My daughter Ruby told me last week that there’s a rumor going around her school that I’m a teen mom. She was offended on my behalf; I was wildly flattered.
“Do they really think I look that young?” I asked, flipping my hair.
“No, Mom, they’re just bad at math. I told them you were 39, and they decided you must have been a teenager when I was born.”
OK, so subtraction is hard, and I definitely wasn’t a teen mom … but I was basically the first one in my college friend group to have a baby. I was 25 when I got pregnant with Ruby. Now I have a teenager and a 7-year-old while my many of my friends are having their first babies.
And I don’t know exactly what to tell them when they ask for advice … at least nothing that won’t terrify them.
So I tell them that it gets easier … but I don’t tell them that it also gets harder. That yes, it’s so much better now that Ruby sleeps through the night and has ways to express herself beyond screaming … but that I still can’t sleep through the night because I wake up at 3 a.m. to pee (oh, yeah, I also don’t tell them that their bladders will never be the same) and then lie, staring at the ceiling, wondering if I handled a discipline situation correctly or if Ruby needs to get more comfortable with failure or if Georgia is hiding her anxiety over her occasional academic struggles.
I tell them that it will be life-changingly amazing, but I leave out the part about how it will also be life-changingly stressful and how you can never just run out for a quick weekend brunch anymore with your partner because you need so much stuff for children and oftentimes they won’t sit still in a restaurant anyway.
I tell them to always trust their gut and that they know their children best, but I don’t add that sometimes you don’t know your child as well as you think you do and the idea that they have rich inner lives is both fascinating and terrifying. And sometimes you’re entirely certain that they have strep, but they don’t – or you think they’re fine and snap at them to get their act together, only to find out that they have hand-foot-mouth and you’re a jerk for not being more patient.
As a working mom, I assure them that they can have it all, but they can’t, not really. When they miss work because their kid is sick, they will feel guilty. When they miss their kid’s basketball game because they have to work, they will feel guilty. And if they choose to stay home, they will feel guilt over giving up their careers and “wasting” their education or guilt over not loving every single moment of parenting.
Oh, the guilt. I don’t even try to explain the guilt to the uninitiated. I feel screen time guilt. I feel homework guilt. I feel Happy Meal guilt. I feel bedtime guilt. When Georgia had to get several molars filled, I thought the guilt might crush me; when I accidentally shut Ruby’s fingers in a door, I wanted to fling myself off of a building. This Christmas, I had guilt about buying Georgia too many presents and not enough presents simultaneously and I also feel guilty that Ruby was born so close to Christmas.
So yes, friends, buckle up. There will be guilt and stress and worry like you’ve never known. There will be horrible children’s songs that you will never forget; it’s been a full decade and I still sometimes catch myself humming songs from “Yo Gabba Gabba.” There will be sleepless nights and gross illnesses, often together. You will never get all of the Goldfish crackers out of your car.
But the only real things I know for certain are 1.) that you will love them so much it will sometimes hurt to breathe. That, in itself, can be both good and bad – because it’s scary to love anyone that much. And 2.) that you will be shocked at how fast it will go. I don’t know how I have a teenager. I don’t know how I have a 7-year-old. I swear, they were both just babies a second ago. The days go slow, they say – and boy, do they; some interminable rainy days I still break every hour till bedtime into 6-minute chunks and celebrate every tenth of an hour – but the years … they go way too fast.
Breathe it all in, I’d tell them. You won’t love every second, and yet somehow, inexplicably, you’ll miss it.
Welcome to the world, babies, and welcome to the world of parenting, friends. Nothing will ever be the same again.
It’s crazy on this side of things, but we’re delighted you’re here.