When I had my first son, almost six years ago, people were always giving me advice. The help was welcome. In the months before giving birth I had killed not one but four cactus plants — all sold with tags that specifically said “little care required.” I needed all the help I could get.
I always wrote down what people told me. If I didn’t put the words to paper, I would forget, along with the day of the week and if I had already put on deodorant. When my son was 2, I pulled out the sweater I practically lived in when he was a baby, and in the pocket I found a small, crumpled piece of paper: Use a kitchen timer to encourage independent play, it read — in my handwriting! Was I so sleep deprived I thought I had given birth to a frozen pizza? According to the sweater evidence: Yes.
But there is one piece of advice that has stuck with me, and I am not foggy about where I heard it or when. I was standing at the customer service desk at Lowe’s. The air smelled of paint mixed with sweat and just a touch of poop. I was still such a new mother I didn’t think to connect the smell of poop to my offspring, though obviously that was the case. Of course, I was such a new mother I had not wrapped my head around how many dirty diapers were heading my way. That one day I would be able to write about poop without blinking an eye. And while snacking on a bag of chips.
I was at Lowe’s to see about a light fixture. And I was at the customer service desk because even though the website said the light fixture was in stock, I couldn’t find it on the shelves. And if that seems like a small problem to you, then all I can say is you’re absolutely right. But at that point in my life there were no small problems. There was only one very big problem, the group of dancing hormones that had taken residence in my body around the time I gave birth to my son. All day long those hormones danced — polka, salsa. At night they cracked open brewskis and worked on their “Copperhead Road” line dance. Real fun-loving guys and gals, those hormones. But they were making my life less than fun.
And so what might have been no big deal the week before — after all it was just a light fixture — was now as crucial as, oh I don’t know, let’s just say oxygen.
After weeks of searching and grumbling because light fixtures are priced by the same marketing whiz kids who price sodas — “Hey, Mo, let’s inflate it another 200 percent cuz these suckers will buy ’em anyway” — I finally found one online, and so I loaded the baby into the car, and we made the trek to town.
When I got to the front of the line, I handed my piece of paper over to the woman behind the counter. I wonder now, did she have kids? Had she — for kids or any other reason — watched the life she had always known shape-shift into a life she barely recognized? Did she know that completion of this purchase had turned into my personal mountain? That I was using it as a measuring stick of whether I would ever go back to the normal, everyday life I’d been living as recently as last week?
She typed on her computer a moment, then shook her head.
“We don’t have it in stock,” she said. “But there are others in the store that look very similar.”
Similar, she said, similar. You may not get that life back, but you’ll have one that’s similar. The hormones started a conga line.
I bit my lip, tried to keep control. But have I mentioned this lately? I was sleep deprived.
“It’s just … ,” I started. Deep breath. Then I started again. “It’s just I really need this light fixture.”
This woman, this kind, kind complete stranger, reached out her hand, put it on mine there on the counter and leaned in. She didn’t smile. She looked me in the eye.
“Girl,” she said, “all you need is to enjoy that baby.”
I wish I could tell you that I immediately saw the truth and wisdom in this woman’s words, but I didn’t.
After I changed the diaper, I took some deep breaths. I went home, deflated. I didn’t forget about the light fixture, but I gave myself a break from perfection. I talked to the hormones about shifting to a more soothing ballroom waltz.
Over the coming years, in varying degrees, I continued to wrestle with prioritizing my life, my work and myself in this new role of motherhood — sometimes right here on these pages. Almost daily I think of those woman’s words: All you need is to enjoy that baby.
Now there are two babies, and truth be told, they are not even babies anymore. I still wrestle with the life mix. I still scratch notes to myself. Last month I had to put the kibosh on a hormonal cha-cha. But I am not new at this game. To say I’m a new mother is like squeezing into jeans a size too small. I could get by, but it doesn’t feel right, and if I try to stay in there too long, I know a button is going to blow.
And so after six years of being in this space, this is my last “Notes From A New Mother” column. There are moments when leaving the baby stage behind is so sad. But when I feel my heart pull, I think of the adventures to come. I say, “All you need is to enjoy that, baby,” and it is so good, because I am talking to myself.
Anna is the author of “Copygirl” and “Rooster Stories,” available on Amazon.