Do you remember your first time?
Not that first time. That's part of what got you into this mothering mess to begin with.
The other first times. The ones that define your grand entrance into parenthood. The messy ones. The ones that aren't always marked on a calendar. The firsts that no one ever thought to prepare you for. And trust me, there isn't a blank spot in the baby book for these. There's always a first time, my friend. Consider yourself warned.
1. The first time you catch someone else's puke in your hand, on purpose. When I was in college, my BFF and I lived with a guy who once got so drunk that he threw up in our washing machine. Don't ask. The point is that before you have kids, you try your hardest to get the hell out of the way when someone pukes. Once you have kids? You're suddenly reaching out to try to catch it. Why? I have no idea. It's a mothering reflex. There's nothing like holding a sick baby in your lap as he screams for you, and realizing that you need to let him puke on you because he won't let go of your neck.
2. The first time you cry over what someone else is or isn't eating. I don't care what my husband eats for dinner. OK, sometimes I do care, if I really want to order Chinese food and he's hell bent on something healthy. But once you're a mother, it's up to you to care (mightily) about growing a child. It's a big responsibility. Babies aren't like plants... you can't water them four days after you forgot about them, and expect them to survive. The first "feeding tears" usually arrive in the hospital, as you decide breast or bottle. Either way, you'll sob. You'll cry when your nipples hurt, you'll cry when the formula spills, you'll cry when you accidentally elbow a bottle of freshly pumped milk and it splashes all over the carpet. And just in case that wasn't enough emotion around what someone else was (or wasn't) eating, you'll get to experience it all over again when your toddler refuses to eat anything orange. Or green. Or something that's touching something else. Or something that smells like chicken. Or looks like cheese. Or...
3. The first time you realize your mom isn't coming to save you, because you're the mom now. Max's nursery. Two weeks into our parenting misadventures. 3 a.m. Max had just puked all over the changing table. Sean was sprawled out on the floor, because we had both been up with a screaming baby every.damn.hour for 14 days straight. And he was too tired to go anywhere after cleaning up the puke. I sat in the rocking chair trying to get our sweet baby to go back to sleep. And I cried. Sean whispered to me in the darkness, "What the hell did we just DO to our lives? We can't do this. We can't do this! You need to call your mom and tell her to come back." There will be a moment in your parenthood (and it will probably involve puke), where you realize that it's time to "Mom Up." And you'll figure out how to put one foot in front of the other, and fix it. And then you'll call your mom.
4. The first time you realize that you're doing it wrong. The learning curve of parenthood is steep. There are too many things that we're supposed to know, and not enough daylight hours in which to learn them. Sometimes the best lessons come from our dearest friends... the ones who have already had their first times. When my friend Jenny gently mentioned that tiny Max was buckled into his car seat completely wrong, I realized that it takes a village to figure this sh*t out. I'll never forget how respectful she was when she asked me if she could show me the right way to tighten his belt, and reached over to move the straps into place. I have a college degree. I can navigate a thesis and balance a checkbook and get home from any corner of the city, without a map, but I honestly didn't know what a safe car seat buckle was supposed to look like on an infant. Or how to nurse, or how to bathe a baby, or how to swaddle, for that matter. Humility is the key to motherhood, apparently.
5. The first time you realize that you're doing it right. A weight check at the doctor's office shows that your baby has gained six ounces, and you smile because you're the one who made him strong and healthy. Another mom comments that your toddler is so social and friendly, and your heart could burst with pride. You sit across from a preschool teacher who tells you with confidence that your boy knows every color and number, and that he's very smart. You can do bedtime, and school drop-off, and immunization visits, and nights alone when your partner is traveling, because deep down you know that you've got this. The first time that you realize you don't need anyone else to save you, and that your kids are turning out just fine... now that one should have a place of honor in the scrapbook.
6. The first time you feel proud that you are using your body for motherhood. Before you have kids, you use your body for (ahem) other things. And then one day, somewhere between releasing an egg into the space where hope and fate collide, and meeting your child for the first time, you realize that you were made to do this. You forgive your body for birthing the stretch marks that wrap around your belly and the purple veins that dot your legs. Suddenly you realize that your C-section scar was earned. That your trembling arms were made to cradle a tiny, newborn head. The curve of your neck was created to fit the flushed, round cheek of a teething baby. Your fingers were formed to stroke the hair of a toddler who is having a nightmare, and the soft flesh that remains around your middle was meant to cushion a little back and bottom, as they curl into you and fall back to sleep. The first time that you truly thank your tired, flawed, beautiful body for giving you the gift of motherhood, you will allow yourself to love what you have become, as much as you love your child.
7. The first time you look back on all of your first times, and realize that you want to do it all again. You will catch puke in your hand. You will question whether or not your life is over... ruined, completely. You will cry over milk, you will cry over chicken nuggets, you will struggle with car seats and preschool applications and the three million pieces of that cute Ikea bedroom furniture. You will pause the first time you rush your child to the ER, and the forms ask who the mother is. You will pray that you have half of the strength, courage and wisdom that your own mother has. You will realize that all of your first times have created the foundation that your family is built on. And it's strong. Stronger than you ever thought it could be, and it's only because you actually know what you're doing that you have made it this far. And then, when the night is still except for a 3-year-old lying perpendicular in your bed, you will watch the rise and fall of your child's chest under their Batman jammies. You will notice, for the hundredth time, how their perfect little rosebud lips puff in and out as they sleep. You will be overwhelmed with how much you love the chaos and the crazy, the hilarity and the adventure. You are complete because you are together. You have survived on love, luck and lots of hard-earned lessons. You will remove a small, ice-cold foot from your ribcage, and reach over the drool spot that your child has left on your sheets, to take your partner's hand. And you will say with confidence that you are ready to do this again. Because you can't imagine not ever having another first time.