November 9, 2020

To my Son & Daughter: Before you Decide to have Children, there’s Something you must Know.

Dear kids,

Y’all are now old enough that you may be thinking about having children (some day).

But before you make that decision, there’s something you need to know.

Some things, as your mother, I should tell you—based on my experience of having y’all.

Here are four “truths” I discerned, fairly early into new motherhood. These are things you should think about before deciding to bring a child into your life.

Truth one: Having a child will ruin your life.

Truth two: You are not—and never again will be—in control.

Truth three: You are going to screw your child up one way or another, no matter what you do.

Truth four: You will forever be changed in ways you can’t anticipate.

It was 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning when I came to realize these “truths.”

I had started back to work after being home with you, my first-born, during my three-month maternity leave.

Your dad was working in Florida or Virginia or some other state (I can’t remember exactly which one he was in then), and wouldn’t be back for another two weeks. Grandma Richmond, who had been here almost every day to help me out while your Dad was gone, was back at home.

I was trying to adjust to juggling you, Dad’s travel schedule, being newly back at work, and all-the-things. Life was a whirlwind and I hadn’t slowed down.

Like I said, it was in the wee hours, and I was tired, very tired. I had been up since two, trying to get you back to sleep. You weren’t hungry and you weren’t sick. I had tried walking you, feeding you, changing you—everything I thought might work to get you back to sleep. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew you were not a happy camper.

Finally, I sat, half-asleep, in Dad’s big, maroon, oversized, overstuffed La-Z-boy recliner—you know, the one that is now pretty ratty looking from so much use—rhythmically rocking back and forth to the beat of the one song that could soothe you, my sweet little boy, back into dreamland.

The plastic Fisher Price tape player, with its big colorful buttons and symbols to help young children (and sleep-deprived mothers) navigate it, sat between my hip and the arm of the chair. I rewound then advanced the tape, for at least the 10th time that night.

I knew just the right spot to go to. I didn’t need to look down at the buttons. I had their placement memorized, the result of many weeks of playing and stopping after that particular song. I pressed play. “All Through the Night,” a Wee Sing Nursery Rhymes and Lullabies song began to play again, through the portable cassette player speaker. (Do you remember that song? You usually settled down when that song began to play. I have no idea why though.)

I really liked that song—the first 20 times I played it. Not so much after that.

You were cradled in the crook of my left arm, crying and squirming under what I deemed as your favorite cotton blanket. Your feet, covered by the soft, thick fleece, pushed against the edges, straining to get free.

I rocked a little slower as I attempted to unwrap the blanket and adjust it so I could swaddle you like the hospital nurse had instructed. I pulled the blanket across your right side, tucking it beneath your back. Your little arm reached out toward my face, your fingers clenched, as your face scrunched up to cry even louder, as if to say, “Mom, I am not happy at all with you moving around this blanket. In fact, I am just not happy. Fix it!”

I braced myself for the escalation as I gently guided your flailing arm down by your side and pulled the blanket over your chest, tucked the bottom underneath your chin, and completed your mummy look. Instead, you actually began to settle down. I continued to rock, a little faster now, in time with the beat of the song.

When the song was almost over, your eyes began to close, your cheeks softened, jaw slackened, and muscles relaxed. I carefully reached over to press Stop, trying not to move anything but my arm. The last thing I wanted to do was jiggle you as you were falling asleep.

The music stopped. I held my breath. Would you stay asleep this time? I said a silent prayer.

I looked down at you; you were so sweet, so peaceful. Your lips had formed into a tired, almost sad smile. Your eyes, still red from crying, were all matted but soft. You had finally surrendered and accepted defeat.

I exhaled. My muscles relaxed. I was still tired, very tired, but now my mind was not.

In that quiet early morning, I rocked and reflected—something that up until now, my whirlwind life either hadn’t allowed, or I hadn’t made space to do. And in reflecting, I realized some things—things about me, about our family, and about life; things I call “truths.”

