The 7 Things I Learned in My First Year of Parenting…Part 3
5. Redecoration will be your handy new hobby. Side hustle. Religion, maybe.
The truth is, you will have to let go of the life you once knew. This feels scary.
Letting go is one of the most difficult challenges we face. Often the natural reaction is to resist the change, to fear the change. Resent it. Maybe even ignore it, sometimes. Well Folks, I am guilty of each one of these things (and guilty of some more than once).
So how do we learn to shift our mindsets? How do we ease up and roll with the changes that accompany new parenthood? Scroll back over to #1…(on “adaptation”)… remember that it doesn’t have to be about what you lose, but rather, try and make it about what you gain. Think of the delight you’ll discover in new ways of doing things, in new possibilities. In a new way of being.
Mentally, when Hudson was first born, I was totally prepped. I’d spent the final months of pregnancy gearing myself up for this huge change; a finite, almost unfathomable disruption in my current state. I knew it was coming. Had it all mapped out. It’s true, within that very first second you are handed your child your entire state of being is changed, however…this is not singular.
I had built myself up for this one big gear shift, but really what was to come was a series of shifts – a sequence of progression that would happen with each passing week, with every new milestone.
For this, I was not prepared.
Looking back on my experience, one of the biggest opportunities for growth over this first year was learning how to live with constant change. Constant reorganization. Basically, total evolution every 3-5 weeks. As parents we see first-hand just how rapidly our babies develop; they shift, morph and solidify into newer versions of themselves – almost weekly. Sometimes it seemed like Hudson changed over the course of one 3 hour nap. While I loved watching my son transform, I (frequently) struggled to keep up.
One such occasion involved a candle. It was a Tuesday morning (Tuesday’s were always my Monday’s). Seeing my tall, sage-colored, smoke & vetiver scented candle in danger of destruction (yet again), I snapped. After moving it from the side table in the living room (to make room for the breast pump) to the base of the fireplace (until Hudson started crawling) to a 3-tiered plant stand in the corner of our dining room (until Hudson pulled himself up) and then finally cursing the candle and debating whether I’d even be able to light the freaking thing again during this lifetime –
I saw the glitch. I was so fixated on trying to salvage the familiar fragments of my former life that I couldn’t accept the possibility of a new way. I was fighting a losing battle, and I was exhausted. Though it took numerous occasions (I repeat, numerous), I finally understood that If I didn’t change my perspective (not only was I going to go insane) I was going to systematically erase every bit of joy from this experience. My resistance would force me to miss every single opportunity to discover something new, something unique – maybe even a more satisfying configuration or a superior method.
Instead of desperately holding on to the way I’d organized my life, my space, my thoughts – why not embrace Hudson’s changes as opportunities to try something different? To rearrange, to play with new renditions and new iterations. To wipe things clean and take delight in rediscovery. We tend to get comfortable in our ways and in our space – it’s where we feel in control. But why limit ourselves to this one way, forever? At some point you have to make a decision. Though it can be a little frightening to venture out, in the end, is venturing out more rewarding than having never adventured at all?
If I’m being honest, this is a process. Even today I battle my own mind. My go-to? I say to myself, “Think of all of the beautiful, insightful, gratifying opportunities we’d miss by just keeping things status quo”.
I really did like the way the vetiver candle looked on the side table in our living room. I also loved the pop of green my pothos plant added to our mantel (side note: pothos plants = an unexpected child hazard). And the thought of having a giant, glossy, primary-colored kitchen lining the wall of our dining room made me cringe. Cry a little bit.
Both of these.
But each time I move my candle, I love the new space it inhabits. My pothos is just as happy higher up on the shelf opposite our guest bed. And when I see that little spark of curiosity in my son’s eyes as he uncovers a new feature of his kitchen, I’m so thankful we bought it. (And now they make kitchen’s that are classier than the one you cook in – so you can make a healthy compromise here.)
Shifts in perspective like these take time. It’s OK if they don’t happen overnight.
Our “nightly routine”, for example, used to mean unwinding with Netflix and a beverage of choice.
