This letter is long overdue. Just about six years and eleven months, at the time of this writing. But you’re moms, too, so I’m sure you understand.
When I was teaching music, I had a colleague whose children were grown. Fantastic strings teacher, loved her students, helped me gain my footing as I recruited new students and took charge of the elementary orchestras. I did, however, consider her a bit of a bleeding-heart type. When I balked at some of her suggestions concerning the students, she would simply say, “You’ll understand when you have kids.”
Well, let me go on record as saying it: she was right.
I never thought of myself as insensitive. Quite the opposite, in fact. But really, I had no idea. NO. IDEA. And it turns out that, with respect to my childbearing friends and acquaintances, I was about as sensitive as a bulldozer.
For starters, I was wholly unaware of how completely a tiny, squishy-faced, immobile human being could turn an adult’s life upside-down. I mean, you feed the baby, change its diapers, enchant it with sweet lullabies, and put it to bed, right? Enough work to keep a person busy, sure, but nothing a professional educator with several degrees can’t handle…right?
Within a week of giving birth, the deadly cocktail of sleep deprivation, postpartum hormones, and consistently inexplicable crying had caused me to feel more incompetent than I had ever felt in my entire life. Vague recollections of my new-mom friends suddenly came back to me, and I wished I could borrow the TARDIS, go back to 2004, and visit my neighbor across the street who, three years before, was sitting on the front steps crying because her baby was inside crying and she didn’t know how else to make him stop. In my defense, I didn’t know about this at the time, or I might have at least visited her. The difference is that, during my pre-kid years, I would have just given her a hug and offered some vapid words of consolation. Knowing what I know now, though, I would have hugged her, told her she was doing a great job, then said, “Go take a nap. I’ll hold your baby for a while, and when he finally goes to sleep, I’ll make you something yummy. What’s your favorite meal?”
In addition to believing the whole “bundle of joy” thing (and don’t get me wrong: babies do bring a lot of joy…but it’s a mixed bag), I also thought that I didn’t have much spare time when I was working outside the home. I worked eight-hour days, often more, and ran around like a hyperactive squirrel when concert season arrived. Busybusybusy. Evenings and weekends? Those didn’t count as spare time. They were a GIVEN – just like sufficient sleep, hot meals, and bathroom privacy. Most Friday nights, my husband and I would order pizza, watch a movie, and go to bed late, content in the knowledge that we could sleep in the next day. I remember many nights spent reading until midnight in the living room, and wondering why our house was the only one in the neighborhood with lights still on.
Then I had a baby.
When you have kids, you are on call 24/7. Friday nights and Saturday mornings mean nothing to them. Some people are better than I was at teaching their kids to play independently and learn to sleep on their own, but even then…children just aren’t a 9-to-5 responsibility. Eventually, you regain the ability to do “adult” things you once enjoyed, but even then, you learn to consider the cost any time you carve out some time for yourself. “I feel like a Lord of the Rings marathon…hmm, well, the first movie is over three hours long, which means that if I start it as soon as my oldest kid is in bed, I’ll get to bed after 11:30 if I don’t brush my teeth, and if he wakes up at 6:30 without calling for me at 3:00 AM, then I’ll get almost seven hours of sleep. Shoot. Okay, I’ll just watch the first DVD of Fellowship tonight and watch the other one tomorrow. As long as nobody gets an ear infection or needs a drink of water, I should be able to polish off the trilogy in six days without having a complete psychotic break. I should probably turn my phone off.”
I recall foolishly wondering why my friends tended to drop out of everything once they had kids. Sheesh. For my first few months of motherhood, I never wanted to leave the house again. The very thought of it made me want to curl up under a chair and cry.
Speaking of which…up until seven years ago, I was not a crier. I could watch Beth die on Little Women without shedding a single tear. Dead Poets Society failed to produce a lump in my throat. I was not an emotional girl, and – I confess – I was rather proud of that. And, of course, we all know what pride goeth before. In this case, it wenteth before my transformation from Data on Star Trek into a sentimental sap who now gets weepy every time she reads to her kids from The Jesus Storybook Bible. Or sings along with their CD from Vacation Bible School. I actually cried at the end of Cars. Granted, I was a Pixar fan long before we had kids, but getting choked up over animated race cars, one of them with the voice of Owen Wilson? This was a new and different me, with a side of humble pie. And I’ve accepted the fact that this me is here to stay. So, if I ever laughed up my sleeve at you for being a hot mess, I’m sorry, and if I’m laughing now, it’s only at myself.
Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time and be the friend I wish I’d been for anybody who had babies before I did. To their credit, all of these moms still involved me in their lives, even during my Insensitive Years, and they haven’t once laughed at me or said “I told you so.” But I now make it a point to ask new moms how they’re really doing, to tell them I remember how exhausting it was, and to tell them what a wonderful job they’re doing.
And, by the way, if it’s not too late, I’d love to make you something yummy. What’s your favorite meal?