21 March 2011

We all start somewhere

A while ago, I received an evening call from a friend. I couldn't talk. I was playing Yahtzee with my big kids. Big kids! Yahtzee! I have big kids who play Yahtzee! She was just as amazed, having only little ones herself, and thus no Yahtzee.

Like-mindedness does not equal like-lifedness. Back when we were solidly in baby/little kid territory, I found it most vexing when a like-minded person five kids ahead of me would say something like, "Wipe down the toilet while the kids brush their teeth!" or "Dad is great at doing [X] with the older kids!" or "Our family loved putting on a Reader's Theater of Torquato Tasso! When we finished that we read the Federalist Papers together--what fun!" Lucky, lucky you. Please don't tell me, "Even our five-year-old can help out a little!" In a house where the oldest kid is five, the amount of help a five-year-old is able to contribute is well known, and not a cause for great optimism.

I remember thinking in those early days about women I knew who had lots of kids (like, four), and being completely unable to comprehend FOUR pregnancies, giving birth FOUR times, living through FOUR postpartums, nursing for FOUR+ years of life. After our first baby was born, I told my husband, "I can't believe anyone ever has more than one kid." Sometimes I still can't. I can't believe I have. I have not forgotten that first baby. How I truly despaired of my life at her delivery. How ruined and hopeless I felt afterward, and for how long. How nursing her was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done. How the hardest thing I have ever done took months measured in quarter hours, not a bold moment of heroic decision. How I couldn't smile then any more than I could fly. How the whole time I was thinking, I cannot, cannot do this ever again.

The existence of apparently happy mothers nearing the end of their parturitional careers at least provided evidence that there were some women who could do this without going to prison or having their kids apostasize and write Sedaris-esque memoirs of their outlandish childhoods. But no bland testimony of "You'll make it!" actually made me think I would. Every reminder of how blessed these blessings are and affirmation of what a good job I was doing from someone who couldn't possibly know what kind of job I was doing just reminded me what a bad person I was.

We all start somewhere. "This too shall pass" and "It's worth it" are things I already know. Being prodded with them doesn't help me through the lowest times, devoid as they are of such clemencies as nights passed in sleep or 45 minutes alone (to PRAY! to BATHE!). I know it will pass and it's worth it. If I didn't know that I would be under 24-hour surveillance in some institution. Anyone who wants to help a mom out can say a prayer, mail a package, come over and read to the kids for an hour, keep vigil hither or thither. Anyone who wants to make her sadder can force her to respond politely to the wisdom of the ages when she's mucking through this doleful hour or month or year.

So, friend, I'm sorry I couldn't talk. I look forward to your Yahtzee-playing days for you, because Yahtzee is fun. I have nothing but respect, sympathy, and prayer for the gutting it out you're doing now. It's warm again; let's plan a day soon.

21 comments:

Untamed Shrew said...

I have not forgotten that first baby. How I truly despaired of my life at her delivery. How ruined and hopeless I felt afterward, and for how long. How nursing her was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done. How the hardest thing I have ever done took months measured in quarter hours, not a bold moment of heroic decision. How I couldn't smile then any more than I could fly. How the whole time I was thinking, I cannot, cannot do this ever again.<<


what you said.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I'm currently "mucking through this doleful hour" with baby #4. I'm looking forward to Yahtzee and typing with both hands.

HappyFox said...

Thank you. It's nice to know I'm not crazy and that the kids probably won't end up as testimonies to my bad parenting (at least not anymore than anyone else).

Melrose said...

Thank you. I don't know how you do it but somehow you always know the words to say when we most need to hear them....when we most need comfort...when we most think no one in the world understands. Yahtzee how I yearn for thee.

DestinyP said...

Thank you. :) I find these truths to be amplified while in the pews at church. The equivalent of Yahtzee being the hope for self-sufficient participation and a service uninterrupted by a screaming baby. Someday...

Anonymous said...

When I read this I can't help but wonder what I am supposed to say to the youngish mother of 4 or 5 or 7 kids at our church. Perhaps when I've been responding to the look of angst on her face with a statement that I thought was encouragement I was actually discouraging her.

So, are statements such as "This too shall pass" off the table? It's been a mother to mother thing for generations and decades past. I'm open to suggestion. I really have never thought of any will ill and never meant anything more than "I'm with ya' sister".

I generally think that most older or been-there moms who say this are well-intentioned. It just seems like there's a alot of space between "am there now" and "have been there" and so we're probably just attempting to start a conversation - not really intending to throw any mom into psychic distress.

Megan said...

Thank you, I nearly cried reading your post. Pregnant with #4 (actually she is #5) with in 5 1/2 years... Yahtzee with the kids? LOL cause it's either that or cry some more.

Katy said...

Even though at face value, "it will get easier," or some such variation, is annoying, those comments don't bother me. They're a friendlier, more sympathetic version of "You've got your hands full!" It's just acknowledging the fact that we got a 'ole passel of kids. I like the acknowledgment better than being ignored (or scowled at). It's a lazy, less personal way of saying "I had 8 kids, too, and in 10 years. Let me tell you **insert hilarious story that was probably devastating at the time**."

But I do tend to not believe moms who say they now can **insert something I can't do because I have 3 under 3**. Including, Rebekah, when you said 7-year-olds were so helpful :)

Rebekah said...