This has since evolved.
While it still includes a beverage of choice (one that is enjoyed much more slowly, is sometimes spilled, and is frequently misplaced) and Netflix (sometimes a full episode, but more often just pieces of things) – it is now punctuated with the picking up of stray legos, bath time fun, 15 or 20 minutes of “Stinky & Dirty” and a good, solid bedtime story.
We enjoy the things we loved before, just differently now. In a way, I suppose, it gives them perspective. Makes them more meaningful. And I’d be remiss not to mention the benefits that come with said evolution: the epic bubble-blowing during bath time, cozying up together on the couch to the theme of his favorite tv show and the serene, calming effect of a familiar bedtime story…
we experience more. In less time.
And really, these days, it’s all about efficiency.
Update: the vetiver candle now happily resides opposite an emerald-colored sansiveria (snake plant) on top of an antique garden stand against the back wall of our family room. That is, until Hudson is tall enough to reach it. At which point it will be relocated.
6. Mom Guilt. It’s a thing.
I wouldn’t call myself a stranger to guilt. It’s possible that I am, by nature, more susceptible to this phenomenon. Nevertheless, I think what surprised me most was the undeniable physical response I felt toward my son – whether I wanted to, or not. It was like a gentle pulling. A tugging. A kind of internal tug-of-war that would happen throughout any given day. And what’s funny is that it’s grown significantly stronger as he has gotten older, even though my confidence in his self-reliance has grown right alongside it. It’s almost as if the more I get to know him, the deeper the pull.
In trying to determine the source, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I felt before becoming pregnant; how I viewed the different roles I played in my life. Before Hudson, I had never worked a real, full-time job. Often I worked full-time hours – a few different part-time jobs equating to a heavy load of hours per week, but the roles I played in these jobs and their levels of commitment were established, well-defined. I was an educator. An instructor. Then a trainer. A coach. Sometimes I was an editor. Other times I was a choreographer.
When Hudson was born, I became a Mother. This was my first full-time job.
Maybe it sounds a bit too calculated to put it this way. While I fully believe that there is a physical and emotional bond between a Mother and Child that by nature, creates a deep, impenetrable connection, viewing my new role through this lens was the best way I could make sense of my feelings. It was a new level of commitment. Of responsibility. Motherhood was a brand new full-time gig and I hadn’t really considered how it would fit into the mix – how my other roles would have to adjust. To be honest, I had a mild identity crisis.
When Hudson was 3 1/2 months old, I started working again. He entered a daycare program nearby (this came with a slew of other challenges) and even though deep down I knew I wanted him to be strong, self-reliant, well-adjusted (all of the things) – the entire first month that he went I felt awful. Terrible. So confused. I cried. A portion of the tears shed were because I missed him, but a larger portion of those tears were due to the fact that I felt like I was letting him down. Like I was sleeping on the job, asking someone else to do the work.
Why did I feel this way? I was so excited to go back to work. Excited to start bringing those parts of myself back to life. Why did it feel wrong?
In the role of Motherhood, the level of responsibility is astronomical. The stakes are too high. Perhaps we don’t realize that when we take on this role, if it seems like we’re not “fully committed” – it’s like we’re failing. Abandoning our post. Disgracing the role. While these feelings of self-scorn might certainly trigger an identity crisis, they will also trigger something else.
We feel guilty if we think we’re not doing our best job. We feel guilty about the potential of letting our child down. And on the flip-side, we feel guilty for wanting to be ourselves again – to be our own person, but exactly just who is that now..?
Call it social constructs, call it a personal code of ethics – each of us operates within our own “framework”, something we use to define and organize the many roles that we play within our lives. When this is challenged (as expected) we tend to feel a little lost. Folks, this might be the time to ask yourself if your current framework is still relevant. Still fits. Maybe it’s time to redefine the roles you play in such a way that you feel more confident, more authentic. Balanced.
And of course, recognize that it may take a few different iterations before you find the one that feels right.
