Photo credit: Eva Marie Pursley
This past Sunday, February 19th, I celebrated a very important birthday.
No, it’s not the day I was born (that was June 5th about a million years ago, so mark your calendars. I like peonies. And pretty things.). It’s not the day I gave up chocolate (ha, ya right, like that would ever happen!). It’s not the day I became an American citizen either.
February 19th was the day my daughter, Madison, turned one, marking 365 days of life on the outside of my belly. The day came with a yearly tally of well over 300 sleepless nights, 3000+ diapers changes, 5000+ moments of I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-I’m-doing and am-I-really-cut-out-for-this? Countless short naps I wished had lasted longer, not as many long naps that had me wondering if she was still breathing, and a year filled with firsts I never thought I’d ever care about (first smiles, first giggles, first kisses, first crawls, first everythings).
And though technically, yes, February 19th was Madison’s first birthday, it was also a birthday for me, for it marked the day that a new mother was born.
In a sense, on that day a year and 3 days ago, Madison and I were both wet behind the ears. I had birthed her into the world, and she had birthed me into a new role. I was struck by a lot of things as a new mother. Everything changed in an instant: my body, my marriage, my social life, my relationship with myself.
But what struck me most was how much my life would change on a micro level. I was used to being able to do what I wanted when I wanted to do it. Not things like go to the movies or meet friends for dinner (which I kind of expected would change), but simpler things like going to the bathroom when I needed to, making myself food when I was hungry, and even something as simple as showering. I didn’t know how this new little being “worked,” so if I had managed to get her to fall asleep while draped across my lap and I had to pee, well, my bladder would suffer. Because I wasn’t about to risk going to the bathroom, waking this little nugget up, and suffering through the screams that would inevitably follow.
Everyone told me it would get easier. I wanted to believe them. But in the beginning, in those first few days, weeks and I dare say even months, I didn’t believe them.
This was hard. Much harder than I had ever imagined. There were too many moments to count when I thought there was no way I was cut out for this. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t meant to be a mother. Usually those moments were either at 3am after the third or fourth wake up of the night, or else during another screaming fest when I couldn’t figure out why Madison was crying despite having tried everything I could think of to soothe her.
But everyone was right. Somewhere along the way (around four months in), it did start to get easier. My heart softened – not to Madison (it was already softened to her), but to myself. My insecurities about my parenting skills began to fade into the background, and the knowing mother in me began to break through to the foreground. Soon, Madison and I found a rhythm, and the clouds parted.
And now here we are, a year in. And every day, my cup runneth over. My heart bursts with love for this little being whose curiosity and energy feeds me, whose smile makes up for my exhaustion, whose fingers wrapped around mine always seem to right everything in the world.
And though my once flat stomach is still soft, I didn’t recover the way and as fast as I thought I would, and I didn’t take to being a mother as naturally and as quickly as I expected I should, I wouldn’t trade this life or this role in for anything.
Madison has been my greatest teacher, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Among the many lessons she has bestowed upon me, what I have learned overall is this:
Raising a child is a lot like life. It’s not always sunny skies. And sometimes they are downright angry with torrential downpours, deafening thunder, and flashes of lightning that make your heart skip a beat. But the clouds always part, and whether sunny or grey, the beauty is always there. Life is always a gift. It’s just not always smiling.
As I was reflected upon the last year of my life, I found my journals from the first few months after Madison was born. As a writer, I remember one of the hardest things about my new life as a mother was not being able to write when the mood struck (and if you’re a writer, than you understand that when you have a thought, you must must get it down on paper before it falls out of your head forever).
I ended up keeping a pen and paper close by me no matter where I was, and even in the pitch black with baby sleeping soundly on my chest, if a thought struck, I would write it down blindly, hoping that what I had written would be legible – at least to me – in the morning.
What I compiled over those first three or four months was a list of all the ways parenting was a lot like life.
I forgot about the scribbles of notes that were scattered around the house in different journals, papers and notepads, and I may have even misplaced some of them (actually, I almost certainly did), but I found most of them.
And on this day, three days after Madison’s first birthday, I figured it would be the perfect time to share them with you. You don’t have to be a parent to appreciate them, so kick back, relax, and enjoy the read.
Lesson #1: You’re not in control.
Just kidding (though not really).
Control is an illusion. At no time has that been more clear to me than when I’ve followed all of the “rules” in some parenting book and still didn’t get the results I was looking for. The only thing you can ever control is your reactions to what life puts in front of you. That’s it. Babies put that rule front and center (it’s like that line in Eat Pray Love – having a baby is like having a tattoo on your face. You’d better know it’s what you want before you get it. So. True.)
