Monday, November 20, 2006

The Stages of Motherhood

When I went to pick up the Pie from the church nursery on Sunday, I was met with a wholly unexpected sight: I saw her cradled lovingly in the arms of the nursery worker, a warm-hearted woman from Mexico who was carefully wiping the crusted snot from my daughter’s nose while the Pie cuddled contentedly, gazing up at her in awestruck admiration. "She had a nap," the miracle-worker explained, and then smiled happily up at her husband, adding, "It feels so good to hold a little baby again!"

Let’s see how many elements of the above scene were like scenes from Bizarro world: (1) The Pie does not cuddle. She hugs, she kisses, she pulls off glasses and runs away, but she does not cuddle. (2) The Pie does not permit snot-removal, or the removal of any substances from her face. Applesauce, cheese, spaghetti: any attempt to wipe these items from her cheeks, chin, or hair occasions much outrage and is met with corresponding levels of protest. (3) My daughter has not napped in someone’s arms for, oh, let’s say about a year now. Maybe a bit less than that, but not much. When she is up, she plays, and she goes down for her naps wide awake and kicking.

"That was a mother," I told hubby as we drove away. Everything about that woman exudes maternal energy: she has the kind of face that can stop a crying baby on a dime. The real key, though, is her ample bosom. I’ve seen it many times before: a baby is squalling furiously until placed into the arms of a real expert. The sobs subside and the baby relaxes, securely cushioned against this motherly woman's ample bosom. My bosom, on the other hand, tends to fall into the category of saggy and scrawny – even when I was breastfeeding I never achieved that shelf-like amplitude that seems so irresistible to babies.

Unfortunately for my children, they’re being raised by an impostor: I’m their mother, in that (as I vividly recall), I pushed them out my nether parts, but I lack the mommy-dust that magically soothes crying babies and has a soporific effect on even the most active of toddlers. When I expressed this thought to hubby, he did his best to reassure me, explaining, "We’ll really come into our own when they’re teenagers."

Personally, I’m hoping to get good at this job a bit before then, but his words did remind me of my favourite coping strategy for the times when I’m confronted with just how unsuited my personality is to the task of raising two pre-verbal urchins. Motherhood is a long job, and I don’t think anybody is perfectly suited to all phases of it: we all have to scrabble along as best we can at some point.

I first figured that out when I was in grade seven. For several years, I had loved hanging out with my friend Andrea’s mom. She was fun: she supplied us with unlimited copies of The National Enquirer, fixed us toasted bagels with cream cheese and bacon when we were hungry, and came up with all kinds of fun, zany things for us to do. She was a great mom. But when we became teenagers, she foundered: she wouldn’t let Andrea ride her bike in the neighbourhood after dark, she forbade her from trick-or-treating on Halloween – she just couldn’t do the letting-go that had to happen as her daughter moved out of childhood and into her teens. By high school, Andrea was in full-scale rebellion, and her mother was still clinging to her old set of rules, the ones that had worked fine back when we were ten.

I'm looking forward to the parts of motherhood that I think I'll be good at - the parts that don't involve stacking blocks or using a glue gun. I look forward to reading my children Anne of Green Gables and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to comforting them when their friends are mean, to going out to family restaurants when they're old enough to pick out their own supper from the children's menu. It shouldn't be surprising, I guess, that the parts of parenting I anticipate with the most pleasure are those that involve less snot and more words. And in the meantime, I use my words to pin it all down, all these baby and toddler moments that are easier to appreciate, somehow, when I see them in print.


mimi said...

Less snot and more words perfectly names it, I think! How well-put! As I flounder away in the depths of pre-verbal childcare (basically, bodily fluids management, with some physiotherapy thrown in. Oh, and kisses, too) I try to skip ahead to what I feel will be my glory years by maintaining a running verbal narrative of our days IN FRENCH. Early immersion is supposed to be good, and Mommy sorely needs the mental stimulus. :-)

PS: Just now delurking -- have greatly enjoyed your archives, and your post on reading archives ;-)

Her Bad Mother said...

WB shares 1 through 3 of Pie's characteristics. And, yes, I too have often thought that if only I were soft and round and ample of bosom and sweet of voice, I too might lull WB into cuddly sleep.

But I'll settle for animated communication and high-speed chases.

cinnamon gurl said...

