My firstborn turned nine last weekend. As I looked back over pictures and memories of previous celebrations, I came across a blog post I wrote a few weeks before her birth. As I’d approached the end of my pregnancy, people kept asking me if I was “ready” for her to arrive. This is what I wrote:
“We’ve got all the gear (and then some): crib, mattress, sheets, dresser, changing pad, stroller, car seat, bouncy chair, activity mat, playpen, diapers, wipes, onesies, bibs, hats, socks, sleep sacks, swaddle wraps, rattles, bottles, teethers, toys… We’ve taken classes and know how to change a diaper, bathe a baby, and check for jaundice… I’ve read a bunch of books on birth and know the stages of labor, when to call my doctor, and the pros and cons of various medical interventions… But I would describe all of that as being ‘prepared.’ I’m not sure you can ever really be ready for your first child.
Can you really be ready for the sheer intensity of birth? Can you really be ready for the weight of responsibility that comes with the arrival of a teeny creature utterly dependent on you? Can you really be ready to have your entire world restructured because this new little being is at its center? Can you really be ready to love something that much?
Am I ready? I have no idea. But I am EXCITED!”
Looking back, I can now say with confidence that no, I was not remotely “ready.”
My oldest daughter made me a mother, but it wasn’t an easy transformation for me. I badly underestimated the experience of childbirth and came through it disappointed in myself and feeling betrayed by my body, emotions that took several years to process and release.
I wasn’t ready for the first difficult weeks and months – the exhaustion, the confusion, and the irrational but powerful fear that if you looked away for even a second, the precious being in your arms might stop breathing. I wasn’t ready to juggle working and parenting. I wasn’t ready for my 4:45am wakeup call each morning, necessary if I was going to get my daughter to daycare by 6am and thereby avoid the worst traffic in my morning commute across the city.
Time passed and more kids arrived, but I don’t think I was any more ‘ready’ for them. Breastfeeding was easier, fewer diapers leaked, but as they grew bigger and developed (strong) personalities, I realized I wasn’t ready for the emotional ins and outs of parenting. Heck, why would I be when I had so little experience? I was never a “kid person” growing up. I babysat a little bit but didn’t enjoy it. I have a crystalline memory a four-year-old girl in my care heaving a child-sized chair at my head and nearly taking out her parents’ television in the process. At the time, I thought she was nuts. Now I realize I was just lucky that her aim wasn’t very good.
My daughter asked me about sex when she was six years old. I was not ready.
Now she’s in elementary school and beginning to navigate the uncertain terrain of cliques and ‘frenemies’ and the emotional minefield of evolving friendships. Lord have mercy, who is ever ready for that?
But we adapt and carry on. I survived the commute and my children survived infancy at my hands. I watch my daughter grow and change and thrive and I am overcome with love. She is fierce one moment and fragile the next, breathtakingly smart and heartbreakingly sensitive. She loves with an intensity that will move mountains and possesses an unwavering need for justice that could truly change the world.
Nine years ago, my firstborn made me a mother. Now she continues to make and re-make me as we learn and love each other. She often makes me laugh, sometimes makes me crazy, and always makes me proud. She is my guinea pig and my grindstone. She sharpens and polishes me – and yes, sometimes she wears me down. We’re barreling toward double digits now with the specter of the teenage years looming on the horizon. Am I ready? Probably not. But I am excited.