I turned 38 last Tuesday. I could ponder what it means to be so close to 40, but I find my thoughts instead turning to the last year — the first full year of my life that I’ve been a mother. What a life-changing year. As I reflect, I keep mulling over the aspects of motherhood that have shocked me the most. Unlike the relatively easy adjustment of marriage, adjusting to parenthood has been work – hard work, self-crucifying work, rewarding work.
The first shocker was sleep deprivation. Not sleep deprivation itself. I expected sleep deprivation and put it near the top of the list of what I was most dreading for the year. What has shocked me is the way this sleep deprivation drags on. We’ve been blessed with a smart, funny, tender-hearted little guy; he’s wonderful in so many ways, but he’s a crappy sleeper in many ways and has been since he was born. Interrupted nights are still the norm more than the exception in our house. What has also shocked me is how utterly and completely mean I am when I’m sleep deprived. I’ve found layers of me that have not been fun to find; I find myself in need of a spiritual renovation to refine these rough edges. And, I also recently started some Plexus supplements to try to bring some hormonal balance too. Sleep deprivation has not just been a fringe issue this year; often it has felt like the core of the struggle.
The next shocker was how desperately I needed to lean into my marriage while finding it harder than ever to maintain it. Mark and I have never had a knock down drag out fight – ever. And, we rarely even have skirmishes, but the ones we have had are concentrated in the post-baby days. We learned in pre-marital counseling that cultivating a transparency about expectations is one of the best practices a couple can commit to. The tricky part about having a baby is that an entirely new mountain of expectations emerges. In the earliest, most sleep-deprived, most hormonal days, I didn’t even fully know myself what my expectations were, but I did have panicky, knee-jerk reactions when they were not met. To give an example, one night I stewed all night long that Mark hadn’t asked me if I needed my water bottle refilled before he went to bed. I was angry all night at him, and I was angry at myself because even while I was busy fighting a million imaginary arguments with him in my mind, I knew that I was being ridiculous. He was surprised when I climbed into bed at 6 am and started sobbing. And, he did ask me more often if I needed water. I wasn’t under the illusion that having a baby wouldn’t change my marriage, but I was under the illusion that working as a team to parent would be easier than it has been on some days. (and that’s with a kick-butt, super awesome partner on my side). At the same time that these expectations and tensions were introduced, I also learned afresh how much I value Mark as a partner. There have been many times that him putting his arm around me at 3 am when I finally (maybe) get to sleep have made all the difference in the world. And, it’s heaven when he says, “Go take a bath, honey; I’ve got the kid.” We’ve both seen a new side to our marriage, and I’ve been privileged to see a new side of my husband who is a patient teacher and devoted caretaker to our little guy.
I’ve also been shocked by how different my perception of the world is. Having a baby has made me see the world in entirely different ways. Some of that is the simple, practical side of things — which restaurant has enough ambient noise to cover the noises of a baby, which stores have decently clean changing tables, which shopping venues have the best carts for kids. Some of the changed perspective is expressed in what we do. We never wandered through the animal barn at the local farm market before, but now we detour there frequently so Ezra can see the chickens and ducks. We never lurked around playgrounds, but I have a feeling I’ll spend 75% of my days this summer at playgrounds. And, at its deepest level, my changed perspective is coming through slowing down to discover the world all over again. Spring is here, so I’m being introduced almost as if for the first time to geese honking though the sky. On our walks, we take time to crunch leaves underfoot. As we watch nature shows on TV, I’m reminded to say “Wow” at squirrels dart through the trees. (Long, drawn-out, whispered “wows” are the soundtrack of our life right now). I pray over Ezra that God will protect his curiosity and use it someday to see new solutions to problems that people or organizations have, and I feel as his mom the weight of responsibility to keep that sense of curiosity alive for him.
Finally, I’m shocked by how much motherhood is cheerleading. I’m not a cheerleader by nature. If you read my personality type profile, you’ll find that I’m driven to perfection, and while I drive myself, I’ll drive others just as hard. And, I see that. I know that side of my personality can become parenting liability. But, I also see a side of me that has found it easier than ever before to believe the best in someone. I still remember how crazy excited I got when Ezra turned his head from one side to the other to follow a toy. I ran for my phone, so I could video the astounding feat. When he batted at a toy, I was beside myself. When he puts his laundry in the basket in his room, he gets a “good job, buddy” for every single piece of clothing that goes into the basket. Every. single. piece. As he clumsily shoves his spoon, upside down and mostly empty by the time it gets there, into his mouth, I see progress not failure. (And, mess, lots of mess). I was laughing with someone who has a younger baby. I was telling her that looking back at videos now, some of the milestones we got excited about are unimpressive in hindsight. And, I know many of today’s milestones will be the same in hindsight, but that doesn’t make them lose their wonder. That doesn’t dull the praise that’s heaped upon Ezra today for the new skills he learns. I find my definition of perfection expanding; my bar of expectation finally (mercifully) lowering.
I’d love to hear from you. What did you/do you find most shocking about motherhood?
And, just for giggles, I’ll leave you with a shocking text conversation that just happened this morning in our house. I didn’t see this coming.