I kept trying to write your 2nd birthday post, and I never could quite get it right. Then this morning I was sitting here, on the couch that I hunkered down on as I breathed through several hours of contractions this very day two years ago. I looked out our window and saw the trees budding and most miraculously of all, the tulips I thought would never grow have all poked through the dirt for the very first time in their lives. I sit here and I get that magic, butterfly feeling in my belly, the little chills of memories of the past and a deep wave of gratitude over the present.
Do you remember the letter I wrote you for your first birthday? I remember writing it. I remember crying and crying as I sat down at my laptop because that was such a big year. It was one of the hardest years of my entire life. A year where when I got to the end of it I was literally weeping with joy that we survived. Its sort of hard to admit that, that one of the hardest years of my life was one that is “supposed to” be one of the best. One that women look back on with misty eyes, where they go all mushy telling stories of rocking their sleeping babies and remembering what waves of oxytocin felt like bathing them in new-mommy love.
I had a hard time that year for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: sleep deprivation, body image issues, not losing the baby weight, going from a full-time job to working part time from home, social life basically disappearing, breastfeeding, feeling like something was wrong with me for not thinking this was the best time of my life, diaper explosions, not feeling like myself anymore, fear that I was not a good enough mom, feeling like I never had enough time, fear that my life would always feel this way.
This year was the same and different. It was hard, for sure, but this year was the one where joy started creeping through. This was the year that one day I woke up and decided that I was a good mom. It really happened like that. I woke up tired of feeling not enough and tired of comparing myself to other moms and tired of wishing I was more like so-and-so and tired of focusing on all the stuff I was “bad” at. I woke up in the morning and promised myself that from that day forward, I would believe I was a good mom. I may have needed to fake it for a while, but I was going to do it.
This was the year that things got easier. While people around me complained that they missed the newborn stage I finally started thinking, toddler stage is my jam. I kind of love all the big feelings a lot of the time. A tantrum is fun for no one, and gets reeaaaalllll testing after the 8th meltdown in 30 minutes, but it was much more my style than breastfeeding or tummy time or diaper explosions. I feel like I at least get to use my brain sometimes now. Like it isn’t away atrophying in my skull from the mind-numbing hours of one-sided newborn conversations.
I often hear mothers say “It took me months to feel like myself again.” I’ve said it too, but it never felt quite right. Because I am not the old me, and I will never be her again. I’ve been places and seen things and had experiences over these past two years that have fundamentally changed me as a human being. I am not the old Ashley anymore. I’m not nearly as selfish, as insecure, as well-rested, as thin, or as carefree as I used to be. I liked who I was before I had a baby, but I like who I am now a whole lot better. Being a mom has been humbling. The daily struggles that pull me into a deep vortex of “who am I/what am I doing/how am I going to do this?” help keep me soft. It’s not that women without kids can’t be soft and open and kind, but for me I’m not sure any other experience could have plunged me this hard, this fast into an all-encompassing realization that I really know nothing about life. I was pretty sure I had it all figured out before I became a mom. Like the tagline from that old MTV show, “True Life”: “You think you know, but you have NO IDEA.” And in my opinion, the place where you can admit you don’t know anything is the best, most honest and vulnerable yet empowering place to be.
This winter I was out to dinner with friends when a new friend was talking about her previous week. Her mother had went through surgery and she was taking care of her as she healed. She was talking about how tough it was, balancing that and working and doing normal life things. But instead of dipping into the vat of “not enough” she declared, “I felt like fucking superwoman.” Because she was doing it all. I haven’t forgot those words or her face when she said it. She was faced with a challenge of stretching herself thin and instead of worrying about what was falling behind or where she wasn’t doing enough she was praising herself. I spent the first 22 or so months of your life focusing on what I wasn’t doing enough of. But now, on your second birthday, I’m taking a page from my new friend’s book and declaring this – I am fucking superwoman.
Did you know I keep you safe and alive EVERY SINGLE DAY? Did you know I prepare and feed you every single meal? Did you know I singlehandedly kept you alive and growing and thriving and 99th percentile-ing off of breastfeeding alone for the first six months of your life and then kept going another six months even though you started eating food? Did you know I read you stories every single day and tuck you in for your nap every afternoon and change your dirty diapers and have actually not thrown up EVEN ONCE? Did you know I play with you even when I am tired and bored and crabby and overwhelmed? Did you know I work two jobs while you are sleeping and also manage to keep the house clean and the fridge full and the bills paid? And that even one time this winter I went to Pinterest for play ideas and ACTUALLY WENT TO A CRAFT STORE AND BOUGHT PINTEREST-Y STUFF AND WE ACTUALLY DID SOME OF THOSE THINGS THAT ONLY SUPERMOMS DO??
God, that first year was brutal. It was time and time and work and work and seeing absolutely zero reward for the most insane work you’ve ever done. But then this year, little by little some rewards started popping up. The universe must have known I needed a chatty, complementary child first. You tell me “Dat look kinda like mommy!” pretty much every time you see a blond princess. You say, “Oooohhh mommy, pitty haiwh (hair)! Pitty naiws (nails)!” and “Mommy have spah-cul (sparkle) eyes!” You say “Mommy is a nice guy.” and “Love you soooooo much, mommy!” and that one time daddy jumped outside the window to scare us and I screamed and dove for the floor you jumped on top of my back and hugged me and yelled “IS OK, MOMMY! I GOTCHU! I HODE YOU!” And that time I spilt the sauce I was mixing after a long day of WORK and I yelled an angry, angry curse word, and you asked me to come color. And I sat next to you and breathed through my anger and frustration because it was MORE THAN THE DAMN SAUCE. But I kept coloring and you looked at me with your big blue eyes and your heavy black lashes and stroked my arm gently and said it your softest, sweetest voice, “Good job colah-ing, mommy. Good colah-ing.”
This was the year I started having insane, crazy thoughts like “I could do this again.”
I could not have had another child first. You are the one who burrowed your way into my heart and pushed it open from the inside, and it hurt exactly as much as it sounds. You forced my heart to grow ten times its original size, just like the Grinch’s. It had to happen so fast that it made me feel crazy. It hurt. It fucking hurt. But oh my god, it was worth it. I am seeing that now, when I look at your sweet face, when you cling to me like a koala bear with love, when you sing ABCs and “Let it Go” and “read” from Goodnight Moon and say “I so fwus-tah-ated (frustrated)!” when throwing a tantrum and tell me you don’t want “reg-lah (regular) raisins” but instead want “choc-let raisins like Gammy and Papa feed Gia.”(P.S. – Grandparents – your secrets are no longer safe with G ;))
Last year we dressed you up in a pink dress and it was sort of surreal, remembering that one year ago that day was when you took your first breath, when I slowly and somewhat reluctantly started to be re-born myself. That first year was like an entire year of labor to me. The second year has been like an infancy. I spent it finally alive, in the real world, taking big breaths of air. I spent it figuring out the world around me. I still felt awkward and weak, like I was learning to hold my own head up for the first time, but I wasn’t really in pain anymore. The labor of my transformation was over, and this year I was alive.
You are the biggest and best and hardest and most incredible surprise I have ever received. Happy second birthday, baby.