Jack turned 23 months today. That means two is right around the corner. And unlike last year, when he turned one, and when I was in the throws of nervous anxiety over moving my one-year old across the country, I am somewhat nostalgic this year. Not nostalgic in the Norman Rockwell way, imagining Jack lying asleep between us on the futon while we watch Law & Order repeats, but strangely nostalgic for the pure exhaustion and insanity that comes with the transition to parenthood. (By the way, parenting is not really a transition because a transition implies there’s time for adjustment, which THERE IS NOT. Parenting is more of a mega-disaster; once the baby comes, it’s as if you’re forced to adjust to a sleepless tsunami of emotions, breastfeeding, and a bevy of other issues.)
For the last two weeks, in between editing marathons, I’ve been reading the old entries of one of my favorite blogs, Dooce. Heather Armstrong (author of Dooce) gave birth to her daughter, Leta, in February of 2004, four months before I gave birth to Jack. Incredibly, she kept up fairly regular entries, despite suffering from intense postpartum depression in the form of extreme anxiety and insomnia. In between adjusting (ha!) to parenting, she wrote some wonderfully genuine accounts of what it means to be a new parent, and in particular, a new mommy. Some of my favorites include this one (because it I had forgotten just how much mental and physical energy I used up trying to figure out how to get Jack to sleep at night, of all times) this one; (because it's classic Dooce: the plain crude reality of parenthood as seen in a proper light: hilarity and love); and this one (because Heather is so honest about her postpardum depression).
Heather also has written a monthly newsletter chronically her daughter’s growth (the links above are examples of these); a kind of on-line baby book. I do enjoy reading them, but the guilt in my complete lack of recording Jack’s growth, overwhelms my pleasure. Jack is my first kid; I should have written volumes about him for each month of his life. When I was born, my mom filled in three (3!) baby books. Her *only* jobs consisted of raising me, learning to be a mom, watch my two half-brothers and run the house. By the time she had her third child, my sister, April, she had been divorced and married to a new husband (my other daddy). April has one baby book. It has a few pages filled in here and there. That’s more than I’ve done for Jack. To be fair, he has a calendar where I wrote in a few milestones (or placed the appropriate sticker), but that’s really it. It’s miraculous that we’ve found a place to get his 2-year picture taken. I can’t help, like most moms must do at some point, compare myself to other moms. We have friends in Seattle. They have two boys. With their first, they did all the right “stuff” – got all the really nice, sophisticated black and white photos throughout the first year, actually did the hand/feet plaster thing and got it framed. I haven’t seen them since shortly after the birth of their second. I like to think the mom has only made it to the professional photographer three times in the last year (as opposed to what seemed like six times she took her first sont). We have another friend, one of Ed’s fellow teachers. She’s working on her fifteenth scrapbook for her nearly three-year-old son. Me, well, I did keep that one picture that Jack colored a few months back.
In the next few months, we have three dear friends who are giving birth. Two are having their first child; the other, her second in less than two years. Nothing leaves me quite as inarticulate as trying to express the endless compassion and humor that I wish for these women. Motherhood is a paradox. It’s hideously complicated, yet can bring a remarkable clarity to your life (maybe not right away). It is as common as the milk it produces, yet it is a distinctly elite group. Motherhood is fucking hard. And, because the grind of motherhood is so common, it is really only the moms that can fully understand this reality. I think this is the kind of emotion that caused my mom to lovingly laugh at me when I called her when Jack was six months old, when I was DONE with him using my body every other hour, as a fast food restaurant. The best word for this emotion is maternal. It is what causes me to think of my about-to-be-mommy friends on a daily basis with a tenderness reserved only for someone else who has been initiated into the insane push-and-pull love fest that is mommy-hood. I want to swoop them up in my imaginary mother-earth arms and keep them warm and secure through whhat might be some cold, insecure times.
Being a new mom is wonderful and exhilirating, but it can also be incredibly lonely and isolating. My hope is that Mary, Kateri, and Tracy will, on one of those sleepless, maddening nights, be able to somehow think about all the moms they know, especially their own, and recognize how HUGE of a sorority they belong to. And, somehow, discover the endless energy they have inside them that is the graceful mix of God and them – the mix that brought them to be the amazing women that they are. Oh, and that I love them.