New post on the collective grief of COVID-19 is on Medium – click here to read it.
This is heavy. Sometimes we need to cry in the grocery store.
Having small children, while challenging as I went belly up about in my last post, is a magical pretend world where you are completely enchanted by tiny, gross heathens who would lick a toilet plunger if you would just please please let them.
Being a baby is really hard work. What impresses me most is their tenacity to give life their all, every moment of every day. They are abnormally motivated to learn, grow, and try new things. All. Day. Long. Meanwhile, back on the farm, I can go weeks without a complex thought and have a hard time trying a new face wash.
Their brains are building 2 million new synapse connections each second – that’s a fact, y’all. In their first year, their brains will double in size and their cerebellums, the part responsible for balance and coordination, will triple in size. They go from floppy, barely responsive, drooling protozoans to agile, clever, fully interactive chimpanzees.
It’s also a fact that we have to do an extraordinary amount of work to keep these vulnerable creatures alive. Oftentimes it’s like they’re trying to kill themselves. Nature has shown the longer babies are dependent on their parents, the smarter the animal. So, our childhoods are long because we are smart. Human babies are completely helpless so they can be completely protected, freeing them up to spend most of their focus learning how to use their brains.
Babies seem to have something adults lack and I kept wondering: how are we different? I watched a TED talk on the topic by Alison Gopnik, a child development psychologist, who described the difference this way: babies “are the brilliant butterflies who are flittering around the garden and exploring and we are the caterpillars who are inching along our narrow, grown-up, adult path.” Another way to put it: babies are the research and development division of humanity while adults are production and marketing. What a way to make adulthood sound like a total snooze fest. I want to flit! Babies por vida!
Gopnic described the consciousness of babies and young children as a lantern and that of adults as a spotlight. While adults have a powerful, focused attention span that brings singular objects into vivid light, babies have a less powerful, but more broad attention span that notices everything with equal clarity. So, it’s not accurate to say babies and young children are bad at paying attention, instead they’re bad at not paying attention. Hence the “SQUIRREL!!!” distraction issue they frequently encounter:
Interesting side note: Gopnik says caffeine mimics the effect of all those neurotransmitters firing in a baby’s brain – that scattered, jumping from thing to thing, somewhat out of control energy you feel after four lattes is how a baby’s brain works. Exhausting. No wonder they need nap time.
What I’ve witnessed in my kids and what I hear from Gopnik is that in some ways babies are more conscious than adults. Children are firing on all cylinders at every moment. They don’t take breaks to poop or puke, those just happen in the midst of what they’re doing. There’s no time to stop for trivial stuff, babies must go! Smash paper, throw dino, [*poop*] pick up stick, yell a little, [*vom*]…
My kids experience levels of frustration I can hardly comprehend like learning to grasp an object, developing the muscles to hold up their huge ass heads, and figuring out how to crawl.
Crawling was brutal. My son, Jonah, could only crawl backwards at first. When he saw a crumply book he wanted to crumple, everything he tried just meant he moved further away. No crumple at all! Bullsh!
For over a month, Jonah howled with frustration, but — get this, you guys — he harnessed the power found in his frustration as the ultimate motivator. Frustration isn’t a blockade by which he gives up; it’s a vehicle by which he tries harder. What the…??!!?
My adult mind was blown by that news. I almost gave up on an entire year once because New Year’s Eve was a dud.
The thing I keep thinking is: we all learned to crawl, we all worked to hold up our heads, and we all failed to crumple that book. The grit I see in my kids is the grit innate in all of us. We are born factory-loaded with an unstoppable amount of motivation, tenacity, and zest. For most of us, it goes away or at least does a sharp nosedive. Where does it go? Why don’t we keep it? How can we get it back?
Part of me wants to go back to the time where everything was curiosity, potential, and awe. Lots of me wants to flit around the garden instead of march on the path. I’d like to retain my motor skills, emotional control, and lack of desire to lick toilet plungers, however. In the meantime, I’ll keep on being enchanted by my tiny heathens, and let their grit remind me of my own.
It’s entirely possible babies are smarter than adults. They are definitely more alive. They also forgot to mention to channel babies in moments of frustration and ask ourselves: what would Jonah do? Jonah would keep trying until he figures it out. Except if he sees a squirrel.
Oh hey, world! Wow, it’s nice to see you. Like, REALLY nice. You look amazing – have you been working out? Did you do something with your hair? Seriously, we have so much to catch up on.
Let’s just address the elephant in the room and allow me to sincerely apologize for not calling or writing or communicating in any way for the last four years. You’ll never believe this, but I actually lost my brain. I lost it somewhere between my first third trimester and my second third trimester if you can follow that math. I’m going to put it all out there because I need to in order to heal from having children.
I am aware there are many women who don’t lose their brains when they have kids. Some feel they were born to be mothers, some launch companies while having twin infants (ahem, my sister-in-law), and others continue to regularly shower (what kind of sorcery…?).
