So, I meant to write a big long post about S turning one (way back in June) and all of the exciting changes that have been happening since then (and by "exciting" I mostly mean "exhausting," because she is pretty much always on the go.) Obviously, I didn't get around to it. Sorry.
But last week, I started thinking about how my feelings about motherhood have changed in the last 15 1/2 months. You see, during my pregnancy, I was really focused on the birth. I learned as much as I could about the whole process, about possible complications, about relaxation techniques, about all that kind of stuff. I felt really well educated. It wasn't until S was born - after a (thankfully) completely wonderful birth experience - that I realized that I had not spent any time learning about what to do with a baby. I owned about half a dozen books about pregnancy and birth, but none on caring for an infant.
Fortunately, babies tend to have relatively few needs. The main goal with a baby is survival. So a little one needs food, shelter, and lots of love/touching. Of course, this might be oversimplifying a bit, but it's basically the truth. As a new mom, though, I started to obsess about every single decision. I obsessed about breastfeeding. I obsessed about cloth diapers. I obsessed about co-sleeping. And, let me be clear, I do not mean "obsessed" in that productive, Type-A way where everything has to be perfect, where I can make enlightened observations about the effectiveness of my decisions and adjust accordingly, and where the obsession really just manifests as devotion to my child. No, I obsessed in the sense that it's all I could think about and talk about. (My poor, poor husband.) I rationalize this by saying it is completely normal. I think most first time moms go through something like this. Somewhere in my brain, I tried really, really hard to remember that the entire universe was not spiraling around me and my little newborn babe. But ultimately, my universe did revolve around this little one, especially as a stay-at-home mom, and especially those first few months where I constantly felt like it was a miracle I was able to keep this sweet tiny being alive. So every little change became monumental, and every decision of vital importance.
Now, I am the mother of a very curious, very active toddler. I look back at those days with a newborn and, while they were definitely not "easy," the needs were much simpler. I didn't have to worry about things like discipline, or teaching concepts like "patience" or "sharing" or "no you cannot eat the entire block of cheese just because you saw it in the refrigerator." Every day has become full of "teachable moments." In the five hours that S and I have been awake today, I have already tried to teach her things like:
* When pointing to my eyes and saying "eyes," you don't actually need to POKE me in the eye. Likewise, smacking in the belly and saying "belly" is not cute. Even if you then rub and say "gentle" afterwards.
* When you pull all of the cooling racks out of the tupperware cabinet, and then get stuck in the cabinet and can't climb out because of said cooling racks littering the floor, a simple "help" will do. Screaming like a velociraptor is not necessary.
* When we are in the shower, no matter how much fun it might seem to play with the bath/shower switch and the nozzles that adjust water temperature, it is not appropriate to do so when I am trying to wash my hair.
* If you don't like my homemade applesauce (okay, okay, it was really gross), you don't need to hide it under your legs. Or discreetly drop it on the floor so I step in it barefoot. Just say, "All done!" and stop eating it.
* When it is time to change your diaper, that is not code for "run in the opposite direction and hide behind the pantry." Also, please note: diaper changing time is not the opportunity you have been looking for to practice going "kick kick kick" like we do in swim lessons.
* When I say it is time to come out of the bathroom, that does not mean throw a whole bag of dental flossers into the trashcan (where I also found a headband and a stegosaurus.)
* When a friend comes over to play, and you borrow/steal all of his toys, it would be helpful to go around and gather all of them up when they are getting ready to leave. Not hide them in parts unknown, only to pull them out to play with innocently the next morning. (Sorry, Becky and Ben!)
I realize this sounds completely daft, but I need to be honest about something. It was only a few weeks ago that this occurred to me: after all those months of planning/reading/preparing for pregnancy, birth, and infancy, that is the simple part. (Please don't misunderstand - I am not saying it was easy, and I think all of those experiences are absolutely vital and valuable in a mother's journey, and yes, they can be very, very challenging in many ways. But the needs themselves are much more basic.) It finally occurred to me that I am not simply helping sustain the life of a sweet little girl and getting lots of cuddles and laughs along the way. Instead. my task - my JOB - is to work with D and teach this little girl how to one day become a responsible adult.
ADULT. The idea of my babbling daughter being an adult is weird, and terrifying, and awesome. I get so caught up in the "why isn't she sharing?" phase that it becomes difficult to remember that this is not a job with immediate results. I am helping to form a person. Not a cute little baby that I can put in dresses and people will go "aww how sweet," but a person who will be expected to be able to make responsible decisions, contribute to the world, and have some semblance of morals and ethics. Considering that I still don't feel like an adult most of the time, I feel completely unqualified for this task. It is totally overwhelming. I find myself exhibiting selfish behavior or a negative attitude, and then I see it mirrored right back at me in her chocolate brown eyes and chubby little cheeks. Every single day I struggle with making good decisions that will teach her and influence her as she grows. How on earth will I continue to do this for the rest of my life?
This is exhausting.
I am not good enough/strong enough/selfless enough.
Here is the beauty of motherhood. It is exhausting, and at times discouraging, and there are days when I go to bed just feeling broken. These are the days when I know I am NOT strong enough. Not on my own.
But with God, I can do anything. He makes beautiful things out of the ashes of sleep deprivation, tantrums (mine or hers), frustration, selfishness. He is taking all of these things stored in my heart, which I thought I had tucked away secretly but have lately been brought out into the open in motherhood, and he is transforming me, bit by bit. And that is truly and completely beautiful.
A friend posted this awesome video on Facebook today, and it is a really awesome version of one of my favorite hymns. It sums up perfectly what I've been trying to say. (So you can just skip the entire reading part of this post, and watch/listen to this video!)