There I was, sitting in the backseat of our car that vaguely smelled of three-day-old vomit and a fresh spritz of Febreze. My hair was a wreck, I was wearing an old tank top and stretch pants with a mystery stain. Toys were sprawled around me in the 10-inch space between myself and my finally-sleeping toddler. I leaned my head against the window, threw on some of my own music for a change, and as I mindlessly stared at the green hills and farms flying by I had a flashback to the many, many road trips we took as a family when I was a kid.
That’s when I realized that, despite being a mom, I felt like a kid again.
All that awkwardness and messiness. My acne had returned with a vengeance after I gave birth and only now, over a year later, was I gaining control over that and the rest of my own body once again. I felt absolutely no control over anything lately. Chores, errands, the monotonous rut of required duties became a routine enacted at the mercy of my son’s daily needs. Hungry? Let’s stop and eat. Tired? We can go to the food store later. I’d said no to so many things that I lost count- and track- of my friends. There my husband sat up front, driving, just like my dad always did. Our life revolved around my husband’s work schedule, just like my young life had once revolved around my dad’s. Somehow, becoming a mom had made me into a teenager again, but only in all the awful ways.
What the hell?
This is what no one talks about when they talk about parenting. Especially for stay-at-home mothers like me, who wind up losing themselves in their children, only to become craft mavens and Pinterest Queens once their youngest starts school. One mom I know is the president of the PTA, teaches religious school and knits during nights out with friends. She’s the quintessential 1950s mother and she loves it. She’s what people talk about when they talk about full time mothers.
They don’t talk about the space between, the becoming a mother bit. Sure, there are vague whispers about the fourth trimester, but no one wants to get too far into the pit of exhaustion, anxiety and stress that is the transition into motherhood for the same reason they don’t talk about life after the honeymoon: It’s messy. There’s a reason love stories end when the couple gets together. If one more chapter were written the whole novel would be shot to hell.
Shortly after my first anniversary a coworker of mine asked me, “So how do you like marriage?” When I smiled and told her it had grown on me, she replied with a knowing grin. “The first year is awful, isn’t it? I just remember him going to work and me sitting there wondering what had I done? But then it got better and it’s been great ever since.” She had been married over 30 years and had two grown kids. I imagined her in the backseat of her car covered in vomit and wondering what she had done having a baby. Then I remembered her bragging constantly about her children’s accomplishments and what great adults they’d become.
“The first days are the hardest days,” goes one of my son’s favorite Grateful Dead songs. But, “it’s getting better all the time,” as the Beatles sang (yes, another favorite on the playlist). The important thing is to accept this fourth trimester for what it is and know that all the awkwardness will pass, just as it has so many times before. Thank God, no one is a teenager forever.