Saturday, February 9, 2013

Then and Now


I'm deviating from my writer's challenge group today, because a coworker of mine suggested a writing prompt for me. She asked me to write about how I was a mother to Brie so long ago, compared to how I am with Natalie today.

It's an interesting thought. As I sit here writing this, Nati is doing a repeat loop of the following: climb on the ottoman, gauge the distance between the ottoman and the sofa, determine that it is close enough to jump onto the sofa, attempt the jump. She is successful at making it onto the couch about 75% of the time. When she comes up short, she flops to the ground with a dramatic whimper and looks at me to see if I've noticed her injury. "Dude," I say, "If you don't want to fall, quit jumping on the couch!" Poor kid gets no sympathy from me, and so she gets up and starts all over again.

I didn't expect to become a mother at age 20. Dusty and I were so, so young. Our relationship, in its infancy back then, was bound together by a thread no thicker than a spiderweb. Before Brie was born, I was a mix of emotions. Uncertainty ruled my thoughts, calling in reinforcements from fear, shame, and feelings of inadequacy. But I slowly began to get used to the idea of becoming a mother, and I started to feel better about what my future held. This was still part of my life plan, it just happened sooner than I thought it would. I was on scholarship and although it wouldn't be easy, I could still finish college. I could do this. I had a feeling that even though I was young (just LOOK at the picture - I was a BABY!) I would be a good mother.

A week before Thanksgiving break of my junior year in college, Brie was born. She was a beautiful, bright-eyed baby who screamed her ever loving head off for the first six months of her life. She was a difficult, colicky baby, and there were times I had to lay her in the crib, walk away and shut the door to collect myself. I cried along with her many nights. I can say that dealing with the pressures of first time motherhood along with going to college and working 25 hours a week wasn't easy. But once the colicky period passed, it became easy for me. No, that's not right. Parenting is never easy, and Brie gave us a run for our money. Lordy, did that child throw us some curveballs. So "easy" isn't the right word. But enjoyable and rewarding will do.

When Brie was Natalie's age, we read books, played with blocks and babies, went on walks, sang songs, watched videos, and I rocked her to sleep. I do the same things with Natalie. Some of the books are different, and I am thankful to say that we're no longer prisoners of Barney in our home. I'm probably more creative with our playtime these days. But some things are so much the same. I sat and snuggled with Nati last night and was singing the "Hush little baby, don't say a word, Mama's going to buy you a mockingbird" song. I almost substituted 'Briana' for 'Baby' because that's what I did when she was little. Nineteen years later, and I still sing the same soothing songs. I don't suppose that's all that surprising, since those songs were sung to me by my own mother.

It is easier with Natalie in many ways. I know that the runny nose will most likely pass, and if not, we have a great pediatrician. Dusty and I have good jobs, and so our financial situation is much better than it was when Brie was a baby. But most significantly, Dusty and I are in a stable marriage. Each year that thread that binds us together (the one that was so thin when we learned Brie was on the way) has been reinforced by our shared experiences and our commitment to one another. It is now a rope of galvanized steel, forged by a history of twenty years that have gifted us with more peaks than valleys.

It's natural to assume that parents become more relaxed with subsequent children. Perhaps the years of experience and learning from mistakes erode the fear and vigilance that keeps a first time parent up at night. In many ways, I am more relaxed. I know that I am less strict with my children now than I was at first. I don't think I would have let Brie play the "jump from the ottoman to the couch" game. But the experience of having a stillborn baby has made me more protective, almost neurotically so in other ways. Even now that Natalie is well past infancy, I sometimes place my hand on her chest to make sure she is breathing. But the older she gets, the looser fear's grip on my heart becomes.

I look at the pictures above and think hard about how I am different. The physical differences are easy to spot: I've got wrinkles and I'm heavier in the recent photo. I like to write those differences off as laugh lines and a softer lap for snuggling. I'm so young, so inexperienced, so green in the first photo. There is so much ahead of me. After this photo is taken, I will get married, have three more children, build a happy life with their father, and enjoy a fulfilling career. I will kiss dozens of boo-boos, read thousands of story books, and become the woman in the photo on the right. The woman who cares a lot less about what others think of her, the one who knows that things don't always turn out the way you expect them to, but that they usually turn out better than you ever dared to hope. But at the end of the day, they're both still me, and they're both still "Mama."


Sue Green said...

You are adorable as a young mom, but so eloquent and assured as a mom with experience. Well said.

ludakristen said...

Thank you so much for writing this.

Not to make this about me, but as somebody who has zero relationship with her mother and has no idea what her experiences were in this realm, it's nice to read this kind of stuff. I feel like it's beneficial - like I'm learning things from you that I can't/won't learn from my own mom.