When my son was born five months ago, I expected to be a seasoned, confident mother. I had been mothering his sister for four years, after all, so I thought I had this parenting thing down. And, in some ways, I did feel more sure of myself. I skipped over many of the blunders and anxieties that I experienced as a first time mom. But, in one very important way, I was a new parent. I was learning to be a mother of two.
In the first weeks, this learning curve was steep and intense. On the good days, I felt like I was clawing my way up the sheer, unforgiving face of motherhood – fingers bleeding, teeth clenched but still hanging on, determined and strong. On the bad days, I felt myself in an endless free fall – hair stuck to my tear streaked face and weighed down by guilt, resistance to change and the fear that my children would only see me as a frenetic person in transition rather than the mother that takes the time to adore and enjoy them. The trial and error of this stage in my mothering made me – a person not prone to crying – finish (or begin) some days in tears. On the days when I didn’t cry, I was often thisclose and only saved by a handful of graham crackers, a well-timed hug or an early bedtime. Some days, I got so mixed up from wanting time to speed up or slow down or reverse entirely that my head would swim. Some days, I was pretty sure my heart would shatter into a thousand pieces. And, some days, it did.
In the beginning, this emotional roller coaster felt so wrong. It scared me. It made me feel like I was failing my family. Like I just wasn’t “getting it”. But, five months in, I’m starting to think that these feelings are…just normal. I’m starting to think that no matter how you do it, motherhood – new or not – is just one of the hardest darn things you will ever do.
Like childbirth, mothering is full of tearful moments. Little losses of dignity. And the overwhelming fear during transition that you are just not going to make it. But, you survive these fits and starts. This stretching of your self. You bravely cast off your old lifestyle to welcome with trembling hands your new, terrifyingly glorious life. And, in the quiet of your mind, you marvel at the fragility and the durability of it all.
As a still new mother of two, I’ve learned to accept that the dinners I make are rather boring, that there is a pile of laundry constantly waiting to be folded, that some days (weeks?) we don’t leave our neighborhood and that taking a 3 minute shower while singing to entertain my children is better than not washing at all. I’ve had to accept that my daughter is going call out for help on the potty the very moment my son falls asleep in my arms. Or that my son is going to wake up from a nap the instant I sit down to read a book to my daughter. Or that both kids are going to meltdown when my husband and I try to have a conversation beyond the quick exchange about diapers or groceries or who fed the fish. Loving three people is easy. But, meeting all of their needs, at the same time, is not.
But, I have created two people. Grown them inside of me. Fed them from my body. Watched their little lives, so healthy and strong, unfold each day. And, that is no small thing. No wonder to be overlooked. No miracle to be overshadowed by a messy house or an ill-timed need.
I have made someone a sister. Someone a brother. Two people will share a childhood – and maybe a few expensive therapy bills – because of me. I have given two people a gift that no one else could: each other.
I am caring for young children. And, as much as I’d like to, I am not doing it right every day. No one in this house is getting as much of me as they want. Or as much of me as I want to give them. And I struggle with that. I wrestle with that. Sometimes, I get a roundhouse kick to the face by that. But, I know that I am starting to win more rounds than I lose. And I know that I am trying, with every beat of my heart, to be someone they can look up to, even when the chips are down.
The extraordinary difficulty of the last few months will not last. Just as quickly as the tiny clothes my boy is outgrowing have been packed away, these tough moments will soon be distant, even funny, memories. And, with any luck, from them a lasting bond will emerge. I catch glimpses of it in Rhys’ face, as it lights up when he sees Maren.
Or when Maren bursts into tears because she is worried that brother is crying.
Or when we read stories in bed or share a laugh together.
In split seconds, I am filled with the love that is here in this house. And, out of the corner of my eye, I have visions of the love that is yet to come.
It is no ordinary love.
It is a love that makes me proud.
A love that makes me thankful.
Grateful for the gift these two have given me.
By breaking me down, they are building me into something better than I was before.
Something bigger than I ever could have been without them.
These two have made me their mama.