I don't know which stage I'm suited for. But not long ago, I was lamenting to my mom that apparently Swee'pea has passed his easiest, most portable stage... and it wasn't even easy! But my mom just said, "Different people find different things easy."

I too find myself looking forward to the words. Of course, my niece and nephew are super verbal, and never shut up. They go to sleep and wake up talking. I'm not sure I'll be able to handle that either.

PeanutButtersMum said...

It's funny, 'cause before I had Peanut Butter, I would have said that I'm a "baby stage-er". I've always loved babies and would never turn down the opporunity to hold one. Now that I've been a mother to a baby and a toddler/pre-schooler though, I much much much prefer this preschool stage to any of the others I've experienced so far. It's so much easier now that I can rationalize (to a certain degree, of course) with PB and teach him about the cause/effect part of life. SO. Much. Easier. I've been known to say recently that I'd really like another child, but I'd prefer to skip over the first 18 months. Any takers??

Mad Hatter said...

We have two ample boosomed sitters, neither of which has kids of their own, but both of which can get Miss M to do anything. I count on the sitters to wipe noses, keep mittens on hands, feed vegetables and do any one of a million things that I am not permitted to do. I think there is something to be said for the ample boosomed nurturer and there is also something to be said for the care giver who is not the parent and therefore must be won over.

I don't know at what stage I might make for a good mother. Frankly, I thought I'd be miserable at the whole she-bang right from the get-go. Sometimes I'm simply pleased that I haven't messed up irrevokerably already. Or maybe I have...

Em said...

I used to think that older children had to be more rewarding and easier... but in some ways it only gets harder and harder!

I think the reason I am appreciating #3's babyhood SO much is because I know now what lies ahead ;)

Momish said...

I know I sit firmly right there with you when it comes to words over snot. I am much more cerebral than instinctual, that I feel my daughter will benefit more from me being her mom later in life. I see it with my teenage step girls. However, I do think children take to other mothering types for their own sake, solely on the basis that they are different and comforting in that way. Like they take to grandparents and the like. I am sure it has less to do with the boobs! Or, at least I hope.

Andie D. said...

I never truly enjoyed Ben's babyhood because I kept waiting for the time when he became an actual person. I saw it happening sometime around three and it hit me like a ton of bricks that his babyhood was over.

I make a serious effort now to enjoy the stages each one is in while their in it.

But I've also come to the conclusion that I'm not a baby person. I like preschoolers much better. They can wipe their own bottoms, tell you what they want, make jokes, and talk your ear off.

Becky said...

I am an ampled bosomed (42DD) Mom, but I do not have the maturity & wisdom (I'm 33! I still consider myself young, even if my children think me ancient!) yet of the ampled bosomed grandmotherly type who seem to be the ones that children do things for that they never do for their parents. Though, I do comfort my own children quite regularly (they run to me before their father 99% of the time, who gets terribly offended when it happens). However, the Peanut has an ampled bosomed babysitter and the Princess goes to my friend's house after school, who is also very ampled bosomed, and both are very good at getting my children to do things that they would NEVER do for me! Both my babysitter and friend are in their 50's... so again, I think it's the maturity & wisdom of the grandmotherly type that actually gets results! ;o)

metro mama said...

I agree. I think I'll be finally really good at this job in about, oh, 10 years.

bubandpie said...

Em - What? Did you say something right now? I'm afraid I wasn't listening. Um, gotta go now. Bye.


Becky said...

Oh! I got so smothered in ample bosoms, that I forgot my second train of thought! LOL!

I have tried to cope with each stage of childhood as it comes. Each offers it's own pros & cons.

Babies like to cuddle and they smell so good, but there is the whole waking up in the middle of the night to feed them thing and when they cry you can never figure out why. (My Mom always said that sometimes they just need to expend extra built up energy and they don't know any other way to do it other than to cry.)

At the toddler stage, it's amazing to witness the development of speech as they pick up new words everyday. (Sunday I witnessed the Peanut learning the word "backpack"... or "ba-pa" as she says. We have one of those Dora the Explorer backpacks that sings when you push the button... so now she walks around with it and pushes the button to sing the "ba-pa" song.)

As preschoolers you see your baby turn into a real little kid.

