I have an 18 year old niece. She's beautiful, smart, sassy, funny, level headed, and I'm enormously proud of her. We are extremely close, and have always been so. I was blessed to be in the room when she was born despite being just 17, and it is one of the most profound moments of my life. Not long ago, she asked me why anyone would actually want to have kids and be a Mom.
What I realized, is that's not such an easy question to answer.
She's not one of those overly romantic, gushy teenage girls who long for prince charming to ride in on a white stallion and carry her off to his castle. She's more the type to come riding in on the back of a flying, fire-spitting dragon and save the boy and his horse herself, while rolling her eyes at their ineptness. She's not anti-love, or anti-romance. She's just not living in la la land, and she's wonderfully independent and confident. That kind that comes from having parents who make sure you know you are loved, and that you know there is nothing you cannot do.
As I said, we're very close. So as she's grown up she's seen me grow up as well. She was in my wedding, heard all about the thrills and pains of pregnancy and motherhood. We've made sure to illustrate to her and her twin siblings that being a grown up and a parent carry a lot of responsibilities; it's not something to charge into blindly. (In other words...be VERY careful what choices you make and understand the potential consequences. We're dealing with teenagers, here.) She and I email nearly daily about our days. I hear about the teenage dramas and she hears about work, kids, and projectile vomit. Even trade.
So during a conversation with her and her mother, she asked us why would anyone WANT to be a Mom. She got that we love them -- she loves her little cousins and enjoys them -- but why would anyone want a kid that you can never give back to someone else? Never get a break?
Huh...I kind of stumbled.
See, it's not because I don't love being a Mom. I went into this willingly, consciously, eyes wide open. Like I said, I've been close to my nieces and nephews and actively part of their lives since I was 17 and my sister gave me the greatest gift she'd ever given me by making me an aunt. So I had a pretty clear view of the work involved. I LOVE being a Mom. My cubicle wall at work is wallpapered with their pictures, drawings, etc. My computer desktop is their smiling faces. My home is ruled by pictures, artwork, blocks, dinosaurs, and untold amounts of cars that I SWEAR reproduce at night while we sleep!
But how do you put those feelings into words? Words an 18-year=old girl can understand?
Always keeping it real with my girl, my sister and I listed the cons of motherhood. A sample of the list is as follows:
- Pregnancy. While I treasured the experience, and still romantically recall the feeling of that life moving inside my stomach, I'm over that phase of life. The morning sickness. The crying at the drop of a hat. The absolute uncontrollable need for fruit smoothies and chocolate milk at any given hour of the day, every day. The pain in the ribs when little darling stretched awkwardly. The inevitable kicking and rolling as I tried to do aerobics. (I remember the instructor always asking us how was our core, to remind us to keep it tight while exercising...my answer one day was "fighting back!") The getting up several hundred times a night at the end to pee, the severe lack of sleep....
- Birth. Though the reward is amazing, the process sucks. And there's absolutely no dignity to be found in the process. Before labor, my husband and I had never peed with the bathroom door open, never watched each other get sick. Certain things were sacred. He witnessed my water being broken, helped me waddle to the bathroom with the IV bag trailing while hooked up to monitors with cords reaching out meaning the bathroom door could not be closed, held the bowl I threw up into repeatedly over the course of the day, and again strapped down to the operating table, head twisted awkwardly to the side to reach the stupid bowl, when after laboring for 15 hours we finally relented and allowed them to take him c-section when they determined he was having trouble. Not glamorous. My husband took a photo of my vagina being held up by the doctor. No, I'm not joking. I wish I was. He's shown it around. That's my man. That's how he rolls.
