“The life of a mother is the life of a child: you are two blossoms on a single branch.”
(Karen Maezen Miller, Momma Zen)
I babysat a lot growing up. In high school I was one of the only older girls in a neighborhood full of young families. Any weekend I was free and wanted to work, I had a job. I loved playing with the little kids, but babies were my jam. I spent so many nights rocking sleeping babies and dreaming of what my life might be like someday.
When I imagined being a mama, I thought of soft blankets and board books, bouncing balls and towers of blocks. In my imagination, the diapers and messes, tantrums and late nights were someone else’s problem. In my imagination, I decorated the nursery and playroom while someone else handled the mounds of laundry. In my imagination, I cooked delicious, organic baby food. Someone else went to the grocery store and washed the dishes.
When I was pregnant, I did a lot to prepare for labor and delivery. I took classes, read books, and listened to podcasts. I went for long walks, did special stretches, and practiced breathing techniques. I hired a doula and wrote up a birth plan. I started each morning with positive mantras and went to bed each night visualizing a smooth birth.
I filled our freezer with home cooked meals, made postpartum baskets for the bathrooms, and stocked my closet with cozy clothes. I decorated the nursery to please myself… not my baby. It felt like a selfish indulgence, but this was a room I’d been dreaming about for years. I figured he’d eventually have opinions about these things. Best take advantage of being able to choose a theme of neutrals with pops of gold over a clashing mix of trains and trucks and PAW Patrol.
In college I earned my degree in Elementary Education. I loved organizing supplies, creating lessons and leading the classroom. I was good at breaking down big ideas in ways the little ones could understand. I didn’t have to teach to a test, interact with parents, or deal with school politics. Instead, I got to sparkle with the brilliance of a shiny, young student teacher.
Before becoming a mama, I had a secret thought about motherhood. I believed my babysitting experience and college degree were excellent preparation, advanced studies for the well-adjusted parent. I wiped poopy butts and snotty noses. I answered silly questions and commanded the attention of twenty kindergarteners. Deep inside, I was smugly confident I wouldn’t just be good at mothering, I would totally rock it.
These pieces of me float around my mind, each one trying to reconcile the other. All the things I thought I knew. All the things I imagined I’d become. All the stories from my past. All the dreams for my future. I never realized motherhood would bring about so much learning. I thought for sure I would be the one teaching my son, but now I see it’s the other way around. I’m clueless. I’m a beginner. There is so much I do not know.
When things are hard, I see myself trying everything to soothe my baby. I tell him he’s ok. I say it’s alright. I’m sorry your teeth hurt, that you bonked your little head, that the yogurt tastes too sour, that the grass itches your feet, that you are scared of that ball. I’m sorry I don’t know what to do, but I’m here and I’m trying.
As I bounce him and sing to him and try to soothe him, I find that I’m soothing myself. All those past versions of me line up and wait for a turn… for a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a bolstering up, a song to fall asleep to. And even though I am nearly 32, I realize that as I’m raising him, I’m raising myself.