I am not one of those women. Being a mother wasn’t innate to me, especially a stay-at-home mom, and I took myself to a numbed, paused place.
I was swallowed by motherhood. Like a whale to biblical Jonah, my Jonah swallowed me whole. And like biblical Jonah, while I didn’t perish inside and it was actually pleasant inside that blobby whale, it was also claustrophobic, suffocating, and wholly disorienting. You forget there is a world outside the whale and that you don’t have to stay there. You can leave whenever you want.
And then I had Isla. She is a redhead and that’s probably all I need to say about that. And post this photo:
Where once I had one shadow, I now have three. My children are right beside me every step and poop I take – yes I’m VERY comfortable talking about poop now, thanks for asking. And it’s never enough. All the attention, love, and special mama time, it’s never enough. Mama should always give more – or at least that’s the guilt I put on myself. I’m aware they didn’t give me that guilt, it was all me. It’s easy to think your needs don’t matter.
Even though I was surrounded by beings that need me and love me more than anyone ever has, as well as a more-than-your-average-bear helpful husband, I never felt so alone. Being a mom, in our village-less ways, can be the loneliest experience.
I found myself struggling to carry on conversations with the non-baby form of humans (I’m a great conversationalist with toddlers – hire me for your next ice-breaker toddler event!). When previously my brain was filled with fabulous discussion topics, an abundance of wit, and uniquely poignant contributions to our political landscape, now all I was capable of was sleep schedule calculations, the fascinating classifications of poop, and any question that starts with “why” – Why are you not sleeping? Why is the floor wet? Why do you need FOUR very specific spatulas? WHY did I volunteer for this??!
Everyone says to love it, savor it, and know how fleeting the absolute love of small children is, but that enlightened perspective doesn’t change the fact that these years are hard for many of us. I love my children more than I thought possible, but — a big ole BUTTT — I have struggled. And I’m here to say it’s ok to feel that way. You aren’t a bad parent if you agree with me.
This may seem horribly ungrateful that I’m complaining about being blessed with two gorgeous, healthy children, but I experienced very real, very scary, and potentially permanent mental repercussions from those four years inside my cute ass whales. More on that in this post.
I know it’s entirely my fault and all I had to do was take care of myself just a little, but I didn’t. Bygones. I martyred myself because I thought I was supposed to. I thought I had to pile more weight than I could carry until I fell down every night. I thought I was supposed to be numbed and on hold. I thought I was OK until I really wasn’t.
The most important thing is that entirely due to what I went through, I am woked, as they say. I am back, the blog is back, and my big girl goals are happening. I’ll never be who I was before my kids because I choose to be better. I’m thinking, writing, and showering again. I could launch a company.
This post is part of my healing process and rebirth. I need to shine a light on it so I can be done with it, so I can fully rejoin the world, and so maybe I can help other mothers from losing themselves to their children/guilt.
The light I’m shining is blindingly bright when you haven’t seen the world in a while. I am so grateful to be me again and to talk about something other than sleep, poop, and why. Yes, my first post in three years is mostly about sleep, poop, and why, but cut me some slack. I’m still relearning how to talk.
Um, having kids is different than not having kids. They did mention that but not that it can be other-planet, time-warp, brain-eating-amoeba different. What they also forgot to mention is that you can leave the whale but you have to build the raft and detonate the dynamite yourself otherwise you could stay swallowed forever.
I originally wrote this in August but then our baby arrived early and the world as I knew it crumbled in the most delicious/terrifying way. I’m just now getting my act together to finish this piece, I refuse to go through and change the tenses to past, so let’s just play pretend that what follows is current, m’k?
For nine months, I have been on the psychedelic mind and body trip that is pregnancy. Considering what my body has done in that time, it’s really not long at all. Considering what my mind has done, it’s been 42 lifetimes. Becoming a parent has meant becoming more than myself. All my edges are softening and the lines I define as me are expanding outward more than I thought possible. It is a slow unraveling of my life, or maybe more like a weaving in of an entirely different thread that changes the structure of what I define life as.
I started becoming a mother before I was even pregnant. In the months leading up to my husband and I “pulling the goalie,” my body began the shift from being just mine. My life began to shift from being just mine. The mothering instinct is so strong in me that it took control even before any baby-making happened and I began protecting our baby before he was even conceived. The things I ate, the products I used, the habits I had all became subject to review.
When I took the positive pregnancy test on New Year’s Day, I was ready to rumble. The interesting thing about being “ready” is there’s no such thing as being ready for something out of your control and beyond your scope of knowledge. I tried to emulate the looseness of one of those inflatable wind tube dancing things, all pliable and open to something taking charge of my body creating sweet dance moves for me. But, when pregnancy did take charge, I was K.O.ed, like completely down for the count and utterly scared. It is an all-inclusive experience, and all I could do was go along for the ride and hope it was gentle.
