Saturday, May 23, 2015

marathons and mommy mistakes

I was jogging around Lake Loveland yesterday, one of my favorite local runs. It took me six months after giving birth to my daughter to get back to my pre-pregnancy workout routine. I was the kind of new mom for whom the eight weeks of recovery my doctor ordered felt like a life sentence. I thought as soon as I was given the all-clear I'd be back to my morning runs, starting with two miles, then three, then working my way up until my legs and lungs were back in shape. I even considered signing up for the Colorado Marathon in May, just five months after she was born.

Let me pause here to allow space for your hysterical laughter.

Thinking back on those aspirations, all I can do is laugh. Hard. That marathon quickly turned into a half-marathon, then to a 5k, then a weekly walk around the baseball fields at Centennial Park. I learned that it wasn't about getting my legs and lungs back in shape, but rather a whole other set of muscles, muscles I hadn't known existed until that night in December when I pushed a nearly seven-pound human girl out of my body.

All of this got me thinking about the expectations I had for myself before my daughter was born and the kind of mom I actually turned out to be. One of the first baby items that I purchased shortly into my pregnancy was a top-of-the-line (read: very expensive) jogging stroller. I really thought I would be the kind of mother who you would see running my infant all over town, the kind who would whip myself back into shape in a mere matter of weeks.

Things didn't exactly happen the way I had expected. Turns out, being a mom is harder than I thought.

As moms, especially first-time moms, I think it's common to set up expectations for ourselves. As we struggle to form this new identity, often as some kind of consolation for our quickly retreating youth, we try to envision a perfect version of ourselves moving forward. A kind of super-mom who always gives 110 percent, who never cuts corners, does everything not just the right way, but the best way. For me, that meant a natural, drug-free childbirth, at least one full year of breastfeeding, cloth diapers, daily exercise, home-cooked baby food, never fighting with my husband, a baby who sleeps all night long on her back, etc. (insert your ideal baby/mom image here). But so far, I have failed to meet nearly all of these expectations, with the only exception being cloth diapering, which I actually recommend, as long as you don't mind washing poop off of your hands. But these expectations and failures are only the beginning. Beyond this, I have since learned that there are other failures I've had as a mother that I never would have expected. Things I had completely taken for granted before have now become the biggest failures, things I never expected I would be able to possibly fail at.

I expected I would be the kind of mother who would return phone calls from family and friends. I expected to be able to remember to feed my dog. I expected to not dress my daughter in pink every day and assign to her a gender identity at a young age and I expected not to baby talk all of my sentences, even those in everyday conversation with adults. I expected to at least do some laundry, or at least not to use every surface in the house to wipe my daughter's spit up, including curtains, couch cushions, the dog, and so on. I expected to read a story before bed every night, to be willing to turn off the TV (it never occurred to me that limiting screen time also meant that I might have to miss some of my favorite shows). I expected to not shout obscenities in the middle of the night or throw pacifiers across the room. These are the expectations I never would have expected I would fail to meet.

I expected to sleep at least a little bit, or to ever have sex again. Pause again here for your hysterical laughter.

The fact is, what we used to consider normal has become the ideal. It's a perfect day if I can get the dishwasher unloaded, if my daughter doesn't sit in her dirty diapers for more than a few minutes, and if I can pay my husband at least some attention. It's a perfect day if I don't run out of formula or wipes or accidentally leave the back door open over night. Does that make me a bad mother? Does that make me not the perfect mother? When I look at my daughter I see a very different version of life than I expected when I was pregnant. She doesn't get an hour of reading time every day, she doesn't live in a sterile, germ-free environment. She won't be breastfed until she's seven and she probably came into this world in a paralytic haze. But what I do see is a happy baby. A baby who feels safe and loved and confident that her parents are always around.

We finally made it all the way around the lake. Five miles in six months. The old version of myself would have been disappointed. But the mom in me doesn't have time for disappointment. I've learned that my expectations were all wrong, that being a good mom isn't about what you read in magazines or see on the internet. I've learned that sometimes there are no matching socks, and you're just not going to be able to get all of that sunscreen rubbed in. That sometimes it's enough just to have a bedtime routine at all and a properly installed car seat. I've learned that I already have everything I need, strapped safely and perfectly into my (albeit very expensive) stroller. That, for now, is good enough for me.

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