Expect the Unexpected

A journal entry from January 2007:

I haven’t made any New Years Resolutions yet, and I’m not sure I will—2006 felt completely outside my grasp, like everything I reached for shifted location or shape just as put my hands on it. Maybe next year I’ll only search for what I really need, and not let myself be distracted by what’s easier or more possible. Maybe I’ll just own up to my desires for more of all the best things: more dancing, more nights under the stars, more parties, more sex, more honesty, more swimming naked, more live music, more writing, more beauty, more dark chocolate and tight jeans and long drives and unnecessary side trips to my favorite bridges and alleys.

I haven’t journaled much in the past 8 years, and I’m surprised to have found this little gem.

2006 had been a difficult year: I was 29, I had just started a new job, and right after my grandmother died I found out I was pregnant. I was flooded with grief and hope and loss and possibility and joy all mixed together. It was June. The peonies were blooming in my garden.

Dorothy was born in April 2007. I was 7 months pregnant when I was imagining dancing and skinny dipping and writing (!) and going to concerts.

Reading that list of the experiences I intended to search for in 2007, I’m tempted to ask, “What was I thinking?”  But I know what I was thinking. I was terrified that becoming a mother would mean the end of that life, the end of that self who spent nights under the stars and rocked out hard. And not just in the sense that those experiences would be harder to come by; even though I had deeply wanted to be pregnant, I feared being swept away by motherhood, my desires and pleasures and confidence upended by a tidal wave of bouncy seats and smooshed bananas and dirty diapers. I had spent my 20s struggling to build a sense of identity; now I was staring down 30, pregnant, my decision to leave grad school still a relatively open wound.  I wanted to believe I could be a mom and still be wholly, imperfectly, me.

Maybe it shouldn’t have been, but it was completely surprising to me that the mom version of me was still me—except, perhaps, that I had no idea I could love like this. Holding Dorothy for the first time, whispering her name—my grandmother’s name—to her? I have always thought of myself as a person who falls hard, who loves big, but I was absolutely unprepared for the intensity of my love for my children, and for the realization that that love, that depth, hadn’t replaced my identity but had opened up alongside the rest of me: my love for this tiny new being alongside my passion for the front row, for a stiff, sweet drink, for swimming in cold, clear water.

Unexpected joy: finding out I mother in the same messy, imperfect ways I have lived the rest of my life. New experiences creating surprising new layers of joy and relief and self.  Hiking in the redwoods with a baby in a backpack.  Watching The Muppets with D as she tries to figure out why Beaker (“that skinny oval”) only says MEEP. Margeaux quacking every time we say duck.Hearing Lucy say “mysterious” in her not quite a toddler not quite a little girl voice. The intensity of their connection as sisters, in moments sweet (snuggled up together on the couch reading Frog and Toad) and not-so-sweet (shoving each other in an attempt to be first to the kitchen to tearfully tattle that a game of “kick foot eye poke” turned sour).  Overhearing D and Lucy singing ‘A You’re Adorable’ to Margeaux when she fusses. Teaching them to recognize birds and flowers: the blue jays nesting in the pine tree, the robins hopping across the yard, the peonies blooming in the garden.

This post is part of the Unexpected contest hosted by Momalom and featuring adorably awesome prizes from 3 Sprouts. If I win, I’m hanging this penguin organizer next to D’s desk for all her paper and drawings and supplies.


16 responses to “Expect the Unexpected

  1. I very much appreciate hearing this, because I think that my friends and I all very much fear that having a child means losing very important parts of myself. Even as my husband and I plan for children this lurks around the edges of everything we talk about. It’s nice to hear that it doesn’t have to be that way and instead you can pass on all those wonderful pieces of yourself to your kids.

    • I think it’s less a loss of self than it is a total displacement of the things that you use to make life recognizable. When everything around you changes — your house, body, priorities, activities, sleep, interests, etc — it can be hard to find yourself or remember yourself in this new life. That can feel like loss. But it’s all still there, just hiding/dormant/temporarily displaced. Certainly, you come out on the other side a transformed person, but I think you can hang on to yourself throughout. Some people find it more disturbing than others. And, the intensity is something you can’t really prepare for. But, come on: I still watched Buffy and FNL while the girls were tiny. We listen to music all the time, and tell jokes. We are ourselves, we just can’t do the same stuff we used to.

  2. @Christine As a new father, I can only second what Jen’s said about parenthood supplementing, rather than replacing, your existing identity.

