When I was a little girl, I often played house as most little girls do. I would be the mommy and all of my little stuffed animals would be my babies, and we would spend the day feeding bottles and playing dress up and napping. All of my “babies” were named Sarah, and all of them were always perfectly well behaved.
When I was just about fourteen, my mother gave birth to my little brother. She was a bit older, of course, and since she wanted to make sure there were no complications (and because she was a true champion) she delivered naturally without an epidural. I learned two new things that day that my Sarahs never taught me: childbirth was painful and I would ask the doctor for drugs.
As the weeks went on, I learned a few more things from my little brother. Babies cry a lot. Babies poop a lot. Babies tend to sleep when you are awake and wake when you are asleep. Babies mean you eat a lot more takeout.
But I loved my little brother. And even though he smelled a lot worse than any of my Sarahs, he was so interesting to be around. I always volunteered to dress him. I would help feed him…sometimes. I could cheer him up when he was inconsolable…occasionally. I would change his diapers…when absolutely necessary. But at the end of the day, I was a fourteen year old girl wrapped up in my own little world with my own selfish ambitions. I was only doing a fraction of the work I actually thought I was, and I was gaining way more confidence in my ability to rear children than I should have been crediting myself with. My little sister had claimed that our brother was her temporary form of birth control. But for me, having him around only solidified the fact that I wanted my own little Sarah one day.
I remember planning out so many phases of my life by age. I would graduate high school by eighteen. College by twenty-two. Of course I would be marrying straight out of college. We would spend a couple of years together as man and wife and start trying for children by the time I was twenty-four. I would be a mom by twenty-five. I would want the second baby no more than three years after that. I wanted to be done having kids by thirty. Three kids might be nice. I knew I didn’t want to have any babies after thirty, because then I would be fifty before they left the house—and that would mean I would be too old to do things apparently. Somewhere in there I would find my husband. Somewhere in there I would pick a field of study. Somewhere in there I would build a career... minor details in the major plan.
Somewhere between “graduate college” and “find a husband,” I discovered I was with child. I was twenty—a bit ahead of the schedule. Suddenly my plan went out the window. I was scared. I was overwhelmed. But at the same time, I was comfortable. I knew that having a baby this way wasn’t ideal, but I had always wanted a baby so badly that I figured motherhood would come naturally to me. As if my maternal instincts would be awarded to me strictly based on the amount of “house” I played as a young girl.
I didn’t name my daughter Sarah, (chalk it up to burnout) and it is a good thing I didn’t, because she was nothing like my stuffed animals. But my previous exposure to babies had already taught me that she might be a little more work. However, she was nothing like my little brother either. (So it probably was a good call giving her a different name than him as well.)
Some things I was prepared for: I made the right call asking for the drugs, I was ready to embrace the stink, and I was aware that there was going to be nighttime crying. What I had yet to learn was exactly how much there was about parenting that I didn’t know. It took me about three prenatal visits to start to grasp how expensive babies actually are. (I’m a quick learner, I tell you.) Diapers cost a lot of money, and you burn through about twelve a day—more if your child’s father has “Magilla Gorilla hands” and keeps ripping the little Velcro tabs off the sides on accident. Those cute little outfits that you think are worth spending extra money on are going to get poop stains on them just like the six-pack of Gerber Onesies. A nursery set only stays cute if your baby refrains from spitting up/peeing on it every other night. Your baby will need a new set of everything as they completely outgrow it all every six weeks. A person who is supposedly immobile can get into more places than you ever thought possible. Your baby will always find the one place you forgot to baby-proof. Babies are apparently naturally drawn to things that will kill them, like a bug to a light. Your baby will always be hungry or wake from a nap a mere five seconds after you sit down. Babies will leave you constantly debating what is more important—sleep or showers. Babies grow up way WAY too fast.
Probably the most challenging part of motherhood for me has been the last point. When you are little and play house, when you dream about becoming a mother one day, you always imagine yourself with babies. But babies don’t stay babies for long. They don’t stay toddlers for long either. Nor do they remain preschoolers. Eventually, you are snuggled up with a kindergartener wondering how she grew so tall. Eventually, you hear her talking about how she wants to get married when she turns eighteen and have six of her own babies. Eventually, you watch her primp her hair in the mirror and realize that she doesn’t see the baby that you still see.
Hardly any part of my life’s plan has followed the route I had mapped out for myself all those years ago. I will have all of my babies out of the house before I am fifty, so I guess didn’t totally lose out. And I did have my babies no more than three years apart—though I sometimes wonder why I thought that was such a good thing. (That was a lot of consecutive diapers.) But sometimes the best plans are the ones that get ruined. It helps you refocus on those fleeting “minor details”…