- Sleep. It doesn't happen. In the early days, all babies wake up a lot. My youngest is now 2. He still wakes up. A lot. I don't understand it, and while we've minimized the effects by training him that he just has to go right back to bed...he still gets up. My oldest NEVER did that. He's a wonderful sleeper. A marching band can go through his room and he won't so much as roll over. I've carried him to the bathroom asleep, stood him in front of the potty so he could go, carried him back and tucked him back in with him never waking up. (He is desperately trying to wake up dry, but he's such a heavy sleeper his body doesn't wake him up to go!) So after 2 years of no sleep from my youngest, this is a very sore subject. And my sister had 3 kids. My beautiful now 18-year-old niece, a TERRIBLE sleeper. She still doesn't sleep as many hours as a normal person. And then came the twins. Does anyone with twins sleep the first year? Or two?
- Diapers. Ick. They never end.
- Illness. Kids bring it like you'd never imagine. Before kids my husband and I each had over 10 years no flu. First year with our oldest, we both got it so bad it was like we were making up for lost time. Our son didn't get it; he's got a wonderful immune system, thankfully, for a daycare baby. But he still brought it home. And you're not really a parent until you've tried to catch your child's vomit. In your hands. With your body. Whatever it takes to protect them when they can't get to the bathroom or bowl. The first time our oldest got sick enough to throw up, he would feel it coming, get this look of panic, and run into my lap. So you know where it all went. Over and over and over again. By the end of the night I was out of clothes, my son was out of pj's, and we were out of clean towels my husband used to clean up behind us.
- Potty training. I have 2 boys. They each have a penis. I do not. Yet somehow the task of teaching them how to use and (hopefully) aim these contraptions fell to Mommy. I don't understand it, I just recognize it. And don't get me started on a boy's relationship with his poop. It's a mystery that will remain unsolved.
- Temper tantrums. Whether you get the terrible two's ore terrifying three's, you get the tantrums. Loud. Often. Kids are psychotic tyrants by nature. Age just dilutes it if you're lucky and a good parent. "Can I have a cookie before breakfast? No. Waaaaahhhhhh." This is a normal conversation. My sister's twins had legendary fits, fights and tantrums. My son is the most stubborn creature I've ever beheld. They're both strong willed, but my youngest is amazing. I realize why God makes them cute. It saves their lives untold times.
- Relationships. Unless you are living in a 30 minute family sitcom, kids strain your marriage. Passion dissipates in the face of sleep deprivation. No one can feel frisky after mopping up poop, spit up, vomit, or whatever that was you found in their ear and neck folds during bath time earlier. You find yourself bickering about the most ridiculous things, because becoming a parent makes you psychotic, too. This phenomenon increases exponentially by the number of children you have under the age of 5. With just one, we felt like we mostly had it under control. We'd gotten the hang of parenting. (I know, I'm laughing at us, too.) We added boy #2 and good Lord! We realized anything our oldest did well was luck, not good parenting. Because anything that worked the first time had no effect the second time. It's like you're almost a brand new parent again, because their personalities, needs, everything are so different. Other than already knowing how to diaper and bathe them, you're starting over. Your marriage suffers. Date nights are few and far between.
You get the idea. It's not difficult to list what's hard about being a Mom. But it's also not a challenge to list what's great:
- Pregnancy. How amazing is it to know that by some miracle of luck and nature two tiny cells found each other against all odds, and out of that collision comes the most amazing creature with my chin and my husband's eyes, and a whole wonderful new personality? To feel that first small little movement? It's so small at first, you're not sure you really felt it. Then later your belly moves like a scene out of alien and you laugh and rub the belly. Always rub the belly. I couldn't keep my hands off the belly. I was never alone, he was always there. Jamming to the music during aerobics. Doing flips when I drank the smoothie he had me craving. When I'd snuggle against his Dad's back at night he'd give a big kick to say hello. I did that. I carried and protected and nourished a whole new life! I'm still in awe.
