I posted this photo on Facebook for Throwback Thursday. Me, two (step) kids, two babies and an obvious daydream about bubble baths. I don’t know if my mother was trying to capture my demeanor when she took the picture, but she nailed it.
In this photo, I am 30 and had just had my last baby.
I did spend about three years in sweats, a crazy bun, and a generally glazed-over expression, due to the surreal life I led.
I refer to that period of time as The Baby Days (Daze).
There are things you should know about me while you look at this photo:
1. I was always the babysitter, the teacher, the mother in mother-may-I. I always had a life which included children. I KNEW NOTHING ABOUT BABIES. I was that woman, who, when asked to hold someone’s baby, replied, “Oh, no thank you,” while thinkin, “Bitch, if I wanted to hold a baby, I’d have my own.” Babies always seemed to me to be crying, flailing entities who were clearly emotionally unstable and unpredictable.
2. I am an emotional, intellectual, artistic person and was completely unprepared for the manual labor of babies. Babies are heavy when you schlep them around close to 20 hours of a day. You can hold them, wear them, push them, or pull them, but you’re still schlepping them, usually with laundry baskets, groceries, dog leashes, what have you. They only grow heavier, and in the case of my Giantesse, at a rapid rate. They are slippery when wet, faster than a speeding bullet, and if you even think about doing something without one in tow, they pull on your pants and shout out, “Hoed You!”
3. I don’t much like people before the age of 13-15 months. The older they are, the more I like them.
4. Being a mother amplifies your neuroses. Motherhood actually takes your neuroses to the nth power. I’m no mathematician, but I’m pretty sure the number of children is the exponent.
5. Like a circus audience, everyone I know was fascinated and entertained by my becoming a mother to babies. Sometimes with empathy, sometimes with sympathy, sometimes just mesmerized by the sheer chaos, and often hysterical with laughter at my expense, but always, always entertained.
It’s all a part of the chapter in The Baby Days. During The Baby Days, my husband worked 70-90 hours a week. At one point, he worked 27 days straight, from 7am to 8pm, minimally. You would think that would have helped prepare me for deployments, but the truth is, nothing can prepare you for deployments.
That 2% he did on the daily was still a much needed 2%.
There is nothing sexier than a man with a dishcloth on his shoulder, or a feeding spoon in his hand, except maybe when he brings home a case of caffeinated Coca-Cola and says he has Saturday off.
Our generation was supposed to avoid stay-home parenting. We didn’t need a man or typing, because we were going to be astronauts, doctors and CEO’s, not mothers or secretaries, duh. >Flash to us typing and wiping tails on the daily< No one ever suggested that we might actually want a man or his babies.
I have several friends who have more children than I do. They are the best friends to have, because they KNOW. They know how it feels, how it looks, and best of all, they know what to do. Without their wisdom and support, I would be a terrible mother, or at the very least, my children would have driven me into a bottle of lithium.
No you won’t sleep when the baby sleeps: You have anxiety disorder and you will therefore spend the first six months getting up every five minutes to make sure she’s still breathing. Oh, no, I’m sorry, you will not do that differently with the second baby.
In addition to my own kids, I picked up Simon after school and kept him til Drew came home from work. Simon did not have a volume control feature. I don’t know if you know any kids like that, but he was one who had no indoor voice. He grew one, and is now rather soft-spoken, but at the time, I did a lot of hushed yelling through my teeth like this, “Simon, if you wake that baby, I swear I’ll make you nurse her!”
Drew would come from work, all polished and poised how working mothers do, and she would be glomped with hugs and kisses, inundated with information, and overwhelmed by chaos. I could actually see her trying to take it all in. The boys would romp and fence and holler how boys do. Sissy would be helping with dinner, telling me all her little girl drama, “And then Tynique said Hailey was not the boss of her!” Sassy would be on my hip, talking constantly and pointing at everything, “Blue? Blue. Cawwots? Cawwots orng,” while Moo threw a tantrum from her high chair. Moo did not use words much, and while I tried to sign with her the way I had with Sassy, she preferred to point, grunt, scream and kick. Moo was only happy while nursing or asleep.
(Some people might suggest that Moo should have been held while Sassy was in a highchair, but those would be people who have never nursed while cooking, or had a giant toddler who could escape her highchair and wreak havoc all over the house in less than a minute, let alone both.)
Sometimes Drew would stay for dinner, and I would be ever-so-grateful for adult companionship, not to mention two extra capable arms. One night, she wanted to stay for breakfast dinner, but I said, “If you want to stay, you’ll need to stop and get more eggs.” She was put off, until I said, “We are a family of six, we are a dozen eggs, a pound of bacon and halfa loaf of bread.”
Motherhood changes people, and it changed me, of course. Why, I’ve got breasts now, and a pouch that resembles that period of pregnancy where no one’s sure you’re pregnant, or if you’ve just been hittin the ice cream hard.
I can no longer just stand. In my youth, I stood in first position, now I can’t stand without rocking my imaginary baby.
I can rock any baby now. For hours. In fact, I’ll put that baby to sleep in no time flat, because it’s not my baby, and I am not thinking about how I need to do six million things before dinner.
I’ve gone from a person who spent six months obsessing about dropping the baby on a hard floor, “OH MY GOD, DON’T BRING THE BABY IN THE KITCHEN! BE CAREFUL! OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD! JUST TAKE HER BACK TO THE CARPETED AREA!” to being a person who only worries a little about hard floors, “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable holding the baby on this nice, soft sofa?”
I emerged from the cloud of baby powder, the funk of diapers, (no, really, I smelled like shit a lot) and found I survived, thrived even, in the challenges my family brought me. Love, affection, laughter, joy — so much it cannot be quantified.
But at 30, I didn’t know that.
I only knew blips of happiness that crossed my vision.
The way the boy’s face lit up when he was happy. (Still looks five when he’s thrilled.) The way he leaned over us during nursing, gingerly kissing his sisters and me goodnight.
The way Sissy looked running through the sprinkler with wet curls and an unshakable grin. The way she came to snuggle and suck her thumb in the morning, without interruption, without words. How pretty and proud she looked in her new glasses.
Three girls in the tub, pouring water over one another’s heads, laughing so hard it made me laugh.
The look on Sassy’s face when we built our first blanket fort.
The way it felt to have Moo slap wet kisses on our faces before we put her in the crib after a grueling baby day.
The way they all fit on a blanket in the backyard, looking up at the trees blowing in the wind; blonde, barefoot, and sweet.
At 30, I was merely building my capacity to love. My anxiety made sure I was often blinded and even ungrateful for what blessings were bestowed upon me.
How much better it is to be 40 and to recognize the blessings as they’re happening.
That’s the Daze I’m proud to be living in now.
(With my pink pajamas and my hair in a knot, thank you very much!)