A friend of mine is pregnant with her first baby and it got me thinking about how delusional I was when I was pregnant with my first baby 12 years ago. Now, almost 11 years later, my life is beginning once again to resemble that of an adult human being. And so, from this lofty position, here’s what my 44 year old self, mother of 2, ages 10 and 8, would say to my then 32 year old self, on the verge of becoming a parent:
1. Write off the next ten years. Just. Write. Them. Off. The next decade of your life will devolve into something unrecognizable. Right now you are fit, organized and ambitious, you fancy yourself learned and literary, you wear cute shoes. You are a paragon of confidence, stylish in your Pea In The Pod tunic and leggings, shoulders back and belly bulging, announcing you’ll buy a jogger! Kettlebell those abs back into shape! Make baby food from scratch! Scrapbook!
Self, bask in this illusion. In a matter of mere weeks you will trade your kitten heels for Dansko’s in dark colors and the most effort you will make on your personal appearance is for your post-delivery OB/GYN appointment because at least your doctor will pay attention to you. You will tell yourself this is a phase, that it will pass when … the baby sleeps through the night… turns 1… starts walking … turns 2 … goes to preschool … goes to Kindergarten … and on it goes until one day, despite your best effort, your 10 year old tells you that your butt is oddly squishy and makes a nice pillow, and as this truth sinks horribly in you will look around at the disorganized mess of your house, struggling to remember both your first and middle name, and you will realize T.S.Eliot did not know just how right he was, and this is how the world ends. Go ahead: lay your head on your arms and whimper.
2. When you exercise, everything will always hurt. You will never string together more than a few days or weeks of consistent exercise, despite your best effort. Since you can’t get consistent exercise, every time you do manage a workout, it will feel like you are exercising for the very first time in your whole entire life. Bravely, you will go out for a run, but your thighs will chafe and you will struggle to suppress the irrational thought that you might have a collapsed lung. You’ll scrap running and decide to take up cycling — it has cool gear and cyclists have great butts (cf. the pillow comment above). But after an excruciating hour in the saddle your private parts will hurt in ways that make you wonder if bipedalism is even worth it. So, swimming! YES! You will become a swimmer, only to realize that after a mere 15 minutes of intermittent, gasping laps you are ready to eat your dashboard on the drive home. The smattering of calories you managed to burn while mostly hanging onto the side of the pool is nothing compared to the food you will scarf later, and so you will decide that something is wrong with this sport and … wait for it… you will try running again. Repeat this ad nauseam for the Next Ten Years.
3. Whatever mad organizational skills you think you have will fail utterly when confronted with your children’s plastic toys.You will start out self-righteously buying expensive wooden toys from Melissa & Doug and you will bask in the sweet aether of superiority until one day you will look around and realize somehow, despite your best effort, your house is littered with extruded plastic crap that has magically, satanically proliferated in your home. You will swear that plastic procreates, breeds in the dark hours of the night, because how else do you explain tiny plastic shoes and helmets and horse bridles all over the floor? No taxonomy or organizational model on earth can cope with Polly Pockets and My Lego Friends and OMG The Rainbow Loom toy-from-the-pit-of-hell. You pick up, sort and label for weeks on end while the voice of Jim McKay loops endlessly in your brain … Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat…” and you realize Vinko Bogataj has nothing on you. He wiped out once. You collapse in a heap at the end of every day, only to discover you are sitting … on a tiny plastic shoe.
4. Your prayer life will be radically transformed. Remember how you used to awake at first light, keen to talk through the day ahead with God, daydream about what might unfold, excited for the adventure? Now, you will lay there in bed at zero-dark-thirty, wondering why you can’t feel your legs and praying dear God, please let there be enough salami for at least one sandwich I can carve up for both girls oh God help me get Out Of This Bed and please oh please can I achieve telekinesis for one precious moment so I can turn the coffee pot while supine? Your conversations with God may slightly improve as the day progresses, but despite your best effort, the days of focused prayer are over. Gone. Not for lack of desire, but accumulating sleep deprivation will have the net effect of making it impossible for two thoughts to connect in your head, let alone thinking those thoughts in the general direction of God. I refer you to point 1 above: just write these years off. Amen.
5. You will suck at everything important. Yep. Everything. Oh you’ll have moments of brilliance when your children are showered and well-behaved, eating organic microgreens with a fork and offering each other the bread basket first while smugly you suspect you might be the best parent ever to walk the Earth. But then something will happen – usually within a millisecond – to prove you horribly, breathtakingly wrong about your parenting props. You will then realize that despite your best effort, entropy has prevailed and the unassailable trend of your entire decade has been down and out. The crowning blow will be the moment you realize that sleep deprivation (see #4 above) has ensured that even if you have had competent parenting moments, you have no memory of them whatsoever.
So, dear 32 year old self, go easy on yourself. Despite your best effort, you are going to fail. Over and over again. Embrace it. Own it. You go gurl! Mostly be kind to all the rest of those failing parents – the stay at home ones and the gainfully employed ones, the ones who send their kid to school with beans and a can opener for lunch, the ones who still wear kitten heels and pretend they have it all together. Let grace prevail.
And for the love of all that is holy, do not EVER let your ten year old turn your butt into a pillow.