Lesson #75: You won’t always get it right the first time.
You may not even get it right the second, third, and fourth time. It doesn’t mean you’re useless. It doesn’t make you stupid. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Keep at it, because somewhere along the way, everything will fall into place.
Lesson #3: Trust the process.
Just when I thought Madison would never ever take to a nap schedule or adjust to sleeping at night, she would miraculously do it. There is a process at play, one that you’re not always privy to. Trust that, and then leave the rest to God/Life.
Lesson #47: Be present.
Infants demand your attention. Your full attention. They don’t care if you have to work, respond to a text, or watch your favorite show. The beauty in that is that you get to enjoy every fiber of every moment. And it’s quite an amazing experience. We only get these moments once. I’m so grateful that Madison has taught me to slow down and appreciate them fully.
Lesson #101: Take care of yourself.
If you don’t take care of yourself, everything falls apart. That’s why they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping another on an airplane. With babies in particular, they feel everything you feel. So if you’re stressed, they’re stressed. The same is true with life. Ever notice how when you’re in a bad mood, the universe rises to meet you, and everything seems to fall apart? The same holds true for when you’re in a good mood. So take care of yourself lest you and the world around you falls apart!
Lesson #302: You will get shat and spat up on (AKA get comfortable being uncomfortable).
Babies do that. Life does that too. Best you can do is clean up the mess, change your clothes, and go on about your business.
Lesson #17: Trust yourself.
You’re a lot smarter than you think you are. If you have an instinct that tells you to act a certain way, don’t question it. Just do it. You’re probably right.
Lesson #22: Don’t rush.
It’s a fruitless exercise, and it’s not fun for anyone. And in particular with babies, they can’t rush. They live in the moment, and they take the time they need to do what they do (eat, sleep, poop, cry, etc.). Try to rush them and they will crush you, just like life.
Lesson #45: Be patient with yourself.
Motherhood – and life – is tough enough as it is. If you lose patience with yourself, it just makes everything harder. So don’t do that. Be kind. There is a kindness deficit in the world. Do your part: be kind to yourself. To thine own self be true.
Lesson #1A: Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, everything changes.
This is the rule of thumb with babies. Just when you’ve got a nap routine and nighttime sleep schedule in place, they have a growth spurt and everything you worked so hard to do is thrown out the window. You feel like you’re back to square one. But you aren’t. Like life, it’s just a setback. All is not lost forever. It’s only lost for the duration of that growth spurt! Haha.
Lesson #44: Cry.
Sometimes you’re going to cry right alongside your screaming baby (or life). That’s cool. In fact, that’s great. Because apparently, when you cry, you release stress hormones in your tears, which ultimately makes you feel better. So go ahead. Cry your eyes out. It’s your life and you can cry if you want to.
Lesson #78: It’s ok to be annoyed, angry, fearful, insert-emotion-here.
I don’t know about you, but a lot of the time I feel like I have to appear to and actually have it all together. Being a new mom, everyone asks if you are madly in love, etc. Well, the truth is, yes, I’m in love. I would do anything for Madison. But I also get annoyed with her when she won’t sleep when I want her to, when she fusses and I have no idea why, and even when she’s just being her and I just wish I could have some uninterrupted period of time, determined by me, not her. Most days I have no clue what I’m doing and I’m scared. Then I think, wow, this is forever. My life as I knew it will never be the same again. Mostly, this terrifies me. And it makes me feel selfish or like a terrible person for even thinking it. I wanted this, didn’t I? And I got what I wanted. A beautiful, healthy child. But with my hormones all over the place, sleep deprivation, trying to heal from the labor, and all the while trying to play my new role as a mom, well, I suppose it’s natural to feel overwhelmed, annoyed, scared, emotional and all sorts of other feels. And it’s ok. It’s life. This is a passing phase. Just like we will never ever get today back. Ever. It’s now 30 seconds closer to over than it was 30 seconds ago. This period of Madison’s life (aka getting to know each other, sleepless nights, etc) will one day – soon – be over. And I may long for these days (especially when she starts crawling, walking, talking, driving and dating, and oh ya, talking back to me.). But in the meantime, I shouldn’t deny my feelings. I can still love her and be annoyed.
And such is life. Sometimes it will just be downright challenging. And it’s perfectly fine to feel annoyed, angry and scared. Give yourself a break, and always remember that no phase – good, bad or otherwise – lasts. This too shall pass. Allow yourself to feel, try to find some silver in the lining, and all will be well sooner or later.
