I quit my job to stay home when I had my second baby just after her big brother turned two. Those first few months as a SAHM to two were, let’s say, mildly traumatizing (I am underselling this). I used to call my husband Brandon at 1:30pm and ask, Are you almost done with work? and he was all It’s 1:30 and I was like YOU DIDN’T ANSWER THE FREAKING QUESTION. ARE YOU ON YOUR WAY HOME OR SHOULD I CALL 911 TO COME HELP ME MANAGE THESE TWO BABIES????? Because no one told us not to, we added a third two years later and were ruled by a tiny army we created.
Three babies in four years.
It was a whole thing.
These pics are terrible because it was the late 90's and THIS WAS THE BEST WE COULD DO. Also, we cut our original pictures and scrapbooked them all. I need therapy.
I wish I would have known how new babies make all feelings MORE (and this from a girl who was already fairly high on melodrama): more thrill, more love, more anguish, more adoration, more fear, more gratitude, more doubt, more crazy. You may have been an emotionally sturdy professional just a minute ago, but a newborn takes your heart and mind, squishes them into pulp in her fat little baby hands, and turns you into a woman face down in despair over a Subaru commercial. Who is this sloppy woman in the mirror? Good lord, put on some clean pants and get your crap together!
I remember a watershed moment the second year of staying home with the littles. Brandon came home from his glamorous job (“glamour” here meaning “out of the house”) and found me at the kitchen table, staring blankly like a poet. Or perhaps a serial killer. The kids? Not sure. I want to say they were…upstairs? Or in the backyard? They were somewhere on the property. My gosh, I wasn’t in the FBI.
Brandon, speaking slowly, like to a lunatic:
“Um, hi. You, uh, you okay there?”
“Fine. Everything is fine. Except that I’ve turned dumb. It’s fine.”
“Dumb. Now you have a dumb wife. I used to be smart. I watched CNN. Did you know that I went to college and graduated with honors?”
“I did know that because I met and married you there. Remember?”
“Well, sorry for your loss, because now I’m dumb. I sing the theme song to Blue’s Clues when the kids aren’t even around. That’s what I do now. I eat their leftover bread crusts off the floor. I can’t remember our Vice President. I told our neighbor I was 29.”
“Thank you FOR CONFIRMING THE DIAGNOSIS, MR. FANCY JOB.”
Some days were very much like that. Raising the littles was sometimes the most frustrating, boring, numbing, exhausting, lonely job I’d ever had. But also, opposite.
The Feels were all big, including the good ones. As I type this, I can literally recall how their chubby little cheeks felt against my lips; I kissed them hundreds of times a day. I remember exactly how my heart surged seeing a smiling, white-haired baby standing at the crib rails, squealing at the sight of me. I precisely remember all their first steps; I was there, cheering and laughing and holding out my arms to the first son at 12-months, the girl tot at 13-months, and of course the “spirited” baby at 9-months.
When I could push through the Big Exhaustion and Big Guilt, I tapped into something more healthy: Big Pride. Every night with three precocious littles fed, bathed, read to, rocked, snuggled, and tucked into bed, I felt like some sort of damn warrior princess. Who can handle this many babies and toddlers all day?? APPARENTLY I CAN. (And if I managed to also have sex that night? I felt like a viable candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize for my contributions to humanity.)
You can too, Young Mama. The new mom brain can be a real enemy, saying you are not enough and falling apart and a hot mess. But look at your children. Their shoes are on the correct feet, at least one has combed hair, those round bellies are clearly well-fed, and peek in their little eyes: lot of light in there, Mom. Those are the eyes of loved, cherished, cared-for babies. You’re doing it. You are raising whole humans, healthy and happy and safe.
Can I tell you what happens next?
First, you will get your groove back. Your dumbness will abate. Your brain returns and it comes back wiser and way less judgmental. (Except for that older lady in the store as my toddler pitched an epic fit for Count Chocula cereal: “My children never behaved that way.” HOW NICE FOR YOU AND MAY I OFFER MY CONDOLENCES TO YOUR DAUGHTER-IN-LAW.) Not us, gals. We get it now. We love all the young moms behind us. We buy their wine on airplanes and encourage them in Target as their tot takes off his pants and streaks down the aisle. We tell them how our 2-year-old once bit her Sunday School teacher and drew blood and assure them easier days are ahead.
And they are!
Well, easier in most ways. Guess what? Kids grow up and pee-pee on the potty! They make their own sandwiches! They wash their own hair! They go to school for seven hours a day. I’m serious. The nonstop physical parenting slows down. The daily marathon relents. They stop biting their teachers.
But I have some bad news too. These little ones? You fall even more madly in love as every year passes. That part doesn’t get any better. Subaru commercials are still out to kill us. The Big Feelings stay big, especially the tender ones. Your brain becomes useful again, but the kids grow up and you cannot stop it. That beautiful 3-year-old you’re tucking into bed? Blink and you’ll be sending him to Driver’s Ed. I swear to the heavens.
Let me tell you about Big Feelings: my oldest son, the one who took his first step into my arms at 12-months, is wrapping up his junior year. One more year and he launches. I can hardly speak of it. It went so fast. People told me it would and I didn’t believe them, but here we are in the home stretch; the finish line is near. The Family Years are waning and it literally takes my breath. (Brandon says they are just growing up, not dying, but I’ll cry about it IF I WANT TO.)
I’ll tell you something most moms don’t: teenagers are mostly awesome. Sure, you also want to strangle them of course, but they are funny and smart and interesting, and this teen stage is totally my jam. It’s not all great (this exact minute my husband and son are inspecting a fence he plowed over hot-rodding through puddles with his best friend last night), but no stage of parenting is all great. Young Mama, set that future fear aside. You will adore that baby when he is one and eight and thirteen and donning his cap and gown.
So what I wish I would have known before bringing that first son home? The baby years are short, kind of like five minutes…underwater. It doesn’t seem like it, but he will go on to kindergarten then read the Harry Potter series then join the “ninja club” in middle school then play high school soccer and rent his first tux for prom and run over a fence in his truck, and near the end, you will hit your knees and thank God that you got to parent this kid, that he was yours, that he walked into your arms at one and will walk out of them at eighteen, but my gosh…what a gift. I wouldn’t trade one day of Big Feelings, because the good ones far outweigh the hard ones, and the one that endures above all else is Big, Big, Big Love.
“There goes my baby,
Like the sun falling out of the clear blue sky.
There goes my baby,
Bye-bye, Baby, good-bye…”