My Motherhood Manifesto as He Turns Two
My little boy turned two. I can hardly believe this information even as I type it. Two? Two! That puts him firmly in the midst of the toddler years, officially beyond the infant and baby years, and quickly approaching the preschool years. On the one hand, I feel like I've been a mother forever. Or more so, motherhood has been the biggest transition in my adult life since leaving for college when I was 18. So two years into this transition it's hard to imagine my life before having a child.
Everything has changed. The way I eat, sleep, dress, work, play, socialize, travel, arrange my work week, plan my weekend, and even how long I talk to my mother on the phone. Yes, everything has changed. On the other hand, I feel like two years is just the beginning. When I think of my own mother starting her mothering journey with my sister more than four decades ago--I know I have only skimmed the surface of this enormously deep and flooding well. And then I think, "Somebody toss me a snorkel and a life jacket! Quick!" Oh, the journey still ahead.
This year we hosted our first kid-centric party complete with our very sophisticated menu of cupcakes, macaroni and cheese, and fruit salad. We invited a handful of children and parents and a few close friends and we gathered for a picnic at the edge of the woods followed by a ride on the steam train. Five kids, eight adults, nine balloons, twelve cupcakes, and two hours in the park. It was much like the other parties and gatherings I've thrown for adults but with more joyous squealing, more nervous squirming, and considerably more bubbles and toy whistles.
I think the thing that strikes me most about being the mother of a two-year-old little boy is that I am such a beginner. Ironically, in "new mom" worlds I am almost a graduate at the ripe old age of two. But I am just beginning. I remember looking at mothers with toddlers when I had a newborn and thinking, "They totally have this figured out". Of course, they didn't. But what they had was a confidence or grace or acceptance of their roles that I was just beginning.
There is nothing graceful about a first-time mama no matter who she is. It's an entire lifestyle overhaul to become a new mama. I mean, it's so much more than lifestyle, but in hindsight that's how I summarize the biggest change of my adult life. It changed my lifestyle. And that made me a beginner again. And at each stage of his life we'll be there learning together. This is very tender. And also very clumsy. And mostly, very full of moving, changing, evolving life. Yes, it is.
And I think another thing that has struck me is my relationship to family. And to friends. And how I'd bought into this idea that it was important to advance my career, fulfill personal adventures, and complete an education at all costs. And by all costs, I mean at any geographical location. In my case, this meant 3,000 miles away from my family and my hometown. And this is all very important until it's not the only thing that's important anymore.
I mean it IS important but family is also really, really important. And becoming a mother makes me feel overwhelmed with the love and tenderness and connection to my own family. We are far from perfect but we are representative of many generations, many lifelines, many celebrations, and challenges, and loves, and losses and there is a depth or complexity or simply multi-generational existence that feels missing in raising my son so far away from his extended family. I missed my family before he was born but I never could have predicted this feeling of longing for them. He pushes our lifelines into the future with a tension that also connects us to our ancestors. To our families.
And my friendships and my relationship to friendship has changed. I never thought of friendship as something that ebbed and flowed but I am realizing that the social life of a mama, particularly a mama with a little one, is full of change. Some friends have overwhelmed me with their generosity, acceptance, and insistence that they can certainly adapt to my new messy role as a mom. (Thank you, generous, accepting, insistent friends.)
And some have simply drifted away or even turned a cold shoulder to my new messiness when I expected my little one could be included in their lives too. Not always the case. And mostly, I am amazed that people really do have their own connections to little ones. Some people bond with him instantly while others take much longer to warm up. It's a continuum of human connection and that's so palpable with a little one.
And then the joy. Of course, the joy. The overwhelming joy and playfulness and silliness of parenting a toddler. He loves to laugh. And he loves to make me laugh. And that is a constant reminder to get up and play.
And the depth of seeing into my own messy and tangled heart. Yes, the seeing. And how that seeing is clearer and sharper and more focused when reflected by my own child.
And the constant time crunch. The never-enough-time. The balancing act that looks less like a balancing act and more like a comedy show. But even out of this comedy show has come meaning. I had no idea I actually needed to start saying no. I heard people say this but I didn't really understand. Not until my own schedule was actually unmanageable, I mean totally not going to happen, did I realize I had to start prioritizing. Lately, I've been asking myself these two questions, "Do I need it? Do I love it?" and the answer has to fall squarely into one of these two categories or it simply isn't a priority and I can't do it right now. Maybe later. But not right now.
And the way I love my washing machine is real and true and profound. I am not kidding! I am thankful every single day for that trusty energy efficient machine that came with our apartment. Thank the laundry goodwill above.
And peanut butter and jelly. Or almond butter and jelly. And that it can be made in less than 5 minutes. And burritos for dinner too. That they can also be made in about 10 minutes and everyone will eat them with gusto.
And I'm grateful to all the mamas around me. My own mother. Oh, my own mother. And my grandmothers, may they rest in peace. And my aunts. And my sister. And my brother's girlfriend. And my mother-in-law. And my sister-in-law. And my friends. And my colleagues. And the future mothers around me who are not yet officially mothers but who somehow understand mothering in a way that is true and messy and complete. And any other mother in my life. They have sustained me and made me trust that I could actually sustain myself. Amen to the mothers. And the fathers too. Their new image of fathering as something that is also tender and vulnerable and complex. Amen to the fathers too.
And yoga. And my yoga teacher. Oh, my yoga teacher. And the many shared metaphors between practicing yoga and mothering.
But the most important thing? If I had to boil all this thinking and feeling down into just one thing that I think the second year of motherhood means for me? I think it means letting go of the idea of balance. I think it means letting go of the ideal of balance too. I don't think it actually exists. I think that idea of balance as this beautiful light-filled existence out there on the horizon with a lovely match of work, life, personal experiences all weighted evenly on some fictional scale--I think it's a mirage. And I actually think it's damaging.
I think our lives actually happen right here in the imbalance. In the mess. In the failures and in the opportunities and in the magic and the misery all at once. In the heap of it. That's right. In the heaping beautiful mess of our very own hearts. And I think that motherhood has led me closer to this truth than I ever imagined. Because it's messy. Because it's hard. Because it doesn't always balance out over the course of the day or the week or the month.
But because it's palpable. And full of opportunity. And full of challenge--the really hard part that only resonates because you haven't embraced that part of you quite yet. And also the deep, deep flooding well of love. I've loved my husband deeply and fiercely for fifteen years. I've loved my best friend deeply and fiercely for thirty years. I've loved my mother deeply and fiercely my entire life. I would say my love for any of them is unwavering. Unconditional. Unsentimental. Unreal.
But I have never loved anyone or anything with the clarity and conviction that I love my son. I love him completely. In any state. Under any circumstance. Under any condition. I love him for who he is just the way he is at any moment of any given day. No matter what. And I don't even expect him to love me with the same clarity or conviction in return. That's what makes it unconditional. There is no boundary. There is no guideline. There is nothing that could change how I love him. It's fierce.
And that fierceness is something that has changed me. That fierceness is not something I could have expected or predicted or even imagined. But that fierceness is also palpable. I now truly understand why I should never approach a wild animal on a hike--particularly if that wild animal is a mother with her offspring. Evolution will demand that she turn to that fierce love with all her might. Of course, rational thinking will hopefully come to aid also in the humans. But still, fierce.
So... Happy Birthday to my beautiful son!
I'm cheering for you. And for your big bouquet of balloons. And I'm cheering for us. I'm cheering for little boys and little girls and for their mamas and their papas everywhere across this big wide world. I am cheering for your amazingly messy and joyous and imbalanced and palpable and very fierce love. Happy Two, my sweet son.