My oldest turns five in a few short days. Normally I am the calm and composed one. I don’t cry at sentimental things that would be perfectly normal for anyone else to shed a tear over, but the thought of my daughter turning five is killing me. What is it about this milestone birthday? Why now? Does motherhood suddenly make one sentimental and I’m just now catching up?
It took me a couple of days of what I thought were irrational emotions, but I realized that there were so many feelings that led up to this point. It will shock everyone who knows me that I of all people am publicly sharing about my emotional state on anything. I think part of my motivation in writing this was that I always heard all of the positive things about having a baby. Yes, I enjoyed it in my own way and was definitely happy, but it is still hard and each person has such a different experience. Everyone feels different things that aren’t always elation and complete gratitude at all hours. And that’s OK.
Looking back on the last five years, I began to recognize those moments that shaped me so much they have infinite emotions attached to them. The first was obvious to me: surprise. I had only been married for five months, still in school, 21 years old, on the pill, and never thought about having kids (read: I didn’t like kids). SURPRISE! Still, there is nothing like that first moment of finding out you are pregnant. So many emotions. I really thought I would be discouraged or disappointed if that test showed a positive, but then excitement that took over. Our circumstances were far from ideal. I was a full-time student with a part-time job, my husband was working an entry level job, and we lived in the smallest apartment ever. I was surprised at that test—surprised that I was excited and then surprised by my husband’s excitement. I was not prepared to feel so many things in such a short amount of time.
I was enormously pregnant and in school, waddling around from one snack machine to the other—I mean, from one class to another and comparing myself to my fellow students. I felt lonely. I didn’t know anyone else in a similar situation, and it felt totally isolating. Now I know that motherhood can totally be like that sometimes. Comparison is a jerk. It took me a while to work my way out of that funk, but comparison always lingers, and nearly every mom I have ever spoken to has felt the same. In the moment that you need a tribe more than you ever have, you compare yourself to others to a point of complete isolation because you don’t feel like you fit. I still feel this way and have to make a point to get over it just to have a single conversation, a coffee date, a group text. Loneliness sometimes steals the joy of each mom’s unique experience with motherhood.
New mom status = FEAR. Suddenly I was responsible for this little life, and I had zero experience with kids. None. I was never a babysitter by my own volition, never around infants. I was so afraid—that I wasn’t the ideal candidate for this job, that I was missing out on a career, that my friendships would change, that our financial situation was too rocky. Somehow my little girl never picked up on any of that and would smile at me like everything was perfect. It took working through isolation and talking to other moms in different situations to realize that a lot of them felt the same way I did.
By the time my oldest was two and her little sister was about nine months old, I finally felt acceptance with my new role. It took me two babies to reach a point of acceptance with this newly defined form of productivity that I found myself wrestling with. She was into everything, talking, yelling, screaming, demanding, never napping, and needing more engagement in activities than before. Now when a friend of mine is adjusting to life as a new mom, I warn her about the impending adjustment in productivity because I realized once again that I wasn’t alone in that. Other moms deal with that adjustment too.
Toddlers and frustration just go together. You have to say something 52,000 times before they even pretend to listen. Those toddler years were hard. I was just learning to deal with my own emotions, and suddenly I was learning to help my daughter through hers. She was helping me by pushing me to the limit. I reached new levels of anger and anxiety that I had never felt, and identifying them helped me to reach out and talk about what I was feeling. I was asking the same thing of my toddler: use your words. So much harder said than done, and honestly I think it helped me bond with her on another level.
After my daughter turned three, I began to feel free. Oh, sweet freedom! I felt like I could be my own kind of mom. I didn’t have to be a working mom, a soft-spoken mom, a homeschooling mom, a put-together mom, an organized mom, a super-social mom, or any other kind of image I thought I had to live up to. She helped me realize that I really did want to stay home. She loved me unconditionally and showed me that I didn’t need to be anything different. Also, despite everyone EVER telling me that kids thrive on a schedule, she has been so adaptable and has been an example to her siblings about going with the flow. Because honestly, I am not structured and hate being told (even by myself) when exactly I need to be doing something. On the flip side, she has shown me when things just don’t work, and I have had to adjust as well.
And now, she’s turning five. She’s so independent. She will go to Kindergarten. I always wondered why parents were so emotional about that first day of school. I’d always thought, Great! The kids can make friends and learn how to be without me. Then the reality of it hit. I thought I was worried about her needing me throughout the day. I kept thinking she might feel scared in a school setting because she has been home with me up to this point. The truth is, I need her. She has helped shape me over the last five years, and I’m nervous about my daily life without her being part of every detail. So, my radiant Zara, thank you. Thank you for your sass, your attitude, your tantrums, your rage—they all formed me. Thank you for your sweetness, your love, your empathy—they softened me. As hard as it is, I’m excited to see you shine somewhere else.