Just so we’re clear, I’m the same mother who forgot to get my third kid anything for his first birthday. I stood in the backyard once, within arm’s reach of my three-year-old and didn’t notice he had wandered off until he was a quarter of a mile away down a dirt road. I have locked myself in the bathroom and watched as twenty little fingers clawed under it, reaching for me, only to turn up my headphones and take another giant bite of a Snickers bar.
I’ve been trapped under a shape-shifting toddler for the last six years and couldn’t really tell you how to do much more than keep them from dying. Even in situations where I’ve succeeded in that, it’s because I got lucky. We talked about my writing this blog post for you, and I said, “oh my god, there’s so many things I could say. It would be so long.” And you said, “it’s okay, just pick one thing. Pick the most important thing about being a mom, and tell me what that is.” The problem with that is it assumes two things: 1. That I know what the most important thing is, and 2. That I would know with some semblance of confidence how to do that thing well. And yet somehow I thought it would just hit me, like if I kept listening to the universe long enough, one day I would look up from my lukewarm dinner and shout, “I’ve got it! I know the most important thing about being a mother!”
So clearly it didn’t really happen like that. I thought about a lot of things. Should I tell her the most important thing about childbirth? (It’s that you’ll always remember the way you were made to feel while you’re having a baby). Or the most important thing about breastfeeding? (Your boobs only do what you tell them to). Or the most important thing about parenting with a partner? (The mom gets the final say — she just does). What about how to feed your kids? (They eat what you do). What about discipline? (Teach, don’t punish).
I also thought about whether or not there was anything I thought you – specifically you – needed to know. Like, is there some sphere of this thing that Anna just has no idea about and it’s going to blindside her like a bus with a bomb and she’s a baby carriage full of soda cans? But you’re not an asshole, so “Parenting: Kids Are People, Too” didn’t fit. And you’re health conscious, so “Momming: Rice Cereal is Cardboard” wouldn’t have helped you. (Besides, depending on the day, Cheetos can be a food group so it would have been disingenuous). You’re insanely smart, and you know where to find information you need. You don’t get pushed around easily, and you make all the right choices, and you know how to laugh at yourself. You know when to bend with the circumstances of your environment, and you know when to call bullshit. You understand your own perspective on the world, and you are willing to be convinced otherwise if someone’s got a good argument. You make sure you show the love you have for people instead of just telling them about it. And most importantly, you give a shit whether or not you’re doing the right thing.
If I had to tell you something you don’t already know, it might be that you’re about to join a club that everybody knows about but nobody understands except the moms who are in it. I know you already know it’s there, but you won’t understand until that sweet baby joins you earthside. (Even dads don’t get it, but I’m sure they’ve got their own club). We mothers, we’re all out here floating on our own little rafts just doing the best we can to raise good kids, arms linked up like we’re on a lazy river except with rapids, and sometimes waterfalls and crocodiles and shit, and occasionally somebody capsizes and we all jump in to save her. And just like the lazy river, when you find your people and link up, you stay with them because you like their style, and you know they have your back, and even if somebody’s eight months pregnant, she’ll still abandon ship to rescue you if your float goes astray. Sometimes it rains and everyone is bummed out, and like in parenting, peeing and pooping is a serious issue, but you just squeeze the hand of the mom next to you and deal. But even with all that going on, nobody ever wants to leave the lazy river. There’s all this sunshine and laughs with friends and gorgeous scenery and memories you’ll hold onto forever. No matter how crappy it gets, you know the river is about to bend, and pretty soon you’ll be laughing and lazing in the sun again. The only real problem is that the ride is way too short. From the moment you dip your toes in the water, you feel the time slipping past you like a pile of sand pouring through your fingers. You know that no matter how long the river is, you’ll wish it had been longer. Somewhere far down the line is the last bend, so every now and then you make some desperate pathetic attempt to slow your raft down by paddling with your hands upstream a little, just to squeeze every last minute out of it that you can. That’s what parenting is like.
The point of all this is to say that I still don’t know what the most important thing about being a mother is. Maybe the most important thing to know about being a mom is that none of us have really any idea what we’re doing, but we help each other out a lot, and most of our kids are pretty okay for it. The truth is that the most important thing will change from week to week and sometimes from hour to hour. But you’ll do it. You’ll do this the same way you’ve done everything else in your life. Be scared you’ll suck, get thrown into it, stumble once or twice, and then handle your business boss-level style, and turn around to ask everyone else what’s so hard about it. When you’re you, you don’t need someone to tell you how to be the best mom. You’re already her, you’ll find out.
So, link up to my raft, we need strong swimmers like you.
Welcome to the club, sister.