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Looking Back On Early Motherhood

Posted Sep 05 2008 6:24am

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By Carol Kaufmann, Columnist, "Mama Tricks: Wrapping Your Head Around Motherhood"

Since I had so much "free time" while I nursed during my daughter's first few months on the planet, I tossed the book Eat, Pray, Love in my cart at Target one harried Saturday during a diaper run. Oprah said every woman in the country had read this travel memoir (except me, evidently) and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I'm glad I did read the book, albeit in fits and starts while Sara Clare was nursing, for one sole reason.

In the Italy/Eat section, the author is musing about her new-found home, Rome, and says she wants to be like this city, regally self-assured, grounded, "amused and monumental," when she's an old lady. At this hectic point in life, my aspirations aren't so grand, but her analogy did give me an idea for a Mama Trick.

Imagine yourself older, say, the age you'll be when your kids move out of the house. Imagine older-you remembering current-you right about now. Right now in the midst of stinky, never-ending diapers and toddler gibberish you wish you could interpret.

Ask yourself this: How do I want to remember my first years as a Mama? The question is about YOU - not how you want to remember your kids. (Hopefully, the answer to that is fully and completely, though with the sleep deprivation, slim chance without the saving grace of modern digital camera and video recorders.) Ask yourself this because sometimes it's just not enough to make it up as we go along. Sometimes we need a little vision.

I'll bite: How will I remember me as a new mom?

When I first tried this type of "projection assessment," I imagined older me tried and tested, thus wiser, savvier, more together and finally organized. (I'm a true optimist). Older-me looked back on myself with kindness and compassion because that's how older-me looks at young mothers who don't know what the hell they're doing. Still, I didn't like everything that I saw.

Certainly, I took a huge amount of pride in my new family. But I also felt regret. That all-encompassing feeling of fatigue descended over every muscle and fiber when I mentally reviewed the beginnings of my children's lives. Visions of an exhausted, stretched thin, strung-out nutbag came to mind. How much time did I lose wondering if my energy was ever going to return? (It did). Can I never get back the time I spent complaining to my husband and girlfriends about stubborn baby weight and nonexistent personal time? (No, silly question). And how many hours did I spend mourning the loss of the old me? (The new one's better).

But there were also glimpses of a woman who smiled much more than she used to, in a deep, very genuine way. I saw scenes of me turning tantrums into ripples of giggles by making funny faces. I knew very well my ridiculous poses were an entree into the epicenter of my children's comfort zone. They were the precursors to hugs that banished the sting of scraped knees and hurt feelings. And the hugs would eventually lead to soft strokes of the face that would put them to sleep. I knew this is the Mama I wanted to remember.

Now, at times their cries are like little stabs of pain and I pull the blanket further over my head. But when I think of older-me remembering current-me, I have much more incentive to pad down the hall into their rooms and morph into those silly looks that I know make my wee ones explode with laughter.

I know what I want to remember most: The sounds of their cackles and their pure smiling faces, the essence of children that cameras can't ever capture. So when I am that older, wiser dame and think back to these days, I hope I picture a smiling, though admittedly tired, woman gazing at her kids with a ridiculous look on her face, trying to memorize every gesture.

Copyright 2008 Carol Kaufmann
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Carol Kaufmann regularly shares her "Mama Tricks" with The Well Mom. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest,National Geographic, The Washington Post, and in theanthology A Woman's Europe. She lives in Alexandria,VA with her husband, toddler, newborn, and twoobese rescue cats.
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