My baby stopped breastfeeding this week and five, glorious days ensued. Finally, putting him down for a nap today I felt the fleetingness of these days of rocking a boy to sleep on my shoulder. I’m happy to be getting my body back to my self but there is also the loss of physical closeness with the tiny bodies that came from me.
I’ve had a difficult time accessing joy lately. Hormone changes? Visits from fellow pessimists that pinged my genes? The negative narration that accompanies much of my inner dialogue?
Whatever it is and continues to be at times, it also occurred to me how their closeness and newness as babes made them so affected by the subtle changes in me. When holding a baby, rocking them to sleep or breastfeeding, I discovered that my mind wandering too far off into thought and not being present there, just breathing, would agitate them. Maybe because when you’re really off in thought land you hold your breath a little, it often goes to a place of worry and nervousness and judgment that tightens and constricts the body. All baby knows is a few bodies that are it’s world (if all goes well and one of them doesn’t end up in the NICU).
And suddenly all the times I’ve been grumpy with them, all the times I’ve yelled and threatened come crashing in. The tense body that has taken up so much of this little sliver of time I have to hold them close. And parenting as a metaphor for life and all relationships—how short are all our little slivers with each other and ourselves? How much time to do I spend not cherishing it?
I’m aware of a trend towards guilt and that the feeling is oddly comforting in its familiarity. Maybe I went to church a lot as a kid and picked it up or perhaps it’s a product of learned gender roles. Mom, the selfless caregiver- ever available for everyone else’s needs. Is it a natural inclination toward nurturing or is it something deeper and more brooding, a fear that if we take care of ourselves we are being selfish and failing at the ideal of motherhood. Of course, we all know or at least have read that self-care is the only sustainable path to caring for others lest we burn out, fall ill, or in some more extreme cases throw gas on the metaphorical house and watch it burn.
A friend confided in me shortly after becoming a mother that she fantasized about exploding her life and running away. She was a successful career woman before having a child that at one time seemed like an impossibility. The miracle baby came but didn’t fix the rift that had been growing in her marriage. The shift in focus and attention alone that comes with parenthood is enough to make anyone question “what if” and long for another life at times. But beyond that, I realized she was talking about this inherent mom guilt we seem to carry around with us. That we’re not good enough to be the one responsible for the caregiving, that someone else would surely be better equipped than we are. That there is no good enough when it comes to parenting.
I don’t know if I will ever feel like I’ve done everything as best as I could for my children whether it be teaching lessons, loving openly, building independence, and a host of things that just need me to step back. I am a complex human with flaws, raised by complex humans with flaws, and on down it goes through the generations. There’s no perfect. The only perfect is doing me the best I can. There’s no one else that can be as Laurie as I am. And that will bring with it all that it brings- good, bad, beautiful, and ugly. Luckily, that’s what my husband signed on for. That is what my kids get whether they like it or not and they will continue the fine tradition of being perfectly imperfect humans. Also fortunate for them they are males and if they follow in their father’s footsteps they’ll think perfection has already been reached.