I was just starting to relax when I felt it. The urge. I knew there had to be a reason they were pumping me full of stool softeners. The time had come to for me to come to grips with that reason. I made my way to the bathroom as the feeling of discomfort increased. I squatted cautiously over the deceptively white toilet (where are the seat covers in the postpartum rooms?) so I would not be germified by OPP (other people’s placentas). Squatting on my tiptoes (a true challenge and workout for my 5’1’’ self), I proceeded with the inevitable. At least, I tried. The pain got worse. Tears welled up in my tired eyes. This hurt. Were the stool softeners expired or something? They certainly did not seem to have done their job. There I was—tired, alone, hormonal, and fat. And now I was stuck in the bathroom.
I looked over at the wall, where an enticing contraption hung ever so sweetly. The words jumped out at me: “Pull cord in case of emergency.” This was an emergency. I pulled. Two nurses came rushing in within seconds, panting in anticipation of what they would find. I will never forget the look of disappointment on their faces when they saw me squatting over the toilet in tears. “Um, I think I have poop stuck halfway in and halfway out. And, uh, it hurts really bad. And I don’t know what to do.”
They had hit the jackpot with this cord pull. You know they wanted to ro-sham-bo for the follow up on this call. One of the nurses politely said, “Okay. I’ll check you.” Fabulous. She checked me and then broke the news. “Sweetheart,” she said in an I–feel-sorry–for-you kind of way. “That’s not poop. That’s a hemorrhoid.”
Welcome to motherhood.
Needless to say, my cord-pulling debacle was not the welcoming party I had anticipated after the arrival of our long-awaited baby. I was looking for some material for my scrapbook and there were no stickers for this embarrassing event. Clearly, this was not a “Kodak moment.” The next time I got together with my girlfriends to scrapbook, I told them my harrowing story. Hugs and tears of empathy did not ensue. Instead, my girlfriends cracked up and squealed in amusement as my story unfolded. Although none of them were members of my exclusive cord-pulling club, many of them were no strangers to the “grapes of wrath.”
Maybe this was a Kodak moment. Just of a different kind. Here’s the problem I have with traditional Kodak moments. They're moments. Glimpses in time. And we choose which glimpses to unveil to the public. Now with digital cameras, we can take a million pictures and display only those that reflect our very best. I mean, who wants to scrapbook their postpartum calamities and reveal to people what their lives are really like? Who wants to admit that their lives aren’t even close to perfect, they often feel like they are fumbling through motherhood, and they wish there were an emergency cord installed in their homes? If you answered “I do! I do!” to any of the aforementioned questions then read on sister, read on.
The Transition to Motherhood
In natural childbirth, the “transition stage” of labor (right before you start pushing) is said to be the shortest part of labor and yet the most intense. The major emotional marker for this stage is giving up and asking for drugs. Or screaming for drugs. But I say the period in which the kid is now out of your womb and rocking your world (in so many ways) is the true “transition stage.” You go from some puking, minor sleep deprivation, back discomfort, and extra padding to hemmies, stitches, major sleep deprivation … and indescribable love. You go from carrying around this babe in your stomach to cradling this little creature, who looks kind of like a cross between an old man and an alien.
And then there’s breastbleeding. I mean, breastfeeding. It’s a beautiful, natural activity that is not supposed to hurt. Tell that to my cracked and bleeding nipples. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for breastfeeding. I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads, “Breast is best.” Okay, that’s a joke. I hope those don’t exist. I will not Google that. I don’t want to know. Anyway, just about when you don’t get the hang of using that green nose snuffer thing and breastfeeding, they send you home from the hospital (unless you are a hippie who did a homebirth) and everyone starts referring to you as Mom. “WHERE ARE MY DRUGS?!” Kidding. Totally kidding.
