Stretch Marks

It’s 8 o’clock in the morning. I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee, quiet in a sleeping house, writing.

A few short month ago, I would have killed to get my little guy to sleep past 6:45 on a regular basis. Now he sleeps until 7 or 7:30 reliably, occasionally even later. Am I busy praising the stars and relishing my newfound extra sleep and more frequent mornings alone? No. This morning I didn’t get myself up till 7:30 and didn’t get myself coffeed till almost 8, so I’m busy wishing he’d sleep till goddamn 8:45.

And take a nap at 1, thank you very much.

When this mothering job gets really rough, kindly friends remind me that it gets easier as time goes on. But when things are looking up, and I gaze hopefully into the future for a time when things will be even better, those same friends soberly lead me back and say, ‘It doesn’t get easier, really. It just gets… different.’

What the hell? What does it get? Easier or not easier? Get your story straight.

I know kids (and parents) are all quite individual. Not all babies are as high maintenance as mine were. Some apparently sleep. Not all two year olds have daily 30 minute screaming sessions. Not all mothers need time and space for themselves as strangulously as I. Perhaps we, as a family, stir right up into an explosive younger-years cocktail.

Nevertheless I’m pretty sure that, apart from that long span of teenage years too far in my future to contemplate, when people say parenting doesn’t get easier, they are on crack. Parents of the 4-12 set have just plain forgotten what babies and toddlers are like. They have forgotten sleeping a total of 6 hours/night in no more than 90 minute segments and then waking up to a fussy baby and two shitty diapers before coffee. They have forgotten trying to control one child’s screaming fit in public with the other child strapped onto their body. They are under the spell of biological amnesia that allows our species to keep reproducing. I for one am writing this all down, so that I can never blithely tell a mother of a 2yo and newborn that what she is going through is not the very depths of what humans are capable of.

Fear not sweet mama, wherever you are, it does get easier. If you feel completely insane right now, at the very bottom of your barrel, it’s because you are. Things can only look up. Kids grow. It’s really true.

But.

I’m sorry to say, there is a catch. I have come just far enough now to see what it is.

Consider how you have stretched slowly over the years since your very first morning sickness. Things you never thought yourself capable of doing are now old hat. Motherhood is a million times harder than you ever could have conceived of. And yet, simultaneously, you are a million times stronger. You keep thinking ‘fuck me, it can’t get any harder’ and then it does! You keep thinking ‘I can’t hold out any longer’ and then you do! You keep thinking you are at the absolute bitter end of your frayed rope, but your rope keeps stretching.

Which is brave and wonderful and human. I remember one night, washing the dishes at 9:30 pm, after one of those insane days, thinking– I am a demigod. I will never be conquered again. I am now accustomed to working 15 hour days, on 6 hours of disjointed sleep, doing the hardest work of my life. When the impossible-ness of this job subsides, I’ll have the energy and the self-discipline to accomplish anything. The world will be at my feet.

The catch is– that stretchy rope? It shrinks too. It’s a goddamned bungee cord.

It gets easier, yes, but it doesn’t feel easier. When things ease up, I notice the change and appreciate it intellectually, but I still feel like I’m at the end of my rope, every day. I have to hang out with friends in the real crazy year (newborn + 2yo) to remind myself. Oh yeah, my life is hard right now. Plenty hard. But it’s possible. And immediately after that humbling thought, I go back to being mad that my now 2yo didn’t sleep till 8:45.

Maybe I’m just an ungrateful bitch. Maybe, as every little bit of new space opens up, I try to add in too many things. Keeping the house cleaner. Cooking extra for My Man. Writing more. Rioting in my spare time. Maybe it’s just that old ad-borne cultural expectation that we deserve to have it all.

Whatever it is, the outcome is that although it does get easier, it also doesn’t. You won’t have to wake up 6 times a night and then for good at 5:45 to a poopy diaper, you won’t have to strap on a 19 pound weight so that you can finally get the dishes done, you won’t have to listen to hours a day of full-bore screaming. You will be able to calm everyone down by reading a book sometimes, you will be able to leave the room for more than 10 minutes without catastrophe or injury ensuing, the kids will (not always, but often) begin to earnestly and happily play together.

But you will forget the harder times almost immediately, as your body prepares you to continue propogating the species. You will (if you are anything like me) suck down your newfound freedoms and instead of being sated, just want moremoremore. You will wake up one morning in your own bed at 7:30 and wonder honestly if it was all a bizarre dream. You still feel like you are operating at maximum. With a full 8 hours of sleep and 30 minutes of quiet morning, you still feel sparely armored for a day of what still feels like crazy hard work.

All you will have to remind yourself of those farther distances reached are the stretch marks.

You are a demigod.

