You Helped Me Believe In Myself

Several years ago when I'd returned from my first maternity leave, I found myself talking to someone at my office about how I felt more capable of handing my work tasks since I had my son. How the things that used to seem overwhelming suddenly seemed so much more manageable.

"I think it's because taking care of a baby is so much more brutal than anything I do at the office," I said with a laugh. "I mean, compared to dealing with a screaming kid for hours on end? Being here is a CAKE WALK."

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The response I got was a dry, "Gee, you make motherhood sound like so much fun." Which immediately made me feel awful, like I had betrayed my son somehow, and when I tried to verbally backpedal, I started worrying that I sounded insipid ("Well, it's hard but, like, it's also rewarding ..."), or that I was being totally offensive by minimizing on-the-job challenges or implying that childless people had it easy, or that I would never stop talking until a new ice age crept over the earth and mercifully froze my flapping maw shut.

I didn't say what I meant in that discussion, really. Or at the very least, I articulated it poorly, and was probably speaking from a muddied mix of sincerity and self-observation, and the overwhelming relief of simply escaping my needy child a few days a week. For all the challenges and heartache of leaving my baby in order to work, I have to admit I often reveled in the human luxuries of eating an uninterrupted lunch, going to the bathroom whenever I wanted, and occasionally even talking with other adults.

But I also believed—and still do, even more so—that taking care of a child changed me in ways that made me a stronger person.

The role of being a parent has been the toughest I've ever taken on, the most relentlessly difficult in countless different ways. I had to confront some of my less-admirable personal characteristics (selfishness, laziness, and impatience, to name a few) on a minute-by-minute basis after August 31 of 2005, because babies don't listen when you say "just a sec" and they don't care that dinner's getting cold and they definitely don't give half a shit if you want an extra hour in bed and here were the new rules, the rules are you don't get to make the rules.

Things are different now that my children are older, but new challenges arise every day. They aren't as demanding as they were as infants, but while the path may be easier, it's still an uphill climb. The views are great, but jesus, the terrain can be a real bitch.

Navigating parenthood has been a job of a million and one frustrations, and through it all, a fierce and all-encompassing love. The experience has transformed me in subtle ways every day since their births. I sometimes feel as though some cavernous thing inside of me that was once empty—waiting, echoing—has been filled to the brim by their existence.

That's difficult for me to say because before I had my first son, before I chose to get pregnant, before I even started thinking that being pregnant wouldn't be the end of the world, one of the biggest reservations I had about parenthood had to do with the seemingly ubiquitous opinion that having kids was the One True Path to Happiness. I really, really resented that, and I felt this panicky sense of wanting to have certain accomplishments under my belt that I could point to, before I ever became a mom and therefore turned my entire focus to the full-time job of marveling starry-eyed over my spawn. So I could feel as though I did something, whatever that something might be, before life was essentially over.

I understand now that life does turn upside down when you have children, and that things are forever changed. However, I didn't expect that I'd see so much further into my own possibilities. I didn't expect parenthood to make me more present, more invested, more alive. I didn't expect to feel stronger, more confident, and more hopeful about my own future.

Someday, I hope to tell my children that. You helped me believe in myself. I hope, more than anything else, I can give this same gift back to them.

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