So happy so hard.
Sh. Sh. Sh. Sh. I make the sound in short, jagged breaths, convinced the harder the syllable the faster the baby will fall asleep.
I guess I’m still kind of amazed that I have a baby at all. And that this is my second baby. I’m even more amazed that I want to write about it. The thing is I write for a living. Other people’s stories. I’m a ghostwriter and a grant writer, which means in both endeavors, I share the facts and anecdotes of other people’s lives, but not my own. But then this second baby came, and it felt like there was so much to say. Like Sylvia Plath herself felt, standing over her second child:
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
Because I am yours and not yours, right? You are mine and not mine. Just this wild and precious gift that I have been given to guide. And on my best days, I am the mother I always wanted, my own mother on her own best days. And on my worst, I wonder, did I just do permanent damage? Just how resilient is the soul?
But then I think of all those other mothers. The ones walking across deserts with children strapped their backs. The ones who parent between hits of crack. The ones who parented us – without the internet, without all these fears, without the word “resilience.”
And maybe it was just easier back then, when we didn’t have car seats and would throw our babies onto the passenger seat floor (I blame car seats).
And we’re not alone here, people. In a 2018 survey, 88% of new parents said harder to be a parent today than when we were growing up. Between two working parents, the challenges and distractions of social media, and you know, worrying some lunatic is going to shoot up your kid’s preschool, we live in a state of chronic anxiety and overload.
Because it’s gotten so damn hard. And I’m not sure if it’s the age or just my age? Maybe when they called my pregnancy geriatric, they didn’t mean I was old. They just meant that I was going to be an old parent. One who had a life before the fat gold watch. Who had dreams and habits and schedules and disappointments and the independence of a once very single woman.
I didn’t get here the easy route. I took some hard turns, I did some cocaine, I wondered whether I was even going to make it out alive. And then I got sober. The kind where you go to meetings, and have a spiritual experience. The kind where you can get everything you want and still kind of hate it anyway.
The kind where the difference between Betty Crocker and the mom who parents between hits of crack is only one glass of sparkling rosé away.
Because I wanted to write this for the other moms like me. Messy, misfit moms. The ones who might be #blessed, but without the Instagram hair or arms. The moms, women, and wives who’ve been through some shit. The ones who are still going through it.
Sh. Sh. Shit.
Mental illness, addiction, post-partum, a solid dose of everything would be fine if I just had ten more minutes. Because as many as 1 in 5 new moms in America suffers from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders… and that doesn’t include all the moms who suffer from other affective disorders – you know the shit we showed up to the party with.
Because after being the kind of woman who might never get married and settle down, I became the kind of woman who got married, and settled down. I moved to the suburbs, and gave up sparkling wine for limitless coffee and baby snuggles. I might sometime long for a lumpy barstool in a windowless bar (Reno sounds good) but more often, I crave the feel of my toddler in my arms, her little hand tucked inside of mine.
But motherhood is but a symptom. Of womanhood. Of partnership (however brief). Of trying to be a grown up when it all still feels like playacting. Because not a day goes by when I don’t wake up surprised by the life I now lead. The preschools, and the crossover vehicle, the fanny pack, and the motherfucking overalls. The fact that there are two human lives over which I wait with bated breath, caught in a series of naps and near misses. Hoping that their souls are more resilient, or at least, despite how hard it might be for their father and I, that their lives are easier than our own.
And at the time of this writing (while sitting in the front seat of my Honda CR-V while the kids nap in the back), I can say that I am uncontrollably, sublimely happy (87.5% of the time; the other 12.5%, I’m barely showing up to class). But that’s okay, I’ve always been a solid B+. And I can’t say my parenting is much better. Sometimes I’m an A student on the job. And some mornings, when the baby’s crying, and the toddler refuses to put on her socks, and we’re late (again), I am raging at a full C-. Fuck it, D+.
Because this motherhood business is filled with the blessed and the shit. Magical, overwhelming, miraculous, Jesus Christ, is this ever gonna stop, shit.
But it is also filled with light. It is filled with that moment, in the dark, when a ghostly light casts a pale shadow across your babe’s face, and you sing in a broken soprano which never made it into any choir but this one, “May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung. May you stay, may you stay forever young.”
It is the promise of every lonely woman’s dream, and every tired woman’s restless sleep. That we didn’t just make them so we would have something to complain about.
We made them for love. So Sh. Sh. The baby woke up. We better get started.