And as they enter Kindergarten, all trace of your baby is gone, but you're just so proud of the "big kid" your baby has become. It's very bittersweet.

Many of my colleagues and friends have commented to me as to how laid back of a Mom I am. ME? Laid back? I don't know... I try not to stress about the little stuff. I try to enjoy my children at each stage of their lives. I'm not saying that it's been easy. I'm not crazy about wiping snotty noses (the Peanut has had one the past several days), or cleaning up puke at 3AM. But there are so many wonderful things to witness as our children experience the miracle of life on a daily basis.

I never pictured myself as Mom-material as a high schooler. I never even pictured it while in college. But when the urge hit, I was determined to experience it to the fullest! ;o)

bubandpie said...

I should clarify that I don't necessarily think parenting will be easier when the kids are older (but I do think that, of course - I do, I do) - it's more that I'm hoping my existing personality will start to be more of an asset than a liability at that point - when a vivid memory of what it felt like to be 12 counts for more than the ability to decorate a cake shaped like Dora the Explorer.

jen said...

what a great story. isn't it terrific that our children can be exposed to all sorts of different people so others have a chance to offer whatever bits and pieces we may not have ourselves?
i agree, too, about not being suited well for certain stages. i feel fairly certain i'll score during the teenage years, but we've got a long journey in between.

nomotherearth said...

Thanks for writing this. It's comforting to think of motherhood as a lifelong job, when you're feeling like a terrible failure because you don't understand what the kid is saying half the time (which, of course, makes him upset) and he won't wear his mittens without a screaming fit.

Despite these foibles, I am loving the toddler stage more and more everyday and can't wait for the 4-8yr range - I think that could be my time!

It makes up for the crushing guilt I felt when I finally admitted that I'm not a "baby-stage" person. Still haven't come to terms with that fully, but I'm working on it.

CrankMama said...

Beautiful beautiful b&p.. magic mommy dust? You can be assured you have your own version of it (less glue, more verbs).. We all have our unique gifts... some of us are baby whisperers, some.. hopefully, teen whisperers (ass kickers?)

Let us know how it all turns out, won't you?

lildb said...

yes. me, too.

words! I want more and more. people tell me incessantly that I'll regret that notion, but I disagree. you see, I am fervent in my anticipation of a time when I am no longer the one that talks the most in this house.

(it's embarrassing, *and* true. sigh.)

Lady M said...

Can't wait to find a mom-stage at which I'm good.

TrudyJ said...

I'm a big believer in loving each stage while you're in it ... I am not a natural baby-and-toddler person either, but I think I had so much worry about handling that stage that it was easier than I expected (I found out snot bothers me less when it comes out of my own beloved baby, though that never helped much with the diapering end of things ... ALWAYS bothered me!!)

I am enjoying the extremely verbal school-aged stage now -- reading Lord of the Rings aloud and making up tunes to all the songs as I sing them is certainly better than reading the Boynton books over and over ... but then there's lots of mouthiness and back-talk to deal with at this stage.

I've had a lifelong ability to interact well with teenagers -- which has always served me well as a high-school teacher and church youth leader -- but I'm afraid when my own kids are teenagers it will magically desert me because I'll be way too invested in how they turn out to be able to sit back and deal dispassionately with their crises, as I can with my students. I'm hoping all my kids' friends will think I'm the cool mom at that stage though ... I'm certainly NOT the cool mom now.

Becky said...

I hope I didn't come off as being snobbish by saying that I have learned to enjoy my children at all stages of life (all that they've been through, so far, any way). That wasn't my intent. I was hoping to instill some inspiration to some of the other Mommies to let go and not worry so much about not being "good" at dealing with a certain stage.

Are any of us perfect? No. We will make mistakes at all stages of our children's lives, whether it be dozing off when your 19 month old is standing in her little rocking chair and you know that she's about to fall (and then waking up to the sound of her face hitting the floor) or that you can't seem to communicate with your teenage daughter who only wants to scream at you that you just don't "understand" (and by that time, we may not!).

The point is to learn to find the things that you enjoy about your child at every age and hold on to those things. Tuck each new memory away into your heart for safe keeping. There will be a day when you look at your child and you won't believe where the time has gone and if you didn't take the time to enjoy their lives to the fullest, you won't have anything to look back on and smile about.

