I bought a baby book last week with the intent of starting early and writing a thoughtful note to our child before he or she is born. But words keep escaping me – I want to lavish the baby with love and affirmation, with hopes and dreams for his or her life, but I’m just not there yet. Sounds silly, I know, but I’m still having a hard time fully comprehending that this belly bulge is actually our child. I love preparing our home for the baby, I love feeling all the wiggles and kicks, I love seeing Shane eagerly anticipate fatherhood, but that deep sense of maternal love I see on the faces of my friends as they cradle their little ones in their arms is just out of my reach. I’m still in this place where baby Schnell is a fuzzy image on an ultrasound screen. And that’s ok – I don’t doubt the “I love you’s” will fly from my mouth once I lay eyes on him or her. In the meantime, while my vision of our child is still hazy, I’m clarifying my vision of myself as a mother, forming aspirations for the woman I hope to be. No doubt, the parent gig can be hard, but I’ve also seen first-hand that it’s an opportunity to stretch and grow and be your very best self. So to the future Mama Schnell:
Be flexible. Even if that means being inflexible. Of course, you and Shane want to be those free-flowing, easy-going parents that are always down for anything. Dinner invite on a Friday night? Sure, you’ll be there – the baby will tag along and sleep in the car seat, or stay up late and sit at the table with you. Camping? You’re game. Afternoon BBQ during nap time? Eh, you can skip nap for the sake of hanging with friends. Flexibility at its finest, right? But I suspect the true test of flexibility will come when you find that you need to make sacrifices in order to let the baby get the best rest possible, or to allow yourself some much-needed sleep, or to establish that restrictive but oh-so-necessary routine. Don’t be bitter or resentful over the way your life has changed. Don’t feel sorry for yourself when you miss out on a party because the sitter cancelled or the baby is sick – keep in mind that parenthood is a package deal, often weighted with limits or sacrifices, but also bursting with incredible joy.
Care more about exploration and play than you do about keeping clothes or floors or hands clean. Put the to-do list away and spend an afternoon splashing in mud puddles at the park or finger-painting in the dining room. Remember your dream house? You’re about to move into it, and it will be lovely, crumbs on the floor and all. And don’t forget to be silly – put aside any self-consciousness. Sing songs in your horribly off-key voice. Make up games that have no point. Shoot, put a bowl on your head, pump up the Elli Goulding, and dance in the living room – revel in the opportunity to be a total weirdo with someone who won’t think you’re weird at all.
Let stuff go, and don’t hold grudges. There will be moments, or even entire days, when the kiddo is cranky and unreasonable and inconsolable. It will be tempting to check out until the brattiness has passed. Try, try, try to stay engaged. Be persistent in your affection. The passive-aggressive silent treatment you use to coax remorse or an apology out of Shane won’t work on a toddler. So when you’re in the middle of the grocery store, dragging a wailing kid with noodle legs through the produce section, grab an extra carton of Ben and Jerry’s on your way out, mow through half of it when you get home, and then spend the rest of the afternoon cuddling with the little one (hopefully the tantrum wore him or her out). I realize this sounds kind of impossible, but it’s worth your best effort.
Here I sit, in our quiet, clean house, realizing (but probably not really realizing) yet again that I’m about to relinquish so much of the control I daily take for granted. Most of life right now is about what I’m feeling, how I want to spend my day, what I think is important. Who will I be when life is less about me and more about someone else? Will I be the tired, frazzled woman standing in the checkout line in her pajamas, clinging to three cartons of mocha almond fudge ice cream? Or will I be the mom that’s making goofy faces and babbling like a fool, because the sound of her baby’s laughter is so irresistible? I suspect it will depend on the day – I’m in for a wild ride. Bring it, baby!