Looking back, in those first few months returning to work, though my “work” sustained, I was a basket case. I felt like in the all of the studios and behind every desk I was now “mom” all of the time. It was hard for me to take off that hat and put on the others that I had worn so many times before. I spent weeks feeling like I wanted to be two places at once. I questioned my choices, questioned my personal desires –
Really, these were questions that only I could answer, once the dust had settled.
Taking on any new full-time job is an adjustment and it means that everything else has to shift and reorganize. Sit back for a moment and think about how you felt during that initial period of your most recent new job…nerves, questions, butterflies…right? After months of feeling this internal tug-of-war, I realized that throwing Motherhood into the mix had shaken everything up. Now all of the roles I played needed to be redistributed. Redefined.
This is OK.
Missing your child doesn’t make you a bad mom. Missing your work doesn’t make you a bad mom. Feeling anxious about your new full time job is to be expected – it means that you care, take it seriously. That you have integrity. Feelings of guilt mean that you understand the magnitude of what you’ve taken on, and that you truly, deeply care for your child. Let the dust settle. Take the time to redefine your roles so that they are an accurate representation of your current self. Of your values.
And Folks, let’s be honest. Defining a more accurate, well-adjusted, more authentic self –
this is never a bad thing.
7. There is nothing in this world, quite like watching your child become a Person.
All of the questions I had about becoming a mom – my feelings of uncertainty, the wondering if I could really love my child, day in, day out –
all of this seemed to break apart…to reduce and then boil down to one simple, incredible phenomenon: the beauty of watching my tiny little human become himself. This is something you can’t find anywhere else. And it is, by far, my favorite thing about becoming a parent.
What you don’t realize, in the beginning, is what you do not yet know.
I remembered back to the first time we brought our dog, Ella, home to our little two-bedroom apartment. She was only 3 months old. My husband had found her photo on a local shelter site and fallen head over heels. A day later he sent me a 6 second video of her, tail wagging, behind a wired gate; she walked toward him and climbed up, pulling herself to a stand with tiny paws just peeking through the little holes of the fence and in an instant I knew – this was our dog.
We completed the mountain of paperwork and piled into the car. I sat holding her – a towel precariously draped across my lap – the whole way home. Ryan actually got lost at one point – he was so excited, so overwhelmed, and though my gaze was ahead, all the roads looked the same. We spent the next few hours watching her sleep. At my request, Ryan constructed a mini-fort using an old futon and our sturdy woven arm-chair to make her feel protected. We hadn’t purchased a crate yet. Or even a leash. There she sat, curled up beneath the awkwardly positioned futon taking in her new surroundings and like spectators we watched, waited for her to warm-up.
The next morning I had to leave for approximately 1.5 hours to go to work.
I totally panicked.
The class felt like it lasted years. I couldn’t stop thinking about where she might hide – how scared she must’ve felt. I’d laid towels across our bedroom floor, went around strategically placing stuffed toys and treats in safe places – but what if she had choked? Or suffered a mini-puppy panic attack? Our roommate was at work and Ella was by herself, all alone.
When I returned home, it looked like a tornado had swept through our tiny bedroom. Pillows were scattered, blankets were turned over – all of the towels lay bunched up, their corners and edges flipped upon themselves. A hardened, tiny little poop rested beside a toppled futon. No treats in sight.
I found her, hidden beneath my nightstand – a little disoriented but not entirely unhinged. I remember looking into her eyes and trying to somehow communicate the sorry that I felt – in not explaining to her that I’d be back, in not understanding her needs. I felt hopeless, and the hardest part about it was that she looked at me like she didn’t know me. Because, of course, she didn’t. Yet. We were still strangers and I hadn’t had time to build a level of trust, to show her I cared for her.
Now when I look into Ella’s eyes I see much, much more – years of good meals, ear strokes, belly rubs and neighborhood walks will weave a story of their own. I’ve watched her grow and change, and not without challenge or hardship. But these things make our bond stronger, deeper.
Even still, Ella is a dog. An emotional, complex, rather human dog –
a very special dog. Sometimes she feels like a child.
While it is similar, there is a definitive end to how much Ella can learn. Understand. Interact.
