by L.K. Whitney
“Part One” of a lifelong story because, as you well know, motherhood is not something that you can put in a well-marked, masterfully-wrapped box.
So you just peed on the stick and all signs point to “plus” (one). Congratulations. You’re pregnant.
Say goodbye, honey. Life as you’ve known it is over.
Perhaps you stare at the stick in disbelief. Perhaps you giggle with glee. Perhaps you run straight to your husband to share the good news or, in some cases, beat him mercilessly with the closest blunt object. (The latter, to be clear, is just early matchup for the ensuing 40-week “term and delivery” that will be (quite literally) carried out by none other than YOU.)
You’re a mommy-to-be. You’ll be glowing soon. Before you can say “diaper genie”, you’ll be losing sight of your toes, knees, and other … parts. You’ll experience the full gamut of hormone-induced cravings/episodes/impulse purchases. You’ll forego the chardonnay and instead will pump your body full of folic acid and, in my case, any form of prepared potato within reach.
And then, suddenly, you know “it’s time”. You grab your (last) carefully-packed bag and go. You withstand the sweat, the pressure, the push, the pain, and when you return home you bring with you the ultimate prize – a screaming, pooping, bundle of joy. Not only have you won the race, but you’ve been given the all-too-precious medal of “Mommy”.
Now, just as this new baby doesn’t come equipped with a step-by-step “How To” manual, neither does motherhood and, so, you may spend the next year or so in complete denial of what this role means. Some call it hormones; some call it post-partum. Clinical terms aside, we all go through it and it’s an age-old phenomenon that affects each mother differently. For me, the uber-planner, I battled the issues of non-planning, of giving up my independence and of relinquishing control. Truth be told, it’s an ongoing daily battle with my inner self. (Oh, and while we’re on the subject, I also have extreme insecurities about my ability to raise a “good” child: someone who will grow to become an honorable citizen, a do-gooder, completely respectful to their neighbor, all animals and, most importantly, their loving mother.) But that’s just me…
So, “Mommy”, you begin to master the art of multi-tasking in ways you may have never imagined. You prepare a bottle while catching up with your best friend via Skype while (1) the laundry’s running, (2) the dishwasher’s running, (3) all bills are being paid electronically (because you can still be a great planner when technology’s on your side), and (4) you’re entertaining your sweet baby with that rattle thingie that’s dangling from your only available limb (big toe, left foot). Oh yeah, and (5) dinner’s in the oven so that when your DH returns from a “hard day at the office” he doesn’t have to waste a second wondering “when dinner will be ready”. (You know that if this question is removed from his mind, he will have time to “enjoy the baby”, which means you’ll have about five minutes of solitude in the bathroom to brush your teeth and hair and relieve your bladder, all for the first time that day.)
However you manage the chaos, it gets done. You just do it. “Motherly instinct” is what they call it. Maybe you go back to work after maternity leave. Maybe you stay at home. Maybe you even reproduce again (and for that I have nothing to add, since I’m patiently holding at one). No matter your path, time quickly reminds you “how fast they grow” and your sweet, babbling infant is now a bona fide toddler: argumentative, inquisitive, and determined to take everything apart. Again, multi-tasking takes on new form and, although you’ve developed a system for leaving on time, keeping house clean, lunch made, etc., you now have to battle the personality of this little person in executing things like leaving the house on time, keeping the house clean, eating your carefully-prepared healthy lunch.
(Fast-forward a few year.) Your children begin to interact. They become social creatures. Your (once-thriving-now-kinda’-barely-hanging-on-by-a-thread) social life is whatever (whoever) they prefer to seek out on playgrounds, at Chick-Fil-A, on aisle nine at Publix. You realize just how deprived you’ve become of quality adult conversation (your baby-daddy no longer counts in this category) and that gray-haired stranger looking for a jar of pesto becomes your newest and most coveted confidante. (Yes, she exists and yes, I showed her where to find the pesto and yes, in our five minutes together I unburdened my woes freely and fully because she was so kind to listen.)
The decisions you’ve made for your infant and even toddler now grow increasingly moot as your precious offspring uses their knowledge (gained mostly by the outside world and, if you allow it, television programming) to negate every sentence you utter. That feeling of insecurity you had about being a good parent (in the days you were still bathing them in the kitchen sink) escalates to a higher rank because now they are telling you just how poor of a job you are doing in leaving the house on time, keeping the house clean, packing their lunch, etc.
And, sooner than later you tuck them into bed one night to the sounds of Shel Silverstein and the next morning they emerge from their room as teenagers. Need I develop this image any further? Defer all analogy to your own teenage years and, according to my dear mother, multiply that joyful heartbreak by three. That’s what you can expect…
Somehow you survive the drama that is the first date, braces, a failed geometry exam, ruining their life, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… You watch them pack up their favorite belongings and leave the house. They’ve grown up, Mom. They’ve moved on. They’ve left the nest. You muster all available faith that they will always be safe, that they’ll make the right decisions. And after you’ve knelt down to pray in every direction you wonder what in the hell to do with all this free time. You find yourself missing that mountain of laundry, the shuttle assignments from school to soccer to skate park. You go through another spell of denial (post partum, round two) coupled with the inevitable “change” and, again, the hormones take over and you do what you can to keep focus, to keep calm and carry on.
Maybe they find their true love and have a family of their own and all the mistakes and stumbles you made during their childhood will all be forgiven as you spoil and woo your even more perfect grandchildren. At that time, you’ll add another trophy to your shadow box that reads “Grand Mother” and it brings the esteem and value you always hoped for.
Whatever path they choose with each passing day, you’re behind them 100 percent. A mother’s pride, you see, is the ultimate fandom.
This child is yours. God has blessed you and, therefore, you offer in return the utmost praise with each carefully-packed lunch, each kissed boo-boo, each folded jersey, each selfless act and all forgiveness. Being a mother, although intense/terrifying/exhausting/trying/demanding, is never thought upon as a job or a burden or a responsibility. It is a gift. How you cherish that child is in every way a tribute to their very being. And that in itself is a beautiful yearning that you will never fully quench, because a mother’s love is too grand, it is too humbling, it is too tremendous.
Realization: Motherhood is an evolution. Children force us to evolve – emotionally, physically, socially and even financially. We ultimately grow alongside our children. And what we gain is worth far more than what we leave behind.
Magic City maven Laura Kate Whitney is a full-blooded Southerner who has just found herself back in Sweet Home Alabama. Life circumstances have brought her to Birmingham, along with husband, young son, and grumpy old cat. In her “free time” she enjoys long walks, amateur photography, Birmingham history, culinary programming, and hot baths. You can follow Laura Kate’s adventures on Magic City Manifesto and also on Twitter.