Can you remember the person or persona you were prior to having children? In my twenties, I remember participating in a 3-week volunteer Army program in Israel with a girlfriend. We lived in an army barrack with one shower and twenty women, then, off to Paris we flew, followed by a train to Amsterdam a few days later. We didn’t even have a place to stay when we got there, but somehow we managed. Today, I would never entertain travel without an itinerary, hotel accommodations, or confirmations.
As a former New Yorker (well, I still consider myself a New Yorker at heart) I took the bus and subway everywhere! I didn’t have a car, in fact, I didn’t even learn how to drive until I moved out of NY at 23. Now, the mere thought of taking the metro makes me break out into hives, and the idea of standing and waiting for a bus is nothing short of plebian.
I used to love driving in my little, zippy, red Plymouth Colt to visit my family in New York. It was exciting being on the open road, on my own, going home where my family would clamor around me with questions about my independent life. The ride usually took around 4 hours because I just preferred to keep on driving with minimal stops. Now, driving to New York in my big, ole, minivan with two kids arguing in the back, and stops every two hours or so because someone has to go to the bathroom…(and it’s usually me), makes me cringe with trepidation. Moreover, no one clamors around me anymore, because let’s face it, the kids get all the attention.
Do you remember when an older sibling or good friend had their first child and you smugly thought their method of child rearing vastly needed improvement? Is it even possible to be that sanctimonious in your twenties? The answer is yes. I think I was a much better mother before I had kids. I was the aunt “whisperer” who insisted that she possessed the magical touch that could turn any crabby, colicky non-sleeping infant into Rip Van Winkle. I was the boundless twenty- something with endless energy and patience to play even the most boring and tedious games with my nephew and nieces while their parents took a break.
None of these skills were even remotely evident when my own daughter didn’t sleep for a year. My desperate solution back then was to place her in a car seat at 3 a.m. on top of the dryer in the cold, dark basement, or to drive her around the neighborhood in the wee morning hours. Some baby whisperer.
On one family vacation many years ago, I remember my nieces (who were very young at the time), were mercilessly arguing with each other over some ridiculous issue like, who got more ice cream. It was sibling rivalry 101 and I could tell my very weary looking brother was about to blow…and he did. At that point, I was in my thirties, married and pregnant with my first child and I had very staunch ideas about parenting. At the time, I was clearly not impressed with my brother’s resolution skills. I mean, what happened to talking, compromising, or finding a viable solution so that both girls would feel good about the outcome? I firmly resolved in my head, that I would not handle my children that way…because I knew better. (You see what’s coming, right)?
Flash forward to my children (ages 6 and 10) sitting at the table this morning needling each other over some ridiculous issue, where one was clearly trying to just annoy the other. I yelled at them to just, “Cut it out!” and”Why do we have to go through this stuff every morning? “ Then, I angrily reprimanded each one individually. Now, when I reminisce about that family vacation long ago, I applaud my brother for refraining from killing his kids right there on the spot.
In the course of my writing, I once wrote a children’s story a few years back where a young girl wants to eat her breakfast in bed. At first, the mother says no, but then she reverses her decision and surprises the daughter by joining her in bed with her cup of coffee. The little girl is delighted that her mother breaks the rules and they enjoy a lovely morning.
I am also a better mother in my writing because the only thing about that story that would have mimicked real life is that I would be drinking coffee. Before children, I probably would have engaged in such activity without a second thought. However, my control- freak self (which developed after I had kids) never would have allowed my child to eat cereal in bed risking crumbs, spills, soggy bedding, ants, and just overall pandemonium. The real mother would have engaged in a morning showdown complete with meltdowns and pathetic pleas followed by the dreaded foot stamp, or the grunt (I would be doing the grunting, by the way). Hmmm… I don’t think I’m up for any Mother of the Year Awards.
Clearly, we undergo many changes personally, physically, and philosophically after we have kids to the point where we sometimes become only the shadow of our former selves. Sure, there are some days where I wistfully sigh for the adventurous, smug individual I used to be, but I don’t know if the twenty- something- me would fit very well into my forty-something- me existence.
My twenties and even early thirties seemed to focus on trying to be perfect. I tried to show-up my siblings that I knew more about parenting than they did, eventhough I didn’t have kids. This just doesn’t fly in my forties, because, clearly, I am NOT perfect. It’s liberating, actually, to release yourself from the realization that you don’t have to be perfect, and while I may have been a better mother before kids, my children don’t seem to know the difference.
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