This morning I was working at Weatherstone when a group of mothers with children gathered at the table next to me. All of them were in their 30s, outfitted in hip-boutique gear, from the clothes they and their children wore to sippy cups, diaper bags and strollers. Their oldests were all two years old or slightly younger.
One of them, looking exceptionally well put together, had a five week old infant and a daughter probably 18 to 19 months older (the spread of my own children); two were just announcing their first trimester pregnancies to each other; the fourth was hoping to have another and recently trying. Her child was the oldest of the crew.
They were trying to have adult conversation while attending to the exploring, nursing, dancing, jumping toddlers in their midst.
If I hadn't gone into the headspace in which I compare myself unfavorably nearly automatically to anyone with mulitple matching data points, I would have been feeling very warm and friendly toward them. They were good with their children and good to each other's children. Their conversation was not boring -- though, by necessity and effect, due to the presence of their children if nothing else, it was also not profound and deeply stimulating. They would have reminded me of my own mom's group a year ago.
Instead, I was comparing my still-loaded with post-pregnancy (and post-post-pregnancy) weight body in my stained Cherokee t-shirt and Wrangler shorts to their nifty, composed, and stylish exteriors.
I think this is why it took me so long to really make sense of what was said, when as they were parting, and one of the newly pregnant mothers asked the mother newly of two children how it was going, the mother of two said, "Well, the first couple of weeks were good -- XX's mom was with us, I highly recommend that if you can do it -- and then the third and fourth weeks were really hard, but things are great now. It is SO much more manageable than I worried it would be."
"Things are great now?" I thought to myself -- and immediately began questioning why I had thought it was so hard, for so long, having two. I felt so deeply at odds for the first several months, so deeply torn by the existence of two children who needed me equally -- one long accustomed to having me all to herself, and the other who was just never going to get me as totally as the first had for so long (though she was, by all rights, equally deserving). Juggling their (not to mention my own) competing needs is still the biggest challenge of parenting for me, but by now that act feels "normal," rather than a daily emotional crisis for which I never feel like I gain traction toward sustainability, much less balance.
"So much more manageable?"
I thought of the multiple attempts my 15 month old daughter made just this morning to shove her sister out of the way and take the book I was reading to her sister from my hands. The book her sister had patiently (with great effort) waited for her turn to hear. My baby girl, who has recently learned to use the word "no!" with conviction, but not yet the "please" that her sister is now required to add to every request she makes.
I thought of their frequent hitting and biting, hair-pulling and pushing.
I thought of a recent moment when they were running in opposite directions, both toward the street.
Manageable? -- barely.
Maybe, I began to think, I'm just not as good of a mother as she is. Maybe my emotional intensity bogs me down, prevents me from being the happy-go-lucky mother who would always maintain an even keel and project a calm and a sense of fun that makes her children feel so safe and secure that they don't jockey for attention or make crazy willful breaks for the street.
It was at least thirty minutes into this train of thought when I remembered that the woman's second child is FIVE WEEKS old. Maybe the third and fourth weeks were just the toughest yet. In fact, that is almost certainly the case.
Honestly, I don't wish for her, or for anyone, to have a hard time with motherhood. But it was a relief to consider that maybe she: (a) doesn't really have any idea what she's in for yet; and (b) (and this one took a long time for me consider, but seemed obvious when I did) was trying not to scare the bejeesus out of her newly pregnant friends, and/or appear ungrateful to her trying to get pregnant friend.
For some reason, that thought was like a pass to a whole different perspective on myself, too. The thing is, ultimately, I believe I am well served by the emotional intensity and complexity with which I respond to my life. It isn't always pleasant. It's often murky and uncomfortable. But it undeniably adds nuance and richness to my experience that, according to my observation and limited understanding, isn't part of everyone's. And that belief derives from -- or is grounded by -- this strange little thought: that I belong on the canvas of human history. Me, my story, my perspective are part of a bigger picture under creation, in development -- however you want to put it. And so, I feel invited to live a little closer to the deeper truths of my experience. The painful parts as well as joyful parts.
I hope to pass along to my daughters this perspective: that they too (that we all) are part of the big picture, the biggest picture one can imagine -- and that to play their part, they have to show up like THEY show up, and not the way anyone else shows up. Even if sometimes that means in a stained, decidedly un-hip t-shirt.
It was nice to be reminded, however circuitously, of that myself. And that, for better or for worse, I show up in my teensy tiny corner of the canvas as the mother of these children, my children. Me, in all my faulty glory with them and all of theirs. And it's beautiful -- that big picture. A Masterpiece.