Tag Archives: parent

24 things that have surprised me about motherhood: I never thought I would…

Everyone says motherhood is full of surprises. They’re right. Here are 24 of mine.

I never thought I would…

  1. Leak milk at the sight of a puppy.
  2. Wipe up baby spew with clothing that I am wearing.
  3. Consider 6 a.m. on a Sunday almost a sleep-in.
  4. Refer to my spouse as “daddy” more frequently than I call him by name.
  5. Still have my child sleeping right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  6. Still want my child to sleep right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  7. Catch poo with my bare hands.
  8. Find myself physically incapable of letting the baby cry for longer than 57 seconds without comforting him.
  9. Find myself physically incapable of concentrating on conversations, tasks or oncoming traffic when the baby is crying.
  10. Understand why the manufacturers felt it necessary to print the following warning label on pacifier packaging: “Warning: Do not tie pacifier around a child’s neck as it presents a strangulation danger”.
  11. End up with a red-headed baby who is below the 40th percentile for weight and height (I mean, we’ll keep him because he is the most adorable baby ever, but I seriously think he may have been switched at birth).
  12. See regurgitated milk land in my (brown) hair and think, “it’s only a little bit, I don’t need wash it out today.”
  13. Find myself speaking in a high-pitched musical tone even when I’m not talking to the baby.
  14. Ricochet emotionally from extreme highs to extreme lows within half an hour.
  15. Change four diapers in 20 minutes.
  16. Feel guilty for leaving the baby with someone else for an hour so I can do some work.
  17. Function adequately (most of the time) on this little sleep.
  18. Say everything twice (“What’s the doggie doing, Dominic? What’s the doggie doing?).
  19. Allow the dog to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  20. Call the dog over to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  21. Allow the baby to lap up milk that the baby has just spewed up. (Off my shoulder, people, not the floor. Hey, I work hard to make that milk, if he wants to drink it twice, that’s fine by me).
  22. Feel the urge to sneeze and think first of my pelvic floor.
  23. Think of household items such as bed sleepers and rocking chairs with the same acquisitive lust heretofore reserved for ice cream makers.
  24. Feel so immediately, incandescently and uncontrollably joyful when the baby laughs.

What about you? What surprised you on becoming a parent?

If you enjoyed this post, stick around! Subscribe to my blog by RSS or by email (enter your email address top right) to receive updates about our adventures in parenthood and in Laos, and check out some of the following pregnancy and parenthood-related posts:

  1. Koi Maan Luuk: Or, I Am Pregnant
  2. Finding Out You Are Pregnant, In Slow Motion
  3. Life Lessons on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Cows
  4. It’s a…
  5. Ten Good Things About Boys: Attaining Synthetic Happiness One Gender Stereotype at a Time
  6. Lessons in breastfeeding from cows, take two
  7. Tough Love Take One
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More than a brighter shade of happiness

“What have you been thinking about joy recently?” Mike asked me over lunch the other day.

“I’ve been thinking about that research suggesting that people are happier before they have children,” I said. “And about how happiness and joy are different.”

“Are you going to write the easy post about how you often feel less happy on a moment to moment basis since Dominic’s birth, but you have more joy in your life?” Mike asked.

“No,” I said. “Because, although I would like to think that this is true, I’m not actually sure that it is.”

Despite the fact that joy is the theme of this month, I’ve been trying not to think too hard about the difference between happiness and joy. This question confuses me, and thinking too hard about anything confusing in the face of this enduring sleep deficit is still a struggle. But there’s no getting around it, if I’m going to exert even a half-hearted attempt to grapple with the concept of joy, this particular question must be confronted.

Mike and I first started talking about joy a couple of weekends ago when we were hanging out at Zen and I was feeling low low low. Mike asked me what I was thinking about regarding joy on that day, too. As I recall, I told him I didn’t feel at all joyful and I didn’t feel like talking about it. Also as I recall, Mike being Mike, he persevered with the conversation, anyway.

“Happiness is present focused,” Mike said when I gave in and asked him what he thought about the difference between joy and happiness. “Joy is more future focused. Also, happiness is more self-focused while joy is others-focused.”