Kids, if you have read this far (which I hope you have), you are probably shaking your heads and asking, “Why are you telling me (us) all this stuff in such detail?” and thinking “Get to the point, I have other things to do.” Well, it’s because I want you to understand, even just an inkling, what it was like for me as a new mom, your mom—and how I came to believe those “truths” I mentioned above.

As I sat rocking that night, it popped into my mind that Dad and I had a pretty good life before you came on the scene. We had a lot of free time to do what we wanted, hop up and go somewhere on the spur of the moment, or  just laze around in the den on a Sunday morning. We were happy in the roles we’d developed in our relationship, our unspoken boundaries, and the pace and rhythm of our life together.

But after you arrived, all that changed—went to hell in a handbasket, as my mom used to say. Our orderly life turned to chaos, and there it was, truth one: Having a child will ruin your life—as you know it. Or, maybe I should say, it will put your life-as-you-know-it in ruins.

My reflection continued, and I thought about me and how this—you—affected me in particular. When you cried, I jumped. When you smiled, I smiled. When you laughed, my heart just melted, and I could sit for hours just watching you.

As much as I tried to go about “normal” life, when you “called,” I was compelled to answer. As I looked down at you then, I thought, this little person depends on me (us) for everything—food, shelter, cleanliness, love—but you were really the one who was in control.

And then truth two was born: You (meaning me) are not—and never again will be—in control (of your own life).

You and your sister will always be there in my mind and tugging at my heart. None of my decisions after you came into my life without a thought, consciously or unconsciously, of including you (y’all) in the mix.

And then, truth three: You are going to screw your child up one way or another no matter what you do.

This one actually came from your grandfather, Paw Paw. He told me this right after you were born, son, when I was anxious about something or other. He said, “Nancy, you are going to screw your child up one way or another, no matter what you do, so try not to stress too much about it.”

He said he heard that from a therapist so I should take it as the truth. He was sure he’d screwed me up in some way or another without even trying, and even if I did everything “right,” I would do the same. He told me not to worry because there was really no way around it. I should let go of that guilt from the get-go.

I thought about what Paw Paw had said as I rocked you, wondering how, if, and when I had already screwed you up, and how might I do so in the future. I hadn’t quite gotten past the “no guilt” part yet.

I’m not sure how long I sat in that rocking chair with you. I know my mind was getting as tired as my body, but my last reflection was on how I had changed since having you.

And so I come to truth four: You (again, meaning me) will forever be changed in ways you can’t anticipate.

I didn’t (and still don’t) like change. As y’all probably know, once I am comfortable, I tend to resist it. I’m still working on that because change is not only necessary, it is what makes us grow—and growing can be wonderful.

I thought about how I had changed—what changes I had expected and the reality of what changes had actually occurred. I had expected to love you and want to spend time with you. I expected I would need to be more patient and that my orderly life would be disrupted—but only as far as I let it. I expected I would still love your Dad, same as before. I really expected things (and I) would basically be the same—you would just be added in.

What I didn’t expect was that I would love you with such all-consuming fierceness, and would love your Dad exponentially more than I already did. I didn’t expect to become one of “those people”—one who joyously talks about their baby, and shares stories and pictures of their baby, and whose emotional life revolves around their child and family—and that I would be okay with it.

I didn’t expect that you and your sister would become the center of our lives—not just an addition. And I didn’t expect that I would become more, more patient, more empathetic, more kind, more loving, just more.

So yes, my life was ruined; the one that was orderly, anticipated, and expected was turned (for a while) into chaos, but out of that chaos came enormous personal growth.

I was no longer in control, as I learned to truly put someone else ahead of myself, ahead of my own needs, and I learned to let go.

All my actions, I realized, would affect you, no matter my intentions, so I tried to not worry and learned to lean into my instincts. And because of you, I was changed down to the core of my being in ways I could not have anticipated.

So, my dear children, before you think about having a child (sometime in the future), think carefully about those “truths” I have laid out for you, and with full knowledge of the possible ramifications, then decide.




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