My children are my heart & soul. I've been dragging my eldest daughter around since she was about a month old. She's met astronauts, authors and even Tibetan monks. With my youngest it has been much the same... although I will admit it's alot harder to drag two around than one! But I don't push them, either. If they're tired we go home and take naps. If they're hungry, we find food.

It's about leaving the laundry undone, letting an inch of dust gather on the top of your television, letting the tumbleweeds of cathair float around the corners of your house. If I were a stay-at-home Mom, I'd probably have more time for keeping house (my house was always cleanest when I was on maternity leave!). But I work full-time and when I get home, or I'm off on the weekends, I want to spend time with my girlies. Not to mention all the work that there is just to get them fed, bathed and in bed! ;o)

I'm looking back at the title of this post... "The Stages of Motherhood". That's exactly it! Just as there are stages that your child is going through, there are stages that we as Moms go through, too! It's all about adapting yourself to each stage. If your more of an intellectual person, look at your child's toddler/preschool stage as a chance to re-explore your own childhood. What were your favorite toys when you were that age? Get down on the floor once in awhile and play with them. Just let yourself go and live in the moment.

At any rate... this topic sure has seemed to stimulate my neurons. I'm sorry if I've over-commented or made anyone upset/offended. That certainly was not my intent.


Jennifer said...

I love this post. That's all -- I just love it.

bubandpie said...

Becky - No worries! I appreciate your insights. There are things I love about every age as well - I revel in the chubbiness of the Pie's little legs, because I know in a few months' time those legs will lengthen out and she'll turn into a little girl. And then I'll cry a little whenever I look back at photos of this time, at the confident way her belly juts out, at the baby-softness of her cheeks.

I think it's possible to make a distinction between what the children are like at this age vs. what the task of parenting them is like. My post made it seem as if I have something against snot, which actually I don't: I don't even really find diaper changes all that gross (not my own children's, at least, though I've noticed that other children have very disgusting snot and diapers!). It's just that wiping snot is a skill that doesn't come naturally to me, in that it involves some of the baby-calming superpowers that I forgot to sign up for in the hospital. ;)

What I look forward to in the years to come is not so much that my children will be better (though I have found, so far, that they do just get better and better), nor that the task of raising them will get easier (though it has, so far, gotten easier every step of the way), but rather that as the years go by I'll be able to play to my strengths a little more - that my children will benefit from certain traits of mine that simply are not of particular use to them right now.

Seriously, though, Becky, it never occurred to me to feel preached at or offended by your remarks - you're just working through the issue the same as I am.

Robbin said...

I was a pretty good "little baby" Mom. I could calm Harry in about two minutes flat. My track record in the "toddler mom" department so far is pretty dismal. Harry is a late talker, and sometimes when he is trying to convey his needs in a series of "uh-uhs" and screams, I look at him and say "dude, you are just going to have to learn how to talk, or you are going to starve."

Julie Pippert said...

I used to think...oh I lack the patience to be a really good toddler mom. I give slack the first year and then I'm like, I'm all done with the crying and waking at night deal and you need to be done with it too. The unconditional patience I provided the first year and a half...screeches to a neck-jarring halt.

I don't make fancy cakes, am simply not crafty, have a very limited attention span for pre-school games, feel my hair stand on end when babies cry...and well, haven't hit my liability as a school-aged child's parent yet.

But I'm sure I'll figure it out soon enough. I'll probably be the mom who rarely volunteers in the classroom becuse 30 will be way, way too many for me.

The point is...I do and don't concur about the good at different stages.

I've heard that a lot, and it brought comfort when I was feeling like a lame-act baby/toddler/preschool mom. "I'll rock when they're 12..." I'd reassure myself.

Then I started thinking...I think it's a character trait. I don't think I'm going to change so much as a person.

I think it will be different issues and situations, but in each and every stage, I'll be stronger in some ways and weaker in others.

Just the same way I feel "oh this age is better...but worse..." each time we progress to a new stage.


Whew, I sound like I don't like mommying or kids much. Not the case. I LOVE mommying and kids, especialy my own, who I think descended in a spray of fairy dust from heaven above they are so wonderful.

But I'm also pretty honest and realistic about myself.

I may not throw really cool gosh how'd you do it kid's parties, but we have some wildly fun imaginaive play around here...

ewe are here said...

