I first experienced it with birthdays: the anticipation, the to-do and ta-da, all to lead to a big change. “How does it feel to be 8?”, someone would ask. “Um, the same?” I experienced it at the start of each new school year. “Oh boy! You’re in 5th grade this year!” A different class, slightly different subjects, new teacher, a whole grade level older, evidently a Big Deal, but, really, I still felt the same. There was my life before 9 and my life after 9; my life before 6th grade, my life after 6th grade. My life after high school became college, which really felt the same except for more choice over classes. Milestones didn’t seem very important.
Some changes did feel measurable. Getting my driver’s license produced more freedom and independence behind the wheel of our ’63 Mercury Comet. Having those first jobs, earning my money for spending, and *sigh* saving, did give a feeling of empowerment. Choosing to partner with my spouse, ‘forsaking all others’ as it were, produced a lot of actual change. New houses, new towns, tandem economics, and all the adjustments of melding two selves together while still maintaining those selves, that was different.
The biggest, most felt change, however, was when I became a mom. Night and Day. Hot and Cold. On and Off. Yesterday I was minding my own business, today I’m responsible for the health, well-being, physical, emotional, and intellectual growth of another human being.
Those initial changes, brought about by seeming wave of magic wand, had me home instead of in an office; had me intensely keen to the power of napping; had me upchucked on while in a rocking chair; had me watching the clock for Spouse’s evening return home; had me unable to multi-task any activities, even making dinner.
In time I grew into the routine of feeding, changing, napping, holding, dancing, connecting, comforting, bathing, laughing with this little human. I took him to my office, had co-workers interact with him while I accomplished a few things. A backpack enabled me to continue many of my previous activities. Just when I would grow comfortable with the way things were, Junior would need things to change. His sleep patterns would change, his food tastes would change, his needs for human closeness would change. I would scramble to readjust, lamenting the ‘good old days’ of 2 naps or whatever.
With this little human now attached to me for his life’s sake, I began to have questions, deep questions about who I was. What things did I like, really? What things were fulfilling for me? What did I do to expand myself? What did I want to be when I grew up? Mothering this child was showing me I hadn’t really been living before he moved into my life. I had been coasting, or riding along, being carried by a wave perhaps, but in an unconscious way. The newness of him, the newness of everything he experienced began to prod at me, gnaw at me, lead me into the uncomfortable space that, gratefully, became awareness.
Spouse and I began to rethink many things, and starting with parenting, moved away, more slowly for me than I’d like to admit, from the authoritarian ways of our parents. We began to take our son seriously. Regardless of his young age, he deserved the respect of any housemate. He deserved, as a human, to have his questions answered with sincerity, to have his preferences attended to, to be treated with the same basic kindness that would be given any adult acquaintance. We rethought the why of parenting. We realized we had brought him to a party, a party we were hosting, and it was our job to make him feel welcome.
The task of helping this person grow into a happy, well-adjusted, hopefully aware, human adult, brought my short comings into clear view. I have worked to change damaging attitudes, broaden limiting perspectives, respond to myself when it says jump, dig, dance, read, or focus. I have worked to forgive myself, telling myself often, “I did the best I could for who I was at the time.” Lifelong beliefs about self, family, faith, relationships of all stripes, have sifted, edited, been strengthened or let go. I began to take my physical health and well-being seriously. As an older parent, I needed strength, stamina, good lung capacity to keep up with my child. I began to work on being an interesting person, a person who has passions, hobbies, abilities. I know stuff. I read. I’m learning something every day.
All of this is helping me be a ‘better’ parent, spouse, sister, friend, human. I want to grow & improve, ripen & be made full, for my sake, but even more for the sake of my son. He didn’t choose us. We willfully, willingly, eagerly, and earnestly sought him out. We wanted this change. We couldn’t anticipate what the breadth of change would be, but presto change-o indeed.