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Saying that parenthood is a club is obnoxious and makes all your childless friends want to kill you. Unfortunately, much like being a cancer survivor or divorcee, being a parent is something you really don’t “get” until you’re in the throes. You can intellectualize the experience. You can understand the statements being made by parents– “I think I’d rather be dead”– but you can’t truly internalize these statements until you’ve been there. How do I know this? Because I spent 29 years pretending I totally understood when my friends told me they wanted to jump off bridges. Turns out, I did not understand. Not until my little toesies were gripping the edge of said bridge did I reflect back on those friends and think, “oh my god. you were not kidding.”
But this is the circle of life. It’s a series of epiphanies about how someone else felt and guilt that you did not react appropriately. Your relationship with your own parents improves mightily when you realize what an assbag you are for complaining about not having the perfect childhood. You’re lucky you came out alive. So long as no one tried to diddle you, you’re fine. Now move on.
The hubs and I aren’t reading any parenting books. Primarily we don’t care, but we also don’t need any standards set that we know we won’t meet. Sitting in a mommy’s group last week I listened to one mom cry (CRY!) because she read a book about making her baby sleep 12 hours by 12 weeks. It worked perfectly for her sister-in-law, but 12 weeks had come and gone and her baby was only sleeping 6-8 hours a night. She actually used the word “failure.” Meanwhile, elsewhere in the United States, a woman is being arrested because her child was found eating herself in a cage. Let’s employ a little perspective here. Your cashmere swaddled bundle of 8-hours-of-sleep joy has the memory of a goldfish. Cage girl is going to be fucked up. It’s highly unlikely she’ll forget that time she ate her arm.
Aging has (in my experience) little to do with wisdom and everything to do with perspective. Maybe perspective and wisdom are actually the same thing… (ZING!)
I look back at pre-baby Caroline and I miss her, but I also think she’s a dumb ass. I don’t blame her, I’d be a dumb ass if I were her too. (Ha. See what I did there?!) But pre-baby Caroline didn’t understand her own reality relative to what it was to become. There is a legitimate grieving period that takes place when you take on a small child. The old you is gone. And while your life will normalize, it’s not going to ever go back. You have to say goodbye. And that goodbye is a big ball of hard. It involves facing your mortality and understanding the cyclical nature of all things, but most of all it just sucks so hard to realize that you will likely never feel okay signing up for the Santa Speedo Run again. Shit ain’t right.
But, there’s a silver lining. Seriously. Your brain actually changes.
I spent nearly seventeen years throwing up my food. I joke that I liked to have my cake and throw it up too, but obviously eating disorders are no joking matter. (If you or someone you know is suffering, I encourage you to reach out. Life if too short to be living in constant fear of food.) It started when I was in first grade and continued well into my twenties. I will not lie to you, to this day I think the sick Caroline looked fucking phenomenal, but I also know how much turmoil lurked within and I know that I don’t have the emotional or physical energy to be 130 pounds ever again. I used to dream of being pregnant, not because I wanted kids, but because I wanted a break. I wanted air cover to eat. I wanted to be able to put something in my mouth and not have to explain to myself what I was going to do to make up for it. Or figure out how to throw up in a public place.
Now let’s fast forward.
Yesterday I was at the gym. I look terrible. I was there in a feeble attempt to kick start the rejuvenation of my body, but I could not help but be distracted by the form staring back at me in the mirror. To be clear, this is nothing new. I’ve been looking at this alien form for a few months now. When I look in the mirror, I see a body of smooth lines and clear, youthful skin has been replaced by… lumps. Deep purple stretch marks make an interstate map out of my huge, efficient breasts. If my nipples could talk they would tell me to fuck off. Their once pink color is gone. They are dark and National Geographic like. Hours on a breast pump has pulled and stretched them to awkward protrusions. They are cracked and sore and angry.
The stretch marks don’t stop there. My thighs– the Carsey wonders that once never touched– are now smooshed together like two obese people on a JetBlue flight. My stomach is jiggly and shaky and deformed. My arms have little wings. When I wear pants (or pant, singular, as only one pair fits) the excess Caroline bubbles over and makes my shirts catch. (Which is only made more attractive by my breasts tugging at the top.) All in all, I’m a train wreck. And the silver lining? I really just don’t care that much. Not in a “I’ve given up” kind of way, but in a way that acknowledges that I made the choice to go whole ass with the Ben & Jerry’s during my pregnancy and now I’ve got other shit to do. The gym simply isn’t my biggest priority. Not by a long shot.
And when I see skinny 23-year-olds prancing around half naked, I actually smile and think “you go girl! You walk around half naked in 43 degree weather.” Because I know that one day they will cross the bridge. They’ll find themselves staring at a foreign body in a mirror and thinking about how fucking hot and amazing they used to look and feeling bad about giving me stink eye when I rolled past them on the side walk with my bulky form and screaming baby. Every thing comes back around.
It’s still not easy to be a plus-sized version of myself, especially not when I have to go home for the holidays, but for now I sort of see my body as a recovering vessel. The small boy used it to create a perfect little environment for baking to optimal cuteness and then left me with some broke ass shit. And it’s probably not the last time he’s going to pull something like that.