Related post: The Glory Days

22 thoughts on “Stretch Marks

  1. Abso-fucking-lutely! You are awesome… and right. The two-small-children times ARE the hardest… and it DOES get easier. Mine are now 5 and 7 and it’s a veritable paradise around here. They both go to school in the mornings (the 5yo gets out at 11:40… so it’s a bit of a tease)… and I have quiet. Absolute quiet. Not enough, of course… too many obligations to fulfill in 3 hours a day… but it’s there… it’s sanity… something that’s been missing a long time. And I think that my struggles at the end of my rope… knowing how much I can do… knowing what I’m willing to do for my family… has turned into me finding out that I’m a much better parent than I ever gave myself credit for. I finally have that 20/20 vision that comes from not being in the exhaustion of it.

    It’s all about perspective… is it not? It’s about the ability to stand back and see it for what it is. Two small children doesn’t give you time to step back. Every time you try, someone is hungry, or tired, or needs a diaper change. Later… when you get a chance to breathe… then you step back and see it… the whole. And then you can see how strong you are… what you are truly capable of… the wonder in all of it.

    Honestly, if you get bogged down in the details… even 5 and 7 is hard. A new kind of hard… where the kids fight, shun your cooking, whine about not knowing what to do with themselves… it’s just a new kind of complaining. But it’s easier to find the time to step back too… and that’s a whole new thing.

  2. Oh, crap, now I’m properly teary, which makes it hard to type. Dave’s struggling to put Henry to bed with Lauren involved, because I basically just refused to have either of them, (did I mention that she’s not bloody 7 months old yet, and is climbing the stairs? Cruising around the furniture, falling on her head. I forgot to see this coming- can’t leave her alone, let alone with him in the room!)

    Oh, yep, that was short-lived, she’s back with me, screaming because she fell on her face during the story.

    A demigod, you’re not fucking kidding.

    1. the flip side of those early cruisers are my kids, who were both quite late, and spent age 6-12 months pissed off that they were stuck in one place when they wanted to be exploring the world. it was a huge relief to follow (a happy) baby around the room, instead of listen to hours on end of That Sound, which was like a creaky door fuss.

  3. Ah, yes, the carrot dangling over the donkey’s head… for me, from about 9 months it got a little easier, but maybe that was because I was finally on the drugs for Post Natal Anxiety! Then from 2 years, again I felt like I could cope better because they were less demanding on me, me, ME! Plus I got a little more consistent sleep from about the 2 years old stage!

    Parenting was a steep learning curve for me, and I struggled with the loss of self a lot, and the loss of control even more. I came to accept during my first newborn time that there is no ‘easy’ or ‘thank goodness that phase is over, it will be easier now”, because each phase has it own nuances and challenges, and depending on your frame of my mind, your perspective, is how you’ll handle it. So to struggling parents who are caught with the carrot dangling over their heads I say: don’t hold out until a certain time or age comes along, work out now how you can best handle things… do you need more ‘me time’, do you need medication, do you need yoga or to do an adult class, do you need your partner to step up his/ her side of things, or to ask your family to help, do you need to work on accepting ‘how it is’ rather than how you think it should be?

    But hey, complain as I may sometimes, that’s life and there is no alternative than to just keep going… you can’t send them back to where they came from! (And I’d never, ever want to!)

    1. absolutely! thanks for adding that important “make the change you need” part to this post! so true, it will get easier, but lord, don’t wait around feeling crummy if there’s anything at all that might help. taking care of ourselves, as mamas, is a way of taking care of the whole family.

  4. Speaking as a mother of 4 teenage boys here…. I had 4 boys under 5 (no twins) and i’m here to tell you that it DOES get easier. SO mush easier!

    I look at babies/toddlers now and I’m very glad that my kids are well past that phase! Teenagers are fantastic… so funny and interesting. Just wait.

  5. ah, CJ, speaker of the truth.

    It does get easier. And when the kids fight I forget all about it being easier and still lose my crap regularly at myself for being pissed that I can’t write a simple reply to a blog without a 2yr old saying ‘C’meeere, ‘tana’ because she’s decided she wants sultanas and they’re up too high.

    Thanks again, but gotta go get the sultanas…

    Kylie.

  6. I’m a little scared (ok a lot) by this b/c my 21 month old is about to be joined by a baby sister, but I like the fact that we do stretch and are capable of more, and that eventually it does get easier. Agh, amnesia, totally to blame for the propagation of the species…

  7. Ah, hey, you wrote me a post! At least, that’s how it feels. I have one under two and one well into competent separate person stage at 7. Know why? Cause I couldn’t even think about another till the first was basically in school. And this baby thing is still harder than sin. You are right about mom amnesia. I certainly had it. Looking back I have no idea how I did those first 8 or 9 months. Another great post, thanks,

    1. that’s the spacing I wanted. but… we don’t always get to be in control of these things, do we? maybe i will see it later, but so far all the (many) people who say two years is perfect spacing are, again, i’m sure of it, on crack. two years is insane spacing. people always say, ‘they can play together’ and, yes, i am starting to see that now. but so can a 7 and 2yo! i played with my little sister a lot. and was able to meaningfully help with taking care of her. what do you see so far on that angle?
      on the other side though, i think 5 years was too long for me to be the only child. i cried when she was born and perhaps never got over my de-thronement.

