I watched Oprah’s interview with Drew Barrymore the other day. Barrymore had a baby around the same time Noah was born and she was talking about how happy her daughter Olive is in the mornings when she wakes up:
"I get to wake her up and she's so fun and always smiling and doesn't have this history of all these thoughts you wake up with as an adult, going "oh my god, what did I say" or "I have that thing to do..."
“She’s clean,” Oprah suggested. What she meant by this was that Olive hasn’t yet had experiences that have caused her to lay awake at night or to examine herself, why she is who she is, what role she plays in life.
What a beautiful notion, and yet how intimidating to think this about the child that you're in charge of.
Yesterday at Breastfeeding support group, the leader picked up on something I said about having moments of not recognizing myself.
“That makes sense,” she said, “because you’re not the same person you were a year and a half ago. That person is gone… and you get to figure out who this new person is.”
This reminded me of something I wrote late in my pregnancy, about how much I was looking forward to the rebirth I predicted I would experience once Noah was born. There is, however, one slight difference -- I was using “rebirth” as the concept of returning to my old life of running and traveling and buying bananas. I guess I’ve been subconsciously measuring the dips and crests of life as a mother against life as a pre-mother… and when she said that yesterday, it finally clicked.
I get to figure out who this new person - me, redefined - is.
I started seeing a therapist on Tuesday night in a first step towards treating the Postpartum Depression I was diagnosed with at the end of last week. (I’ll write more about that journey soon.) One of the things my therapist and I talked about was the notion that parenting is almost always in conversation with how we were parented. This is not just “how do I avoid doing something my parents did that I didn’t like?”… in many ways it’s actually very positive. How do I do what my parents did successfully? How do you replicate it? And how do you raise a child in a way that both echos how you were parented and allows for the ways that you are different from the family you came from?
This is not all conscious by any means; it took some digging to get there. But here’s what’s interesting to me: the notion that I am a product of two people who parented me, the fact that I had a life for 31 years in which I played certain roles and not others… well, all of that is in direct conflict with the massive life event that has just reset the measuring stick back to zero. And here I am trying to grasp for straws in an effort to be GOOD at something I’m new at… I reach for memories from my own family, some sweet and some stressful, and I try to mimic or reject, depending.
And holy, holy shit, IT IS NOISY in my brain lately because of all this.
When I heard Drew Barrymore talk about how clean her daughter’s brain is when she wakes up, well, I felt so in awe of that. I had not been able to splice out what I’ve been needing lately, but that surely is it. The ability to wake up with no preconceived notions, no expectations, no career horizon or plan or syllabus or obligation… (And if I am very, very honest on this here blog, the ability to wake up in the morning without the forced reality of caring for someone who cannot yet care for himself… I had not realized how much this was weighing on me until just this moment.)
I don’t know how much longer Noah will wake up with a clean slate. A few years probably, though we are carving tracks through the fresh snow of his little brain every day. So far those tracks are limited to bath and bed routines and funny noises that elicit reactions from him. I sit here and know that I will make mistakes, that we will make mistakes, and that he will not live a perfect life. (I mean, obviously!)
But even knowing that, I guess I still find it very difficult to know how to tread on freshly fallen snow.
And now, full circle. There was an enormous snowstorm in the wee hours of October 13 that blanketed everything that came before it and I, too, am looking out at a new beginning. This is both exhilarating and annoying. How well I knew those paths! How easy it was to fall into a routine, to ignore some of the larger questions of life because I was comfortable in my ways! I miss my job and my pre-baby life most on the days that I am afraid at home. I reach for something familiar, something I know I am good at, because I do not really feel good at mothering some days.
(If this were some kind of reality TV show, I feel sure that someone would force me to finger paint right now just to prove that messy and imperfect is good.)
But I guess what I hope for myself is that I do not retreat back to the comfortable only because it is so. I hope that I do not grab my snow shovel and start digging out the paths according to where I remember them existing. I hope that I can find the strength to, even for a few moments, appreciate the beauty of the snowy lawn before me.