Nudie scarf dancing. That sounds provocative, sexy, even NC-17, right? Well... not exactly. Let me explain.
I was sitting on the beach with my friend Isobel. Now, lounging next to this skinny blond mother of five could make anyone feel depressed by comparison. But I've known her since high school and I needed advice. It was hard to admit, but I was going through postpartum depression. I couldn't stop crying, and I alternated between being barely able to cope with the daily responsibilities of motherhood, and mind-numbing confusion. I was stumped. What did I have to be sad about? Seventeen months after giving birth to my son, Chase, God had blessed me with my daughter, Mackenzie. Instant family, my dream come true. Still, I felt as if I were sinking into toxic black ink.
My dirty secret was this: I just didn't see what was so great about motherhood. My days felt like a marathon disaster movie, starring me racing around after my kamikaze toddler to prevent him from hurling himself from high places and/or gleefully electrocuting himself. My nights were a study in sleep deprivation, with Mackenzie waking up every two hours and screaming from acid reflux.
I told Isobel about my plight, and she began sharing some of the wonderful ways she whiles away the hours with her brood: family karaoke, eating cookie batter together, firefly-catching contests. I was years away from all of this, but I scribbled the ideas down anyway. Then she mentioned nudie scarf dancing.
I glanced down at my stretched-out stomach, which was lying next to me like an affectionate pet. Surely, she couldn't be suggesting...
The tears welled up in my eyes. There was just no way I was up for this, no matter how fun it was.
"Not you, silly!" she said, laughing so hard she was snorting. "Daughters! Don't you have a box of ugly scarves from the '80s? Put on music to kill time with little girls before their bath!"
Before I knew it, I started laughing, too - at Isobel's snorting, at myself, and at the thought of the now-undulating pet attached to my midsection with a paisley scarf wrapped around it. I laughed until I was crying, a condition that Dolly Parton has called her favorite emotion.
Then it hit me: Fun was going to show me the way out of my drowning pit. The problem wasn't that I was exhausted or scared, because motherhood comes with all of that. The issue was that I wasn't having any fun to offset the exorbitant emotional cost.
So I sent out an SOS e-mail to my other friends seeking advice and ideas for how to enjoy this roller-coaster ride called motherhood. The flurry of answers came back fast and furious, from the funny and dark - "Report yourself to Child Protective Services and have your children taken away for a day or two. Instant vacation!!" wrote Krisha Mahoney, a Boston mother of two - to the practical:
"Plan a playdate with other moms in the park. Bring games and order out pizza," suggested Karen Hamilton, a mother of three in Rye, New York.
I tried my friends' suggestions - not the one about turning myself in to the authorities, but many others that you'll read about below. Slowly, as one good time followed another, the depression began to lift. Chase and Mackenzie were my guides as I let go of my expectations and allowed the fun to take whatever form it fancied.
Don't get me wrong, I know it can take more than nudie scarf dancing to beat postpartum depression. That's why, at the same time that I was reaching out to friends, I finally reached out to my ob-gyn for professional guidance. The combination of both helped me get my smile back.I read a magazine article once that said that if we want enduring satisfaction, we have to always be on the lookout for small miracles.Mothers have these small miracles in their lives every day. They are our children. And the time to enjoy them is right now. Here, just a smattering of ways to let the good times roll:
From The Fun Book for Moms by Melina Gerosa Bellows. copyright 2007 by Melina Gerosa Bellows. To be published by Andrews McMeel Publishing in May.
21 ways to enjoy being a mom
- When you're tired, hand your kids a brush, point to your head, and tell them to play beauty parlor. When you're really tired, pretend that you're Sleeping Beauty.
- Take your mother to a spa. While you're both getting seaweed wraps, tell her all your favorite memories of growing up.
- Take a bath with your infant. Make sure your husband is around for the handoff, so you can relax until the last minute. (Don't forget to smell your baby right afterward. Heaven!)
- At the end of every summer, take a family photo for the holiday card (you'll be happy to have this accomplished once December comes). Every year, add a framed 11-by-14-inch print to your front hall. Your kids will be proud now and laugh later at the funny styles.
- On St. Patrick's Day, dye the milk and eggs green and turn the furniture upside down so your home looks like total chaos. When your little ones wake up, tell them that the leprechauns came.
- The next time you have to go to a boring kiddie activity, invite another mom-friend along. Hide wine in sippy cups for the two of you to nurse undercover.
- Play Freaky Friday with your husband and switch roles for a day. Enjoy his renewed appreciation for his Super Mom wife.
- In the dead of winter, fix some snacks, get under warm quilts, and watch Happy Feet on DVD. Tell your kids you love them even more than the penguins love their chicks.
- Go to the beach in the off-season. Throw rocks in the water and collect shells. Put them in a vase and use it as shelf decor in your living room.
- Skip the Raffi and Barney. Turn your kids on to Bob Marley, They Might Be Giants, and Gwen Stefani.
- Take your baby out to the movies at night. (Infants love the dark, and loud trailers make them snooze immediately.) Then you can sip your soda and munch your popcorn in peace.
- Buy yourself that fancy watch, strand of pearls, or whatever piece of expensive jewelry you've been lusting after. Justify your purchase by rationalizing that you'll pass it down to your daughter (or son's wife) eventually.
- Take your kids to live music performances from very early ages. Cheap ones outdoors are great to start with in case you need to make a hasty exit (like when a diaper explodes).
- Use your kids as an excuse to do the things you want to do, like going to silly feel-good movies, eating mac and cheese for dinner, and jumping in the moonbounce. Use your kids as an excuse to get out of things you don't want to do, like going to a wedding or office party.
- Every Mother's Day, have a picture taken with your kids. Keep the photos all together - along with special cards, ticket stubs, mementos, and anything else that makes you feel good about being a mom - in a shoe box. (Of course, you must get those new shoes you love in order to do this correctly.) Every year, look through your Goddess Mom box and see how much your kids have grown.
- Give your kids quiet time every day. Let them learn to be by themselves with books, crayons, or blocks.
- Let your whole family take a day off and hang out in pj's all day long.
- Rent Sex and the City on DVD, and reminisce about the days when you were single and the biggest problem you had was whether the "He" of the moment was going to call. Let the romance of your youth seduce you. Then remember that, despite your freedom, all you really wanted was to fall in love and have beautiful babies.
- Pitch a tent in the backyard. Use it as your outdoor reading room. Or when there's a full moon, plan a family campout with sleeping bags, a transistor radio, and s'mores, of course.
- Invent a house fairy. Give her a name, and tell your kids that she is always watching them and counting up their good deeds.
- Listen for the deep, happy sighs that come after your kids play or laugh really hard. Tuck them away in your heart.