“Like how we feel about Leslie’s and Ryan’s engagement,” Mike continued. “Objectively there’s little in it for us other than a kick ass party, so why do we feel so elated by this? I think that feeling of gladness we feel at their good news, that’s less happiness than it is joy.”

I don’t agree with Mike about joy being tied to anticipating future good things, but then again I don’t think that I’m a very future-oriented person. If anything, I get more joy from remembering past blessings than I do thinking about the future.

However, I think Mike’s point about joy being related to empathy – being rooted in an appreciation for the “good” in life even when that good doesn’t directly benefit you – is fascinating.

Many dictionaries define joy as intense or especially exultant happiness, but this doesn’t seem nuanced enough to me. Even if I don’t find it easy to pin down exactly why, I feel as if joy really should be something more than just a brighter shade of happiness – something wider and deeper, something that stems from beyond myself and my pleasures.

I think the man who listed joy as one of the “fruits of the spirit” in Galatians 5:22 would agree. That man would probably say that true joy is a by-product of our appreciation for, and relationship with, the divine.

A good friend recently made a similar point by email.

“Joy is hard to quantify, no?” she wrote. “I think that joy doesn’t always make you happy, because the fruit of the spirit is the result of the work of God in your heart and experience shows this to be not exclusively a blissful journey. (Maybe sometimes we are more like in the stage of ‘the flower-bud of the spirit’? I mean, fruit will probably come, but not for a few months yet…).”

“I love that image of a flower bud of the spirit,” I wrote back. “I will hold the image of jasmine in my mind. At least, I’ll hold it in my mind until Mike teases me that I’m really more one of those carnivorous, meat-eating flowers you find in the Amazon. And then I might wonder aloud what sort of poor marriage decision that little flower made to end up having to adapt to living in the tropics, and tell Mike that sometimes flowers just do what they have to do to survive. Then we’ll both laugh. Thank goodness that, most days, we can both still laugh.”

We did plenty of laughing this morning when Dominic suddenly decided that our dog scratching himself was the funniest sight he’d seen in his whole little life and laughed until he turned bright red and started hiccupping. Today’s so far been a good day full of long baby naps and bright baby smiles and leisurely walks under cloudy skies to pick up groceries. Today I think of Dominic and smile. Today I can say without hesitation that Dominic’s birth has brought great joy into my life.

But today doesn’t tell the whole story of this last week.

Last week at this time I was alone in the house, exhausted from several nights in a row of broken sleep, unable to escape the screech of power tools right next door, and trying in vain to settle a grumpy baby who didn’t want to put down (or to sleep). I was walking the floor of our bedroom with Dominic in my arms, crying, thinking that this could not possibly be the point of life.

I would like to be able to say that even in that desolate moment I felt that the demanding, wailing bundle in my arms had brought joy with him when he burst into my life four months ago. Yes, I would like that. But the truth of the matter is that I simply felt so bereft of happiness and joy that I had a hard time conceiving that I would ever really feel either happiness or joy again.

I would also like to be able to say that even during that moment that felt so joyless, I still knew that the demanding, wailing bundle in my arms had brought joy with him when he burst into my life four months ago. Yes, I would like that. But the truth of the matter is, the only thing I knew for sure in that moment was that I still wouldn’t wish his birth undone. If the Archangel Gabriel had appeared in that instant and offered me the chance to hand Dominic over, I would have refused (unless Gabriel had promised to bring him back markedly more cheerful in a couple of hours – then I would have relinquished him with great haste as well as both happiness and joy).

Perhaps I still don’t have this difference between joy and happiness all sorted out in my mind because they’re impossible to completely untangle in real life. Sometimes, I think, joy does feel like a brighter shade of happiness. But sometimes in moments when happiness is nowhere to be found, I think it can feel like peace instead. And perhaps sometimes it’s not really a feeling at all, but more an attitude, or even knowledge.

I don’t think that knowing you don’t really want to push the reset button regarding the existence of your child – even in those dark, exhausted, tear-drenched moments – quite reaches the lofty heights of joy. Perhaps, however, joy can sink its roots deep into this knowledge and continue to grow even when the fertilizer of happiness is in short supply. Because I believe now that what I discovered last month about love is also turning out to be true of joy.

