he’s speeded from sleeping baby to a willful almost-crawling force of nature. His life started, and one day his life will end, and all I can hope for is that he has the best possible life that he can, and I’m here to help him through as much of it as he needs me for. Or: life is short, make it count. As a result, I have more patience, and I spend more time in the moment. I’ve had way more joy and laughter.
Then there are the things that are the polar opposite of all those “you’ll sees.” I actually spend far more time on personal style now, because fuck it, we don’t have a lot of time and none of us are getting younger. So I might as well wear the cute shorts, and get my hair done. My career has thrived in pregnancy and motherhood, even as I had distinctly less time for it. Why? Because now that time on work means time away from my kid, I have to have a laser like focus on things that matter. I don’t have time to waste on people or projects that are not bringing something important into my life. And all that time I once spent worrying about people shit talking? Please. Now I’m playing with the baby, or chilling with David on the couch, or getting a drink with my girlfriends, and I hope you’re doing the same. (And seriously. Why did it take having a damn baby to make me realize that?)
I’ve noticed that a lot of the rhetoric about pregnancy and motherhood seems to be that “because we’re mothers now” we’re somehow in the possession of tons of amazing wisdom (that we’d love to tell you about). That always seems a bit like bullshit to me. What parenthood has taught me is just how little I really know, and just how much we’re all in this together. Maddie realized life was short years before I had to realize it. I couldn’t have learned that from her then, just like I couldn’t teach it to anybody now. And as for babies? I’m just trying to get through the day, with as much joy as possible. There toys spread around, spit up, and (generally) happy chaos. But there are also cute clothes to buy, and careers to be built, and glasses of wine to have. Life is too short for anything else.
So in the interest of not wasting time, lets get down to it. Lets share stories around the campfire, and pass along the wisdom. This month is not about “You’ll see.” It’s about “look what I saw.”
Photo: from Meg’s personal collection