Dear New Mother of March 1996,
This is your future self writing to you. First, congratulations! That was a rather impressive lightening-quick labor and delivery without so much as a single Tylenol. We won’t tell most people that you actually planned to have every drug allowable by the FDA, but nature had other plans for the birth of your first son. “Life not going as planned but still turning out okay anyway” will be a repeated theme for the next eighteen years. Best you learn this on Day One.
The first weeks will be a blur, and I’m not going to tell you to enjoy them. They are the hardest weeks full of fatigue, soreness and worry. It is your boot camp, and you must simply endure. It is not hard because you are doing it wrong, it is hard because that’s how it is. Accept all help that is offered, and ask for help if it isn’t. But maybe ease up on the worry a bit. Humans are resilient creatures from the get-go, and your worry holds no power. You will continue to relearn this lesson for the next eighteen years.
Try not to be an ass about your baby’s accomplishments. They are not your accomplishments and unless something is wrong, there is a very wide range of normal that in no way correlates to intelligence or character. In future years, you will cringe at the memory of responding to a neighbor innocently asking how the baby is. “Oh, he’s wonderful,” you’ll say. “He rolled over at six weeks and he’s not supposed to do that until at least four months!” Your neighbor doesn’t say it, but you’re sure she’s thinking, “Alert Harvard!” Aside from parents and grandparents, no one really cares about your baby’s milestone timeline. Trust me on this. Learn to zip it.
Value your friendships. People will come in and out of your life. Some will be a major lifeline. You will talk to your college friend five days a week, at least one hour each day. You will tackle all of life’s parenting challenges together with humor and sympathy and unconditional support, your families will drive seven hours to visit each other twice a year, but it will not be like that forever. One day, you will not talk at all, even though this is impossible to imagine. This is not due to a big falling-out or disagreement, but other circumstances beyond your control. Honor all the people that have helped you to become a better parent and a better person, and when it’s time, be prepared to let them go without malice or resentment. This will be hard.
Pay attention to the ordinary moments; these are the ones you will miss the most. The cute mispronunciations, the favorite threadbare shirt, the quirky food habits, the excitement over escalators and elevators, the love of yellow (lellow) cars, the glue-sodden homemade gifts and dandelion bouquets, the wiggly teeth, the Raffi songs, even Barney…you will miss all of these things. Years later, you will see other kids doing and saying those same things, and you will remember your own son. You’ll silently will their mothers to be patient and enjoy their kids more, but you’ll know most of them, like you, will just hurry through to the next moment.
Finally, accept the child you have. He is his own person with his own interests and his own agenda, not your chance at a childhood do-over. You will want to give him everything you didn’t have, but don’t. He is not you. Let his interests, passions and unique perspective guide you and open your eyes to more of the world. Stretch outside of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid of mistakes or failure; use them as an opportunity to model grace. Prepare to be amazed at how much this little person will teach you everything you need to know. Buckle up and enjoy the ride, new mother.
Mom of an Eighteen Year Old