After Gabriel was born, I was so damn exhausted that I couldn’t finish a sentence, much less carry on a conversation. I mean, I was still wiped from when Nico entered the picture, and now that I had a 2.5 year-old and newborn to juggle, I was a blathering mess.
Gabriel wasn’t the easiest baby, either, and since I was still nursing him, I often took him with me wherever I went. It was pretty much that or stay home, and since I was already stuck in the house way too often, I took him with me. After a while, he became a shield of sorts. When I couldn’t keep up with the conversation, I could pull back and hang out with my baby. Or go away to nurse him and maybe even get a moment of quiet.
I’m not writing this to go into any sort of mothering wars–I’m writing this because, looking back, I’m horrified to realize just how much I hid behind my second child. “Oh,” I’d say when a friend invited me out, “I’d love to, but I need to be home for bedtime.” When what I could have just said was, “I’d love to, but I’m tired as shit and I don’t think I could get behind the wheel right now without plowing into someone.”
After a while, I began to realize that Gabriel was creating a sort of wedge between me and my friends–or, more honestly, that I was using Gabriel to create a wedge between me and my relationships. Not to mention between me and life.
Lots of other moms manage to balance multiple children with the rest of their life, but for me, it was hard as hell. Because there was just no damn downtime. (There was also no quiet time–especially since my 2.5 year-old, who’d always had most of my undivided attention–now had to learn how to share me with a newborn.) And for an introvert at heart like me, I needed some peace and quiet to balance out the chaos, or else I quickly started to lose my mind. Since I didn’t have any down time back then, I didn’t really have space in my life for much else. Especially that first crazy-wonderful year.
Since then, though, I’ve begun to notice all the different ways we mamas continue to hide behind our children. We put our friends on the back burner, because we feel like we don’t have time for them. We put our careers on the back burner, because we feel like we have to be there for our kids as much as possible. And we put our dreams on the back burner, because we feel like we can’t possibly follow them, not when we have to be responsible.
But I don’t want to leave the dads out, either, because I think the same thing is going on for them. Yes, there are plenty of dads out there who still aren’t very involved with their children, but these days, there’s also a whole army of men determined to do things differently than how their fathers did things–especially if they had one of those traditional dads who was barely around, much less involved with their kids. For those guys, they’ve got some big shoes to fill, and I’ve begun to notice plenty of dads giving up their free time, their friendships–all of it–so that they can really be around for their kids.
But at what price? Is it worth it if they give up who they are and become miserable in the process? And what about the guy who limits himself by staying in a stable-but-sucky job even though he’s miserable as hell. His family needs this job, he says. And I don’t doubt that’s true–especially in today’s crappy economy. But that doesn’t mean he can’t just start looking. Sending out some feelers here and there, just to see what’s available. To see what they might be interested in doing.
And here’s what I think this is all about: fear. It’s a giant leap of faith to have a child and leave behind life as you know it. Along the way, you give up who your old life and who you used to be, as well as your knowledge of how the world works. Instead of being a hotshot at your old 9-5 job, your life now centers around this teeny-tiny dictator who spends most of his/her time working you into knots. You would do anything for this little person. And you do. Somewhere along the way, your sense of self begins to disintegrate.
Who the hell am I? you wonder.
This is not my life, as the Talking Heads song goes.
And then one day–whether it’s two months or 20 years after you had that baby–you realize that maybe, just maybe you’re ready to start heading out into the world again. Maybe you’re ready to start exploring again. Seeing your friends again. Doing those hobbies again. Following your dreams again.
Except everything’s changed. The world looks different, doesn’t it. You’ve changed, and everything around you has, too. So what do you do?
Do you hunker down, and let a few more years pass before you look up again?
Or do you take the leap?
Next up: Meet Ingrid Ricks, who finally made that leap, and learn what she taught her children in the process.