No ample bosom to speak of here. I was always relieved that MF would just sleep when he was a wee baby. Didn't care where, when or how or on who. Funnily enough, though, he enjoyed sleeping on my husband quite a bit in a koala bear curl. It was so.damn.cute!

Kyla said...

I'm a baby person. Oh how I love smelling their sweet heads and cuddling their warm little bodies. I love that they don't ask me questions 400 times a day. I love that there is no discipline involved. I love milky baby breath. I love watching them learn to smile and giggle and grow. As difficult as what we are going through with KayTar is, in some ways I feel so lucky that she has been my baby for so long. When she was little, I used to tell her "You can stay my baby for as long as you like." well, she took it a little TOO literally...but I've really loved the extra time. Not that I would ever choose to go through what we're going through just for extra baby time; but that little bonus makes it a little easier at times.

Aliki2006 said...

What a "right on the money" post about this. I've always lamented that I'm not a natural "baby-stage mama" but I seem to have a knack for the later ages, like from four years up. I love much about the baby-stage, don't get me wrong, but it's hard for me to summon up the massive ammounts of self-sacrifice required to parent an infant and to deal with overpowering sleep-deprivation over someone who can't even sit up or talk much.

something blue said...

It is funny how I often think I can be super mom, perfect at every stage, when in truth I'll make a much better grandmother! hee hee.

sunshine scribe said...

Now that my son is older, I don't know I can be objective about this. Part of me wants every stage back but maybe I have blocked too much out with my super verbal monkey.

Binkytown said...

THANK YOU. I am feeling woefully inadequate this week as my 22 month old is challenging me at every turn and feeling like I have no idea what I'm doing.

You've given me a new perspective- thanks

Beck said...

One of the nice things about motherhood is that my always-astonishing bosum has gone from labelling me as "should have a career in the clothing-removal arts" to "sweet maternal woman". My husband is eye-wateringly great with small babies, able to sooth any unhappy baby almost instantly. I, on the other hand, am better with verbal kids - and since it's a team effort, we're covered (so far).

Mamalooper said...

I am still letting go of those high expectations that I have/had (please, let them be "had") of myself as a mom at EVERY stage. My parttime caregiver is a much more fun playmate for my girl - no surprise as she has a zillion years of experience. And is a natural baby person.

I think I will be more "fun" for her when she is a little older. But I am the best at cuddles and kissing it all better, that's for sure.

kittenpie said...

I was never a baby-stage person, and knew it, but always saw it as something to get through to get to the good stuff, like the hilarious toddler years, the sweet preschool years, and the amazing school-age years.

I always play on the hope that a song for everything makes it go smoother, somewhat like Mary Poppins. Works much of the time, though not all of the time, that's for sure. If anyone finds that 100% successful magic tool, let me know! (since I'm not sure I can grown the Bosom)

Red Rollerskate said...

Babies are often on their best behavior for other people. I watch other people's kids all day, and the parents are aghast that their kids nap for me or don't cling to their pacifiers like they do at home. Is it my gift? No. My own child has not napped for me in 6 months, but will willingly do it for the neighbor he has only met once. His babysitter says he has never had a tantrum for her. HA! But YOU are always their mommy and the most nurturing one around -- ample boobs or not. :)

edj said...

Well, I have a very ample bosom, not that I'm happy about that as it goes with ample shoulders, hips, etc. And babies don't like me. Oh my own did, but I'm not a bit like that nursery worker, even though I like babies and am always happy to make faces at them when I should be paying more attention to the sermon, or whatever it is. But when I hold and cuddle them, they always cry. So it's more than just body shape. I think you have to really LIKE babies, and little kids.
But you put it just right. There are stages of parenting that better fit our personalities. (Personally, I think I'll really hit my stride when they're about 25! :) ) My own mother wasn't much when we were little--I don't remember her ever getting down on the floor to play with me--but when I was a teenager, we had a lot of really good discussions.

Kristen said...

I love this. I keep waiting for the phase of motherhood I'll feel most comfortable in, too. John keeps telling me when the kids are around 7 and 9 (respectively), we'll be at the peak of the enjoyable, "easy" time with them. Only four more years. I just hope the four years getting there gets at least slightly easier and more manageable! Like you, though, until that time, I can at least look for the humor and the joy through the act of writing about it.