I've been working on this post for a week. Here's a fair warning: it's long and probably boring or maybe even a little bit annoying for the few people who manage to read it. But I like it, and I'm glad I wrote it, and you don't have to read it if you don't want to - so there!
Sylvia's about to take a giant leap into her second birthday, and I know these next six weeks are going to be a blur. Last weekend, I laid awake at 3:00 am and couldn't help but think of all the things I know because now I'm such a veteran at this Mommy business. Two whole years! I might as well write a book and call myself a Guru. I've got this thing in the BAG, right? Why else would I be up at 3:00 in the morning freaking out about the fact that I forgot to send pajamas with my kid when she spent the night at Grammy's? Instead of being completely unproductive, I grabbed my handy phone and made a list of all the things I know about being a Mom. You're welcome.
1. Kids are resiliant. When we brought Sylvia home from the hospital, I spent two entire months whispering and walking on eggshells, treating her like a porcelin doll. One day, I was walking down to the basement with her in my arms, and I stopped on the landing and cried, because I thought if I kept going, I would surely drop her and she'd die, but if I tried to go back upstairs, it was just as likely to happen. Clearly, this is a sign of my insanity and lack of faith. But now? Now she's almost TWO! And she's healthy. And she's happy. And those first two months did not need to be so stressful. Nor did the next twenty months, which brings me to today. Do you have any idea how many times my child falls down? Remember the spray paint? And there's no telling what that girl has put into her mouth when I wasn't looking! I'll even admit that I've forgotten to buckle her into her carseat a time or two - but she's none the worse for the wear. We both survived two whole years together and I'm willing to bet she lives a long and healthy life, whether I'm around to pad her falls or not.
2. You can't do everything right all the time. The list of things that I do wrong grows every day. Especially when I allow my brain to compare myself to other moms - ones I know and ones I read about. It's completely pointless. There is no such thing as a perfect parent or a perfect child, but darn it, my brain keeps thinking I should try! My rational mind knows that every mom does some things wrong, but my crazy mind only sees the amazingly wonderful things that other moms do that I don't do, and then it veers off into a giant tailspin of Mommy Guilt! I can't stop this from happening, but I can recognize when I'm being absolutely ridiculous, and refer myself to lesson learned #3....
3. Be proud of what you do well. The list of things I do well is significantly shorter than the list of things I do wrong, but I will hang on to every last item on that short little list for dear life. I will refer to them often, especially when the Mommy Guilt Tailspin gets out of control. I read to her every day. I sing to her every day. I rock her to sleep every night. I taught her how to say "Please" and "Thank You" and "I Love You." I taught her how to dance and how to make cupcakes. Also, I can put together a mean set of pigtails. Add to that list all the things my husband does well, like build blanket tunnels, cook yummy dinners, and teach her another freaking language, and all of a sudden we start looking like one of those awesome families you see on TV. Except we only have one kid and I'm only pregnant with one at the moment. And we have all of our teeth. So no one wants to watch our show.
4. Sleep is overrated, showers are not. During my maternity leave, I forced myself to do two things every day: take a nap and take a shower - even if they each only lasted for five minutes. Once Sylvia started sleeping through the night, I didn't really need naps, or a decent night's sleep; but I can be one cranky Mama if I don't get my shower! Maybe it's the alone time. Maybe it's a form of stress relief. But whatever happens in the shower is magical and powerful and I do my best to keep it sacred. Sometimes I don't get to take one until long after she's gone to bed, and I still get up and take one the next morning, just because I love it so much. It's my happy place.
5. Time away is important. Sometimes I worry about sounding like a terrible mother when I say that I love dropping my kid off at someone else's house and leaving her there. Especially since I don't get to see her much during the week. But you know what? Leaving her with a sitter makes me feel like a grown up. An addendum to this life lesson should be take all the help you can get. Mom asked us if she could take Sylvia last Saturday night, even though she had to work all day. When I dropped her off, Sylvia and Charlie were running around like a bunch of maniacs. I felt a little guilty because I knew Mom would be pooped, but I ran outta there like my pants were on fire and enjoyed every second of non-kid time I had on the clock. Sylvain and I went out to a lovely dinner for no good reason other than the fact that someone offered to take our child and we said OKAY! And we'd do it again. Spending grown up time together not only brings us closer to each other, but it brings my brain back to planet Earth. For one evening, I did NOT have a nonstop loop of Ukulele Jim's "Wheels on the Bus" running through my head. Bliss.