Anon 2, I grok. I find myself not knowing what to say sometimes to someone dealing with the total shock of their first or the chaos of two, even still feeling so acutely for their trials. I guess what I always really appreciate is knowing that someone isn't just blowing off my trouble as something I'll grow out of and get over soon enough. If they help my three year old with his coat while we're talking, so much the better.

Marie said...

Thanks. Ditto to that whole first-born thing. Praise God that we were committed to PP, or we wouldn't have had 2 and 3. Which weren't nearly so bad...

Jody S. said...

To Anon #2,

For me, I am not annoyed by those comments. But even better to encourage a mother might be to say something positive you notice about her children/their behavior/her own patience because sometimes all moms of many see is what is going wrong. When somebody tells me something nice about my children, it does brighten my day and lighten my load.

Another thing would be to simply ask, "Is there something I can do to help you out?" in whatever way seems appropriate. I guess every mother is different, but it really does help when people bring stickers for my children (they ask first if it's okay) to cover their bulletins with during the sermon, when they guard the stairs so the new toddler doesn't fall down, when they just smile at me.

The worst that could be done is to say things without thinking how they may be taken. I've noticed sometimes people say things to make noise when they aren't really sure what they should say. Or they really think you shouldn't have more kids and make sure to tell you in interesting ways because they think it hasn't occurred to you that life would be easier with fewer children. For example, when at a dental appt. today, the receptionist commented, "No more little ones yet." I reply, "No, we've actually had two miscarriages this year." She says, "That's just God saying that you have your hands full already." I say nothing. If you don't say things like this, you probably needn't worry too much about what you say.

SAHM I Am said...

Oh, the tears. That's probably mostly due to the fact that my first came less than two years ago and the entire ordeal (the colic, the GERD, the "THIS is what I've been waiting for my whole life?!?!") is still so fresh in my mind, and also because I'm once again in the throes of pregnancy hormones. :) This speaks so dearly to my heart in a way that I can't really describe. I didn't even realize I needed this today, but God never fails to encourage me when I need it. Thank you so much.

SAHM I Am said...

@ Jody: I agree with the positive comments. They really do lift a person up more than a sympathetic statement. Also, thank you for reminding me that sometimes saying nothing is OK. I'm always sticking my foot in my mouth. And as for the dentist's office? Wow. So sorry you had to have someone say that to you.

Emommy said...

I appreciate your post, Rebekah, so much. I'm struggling right now with the feeling--and reality--of a recently weaned baby and uninterrupted nights. Which, weirdly enough, keeps me awake. And my body and my heart are yearning for another baby, and my mind is going, "Don't you remember how overwhelmed you were, like, three weeks ago? What's with the about-face?" Such is life; weakness and exhaustion mixed with yearning for precisely that which makes us weak and exhausted.

Leah said...

I appreciated this post. A lot. Especially today. Thank you.

Rebekah said...

Jody, I am so sorry someone said that to you, and for all your sadness.

Anonymous said...

Anon #2 checking back. Jody - during my child bearing years ( I'm also a serial child bearer), when someone asked me when/if we were going to have another one - I sweetly smiled and always said "Why do you ask?". That either shut them up or gave me an opening to say "Our children are a blessing from God, isn't He Wonderful (marvelous, insert word here)".

I'd like to think that 99% of what comes out of my mouth has been pre-filtered for "could this be taken the wrong way", and after reading some of these comments I guess I'd hesitate to ask a younger mom what I could do to assist - I fear that the mother's here might assume I am in some way being judgmental of their mothering, family size, etc. Any offer would be nothing more than just a willingness to provide an extra set of arms out of compassion for a sister for that's what the older moms and grandmas at church, the Y, the ball park, did for me.

All those times I heard "This too will pass" or "You'll miss this when they're older", I must have just smiled back and returned to my normal state of blank thought that accompanied me, everywhere I went. When a few years had passed and the kids got old enough to have some semblance of thought on their own I woke up one day and realized that I, too, was again capable of complex and abstract reasoning!

Untamed Shrew said...

I would probably go ballistic if someone told me that my miscarriage was God's way of saying my hands were already full.

So it's a really good thing no one's said that to me.

Anonymous said...

The first post I feel better after reading.

Rebekah said...

Anon 2, I'm sorry if I was overcritical. :( I very much appreciate offers of help. At the same time, I know people who get freaked out if someone offers to tie their kid's shoe. Sigh.

>>When a few years had passed and the kids got old enough to have some semblance of thought on their own I woke up one day and realized that I, too, was again capable of complex and abstract reasoning

THAT is the most encouraging thing I've read in a long time! :D

Reb. Mary said...

>>Like-mindedness does not equal like-lifedness.<<

And even like-lifedness does not equal like-lifedness...I keep thinking that we should have more Yahtzee-like moments around here, what with two kids more or less qualifying by age as "big" for gaming purposes, but for reasons of certain circumstances and proclivities, there's not nearly as much sanity 'round here as I'd like there to be :(

But! It's always more sane when I recognize that "this is how it is now, and perhaps, just perhaps, it will not always be thus," and then I look around a bit and find that there are after all some things that we can find to do that don't involve everyone just fighting all time, things that we can all laugh together at even.

Also, things are more sane when I stop myself from thinking in terms of "should" (i.e., I "should" have more yahtzee moments now that my kids are yay old; I "should" be able to get more done during the day now; I "should" be able to check this blog more often... ;) ).