Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Life Lessons, or, Why I'm Still a New Mom

About ten years ago, I wrote this article for a parenting magazine, and it's been on my mind again lately because I'm at yet another stage of life wherein I feel like "a new mom."

Homeschooling this year is weird.

Anne-with-an-e, though still living at home, is beginning to live a separate life, rife with microbiological vocabulary. She's working a few hours a week as a tutor, meeting new friends, doing new stuff.

Betsy is a senior, and that means my work as her teacher is almost over. Oh, sure, we're working on plenty of stuff together this year, but she, has activities, and friends, and a new job, and she doesn't really need me much.

That leaves Ramona and me, looking ahead, blazing a new trail: the I'll-Be-Homeschooling-Just-One-Person-At-a-Time-Trail. When Anne and Betsy were younger, we always did much of their work together ... combined projects, shared read-alouds, adjusted up or down as needed, and they each always had a partner in crime. But te next few years will be new homeschooling territory.

I'm a new mom again.

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The New Mom

I remember an old detergent commercial that opened with a young woman saying, “I’m a new mom….” as a little boy bounced into view. I thought, “You’re not a new mom! That kid’s got to be at least four years old!” Real moms passed the torch and surrendered the title “new” sometime after the first year.

Didn’t they?

I, on the other hand, was new. With a brand new baby, I was learning what it meant to be a mother. The required self-sacrifice was developing slowly, with resistance on my part. That sacrifice had started with pregnancy, of course. After two miscarriages, handing my body over to my child for nine months was frightening, exhilarating, uncomfortable, and hard. But, it was worth it – worth the morning sickness, the sticky, messy progesterone treatment, the sciatica, the 24+ hours of induced labor and finally, the forceps. It was worth it all, because when our daughter was finally dragged into the world she erased every messy detail that had led to her debut. (Oh, not to the point that I can’t recall it in excruciating detail, as I’ve just proven, but enough that I went on to have more children and that’s saying a lot.)

Then the next phase of sacrifice began. During labor, I’d developed a fever. Immediately after her birth, my baby was whisked away for testing and antibiotics because she, too, had a fever. In those first few hours, as I was in and out of lucidity, all I could think of was sleep. I remember, when they brought my daughter in to be nursed, I asked myself, “Why do they keep bringing me this baby?!” Then I realized, “Oh … yeah. I’m the mother.” The reality and magnitude of my responsibility overwhelmed me.

I’m the mother.

Mothering, I learned, meant sleepless nights, patience through the crying jags (hers and mine) and lots of diapers. It meant talking in a squeaky little voice so foreign to me that I sometimes glanced around to make sure strangers hadn’t heard. (Oh, I know – most people at least forgive and at best admire a good baby-talker, but I hadn’t joined the club yet.) And the clich├ęs! Alas, they were all coming true. Having a baby was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It was a fierce and primal thing that shook me. It did make me reexamine my life, my identity, and my shoe size. And, most amazing, I really did enjoy watching my charming baby daughter sleep. Who knew that somnolence could be so captivating?

All that, I thought, was what it meant to be “a new mother.” More than ten years have now passed since those dizzying newborn days. I’ve had two more children and three more miscarriages. And here’s what I’ve learned about new mothers: I’m still one.

I was a new mom when our family grew from one child to two, and from two to three. I was new when my eldest trotted off to Kindergarten. “I don’t know – I’m new at this!” was my mantra when my second child displayed a personality patently different from my first. I was frighteningly new whenever my children got sick. It was new to experience a miscarriage with young children in the house, to hide my crying and grieving, so as not to upset my sensitive eldest child. I was a new mom when Baby #3 arrived and gave me the privilege of seeing my daughters puff up with love for and pride in their newborn sister.

Every phase of life has steered me to the humbling realization that I will always be a new mom, even when my children reach their teens, babysit, go on first dates, apply for scholarships, credit cards, home loans, and senior citizen discounts. Every stage brings something untried -- not only for my children, but for me.

Certainly, as the years have passed, I’ve gained knowledge and experience that vanquished the fears of a “newer” mom. I know that potty training will eventually happen no matter which expert you depend on. I’ve learned that small children can live on six Cheerios a day. I discovered that kids are very forgiving of big people’s mistakes when we own up to them. But, I’ve also come to see that being a new mom is a lifelong job.

That isn’t as depressing as it sounds. It’s not that the learning curve is so steep that we’ll never make the grade. It’s just that life’s lessons continue, and that can actually be pretty exciting in its way. It’s the kind of excitement that helps me look hopefully, cautiously forward to the day when I can say, “Why do they keep bringing me these toddlers?! Oh … yeah. I’m the grandma.”

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Awesome.

Anonymous said...

Well said. I'm just starting to realize this.