It took me a long time to ease into motherhood. For a long time, when people asked me how motherhood was treating me (please stop asking questions like that, people), I would tell them that it was harder than I expected. After I said that, I would feel immensely stupid. Of course it’s hard. I knew it was going to be hard. What I didn’t expect was how weak I would turn out to be. That I would get so frustrated so easily. That I wouldn’t be able to feed my child the way I wanted to, or keep him healthy, or respond to his tears and tantrums with boundless love. But I’ve learned a lot in my 20 months as a mother, and at long last, I’m starting to feel like I can handle motherhood. I even feel like a good mother from time to time. I don’t pretend to have any of the big answers that so many other internet idiots will say for gosh-darn certain are true (breastfeed! but only until they’re one! until they’re three! give them milk as long as they’ll take it! co-sleep! oh no you’ll squish your baby! use a pacifier! pacifiers are evil! blah blah blah blah blah!) but I do have some small, concrete tidbits to offer up to new mothers or mothers-to-be. They are 100% small potatoes, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make your life at least 10% easier.
Always park near the cart return. Even if the only cart return with spots near it is about a mile from the store. It’s about a million times easier to walk a mile with the baby seat and diaper bag in the cart than it is to go twenty steps hauling the kid, the seat, and all the luggage. Even if you’re a baby-wearer (I totally recommend Hotslings, by the way), and you’ve got a light, ergonomically correct diaper bag, there will come a time when the baby is melting down and has pooped up its back and your back is cramping and your hipbones ache and all you want to do is sit down but first you have to get rid of the %&$#@*! cart, and later, when the kid sits up on its own and rides in the cart seat, the quicker you get it strapped into the car, the less likely you are to have to peel a tantrumming child off the asphalt. And if you snap the kid in and then realize that the cart return is way far away, you will likely feel guilty the whole time you’re taking it back, even though the kid is safely in its seat and the car is locked and the weather is nice and you’re not going to have a hot car death on your hands, and you’ll worry because there could be someone calling the cops right now because they saw your baby alone in the car and ohmygod am I a negligent mother and please please please let the baby be okay. Plus, later, it will teach your kid good citizenship to put the cart in the cart return instead of leaving it wherever you may.
Invest in some wardrobe tape. It’s basically double-sided tape but it’s easier on the skin. My mother-in-law put a box of the stuff in my stocking the first Christmas I spent with her, and at the time I had no idea what to use it for (or if there was a message behind it–I now don’t think there was because my mother-in-law is a sweetie, but at the time I wasn’t sure), but then recently I found it in my bathroom and decided to tape my neckline to my chest before taking my son to visit his daddy at work. It relieved so much stress. I didn’t adjust my clothing once, and no one saw more than they ought. Now, I’m not saying you should wear this stuff every day, but it’s amazing how many garments you never thought of as revealing will end up pulled down around your waist when you have a wee one to wrestle with. Plus, kids are short, so you’ll bend over quite a bit. And babies tend to use mommy’s neckline as a handlebar. Wardrobe tape probably won’t stop a bigger kid from pulling down your top to see what’s in there, but it should hold up against the delicate grasp of a newborn. More importantly, it should keep you from showing your business to the whole library/birthday party/kindermusik class. (Not that the moms at kindermusik will care. Ask any mom. We’ve all had our bodies embarrassingly revealed.)