Bringing my son home, in many ways, was the same. The excitement, the overwhelm. The fear of the unknown. White knuckles on the steering wheel and plentiful blankets and towels (though this time, it was swaddles). There was a similar period of panic – of trying to identify needs and looking for cues, trying to reassure and to soothe. Bringing Hudson home, in the beginning, felt a bit like a science project. Like in the 7th grade when my home-ec teacher Mrs. Miller handed each of us a fresh egg to take home – the only instruction being to care for it, to “make sure it doesn’t break”. A lesson in fragility, certainly, but perhaps more importantly, a lesson in caring for something that you don’t know. That you can’t fully understand. Something that doesn’t verbally tell you what it needs or explain to you what it’s feeling inside.
Much like the egg, Hudson was smooth, fragile and delicate. Hard to read. A blank slate.
In the beginning, I tried hard, just to make sure he didn’t break.
Sleep deprived and drowning in a flood of my own questions, I remember trying to forge a connection with him that felt sound, looking for any signs that he felt secure, loved. We played on the boppy lounger, we kicked, we wiggled. Did lots of tummy time. Days passed and I watched. Waited.
There was an ornate, gold-framed mirror that hung above the fireplace when we first moved into our new house. It was left with the house, a grandiose fixture epitomizing the hearth of the home. Not more than a month after unpacking the boxes and returning the U-hauls, I delivered Hudson, and while the mirror echoed a life that had once occupied the space, it no longer felt right and we took it down. Ryan leaned it up against a wall inside our office, buffered with a pink, fluffy dog toy so as not to mark up the wall. One morning in the office, Hudson and I (he sprawled) on top of a turquoise-colored patch quilt of llamas and letters – a gift for his birth. With legs crossed, I turned to face the tilted gold mirror, just as I had done many times before – but this time I saw something.
I pulled Hudson up on top of my lap and sat him forward to face the mirror. His gaze, at first quizzical, suddenly fixed upon his own reflection. A profound discovery in one single moment. Here, for the first time, he saw himself. He didn’t know what to make of it – other than the fact that that he was completely engaged. Transfixed. A crooked smile. A tiny spark of recognition and then a flash of excitement lit up his features and for the first time I felt the magic of what it means to watch your child grow up.
It’s the blending of pride, excitement, happiness and surprise, tailored and tightly woven into the softest, coziest of blankets.
I watched with eyes wide as he learned to crawl. As he began to babble. Looked on with delight as he hobbled and wobbled through his first steps and stared in disbelief as he suddenly pieced together his first wooden Melissa & Doug puzzle. When he pointed his tiny little finger up to my nose and mumbled “Nohh” – I melted. Every time he let out a silly, throaty “Hiiiiiyyyeeee” as I approached his crib to pick him up from his nap, I giggled. And then, when I held him against my chest…he affectionately cupped my face in both hands, looked directly into my eyes and with a gentle, tempered authority said the word “Ma-ma”…
My chest seized.
My heart cracked.
There’s something indescribable in making this discovery…in seeing that your child knows something they didn’t know before. In recognizing that they do, in fact, possess the ability to surprise you. To delight you. To astound you. Over and over again.
Children have an ability to present life through a new lens. To see things differently. To show us beauty in way’s we might never have imagined – this we know. This, however, is not something I experienced until I had a child of my own.
I’m no expert. Certainly.
As I look back on this first year as a parent, what I can say, to my questionable, confused and “uncertain” self, is rest assured. Though it may be on your own time, may be in your own way – though you might even get mad about it sometimes – rest assured. You will love your child more than you love yourself.
Quite a lot more, in fact.
Your child is an extension of you. Familiar and yet unique, with a spirit and soul all his own.
He is so perfectly himself. With a tremendous hunger. With endless possibility.
So for me, it is this magic. The thrill of watching my child learn. Watching him live, grow and discover. Seeing who he becomes, the curves of his features, how he laughs, sneezes and snuggles…how he speaks and wears his expressions, the way he runs and how he treats others…this is the true gift of parenthood.
This is beautiful.