Lesson #17: Be adaptable.
Lesson #202: Be grateful for the small victories.
Because it’s the little things, after all!
Lesson #55: You have to make time for yourself even when it feels like everything’s falling apart.
I know I kind of said this already, but it begs repeating. Life is sometimes going to throw you some curve balls that can feel like the equivalent of a baby crying at full force with no indication of why or when it will stop. You have to rise above the heart wrenching cries, remind yourself that this will pass, and make sure to carve out time for yourself in the midst of the chaos. It’s always going to be chaotic, so there is no time like the present to take a break from the noise and do something that lights you up. This energizes you to be able to handle the chaos once you go back to it.
Lesson #2000: Stay the course.
I spent four months trying to get Madison on a nap and bedtime schedule. Half the time I swore it wasn’t working. But at four months, she started sleeping through the night. And she’s been doing it ever since. So stay the course. It may not seem to be working, but one day, your hard work will pay off.
Lesson #2000A: Be consistent.
To stay the course, you must be consistent. I put Madison to bed at the same time every day until she caught on. Life is the same. Whether you’re training for a marathon or learning a new skill, it takes consistency and dedication, but soon you begin to see the results you set out to accomplish.
Lesson #104: Listen to your intuition. It’s smarter than your thinking brain.
Lesson #108: Be efficient with your time (aka no more dilly dallying).
Having a baby – a newborn specifically – means that now you all of a sudden can only get things done in short bursts of time. And you never know how long that time might be. What will you choose to do if you only have 30 minutes? Having an infant helps bring your priorities into the foreground. But really and truly, I should have been prioritizing my time like this a long time ago. I’m amazed by what I can do in 10 minutes now!
Lesson #3000: Take three deep breaths before approaching any situation.
I read this piece of advice in one of my baby books. As a mother herself, the author identifies with exhausted, sleep deprived mamas. She urges moms that when baby is crying, if you’re feeling angry, sad or frustrated, before going to the baby, take three deep breaths. This calms down your nervous system on a cellular level. The baby can feel everything you’re feeling, so the calmer you are, not only the less likely you are to get frustrated with your baby, but also the more likely you are to calm baby down. Babies feel everything you feel. So a calm mama almost always equals a calm baby.
I’ve applied this principle to any challenging situations in life, and it has made such a difference. Never again will I underestimate the power of breath.
Lesson #500: Don’t overreact (or react) to every single little cry/bump in the road.
Babies cry. It’s what they do. It’s their only means of communication next to body language. So if you react immediately to every whimper, noise or cry, you may end up missing cues, perhaps thinking she needs to be picked up when really she was just letting out some gas and was content to continue sleeping after she got it out (which now she can’t do because you went and woke her up). You may shove a boob in her mouth when really she was just overtired and needed help going to sleep.
Life is like that. Sometimes it whimpers, grunts or cries, and if we react too quickly without first collecting the right information, we create problems that didn’t exist.
Lesson #79: Be prepared to stand your ground and stay confident in the face of all the advice coming at you.
This book says co sleep. This one says no way. This book says you can sleep train a baby as soon as they come home from the hospital. This one says you can’t do anything until 8 weeks. If you don’t choose a method and go forward with it, and instead stay confused, you pass that confusion onto your baby.
Same with life. Don’t send mixed messages. Pick a method/philosophy and stay true to it. Sure, be flexible and adjust wherever and whenever necessary (babies with different temperaments don’t all respond to things the same way), but know what your main method is and be consistent and confident in your choice.
Lesson #62: Believe in the impossible.
The fact that we create humans and give birth to them out of our, well, you know….is absolutely miraculous. Then the fact that we can feed them with milk we make from our own bodies blows my mind. Having a baby forces you to believe in the impossible. Life is full of impossibilities that become reality. Never lose faith. Miracles are around us every day.
Lesson #18: You’re not always going to get your way.
Like to sleep? Be prepared. When you become a parent, at least for the first two to six months, your little nugget decides when you sleep – and when you don’t. And those sixteen hours that most newborns sleep in a day? They certainly don’t happen straight through the night. Same goes for eating and drinking, going to the bathroom, etc. It’s just not going to happen whenever you feel like it.
All of this is only temporary, of course, but it’s a good lesson in surrender and checking your ego at the door. Life isn’t always going to be convenient. You may lose your job unexpectedly after just having put a down payment on a house. You may get broken up with when you thought things were going great. Whatever the case, it’s important to surrender, breathe and readjust. Don’t fight a battle you won’t win. Use your energy instead to accept, course correct, and make a new plan (or not).
