The Things Motherhood Can Teach You

The Next Family

By: Natalie Sullivan

I saw a woman today who looks like I always hoped to look as a new mother. She was tall and thin and wearing an adorable top and khaki shorts with stylish sandals. Her hair was up in a messy bun that was coiffed to look just so. On her shoulder, she toted a great signature logo bag. I didn’t see her face, but I caught glimpses of shiny but tasteful gold jewelry. She was pushing an infant stroller and walking along Central Park West looking cool and breezy.
By contrast, I was wearing a sagging black jersey dress and a bra that was cutting off my circulation. My body was saddled with “baby fat” (from both before and after the baby) and my hair was in an authentically messy bun, having fallen from its stately position high on my head to the sweaty nape of my neck. My sunglasses were tangled somewhere at the crown of my head and my makeup was resting comfortably about an inch below each eye. Truth be told, in today’s 85 degree heat, I probably looked more like “the truth” while she represented the “I wish” camp, but it didn’t stop me from wishing I could look a little more like her and a little bit less like how I’ve been looking for the past several weeks.
Admittedly, when I saw her, I immediately thought about how wonderful and together her motherhood experience must be. How else could she look like that, without a hair and, presumably, an emotion, out of place? As for me, I woke up this morning feeling down about the Groundhog Day nature of it all: Feed, burp, clean, diaper, repeat. I cry along with my son most days between 4-7pm during his “witching hours.” I snap at my poor husband at least once an hour when he’s home. When my child wakes up every two hours in the middle of the night, sometimes, the first thing I feel is a little annoyed at the lack of sleep. I hang my hopes on the fact that he’ll get older every week and will one day be able to sleep for 6 hours straight and entertain himself without being held every moment of the day. Just before bed, I look over at my snoring husband whom I miss so much now that we are like two caregiving ships passing in the night. Then, I silently crumble into tears when I think of how guilty I feel for everything I’m feeling.
After a nap and a shower this afternoon, I started to think a little differently about the woman I saw today. I began to think of some perfectly reasonable and somewhat comforting explanations for her seemingly flawless appearance. First, I started to imagine that she, unlike me, has a full-time nanny during the week, or, better yet, a live-in. Then, although I didn’t look inside the stroller today when we walked by, I started to think that maybe her child was a lot older than mine, which would mean she’s had more time to perfect her grooming routine in light of getting a full night’s sleep and being able to set her baby down to play while she does. Even better, when I saw her this afternoon, maybe she had just stepped out of her air-conditioned apartment and hadn’t had time yet to wilt under the Memorial Day weekend sun.
Then something hit me. I got a little more real and thought that maybe this perfect stranger is feeling so overwhelmed by her recent introduction to motherhood that she is painstakingly holding on to the only thing she feels she can control. It’s a song I know well and have sung many times in my own life.
I’m reading a book on motherhood that is based in Buddhist principles, and it’s telling me that I need to let go. I get it. I believe it. It’s just that the shallow former non-mother in me wants to make sure that, in some areas, I don’t let it go too far or for too long. It’s been only seven weeks since our son came into our lives, and it’s been a time of great joy and great challenge. I pray religiously every day for patience, strength, and selflessness. Meanwhile, my son, in his infinite wisdom, has already taught me a few things:
Be patient. If I spend all my time counting down the days and weeks and trying to force milestones on our son, I’m missing his journey by focusing on an unrewarding one-woman race. I can’t even count the number of mothers who have rushed up to me to tell me how much they miss their own children at this age. I’m smart enough to recognize a good thing, especially when it keeps getting pointed out to me.
Ask for help. Everyone needs a helping hand. There is a reason that good nannies and babysitters and day care centers and grandmothers and friends are so highly coveted! I plan on putting some of them to good use starting next week, even if only for a few hours.
Celebrate every day. Besides the myriad of wonderful things my son does every single day, today I selfishly celebrate the fact that I was dressed and made it out of the house with two matching shoes, deodorant under at least one arm, and mascara on my top lashes! There may come a day when I look more like the woman at the root of today’s deep introspective, but, just in case, I bought a stylish summer hat for those days when I still won’t get to do my hair.

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