“OMG! You’re going to be a MOMMA?”
It wasn’t an OMG, now what are you going to do? which would surely have been how I’d have responded to my own daughter under the same circumstances. Most probably followed by, “And, don’t think for a minute that I’m going to help raise your child.”
Instead, it was an OMG, I am SO excited that you’re going to have a BABY!
And I meant every word of it. But, of course, Liza is not my child. So it was oh, so much easier to be charitable about her condition.
Liza is 22-years-old. She’s an adult. She went to college. She graduated cum laude. She majored in Family and Child Studies. She has a good job. She has a supportive family. She has tons of friends. So, there’s no reason on God’s green earth why she shouldn’t have a baby.
Except that she’s 22-years-old.
But, she’s Liza.
When I was 22, the last thing in the world I wanted was a baby. I was way too selfish, way too wild and just plain way too young to take care of another human. As a matter of fact, it took a dozen more years until I was ready, willing and able to set up house and start a family. And we all know how well that turned out for my poor offspring.
I can’t say I’m surprised that Liza was the first of my kids’ friends to have a baby. After all, she’s been reading and commenting on my blog for years. The blog that parentless youth have little interest in. The one that lays it all out there so honestly that my cousin’s twenty-something year-old daughter said, “You are so MEAN!” The blog with the life stories that a different sort of parent would never admit to having endured.
But Liza, in all her youthful wisdom reads between the lines. “I know you. You’re happy on the inside,” she said after my rant over an impending onslaught of the offspring.
Last Wednesday a picture of the just-born Penelope popped onto my phone. Even I, of self-proclaimed baby neutrality, felt a little tightness in my throat and a pitter-patter in my heart.
“Ms. Betsy. Women are incredible. I still can’t believe my body did that!” she gushed. “Oh, honey. Giving birth was the easy part. You have no idea how incredible you are about to become.”
Because, dear Liza. From this day forward, your life is no longer your own. You will never come first. Ever. Again.
It will be years and years and years before you eat a meal in peace. Or take a shower without keeping one ear open. Or read a full page of an adult book in one sitting.
And even more years before you will sleep through the night. Because after 2 am feedings comes “I want a drink of water.” And after “I want a drink of water,” comes “I had a bad dream.” And after “I had a bad dream,” comes “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.” And after “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,” comes “I forgot to do my science project!” And after “I forgot to do my science project!” comes “I don’t feel good.” And after “I don’t feel good,” comes sleepovers. And parties. And proms. And driver’s licenses. And kids in and out, slamming the backdoor, all night long. And water bottles filled with vodka. And worse.
You will see that babies turn into toddlers who turn into little kids who turn into big kids who turn into teenagers who turn into young adults who know absolutely everything. Except how to change the toilet paper.
You will learn that your adorable little baby who smiles and coos in public can turn on a dime and scream with fury in private. For hours and hours on end.
You’ll sterilize bottles and bosoms and throw away toys that the dog licks. You’ll record weights and smiles and how much she ate. You’ll use special baby detergents and shampoos and sound machines. At least for the first few weeks.
You’ll teach Penelope the importance of reading. Of learning how to learn. Of how cool it is to be smart. And then worry when she worries too much about her grades.
You’ll teach her tolerance. You’ll instill in her the belief that every person on this planet deserves the same respect. And then you’ll cringe when she falls in with the wrong crowd.
You will feed her breast milk. And organic snacks. And she won’t know what candy tastes like. And then one day, she’ll have that first chicken nugget and won’t eat another vegetable for the next 20 years.
You will take her to playgrounds. And parks. And museums. You will spend time teaching her about your culture. And her father’s. And she’ll still like grilled cheese better than empanadas.
You’ll spend hours and hours and hours watching Penelope play softball or soccer or do backflips at cheerleading competitions. Or all of the above. You’ll watch her struggle. You’ll watch her fail. You’ll applaud her as she wins awards for Most Improved Player. Or Best Personality. And you’ll assure her that those accolades are so much more important than Most Valuable Player.
You’ll learn that it’s no easier to let your daughter cry it out when she’s a teenager (or younger) when her heart is broken for the first time, than it is to let her cry it out as a baby. When you’re trying desperately to get her to sleep through the night. At a year old. Or two. You will never, as long as you live, ever make a single life decision without considering how it will affect your daughter. And then, when there are two or (gulp) three kids to consider, your head will spin in perpetuity.
You will find that just when you think you can’t take another minute of whatever it is that is currently annoying you, because yes, even Penelope will eventually annoy you, that she’ll move into a new phase. You will wake up one morning and realize that you both slept through the night. Or that she didn’t wet the bed. Or that she went a whole day without whining, or rolling her eyes or eating a chicken nugget. Or that she no longer clings to your leg, or insists on wearing the ragged purple tutu or needs to watch the latest Disney movie for the thousand-and-fifteenth time.
And then, just like that, she’ll move into another phase. The phase you think is the final phase. When she goes off to college. Or gets her first apartment.
And you will cry. But you won’t let her see. Because even though you knew one day you’d have to let her go, you didn’t think it would come this soon.
And when she and her siblings are grown and gone and you can finally sit down and catch up on Shameless, you’ll reflect back on all that you’ve done. And you realize that no matter how hard you tried, you did it all wrong. But then you look at your daughter. You look at her brothers and sisters. You look at the people they’ve become.
You shake your head and wonder how you ever got through it. And how they turned out to be such interesting, adventurous and kind human beings. Which is when, for the first time, you realize that you must have done something right.
And that, my dear, Liza, is the most incredible part of all.
Betsy Voreacos lives with her somewhat Grown and Flown family in a diverse and culturally-rich town a stone’s throw from Manhattan. An overly-involved mother of three active children, Betsy has always been acutely aware of her shortcomings as a parent, not to mention those of her children. A freelance writer and blogger, she documents her life in the brutally honest OldMiniVansDieHard.