There are a million things I didn’t know about motherhood; probably more. Above all else, looming atop the pile of all things parent I did not expect: worry.
For me it started before I technically even became a mother. During my first pregnancy there was cause for concern. At 20 weeks, our scan revealed some rare, never-heard-of condition– which may or may not be a big deal.
We’d have to wait and see.
And that is what we did, every four weeks, between ultrasounds. Other mothers in my Birth-Prep class eagerly awaited any opportunity for ultrasounds; comparing experiences, euphoric and giddy. Sharing 3-D images they actually paid out of pocket to get.
My heart began to race just listening to them. Our monthly trips to the hospital were anxiety provoking and tense. Every time we arrived, we’d be greeted by our doctor and several more trailing in behind– who tried, but really couldn’t contain their excitement to marvel at our rare condition. Delighted with my defunct umbilical cord, they watched closely as a technician measured limbs and inspected organs.
Meanwhile, we waited in a state of panic to hear the words we found comfort in time and time again, until at last my son was born without incident or impairment 20 weeks later.
Everything is OK.
And it was, Ok. Elated, we brought our new baby home. My husband began the life lessons immediately, pointing out the “dos and don’ts” of future decisions on the drive home. Do go to Stanford (it was on the way, might as well plug it early). Do get coffee at Starbucks instead of Peet’s (this one was to bug me since I hardily feel the opposite). Don’t get a job waving a sign* not for real estate (like the guy waving an arrow on the corner to our left) or pizza (like the eight foot tall foam guy in ancient roman garb to the right). *Referring to the aforementioned Do go to Stanford will prevent this as a necessary career choice.
We drove home worry-free, even laughing—until the middle of the night…that night…a mere 7 hours later.
Our baby made noises.
Noises we had not heard before. No one, no book, no DVD had told us about these noises. Really? Do all babies sound like this? We lie awake, wondering if something was wrong as we likened our new, precious infant to a Gremlin; who during daylight hours had been Gizmo, the fluffy, cute Mogwai. Now grunting and snarling in his co-sleeper, we feared the worst: would he stop breathing? We looked at each other and realized we had no idea what we were doing.
It was at that very moment that our timeline split in two: the us before children, and the us after.
Along with the noises that no one warned us about, the worry and the unknown became a present and familiar part of our day to day. As much as we love the family we’ve built, we both remember a time more carefree, more spontaneous, with much less responsibility.
Isn’t that really what sets apart now from then? Now, we are indelibly on duty. We have taken on the insurmountable task of caring for something that by definition is impermanent.
Just when we have one thing down: swaddling, diapers, folding up the stroller in 27 steps or less…the dreaded car-seat install, just when we have it down, it changes again.
Determined, we persist, with no instruction manual and no prior experience. Enter:worry. Are we doing this right? Are we providing our child with all we are supposed to? Nutrition, social skills, art, language, music, academics, the list goes on and on.
We are all at once teachers, students and parents. Meanwhile, the parts of us that existed prior to parenthood: careers, interests, hobbies, are feebly hanging on by a limb-trying to survive.
It is no wonder that everywhere we go, there are parents in all modes of themselves at once. They can be heard quizzing kids for beginning sounds of words in the back seat of Danny the Dragon at Happy Hollow-when all their kid wants to do is admire the simulated castle with Rapunzel and Snow White smiling at them from the window. One dreaming of Princeton, one dreaming of princesses; the juxtaposition of parent and child has begun.
Others point out the dangers of the climbing structure and shout out warnings at every turn. Some are finding historical and mathematical significance in all the sandbox has to offer; gently explaining the physics behind every falling grain of sand before their child gleefully stomps down the castle.
I have been all of the above. We are always multi-tasking. And it comes from a place of love. We worry about what we are teaching our children and what we are not; how to protect them, and how to prepare them. At the crux of our duplicity might be that we have lost something we were not prepared to lose: the ability to make decisions free of fear.
In parenthood, nothing is black and white. We read everything we can get our hands on and concur with scientific reason, only to turn our back on it in a whim of emotion. Because as parents, we are often overcome with the weight of our love for our children. In trying to do the best for our kids, we often live in the grey area wondering if we are doing it right.
As parents, we are always waiting for the green light, the thumbs up. Then it sneaks up on us— a small body wrapped around our leg, a no-occasion handcrafted card, a proud Look-At-Me! glance from atop the climbing structure, a tiny, perfect hand in ours…telling us Everything is OK.