While going through IVF, I was convinced being a mom would be a breeze compared to the hundreds of self-administered shots, fertility appointments, and uncomfortable procedures it took to get pregnant. I had worked with kids my whole life at daycares, summer camps, and schools. It was always me in charge of groups, but being a mother was going to be one-on-one. How hard could it be?
I realized Motherhood would take some effort, but what I didn’t comprehend before having Autumn was the height of the emotional stakes. Everything always mattered in the past, but now as a parent, it all matters infinitely more.
How naive could I be thinking being a parent would be as simple as making macaroni ‘n cheese, teaching ABCs, and bandaging scraped knees? It turns out it’s not just noodles and powdered cheese, it’s how much sodium is there and how much can she have at this age? It’s not just singing the alphabet song, but wondering when she’s supposed to start singing with me and wondering at what point she should be recognizing the letters. And when she’s hurt, should I let the cut breathe or cover it to protect it from germs?
Even though she sleeps through the night, I lie awake and worry. It’s as if when I gave birth, a bath bomb of anxiety exploded inside me. The mental exhaustion that comes with being a mom reminds me of the tiredness I felt after completing a marathon twenty years ago, only that was physically depleting and lasted 26.2 miles. Motherhood, on the other hand, lasts an entire lifetime and carries with it the added pressure of disappointing someone other than myself if I fail.
There’s also my job. As a teacher, it’s always hard going back after a break. But now it’s harder. I used to just throw a cookie ball as I walked out the door and feel okay about leaving my puppy. But they don’t make cookie balls for sleeping babies who will wake up without their mommies.
When I arrive at school, I see other people’s sons and daughters instead of students. Caring for them is a calling that I love, but it sucks the life out of me nine days out of ten. And when three of them are confirmed COVID cases, I resent their parents, while still loving the kids, for indirectly endangering my unvaccinated baby girl.
And I used to rest easy leaving her at home because she had the best caretaker in the world -- her grandma. But then Grandma had a stroke. And it’s a weird thing when your mom has a stroke when you have a baby. Because while it’s insanely terrible that it happened to one of your parents, it’s that much worse when it happens to your baby’s only grandma.
It’s enough to wear you out.
Now it’s vacation time. A week off from work when I can finally collapse, and lie in bed after working late a few nights in a row. My house is a mess and it’s freezing outside. It’s the holiday season, but also the season of depression, a time to rethink choices, reevaluate life, and reignite fears of the future. I think about rewarding myself with a pity party complete with a Ted Lasso binge and ice cream extravaganza. But no one gave my baby the memo.
“Moms don’t get days off,” my own mom tells me. And even though I’m on antibiotics for a sinus infection and cough, she adds, “And moms can’t get sick.”
And she’s right. Because the race doesn’t end, and my daughter keeps running, and I stay right alongside her. I am exhausted, always, and out of breath often. We laugh and cry in sync, pacing each other for the long haul. There are few rest stops, but in the small moments, I am reminded of a short animated video I once saw where a dog was gloomy waiting for his owner, who was looking grey upon arriving home after a long day. When they encountered each other, their darkness turned clean and clear.
This is what happens when our pace slows, her body melts into my chest, her head nestles into my shoulder.
Before becoming a mom, to feel refreshed, I would take a yoga class, hire a cleaning lady, get a massage or do all three. Now I just hug my daughter, and keep filling her cup with love and mine with coffee.