It was my first Mother’s Day and we had already been to the ER.
Landon had been developing a cough for a few days, then it suddenly got worse. Nothing serious. He didn’t have a fever, he was eating fine, he wasn’t fussy at all. But the wheezing sounded bad, so, on the recommendation of a phone-a-nurse, we took him to the hospital.
It made me think about what I know — or, more like, don’t know — about being a mom.
Nothing prepares you for raising a human life form. I thought my years helping take care of my little sister — she’s 12 years younger than me — would have given me some sort of headstart on motherhood. Not really. I mean, sure, I knew how to change diapers and sterilize bottles, but that’s about it. I wasn’t prepared for inconsolable crying, pee everywhere and, when an infant gets sick, there isn’t much you can do about it.
I spent the last few days listening to my son’s raspy breathing, worrying about him while he slept, and reading about homeopathic remedies online. And I still don’t have the answers.
Motherhood is a crapshoot, isn’t it? The only thing I’ve really learned from this experience (so far) is that there are infinite ways to do it, and who cares as long as the child is safe and healthy.
If you had asked me what I had learned two months ago, I likely would have said that pacifiers are a lifesaver, swaddling is a must, and that I couldn’t live without the Fisher-Price Newborn Rock ‘N Play Sleeper.
But now, Landon prefers his thumbs to pacifiers, he can’t sleep in his swaddle anymore, and the sleeper bores him. It all changed so fast! (And I have so many pacifiers and swaddles!)
I have pregnant girlfriends or new moms who ask me for advice. While I’m more than happy to share everything I’ve learned, I’ve quickly realized what works for me doesn’t always work for others. And my way of doing things — from swearing by Pampers Swaddlers to our decision to use glass bottles instead of plastic ones — isn’t for everyone. I completely stopped breastfeeding at three months (I totally dried up). We’ve put Landon in his crib for bedtime since he was three weeks old. I started feeding him bananas and poi at five months. I take him hiking and to the beach. I’ve slathered on sunscreen before he’s old enough (six months) to actually use it. I let my dogs lick him. It’s just what I do.
It’s very easy to judge other moms. I totally get it. I’ve been judged, I’ve judged, we’ve all done it. But I’ve learned that, unless they’re overtly abusing their kids, it’s really none of my business.
I’ve asked for help and advice, and I’ve taken bits and pieces from everyone. My calabash cousin Cathy taught me about sleep training and I’ve stuck with it. My girlfriend Leilani reminded me about the benefits of having a dishwasher. My other girlfriend Lezlie helped me figure out how to travel to Japan with a newborn. My mom showed me how to give Landon a bath and feed him solid food without getting it everywhere.
And I’ve definitely doled out advice, too. Lots of it.
Here’s the thing: Kids are different. Mothers are different. Dads are different. Situations are different. Homes, lifestyles, philosophies — all different. But we all want the same thing: happy, healthy kids. There are just numerous ways to get there.
I’ve always thought I’d be a mom like my own mom. But it turns out, we’re two completely different people. She would never take us and three dogs hiking. (She wouldn’t have three dogs to begin with.) And, not a big fan of the beach, she had no plans to take us surfing. She loved staying home with us; I can’t wait to get out and explore. She loves this infant stage; I need him to walk and make his own breakfast. We’re just different. And while I completely value her advice — and use most of it — we both know I’m going to forge my own mothering path.
Motherhood isn’t some magical existence. It’s not what you see on Instagram, all these happy (skinny) moms with happy (adorable) babies, all who seem to relish every single waking and sleeping moment of life. I asked a friend about it once — she’s one of those moms whose life seems idyllic and perfect on social media — and she told me just before she snapped this one pic of her smiling daughter, she (the mom) was covered in poop. A lot of poop. Not so idyllic anymore.
Social media shows a version of the truth. The good version. The pretty version. It doesn’t show you walking around the house like a zombie because your baby kept you up all night, crying and feeding and crying some more. It doesn’t show that pooch you can’t get rid of, no matter how much you breastfeed. It doesn’t show the disaster your house is in now because you don’t have time to clean it and you’re too broke to hire a housekeeper. It doesn’t show your pain, your despair, your frustration. But it’s all true.
But maybe it shows the best part, the reason why we love being moms. It shows our love, our sheer happiness, that feeling you get when your baby first smiles at you. Or laughs. Or squeals in delight. Or looks confused when you dance in front of him. These are the moments that make all the other ones — sleepless nights, your hair falling out, working in the middle of the night because that’s the only free time you have — worthwhile.
So what have I learned? That’s you just keep on learning.