I’m a mom of a toddler. How did that happen? My daughter AJ is now a walking, tantrum-throwing one-year-old. She babbles up a storm, communicates with gestures and sign language, can follow directions, and plays in so many creative ways. Every day she understands more, expresses more, and becomes more like herself. Before I know it, she’ll be graduating from college and I’ll be looking at her newborn photos and saying, “how did my baby grow up so fast?”
Baby AJ is the best person I’ve ever met. I think my husband is pretty great, but I still look at the two of us and wonder how we could have made such a wonderful person. AJ is so happy, curious, and full of love. Her giggles and squeaks are the most joyous sounds in the world. She gives the most wonderful hugs, and she smells like pure love.
I have such bittersweet nostalgia for her newborn days. It makes me cry to look at photos of her when she was younger because I hardly had time to enjoy each stage. Back then, I didn’t know what a wonderful person she was going to become. I didn’t know how much I was going to love her. I loved her as much as I possibly could imagine, but I could not imagine as much love then as I can now. My capacity for love grows each day the more I get to know her and the person she is.
When I was pregnant, I remember thinking that I needed to savor the experience of having her in my belly, because I knew there would be days ahead when I would wish to experience it again. Not just to be pregnant again, but to be pregnant with her again. Now that I know who she is and what she is like, I wish I could carry her inside me again, close to my heart, cozy and safe. I wish I could go back and cuddle little newborn AJ with the knowledge of how fleeting that time was and what an amazing little girl she would become. It seems so unfair that time only moves in the forward direction.
I belong to a large moms’ group and take my daughter to a lot of playdates in hopes of making friends for her and for myself. I’ve been trying really hard to make friends with other moms, but each time I hear something like one of the following quotes, it makes my brain freeze up and blink in big letters: we can never be friends.
“I was so excited to be married at 19. For my whole life, all I ever wanted was to get married and have kids. I never cared about having a career or going to college.”
“I really wanted a little girl so I could dress her up in cute outfits and put bows in her hair. I cried when I found out I was having a boy. Boy clothes are so boring.”
“My toddler has never seen a doctor in his life. We stay as far away from them as possible.”
“I’ve been pinning ideas for her first birthday party ever since she was born.”
Hearing other moms utter things like these on a regular basis makes me want to weep with despair that I will never find another mom with whom I have anything in common.
I recently quit a graduate degree program in the sciences to become a stay-at-home mom. This is the story of how and why I reached that decision.
I gave birth to my daughter during winter break in my second year of grad school, and I went back to school and work when she was seven weeks old. Before she was born, I thought this timing was perfect because I didn’t have to take any time off from school. I only had one semester of classes and teaching left, and then all I had to do was write my thesis. I had visions of a newborn who would sleep all the time and wouldn’t require any maintenance other than nursing and diaper changes. By the time she became aware and awake enough to know where mommy was, I would be done with classes and home with her while writing my thesis during her naps.
That’s how I imagined it, but that’s not how it happened. Our wonderful daughter was not the sleepy angel I’d expected, but a colicky screaming mess who cried nonstop unless she was being held and bounced a specific way. I was exhausted from being on my own with her for most of the week because my husband’s job only allows him to be home on weekends. He told me to take the semester off. I wanted to do that more than anything, but I knew that if I took a leave of absence, I would never go back. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to finish my degree, but I knew that I didn’t have enough mental capacity in that current state to make an informed decision.
So I went back to school even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. I took my baby to daycare where she cried all day and never slept because she could only sleep while being held. I went to classes and taught and pumped breastmilk in my office and in the lab and in my car. I held baby girl for hours while she cried every night, and stayed up until 4 am doing homework. My brain was so slow from tiredness that I couldn’t add 5+7 without a calculator.
I am a stay-at-home mom to a very high maintenance baby. I’m flying solo most of the time, because my husband’s job requires him to live at a remote camp for most of the week. Plus, I’m still a grad student with coursework to do and a thesis to write. To say I’m stressed is an understatement.
My daughter was born in the darkest week of the year, during a blizzard when the outside temperature was -40. (The blizzard started after we were in the hospital, thankfully.) I’ve always hated the constant darkness of the Alaskan winter, but this winter it didn’t even matter. She was the sun, and the darkness outside didn’t affect my mood as it usually does. Every little coo from her cute little mouth and every wiggle of her tiny toes was brighter than the brightest sunshine. The only thing I needed to sustain me was baby.
Then my postpartum hormones started to even out and I realized that I was just tired. One cannot live on baby alone. Baby gives me joy, but baby is also exhausting. I need other things in my life that give me energy.
Years ago when I only had a full-time job and plenty of leisure time, I came up with a formula for how to spend my time: equal parts outdoor activity, learning, and art. Grad school takes care of the learning. (Supposedly. If motherhood had left me with enough brain cells to comprehend my own research. I’m told that at one time I found it fascinating.)
Outdoor activity is easy enough to come by in Alaska, but art is severely lacking in my life. I need to re-enter the world of words, music, and ideas. I need to spend more time hearing and playing music, reading, and writing. Blogging is a start, and a motivation.
Unfortunately, it takes energy to get energy. Like a chemical reaction that is thermodynamically favorable but has a high activation energy, I know that doing these things will make my life better, but it takes a lot of energy to begin.