The biggest feeling to me about being a new parent is that you just sort of fall apart. It’s beautiful and it’s awful and it’s happening all the time, all the time. Take that in. Before your baby nothing happened all the time. Now there’s kind of this emergency that never goes away and things are unravelling. You really become more yourself in the end but when you’re in the middle of it you pretty much want to punch anyone who tells you it gets better.
That’s why Ann Lamott’s “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year” is so soothing. It’s just this very open hearted account of how utterly messy the whole thing is. I don’t know how it happens but we all seem to get this memo that says the postpartum days are supposed to be so lyrical, and special, and that you should treasure every second. And that is just SO much pressure when you have really never felt so totally out of control in your entire life, and honestly, how many of us deal well with being out of control?
So while being a mom is absolutely about doing right by our children there’s also this personal transformation that you go through and the rub is you’ve got to do it whilst spinning so many plates. Lamott writes,
“Being a mother is like having to navigate across a field covered with old tires.”
And when there’s so much going on the first thing to go is the thing we want to hold onto so desperately: appearances. We just can’t pretend to be perfect anymore. Friends show up and we haven’t showered in days. The house looks like someone picked it up, turned it upside down, and shook it. The baby has banana smeared across it and is crawling towards an electrical socket. This is where Lamott excels. She just does falling apart brilliantly. Here she is writing about the postpartum fall from grace:
“When I feel like I’m coming apart like a two-dollar watch, it helps me beyond words to look at myself through the eyes of Mary, totally adoring and gentle, instead of through the critical eyes of the men at the Belvedere Tennis Club, which is how I’ve looked at myself nearly all my life.
I don’t think the men at the Belvedere Tennis Club would look at this big exhausted weepy baggy mentally ill cellulite unit we call Annie Lamott and see a beautiful precious heroic child. But Mary does.”
Letting go of our high standards is hard. We’re so conditioned to keep it all together. But what are kids do best of all is to help us connect with what’s real. The struggle is real but so is the love that shines through all that turmoil. And we discover something else pretty amazing, those exceptionally high standards, that rule book we all keep for ourselves, we totally don’t need it. We are so much bigger than those petty rules. Too bad there has to be so much falling apart for us to discover that. We all need friends who make us feel OK with our messy selves. Ann Lamott is a great companion in the unravelling.