Today is my son's first birthday—happy birthday, baby boy. We spent the morning marveling at our wobbling, babbling, chubby-legged fellow, and at how fast the time has gone and at how far we've all come in the last year. This afternoon there will be presents and cake and photos and fun. But for now, in the spirit of blogger self-indulgence, I'm going to make it about me.
Parenthood is something I always figured I'd enter into later in life, if at all. Although I knew it would be enriching in many ways, I assumed it would be limiting in others, a sort of wing-clipping, and I wasn't ready for that in my 20s or early (or even mid) 30s.
I've been reflecting this morning on how my first year of motherhood has changed me. I can report that life is definitely not what it was before my son was born, and so far, that's overwhelmingly a good thing.
I have broadened, rather than narrowed, my social circle.
When you have a baby, you get to know a lot of other moms, just as when you have a dog, you get to know a lot of dog owners, and, to steal a line from a friend, if you have a beer, you get to know a lot of drinkers. I’ve always considered “mommy friends” a pejorative term, and envisioned a social life reduced to discussions of feeding schedules and diaper rash cures. And I was not entirely wrong: I have met a lot of other moms, and we do discuss these things, but it’s anything but dull. And at the risk of getting all mommies are people on you, among the moms I’ve met over the last year is a program director for a major Amsterdam classical music venue, a project manager for a development consultancy, and a clothing designer with her own line at an international firm. The pram may be the icebreaker, but what I have to discuss with and learn from the mom friends I’ve made goes far beyond that.
I am becoming more interesting, or at least I'm trying.
One of my first jobs was with a San Francisco-based book publisher. As each weekend approached, the kitchen bulletin board would be covered in flyers inviting staff to various events involving my creative genius colleagues: so-and-so would be reading from his book of haikus this Friday, such-and-such would be performing in a musical Saturday night. It made me feel so dull, having nothing to counter with but that I’d be sitting on my ass drinking beer all weekend. Pregnancy and motherhood have forced me to broaden my horizons, in part because I don't want my son to think I’m useless, but also because you have to get more inventive with how you spend your time when you can’t just hang out at the pub. You also have more hours in the day. For example, before my son was born, 9 am on Saturday was technically a time, but it went largely unseen and unused. Now it’s when I am available for coffee or yoga. I was inspired to do more in the last year, including participating in a writing group, a cooking class, a belly dance workshop, and intensive Dutch study, as well as earning my first by-lines as a freelance journalist.
I sleep better.
As a night owl with a day job and an enthusiasm for the, shall we say, café culture, I have never been a good sleeper. Everyone says that parenthood is the death of sleep, but for me, I’ve never been so well rested—probably because I've never been so genuinely tired at the end of the day. I always worked a lot and I always worked hard, but work was really all I had to do. Now I have just four hours of baby-free time to work each morning, and I am far more focused and efficient. Afternoons with my son aren’t billable, but they are no less busy, especially with a child who thinks naps are for suckers. I am grateful that I can divide my days between work and motherhood, and I try to do both at full capacity. It’s tiring, in a satisfying way. And while I used to struggle to wind down at night, there’s no tossing and turning now, only deep, lovely sleep.
I am a better partner.
I learned a lot from my divorce, including that successful relationships rely on accountability as much as romance. Most divorces are not sudden—every action strengthens or weakens a relationship, and before reaching a crescendo of inelegance and despair, a failing marriage begins its demise with subtle apathy. You stay up late watching TV by yourself. You leave your dishes in the sink. You cancel weekend plans to catch up on work. Not occasionally but most of the time. I love my Irish fella, and we are plenty romantic. But some of the best ways to show your appreciation for your partner are completely void of passion, like scrubbing the toilet because it’s your turn, or turning off your laptop to engage in what’s going on around you rather than feel irritated by it. That we are now parents makes it all the more important that we be strong as a couple. The Irish fella and I both love a boy whose life we want to make great, and we adore being parents so much we’re having another baby. But at the core of our family is our partnership, and not wanting that to fail makes my priorities clear.