- Birth. It's not fun getting there, but when they come out, however they finally come out, what a surge of.....everything! Emotion, love, fear, recognition, bewilderment, awe. To hear that first, strong, angry cry. The hot tears running down your face as you suddenly could care less that you are literally hanging all out there (I had 2 c-sections, so I was REALLY hanging all out). The relief when the doctor and nurses smile and tell you he's beautiful and healthy. And do not get me gushing on the first time he was in my arms. I will never forget that feeling, and I'm crying typing this thinking back again. Baby #2, c-section #2, been there done that? No way. It's just as amazing, just as new, just as powerful. Like the rest of the world disappeared and the heavens opened up and shown down on us. Our family. What a blessing.
- Illness. It's a horrible feeling when the loves of your life are sick. Colds, flu, anything. You are miserable with them. But you lovingly, willingly, sleep in the bed with the kid with the plague so that you can hold the bowl and catch it if he gets sick at night, put the cold washcloth on his face afterward, and cuddle him close. Those hot, smelly breaths in your face when he falls asleep you KNOW are getting you sick? Who cares! He feels safe with you there, and there is NO WHERE else on earth you'd rather be. It's profound to get to be the one that cares for them, soothes them, and makes them feel better. Safer. It's a gift to get to be that person.
- Boo-boos. A Mom or Dad can sooth a boo-boo with a smile, kiss, and a hug. It's so cool. My youngest is a brute. He charges through life full steam ahead. My oldest is more cautious, but still a normal nearly-five year old boy. We get a lot of boo-boos. But a smile of reassurance and hug from Mom, and it suddenly is okay. They're off and jumping off the fort again. What a powerful feeling.
- Smiles. Every smile you get from your kids stops your heart. Every one.
- Hit and run hugs. Oh, they're the best. Boys are especially good at this brand of hug. You have to dig in and brace yourself because they're coming at you full steam, and they will knock you on your ass if you're not ready. They squeeze so tight like they're trying to snap you in two, then they're off to save the world from evil and dinosaurs again.
- Presents. I have a collection of beaded bracelets my oldest has made me. Trinkets, crafts, pictures, even special rocks he found that made him think of me. I get presents from both of my boys all the time. They may seem like small, inconsequential things to a normal person, but to my boys and to me they are amazing treasures. And every one, every single one, tells me they love me. While out exploring the world, filling their amazing brains at school, or exploring the yard, they thought of Mom.
- Bed time. It's my favorite time of day. We snuggle in and read more books then I know we should, but they're so fun and so cute, I agree to "one more." Then the lights go out and we snuggle for a few minutes. If I'm with my toddler, we rock in the chair, and I whisper how much I love him. If it's my oldest, he makes up adventures his teddy went on and tells them to me in the dark in the most animated voice you can imagine. Then come kisses and hugs...and more kisses and hugs...and one more, Mommy.
- Sloppy wet kisses. My youngest kisses us all the time right now. When we're rocking before bed he'll suddenly lift his head from my shoulder and plant one on me. Big, sloppy, loud one. Oh, I love those.
- Snuggles. A child's body is specifically designed to fit perfectly against you. His head lays on your shoulder, his little fat arms around your neck, hands brushing through your hair. His body layered over yours as he melts into you. Trusting completely. Fearing nothing. Just being there, in that moment, with you.
I know this list is woefully incomplete. And I know it still won't make sense to someone not yet in that stage of life where the thought of giving up your freedom, your independence, your life, your soul, your time and your heart to this little, screaming, pooping, wiggling creature seems like a good thing. But being a Mom is consuming. In the best sense. You melt into a puddle a thousand times a day. Your heart swells til it hurts every day. Yes, your patience is tested. Your sanity takes a vacation. You revel in the quiet, stolen moments of peace you find. You become very well acquainted with the various forms of alcohol. When you used to meet friends at the bar and party and hang out til all hours you now meet up at Chuck-E-Cheese, or each others' houses and playsets talking about sleep training, diapering, potty training, schools, mini vans.
Life changes. Completely. Wonderfully. I guess I still can't really articulate the feeling. But I thank God every single night in my prayers that I get to feel it.
Photo Credit: koadmunkee.
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