      1. HAHA!!! two years is perfect spacing because (in my case), baby number one hadn’t hit the tantrum stage before I was pregnant with number two. I was under a DELUSION that kids were easy, apart from the night time stuff. Seriously. If that tantrum stage had hit, I might never have had another baby!!!

  8. I needed to read this today.

    My son is 9. He’ll be 10 in December. And I’ll be welcoming a little one in February/March 2012. What the HELL was I thinking?! Beyond that, I’m not getting any younger… The Plan is to have another little ASAP.

    I’ve been a 4-day-a-week parent since my son was 2 (divorced, shared custody). 1) Can I actually parent full-time?! Seems impossible. 2) Ohhhh Myyyyyy Gooooooddddddddd – 2 KIDS CLOSE IN AGE?!?!?!

    *facepalm*

  9. Hahaha! this is your most genius writing yet. Ya know what? I have four and think I’m going to crack up at least once a day. My toddler is also capable of entire days of everything being not quite right, I mean ALL FUCKING WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! Some days he just seems pissed off with every. single. thing. You know the most crazy thing of all? When there’re out the house I enjoy it for about the first hour or two. Then I just start to feel a kind of despair at the silence of the house. A Sex- filled dirty weekend break with loads of distractions – I LOVE. I don’t even miss them when it’s like that. but just pissing around in our home? Hate it when they’re gone! And while they’re all here and on top of me, in my hair, under my feet, in my skin, IN MY FACE… sometimes feel like I can’t breathe, like I want to get away. and then we have a fab day of laughter, high jinx, fun and so on and by bedtime I’m thinking when to have number 5. Stretchy with Alzheimer’s I think!!!

  10. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. I swear to god you are saving women, saving marriages, saving children’s lives (you know what I mean by that) with your HONESTY. Your words are like food, like medicine, like a balm to the soul. I really and truly think that if women in the 70’s read your blog the divorce rate would be cut in half. You are so VALIDATING (something My Man is pretty pathetic at). I swear, you Calamity Jane, will be one of the reasons we stay married if we are still together when our kids move out. Thank you for the validation!

    Thank you.

    1. Wow, them’s blushin’ words. I’m so grateful for your effusive-ness! I’d not gotten that particular merit before, what about my writing is saving marriages I wonder? I’d better get on doing more of it!

      1. It’s the validation that you offer, that’s what’s saving marriages. Women, especially mothers, are starved for validation. I’m lucky to have friends that offer honest soulful validation but not all women have friends brave enough to lay it out there like you do. Plus, you just say it so perfectly. Our Men are not capable of validating our deepest darkest thoughts either, partly because we are too afraid to say them out loud to our partner and partly because they are men, bless their hearts.

        Sometimes just a dose of validation, the knowledge that we are normal, is just what we need to carry on.

  11. Great post. Those mornings of peace are doing you good ;)
    I have a secret way of neverforgetting. Working as a midwife I get the constant reminder of just how hard those little ‘bundles of joy’ can be. And not only am I a demigod for surviving my own kids, I become a demigod for making a cup of tea for the crying, sleep deprived, sore nippled Mum who ‘just can’t take it anymore’! (And I get paid for it)

  12. Hi. Isn’t it true of so much in life — money, time — that you cope with whatever amount you have and then, when you get more, it’s still not enough? I think back to before I didn’t have kids — I still filled my time to bursting. Now there’s more strength. Now I’m a full-on adult. Occasionally I remember to think: we are all healthy. Relatively happy. I am not ruining them for life by losing my temper. And I’ve already forgotten so much. Sadly.

  13. Love, love, love this post. I suppose I can deal with that reality. I don’t feel like things are getting easier (and I suppose I’m still very much in the survival stage, with a 6 month and 2 and a half year old). But it helps to have it articulated this way. As it is, I don’t have to strap the 6m/o on to me while making dinner too much anymore… he can sit in his high chair now. So I guess I should be happy about that. And the 2.5 y/o is potty trained, but still regularly pees his pants. So, there’s that. Thanks for helping me see the bright side! :)

  14. Wow. I’m behind, just saw this post and it took me about an hour to read it in-between preparing snack time, separating children after a cat fight and monitoring room clean up. Crap, my coffee is dead cold.
    Thank you for writing a heart felt post that so many of us feel and just don’t say. We should say and talk about it a lot. There is too much pressure among any circle of mom’s to put on a unfrazzled front. Some days are hard, some days are really hard.
    Here’s what I can tell you about having kiddos 2 years apart. Once #2 hit’s about three-ish…it makes a great play mate for #1 and there are moments..granted at times few and far between..where they play together…for like 30 mins..nicely. That is bliss.

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