Motherhood, No. 3

You are playing on the shag carpet, the fat of your milky thighs spread luxuriously while you sit erect, spine rigid, arms waving erratically. It’s great fun to your ten-month-old self, this arm flapping extravaganza: every so often, a shrieking squeal tumbles up from your throat and you look at me with glittering eyes — See what I did, Mama?

You’ve begun to suck your thumb at odd times — no longer just for naps and bedtime — and as I watch you examine a battered wooden block, you suddenly pop your right thumb between your pink lips and begin slurping while the other fingers of your hand reach up toward your nose, feeling, and your left hand immediately floats up to your hair. With an open palm, you sweep your left hand across your scalp, ruffling wispy silver-blonde locks in that comfort-seeking manner of small children. Our eyes lock — your unfathomably navy blues trained on my deep chocolate browns — and you slurp a few more times, content. I’m suddenly struck: there is no greater stage in life, I am certain of it. Your every moment is somehow both remarkably simple and exhilarating. Children must be so generally joyous because they live in a constant state of discovery.

Still watching me, your lips part and curve upward, thumb sliding out as you break into a toothy beam. I smirk back at you, incapable of resisting your wily charms. I brush aside the faint echo of a thought I’ve had more than once: we’ll have to fend off teenage girls with a stick, someday.

“Henry-boy, hello! Can you wave hi to Mama?”

At the lilt of my voice, your face takes on a look of concentration and you wave your left fist in my direction.

“Hi there! Hello, baby!” I proclaim, wiggling my hands to your delight. You raise the right arm now, fingers spread wide, and flap at me. I think, not for the first — or last — time: I would give ten years of my life to preserve these unremarkable moments forever. 

In a blink, you’ve twisted around, back to me, as you blaze a trail to something more interesting and stimulating than just plain ‘ole Mama.

The Mom Admission Nobody Wants to Make

I’ve been in the heart of baby season for a year now — my own firstborn arrived last June, and the calendar has been peppered with the arrivals of various friends’ own first children since that date. I don’t want to say that Zack and I “started something,” but, it’s possible, right? . . . (I kid, I kid. Pun intended.)

The year has brought an onslaught of firsts and in the early months, I found myself bombarding two of my longtime gal pals (and seasoned moms) with daily texts about poop, nursing, rice cereal, poop, fevers, poop, bath time shenanigans, travel solutions, poop, and more poop. (Side note: there aren’t enough resources in the world about the weird stuff that comes out of babies’ bums.) Time and again, I thought: Damn. I’ve got a great mom tribe. I am so lucky.

Before I knew it, I was the one getting texts from new moms, desperate for advice (despite my clear lack of what one might call “expertise”). I guess, at least, there’s something to be said for having gone through the same experiences just months previously, rather than decades earlier like our own moms. So I tried helping the best I could.

Travel during nap times.

Use Aveeno bath products for sensitive skin.

Try Selsen Blue for cradle cap, if it’s really bad. But be careful! That stuff will burn through their eyeballs like acid.

Make your husband go with you to get your child’s vaccines.

Don’t apologize for not letting everyone and their mother hold your child in the heart of flu season.

And then I got a text, a few weeks ago, that was filled with remorse and pleading and probably a bit of shame: Do you sometimes resent your child?

Oh. Oh. This text made me stop in my tracks for a few moments before I fired back —

YES.

Plus some other stuff, meant to reassure my friend that she isn’t a garbage mom (because she’s not) and that she isn’t a weirdo (because she’s not, at least not in this particular sense) and that she isn’t alone (because, let’s get real — she’s definitely not). This was a question I hadn’t been brave enough to ask my own girlfriends in the frustrating, tiresome early months of my own motherhood; in truth, it wasn’t a realization I could even admit to myself. So I knew the courage it took to ask and I knew it was something I wanted to write about later, at the risk of being mom-bashed on social media by friends who don’tevenhavekids and moms who won’t admit the truth to themselves.

Hi. My name’s Renee, and sometimes I resent my kid.

There. I said it.

I find myself experiencing bitterness when I’m run ragged, firing on a few measly hours of sleep and in a state of self loathing because #mombodprobs (which, of course, never keeps me from eating more chocolate . . . ). The resentment grows when he wakes up every night for weeks to cry inconsolably, even though I know the appropriate emotional response should be only compassion. It doubles when my husband lifts weights in the evenings — just steps out of the shop, gets in his car, drives to the weight room, lifts for a couple hours — while I have to fight guilt to ask my mother-in-law to watch Henry for another hour this week so that I can go for a run or meet the girls for a workout. The resentment deepens when I can’t drive three hours to meet a friend who’s passing through Kansas because Henry hates the car and it wouldn’t be fair to drag him all that way and I can’t ask Cindy to watch him again this week. It grows exponentially when we travel to my parents’ house and he screams three of the four hours in the car. It sneaks up on me when we’re with family for the holidays, and everyone wants to go to a movie or out to eat or stay up till 3 playing games and I’ve got to wreck their plans — I’m staying in with Henry — or go to bed at ten, because he’ll be up at midnight, anyway.

I don’t remember the first time I was hit with a wave of nauseating resentment toward Henry, but I know I haven’t experienced the last — and I’m forgiving myself for each of those times and the moments to come, without hesitation. Here’s why:

  • Momming is friggin’ hard work. It’s often thankless, and the constant state of being needed but not appreciated can wear away at a girl.
  • It doesn’t mean I don’t want my kid. I just don’t want him to cry all night, dammit.
  • I’m human, too. I’m selfish, even when I don’t want to be. I can try to repress the feelings as much as I want, but being a mom is a transition and it’s ridiculous to expect my own selfish desires about how I want to spend my time to just fade or disappear — poof! — overnight.
  • The resentment always, always melts away. Usually just as quickly as it’s come.

And here’s the big one: for every moment of bittnerness or childish resentment I feel toward my little guy, there are a thousand moments of boundless adoration, overwhelming love, and sheer joy.

It’s a challenge, admitting this sort of truth to yourself; especially when you tried for so long to become pregnant or when you acknowledge that these feelings are directed toward a helpless, ten-pound squish. These rare moments of bitterness overwhelm me with shame. They make me feel lesser, even though I know I am a good mama. They make me feel embarrassed and unnatural and cruel — and human.

In the past year, I’ve grown to appreciate just how much struggle, devotion, and sacrifice it takes to be a good mother. I’ve seen old friends with new eyes, regretted my years of teenage jackass-ery (sorry, Ma & Dad), and generally come to accept that motherhood demands nothing short of superhero status on a daily basis.

I’ve watched Batman, though, and I know that sometimes, even the best heroes have moments of darkly humiliating weakness.

It’s what makes them human.