I used to be a new mom.
I don’t mean I was shiny or that I had that new-mom smell. I just mean I had that tuned-in attention for my firstborn, that laser focus, that desire to develop an aptitude for mothering. I read books about parenting. I sewed curtains with hand-stitched appliqué around the edges. I recorded everything in a baby book. What I’m saying is, I never dropped my firstborn off the changing table.
For our very first outing at 2 weeks old, I took my firstborn to an outdoor barbecue for my husband’s work. I dressed him in Ralph Lauren plaid linen-like overalls with a contrasting onesie underneath and a matching sailor hat with his name embroidered on it. I wore him in a Bjorn and wandered through the party in a new-mom, dreamlike state with my own little new-mom orchestra softly playing Brahms’ lullaby in my head. I was positively floating.
Until someone reached out to touch his impeccably soft, irresistible hands with their scaly, germy grown-up hands. Then I threw up in my mouth and spun away from them like they were Ebola and we were on an airplane. Because, germs. I had made something pristine and perfect, and I wasn’t going to let some poop-encrusted derelict touch him.
All enrichment was worth doing then. I was a total slut for educational play spaces, driving to library story times and puppet shows in other counties. In the glove compartment of my car, I carried a spiral bound book that listed and rated every playground within a 45-minute driving radius. And I went to them all.
I packed healthy snacks for my kids, sippy cups, changes of clothing, bikes with training wheels, bathing suits, balls—all in the back of my trusty minivan. I was the Girl Scout of moms, prepared to feed an army of pop-up-playdate kids. Once at a playground, someone else’s kid fell and scraped his knee, and I dashed over with an unopened bottle of spring water for rinsing, spray-on Neosporin, and a Band-Aid just like in the Neosporin commercials. “I have always wanted to do that,” I said to the aghast mom.
But somewhere along the way, I stopped being new mom.
It may have happened somewhere between giving away all my maternity clothing and then finding out three months later that I was pregnant with my fourth child. Or maybe it happened when I realized that if I brought the bikes, they’d want the rollerblades, and if I brought the rollerblades, they’d want the soccer balls. That if I got one of them dressed in time to head out the door, the other three will already have rolled down the hill into a mud puddle and taken off half their clothing.
I don’t even remember. At a certain point, the whole thing became a mostly stinking, smeary blur of meal preparation and playdates and teacher gifts and toilet training.
What I do remember is that the handyman in my kitchen was fixing something dirty two weeks after my fourth child was born. He’d just told me that he was going to be a grandfather. And so when I realized that I needed to do something for one of the toddlers screaming from upstairs, I handed my shiny newborn right into his cruddy, truly scaly hands. That man’s face formed that shocked, wide-eyed expression that babies make, with his mouth formed into a perfect “o” of surprise. And she may have been in a diaper or a hand-me-down onesie. I don’t know. But I remember walking away and laughing to myself, because I was no longer a new mom at all.
There was the time I walked around the playground breastfeeding her with one palm, and then I yanked her 2-year-old brother off his twin sister on the pirate ship with my other hand. As I turned with one child dangling from his sweatshirt hood and a pair of infant legs sticking out of a blanket thrown over my shoulder, an old man blurted loudly from the benches, “Is she feeding a baby under there?!”
Yes, sir. Yes. She is.
I’ve missed piano recitals and forgotten birthday parties, had my mouth peed into and caught a mound of vomit in my hands. I’ve calmly dealt with 105-degree fevers, surgeries that required hundreds of stitches, and bizarre skin rashes like the kind people post photos of on Facebook.
A little bit, I miss that new-mom orchestra in my head, that sense that this mystical, heavenly, superlative, moment is tinged with angel’s wings and glitter, that it’s all very important. But a little bit, it’s all good. I’m old mom now. We went to New York City last month and all four of my kids dragged their hands along every escalator handhold, every stair railing, every elevator button, every door handle, and wrought iron fence. And then they picked their noses or rubbed their eyes or pulled an old dried apple slice out of their pocket and ate it.
The cribs and high chairs are all gone now, and the crumb-crusted car booster seats don’t even look like they were bought in this century. Sometimes we wash our hands before dinner. Sometimes I’m not wholly sure where they are when it’s time to call them in for dinner.
And the thing is, we’re doing just fine. New mom was a sweet, dear hopeful thing. A tiny bit, I miss her and her nearly unlined face and perky, post-birth boobs, her sense that she could control the world around her. But the truth is, old mom is sort of awesome. I march along with my four dirty-handed kids five minutes late and totally disheveled, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We show up. We kick ass. We have fun.
Cheers to old moms everywhere. We have arrived.