So after a short stay in the hospital, five hours sleep, and nipple confusion, you are sent home to take care of your sweet little sleeping angel. Oh, wait a minute. Babies only sleep peacefully in the hospital and maybe for the first few days at home. And then they wake up. In the middle of the night. A lot. And you are supposed to feed them from your blistered bosom over and over again. You are sleep deprived, you have junk flowing out from downstairs, you have no idea what you are doing (although you have the information from about fifty books on parenting colliding in your head, further stressing you out), you’re getting peed on, your hormones have taken over your body and your mind—and your husband wants to know when you can have sex. Now I’d call that a transition.
The Longevity of Motherhood
One of the things that hits pretty quickly as your baby makes his or her way out of the womb and into the room is that this little child is yours for life. No give backs. No do-overs. You are forever this child’s caregiver and mom. Motherhood is permanent. Kind of like a tattoo. The difference is that at least with a tattoo you can have it removed if you get sick of it or change your style. Sure, there might be some remnants of the tat, but for the most part it’s gone. I guess that is kind of like being a grandparent. I’ve heard that’s fun. Ironically, the permanency of parenting is actually part of what makes it so incredible. You get the tat (now referring to the child, clarifying just in case you are currently sleep deprived and your brain is mush) and he’s yours for life. Fortunately, our tattoo artist is God (is that blasphemous?). And He knows what He’s doing. He has created that tat especially for you! He has chosen you to be the mom for your child.
I remember when my girlfriend finally got to adopt the twins she and her husband had been caring for since the kids were six weeks old. After many court dates, visitations where one of the biological parents would sometimes show up, sleepless nights, a roller coaster of emotions and four years, Alissa and Jeff were finally able to legally adopt Luke and Aubrey. As I wrote them a card for this monumental and long-awaited occasion, I remember being incredibly moved. Biologically they came from someone else. But it didn’t matter. Before they came into this world, God chose Alissa and Jeff to be Mom and Dad to Luke and Aubrey. Whether or not our children share our DNA, God is the ultimate tattoo artist and has designed our children to be a part of our lives. Forever. That is comforting because for the days when you blow it and you feel like the worst mom ever, there are more days to come. More days to love on your kids, to apologize to them if you’ve wronged them, to wipe their tears (instead of causing them), to encourage them, to teach them about God’s love for them. More days to look back and laugh at yesterday. Because yesterday you had an MBD (mental breakdown day) and it wasn’t funny at all. More days to enjoy your kids. You would think that would come naturally. Many days it does. But in preparation for the days my kids are seriously buggin’, I pray this prayer a lot: “Lord, help me to enjoy my kids.” And I think it actually helps.
The Dichotomy of Motherhood
Sometimes the days go by slowly as you trek through the seemingly mundane responsibilities of parenting. The brushing of teeth, the two-hour ordeal of getting your kids into the car, the limitless diaper changes, the bazillion loads of laundry, etc. But have you ever heard anyone say, “Take a seat, because these days with your little kids go by really slowly. Don’t relish every moment with your little rug rats because those preschool years are a drag. Seems like just a million years ago that my kids were that age.” Let me answer that for you. No! You have never heard anyone say that. (Unless you were playing make believe and talking to yourself, which is possible.) Former MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) always say just the opposite: “Enjoy this time with your kids because it goes by so fast.” Easier said than done, Grandma!
Last week I visited my husband, Shiloh, at his office. The kids were galloping up and down the halls and entertaining people left and right. One of my husband’s co-workers called out as he watched the Hagen procession prance by his office, “Enjoy it now. It doesn’t get any better than this.” He was witnessing an original Kodak moment. I was enjoying my cute little kids. It really doesn’t get much better than watching your kids giggle and frolic around making other people smile, right? Until the next day rolls around. When your child is using her own poop to finger paint her entire room (not that this actually happened to me … okay, it did.). And I think, “Really? It doesn’t get any better than this?” But just as I am contemplating that I might have the worst job ever and that preschoolers were created by God to torture unsuspecting moms, my son says, “Mom, you're my girl." I then tell him I love the sweet little things that come out of his heart. He replies, "Like one time when I prayed and I used the word justice?" Okay, I’m back in the game. This motherhood thing rocks! Best job ever. Oh, the constant dichotomy of motherhood. Are you with me?
