The other day, we arrived at a celebratory gathering apparently looking spiffy: husband, toddler, bump and me. A single female friend shook her head and acknowledged some disbelief at our cheery appearance. “Is this really possible?” she asked. “I mean, I don’t know if things are really as great as they look, but you guys make it look really easy.”
Suddenly I felt icky, like I’d been fooling everybody. Apparently, by showing up for social events and looking like shiny happy people, I’d been giving friends and acquaintances who are childless or child-free the erroneous impression that this was easy. Or that even when it’s hard, we’re managing to do a great job.
I’m not so sure.
This friend hasn’t seen me on a weekday, especially on one of those weekdays when my husband is out working late and play-time, dinner-time, bath-time and bed-time are all mine…or should I say, all Eli’s, all the time. On one of these recent late afternoons, I was flagging and dying for the nap that is the God-given right of any woman late in her pregnancy. I thought I would lay down on the couch to rest for five or ten minutes while I let Eli play with his toys, which he generally finds riveting. After all, I’ve seen hubby manage to do it so many times.
Eli begged to differ. He came over with a board book and clopped me on the bridge of my nose, narrowly missing my eye. It wasn’t the first time he’d hit me with a toy or book, but it was one of the more painful. “No!” I yelled, which prompted a peal of laughter in response. I scooped him up, deposited him in his play area with a firmer grip than usual, and went into the bathroom. And cried.
In minutes I felt better. When I went back to him he didn’t seem to be remotely aware that I’d been angry with him, and gave me his usually sweet, delicious smile and a juicy kiss – his latest discovery. Of course I know that my son is at the age where he doesn’t get that he’s causing hurt when he bangs you with an object. And it’s his God-given right to throw food on the floor, to refuse to eat something he loved until last week, to be cranky for no apparent reason, to poop in the bathtub if the spirit moves him, and naturally, to make the house look like a cyclone hit it. (And all these years I’d been thinking that people whose homes looked like this were lazy!)
Developmentally, he’s doing everything right on time…though there are moments when I think my little Einstein might be getting a headstart on the terrible twos.
Were I not in the 8th month of pregnancy, I don’t think I’d find some of his behaviors so exhausting. Or that’s what I tell myself when I want to rationalize why it feels like it’s gotten harder in the last month or two. In less optimistic moments, I find myself saying, if I’m feeling this overwhelmed and fatigued now, how will I have the energy for a newborn as well?
As I envisioned how the aforementioned friend and others like her might see our fast-growing family, I imagined the start of a Simpson’s episode. One baby arrived and turned into a funny little boy, and now another one will pop out and plop herself directly into her carseat like baby Maggie, happily sucking on her pacifier. Real life turns out to be much harder – and perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.
A friend just lent me Bad Mother, in which Ayelet Waldman explores how these days, we all end up feeling like we’re not so competent at this motherhood thing. When we send the kids to daycare, we’re selfishly focused on trying to maintain a career. When we stay home with them, we’re hovering and smothering – and trading in our hard-won professional success for diaper-changing and nursery rhymes.
But my most important new insight is this: something about the combination of motherhood and pregnancy must be playing with my brain chemistry. I had a minor personal achievement this week. I finished the revisions on my novel, which is due to be published later this year, and sent them back to the publisher. This next-to-last stage has been in progress for almost six months – twice as long as I’d planned, due to unforeseen circumstances (exhaustion and overwork). And when I started writing this novel in 2005, it was so important to me that I often referred to it as “my baby.”
Yesterday, I pressed “send” and waited for the endorphin rush. It didn’t arrive. I was glad to be at this stage. But I realized I was feeling more proud of myself for having gotten Eli to eat the broccoli I’d cooked us for dinner.
I would be embarrassed to admit that this is true, except that I know it’s not my fault. Just recently, Hebrew University researchers discovered that new motherhood actually causes alterations in brain function. Hopefully, that is, for the better – but only time will tell.