If the last signs of babyhood in our home were daytime sleeps, we are well and truly in a different playing field. Maybe my two were late to drop them, but for three solid weeks now, Billy no longer naps during the day and I initially grieved this event as all mothers of nap-dropping children do: With extra coffee, curse words and a mind-set of heavy denial. However, we now have a new rhythm and like every changing phase of childhood, it has become our new normal. And an enjoyable one at that.
When Joel and I began telling our friends and family we’d be welcoming another baby, the general reaction was a slow, paused, deliberate: Wow.
It was never said, but it was implied nonetheless, and it was an implication I understood: Children are so hard. Aren’t you tired? Don’t you need a nap? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO YOURSELF?
The strange thing is, for me, motherhood was just as much – if not more – when I had one as it is now with two and a half. “Too much”, then, was never about the number. “Too much” was defined, for me, by the way I treated that number. And I certainly greeted one with a great deal of shock and adjustment and anxiety. I loved Ella desperately, but the rollercoaster first time motherhood took me on was generally uncomfortable. It was too much and not enough all at once, and not only that, I had to learn, Joel had to learn and our extended family who all wanted a piece of her had to learn where we all fitted in the picture and how to grow positively through that time of huge readjustment. For the longest time, I held on, I filtered incoming hits and I tried my best, which was mostly beer for dinner.
Did you get a shock?
I got a shock.
It’s like an interview I watched recently of a Google executive whose young son died suddenly while on holiday. He says, “Happiness is not about what the world gives you – how much water is in the glass. Happiness is what you think about what the world gives you. Happiness is equal to or greater than the difference between the way you see the events of your life and your expectation of how life should behave.”
In other words, if life meets your expectations, you feel happy.
Can you expect what parenthood will be like for you?
I think that’s why the first is, often, the hardest.
The story now, of course, is completely different.
There is this scene in the last season of Parenthood: One of the main characters – a thirty-something year old father – is sitting in a bar with his dad, offloading his stresses of family life and financial worries and marriage and how hard and full of pressure everything is; to provide for his family, to find time for himself, to juggle everything on his plate. The grandfather listens to him vent, he lets him carry on until he finishes. And like the wise, patriarch of the family he is, this man’s father says, “Yeah, I get that, Crosby. It sure is hard.” There is a long silence before he finally looks at his son and says, “But son, you just gotta enjoy it. It goes so fast. It just goes so fast.”
What a game-changer that kind of perspective is in this strange thing we call life.
And I think that’s what each additional child has gifted me: The ability to savour more enjoyment, more fully, within the hard.
I understand now how fleeting it is, and it’s what stops me getting frustrated about a certain childhood phase, or a particular hardship we might be going through as a family. I understand when to sweat the big stuff and when not to sweat the small stuff. The bigger picture has been brought into focus. I know now what kind of parent I am: I don’t need to learn to adjust to a new life role. Being a mother is so thoroughly embedded in who I am that adding another child to the mix is like adding another limb. I’ve found a groove and there is a general expectation now to how life as a parent behaves.
Because though sleep deprivation is the pits, what comes before and afterwards is always the same: A child to love.
When I think about having three, I look upon it like a vague concept. I expect things, and yet I hold a total lack of expectation. I simply know that life goes fast and we go fast with it.
And above all, I know there is a tiny baby girl growing inside of me who is ours to love.
And she gets the hiccups a lot.
“Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.” — Anne Sexton.