Saturday, January 24, 2015

The job no one prepared you for...

Usually when I write a blog post, I do so over a matter of days or even weeks. (Truthfully, I have at least five posts that I started last summer and intend to finish someday.) I write a beginning or a basic outline, then fill in details and complete sentences over time. Or I write the first half, get distracted, and don't write the second half for a month. After I've finished a rough draft, I wait a few days, then proofread, change a few things, and then post. That's probably why I post so infrequently.

But occasionally, usually after a night of very little sleep, the whole post just comes out at once. This is one of those times. If you find typos or if this post makes no sense... I'm not surprised. Also, maybe don't read this if you're not a mom yet but hope to be someday. You've been warned.

My two children and I have a particularly nasty cold. (My husband Dan is still healthy, and I'm more than a little jealous.) Lucas (almost three years old) has been sick for over two weeks. He's definitely improving, but he has a lingering cough that still wakes him up at night. I got sick a few days ago, and then four-month-old Calista really came down with it yesterday. By last night, she was miserable. I tried for over four hours to get her to sleep. She would doze off in my arms, but as soon as I would put her down, she would wake up coughing and then cry. I tried her crib, her rock and play (which props her up at an angle,) running a humidifier... nothing helped. The only place she could sleep was in my arms. So I finally gave up and let her sleep in my arms. All night long. I'd love to be able to tell you some pretty lie like, "and I cherished every second" or "These fleeting moments of holding my little darling will be gone all too soon, and I know I will miss them with all my soul, so I just gazed at her sweet face, overwhelmed with love and emotion, while a single tear rolled down my cheek." But the truth is that in the middle of the night, I sent Dan (who was working overnight) a text that said:

Dan and I had dinner at a restaurant with some friends the other day. They have two young children under two years old, so combined we had a total of four kids under age three. The other mom and I were talking, and she confessed that she was finding motherhood to be much harder than she'd expected. "You have a nephew who's older, right?" she asked, "So did you kind of know what to expect?"

It's an interesting question, because before I had Lucas, I totally thought that being an aunt to my sister's son gave me the inside scoop on what it was like to have a baby. My nephew was born when I was 15 years old, and I babysat him a fair amount. I have vivid memories of my tiny nephew crying. I would cradle him gently in my arms, nestle his little head under my chin, and pace the floor while crooning in a sing-song voice, "I'm never going to have kids. No, I'm not. No, I'm not. I love you, I love you, but I'm never going to have kids."

Clearly I needed to work on my lullaby skills.
I waited a full 14 years after his birth to start having children of my own, and when I was pregnant with Lucas, I honestly thought I was Prepared with a capital P. Of course it would be hard. Sure, I'd be tired, But I had experience. I wasn't going in blind like some moms. I knew what to expect.

Poor, naive Bethany.

Not the same thing. At all.
It turns out that there's really no way to be truly, fully prepared for what it's like to have little lives literally dependent on you for survival while you're sleep-deprived and overwhelmed and sure you're screwing everything up. I'm sure there are levels of preparedness. Someone who's worked as a nanny for ten years is likely more prepared for motherhood than someone who has never held a real baby, for example, but it's still hard. And I think it's important to know is that it's hard for everyone. That all the other moms aren't just sailing along, doing the easiest job they've ever done, while you're hiding under your covers crying and eating chocolate.

I tell you this because I know moms who genuinely fear that they are the only one with these struggles. The only mom who has no idea what she's doing. The only mom whose toddler throws twenty-minute-long tantrums. The only mom who is really, really cranky after she's been up all night. The only mom who periodically sends her husband or best friend text messages that say "I'm going to run away and join the circus." So I want to be sure that you know that it's a tough job. For all of us.

Don't get me wrong - there are moments that are so wonderful that I cry. (Although, to be fair, I cry a lot in general.) Lately, Lucas has taken to telling me, "you're the sweetest girl in the whole world," and "you're the best mommy in the whole world," and, "I pick you, Bethany." (I'm not entirely sure what that last one means, but it sounds sweet when he says it.) But it's tough. And when you see other moms (me, for example) post pictures like this on Facebook:

you might be tempted to think, "She has it all together. This is a totally accurate portrayal of her life: two smiling, cooperative children posing sweetly on a floor that is not covered in Cheerios in front of toys that are actually put away." But the only reason you would think that is because I didn't take the time to caption the photo as follows: "This picture was taken on day two of the plague. It was sandwiched in between Lucas screaming for a tissue and spilling cough medicine all over the floor. The Cheerios are on the living room carpet."

So if you're having a rough day or week or... decade, please know that you're not alone and that it definitely doesn't mean that you're failing as a mom. You can do this. But if you find yourself Googling "circus job openings" at 2am, I promise I won't judge you.

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  1. i have this fear that because i have so much experience with kids people are going to expect me to know what to do, and i'm already freaking out because part of me feels like i should know what to do and the other part of me is like "OMG THERE ARE ONLY SEVEN WEEKS LEFT UNTIL I AM GOING TO BE IN CHARGE OF ANOTHER HUMAN BEING. WHAT WAS I THINKING? I CANNOT DO THIS. ABORT MISSION!" i am bookmarking this post because i know i am going to have to come back and reread it a million times over the next few months (or years).

    1. I felt like that through both pregnancies. You figure it out... kind of, I think it's worth it... some days more than others. :) You will be a great mom, and the sooner you realize nobody really knows what they're doing, the easier you'll be on yourself!

  2. As the mother of said nephew, I just want to say thanks for helping out and giving me a break back when I was an 18 year old new mom with absolutely no clue what I was doing or what I had gotten myself into. I wish I lived closer so I could return the favor. You are an awesome aunt and an excellent mother with more patience than I ever had. Love you!

    1. Way to make me cry! :) I love you so, so much.