Time is a funny thing. I’ve been a mother for 17 months now, and it feels, all at once, like no time at all, and like forever. Still, as if motherhood is new to me, the moments come where I think “shit, I am RESPONSIBLE FOR A HUMAN BEING”. There are moments when that thought is followed by one along the lines of “she’s going to be AWESOME”, and moments where it’s accompanied by a feeling of “oh my God, this morning I stuck a fork in the toaster to get the toast out. I am 22 years old and still don’t know how to tie shoelaces. I have been known to eat nothing but ramen noodles. Who decided I know enough about life to raise a small human?” dread. It is sometimes overwhelming to have someone completely depend on you.
When you become a mother, you make sacrifices. I am no longer free to be spontaneous; to be careless; to be selfish. I have to say no to last-minute plans; I stick to the speed limits; I make healthy dinners from scratch every night so Lillian can eat a balanced diet even though some nights, all I want to do is order pizza. I can’t party like I used to. No more Thirsty Thursdays for me; and if I do want to go out, it has to be scheduled for a weekend when I don’t have Lillian; it has to be carefully budgeted so that she will not go without; and the housework still needs to be done no matter how blinding my hangover. I used to work out. Once, I was 128lbs. I had C cup boobs and a tiny waist and perfectly proportioned hips. Now I may be rocking a much larger pair, but with them came an extra 5 inches to my waist, and if my ass gets any bigger it will have its own gravitational pull. Above my Shakespeare tattoo saying that I am fierce are stretch marks which, appropriately, look like tiger-scratch scars; and around the bellybutton which once sported a cute piercing there are now stretchmarks like the rings in a tree stump. As I grew, as Lillian grew, so did they. I have dark circles under my eyes and other than during the recent tonsillitis episode, I don’t think I’ve had a decent night’s sleep since she was born. I’m always tired. I’m always worn out. I go about my day zombie-like, counting down the hours until I can crawl into bed and finally get some rest.
Because there’s never enough time to rest. When you are a tiny person’s everything, there’s no clocking out for a break. You wake up, and you try to get yourself ready for work while getting the tiny person ready for daycare. You feed and clothe the tiny person and clean up breakfast and prepare lunch and take the dog out and then clean up whatever new mess the tiny person has made and then screech at the dog “OFF THE COUCH!” and then search in all the logical places for the missing left shoe for five minutes, only to find that the tiny person has thrown it in the kitchen sink, because toddler logic says why wouldn’t a shoe be in a sink? Then it’s off to work for eight hours, where you try to focus on the job through the haze and try to remember how adult conversation works. Then coming home looks a little like this: the dog needs walking; the tiny person needs feeding; you need feeding; the tiny person needs to take a bath but the tiny person is in ‘super independent mode’ and won’t let you undress her; and when you eventually wrestle her into the bath, she decides this is THE place to be and she is never coming out. When the tiny person is finally in bed and asleep, you sigh with relief; because now all you have to do is…. …clean the kitchen from dinner; spot-clean the house; give the dog some attention; do laundry; pack the diaper bag for the morning; write, because everyone needs a hobby; and do your homework, because you’re working on your degree so you can eventually provide bigger and better things for the tiny person.
And you realise that this tiny person – well, they’ve taken over your life. You remember when you only had yourself to feed, and not only were you blissfully unaware of how hard it is to clean pasta sauce off a ceiling, but you had the option of sweet, unhealthy, delicious laziness for dinner: it was only your own body you were stuffing the crud into; only yourself you were depriving of vital nutrients, and that was fine. You fondly recall the days where you didn’t have to wipe up poop; the nights when going to sleep meant actually going to sleep, without waking through the night at every noise that comes from a nursery. You remember the freedom of spontaneity; you remember how much TIME you had on your hands: time to study; time to sleep; time to Netflix-binge; time to do anything, anything at all.
Then, when the tiny person wakes at two in the morning for no reason you can think of, she wraps her arms around your neck, and puts her head on your shoulder, and dozes off in your arms. You think, “this isn’t so bad”.
Then, one morning, you’re brushing your teeth and she’s in the bathroom with you, and you realise she’s mimicking you. You think, “I’m teaching someone; I’m doing something worthwhile, here”.
Then, when the dog comes into the room, she runs off to get his leash, and while you’re watching her try to attach it to his collar you stare in awe at her level of understanding. You think, “there is no one in the world who is as proud as I am right now”.
Then, she smiles at you from her high chair, her mouth full of cereal, and she says “love ooooo”.
You see, between the rushing and the never-ending list of things that need to be done, there are these moments: these tiny little instances that one day, will disappear from your memory. You know you will always remember the first time she told you she loves you, but the smaller things – things like cuddling on the couch with her before bed, and the dog coming over and putting his head on your lap, looking at you so pleadingly that you say “come on, then”, and all three of you snuggle – one day, those things will be replaced in your memory by ‘more important things’; ‘more important things’ being the first day at school or the first lost tooth or the first love. Before you know it, that tiny person who once grew inside of you is all grown up right before your eyes, putting on her own shoes and trying so so very hard to be independent of you, and you know those moments are becoming rarer. You know she will be a teenager before you realise it’s happening, and if she’s anything like you, she will think she knows all there is to know about the world.
In the meantime, you clutch these little moments to your heart. Because the stretch marks; the things that wobble; the sleepless nights; the horror of projectile poo: all of these things, at their worst, cannot outmatch parenting at its best.
It doesn’t matter that a tiny person is essentially a black hole for your free time. Because when she looks at you with those big blue-green eyes and says “love oooo”, time just stops.