Sixteen years ago tomorrow, I gave birth to my first child. By the time he decided to make his ridiculously late appearance, I was nearly seventy-two months pregnant and weighed exactly one-thousand pounds, giving me an uncanny resemblance to a circus elephant. In fact, the very next week I found my first gray hair, which made me look even more like one.
Trust me on this. Because I’m not posting pictures.
Anyway, after twenty-eight hours and enough pain meds to keep the Hollywood plastic-surgery crowd supplied for years, my son finally arrived. And I looked at my bundle of joy, marveling that the hospital people were planning on just letting me take him home, no questions asked. Were they out of their minds? Shouldn’t they run a background check? Give me a full body scan and a pat-down? Perform a psych evaluation, or at the very least, interview parents of children I’d babysat in the past? I mean, I was basically a kid. I was unschooled in all things newborn. What if I messed up? What if I broke him? He was so little. So tiny. So…fragile.
And the whole time I was thinking this, I kept hearing visitors talk about a baby in the nursery who totally dominated all the other babies in pounds, inches, and belly fat. An Amazon baby, they called this freak-of-nature. Even the doctors were ready to sign it up for football. So as soon as my doctor allowed—and as soon as I could walk down the hall without fainting—I took off in search of this poor unfortunate child. Because it was the talk of the hospital. And I had to see it for myself.
So I scanned the rows of bassinets from behind the glass wall. And I spotted the baby. And my eyes went wide. And I searched my husband’s face, just so confused.
Because that freakishly giant kid was mine. He wasn’t so tiny, after all. In fact, he looked like he could eat all the other babies around him and still have room for dessert. No wonder I’d gained so much weight. It was totally his fault. Had nothing to do with my love for hot fudge sundaes after all…so I told myself.
Which led me to believe he wouldn’t break that easily.
So after a few days, we loaded him up and took him home. And we took care of him when he cried and fed him when he was hungry and stayed up with him when he didn’t want to sleep, which seemed to be every freakin’ night for three solid months. And I rocked him and rocked him and rocked him, all the while sticking invisible pins in my imaginary Doug (my husband) voodoo doll as I watched him climb into our bed, laugh at Jay Leno’s monologue for twenty minutes or so, then turn off the light and fall into a comfortable slumber while I still sat there rocking that wide-eyed baby from my spot in our new wooden rocker.
Which makes me wonder: why was I sitting in a wooden rocker in the middle of the night, anyway?
Though it embarrasses me to admit it, here’s why: Because it was cute and looked adorable from its spot in our son’s room. And because I thought babies had to be rocked in nurseries, because that’s how they did it on television. And because I was a new mom and still too stupid to realize that it’s perfectly legal to fall asleep sprawled across the sofa with your newborn on your chest, your head at a weird angle, and a bottle leaking all over you.
By child number two, that wooden rocker had found a new home in our garage.
Anyway, eventually we got the hang of it. He learned to sit. He learned to walk. And though it took forever, he learned to speak. Then, shortly after that, he learned how to pull hair. My hair. My husband’s hair. Cat hair. Dog hair. A poor little playmate’s hair who lost so much in one yank that she now had a bald spot where her pretty bow used to be.
That phase was awful. Everything about it was awful. And it seemed to last forever, as stages involving incredibly bad habits that your parents can’t make you stop no matter what they try tend to do.
And always in the midst of one of these lovely escapades back then, some sweet woman would stop me at the store, lean over my non-sleeping newborn who eventually turned into a non-sleeping infant who eventually turned into a hair-pulling toddler and say, “Enjoy every minute of this, because in the blink of an eye, he’ll be grown.”
Which reminds me of the “Don’t Carpe Diem” article going around Facebook. So much of it is true. Just like the woman who wrote the piece, I too would roll my eyes and bite back a snarky comment. One like: “To tell you the truth lady, if I could blink away his inability to sleep at night, I would.” Or, “If I could blink my way past this hair pulling stage, please show me how.” Or sometimes even, “If I could blink him into kindergarten, he’d be there already. Because believe me, I’ve tried. I’m exhausted from trying. I’m exhausted from…exhaustion.”
But here’s the deal. Here’s the thing about that article that the author hasn’t yet discovered. And here’s the thing she shouldn’t be expected to discover, because her children are still small…still requiring constant attention and care and nurturing and coddling. Maybe her children are even in the middle of a hair-pulling stage. Maybe she’s just plain exhausted. But here’s the deal:
The women in the store were right. At least, mostly.
While I’m certainly not suggesting that new mother’s learn to “enjoy every moment”— Lord knows there were plenty of days back then that I wouldn’t return to even if you paid me in a decade’s supply of chocolate—I am suggesting that time has a way of erasing the bad and highlighting the good. Of accenting all the precious moments and muting the horrible. Of turning the worst moments of mothering into things you eventually laugh about. And as a current mother of a small child who hasn’t yet started school, a teenager who will literally be able to hop in the car tomorrow and drive away without me holding his hand, and a couple of others in between—I see that now.
Time moves quickly. Kids grow up. And it all happens so fast that sometimes…sometimes… I find myself wanting to revisit that not-so-long-ago hair-pulling stage.
If only to tell that young mother to lighten up. To quit stressing about things that don’t matter. To believe me when I say that one day in the future she’ll be able to sleep through the night again. And to try a little harder to enjoy the best parts and forget about the worst.
To tell her that even though life is moving painfully slow right now, one day soon—in what actually does feel like the blink of an eye—she’ll be watching that little boy hop in a car and drive away.
Until next time—