I don’t remember playing with dolls much as a kid. Sure, I had Barbies…but mostly so I could dress them in the cool outfits my mom bought for them. I had a Shirley Temple doll, basically because I idolized her. I just don’t really remember having baby dolls and playing ‘mommy’ with them. I never fantasized about having a baby and taking care of it; as I got older, I vacillated from saying I would never have kids (I didn’t want the blood tests I knew I’d have to get if I was pregnant) and saying that I would just adopt (that came from a book I loved as a kid, called The Family Nobody Wanted).
So it was a big surprise when, around age 25 or so, I suddenly really, really wanted a baby. I wanted to be a mom. When my oldest, Eric, came along just before my 26th birthday, I was absolutely clueless about babies. I never babysat, didn’t have young siblings or nieces or nephews that I ever took care of. I was not the person who would ask to hold your baby. (In fact, I would inwardly cringe if you handed your baby to me, sure that I was going to make him/her cry.) None of my friends had babies yet. But there I was with my very own baby!
My mom has to get the credit for my baby learnin’. She was there to show me how to burp Eric, how to lay him down for a nap without waking him right back up, how to soothe him. I still pretty much stayed a nervous wreck until he was a toddler, but my mom helped me take a deep breath and not be so terrified that I was going to break my baby.
I was lucky to grow up with a mom that not only took care of me and looked out for me, but was a great role model and friend as I grew older. Rather than pulling away from her in my late teens and my 20s, I confided in her often, asking her advice and telling her my goals and dreams. I borrowed clothes from her too – she was always better dressed than me (even now, at nearly 75, my mom puts me to shame in the clothes department). It was kind of awesome, like having two closets full of clothes!
Little kids always make me kind of nervous – I have a hard time understanding them, and I just don’t have that laid-back playful personality that meshes well with kids. I really wasn’t sure what it would be like with my own kids – would I be able to understand them when they were learning to talk? And it turns out I could understand them just fine. It makes a big difference when you spend all day, every day with that little person – it was easy for me to know what they wanted even when nobody else could figure out what they were saying. Unfortunately, that didn’t suddenly make it easy for me to understand all little kids…but at least I could understand the ones that meant the most to me!
I always felt I was too selfish to be a good mother, and I definitely was selfish in many ways. It kind of drove me crazy when they were little and I had no time to even read a magazine, much less a book, without being interrupted a million times. I couldn’t go to the bathroom or take a shower in peace. It irritated me to pass up doing the things that interested me and instead do things with the kids that I found to be a little boring. But I did it. I snuck in some ‘me’ time at the beginning and end of each day. And as the kids grew (and I grew in maturity) it got easier, and I could feel my attitude shifting. Instead of resenting the things I no longer had time for, I was grateful for the time I got to spend with the kids…no matter what we were doing.
I made lots and lots of mistakes along the way, and hopefully I haven’t doomed my kids to a lifetime of therapy. I like to think they both know I love them unconditionally and completely and wildly. I think we have a pretty good time together (although I can slip into Annoying Mom mode now and again). I hope I’ve set a good example for them the way my (awesome) mother did for me. I may not have realized early on that I had a maternal instinct, but it was always there…it just needed some time to grow and bloom.
Happy Mother’s Day – to my wonderful, much-loved mother and to all of my awesome mom friends!