Lesson #23: Be deliberate with your time.
I sort of said this already, but it begs repeating.
Lesson #27: You’re going to have to do things you’d rather not do (and at the most inconvenient times).
Diaper changes at 2am. Feeding on sore nipples for two to three hours straight from midnight to 3am. Missed appointments on account of a screaming baby you have to pull over three times to feed and soothe, etc. Staying home when you’ve been invited out to a fancy dinner. It comes with the territory on this quest to raise a healthy human. It’s just like life. Sometimes you have to do things you’d rather not do in the quest to fulfill a goal. It’s part of the game.
Lesson #29: What you resist, persists.
Lesson #37: Sometimes it not going to be all about you.
You have to learn how to take care of your own needs while simultaneously putting someone else’s needs first. That happens in life too. Sometimes, you need to put aside your own feelings and desires in order to be a good friend, a good daughter/son, or a good employee. Sometimes.
Lesson #49: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
And again. And again…
Lesson #52: There is always a silver lining/tender moment to be found in the fog.
Like Madison’s cute little feet while she’s feeding, her soft head, her cute little facial expressions, the way her body crumbles and her mouth falls open when she falls asleep on me. The next time you find yourself frustrated, open your eyes, look around, and find the sparkle in the dust. I promise you, it’s there.
Lesson #99: The greatest teachers sometimes come in the most unexpected (and in this case, smallest) packages.
Madison is here to teach me. I am her first student, and I am mostly a willing participant (except when it’s 4:30am and I haven’t slept since 12:30am and at that, I only slept 1 hour before that). Look at your life to see where your teachers are/have been. In a stranger who may have been mean/nice to you? An old relationship? A family member? A random trip to the grocery store?
Lesson #117: Try not to get stuck in a moment you can’t get out of.
(Like at 4am when the crying won’t stop and you want to pass out and you love your child but you are really, really frustrated).
Lesson #121: Sometimes there will be itches you just can’t scratch.
Like going to the bathroom, or literally itching your forehead but you can’t because your child has your hands pinned down. These moments teach you about delayed gratification in the most raw form. Thanks, daughter. Thanks.
Lesson #56: Don’t forget to say thank you (even if you’re in a bad mood).
Or really, really tired.
Lesson #78: Sometimes you just have to walk away.
Like when I’ve tried to put Madison down for an entire hour but she wouldn’t stop screaming. I ended up having to tap Ted. I handed her to him, went into the bathroom, cried for fifteen minutes, and felt much, much better when I came back!
Lesson #69: You won’t always (and in fact will rarely) know what to do. It’s all trial and error.
Babies – like life – don’t come with an instruction manual. Get used to it, and blaze your own trail. Indeed, it’s the only way we’ve done it since the dawn of time. So I’m thinking we’ll be alright.
Lesson #80: Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep.
Seriously. I’ve had like…two of them in the last year, and they were glorious!
Lesson #83: Remember that everything is temporary.
Nothing in this life – good or bad – ever stays the same. As Ben Harper says, time takes our tomorrows and turns them into yesterdays (and I would add faster than you can imagine). Of course, we often don’t apply that insight to good times too, but the same rule holds true. It’s just that it feels like time slows down for the “bad” times and speeds up for the “good” ones. But the next time you find yourself in a situation that has you down in the dumps, know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this too shall pass.
Lesson #199: Ask for help.
This has two parts. First, when people offer to help you, let them. And second, even when people don’t, ask your tribe for their help. I know you will find that they will be willing – and even honored – to do so.
No person is an island. You can’t do it all yourself. Well, you can, but it won’t be fun, and there is no prize at the end for doing it (except for grey hairs, a frayed temper, and some extra wrinkles)! When Madison was just over a month old, Ted went away for two days. I was alone for basically 10 hours (which was terrifying). I asked my sweet friend, Diana, to come over and stay the night (on the couch, I might add) so that I didn’t have to be alone. I needed the moral support. Sure, I could have done it alone. But it felt so much better having her here. Just knowing she was downstairs made all the difference in the world.
Lesson #28: Just when you think you’ve reached your breaking point and you don’t think you can take anymore, things get worse and you have to dig deeper. And you do.
So you realize you can. You can handle a lot more than you think you can. That’s pretty awesome.
Lesson #237: Sometimes you just need a hug.
There are many lessons to come, I know. As Madison gets more and more mobile, vocal and demanding, I know my patience and life skills will be put to the test. But she has given me the confidence in my abilities over the course of this first year of her life, and for that, I will never be able to thank her enough.
Bring on year two, Madison. I can handle it.
I love you.