I am suddenly the mother of a one-year-old. I know, I know. This should not come as a surprise as just one month ago I was the mother of an 11-month-old and everybody knows that 11 is followed by 12. But one year is different. It's older. It's bigger. It's more little kid and less tiny baby. I already find myself looking at him and thinking, "Almost toddler". This weekend we celebrated with homemade cupcakes, bright balloons, and two dozen friends in the nearby park. He's one-year-old. I sigh.
Mostly, I can't believe I've been a mother for one entire year. I can't believe it was one year ago that I was summoning the last reserves of strength for a long and complicated labor. I can't believe it was one year ago that I started my maternity leave and then completely walked away from my desk job and into freelance. I just can't believe it's been one entire year. It's been amazing. Astounding. Exhausting. Exhilarating. Bewildering. And so incredibly raw and beautiful. It's been all of these things within the same afternoon. Sometimes within the same hour. Sometimes within the same 10 minutes. Phew!
If I had to say what I learned in this first year of motherhood I'd probably write the first draft of a very long novel. But if I had to boil that down I'd say I've learned to bite my tongue, eat my words, swallow my pride, and any other idiom that relates to digesting one's opinion. Some things are not learned through study, theory, intellect or calculation but instead through trial and error. Parenthood must be the biggest experiment in trial and error ever to be conducted. (To all my friends with older children if I ever suggested how your child should sleep, eat, talk, walk, learn, play, communicate, or otherwise develop then please accept my apology here and now. I am sorry! I was wrong. You were right. Forgive me.)
I've learned about joy. Not predictable joy or calculated joy but spontaneous and eruptive joy that still takes me by surprise. I'm a fairly predictable person. My likes and dislikes are fairly consistent. I've been working in the arts since I graduated college, started dating my husband 14 years ago, eating vegetarian since I was in high school, and my best friend became my best friend in first grade. Like I said, consistent. But there's something about mothering a new baby that has totally taken me by surprise and that thing is joy. Babies are joyful. My son is joyful. And spontaneous eruptive joy is simply contagious.
I've learned about sleep deprivation. Not a few nights of poor sleep or even a few sleepless weeks but an entire year without sleeping more than three or four hours at a stretch. I learned about tiredness. In my depths. In my blood. The kind of tiredness that does not pass but becomes a new way of being. And somehow, I learned to manage fatigue or how to become functional while being so damn tired.
I've learned about endurance. I've learned about patience. I've learned to witness. I've learned to observe. I've learned to pause. I've learned to take a deep breath and simply try again. I would not say I've mastered any of these honorable traits but I'd say I've become aware of how much I need to practice. (Practice, practice.) I thank my yoga teacher for reminding me about mindfulness on a weekly basis because I promptly forget it daily. Patience. Watchfulness. Deep Breaths. Yes, yes, and yes.
I've learned about time management. I've learned that short conversations are better than no conversations at all. I've learned to do what actually has to be done and to stop writing the other things on my to-do list. I've learned to prioritize. I've learned that dinner and laundry trump vacuuming and tidying. I've learned the need for stain sticks and paper towels. I've learned to organize most activities by noise, attention span, and how easily something might get broken. I've learned to organize my studio life into quiet and loud activities. Quiet activities can be accomplished while my son naps. Loud activities usually require my husband be available for baby tending.
And lastly, as my own mother pointed out, I have learned about unconditional love. Love without condition. Without boundary. Without premise. Absolute acceptance of another human being regardless of their faults or shortcomings or struggles or weaknesses. It's something I thought I already knew but it turns out I didn't. This is the one thing I hope to carry around in the deep plushy humus of my imperfect heart for all the years I am his mother--unconditional love. I hope it grows like the bougainvillea around the front window--tangled, wild, bold, fervent--surprising me with its brilliant colors every single spring.
My dear Maxwell Forest, happy first birthday, my sweet son.