On Motherhood (originally published Sept 2007)

Reposting this, one of my first ever posts, by request. This was written before I even had a blog, about 7 1/2 years ago, and reading it tonight brought a smile, remembering those days and those sweet little girls that are growing up so fast. Hope it makes you smile.

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I used to be very smart. I went 9 years without making any grade less than an A through elementary, middle and high school, and even a year of college. I graduated co-valedictorian of my high school class with 17 college credits under my belt. I graduated college summa cum laude and the number one student in my major. After all that, however, I chose not to go on to graduate school. Instead, within a month after college graduation I was pregnant. Maybe, just maybe, if I had just gone on to graduate school, that’s where I would have learned the answers to the mysteries of motherhood that awaited me.

Before my first daughter, Abigail, was a month old, I discovered the truth: no matter how smart or accomplished I was pre-children, I had obviously donated those intelligent brain cells to my beautiful child, who screamed from morning until night leaving me feeling absolutely clueless for the first time in my life. Although we finally figured out that first mystery (reflux), little did I know how many mysteries still lay ahead, mysteries that would soon convince me beyond a doubt that the smart person I used to be was packed away somewhere with my senior book, prom napkin, and cap and gown. Four years and 2 more children after the birth of Abigail, I unashamedly confess that in the area of motherhood, I am completely ignorant, finding something new to baffle me nearly every day.

For example, where is that infant that all the books talk about? The one that settles into a schedule that includes 3 naps a day, sleeping all night, and perfectly predictable feeding times by the time they’re four weeks old. Daughter #1 cried morning, noon, and night for the first five weeks, due to reflux. Daughter #2 cried morning, noon, and night for the first five months, due to colic. Daughter #3, at 6 weeks, has neither reflux nor colic, but cries anyway. I think she just wants to fit in.

Then there is the eating mystery. My first two daughters cheerfully ate almost every variety of baby food that we offered them, and then accepted most of the first varieties of table food that they were given. Peas, carrots, guava, papaya, mashed potatoes, yogurt—they ate and enjoyed it all. For a while. The mystery lies in that secret ingredient. The one that the manufacturers and chefs have inserted in chicken nuggets, french fries, ketchup, butter, cheese, and of course, chocolate that somehow programs the minds of children to accept these foods and no others. Period. I would pay good money for that ingredient. Maybe if I included it in my lasagna or meatloaf, Abigail could eat her 2 required bites in less than 45 minutes with no tears, and Catherine’s food would not be found in seven different locations around the house after we thought she had eaten.

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Along the same line, I still haven’t discovered what is always wrong with Catherine’s dishes. Something must be wrong with them, because at every meal, whether she’s given a plate or a bowl, spoon or a fork, or even just a paper towel, she methodically—with her fingers—takes piece by piece, bite by bite, and places them beside the dish directly on the table before she eats them. When she’s eating a snack of Goldfish crackers this is not a huge deal. But it gets kind of messy when we’re having chicken noodle soup, spaghetti, or oatmeal. Then, after getting her food correctly arranged on the table, she eats—with her fingers while holding the spoon or fork in her other hand—and somehow manages to cover her lap, face, ears, arms, hair, and most of the floor underneath with her food. The mystery here is that even with all the food that I clean up (or the dog licks up) after every meal, she still somehow manages to gain weight at a healthy rate. Apparently, the equivalent of two bites per meal is adequate nutrition for a toddler.

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The mysteries do not all involve food. For example, while the body of my firstborn looks like that of a normal, healthy, four-year-old girl, in reality it apparently houses dozens of different characters and personalities. Other children have imaginary friends—Abigail has multiple personalities. Somehow, although she’s never been to London and does not have a British heritage, she has a flawless British accent that comes out for various characters, including all the Disney princesses and “Mother.” When she is a boy, like Brother Bear or Peter Pan (2 frequent members of our household), her whole demeanor changes, including her voice and manner of speaking. As if keeping up with her current character isn’t difficult enough as she often goes through 3 or 4 characters in any given 15 minute period, she is also skilled at being 3 or 4 people at the same time, carrying on conversations with herself in different genders, voices, and mannerisms, never once making a mistake. She then assigns roles to the rest of us, so that no one is ever completely clear who anyone else is. How my 4 year old can keep all of this straight when I’m doing good to remember my own name most days, is definitely a mystery to me.

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Next, we have the all too common mystery of the uncanny ability of children to take full advantage of any amount of time Mom is preoccupied. Whether I’m nursing the baby, trying to buy car insurance over the phone, or—their favorite—using the bathroom, I can be sure that I will have a mess to clean up, a fight to break up, or a boo-boo to kiss when I’m finished. Catherine loves to use these times to empty things out, like my water jug, the saltshaker, or all the videos off the shelf and out of their cases. Abigail, on the other hand, prefers to take advantage of these opportunities to sneak into the bathroom and try out new products, like my makeup, Daddy’s aftershave, the baby’s lotion. She usually tries them on herself, but she has been known to give Catherine a good shampoo, fully-clothed of course, once or twice. It’s always with fear and trepidation that I seek them out when I finish a task.

There are countless other mysteries of which every mom is aware. When I’m driving down the road with Abigail needing to potty “Right now!” and Elisabeth twenty minutes overdue for a feeding and announcing it loudly, and Catherine crying just because everyone else is, why is every traffic light red? Why do I suddenly become invisible when I am trying to get myself, my rambunctious four-year-old, my diaper bag, and my enormous double stroller through the door of the mall and four other people go through the other door, oblivious to my struggle? Why do my children still wake up at 6:45 regardless of how late they got into bed the night before? How can a child not even two years old be so incredibly skilled at knowing exactly what buttons to push to drive her sister up the wall? Perhaps the most mysterious of all, what do children have against the weather report on TV, stopping whatever they were quietly doing to come up with needs and questions that absolutely must be addressed RIGHT NOW when they catch me trying to watch a 30 second forecast?

Yes, the ways of children are very mysterious. But there is one more great mystery of motherhood. How—after a long day filled with tears, arguments, noise, messes, dirty diapers, more tears, questions that don’t make sense, questions I don’t know the answers for, still more tears, battles over food, rescuing Elisabeth from Catherine’s “help,” and even more tears—can one smile, one unexpected hug, one “Oh, thank you, Mommy!” instantly overcome the headache, the weariness, and the frustration and make my heart sing again? It must be solely due to the grace of God, Who has given me these three priceless gifts to treasure. Thank You, God, for my girls and for the joy they bring to my life. I know one day all too soon this chaotic period will be but a memory and, forgetting all the negatives, I’ll actually miss these days. But for now, I really need to go. Catherine’s dumping all the goldfish out of the bag.

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