Last month I wrote about how love for Dominic hadn’t swamped me like a tidal wave but was creeping in slowly and inexorably, like a rising tide. I don’t know why I expected joy to be a different kettle of fish in this regard, but I did. Subconsciously I’ve been thinking of joy as something you either have – flowering full and perfect in your life – or don’t have at all. It took my friend’s letter to make me realize that I had missed a foundational implication of the fruit of the spirit analogy – the fact that fruit, uh, grows. Slowly. As in weeks, months, and entire seasons slowly. This much I do know about the process, despite the fact that I’ve never been all that talented at growing things and prefer to buy my fruit from others who have done the hard and careful work of tending.

Gosh, wouldn’t it be easier if we could buy joy from our local grocery store or, better yet, instant-download it directly into our lives using the buy-with-one-click button on Amazon?

Easier? Maybe.

Better? I can’t articulate exactly why, but I suspect not.

I will strive to remember that as I rue the irony of spending the next month thinking about peace in the midst of our ongoing negotiations with our noisy neighbors. I will remember it tonight when I wake up in the wee dark hours, as I will inevitably do, to reach down and place a hand on a stirring baby. And I will remember it this afternoon as I go soon to get him up from his nap, change him, amuse him, feed him, love him. If part of deep joy necessarily springs from focusing on others, this mothering thing surely means that my emotional greenhouse will eventually be a fruitful, joyous, sweet mess of color. And in the meantime, there are fresh mangoes and tamarind available at the little stall just down the street. Maybe I’ll take Dominic for a walk in that direction this afternoon.

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The baby has hijacked my brain

Last night Mike asked me a work-related question during dinner.

“I can’t think about that right now,” I said, “I’m eating.”

There was silence. I figured that Mike was probably thinking that during the almost three years of our marriage I had heretofore shown myself capable of having a conversation over the dinner table and thus, presumably, thinking and eating at the same time.

“The baby is awake,” I said, taking a brief break from shoveling takeaway Indian food into my mouth as fast as possible to point to Dominic with my fork. Dominic was sitting in his stroller beside the dinner table, happily engaged trying to bat the purple toy cow I had strategically dangled beside him. I figured that he would be happily engaged for another 57 seconds, maybe 59 if we were lucky.

“The baby takes up 80% of my brain power,” I explained. “I can monitor the baby and focus on eating with that other 20%, but I can’t monitor the baby, eat, and think about your question all at the same time. When I’m finished eating I’ll use that leftover 20% to think.”

Mike may have been tempted to ask why I felt compelled to spend 80% of my brain-power monitoring a perfectly content baby when said baby was clearly in my line of sight and his other parent was sitting right beside him. If Mike was tempted to ask this, he didn’t. Wise man.

If, however, Mike had asked me this, I would have had two answers for him. The first would have been (cue slightly snarky tone here) that when your spouse is gone 30% of the time and you’re single parenting in a foreign country it gets to be a habit that is awfully hard to break. After I got done with this passive aggressive piece of venting, my second answer might have been a simple statement.

I don’t know.

I don’t know why my brain short circuits at his merest squeak, why I will immediately lose my ability to pay attention to any conversation I might have been having before that little lip pouted out and those doleful yelps began to mount. Why I will tense up when I am lying in bed and hear that faint and terrifying clink of plastic upon plastic that signals a pacifier falling out. Why I sometimes wake up thrashing in the middle of the night, still tangled up in a dream that I’m feeding or holding him, reaching out to find that small body and panicking when it’s not there.

I don’t know.

I was going to do all this online research about what pregnancy and new motherhood does to brain chemistry and weave that into this blog post so that: (a) we could all learn something new, and (b) (much more importantly) I had scientific proof that I’m not completely crazy.

But it’s 8pm. Mike’s been upstairs trying to settle Dominic for 45 minutes now and I can hear him crying (Dominic, that is, not Mike, though for all I know Mike’s up there crying as well). This means I have no brain space left for research or even a graceful wrap up. It means that I’m going to draw this to a close the way that I end a goodly number of my skype calls at the moment – with a hurried: “Baby’s crying. Gotta go.”

Catch you tomorrow for Writing Wednesday.

Oh, and other parents, did you experience a similar phenomenon when your first child was born (or should I be checking out what sort of anxiolytics I can buy over the counter here in Laos)?

What? Me? Needy? Never!