Something's Gotta Go—For a While

I went to Starbucks this morning to treat myself to my usual decaf tall non-fat with-whip mocha (personal), and there was a lady behind me in line with a baby and a five-year-old boy. The boy was a handful—at one point he disappeared into the kitchen, and he didn't want to stand still and wait in line. The mom was obviously tired, anxious and overwhelmed. Meanwhile, baby in one hand, Blackberry in the other, she was calling friends cheerily asking what kind of coffee they took. You know when you watch someone make a phone call and their whole mood changes when they're on the call? It was like that: tired grumpy tired HAPPY BRIGHT HAPPY tired grumpy tired

First of all, why would you put on yourself the extra work of getting coffee for all your friends when you have your hands full with your kids? It's okay to drop a few things when you have little kids. Maybe not cleaning the toilet and showering, but bringing coffee is definitely expendable. And second, why be all happy and "Hey, I'm bringing you coffee!" to your friends while only the strangers in Starbucks get to see how anxious and overwhelmed you are. Your friends don't care about coffee, they care about you. (The strangers at Starbucks don't care about you, they care about coffee.) It's okay to tell your friends that you're overwhelmed and you're going to beg off bringing coffee for a while. You can be the coffee and treats bringer again when your little one is old enough to carry a bag of croissants.

I guess I have two points. First, if you're feeling overwhelmed, you're not doing anyone any favours pretending everything's fine. Mostly people will believe you, and you won't get the help you need, which sucks. But just as bad is the overly optimistic impression you're giving other parents of the level of busy-ness and achievement they should be able to manage.

And second, when you have little kids you have to set aside some of your old identity. (Unless your old identity included about ten hours a day of absolute sloth, in which case parenting will fit in just fine. Except you'll have to set aside the "I'm slothful" part of your old identity. No, I'm going to stick with my original claim—when you have kids you have to set something aside.) Maybe it's being a great housekeeper, maybe it's being an employed person, maybe it's being a gym rat, maybe it's being someone who sees all the latest movies, maybe it's being the one who brings the coffee. When you add a baby to your life something has to give.

But it doesn't have to give forever: when you're stuck at home with a four-month-old and you're staring down the abyss of babyhood and toddlerdom and preschoolerness it seems like everything you ever loved about your old life is gone for good, or at least unrecognizably mangled. But if you just wait, you'll get it back. Your kid will be able to walk so you can carry an extra coffee; your kid will go to preschool so you can go to the gym; your kid will start school or daycare so you can work.

When you have a baby it seems like you have to hang on to everything about yourself until your fingernails bleed, that if you don't you'll lose yourself completely in snot and diapers. But all that stuff that made you you is still in there. It will still be there for you in three or four or five years when your hands are free and you have a minute or two to yourself.

Wow, that turned way more profound than I meant it to.