Oh how I wish I had known this from the very beginning. I wish someone had said those magic words. To let me in on the giant secret of motherhood. There are no perfect mothers, but we are the perfect mother for our children. Because each child is different, because each mother is different, because some of us need mothering boot camp to really know what we are made of.
I needed it, you know. Mothering boot camp. That's what I call that first year of being a mother, Boot Camp. Because it was hard, I was in the trenches, and in the end, I survived, but I also learned a lot about myself. Even at 29 years old, I wasn't really ready to be a mother. If I'm honest I wasn't ready to give up my sleep, to give up my freedom to read a book well into the wee morning hours, to have to do something other than watch Grey's Anatomy on Thursday night. I would have told you I was ready. Ready and willing to give up those choice adult freedoms, but I was a liar. I know that because when my daughter was born, shit got real. Really, effing real.
I wasn't ready nor prepared for a baby that didn't sleep. That didn't eat. That didn't, or shall I say refused to sleep in her crib. I wasn't ready for a child that didn't take naps, that didn't eat on any kind of schedule I tried, that hated to ride in a car. Every book I had read, every mom I talked to (except one) said that eventually my baby would sleep in her crib. With enough sleep training she would sleep through the night, that eventually she would tire herself out when she screamed in the car and would eventually sleep. Can I just say that "she" is now six years old, and has yet to fall asleep on any car ride, the three hour or more car rides included. You see, what those damn books never mentioned was that I may get blessed with a child who had her own agenda.
An agenda that I would have to adapt to, instead of the other way around.
So I'm here to tell you, that your kid who can't abide by napping alone, who can't take a bottle no matter who gives it to him, who for the love of God will not sleep past five o'clock in the morning is perfectly normal. Your child is normal in a way that only other mothers who have children like this can understand, because you know what? Not everybody has one.
The spirited child, the active child, the no effing agenda but their own child. Yup, I've got one. She is a gift, and I'll tell you why. She taught me so much about myself. She taught me that I can and continue to do hard things. Like all the hard things. She taught me that it is possible to survive on four hours of sleep, and still make it work. That it's ok to sit on the couch and hold her for three hours because if I move even a little to the left she will wake up and nap time will be a complete fail. That it's ok that your kid sleeps with you, still. Even if you tell everyone she doesn't.
People with kids that follow all the rules as outlined in What to Expect, have no idea about this life. A life that needs no digital alarm clock because you have a human one. A life that doesn't include a "family nap time" or any "nap time" for that matter. A life that is one big ferris wheel ride, that never stops but sees the same ups and downs occur in similar twenty four hour patterns. They have no idea what that's like, not on a constant basis.
I know what some of you reading this may be thinking. You're the parent, they are the child, infant even if you still have babies. Why don't you just get your shit together and make that kid do what you want? They don't make the rules, you do. Bless your gumption, but I tried. I tried for the better part of a two years. I spent a stellar night with the Hubbs when Caitlin was nine months old sleep training her. The end result: she cried for 35 minute increments at a time from 9 pm until 2 am. And finally at 2 am, when we just couldn't take it anymore, we laid her in our bed, and within a ten count she was asleep. This is the same child that when told she had to drink milk out of a sippy cup instead of a bottle refused milk all together. Even now, she just won't drink milk in a glass. This is the same child that when "bagged" for a urine sample at 11am, held her pee, even after 2 icees, and one 16 oz Dr. Pepper, until we removed it six hours later, and she peed the equivalent of the Pacific Ocean. I wish I was kidding.
So you see, my daughter had her own agenda as soon as she slid out of the birth canal. No book, no Dr. Ferber, no Happiest Baby on The Block, no Dr. Spock, no Supper Nanny was ever going to change that.
I wish someone would have told me that then.
I happened upon an Instagram conversation on Saturday. A picture of a very cute almost one year old crying in her highchair. Her mother's hashtag read: #meangirl #mommygetspresentsinstead. It was something I could totally relate to. And attached to the picture, comments about other children, with similar cranky pants to wear, and their mothers wondering when it would all end. I remember those days. When my baby would cry and tantrum over the most confusing things. When they refused every food you put in front of them, and then would eat whatever they found on the floor. Tears because they were tired, tears because they were rested, tears because it was Saturday. I remember all of it. So I left a comment about the light at the end of the tunnel: It gets better, for me it took about 18 months... And that is the truth.
For me and my baby, it took 18 long and tearful months long to turn that corner. Where she was finally content as a little person, and I was finally confident as a mother. A place where I could admit defeat by an almost two year old, and not have it devastate the world around me. A place where small victories included string cheese lunches, and naps in my lap while I watched every NCIS episode ever made, admitting to myself that the laundry would always need washing, but my baby wouldn't always need to be held. And that part hurts to type, because that spirited baby is going to be seven in June, and she hardly fits in my lap. She doesn't even try to get in my lap much anymore.
So new mama, toddler mama, preschool mama, you are the perfect mother for your child. That one you have that pushes that certain button. That one that wakes you before the sun is out. That child that no matter how many bribes refuses to poop on the potty. You are perfect for him or her. No matter what that book said, no matter what that other blogger may have said, no matter what celebrity says otherwise. Because they do not have the privilege and the gift that is your personal human alarm clock.