This past week, the stomach bug we’d heard so much about (emails sent home from daycare, neighbors and friends who’d been felled…) arrived in our house. More precisely, in our bed. Kaspar was sleeping between us, as usual, one night when I woke up to a noise I didn’t recognize; it’s funny how our mom-instincts work even when, for all intents and purposes, we’re otherwise dead to the world. The noise was coming from his stomach, and as soon as I’d shaken Aaron awake to ask if he knew what it could be, Kaspar sat straight up and vomited… everywhere… and then whimpered and collapsed in my arms.
Of course, I didn’t even think, “Gross—puke,” until this cycle had repeated itself three times over the next half hour, as we scrambled to grab towels and trash cans to try to catch the follow-up rounds, with mixed success. In fact, I didn’t even think it was gross then; once it seemed clear that the worst was over, we whisper-discussed stripping the bed and starting fresh, but Kaspar’d fallen asleep, exhausted (poor guy), on one of the (clean) towels between our pillows. We did our best to clean up what remained of Round One, covered as much of the bed as we could with a new sheet and more towels, lay on top of those ourselves, and prepared to pass out until morning. It was only when I finally put my head on the pillow that I thought something along the lines of “Gross. Towels or no towels, I’m about to fall asleep in a barf-covered bed,” but a) I knew we weren’t going to be able to really deal with the mess until morning, b) I was more concerned about Kaspar than the vomit, and c) I was so grateful that Kaspar was sleeping peacefully, and that I’d be sleeping soon, too, that I didn’t give it any more thought at all.
This is what happens when we become parents. Taboos fade, priorities shift and perspectives are forever altered in ways we could never have imagined. Here are five ways my perspective has been completely changed by parenting (let me know if these ring true for you, and other ways your perspectives have changed, in the comments!):
1) Like the bumper sticker says: Sh*t Happens. Choice college experiences aside, waking up in a bed that’s been barfed on would probably give most people pause. But now 21 months into parenting, bodily fluids have nothing on me. Kaspar woke us up a few hours after the lovely experience I detailed above with his usual chipper “Hi-hi! Up?” and we rolled right out of bed and into our morning routine (though we did get the laundry going before leaving the house). Honestly, there are few messes in life that a hot shower, a spray bottle and sponge, or—occasionally—a large trash bag can’t fix. As long as the kiddo is healthy, I’m happy. As for the vomit, it’s no harm, no foul.
2) I now know the true meaning of multitasking. You know what’s annoying? Those studies everyone loves so much that prove multitasking isn’t good for productivity or end-result quality. Same goes for the failings of rushed eating and inadequate sleep. When you’re a parent, no matter what your work-life balance, you’re a multitasking freak. I try not to check emails on my phone while, like, pushing Kaspar on the swings (I really do believe in the value of truly-present attention, especially when it comes to our kids), but, believe me, the second he falls asleep in the stroller, I’m sneaking in those calls I need to return, and I stay up way late, every night, working and generally doing everything normal people do by day. I’m okay with it (same goes for getting up throughout my meal to return Kaspar’s fork to him, or to be dragged by the hand through every room in the house). I look forward to getting my brain-- and daily routine-- back to ‘one thing at a time’ eventually, but for now I’m embracing the chaos. That being said, if you’re 24 and single and you want to complain to me about how you don’t have any time to get things done in, you’re running the risk of getting kicked in the shins. (Not really, but…).
3) Let’s talk about perfect bodies. I have a great butt. It’s true. Gift of nature. And I used to have a great stomach, in terms of what people think of in terms of a great stomach. Now I have an okay-stomach with some stretch marks on the left side (Kaspar really leaned that way in the last months of my pregnancy), and I’m okay with that, too. Having a baby is a mind-blowing experience in terms of appreciating the human body and what it can do. As soon as Kaspar was born, with all of his fingers and toes and his detailed little features, I knew I’d seen a truly “perfect” body (and frankly, if he’d had fifteen fingers, he’d still have been perfect, because there he was, born as himself, real as could be). I admire him every day. And from this place in my life, our culture’s obsession with airbrushed ‘perfection’ just seems super stupid. Every body really is beautiful.
4) Patience, grasshopper. I’m a fast walker, fast talker, fast mover, fast worker, etc. It’s just my nature. I’m enthusiastic, and sort of a big-concept (rather than detail-oriented) person who likes to get things under way. The demands of motherhood have created all kinds of interesting challenges around this, from doing time with a breast pump (can I have my hands back please?!) to actually not being able to move fast enough to get everything I need to finish done (see point #2 above). And this past week, my “Type A” self was taken to the limit with not only the stomach flu, but also some major work commitments (I had to give three presentations in front of large crowds of strangers… whilst sick with stomach flu), a final exam (massage school continues), a randomly broken phone (waiting on a replacement) and a randomly broken car (in the shop now). So today, without a phone and without a car, I decided to just let Kaspar lead the way in terms of what he wanted to do. We walked around the block. Slowly. And discovered all kinds of cool things (a cricket, flowers, a rusty nail… that last one was confiscated). We painted with watercolors on our back deck, gazed at the sky, lay in the grass. It felt so, so good. I regularly remind myself to slow down when I’m with Kaspar, for his sake, but this week, life-at-large forced me to slow down for my own sake, too. Slowing down is a beautiful thing. Hanging out with toddlers, without an agenda, is an ideal way to practice that.
5) I want to save the whales. It’s easy to live in your own little bubble if you’re not a parent. But once you’re responsible for a little person who is totally vulnerable and yet will somehow, in a span of—what—twelve or thirteen years?—develop into an essentially self-sustaining individual who’ll navigate around this mixed-up world… well, the bubble pops. There’s a bitter-sweetness to slowing down and seeing the wonder of the world through the eyes of your child (see point #4); on the sweet side, we’re reminded that the world is filled with miracles. On the not-so-sweet side, we know that some of those miracles may be gone by the time our kids grow up. That’s really heartbreaking to me. The world’s problems—social, ecological, and so on—have become personal since I became a mom. And while I’m kind of preoccupied with cleaning up barf and working all hours to, like, go out on a Greenpeace boat and literally save the whales, I do try to catch myself when I’m about to, um, gesture at someone who cut me off in traffic, or rush out of the grocery line without actually making eye contact with the person who’s just bagged my things. I ask myself what kind of world I want to help create for myelf, and for my son, and I adjust my own behavior in a way that helps to create that, whether my actions are big or small.
So there. Five randomly selected ways my perspective has shifted since I became a mom. The list could go on—but I want to hear from you! Share your own perspective shifts (altruistic and otherwise) in the comments below. I can’t wait to read ‘em!