A couple of months ago a young male friend asked me, "How has motherhood changed you?"
I thought about it but I couldn't quite put into words how everything had changed, and yet, thankfully, I still felt like myself. But I wanted to give him an honest answer, so I tried to think of some concrete examples of how my life had changed.
"Well, I cry at everything now–grocery store commercials where a family sits down to dinner, "the little drummer boy" on the muzak system in the GAP. I never know when I'm going to get all choked up," I said. "Also, I used to find it sort of relaxing to watch those Law and Order shows sometimes. But now I can't handle anything violent. Some starlet is up there playing a missing stripper, and all I can think is 'she's someone's daughter.'"
My friend took a sip of his mojito. "So, mainly, your life has changed for the worse, then," he summed up.
But that wasn't true at all. Sure, I have lost my ability to watch endless cop shows, but I can live with that (and there are seasons and seasons of Real Housewives just waiting for me to use them as my guilty pleasure). And the tears can be inconvenient, but I can always pretend to have allergies. While my life is messier and more expensive, I think it's infinitely better now that Amalía is in it.
So I've decided to list a few ways motherhood enriches one's life on a daily basis. Not the major stuff--that's obvious and also personal; everyone experiences motherhood differently. But there are a number of minor pleasures of motherhood that all of us flawed individuals can and should exploit daily. Below are my impressions of the minor highlights of motherhood:
1.) It's a major ego boost. To paraphrase a Hallmark sentiment, to the world you may be one person. But to your baby you are a big old rock star. About 12 times a day Amalía looks at me like I'm Santa Claus trotting down a rainbow on a unicorn with a mermaid riding piggyback. Her eyes light up and she smiles a huge, open-mouthed, gummy smile like, "I can't believe it's YOU!"
She also smiles this way at her babysitter, the Starbucks barista, and the waiters up and down Lincoln Road, but I get the vast majority of the smiles. And if I'm ever depressed, I just grin at her and she smiles back every time. It's pretty amazing.
2.) You get to talk about yourself in the third person, as if you were the Queen of England or the Dowager Countess. This is fun even if you're just saying "Mama loves you!" to the baby. But it's especially great if you're passive aggressive like I am. It allows you to make demands on behalf of someone else, only guess what, that someone else is you! I realized this early on, when I was pregnant and would say things like, "the baby wants apple crisp." Now that my little accomplice is on the outside, I have ammended those things to "Mama's hungry" or "Mama's tired" and somehow the people listening feel compelled to help me address those issues, because I'm not just gluttonous, lazy Eleni. I'm a hardworking mama! You may be thinking I'm evil by this point (and we're only on point 2!) But I'm evil like a genius!
3.) The people around you seriously lower their expectations. These days, if my hair doesn't have vomit in it my husband's all, "You look great! What did you do to your hair?" And I know that the poor man has to live with me so he's just trying to get on my good side. But it's not just him. Unless you're a celebrity mom–so Halle Berry, Jessica Alba, and Heidi Klum, stop reading right now. You can join us again next week–people expect you to look as huge and overwhelmed as you did the first month or so after birth for years. If you can manage to put on clothes that match and step outside the house, I guarantee someone (usually a young man or woman who fears motherhood and has never really been around babies or moms) will ask, "How old is the baby?" Say anything under six months and they'll say, "Wow, you look great!"
It's not just the looks thing either. You can forget birthdays, stretch deadlines, or cut your productivity in half and no one's surprised. Now, I realize that I'm outing myself as a slacker here and one shouldn't really use "Mommy brain" as an excuse for everything. But it's true! This mommy thing is overwhelming! And you do have way less time to get anything done. So I appreciate the slack people are cutting me and I plan to work it for the next 18-20 years. Consider yourselves warned.
4.) People give you free things. I've been given extra slices of banana bread and free iced coffees at two different Starbucks. And I realize that this comes from misguided love for the baby (I think the banana bread guy thought she was capable of eating a piece as well) or plain old pity, or a desire to clear the riff-raff out of the store. (During the iced coffee incident Amalía and I were covered in mashed apple puree and other unidentifiable substances and we smelled bad, too.) But I'll take it! If we stink up enough Starbucks to feed ourselves for a few years, Amalía can accummulate a nice fat college fund!
5.) You get to sing a capella, made-up songs about poo poo all day long. I didn't realize that this was something I'd ever want to do, but it's really, shockingly fun. And it's not just scatalogical musical humor either. I realize I have made up lyrics and music for virtually every moment of the day, and because there's a baby listening, no one can call me criminally insane. Like, she smiles a big fat smile, and I sing, "My fatty fat face! You are my fat face! You are the cutest little fat face...IN THE LAND!" (I am trying to ammend this to My Sweetie Sweetface before she starts to understand words, for obvious reasons.) There's the bathtime song for when I am cleaning the folds under her double chins and in her arms and legs: "Can I wash your nooks and crannies? Can I wash them, yes I can. Can I wash your nooks and crannies? Sweetest baby known to man."
Now, my husband and I have made up the Ballad of Amalía, which makes a lot more logical sense than the above. (It contains lyrics such as "I was born in Miami Beach on an August Day. And if I could talk I'd have much to say. What?") But most of what I sing all day is virtually unintelligible or borderline offensive. And the beauty of a baby is–she's not going to complain. No sir. Whatever crazy thing I sing, she's going to smile at me like I'm Unicorn-Mermaid-Santa, and that is better than an entire season of Law and Order.
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