May 29, 2011

Just Like Peeling Potatoes

Some people make being a wife and mother look like one of the most natural processes in the world  We all know the women who played with dolls as girls and always treated them as if they were living, breathing children.  (And not the object used to test out how well the homemade catapult works or something that was shoved naked under their bed for weeks or months on end.)  Don't judge.

We all know those women who were meant to be mothers.  Whether they bear children, adopt them, or just always be a most important figure in some young person's life, mothers they always are.  They just ooze patience and virtue while drying tears or complimenting the artwork of a little one.  (Or applauding that same little awkward 'dance' that the kids have shown you for the umpteenth time and more represents a febrile seizure than something you'd pay to see on Broadway.)

Needless to say, I'm not one of those kinds of mothers.

Perhaps one of the most domestic things I think a woman can do is to peel potatoes.  I don't really know why.  I remember my own mother (who, incidently, was totally born to be a mother.  I'm guessing it skipped a generation or something.) standing over the sink peeling potatoes.  When I first got married, I remember going through a phase of making lots of stew.  The ingredients were all pretty cheap and it was a great way to feed my new 'meat and potatoes' husband.  A few times throughout the years I've seen someone standing at a sink, peeling potatoes, and I've thought Wow.  She really knows what she's doing.  She probably has it all figured out.

 By now, it has occured to me that I might even sometimes look like I know what I'm doing, whether it be peeling potatoes or folding socks.  I really don't, so never let me lead you to believe otherwise.  Unlike so many of these 'born mothers' I sort of fell into motherhood like a car accident.  (Actually, it sort of feels like I fell into motherhood by way of a car accident-but that's a story for another time!)  I spoke of getting married and having kids when I was young.  It's not that it was one of my lifelong dreams, I just figured it would happen eventually.  I mean, that's just what people did right?  Right after high school, I had sort of decided that I wasn't going to have kids.  I was going to breed iguanas.  To quote Alicia Silverstone in one of my favorite movies, I was going through my "post-adolescent idealistic phase."

I totally was.

Motherhood caught me off guard at the ripe old age of 20.  I was at a point where I really didn't know what I was doing with my life.  I'd realized that school wasn't really for me at the time.  I was working in a pet store for just a couple of coins above minimum wage.  After already kissing my share of frogs, I was dating a guy that I was sure could be 'the one.'  Of course, they always seem like they will be...until they're not.

Then came 15YO. 

I'm not going to lie; the first few months were mostly hellish.  I didn't know what I was doing.  I think perhaps the biggest problem that 15YO had as a newborn was that she realized that she was in the care of someone who did not know what she was doing.  Kids (even newborns) pick up on this stuff, you know!  It was awkward and exhausting and I felt bad that I had never really been a 'baby person.'  That guilt was such an unnecessary emotion, because I'm still not much of one. 

Enter:  David.

15YO was 5 when I met David.  I had already been bitten by the 'baby bug' and so had David.  I had 8YO nine months and five days after our wedding day.  5YO came just about three years later.  Both were planned.  Had I not had 15YO the way I did, I'm not sure I would have had any children.  15YO (as a baby) taught me how to be a mother.  She taught me that I actually wanted to be a mother.  I'm not even sure where I would be right now had that fateful 'surprise' not been bestowed upon me just over 15 years ago.  It's just been so easy to be her mother, so enjoyable.  I can't even really take credit for her great attitude toward school, rules, and her parents.  My skepticism and horrible study habits do not seem to have rubbed off on her.

8YO is her opposite in so many ways.  I figured after having 15YO turn out to be such a sweet young kid that I must know what I'm doing in this whole 'motherhood gig.'  8YO taught me how wrong I could be.  She screamed all day for months.  Looking back, I think it's a blessing that I didn't get all ooey-gooey around babies.  People like that are the ones who want to throw their babies out of windows when they cry the way mine did.  Instead, I knew it wasn't personal.  She didn't cry like she was in any pain.  If her diaper was clean and dry, she wasn't hungry, and cudding with her wouldn't help, I would just lie her down.  Sometimes I would put her back in her crib, sometimes I would keep her nearby in her infant carrier and bring the screaming little creature from room to room with me.  She still ate and did all her usual baby tasks as she should, so I didn't worry.  And I didn't take it personally. 

She eventually grew out of it.  I'm still just sure that she was aware that she couldn't do anything for herself and it simply pissed her off to no end.  As soon as she was able to roll and start to crawl, she was a completely different baby.

5YO seemed like the easiest baby ever.  At first I thought it was because I had already done it twice before, with two completely opposite babies.  Then, I realized what the third baby taught me:  All I really knew was that I knew NOTHING.  From that point on, I gave myself a break, didn't set the bar very high, and that first year just seemed so much easier. 

I'm not saying that parenting isn't hard.  It certainly can be.  But so many people seem to make it so much harder than it needs to be.  It all starts with the word 'birthplan' and then seems to go downhill from there.  I detest the word 'birthplan.'  It gives expectant mothers a false sense of security.  They think that if they make a plan, it will work out as such.  But having a baby is the first in a long series of lessons that ultimately teach us that we DON'T really have much control in the way of anything when it comes to our kids.  We can raise our children one way, and some children will carry those lessons into their adult lives.  The rest of them, well they just might spend the rest of their lives going against every single thing we tried to teach them as children.  And we have no control whatsoever.

I love that my girls are getting bigger.  I am excited for every milestone that we have ahead of us.  I've always loved my girls, but I like them more as people every single day.  I don't mourn their lost infancy.  I do get the opportunity to snuggle someone else's newborn and sniff the top of their head (they should really make a candle that smells like that!) and then I'm quite fine handing them back over.  Those babies already have a mother.  They don't need me and I don't feel that yearning to be needed.  It's nice to hand them back and then go home to sleep in my own bed.  All night long.

My living room has gone from being swallowed up by baby toys to being swallowed up by books, games, backpacks, video games, and knitting crap.  (Okay, so the knitting crap is mine!)  Even our clutter is growing, changing, evolving! 

I still have no idea what I'm really doing here most of the time.  I can't seem to stay organized, be on time to most things, cook enough healthy meals at a decent hour, and get the girls to learn to pick up after themselves.  I'm at a loss most of the time.  Except for those fleeting moments where I'm standing at my kitchen sink, peeling potatoes....