The other day, someone asked me what I would do differently as a parent if/when #2 comes along. Without hesitation, I answered: "Be more present."
(Editor's note: Really my first thought was, "Take more maternity leave." But this was a close second since the first was really out of my control.)
Have I ever told you about the time that I accidentally dropped my iPhone on my nursing child's head?
Ugh - total mommy fail. It wasn't as bad as it sounds... I mean, it didn't land with force or anything. His head is a normal shape, and he seems to be on track with his milestones. But, he still looked up at me with a quivering lip that said, "Why'd you do that to me, Momma, why???" He survived and will not remember it. Me, not so much.
I remember that day I dropped my phone his head because it made me think I sucked as a parent. I wasn't paying attention. Yet, go ahead and ask me if I remember the last time he nursed? Or the first time my milk came in? Or the million times he was crying and needed comfort and I was the answer? Nope, not really.
There are so many memories that I know we made. So many firsts that I witnessed happen. But if I reach back into the recesses of my mind, there is not a whole lot that I remember in great detail. Is this normal?
Becoming a parent for the first time is crazy... (I mean, literally... I am pretty sure I went crazy.) Eventually, you get the hang of it... whatever the 'it' is that you are able to get the hang of. Because we all parent differently. But the universal truth for us all is that there are all these things that you're supposed to do and not do. There is a new life you're responsible for - you and your partner alone - and these insane new identities of 'Mom' and 'Dad' that require huge adjusting to. There are still days (okay, yes, every day) that I think, "I can't be a 'Mom'. Certainly, not me."
Sometimes, I think, for mothers specifically, our adjustment and partial identity crisis stems from getting caught up in this whole battle of Are You Mom Enough? Parenthood comes with so many rules - most of which are contradictory. You went for the epidural? **Ring, ring** Yes, did you hear, Sally got an epidural. I knew she wouldn't be able to handle it. Don't let the baby sleep on his stomach. But what if that is the.only.fucking.way. he will sleep!?! You must breastfeed. But he's how old - and you're still breastfeeding?! Give him a pacifier, it will help soothe him. Well no wonder he won't latch on, you gave him a pacifier! Just give the baby cereal so he'll sleep through the night. What are you crazy, you don't give your child solid food before 4 months! You should definitely sleep train. But, oh, you cry it out (CIO)...yeah I would never let my baby cry for more than a minute.
We are so damn busy worrying about doing everything that someone ever once said to do with a child, that sooner than later you find yourself with a 10 month old, wearing 12-month clothing, who stands up in the bathtub, is ready to walk, has 7 teeth, and is about to make his comedic debut with his one-man show titled "I blow fart noises with my mouth" - which he thinks is hil-arious . Your baby is no longer a baby. You blinked and time flew by. And yet somehow, you thought you could still get away with wearing a maternity sweater to work yesterday. (It's fine - I just had a baby.)
They said this would happen. 'They' being every parent that ever came before me. "It goes by so fast!" they would warn - and they still warn. Sometimes it irritates me, because I think they're trying to say that I'm not paying attention. But I know deep down they are right. Because in the haze of sleeplessness, frustration and concern it doesn't seem like you'll make it to the next day, let alone to the next month, or the next year. You've had blinders on since the day that nurse thought it was a brilliant idea to sign your discharge papers and let you take that little, breakable thing home with you...alone. You're responsible for this tiny, awesome life. And you're trying not to fuck it up. Or fuck him up. You just float on, day by day... wishing each one away as fast as it comes, just so you can say you survived and your child survived and somehow you also managed to not kill your husband.
Now, I am starting to understand what all these people mean. Because I did it, and I'm still doing it. I wasn't present in many of the moments that I'm now wishing I was. But I'm trying to get better. Because I don't want to look back at these days when Charlie is 18 and driving off to college and think "where did it all go?"
Although I know I probably will.
Until then, I try to take an extra few minutes every day to just take in the miracle that is my child. I beg the smell of his freshly shampooed head to linger on my clothes just a little bit longer each night after bedtime. I make sure to tell him how much I missed him while he was sleeping, each morning after we wake. I wear the spit covered shirt (that he chewed on the walk into daycare) like a badge of pride into my morning meetings. Instead of being annoyed that I'm 5 minutes late to work because someone decided to make boo-boo just as we were heading out the door, I feel lucky for 5 more minutes with my peanut. And in the crazy moments, like when he's screaming in exhaustion and clutching to my pant leg, I try to remain calm and remind myself, this too shall pass...so don't wish it away too quickly.