Monday, March 8th, 2010 • 3 Comments on This is mostly not a baby post.
Motherhood has, in a strange sense, fostered a newfound generosity of spirit in me. Let me explain.
Taking care of an infant is exhausting, repetitive, often unrewarding work. Patrick is a good baby, a happy baby, but there’s virtually nothing he can do for himself. And so, I do it all for him. I am happy that he rarely cries because it means he is content with his current lot in life. His needs are met—and I meet them. It is easy to love him, because he is my own child, but I also respect him because he is so helpless and yet still tries so hard to accomplish things. Reaching out for toys, soothing himself with his fingers, seeking me out even when it means having to roll on his side, making his tongue work so he can communicate in his own way—he does these things despite the great amount of effort it takes sometimes to accomplish them. And because he works so hard and I can see the effort it takes, it doesn’t bother me to change his diaper for the second time in ten minutes (at least he didn’t pee on me) or to change my shirt for the third time in one day (at least he didn’t spit up in my hair). See? I see how hard he is trying and it makes my spirit more generous—and gentle. And it’s so easy to be this way because, even on days like yesterday when I was tired and not feeling well and maybe didn’t engage him as much as I should have during play time, he still forgives me and offers me a smile when he wakes up from his naps. Every time, without fail. Maybe that’s a bad baby memory or maybe his spirit is generous.
You would think I’d have nothing left to give anyone else after putting all of my generosity (or “work”) into a baby. Truth is, I didn’t have it to give in those early weeks. I barely had it to give to him. But I found some untapped well of patience and understanding inside me because, well, I had to—and it doesn’t just extend to Patrick anymore. As my confidence in my abilities has grown, so too has my sense of generosity and forgiveness. Patrick has softened me in some ways, ways I didn’t really know I had become hardened. More than one person has commented that I seem very “calm” and that motherhood suits me. I laugh it off and interpret whatever calm vibe I’m sending as pure exhaustion, but I sense what they mean. Even when everything is chaos and my brain is racing in six directions at once, there is a calm at my center that wasn’t there before. An ability to let go and forgive and reach out and be kind. Because we’re all trying, aren’t we? Patrick’s efforts are so obvious to me because he’s a baby, but I find myself looking around and seeing that others are trying, too. Even if their efforts aren’t as transparent, even if their work (and suffering) is going on beneath the surface. We’re all reaching, soothing, seeking and communicating in our own way.
And I know this sounds all gooey and Zen (and I did enjoy Momma Zen so much that I sent a copy to another new mom friend who I thought would appreciate it), but that’s what motherhood has done for me. I’m not one of the “my child is my life” mommies—I think I will always identify as a writer, first and foremost, over mother, or wife—but I’m discovering unexpected emotional growth because of motherhood. My goal is not to change my identity to become only “Patrick’s Mother” but to help him grow his own individual identity and give him wings. We all need encouragement with that, I think. Whether we’re three months old or forty three years old, it feels good to have someone understand us and accept us for who we are.
I still need more sleep, more time to write and more help with baby. But I’m finding it easier these days to reach out, to soothe, to attempt to connect, to try to communicate—and, when all else fails, to forgive and offer a smile.