Mothering Hacks Picked Up Along the Way: Everyday Magic, Day 898

First day home from the hospital

We were exhausted and exuberant when we brought Daniel home from the hospital intensive care following some complications in his birthing center debut. We were also wildly ignorant, especially about what we were wildly ignorant about from the complex and profound, to the ordinary and necessary. So when Joy dropped within hours of us landing at home, just in time to change his diaper, I paid close attention.

We had cloth diapers, what we carefully researched and planned, but for the last week, it was disposable ones. Now it was time. “Let me,” she said, and I studied her every move in folding the diaper and how she inserted the safety pins to avoid sticking herself or him. As soon as she left, I called out to Ken, “I just figured out how to diaper the baby!” He rushed over, “Show me before you forget,” neither one of us having had a clue before she arrived.

This is just the first of thousands of mothering hacks I picked up along the way, which was important because my usual ways of learning things by reading books didn’t work out so well when Daniel was born. My experience of being a mother who suddenly found her baby encased in a plexiglass neo-natal unit box with all manner of tubes coming out of him just didn’t match the pile of books I had read to prepare myself. Then this first child, as he grew into a speeding and singing toddler, continued to defy convention, so much so that I actually ripped up a mothering book into tiny shreds one day out of exasperation.

Instead of books and the conventional wisdom of the day, I found my answers through family and friends to questions such as:

  • “Will he ever sleep through the night?” Answer: “Eventually.”
  • “How do I sleep through the night and still nurse on demand?” Answer: “Put that baby beside you, plug him in when he wakes up, then go back to sleep.”
  • “When should I feed him solid food?” Answer: “When he grabs it off your plate.”
  • “Which daycare, school, and which teacher?” Answer: “This one, and that one.”
  • “Is this when I call the doctor?” Answer: “Not yet,” or “Yes!”
  • “Should I let her join a soccer team just because she wants the trophy?” Answer: “It can’t hurt, and she’ll get good exercise along the way and learn more about teamwork.”
  • “What is this rash?” Multiple answers involving roseola, heat rash, poison ivy, and reaction to insect bites.
  • “How can I make him be a better student?” Answer: “You have no control over what kind of student he’ll be.”
  • “What if she doesn’t want to wear clothes right now?” Answer: “As long as you’re not leaving the house, pick your battles.”
  • “Is it okay to have ice cream for dinner when it’s 100 degrees?” “That’s what I’m doing tonight.”
  • “Am I doing too much or being too controlling?” Answer: “If you have to ask, probably.”
  • “Am I screwing this whole mothering thing up?” Answer: “We all feel that way. You’re doing fine.”
  • “How will we ever get through _____ (fill in the blank)”? “This too shall pass.”
  • Most of all, “Is this normal?” Answer: “Yes,” or “Who the fuck cares!”

Since our oldest son was born close to 28 years ago, I’ve hit the wall on this mothering thing more times than Trump has tweeted. But I’ve had great role models to help me find the path through the bramble, hand me clippers to clear some of the bramble away, or console me on how it’s normal to be very lost on no notice so often. From my own mother, I learned the value of perspective and humor through hundreds of conversations when she burst out laughing, reminding me that kids doing this or that was completely part of the deal, and in time, things shift. From my mother-in-law, I’ve witnessed the power of unconditional love, a good rocking chair, and Shirley Temple videos.

Dixie taught me I could get Forest to sleep by counting backgrounds from 1,000 each night, naming each 10 numbers for one animal (999 sheep, 998 sheep….). Weedle showed me the importance of game nights, and especially the games “Taboo” and “Apples to Apples.” Kat and Nancy exemplified how sharing stories of your wild young adulthood could make your kids rebel by being less dare-devily in the all the worst ways. Kelley told me stories of how her mother gave her freedom to create. Kris reminded me on many a brunch at the Roost how the human brain isn’t fully developed until the kid is at least 25, and when I called her freaking out about my worries about my something my kids did, she shrugged and reminded me how we did crazier shit. Judy listened deeply however long it took. My sister-in-law Karen continually modeled deep generosity and engagement, especially when the child in question feels isolated or confused. My sister Lauren reminded me of the importance of making everyone feel welcome. Victoria laughed with me at the outrageous corners, and helps me tilt whatever worries I have toward greater light. Suzanne demonstrated how essential both adventure and gardening are in a life. There are surely dozens others I could name, but all these women have given me another line or page in the book I’m living on how to be a mother.

