As my belly has expanded by leaps and bounds in the last few weeks I have realized that motherhood begins with such sacrifice. As an active women I have hard time feeling my body become increasingly taxed by activities that never would have caused my body any exertion before. Stretches that wouldn’t have stretched before are now a strain on tight muscles. Walks that would’ve felt like nothing are tiring now. Running is an absolute impossibility. We begin this process of motherhood by giving of our very bodies.
I helped Scott with the beginning of a camp training this weekend; during this I thought through aspects of leadership again. At one point self-care was brought up, the process of taking care of yourself first before you take care of others. I learned self care in a very real way on my first backpacking trip. The trip took place in Wisconsin in May and was subjected to oft felt Midwestern spring weather patterns, constant rain and a surprise snow storm. I was sopping wet from the waist down for eleven days straight. When we would get into camp everyone would just start setting up camp, I finally had the courage to take a break and change my sopping wet clothes so I could better move, gather firewood, set up tents, and cook dinner. If I changed clothes and took the five minutes to rejuvenate I could take better care of myself and the people around me. Right now my fairly low maintenance body has become high maintenance. If I don’t drink enough water I suffer, if I don’t eat well I suffer, if I don’t properly rest I suffer, if I don’t exercise my body (in gentle ways that I used to call old lady exercise) my body really starts to fall apart. My non-pregnant body is used to being deprived of food, water, sleep, pushed to all kinds of crazy excesses in sport and now I can do none of that. Presently the three flights of stairs up to my class winds me, probably because my heart is presently turned on sits side, but from a woman who likes to climb mountains this is a hard weakness to feel. Right now to best take care of my impending child I need to just take proper care of myself. I think this is the first lesson of parenthood, so take proper care of your child you must first take care of yourself.
Prior to my marriage I looked upon the bonds of matrimony as an institution that would only take me further from myself, that once I married my life would stop. Once I said ‘I do’ my waist would expand, I would stop traveling, and no longer be able to pursue my career because my husband’s everything would come first. I would pick up his nightly nacho habits, we would no longer be able to afford travel, and we would make all decisions based on the advancement of his career because, after all, aren’t I just going to get pregnant and quit work? I have traveled more since I have been married, and have gone farther in my career than I ever did on my own. There have been some un accounted for weight fluctuations, but I won’t blame Scott. I have felt that my impending motherhood was going to provide the same kind of death to my life; in the same places and in other’s as well. I have seen mothers stop exercising, stop interacting with their husband (unless it was about the baby), stop eating well, stop their career, stop their education, and stop interacting with their friends (unless those friends had kids). I have also seen all of these ‘sacrifices’ looked on as virtuous, because doesn’t the child come first?
But if pregnancy prepares me for motherhood by taking good care of myself and therefore the child, why do I feel like that our society expects me to give up everything that gives me life and keeps me sane? Why does it expect me to stop my job, which provides income and helps others, and start recording every minutiae of my child’s life in a scrapbook? Why does it expect me to stop exercising and start making kid-friendly, shaped like a lady bug, snacks? Why does it ask me to stop making art and start making homemade wrapping paper? Why does it tell me that I won’t be able to hike, which is free, but I should be able to afford a gym with daycare?
I read one article in a Parenting magazine about how to take care of your child in the ‘witching hours,’ those hours between school and dinner. One suggestion was to make peanut butter and jelly sushi: flatten bread, spread with peanut butter and jelly and then roll it up and I was to give this to child twenty minutes before dinner. Why would I waste the time to make an elaborate snack right before dinner when I could be making dinner? The schedule for this article had me dancing on my head in some ridiculous way every fifteen minutes, when am I supposed to make dinner? Where does this madness stop? When can highly educated women expect to stop running circles around the perceived demands of a small child and make real decisions? Will my child feel more loved because I quit work and spent all day making faux-sushi? Will my child become a contributing member of society because I stopped painting and hand decorated all their Christmas presents and those of my thirty person family? Will my children score better on their SATs because I stopped exercising and started going to every ‘Mommy and Me’ class available? Yet every woman’s magazine I pick up aimed at women in my time of life tells me that these things are necessary for a healthy child.
I was raised by a single mom. I didn’t get shuttled to hours and hours of sports practices. Would I be more confident if I did? Probably, but it didn’t happen so why dwell on it. I was a latch key kid, I did watch many clandestine hours of afterschool television when I should’ve been doing homework, (if you’re reading this Mom I’m sure you knew or aren’t surprised, our garage door was really loud) would my time have been better spent in piano lessons, maybe, but it didn’t happen so why dwell on it? I tell you what did happen because of my upbringing that I didn’t see happen with my friends who were shuttled to and from lessons and made all kinds of personalized snacks, I entered college being able to cook and clean almost anything. I remember going to school with people who couldn’t use a mop or a vacuum cleaner or an ATM or fry an egg. I am not a picky eater; my mom wasn’t going to short order cook all kinds of specialized crap just because I didn’t like it or wanted something else.
So how do I balance this? How do I take care of myself, and take care of my child and still get to enjoy time with my husband? How do I raise an independent child that still has the opportunity to be on a few soccer leagues? How do I keep my career, keep exercising, and keep my sanity without folding to all the Martha Stewart crap that American culture tells me I have to do to be a good mother? How do I take care of myself without turning into Oprah?
I think I start with knowing who I am and what I am willing to spend my time on. I love food, food is a bit of a hobby of mine, my children will be well fed at mealtimes. I am not willing to spend my time making special snacks, they can have a normal peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A one minute prep time for snack means I love you and want to meet your needs just as much as a ten minute masterpiece. I think I have to ask myself continually what are the long term effects of the things I choose to do with them and the things I choose to keep for myself. What does this mean for the eternal? What does it take to raise a well-loved cherished child and still use my god-given gifts to the best of what God has intended them for?