Ghosts of Cows Past, by Nonstop Originals on Etsy
I am having one of those days where you feel caught and torn, stranded atop that barbed wire fence that separates the past behind you, all crystal clear in the way hindsight tends to be, and a hazy future laid out in front, hidden under layers of thick questions and possibility.
I sit here, uncomfortably perched in the scratchy, pokey, sometimes-painful present and I scrutinize the past and flip through photos and search my face for clues. I look at moments that seemed like yesterday, and try to stretch my mind around where I might be tomorrow.
I’m not good at making decisions. Not at all. It takes me hours, weeks, months sometimes to make inconsequential choices that others make in seconds, flying through the toothpaste aisle and grabbing a box off the shelf while I sit there, grey hairs multiplying, overcomplicating the issue until I drive myself (and more often that not, everyone around me) crazy.
Last week I was joking that I needed to start planning Olive’s first birthday. And then on Wednesday Adam and I found ourselves walking around a pre-school fair and talking about putting Olive on a waiting list for one. Suddenly here we were not only thinking about her being one, (ONE!), but trying to stretch my mind into the future by two or three years, thinking about preschool. For Olive. The chubby baby who clings to my neck in the middle of the night, sweaty and sighing with sleep.
I’ve never been a birthday hater. I relished getting older, liked the cake and the phone calls, feeling like for just one day, everyone was glad that you were born. Everyone celebrating you being alive.
I am 30 this year (THIRTY!) and suddenly I hate birthdays. I don’t want to turn thirty, or thirty-five, or fifty. I mean it’s not that I want to pause time, I don’t want an eight month old forever. I want to see Olive grow and stretch and unfurl her wings, find an audience for that strong voice I see developing even now. I want to see her learn, and question the world around her, I want to help her become strong, and help her through that aching vulnerable feeling of being hurt by those you love.
I want to be there, but I want to be there for all of it.
For always. I want to slow this march of time for me as much as I am excited to stand by and watch it march on for her. But it’s all or nothing, I’m afraid.
And I am afraid, a little. Because here is my confession: it’s been easy, so far. This whole baby thing. The newborn baby stage is perfect for someone like me who loves lying around in bed, who doesn’t mind not leaving the house for days. Someone who gave up late nights and hangovers years ago. People have commented that I have adapted well, that motherhood has come naturally to me, and I have agreed, because so far, it has come easily. As easily as can be expected with broken sleep and all of your clothes smelling like milk, and standing in front of your underwear drawer one Friday morning and realizing that you don’t own any real bras anymore.
I have found it easy. Or if not easy, natural. It felt natural to breastfeed, to wake up to the sound of a baby crying. It felt natural to pace the hallways waiting for her breathing to slow and her body to soften.
But it won’t be easy for long. It is already beginning to feel unnatural.
Good lord this child likes to MOVE. And as soon as she pieces together how to move her body at a pace that matches her mind, it’s on. Shit gets real. No more lying around on the front lawn under a blanket fort, reading and watching her explore the grass with her fingers. I worry that I won’t do as well at this part of parenting, being the “on” parent who can keep up and keep ahead and keep her entertained. I am a pretty low-energy person (whether through personality or by way of my kidney condition, who knows.) and I don’t know what I thought, but I always imagined a baby with this same characteristic.
I imagined Olive sitting in a corner flipping through a book and babbling a made up story to herself. Quiet strolls through parks. I don’t know…contemplating the world around her or something. But I forgot one crucial fact.
This child is part Adam. The natural athlete, the guy who constantly needs to be talking, watching, doing, having three things simultaneously blaring and flashing and entertaining him or he becomes borderline insane. And that is Olive right now. Wriggling across the floor, gasping with excitement, heaving and hurtling her tiny body towards objects at speeds that are rather alarming considering she isn’t even crawling yet.
And each time she pulls herself up, or gets her knees underneath her, or gleams with pride as she wobbles around holding on to just my fingers, I think to myself “shit”.
I mean, ”Yay!” but also “Shit”. Because I worry that I’m about to stop being a good mom, I’m worried that I won’t be a natural anymore because I will be so far out of my element that I will suffocate or drown with all of this going and doing and moving.
I mean, are you sure you don’t want to come sit down and read another book?
I don’t anticipate the toddler years being easy for me. (I mean, they’re not easy for anyone, I imagine, what with the shrieking and the tantrums and the tiny dictators stuck in bodies they can’t control well enough and being swamped with emotions they can’t put a name to) but I worry, watching Olive vibrate with want, that I might just be missing that essential energy and vitality and energy that parenting a toddler requires.
I’m not good at challenges. If something gets too tough, I quit. Quickly. Instinctively. Never look back! On to the next one!
Adam was my first real effort at perseverance because I promised in front of all the people we hold near and dear to us that I would never quit him, or this strange, strong, beautiful thing we are building together. Sickness and health.
Until death to us part, etcetera and so on.
I didn’t have to make a vow like that with Olive though, not a public one declared in a quavering voice trying to speak up so the people at the back could hear. Not by signing my name in writing as shaky as my nerves. I didn’t have to apply for her. She just wasn’t there, and then one day, she was.
In sickness and in health. Forever and ever.
So I have been making a vow to her privately, instead. Quietly. In the dead of night when I bury my face into her sticky neck. When she falls down and cries for me, then pushes me away just as quickly so that she can stand up and try again.
(She perseveres as easily as I quit. Quickly. Instinctively.)
I have been promising her that I will be a good mom. I have been promising her that I will try to become a natural. I have been going to playgroups and meeting people. I have been smiling and making small talk above my thudding heart and my anxiety. I am a fish so far out of water that it all feels beautiful and foreign, like a lilting language you haven’t yet learned how to speak. I arrive home, head spinning, feeling like I need to not speak to anyone for weeks.
But I get up, like Olive, I get up and do it again. And again.
I was a natural, but now I’m not.
I’m uncomfortable on this barbed wire, glancing back and peering forward. Trying to regain my balance and learning how to pick myself up when I fall.