Sixteen months ago I became a first-time mother. Kind friends and family members have told me I'm a natural, that I've blended into this motherhood role easily. Oh, really? I would have sworn the word rookie (or better yet, clueless) was imprinted on my forehead for all to see. But I'm not totally to blame. These kind friends and family members failed to tell me some important things about becoming a mom. Here's what I've learned (better late than never!) about this strange new world of motherhood:
You'll Carry a Bag the Size of North America
Once I was brave enough to venture out into society with my baby (I believe he was seven months old), I realized I'd need to bring along nearly everything in my son's nursery. Thankfully, a wise friend had given us the perfect shower gift—a handy piece of luggage known as the diaper bag. The bag she'd selected for us was big enough to hold 56 diapers, 3 tubs of wipes, 8 changes of clothing, 20 burp cloths, 12 bottles, and enough toys to pacify 30 screaming babies. It was tough, but I made it hold everything we'd need for our 15-minute run to the store.
You'll Actually Enjoy Watching PBS!
I've made new friends while staying at home—from a big purple dinosaur to clowns to furry puppets of every shape and variety. And while I'd long agreed with those who criticize setting your child in front of the television set and coming back to get him twelve years later, I now find myself drawn not only to children's shows but to documentaries and special programs—the kind I used to view to cure my insomnia! All of a sudden I have a strong interest in the mating rituals of insects and the secrets of gourmet Cajun cooking, who knew?!
Maybe it's the calm, soothing voices of the public television announcers. Ultimately, I think it's the fact that the most rewarding type of entertainment for children (and myself) is the kind from which you can learn something worthwhile—even on TV.
You'll Think Your Appliances Are Gifts from God!
I've noticed my attitude toward household items has changed. For example, I've fallen in love with my washer and dryer. Once we moved into our little house right after Jonathon was born and adopted our very own washer and dryer, I was filled with excitement when I discovered I could clean our clothes at ANY time of day without having to spit out endless quarters! With my newborn son going through 28 sets of clothing a day, I desperately needed my beloved appliances. They stood by me during those times and truly brightened and whitened my days.
I try not to let my washer and dryer know this, but now that Jonathon can walk, I'm starting to feel the same way about my cordless phone. Whereas the first relationship gave me stability in those messy times, my cordless phone now brings wonderful freedom to my life.
I have to be careful not to wander too far in my appliance adoration. A friend was telling me about a mother who actually has a headset phone—the type phone operators use to free up both hands. My heart started to race. Sweat beaded up on my trembling palms. Then she told me she thought the prerequisite was having at least eight kids.
Well, we'll see.
You'll Become the Ultimate One-Upper
As my initial overwhelming feelings of inadequacy fade and I gain confidence in this world of motherhood, I feel as though I'm finally able to play with the big kids.
I've even boldly jumped into a game of "Well, MY child. . . " You know the game. Men compete, women compare. It starts with honest intentions of asking other moms to describe their children's latest achievements: "How old was Junior when he first started walking?" Then it progresses to the unique questions: "Where was the strangest place you ever found Cheerios?" Finally you hit the all-inevitable round of I Am the Queen of Pain. "My labor was 76 hours long in a jammed elevator during an earthquake!"
It's fun to finally be able to play these games with the veterans, though I rarely win. It also tends to wreck my memory, too. My husband has to keep reminding me that I did not give birth to Jonathon while on a safari in Africa.
You'll Discover that "Child Proof" Was More of a Joke than a Guarantee
One of the cliches everyone tells you before your baby is born is true: "Your child will learn something new every day." But these cliches fail to mention the kinds of things they learn every day.
For example, Jonathon's learned a great deal about childproof items. Our son laughs in the face of safety devices. He's single-handedly dismantled the toilet lock, cabinet locks, gate lock, and his favorite chew toy—the oven lock.
His latest favorite toy is a car. Our car. He must have sweet dreams of driving in the Indy 500 (funny—that's my nightmare) because he wakes up every day wanting to sit in the front seat of our van and "drive." It seemed cute and harmless the first time. But just this week he learned how to open the door and climb into the seat. Before we know it we may find him driving across the state border—if he ever finds out where we keep the keys.
Your Child Will Be Your Greatest Teacher
When I entered this world of motherhood, I was well aware I'd take on the job of raising this child for years to come. What I wasn't aware of was how much this child would teach me.
Although some of his favorite things include the vacuum, his dad's golf clubs, and the maple syrup bottle, his all-time favorites are other children. It's amazing to see how excited Jonathon gets when he sees or gets to play with another child. Jonathon's prerequisite for being his friend is you have to breathe. That's it. That's the way it should be.
He also reminds me that it really doesn't take that much to be content. All it takes is a snack in the middle of the day, plenty of sleep, a dry diaper (so to speak), frequent hugs, and chances to explore the exciting world around us—even if it's only in the backyard. Everything else that once seemed necessary just falls away.
Finally, Jonathon taught me early on the meaning and importance of unconditional love. It was the first time we met—that moment when I held him and felt a devotion like none I'd ever experienced. This tiny, beautiful miracle had done nothing to impress me or earn my love; he hadn't yet learned how to say "Mama" or take those first steps or unroll all the toilet paper. He simply was. And I knew from then on I'd love him just the same, regardless of his future successes and failures. I know he'll always be my beloved baby, even when he someday towers over me. And I'll remember to thank him for being the one who first sent me on this wild, wonderful trip to motherhood.
Kim Neesen, a former school teacher, lives in Colorado with her husband and son.