Yesterday, I met up with a group of women (and one man–you held your own, lone man–you should know that we kept the labor and episiotomy stories on the back burner for your sake–) to pass one of the long, winter break days. While the kids threw themselves around in ball pits teeming with streptococci, we exchanged stories from the trenches. Tales from the ‘hood. And by hood, I mean, of course, motherhood. (And you, lone Dad).
These informal information sessions are one of my favorite parts of being a mother. They are, I’d argue, also one of the most important. You see, motherhood, much like writing, can be a lonely business and a lot more of it is done inside the confines of your own head than is good for you. But, just like I always feel better when I can get the ideas from the ping-pong ricochet in my head on to the page, I always feel better talking to other parents as well.
Sitting around and talking seems like a luxury, but really, it’s anything but. Aside from honing your multi-tasking skills (yesterday it was smearing some anti-bacterial cream and a band-aid on an injured knee while maintaining my conversation, drinking my coffee and fielding texts from the older child who locked himself out of the house), that village consciousness is absolutely necessary to healthy parental survival. Casual conversation among peers is an important aspect of checks and balances in the ‘hood. It’s a way to make sure you haven’t lost your ever-loving mind in the throes of infant sleep deprivation. It’s a way of finding your sense of humor again in stories of shit and vomit. Most importantly, it’s a way of connecting and feeling less alone during a time of life when, despite a child clinging to you at all times like a frightened koala, you often feel very much alone.
This time we were talking about the ridiculous things we did as first time mothers, when we were flushed with parenting righteousness and middle class, over-educated book knowledge. Many of us were determined to do it by the book, not realizing for years that kids don’t follow a book. You’ve got to figure it out as you go along. Nevertheless…when I think of some of the things I did, said, and believed those first few years, I cringe.
What a monumental ass I was.
Some people may shy away from that obnoxious ghost of motherhood past, let the over documenting, crazy mom of yore fade gently into the background.
But c’mon! Where’s the fun in that?
I was convinced my son might be suffering from Dwarfism because his head seemed too big in relation to his limbs; I also worried he was autistic because he didn’t respond to his name…at three months.
(I should also add I asked my OB/GYN if the baby was epileptic once. She calmly informed me it was hiccups)
Yelled at my mother not to make eye contact with the baby during the middle of the night “No Stimulation!” Actually, I probably hissed it more than shouted it.
Chased my son around the playground with a tofu hot dog to get him to eat. More than once.
Threw myself into the backseat of a moving car to feed the baby because “My God, you heartless fiend (his father)! You want him to wait fifteen minutes for his food?? He’s starving. Starving!”
Moved his bouncy chair every 20 minutes to give him something new to look at.
Kept a journal of how often he ate, pooped, slept.
Religiously clocked screen time allowance to meet American Pediatrician Guidelines, including commercials.
Yelled at my husband for using up all my hoarded ‘tv time’ on a Saturday morning.
Was in his face every minute of every day encouraging enriching behaviors like putting the square shape in the square hole.
Had panic attacks about his dislike of fruit, bread, bagels, pizza, eggs, etc. Incessantly worried he wasn’t getting enough vegetables. Hid vegetables in his food (though never stooped to making brownies with puree kale…even I had limits)
Requested (ok, maybe more like demanded…) sex neutral clothing and toys like school busses because busses know no gender…
Insisted, to my pediatrician, a trained professional, that a love of cars and wheels was the result of social conditioning and not innate preference.
Swore my child would never have soda, McDonald’s, high fructose corn syrup, video games, unsupervised screen time, toy guns.
Clapped like an idiot when he came down the slide.
Said things like ‘well done!’ for minor achievements like breathing and swallowing.
But perhaps worse than any of those forgivable moments of first mom neurosis, is that I know, on more than a hundred occasions, I was holier than thou about my own righteousness.
Eventually you learn that your child doesn’t need to eat every fifteen minutes, that tofu dogs are gross, and most people grow into their head size.
What you also learn? That time spent trading stories from the ‘hood? It’s priceless.