My Pilates instructor, known in these parts as The Mean Lady, is pregnant with her first child. It’s hard to watch her and not be brought back to my own pregnancy 15 years ago, to the excitement, the wonder, and also the fear, the nausea, and the panicked realization that I was no longer driving the bus.
People are full of advice when you are pregnant — what doctor to use, what birth method, and why you can’t possibly name you child (fill in the blank) because you had a hated schoolmate in fourth grade with that name. Strangers feel free to ask what’s in your coffee mug (decaf) or wine glass (sparkling cider) or wonder aloud if there’s gin or vodka in your sparkling water. Even though I remember how maddening that was, I still feel compelled to share bits of wisdom with my Mean Lady. Sometimes I remind her to ignore me. And I have to remind her because her brain has loss mass during pregnancy and will not regain its previous heft until about six months post partum.
People often acknowledge that parenting is always hard and often thankless. But they say in the same breath as their comments that parenting is wonderful, amazing, perfect. You hear every famous person who becomes a parent talk about how you can’t imagine what love is until you’ve had a child — to which I say wait until the kids are snarky teenagers; then you’ll see how it’s possible to love someone whose smell, sass, and lack of cooperation and common sense appall you. There is a conspiracy around parenting that we should never admit that the way it changes your life isn’t always good. There are no spontaneous romantic getaways, you can’t get away with one case for the both of you on vacation, you can’t dash in and out of anywhere, your glasses will never be clean or unbent again, and what you call patience your childless friends call the catatonic result of years of not enough sleep.
Don’t get me wrong: despite the fact that the thing that lives down the hall is snarky and smelly, I wouldn’t trade Darling Son in for anything. But I wish it was okay to say that sometimes, Mean Lady, you’ll want to chuck the baby out with the bathwater. It’s okay to think it as long as you don’t act on it. You will be cranky, you will think unkind thoughts about people you love very much.
And you will want to punch everyone in the face who comes up to you to ask if you’re breastfeeding, using cloth diapers, co-sleeping implying that if you aren’t doing those things, you are inferior. The Time Magazine “Are You Mom Enough” story may be news to the masses, but most new moms get something of that judgmental commentary from the first time they leave the house with the baby. Along with suggestions about how much/little they should/shouldn’t bundle the baby in this cold/hot weather. People you don’t know will want to touch your newborn, just as they wanted to touch your belly when you were pregnant. As your child gets older, they will feel free to make comments — overt or covert, sometimes using just a glance to convey their meaning — about how you discipline your child. They will glare at you for deigning to bring your child with you to any restaurant that doesn’t feature a menu of mostly fried food and a decor heavy on brightly colored plastic chairs.
When the people of your community stop chiming in on your parenting skills, your family may take over. And if they don’t, have no fear, your daughter will tell you everything you do wrong soon enough. Darling Son, just yesterday, told me I was a terrible mother because I took away his iPod after he lied to me about using it (“I’m not playing with it,” he said, as I heard the PacMan sound effects from down the hall). I told him to call Child Protective Services.
They should have an “It Get’s Better” project for put upon moms everywhere. There are golden moments. There is intense love, fun, humor, wonder, and joy. But sometimes it feels impossibly hard. I ask friends with older kids if there is life after 15, if children get nicer — or rather return to the previously sweet things they were before they were tweens and teens — and they all tell me it does, indeed, get better. If my friends are right, in about three years, things will start to even out for my boy and me. And in 10 years he should be a fully developed human being. If you ask him about that now, he’d probably say that if he does make it to 25 it would be despite how awful I am. But I know better, and so will you.
Happy first Mother’s Day, Mean Lady. It’s not all easy or smooth or fun. But it’s worth it.