    • Yes- displacement is a great description, Lauren. But it seemed as though when I was pregnant, if I talked about these fears, people (mostly women, actually) would inevitably say something like, “Oh, you won’t miss that stuff because having kids is the most amazing thing you will ever do and nothing else will matter anymore and you won’t even notice that everything you used to think was awesome is now impossible to do.”
      And instead, it has turned out that motherhood is an amazing addition to the list of things I think are awesome.

      • I agree that the whole “you won’t care!” discourse freaked me out. Like, who am I if I don’t care about things that are central to who I am? Why would I sign up for something that makes me care less about things I love? It’s weird and quasi-cruel, if you asked me. In certain ways, it’s true: you don’t ‘care’ about, say, walking around with puke on your shirt in the way you might have before you gave birth. But that’s more a consequence of the exhaustion, not a thing that fundamentally transforms you as a person (I am quite sure I will at some point care about being puke-free again).

      • Right. People kept saying, in what they obviously believed was a reassuring tone, that I would simply be disinterested in all those (silly, youthful, inconsequential) things I loved. No one seemed to realize this was a terrifying and weird thing to say to me.

    • Thank you all for this assurance! I feel like I know that somewhere underneath all of the worry, but it is great to hear it from mothers and fathers. I also appreciate you recognizing how other people absolutely tell you that you won’t miss those things. I am not pregnant yet, and people have tried to sell this to me. But I think I would definitely miss some of those things! Like people who tell me that if I just eat enough healthy things I won’t miss cheese. No, I really still want cheese. So I am glad that I can keep my awesome things and hopefully add being an awesome mother too.

  3. I came across a reference to your blog via a post-academic one (JC’s I think!) as I am also a post-academic and mother of two. What’s funny, in the sense of coincidences, is that I was three or four months pregnant with my second child, daughter, when my grandmother died. I always loved my grandmother’s name ‘Eva’ and decided, even before Eva died, that I’d name our baby Eva and I am reminded of her pretty much every day!

    Like many first expecting mothers, I too had those anxieties about loss of identity and freedom. And let’s face it, life changes drastically and my husband and I both admit to having feelings of nostalgia for the free days when we had our own time to do what we wanted when we wanted. I am originally from the US and I have lived in the UK for about 22 years now. My husband’s parents are elderly and the rest of his extended family live in Israel so we don’t have family support – drop kids off for the weekend and have a break etc, has never been an option. And with so family of mine nearby, we’ve had to rely on friends or babysitters. I also worked through my PhD studies when my second child Eva was only three. If I could do things over again I would have stopped there and tried to imagine a future career doing something else as I am not trying to get out of academia. My life would have been a bit less stressful if I hadn’t forced myself through the PhD study at that point. Mid-way I got very ill and had to take a year off, and going back to it was pretty hard. The years of contract teaching and the little rewards that come with academia have led me to rethink my future. So, the key thing I’m trying to say here is it’s nice to see read that you are taking in the pleasures of your children. You may indeed ache for those moments of freedom and rocking and they will come later (if you’re not too exhausted!) – so nice to enjoy the present, those wonderful little things about the everyday.

    • Eva is such a beautiful name! It sounds like you’re parenting in really difficult circumstances– I hope your post-academic life holds less stress 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting! We get a lot of hits through JC’s blog, and it’s nice to hear that the motherhood piece of Mama Nervosa resonates with folks in addition to the post-grad school stuff we do.

  4. Oh how I absolutely love this. I teared up. Nodded along as I read your gorgeous words that so perfectly described how I also so often feel. Thank you thank you for sharing this and being a part of our contest at 3 sprouts.

  5. This is stunning!

    And real and raw and transparent and true.

    (I’m over the moon for the journal entry that you found. And the way that you found your mothering way alongside the rest of you. We all strive for that, yes?)

    • Thanks so much!!

      Your entry is lovely as well- so sweet, to know they can love and comfort one another. I am loving finding great new blogs to read through this contest!

  6. This is wonderful, and how cool to have the old journal to reflect back on! I think a lot of expectant mothers have the same fears – largely because you just don’t know what to expect. It’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel until baby is here (and even then, how will you feel 6 months later? a year? five years?) and it really does feel like a leap of faith. Finding that you can be 100% mom and still 100% you is a great feeling 🙂

    • Thanks!! I really, really wish I had kept more journals during the grad school to motherhood stretch. I have a notebook or two, with very scattered entries, and sometimes printouts of email jammed between random pages. This NY resolution is actually a single paragraph, printed out (so maybe it’s actually from an email?) with JANUARY 2007 handwritten across the top.
      And yeah, I am definitely still discovering and rediscovering myself– as a mom and as an adult woman with kids, as Lauren puts it in one of her posts 🙂

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