The Gravity of Motherhood
As you are welcomed into motherhood, in addition to the sense of “Oh my goodness, this child is mine forever” you might start to feel “Oh crud, I have such a huge role in shaping this child.” If I don’t feed him, he’ll go hungry. If I don’t change her diaper she’ll be living in Poopsville. If I don’t pick him up when he is crying, he’ll think I have abandoned him. If I don’t bathe her, she’ll smell like her dad. Did I just write that? My husband does not smell. No, wait, he does. Elijah was enjoying his cereal until Daddy ripped one that smelled so bad that Elijah (who normally participates in the gas factory) literally cried. "It just smells too bad," he said, sobbing. (That was a total tangent, but I had to get it off my chest.)
Molding our children is not just about meeting physical needs or protecting them from the hideous odors of their fathers. As they get a little older, you see what sponges they are. I certainly believe children have their own personalities, innate abilities, and gifts, but the environment we create for them and how much it shapes them is indisputable. Our little guys and girls are blank slates. A large part of who they are to become has yet to be written … and we play a huge role in writing their biographies.
The preschool years are particularly weighted on mom’s shoulders simply because of the amount of time we spend with them. Even though they often act like you are invisible and say “What?” so much that you take them to have their ears tested (and they pass with flying colors), they are listening. And they are watching you. Apparently, I have talked with Elijah quite a bit about homeless people and God’s heart for them. A while back, we took the kids to feed some homeless people at a park in Berkeley. My son was clearly impacted. He now prays every night for homeless people. He prays that they would have food and homes and have their needs met. One time after we stayed at someone’s vacation home he prayed for the homeless people to have vacation homes. Sky’s the limit, little buddy.
Elijah has even influenced his little sister, Lydia, in this regard. She has her own version of the prayer: “Dear God, please help the homeless people to have their names.” I’m sure God is happy to take what He can get from a two-year-old. She even sings about homeless people in her spare time. The other day she was in the bath singing at the top of her lungs, “THE HOMELESS ARE PEEEE-PULLL!” That was the extent of the song. She just kept repeating that catchy phrase over and over. All that to say, what starts with Mom keeps on going. For better or for worse.
I was in line waiting to check Elijah into his preschool class when Lydia flashed her magic wand to the Mom in front of us. “This is my magic wand!” she exclaimed. “It’s for killing people.” Fantastic. I don’t think that was nature’s influence. I’m not going to take full credit for that lovely display of grace, but we (okay, mostly my husband) have allowed Star Wars to infiltrate our home. Still, I’m glad I was there for this shining Hagen moment. I was able to talk to Lydia about the proper use of magic wands. Magic wands are for blessing people. Not that she even understands what killing people or blessing people is, but I feel so privileged (and FREAKED OUT!) that I can be the one to influence my children. To plant seeds in them, to encourage them, to show them and teach them what God cares about, to redirect them when they misuse their magic wands and the list goes on and on.
Whether in line at preschool or in the backyard or at the grocery store, I am daily reminded how we are making permanent imprints on our children’s hearts, on their souls, on their minds, on their worldviews, on their morals. We must consider who they play with (beware of older siblings), what they watch (AKA what television shows we allow to babysit them), what we read to them. We radically affect the way they view themselves, the way they treat others, the way they handle various emotions, the way they cope with stressful situations. How do we live? Who or what is influencing us? Hopefully, you’re looking to the Tattoo Artist, because He is the only one who is worthy. No pressure. No big deal. Just a life or two at stake … and all the lives our children touch throughout their lives. Time to get on your knees, ladies.
That was Chapter One of Totally Desperate Mom: Keepin' it Real in the Motherhood.
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