I'll never forget asking my therapist the following question when I found out I was pregnant: "Who am I going to be?"
"You," she answered. "With a kid."
That was comforting that day, on that couch, staring at those Matisse prints, being that person who was terrified of mom jeans and my life being thrown into a bouncy house to sprain its ankle and barf.
Now, it's not so comforting.
In fact, there are days I don't want to be just me, with a kid. I want to be a version of me who knows how to cook, so rustling up dinner every night wouldn't mean several stops into various health food stores for ready-made nutritious side dishes and gluten-free microwaveable burritos. That's right, preservatives and cost overruns, my friends. I'm not proud. But I had a baby, and I didn't become that lady who subscribes to Real Simple and clips the recipes.
What's more, I also didn't become a fun, wildly animated, awesome with children lady. I'm still the pretty serious, four books on the nightstand at all times, inhibited, never even sings karaoke kind of lady. The woman who swings her child upside down over a sandcastle as he squeals -- I didn't become her, and now sometimes I want to.
I've seen progress, which I'll get to.
(And by the way, "progress" is just the kind of buzzword therapists love. It's their catnip. It sounds very self-reflective, but not grandiose.)
The rush of love for your kid, not to mention the constant exposure to other parents with whom you can't help but compare yourself, can make you feel like a real bummer, like you aren't doing it right, doing enough, having enough fun or serving enough kale. If you can't cook or maybe teach the essentials of good pitching technique or or even play a decent game of hide-and-seek, you might be hard on yourself, as I can be. I am who I was before, and I wasn't exactly making balloon animals and singing songs that require accompanying hand gestures.
What my therapist didn't mention, because her purpose in that moment was to stop me from panicking about changing, is that what I used to be wasn't all that glamorous. What she also didn't specify is that I could take the few tricks up the itchy wool sleeve of my already existing personality and bend them toward motherhood.
My son loves rocks, loves trucks, loves being outdoors, loves watching motorcycles whiz by. I don't inherently enjoy any of those things. The progress -- I'm telling you this with burrs currently stuck in my hair -- is that I'm starting to get it. A pile of rocks is pretty great.
Last night, my boy stopped on the sidewalk and spread himself out on a bed of rocks, staring up at the sky. He motioned to me, so I spread myself out on the pile of rocks right next to him, and we both looked up, saying, "Sky. Trees. Airplane. Birds." I genuinely enjoyed the feeling of those rocks against my back, the setting sun on my face. There are times when I see a motorcycle and find myself thinking, "Those are cool."
Who is this? Did I change a little? Open myself to the little wonders a toddler digs because I want to love him the right way and to do so I have to get low, get dirty? Am I making the slowest, most imperceptible progress toward being one of the moms I admire? Have I become so lame at expressing myself that I just ask a series of rhetorical questions meant to point toward some conclusion? I am still who I was, because while I didn't love dump trucks, I was always decent at finding my way, doing research, experimenting, failing, trying again.
Looking up at the birds ... that sounds idyllic and all for most people, but it was just never my thing. Now that my son is my thing, so are his birds and his rocks. I'm just me, with a kid, and grass stains on my heels.