Four weeks in, it was completely clear I was pregnant. A very powerful switch turned on and, like recent Ivy league grads, ambitious hormones driven by purpose took the reigns. I immediately felt the home my body was making for this child — everything south of my belly button turned into a soft cloud, expanding and breathing. For the first three months, my body didn’t care about me at all. It was quite evident that I didn’t matter, that I was the afterthought. All that mattered was this baby and building everything needed to give him a chance.
This was the first time I grasped that my body is an independent entity that my mind and soul have on a long-term lease. Pregnancy forces women onto autopilot as our bodies become well-oiled machines crafted over millennia with perfectly patented blueprints for replication. Eons of trial and error led to this baby. To put it technically: it’s friggin cray-cray.
While I was in the first trimester, I just got through, hour by hour, day by day, Saltine by Saltine. Weird biological traits kicked in like the thought of large salt granules or our trip to Japan would trigger my gag reflex. The hormones crashing through me created a distracting vibration that didn’t allow me to focus on anything much at all. My spark was snuffed and I was a monotone version of myself. I couldn’t write, be creative or funny. I didn’t laugh but neither my husband or I noticed this until I started laughing again around week 14. It was only when my laughter returned that my husband finally understood that the first trimester rumors are true and I wasn’t just melodramatic. (Special note to the partners of pregnant women: respect the first trimester. It. Is. Real.)
Let me emphasize that in three months, I built a new organ. Or rather, my body did without any thought or work on my part, but I prefer to take credit for it. The placenta — the crazy important placenta, the reason we’re all here — appeared out of thin air (aka nasty hormone production on overdrive). Once that somewhat inconceivable organ was up and operational, I was allowed to come back to life. That’s when the golden part of pregnancy kicked in.
I am one of THOSE people, the ones who enjoy being pregnant. All glowy and blissful and obnoxious in my euphoria. For those mamas who did not share in this glee, I am aware how lucky I am to have had an easy, pleasant, and healthy pregnancy. I marinate in my luck. I love that my body knows what to do and just does it without waiting for further instruction. I love that it is a ride I’m taken on. I love that it makes me feel utterly feminine. I love that I feel 100% powerful and 100% powerless at the same time.
Pregnancy has made me soften all my edges. It has been a slow softening of these edges, of the abs I worked so hard to maintain pre-pregnancy, of letting go of what I expect my body to look like, of the demands I place on it. I learned to cut myself some slack and soften into a new life and not just the one I’m growing in me, but also the new one I’m growing for myself. I finally found someone more important to take care of than myself.
Pregnancy has also made me soften all my edges to the world. While I’ve never gone through anything more internal and personal, I’ve also learned that pregnancy is not personal. Pregnancy is public. We all share in this bafflingly beautiful and humbling miracle — cliché or not, there is no other word to describe it. It is astounding how it all automatically works. I am growing a life. The perfection of it levels me every time I think about it. Every person who sees my belly, whether they realize it or not, takes a little bit of that reality for themselves.
My belly has become public property and I thought this was going to be one of the things I hated about being pregnant, but the opposite is true. I love when people touch the belly. I love when strangers ask how far along I am. I love the secret “hello, fellow comrade” looks pregnant women give each other. I love that bringing a new life into the world is everyone’s business.
It’s a completely solo journey even though my husband is right by my side and I feel more surrounded by family, friends, and strangers than at any other moment. It’s interesting to be a more visible part of society; I am noticed everywhere I go. There is no going incognito or blending into a crowd, but I don’t mind this visibility at all. It has made me nicer to strangers, more patient with grumpy people, more grateful to the kindness people douse me in every day. I am cared for by complete strangers. It’s like the world recognizes my vulnerability, or rather the vulnerability of this child, and everyone instinctively wants to protect us. What is it about vulnerability that makes you actually feel safe? I feel held up by society knowing my baby and I are fully protected, and it has reminded me of the intrinsic humanity in humanity. Aw humanity, there is so much good in us.
Now I am preparing for labor and the imminent arrival of this child, which is a truly bizarre kaleidoscope of time. There are obvious parallels between my physical and mental preparations. I carry the literal and the figurative weight of this baby more each day. We have made a space for him to move into our literal and figurative home. I have packed my literal bag of supplies and my figurative bag of strength to get me through labor. My body and mind are both opening for our baby to join us. We are ready. Or so we think since, again, it’s impossible to be “ready” for something beyond you.
Here I sit two weeks from our due date and I wait. One foot firmly in my old life, the other just as firmly in the unknown. It’s pretty much impossible for me to think of anything else. I’m neither here nor am I there. Forgive me if when you see me I seem to be looking beyond you. I am. I’m in the in-between. I’ll see you on the other side.
Becoming a parent is absolutely heartbreaking, but it’s the best heartbreak I could ever ask for. This is a heartbreak that, through all the breaking, gave me a new heart.
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