So on this Mother’s Day, I’m indebted to all this lantern holders along many a dark path full of ticks, projectile vomiting at 2 a.m., chiggers, overdue library books, sudden immersions into diseases I never knew more than the names of before, listening to the cassette tapes of The Wizard of Oz on many a road trip, late-night trips to the drug store, and a thousand drawings from adoring children who also gift-wrapped forks to show their love. Thank you, and may all of us find such help when we most need it no matter what or who we’re mothering or being mothered by in our lives.

The 7/7 Launch Into Motherhood: Everyday Magic, Day 360

With our midwife Ginger right before the birth

22 years ago Daniel was born, catapulting me into the land of no return otherwise known as motherhood. To say it was a difficult birth is like saying our country just experienced a little recession. Labor started with my water breaking while seeing a film at Liberty Hall about the Black Plague, and things went downhill from there. I had envisioned birth as a soiree and so had invited many friends to hang out. It turned out to be opposite, but I was in too much agony to feel like a failed hostess.

Daniel sleeping with his late, wonderful grandpa

Daniel arrived 18 hours later, but in his urgency to get born, he inhaled some amniotic fluid, which meant a trip to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit from the all natural-birthing center. A week later, we took him home, strapped between us in the cab of a red pick-up truck, and while “La Marseillaise” played (it was Bastille Day), we told him, “You’re free! You’re free!”

Fast forward to now: Daniel had graduated from college and is applying for Americorps positions, seeking the path for where he goes next. It’s again 7/7, and tonight we’ll have dinner with some of the people who attended his birth, including his namesake. Two more kids have come as well as numerous cars, a different house, a change of pets, and a whole lot of different used furniture.

When I became a mother, like anyone who crosses into the unknown, I had no idea what I would find. This truth became overwhelmingly evident with Daniel, who didn’t follow what any baby book said to the extent that I actually ripped apart several such books, deeming them unfit for anyone raising a child (only to later discover the next few kids did kind of follow what the books said). What I’ve learned is mainly what I’ve unlearned, and it mostly has to do with how little control parents have (or really, any of us have), particularly when it comes to the arduous, delightful, harrowing and surprising task of shepherding a human through the social constructs of the world. Here’s some of what I now know:

  • Parents are, despite whatever I thought ahead of time, the social seeing eye dogs for their children, teaching them and modeling for them how to navigate the world, and when you have some real issues with reality, this task is like negotiating some of the rings of hell.
  • There’s nothing like someone or something threatening your kid to turn an ordinary woman into an attacking panther.
  • Whatever is budgeted for food needs to be doubled….or tripled…..when the child is between 16-22. Keep on hand plenty of pasta, and expect all large casseroles, good for feeding a dozen, to vanish within a day as someone’s late night snack.
  • My kids are capable of watching truly violent and scary movies without any ill effects. I am not.
  • When it comes to family vacations, the bumper sticker I always wanted to produce is true: “Kids: They Ruin Everything.” Yet it’s also true that I wouldn’t give up any of the family vacations we’ve had (although I might revise a few).
  • There is nothing more heartbreaking than when your kid has a broken heart.
  • There is nothing more exhilarating than when your kid is deeply happy for all the right reasons.
  • Related to the last insight, I don’t want to hear conversations about partying. Luckily, I can go to bed early with earplugs.
  • Most of all, like anything that requires a whole-life, whole-self commitment, motherhood is a spiritual path. That means, the offspring function like the most irrational and demanding guru-like beings cross-pollinated with wild boars.
  • I loved from the very start and still love wandering through the dark house, knowing all my children are sleeping soundly.