It’s been almost a whole year since Liam was born. He’s such a different baby now than on that first day. The changes are remarkable and bring me so much joy. But he’s not the only one who’s spent this year growing and changing. I’ve stopped and looked at myself several times over the past year and asked “who am I?” Covered in gluey banana chunks, hair in a limp ponytail, eyes circled with exhaustion and frustration… through all of that, I think I still see me. I still like board games and cheese and windy days. I still swear too much and leave pretzel crumbs in my car and post Simpsons gifs to Twitter when appropriate to the discussion (spoiler: ALWAYS appropriate to the discussion).
I feel like I haven’t changed. But my entire life has. And I suppose that means that I have, too. I’m not just Jen anymore. I’m Liam’s mom.
My body is different. It goes so far beyond the stretch marks. None of my clothes fit quite right, but not in the ways I was expecting. I’m squishy and my boobs are too big and I have no idea where my ass went. My hair fell out and is growing back in very slowly in awkward little tufts at my temples. I find myself looking under my glasses when I’m trimming Liam’s nails, and I think that might signal the start of my bifocal years. The quality and quantity of my showers have declined. I don’t get to shave my legs as often as I’d like, and I haven’t had time to get my hair cut or paint my nails in months. My back is sore from hoisting a baby up from the floor multiple times a day, and from angling him just right so he doesn’t hit his head as I put him in the car seat. I have intermittently debilitating pain in my hip and pelvis that sometimes leaves me trapped on the couch in tears. I’m older. I feel older.
My brain is different. My attention span is shorter than it used to be, and I can’t seem to focus on a book or TV show for more than a few minutes at a time. When I’m tired from a long night of interrupted sleep, which is more often than I’d like, my brain isn’t working with a full crew. My memory is a mess and I rely on lists and reminders in my phone – which only work if I remember to note them in the first place. I can’t juggle as many thoughts as I used to, but I have more thoughts to juggle than ever before. It’s exhausting. Overwhelming.
My priorities are different. I wake up earlier than I want to, so I can feed him and get him to daycare. I wash dishes and do laundry and get lunches ready every evening instead of watching TV or catching up on sleep, because those things are more important. I commute almost three hours a day and work 40 hours a week because my salary and health insurance are necessary to my family’s well-being, even though that means that I only see my son awake for two hours every work day before it’s bedtime for him and dishwashing time for me. It’s hard. It’s so hard. But it’s what life has to be right now. Everything is about him and nothing is about me, and while I have a nagging feeling that it’d be healthier to pay attention to myself now and then, the guilt nags louder and keeps me from many flights of self-indulgence.
But it’s not all bad. I’m wiser now. I’m a calmer parent than I thought I would be. But I’m also a louder advocate and stronger fighter than I ever thought I could be. I’m much more bullshit-averse, and that seems to apply to everything, not just matters involving my son. My depression and anxiety did a number on me in the months after Liam was born, but I think I’ve gotten better at dealing with them. Not perfect – I still have my triggers, and it can still get pretty bad. Just ask my husband what happens when we’re running late for something. But I think maybe I’m more aware of the gray areas of life and working on accepting that sometimes none of the answers are completely right or completely wrong. And maybe it doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks. Maybe it just matters that I love my son and my husband and that they love me. All that’s really important is that my family is safe and happy and healthy, and that I’m trying my best. Maybe.
Maybe when you add everything up, I’m a slightly better me than I used to be. Thanks for the nudge, kiddo.