6. Old people don't get it, but it's useless to try to change their minds. Car seats, strollers, cribs, breastfeeding, toddler nutrition...all of these things were very, very different when I was a baby. Heck, they were very different five years ago! I've been on the receiving end of countless eye rolls and hefty sighs when these topics arise, from family members to coworkers to complete strangers. I used to try to explain - "Well, research says it's safer for a child to stay in their car seat until they're two!" But I quickly learned that it doesn't matter. Those old folks will swear by the "way we did things," and say, "It was good enough for my kids!" so you know what? I give it to them. It's easier for me to say, "Yeah, you're right, I'm just crazy like that, but what I say goes, so...." than for me to say, "Umm...you're NUTS." I understand. I'll be the same way when I'm done raising my kids, because if my kids survive, then clearly I will know more than anyone else who will ever try to do this.
7. Ideals, assumptions, and expectations are always changing. I used to think that pregnancy itself was disgusting and scary and something I would never, ever do. Obviously I changed my mind. I also changed my mind about finger paint and tutus. I'm still hesitant and skeptical, but these things are now permitted in my house. Basically, I've learned to never say never, because as soon as I say, "I'll NEVER let my kid watch Elmo!" she comes home chanting his name and I have to rethink things. Whenever I bring this up with other moms, I always hear a story about how they swore they'd never...*fill in the blank*...but now...*insert crazy child story*...so they have to...*change their minds.*
8. You learn more from them than they do from you - and they learn everything from you. The amount of information Sylvia's brain can compute in one day is staggering. Her vocabulary alone impresses my pants off. But what really gets to me is the way she knows how to love people. The way she throws her arms around our necks and kisses our cheeks with such bubbly happiness. She had to learn that somewhere, right? Or did she know it all along and is she now showing me what love means? Here's something else I learn from her - I learn exactly what I look like and sound like on any given day. She is an absolute mirror of my mannerisms, emotions, and quirks. I can tell when I'm having a cranky day, because guess who else gets really cranky? It's almost scary how closely her behavior is to mine sometimes. She has completely changed the way I see myself and the rest of the world.
9. Listen to them, and to yourself. The older Sylvia gets, the more she can communicate verbally and physically, but I've learned to listen to the little things. Sometimes she throws herself onto my lap and "cries" just because she wants attention, and sometimes she throws herself on my lap and cries because she's truly scared or hurt. I don't know if anyone else would be able to tell the difference, but I know there's something in her whimper when she's doing it for real. Some sort of truth to the way she's holding her body. Something really subtle and almost electric about her. I've also learned to trust myself as her mother. If I feel like something is wrong, it usually is. If I feel like something is right even though it looks all wrong, it usually is. Moms just figure these things out, I guess. And no matter how much chatter and nonsense I hear from the outside world, I can always tell when my instincts are kicking in and my decisions are right. I usually know what she needs before she needs it, and she knows what I need before I need it, too.
10. Kids are borrowed. I've spent a lot of time during the last two years worrying about the future. Panicking about Sylvia growing up and dreading the day she will ultimately "leave." More recently, I've been freaking out about the idea of releasing two little girls, sisters, into the world one day. I think it's natural for parents to feel like kids belong to them. They are mine. They are part of my job now. I have to take care of them. I have to teach them. I have to grow them like plants in a garden. But when I really stop to think about it, I know in my heart that's not true. They do not belong to me. I am lucky enough to be their mother for a little while. I've been blessed with the task of guiding them and leading them into the world, but someday, they'll belong to the world all by themselves. Right now they are just my kids - pure and simple and true. But someday they'll become someone else's friend, someone else's student, someone else's role model, maybe someone else's wife and mother. So really, it's my job to release them already. To love them for every second I have them, knowing full well that they are not mine. That we all belong to a bigger picture and my path crossed their paths long enough for them to change me, and for me to give them as much of myself as I can.
So there you have it, if you managed to read this far without falling asleep or throwing up. Complete nonsense? Perhaps. But it was important enough to wake me up in the middle of the night, so I decided to get it all down, regardless. I absolutely love being a mom. I'm unsure of myself and insecure at times, but I do the best I can, just like any other mom in the world. I don't know what adventures are in store for us down the road, but I know that with enough love and patience, and with a whole lot of faith, we'll enjoy those adventures together.