Get them hooked on green smoothies as soon as possible. Seriously. Once they’re okay with solid foods and can suck successfully from a straw, get them drinking their veggies. I stumbled onto this idea because my son was really hesitant to chew things for a while, at least more than three chews in a row, and I needed to get veggies in him but I didn’t want him eating purees forever. So one day, instead of giving him a cup of milk, I blended up some kale, milk, and honeydew. He sucked it down. Nowadays, we play with lots of combinations. We’ve done peanut butter, banana, and celery. It’s surprisingly delicious. We add a lot of pineapple and mango to kale to sweeten it up. Spinach and banana is delicious. I usually toss some tofu in there (he’s not huge on meat and I don’t want him eating eggs every single day), some wheat germ, and we use unsweetened almond milk. You can put in romaine lettuce, mixed salad greens, whatever you have on hand. Carrots are great. Cucumber. My policy, though, is to never serve him something I wouldn’t eat. This doesn’t mean it has to taste like ice cream, but it shouldn’t taste like dirt, either. But we never use refined sweeteners–no honey, no agave nectar, not even juice unless the fridge and freezer are wearing thin. Because of these smoothies, my one-and-a-half-year-old eats at least one serving of dark leafy greens every day on top of the veggies he’ll eat unblended (favorites include cucumber, tomato, and zucchini–oddly, he won’t touch potatoes). If we’re lucky, this will be a lifelong habit. Plus, there’s pretty much always leftover, and mommy could really use the vitamins, too. (If for some reason you think this is nutty, I should tell you, I actually had a hospital nutritionist get really excited about this idea. I think she wrote it down.)
Don’t get into the habit of snacking (especially on junk food) while nursing. Some babies suckle forever, or fall asleep on the boob, and it’s so easy to finish a whole box of crackers while that’s happening. And believe me, I know: you’re hungry all the time, it’s hard to find any moment to eat a real meal, and even harder to find time to prepare them. You’re burning a lot more calories than you ever have. BUT: have you ever noticed how football players tend to get really really fat after they retire? It’s because they’re used to eating 4,000 calories a day, but after retirement, even if they stay active, they no longer need that much. The same thing can happen to you. Bad habits are so much easier to form than good ones, and about a million times harder to break.
Get up before your baby does. Not right away, not during those first months of exhaustion when you should be sleeping whenever you are able, but once things settle down a bit and the night wakings are becoming fewer and farther between. Not everyone might feel this way, but for me, there came a time when I would get really angry at being awakened by my son. Exhaustion and hormones and what-have-you just made my fuse really short, and it was so easy to get mad at the baby, and then you hate yourself for getting mad at the baby (whether the baby ever knows you were mad or not) and that’s all just too much to handle. When I started getting up an hour before his normal wake-up, I was almost instantaneously a happier mommy. I had time to shower, eat, and do some work of my own. I found myself delighted to hear my son’s first cries and coos from the other room when he did wake–I got a chance to miss him.
A hair tie makes excellent baby-proofing. I learned this one from a cashier at Target when I was returning one of many failed attempts at securing a cabinet with two doors (side by side with knobs, not handles). You loop the hair tie (or rubber band) around one of the knobs, twist it a whole bunch of times (if you don’t, your kid will have it off in two seconds), and then loop it around the second knob. We used to use zip ties, but we had to cut it open each time we wanted into the cupboard. Hair ties (ponytail makers, scrunchies, whatever you call them) are so much easier.
Make some mommy friends–mommy friends with kids your kid’s age. You might do this through PEPS. You might do this through Meetup (as I did). You might strike up a conversation on the playground and have a BFF for life. Of course, it’s not always easy. I went through a couple of Meetup groups before I found one I liked, and I had to push myself to gel with the other ladies and figure out which ones had true friend potential. Most of my motivation came from the fact that I wanted my son to be socialized. This was especially tough because he’s always been a little behind the other kids (and sometimes a lot behind), and it can feel very rough and raw to have the 11-month-old who just started army crawling while the other 11-months-old run around holding toys. But I knew that if I kept him in a bubble, it wouldn’t do him any good. It wouldn’t do me any good, either. So I kept meeting these women, occasionally feeling stung or crying on the way home (not that anyone was ever really mean–I was in an extra-sensitive state), and eventually I found my niche within the group, even organizing quite a few events myself. I actually like all the mommies I’ve met in this particular group, and I’ve found a couple mommies that I really like and whose babies get along with my baby pretty well. And even though their kids are both far ahead of mine in one way or the other, we have so many stories in common. This is something you can’t get from a friend who has a five-year-old when your baby is born. Not that they can’t still be awesome friends, and not that it isn’t great to see bigger kids interacting with your wee one (they can be sweet to babies in such cute and unexpected ways), but it just isn’t the same.