Two years ago, I had that cinematic bathroom moment everyone knows by heart. You know, the one where the girl pees on a small plastic stick and thereby uncovers one tiny truth that will snowball into something huge enough to change several lives--she's about to become someone's mother. That was my literal first thought after seeing the positive result, the idea that someday, someone is going to say 'Mom, come here'...and they're going to mean ME. I remember studying my face closely in the bathroom mirror, examining every crease and pore, waiting for the mother within to reveal herself. Impending parenthood wasn't a surprise (we had recently decided we were 'trying,' or at least not not-trying), but it was a shock to every cell of my being nonetheless.
When Henry was born I was ready for the obvious things, like physical resemblances, to reveal themselves. My kid is my biological offspring, so there's no great shock in seeing my own babyish features emerge in the soft contours of his one-year-old face. Looking back through my baby photos, as well as my husband's, I see fragments of each of us nearly every time he grins, laughs or scrunches his face up in a wail, and it never fails to make me smile (even mid-wail). I'm slightly less excited for future revelations, like the first time he cops my former adolescent attitude, or realizes he's inherited my problematic pores when puberty strikes (sorry in advance, little man). We'll deal with those when the day comes, though.
What shakes me to my core in the present moment is something I never expected--the way parenthood holds up a mirror to our current selves, often reflecting back an image that's less than ideal. Before our children are born, we are all perfect parents, aren't we? Then they arrive with the sheer force of a tidal wave and all those best intentions end up washed out to sea or left stranded upside down in the sand. Contrary to my best pre-birth intentions, Henry gets screen time (his best friends are currently Daniel Tiger and Llama Llama) and has already known the sweet embrace of processed sugar (try eating cake in front of a baby and not sharing; eventually, they figure out you've got the goods). There have been plenty of moments I've been squinting at an iPhone screen, blearily trying to make a deadline or just steal a few minutes of sweet Instagram oblivion, rather than witnessing something amazing my little human has been doing.
Pre-parenthood, I always prided myself on having been a fierce multi-tasker, juggling freelance responsibilities with domestic duties and several engaging hobbies with something like balance. In my previous life, every moment was more or less my own to plan out, meaning that if I needed to jump up and take an impromptu hike or shopping trip to clear my head, nothing stopped me. No problem, I'd just shuffle tasks around and complete tomorrow's work project between midnight and 2 am, then crash into bed and catch a few hours before the morning conference call. If I wanted to learn a new skill, I'd take a week and do an obsessive deep dive into the topic, rarely coming up for air. I could make dinner at the very last second, or a week ahead of time, or not at all--tortilla chips and wine for dinner? Sure, nobody here but us grownups!
It was a pretty simple magic trick to cover up my multitude of sins under a willingness to play catch-up and skip the occasional night's sleep or regularly scheduled meal. I thought I was doing so well at this life thing, after all, I'd managed to secure semi-regular paychecks and an amazing partner and an only slightly embarrassing wardrobe all at the same time, by age 35. But now here we are, and the mother in the mirror is ME. She's tired--like, really really tired--and she has dark smears under her eyes and Cheerios in her bra, but she's going to get three actual meals on the table somehow today. And put gas in the car. And do research on creating e-courses and online marketing funnels. And build and knock down Duplo towers for an hour. And she's examining herself in the mirror of motherhood--an analogy that comes to mind every time Henry turns those large blue eyes on me and seems to be thinking, 'Really, Mama? All day researching Pinterest optimization while I play ALONE with my Duplos and eat Cheerios I'm pretty sure you found in your bra?'--and thinking, yeah, this can't go on. Turns out, my old ways of getting things done may not have been the most desirable, or the most sustainable, of strategies.
I know what happens next, and it's a cinematic moment I recognize, as well (in my ideal scenario, it would be a quick-cut 'life improvement' montage set over an upbeat indie song).
...I'm going to have to really do this thing, aren't I?
Because we're just at the beginning of our journey here, and I can already see in my reflection where we're headed. I know parenting is going to be a wondrous journey that expands my heart, but I also know that it's going to push my boat out over dark waters time and time again, and I'm going to have to be ready to deal with that. Because there's so much more at stake now than just me, and there's no hiding from the mirror. I'm going to have to learn how to really make the most of my working hours, in the real grown-up way (the one that involves time-tracking and working steadily through one task at a time), rather than 'creatively' dividing up my day into whatever little sections of whatever I want. I'm going to have to learn to ask for help when I need it, rather than letting resentment smolder until it erupts. I'm going to have to start taking vitamins and exercising again, because I have a little human to keep up with and an amazing partner to stick around for, and because nihilism after age 35 just isn't as cool as it used to be. I'm going to have to go to the doctor, and the therapist, and the dentist, because falling apart at the seams also doesn't look so good on anyone, let alone a parent. I'm going to have to start reading actual books again, because second only to exercise, nothing feeds my creative soul like books.
Most importantly, I'm going to have to learn to let all the rest of it--the extra worrying and the guilt issues and the 'I should's that I pursue relentlessly and waste valuable time burning myself up over--just go, without chasing after any of it. Easier said than done, I know. But it's the only way I'm going to be able to face the mirror.