Last week I shared with you my newest parenting adventure: riding in the backseat for my 15-year-old son Ford’s driver’s education check-ride. What I didn’t tell you is that before being a passenger to the most terrifying drive of my life, I spent the morning at a baby shower. The mother-to-be’s husband used to babysit my three boys. This spring, he and his wife will be first-time parents to a baby boy.
This isn’t our first babysitter to start his or her own family. Nothing makes you feel like you’ve entered a new phase of life than when the people who watched your children while you went out to dinner are now having their own children — children that your kids are old enough to babysit.
So you can imagine the conflicted feelings this baby shower stirred in me. On one hand, it’s been ages since I’ve been around that many packs of diapers, and I can’t say I miss it. On the other hand, the cliché is true: It feels like just yesterday that I was holding up tiny blue jeans and footed pajamas at a baby shower for Ford, which was held on my 24th birthday.
The hostess for last week’s shower asked us to use a sheet of paper in front of our luncheon plate to leave advice for the new mom. What I wrote was something I tell all new boy-moms: “Little boys who aren’t allowed to take risks (climbing trees, popping wheelies on their bikes, etc.) become young men who take bigger, more dangerous risks. Let them take the small risks.”
That was all I had room for on the sheet of paper. I could have gone on — about how much teenage boys eat or how potty-training little boys takes forever — but the truth is, those are things new moms don’t want to hear. At your first baby shower, it’s all tiny clothes, cuddly robes and the smallest socks you can imagine. I remember like it was yesterday. That the baby you are carrying will one day leave his larger, sweaty socks on the living room floor seems unfathomable, or at least light years away. And who wants to think about smelly teenagers at a baby shower anyway?
So we don’t tell the mom-to-be these things.
And then, there are those things that can’t really be explained in words.
How do you tell a new mom that time in fact does pass at warp speed? In the beginning, you think you have 18 years, and that seems like plenty. But the truth is, from the moment your son is born, he is on a fast track to becoming his own separate person, with thoughts and feelings that often don’t match your own, and by the time he is 12, you’re lucky if he even wants to be seen with you in public anymore.
How do you tell a new mom that everything she believes about parenthood is about to be tested? You begin with a head full of dreams about what you and your child will do, how you’ll never be “one of those” parents. Soon enough though, you are in survival mode and you realize, parenting is often easier in theory.
How do you tell a mom-to-be who is thinking about labor that even that can’t compare to the lifetime of heartache, panic, despair and doubt she will face as a mother? Labor is a virtual blip on the timeline but awaited with such nervous anticipation, as if someone will come from the shadows afterward and say, “ANNNND, scene,” and it will all be a Hallmark commercial after that.
How do you tell her that while she once dreamed of her own future and goals, she will soon find those replaced with hopes and dreams for her child?
How do you tell her that being a mother is like having your heart on the outside of your body?
How do you tell her that she will exist in a constant state of grief over the stages her child has left behind and how she’ll never again feel his tiny hands or silky-smooth feet?
How do you tell her it won’t be anything like she’s imagined, that at times it will be better and at times it will be worse?
You don’t. Because you shouldn’t tell a new mom these things.
Fifteen years ago, I was at a shower for baby Ford. He would be born exactly one month later. Six weeks after that, Dustin left for his first six-month deployment, and Ford and I moved 800 miles from our nearest relative. What happened to the time between then and last week’s driver’s education check-ride I cannot say.
I seemed to have blinked and that little baby has become a young man, merging into oncoming traffic on the interstate (terrifying).
No one prepared me for that.
No one warned me.
And now I know why.