Last week, we celebrated Blue's 3rd birthday. THIRD. 0-3.
How in the hell did that happen?
Wasn't he just a few days old, sucking passionately on a pacifier and waking up every 3 hours on the dot? How did he become a strutting, singing, ball of energy? Did I blink and miss something?
Oh, no wait...I didn't miss a thing. I remember it all now...just like it was yesterday. Three years of self-doubt, anxiety, wonder, giggles, heartache, fear, laughter, tears, lack of self-confidence, hopes, power struggles, losing patience, finding patience at the bottom of an afternoon espresso, building confidence, tearing down stacks of blocks, regret, tender kisses on the cheek, first words, angry words, cuddles, new toys, old habits, finding my feet as a mother, trusting my husband to find his.
Three years of parenting, starting from scratch.
Throughout it all, the underlying thread of my time as a mother has been fear. Fear that I will drop his tiny 8 lb body during a hand-off in the hospital. Fear that he will choke on a Cheerio and die. Fear that the scratch on his leg is actually a brown recluse spider bite or that the fall he took off the couch will result in internal bleeding or that he's going to develop rickets because he's such a damn picky eater. Fear that I will have to say goodbye to another child. Tami, a friend and Gold Star Mother, said it best. She commented on her blog one day that the only time she didn't worry about her grown son was after he was killed in Afghanistan. I didn't get it then, but I live it everyday now. I am always aware that we've put all of our eggs into this Blue basket and even if he had a sibling, I would be just as anxious about his/her safety and well-being.
After Blue turned 1 week old, Mom and Anna went home. When he turned 3 weeks old, Neal went back to work. And I began my new job...one that I was completely unqualified for with no prior training or experience. I had taken 8 years to finish college. I had quit my career as a fitness professional. I had bailed on my career as a massage therapist. I was an incoherent disaster in the morning. Every morning. I had a tendency to cuss with the slightest provocation.
I was going to completely eff this up.
When Blue was about 6 months old, after I had accidentally dropped my iPhone on his head in the park and introduced avocados 3 months too early and watched helplessly from across the room as he rolled off the bed and onto the slightly padded hotel room floor, I messaged my friend. Her daughter was about 5 at the time. She must have some answers. I asked her when she felt comfortable as a mom. At what point did she feel like she had this? Her reply? About 6 months.
I was so screwed.
For the next 18 months, I felt frumpy, hormonally imbalanced, anxious, worried and utterly unfashionable. I wore my black yoga pants until they sprang a hole in a rather conspicuous spot. All of my clothes were snug, except for my sports bras, which stretched and sagged under the new weight. I refused to buy anything bigger because any day now, all of this extra baby weight I had picked up in the last 8 weeks of pregnancy was just going to drop right off as I jumped over a mud puddle or something. It had already over-stayed its welcome so annnny day now....
Was I depressed? Yes, somewhat. Was I overwhelmed and completely exhausted? Absolutely. Did I contemplate taking Blue with me into the river? No. Not for one single second. I was in complete awe of this tiny human we created and I woke up each day eager to see what he would do next. It was all a big adventure, albeit an anxious one fraught with danger and peril from the outside world. We waded in cautiously and congratulated ourselves heartily when we found we had survived another day. Sometimes, though, we didn't wait until Neal was walking in the door. Some days were bad and he found me pacing the driveway, ready for a hand-off and the keys to any car without an infant seat. Some days I understood how women could cross over to the darker side of motherhood.
If I could write a letter to Blue's Mommy of 3 years ago, I would tell her that:
1. At 1 day old, he's never going to leap from your arms to his death on the tiled hospital floor.
2. Ignore the voices and skip the articles that suggest you are abusing your child by giving him formula for the first year. He is in the 81st percentile for weight and 90th percentile for height. Similac didn't kill him.
3. Let him be naked more. And if pedophiles freak you out that bad, just close the damn blinds.
4. Wear him more and get more done. Gazing lovingly upon an infant who's thrashing about on a play yard makes a great Johnson & Johnson commercial but it's not realistic. There are better ways to bond.
5. Ignore the co-sleeper critics. He will become an epic cuddler and it will give you immeasurable joy.
6. Play more, worry less. Neal will show you how.
7. Let others care for him, too. He will show you, eventually, that he thrives even when you aren't there to see it. He can be cared for by other adults and you need that space from time to time. Find a babysitter. Pay her well.
8. Read to him more. At 3, he only wants to sit still for books on his terms. Enjoy those times when you can still do things at your will.
9. Not every outfit has to match. Not every shirt has to have a collar.
10. Let him see you sweat. Even if it's Wii-Zumba in the living room. Make a little time each day to work out. And this is no time for Mom Guilt. Neal's got this. He will show you a thousand times over that he knows how to be a fantastic dad.
11. PBS has not ruined a child yet. Someone will comment on your lax TV rules, but there is much to learn from Daniel Tiger, Cat in the Hat and Curious George.
12. Juice is not the devil. Neither are hotdogs, s'mores, gummy snacks, popcorn, chocolate chip waffles nor cheese. He hates ice cream, cotton candy and pasta but loves almost every fruit you set in front of him. These are all small victories that you will learn to celebrate.
13. You don't need a house full of toys. You need a couple of worms, a frog or 2, a box of sand and some measuring cups. Save the thousands of dollars you'll give to V-Tech, Thomas the Train, Melissa & Doug and fly yourselves to somewhere exotic.
14. Trust in yourself. Know that when you are in the moment, you will find the right words to say or the right thing to do. And if you don't find them in that moment, you will find them in the next one. Others may criticize, pass judgment, question or even doubt what you are doing, but you are his Mommy. You will always do what you think is best for his well-being so everyone else can eat rocks.
I'm a little sad for the Ally of 3 years ago. I wish she had felt more empowered to raise up a child. I wish she had put on a pantyliner and gone for a run. Or maybe hired a babysitter and taken an art class. She was consumed to the point of burning. It was not sustainable.
Today, my walking, talking, skipping, jumping, singing, screaming, story-telling, loving, kind, silly three-nager said to me, "Mommy, we're a team." He has no idea what it means, but he couldn't be more accurate. Hand-in-hand, we cross roads, walk through doors, learn from one another and teach each other. We've both come a long way...to the moon and back, in just 3 years.