I recently came to the decision that something needed to change. The whole family was feeling lazy and bored and unmotivated. The monotony of life and winter, and of babies and toddlers and work had gotten us down.
So we began to welcome someone new into our home. Someone exciting and energetic, with tons of ambitious ideas that would probably never happen but were refreshing nonetheless. It was someone I had known for a long time but had hardly spoken to since the kids were born. You know the kind of old friend who always causes a little trouble and maybe you’re not sure you want her around your kids? The one who always manages to make everyone laugh as she’s swearing over a glass of wine?
Suddenly we were alive again, thanks to my pre-child-self who had finally moved back in.
Before the kids arrived, we were the judgy childless couple who smiled smugly when the new parents couldn’t make the day hike or the boating venture. We knew that our kids would be world travelers, just along for the ride with their crazy wanderlust-ridden parents.
And then our boys arrived 19 months apart. For three and a half years straight I did not sleep through the night. For four and a half years I either nourished babies growing inside me or nourished babies on my boob. It was physically grueling in a way completely different from climbing a mountain or sailing an ocean. I was exhausted at the end of each day without having really done much of anything. We soon learned that it was not our kids who were along for the ride. It was us, being taken for a ride.
I didn’t fall in love with our new baby the second I laid eyes on him, like everyone had talked about. Instead it all just felt so strange. The first thing I said after he was born was, “I can’t believe that just happened,” and as the days blended into weeks I walked around in the same blur. Did that really just happen? Am I really a mom?
He was a normal baby, not overly fussy or wakeful or stinky, so I couldn’t blame him. And it wasn’t postpartum depression, so I couldn’t blame that. It was more just the general adjustment of suddenly becoming someone I wasn’t last week. As I nursed my newborn, pre-child-me breathed over my shoulder. “Hurry up and get on with it so we can grab a coffee and hit the gym before dinner,” she’d hiss. Each time I brushed off her suggestions that we sneak off for a ski day or head out for a drink on a Friday night, she’d shake her head with disappointment. I couldn’t keep up with her anymore and I felt ashamed and deficient. She was the one to blame. To be the mom I wanted to be, I had to kick pre-child-me to the curb.
After a few weeks, I started going to a “New Moms Group” facilitated by our local hospital, and everything began to fall into place again. I wasn’t pre-child-me anymore. I was new-mom-me and I carefully, and mostly joyfully, began to build my life around it. I was a mom who wrote in baby books. I was a mom who stayed home from 9:00-11:00 and 2:00-3:00 every day to facilitate naps. I was a mom who cooked dinner with her baby in the sling. I was a mom who spent hours pumping breastmilk in the bathroom at work. I was just an everyday mom who tried her hardest and did the things that everyday moms do.
Of course if I described myself that way, someone would inevitably pipe up and console me with, “But you’re not just a mom.” And they would be wrong. I was just a mom. Everything else that made me who I was before kids now took a backseat. In fact, pre-child-me didn’t just take a back seat. There wasn’t even any room for her in the car anymore, what with the carseat and the stroller and the diaper bag. She was packed away in the attic, along with my toned abs and bladder control. Soon enough I left my job to take care of the kids. I was just a mom.
I give credit where credit is due, and I’m a great mom, but part of me wasn’t content. I didn’t feel fulfilled. My husband likes to say, “Happy wife, happy life!” And he’s right; if mommy’s not content, no one is. My boredom and restlessness were trickling down to the rest of the family. But then suddenly, just like that, I finally got my first fully restful night’s sleep in three and a half years and emerged from the baby haze like a hibernating bear waking from the long winter. I blinked into the harsh sunlight and slowly began to break the ice with pre-child-me, who was a little hesitant to come out after being packed away in the dark for so many years.
Pre-child-me had all sorts of energy and couldn’t wait to share her crazy ideas with the kids. She took them hiking and skiing and camping. She didn’t coddle them the way I’d been doing in my attempts to hang on to their baby days. We went on boat rides and stayed up way past our bedtimes. We skipped naps and ate hot dogs for dinner. Sure it wasn’t always easy, and I definitely needed new-mom-me along for the ride to make sure that everyone stayed hydrated and packed a pair of clean undies. But pre-child-me was breathing new life into our family. She had us outside to play every day, regardless of the weather. And she reminded us that adventures don’t have to take place over long journeys to faraway places. Adventures are a mindset. They can happen just outside your own door, if you make it so.
We learned a lot from her, and she learned from us too. When the kids got hurt or tired or hungry, she learned to slow down. She gave cuddles and hugs and didn’t swear quite so much anymore. She softened. Slowly but surely, we became the same person again. We smile smugly at each other and nod, “I couldn’t have done it without you.”