The Before and After of Motherhood

Text: "The Before and After of Motherhood / We'll Eat You Up, We Love You So" Photo: Woman climbing on the side of a cliff.

I was never cool. All of those things women lament about giving up when they have kids? I never did them. Instead, my transformation as a mom has been more subtle but no less radical.

I never went out clubbing. Okay, I did, but I usually complained that it was too loud or too crowded or played music I didn’t like. My husband worked nights and weekends for years and I wasn’t going to go alone, so it was a rare occasion at best.

I never dressed up in perfect makeup and stiletto heels. Mascara makes my eyelashes stick to my face. Lipstick makes my lips feel weird. I’ve never even tried to wear stilettos. The only time I’ve ever been in full makeup was my wedding; it felt like a mask.

I never jetted off to weekends away at glamorous places. In fact, since my husband has become a stay-at-home dad, we’ve been able to travel and do more together on weekends.

I was never limited to my own narrow perspective. Some moms say that having children inspired them to have a much broader view of what was important in the world. But ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted so badly to help people. I wrote bad poetry as a 14-year-old about starving kids. In high school, I lobbied my state legislature on environmental issues. I spent college spring breaks helping organizations focused on poverty in the Bronx and rural Maine.

From the outside, my life doesn’t look like it’s changed all that much. I still go on bike rides, write a blog, grow a garden, and (occasionally) attend activist protests. I don’t relate all that much to those humorous “before and after kids” memes.

But on the inside? I’m so very different.

My instinct is to run at full speed, juggling as much as can, all of the time. But they pull me back and slow me down. As babies, both of my sons hated not being held. As they also disliked the baby carrier, holding them in-arms forced me to focus my attention on the slow rhythms of new motherhood. As my older son grew, he loved watching trains go by from a bridge a few blocks from us. As we walked there, we’d say hello to dogs and neighbors, point out pretty flowers, and contemplate acorns. Our rambles followed his pace, not mine.

I’ve spent a lifetime half-wishing I was a better listener, but they forced me to become one. I held my tongue as my baby learned to speak, watching him and nodding in attention. Now, I ask questions and issue “mmmhmmms” to rambling three-year-old stories. I play along with his make-believe scenarios, pretending to be eaten by an adorably fierce shark or be pleased with my hair being “dyed” blue and pink.

I gravitate towards grand adventure and epic views, but I’ve gained an appreciation for little moments. Snuggling in bed together on Saturday mornings. Picking pumpkins on itchy hayrides. Spotting the moon in a summer night sky. Appreciating the artistry of watercolors in a picture book.

I thought I was a fairly patient person, until I had a two-year-old. And then a three-year-old. I never thought one could have such intense angst over washing your hands before dinner. But I breathe deep and explain for the thirtieth time why washing hands is important.

I thought I understood serving others, but motherhood took that to an entirely new level. Having only a few nights of uninterrupted sleep for more than a year. Pumping milk for a year for one child and going on eleven months for the other. One small child climbing on you while you nurse a different small child. The heartbreak of “No, I want daddy” and the exhaustion of “No, I want mommy.” The never-ending service, love and devotion.

I was never cool and never will be. But I can be myself, with all of my passions, values, strengths and weaknesses. While my children have changed me in such deep ways, it’s only served to further reinforce that core of who I am. And if I can be true to her, then I can be true to them.

For other posts about my process of growing up as a parent, read The Exasperation of a Blank Baby Book and Letting My Nerd Flag Fly as a Mom. For more updates, like my page on Facebook! 


5 thoughts on “The Before and After of Motherhood

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