Here I am: married, employed, a homeowner, a mother, all by age thirty. These things are great milestone markers for those who keep tabs on such things. Social media makes it seem even more impressive when you condense these events into 140 characters slapped onto a compelling photograph. How did our mothers and grandmothers itemize their worth if not for the quantity of "likes" on their status?
But true feelings of appreciation, of feeling special, don't arise from a virtual thumbs up. This is especially true, I've found, after becoming a mother.
One of the hardest concepts to understand when you become a parent is the notion that, for the foreseeable future, your first priority is to keep another creature beside yourself alive. This creature cannot be crated for eight hours a day; it cannot pee and take a dump outside or use a litter box (I mean, it can, but toilets should probably be in the rotation, too); it's very likely that its sole source of comfort and food drains straight from the taps that you once referred to as your nipples. Your nipples are a few pinches away from being totally numb.
Your sleep is not as important as the creature's sleep. Creature does not know or understand that you, at one point in your life, slept in your own bed without a 30-pound medicine ball draped across your chest while shirtless so said ball can suck your food taps for 12 hours straight. Every night for 16 months. But who's counting?
Your appearance is, at best, a masked attempt of not looking absurdly shitty from 16 months of no sleep. Eye bags? I could sleep in them in a tent. Did I shave my legs this week? Month? Year (it is January, after all)?
You get the idea. It's taken me over a year to feel like this way of living is the new normal for me and, for the most part, I understand the impermanence of the new parenthood lifestyle. I've given nearly all of myself to keep this creature not just alive, but thriving, laughing, learning and helping her reach whatever wacky potential she keeps in her big, round belly. And, only now, do I feel like I am slowly able to take little pieces of myself back.
When you're in the fog of new parenting, you don't notice when little pieces of you go missing - people start off conversations by asking how your child is doing instead of you; you are eager to humor these people at first, because your brain is already in "I'm not important" mode. But after months of this, you begin to notice. I remember taking the baby to my husband's company picnic when she was 10 months old and I heard someone say, "How's it going?” I didn't respond until this person tapped me on the shoulder and repeated the question, and I genuinely realized out loud, "Oh, sorry! I'm just not used to anyone asking me that."
Once you have this realization, you can't help but notice other little things left in the fog. It wasn't just that I saw that people had not thought to ask how I was doing, but I hadn't been asking myself that, either. For the day-to-day insanity that is life maintenance of a baby, it is much easier to shift into autopilot and cruise with a perpetual near-empty gas tank. To-do list items such as "calling your friends" or "seeing a movie" fall off the immediate radar - and with those things, my existence fell off others' radars, too.
So what do we do to combat this hulling, where we empty our innards and pour the best parts of ourselves into the minds of our children?
As a temporary patch, we lie about it on social media. Perfectly-cropped photos of the baby always smiling, of me in the rare instances I am not wearing a crusty sweatsuit, or of my family living in a house that is not a laundry igloo – that's the life most of my circle sees, even if it's astronomically off the charts in terms of inaccuracy. I'm getting to a point in my life where this sort of click-bait lifestyle is becoming more of a drag than a pick-me-up. I don't have too much of an amnesia where I can fool myself into thinking that those photographs are a true representation of the past year and a half, so why bother?
Because it makes me feel special.
For the same reason insecure teens post highly-crafted selfie poses and other sanctimoms out there make sure their baby's social media presence is nothing if not glowing. For that tiny moment in internet time, I'm not covered in day-old raisins (seriously, where the Hell did those come from) or looking at my body and tilting my head and thinking, "... really?”
But now, I'm thirty, and I'm old, and I'm getting a little tired having my feeling special be dependent on how unlifelike I can make my existence out to be. I'm going to rewind a bit and start to focus on what made me feel special before this whirlwind of shit, this explosion of selflessness and acknowledge the following:
- I can be a fantastic mother and wife and still make time to pursue my interests.
- I can be special for reasons outside of keeping a creature alive.
- I don't have to have all my shit together in order to be happy.
- I probably won't have all my shit together for next decade or so, but who does?
- There is life after new parenthood and it's okay to make time to experience it.
- All of these things do not make me less of a parent.
So happy birthday to me, and here's to moving forward with a tenacious grasp on becoming me again. That might involve a few late nights of video games and photoshop battles, but that's okay. It's not like I'm turning 40.