Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Joy in the Shadows

I worried before becoming a parent that I wouldn't have the patience to do it, and it's true, I often don't. There are times I have to walk away, times I have to look at my husband with "I need you to take this one" all over my face, times I pray, and times I fail (utterly) and have to start again.

I worried about having the stamina not to collapse on the couch after a day at work and/or a sleepless night—and that part, to be fair, can be difficult. But as it is with most things, that stamina comes with time and practice, and even when you're pushed beyond your limits, still one day passes into the next.

Most of what I worried about, though, was that I wouldn't have the patience to slow down and be content in the moments that would require me to shelve my intellect and do what it takes to keep a baby entertained. When I used to babysit (not a terribly common occurrence), I'd come home exhausted to my core and ready to dive back into a book. I found the playing/pretending part to be the mother of all energy drains. When my friends started having kids, I always found them a bit of a mix of terribly cute and completely terrifying, because it appeared from the outside that every day would feel never-ending, a countdown towards bedtime. While I knew I wanted children of my own, how to navigate the first years was such a mystery to me.

In short, I was worried that the unexciting, mundane, everyday parts of parenting (i.e. the 99%) would leave me bored, exhausted, and largely miserable.

Yes, there are snippets of each of these things. For sure. Mostly exhaustion, which precipitates misery, at least in my case. Boredom, I've found, is a relatively rare thing, at least in the traditional sense of wishing for something to do. Because there is always so, so much to do. The only thing I've felt that could be loosely classified as boredom are the moments you wish for the remnants of your old life; not in the sense that you'd trade for them, but only the looking back to "before" and knowing you might have been well-served to appreciate that freedom in a different way. Because...hindsight.

I was afraid to listen too closely to when people say: "it's different when it's your own." I worried I might be the exception here, and I didn't want to be disappointed. So I closed my eyes and trusted that even if it turned out that I wasn't cut out for the first few years, they'd be over eventually. We'd get through them somehow, wouldn't we?

Little did I know that they were right. All of them. It IS different. It is exhausting and full of stretches beyond my limits, yes. I have never been so tired in all my life. But that's not what I'm left with at the end of it all; it's not how I sum up my days. Even on the hardest ones, the ones when I'm looking at everything through the mud-caked lens of exhaustion, I find it to be precisely the moments I was so unsure of—the slow strolls around the block, the endless game of dropping a cup, the peals of baby laughter at the most unexpected times—that trump the everything else that is so hard. That give me fuel to approach the dawn of another day, that bring joy into the shadows of this great work of raising a human. Those are the moments that save me. It's a truth I couldn't have planned better myself—that where I expected to fall into failure is exactly where I've stumbled into redemption.


  1. Beautiful post! So well said! I have often called it "the mommy muscle". It builds up over time...things get "easier", in that things that overwhelmed you at first all the sudden become not a big deal, and it's just that mommy muscle getting stronger and more capable. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Yes, Jill, exactly! My mommy muscle is getting stronger, but I still look at people with more than one kid and freeeeak out—you're a super hero as far as I'm concerned. Hope you're doing well and are enjoying your pregnancy! :)

  2. I am enamored by your writing. (I still think you should have won.) I really can't speak to any of the actual mothering parts because there's nothing I could add, nothing you didn't touch on, nothing except, yes me too. And truly, truly, truly, Katie, you are a magnificent writer.

    1. Well, shucks. And you can speak to ALL of the mothering parts, times 1000000.