Pretty, Pretty Baby: Overexposed?

On my roughest days as a mother, if I want to feel instantly better about my parenting skills, I only need to do one thing: watch an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras. Have you seen this show? The focus is on toddlers who compete in beauty pageants, and the parents who force, err, encourage them in these endeavors.

Toddlers & Tiaras photo

I don’t know what’s sadder, watching a baby wearing blue eyeshadow and bright pink muck on her cheeks, or seeing a mother tell her three-year-old that the crown she just won isn’t good enough because it wasn’t the top crown.

You can’t help but wonder what motivates these parents. A desire for fame and recognition? To live life again through their child?

At least I’m not that bad, I always think when I catch the show, which is akin to rubbernecking a traffic accident. Poor kids!

However, after my daughter’s 11-month photo shoot recently, I had to question my parenting skills once again.

Here’s what happened: I found some adorbs photos of babies on Pinterest, and in them they’re wearing lace and pearl necklaces with no shirts. They are completely innocent images, or at least I thought so as I pinned them. And so my daughter had some pictures taken of her wearing a ruffled lace diaper cover, leg warmers, and pearl necklace sans shirt.

However, when the photographer posted this online to Facebook, an odd thing happened: I stared at that pic, and all I could think of was protecting my baby from other people’s eyes. Sure, she looked as beautiful as ever. Sure, I thought the outfit was benign. But in my stomach I had the uneasy feeling that someone else staring at the photo might view it in an adult way.

It wasn’t long before my husband Skyped me and said he felt unhappy with the photo and could we please get it taken down. He found that he didn’t have to ask me twice, as I had felt funny too when viewing it for the first time. We made an agreement then and there that no more shirtless pics of our daughter would be taken.

And you know, if that same photo had been taken at age six months or younger, it probably wouldn’t have evoked the same reaction in us. But somehow, in the past few months, our daughter’s cognizance and personality have emerged so much that I think how she might feel one day, to know so many strangers were staring at her without a shirt. Although she’s just a baby, she’s also a person with a basic need for privacy.

Now before I hit the “Post” button, I ask myself if I’m posting too many pictures of our daughter on Facebook and Instagram—leaving a digital history of her childhood whether she wants it or not—and also if someone might misinterpret an outfit she’s wearing (or not wearing, in this case).

Loving is protecting, after all. If I would be embarrassed to have a picture of myself posted without a shirt, I have to think maybe one day, my daughter might be embarrassed too. Baby or not, in the digital age, any kind of overexposure can live on for infinity.

Fissures and Fantasies

Common wisdom says that a baby will draw a couple closer together, and while that certainly can be true, a baby is also a litmus test for the true strength of a relationship. Whatever was solid before becomes even more golden, and whatever fissures existed before start to deepen very rapidly into massive cracks.

Like any stressful situation, having a baby brings out the true character of a person. Combine the cocktail of sleep deprivation with nerve-jangling wailing, elevator hormones, less money, and fewer friends and social escapes, and it’s easy to see why the person you’re closest to might become the target of your pent-up frustration and angst.

On the other hand, when you view your partner in the middle of all that mess cooing lovingly at your child, then praising you for doing an excellent job as a parent, you can’t help but fall more deeply in love and realize why you married the person in the first place.

I wonder how many relationships break up over the stresses of raising a child together. Is it because knowing the person as a parent allows you to view them truthfully for the first time? It’s hard to keep a romantic fantasy going when you’re in the middle of explosive poos and projectile vomit, and a little one depends on you for their very survival and happiness.

Or does it all boil down to emotions and immaturity, not being able to work together toward a common goal, which is raising this beautiful human being? Maybe if more grace were given, more words glossed over, more fights forgotten, then more marriages would last. Maybe a baby is a test of endurance, and not just for eighteen years: till the end of your life.

If getting married is the dessert, perhaps raising a baby is like the meat and potatoes, the solid substance that may not always taste sweet but strengthens both the soul and the constitution. If a couple can join together and savor the experience, gristle and all, true growth can occur right alongside baby.

Scrambled Mommy Brains

I used to pride myself on my multitasking skills in the workplace: I’d update a spreadsheet, check my e-mail, attend a conference call, install a software update, and water my office plant all at the same time! Most days I felt super accomplished and useful, albeit a bit drained and empty in a corporate America kinda way. I was one of many, many office drones, after all.

Now I’m a work from home mom. I’m a corporation of one with two cute coworkers — my hubs and my baby. It sounds so much simpler and more fundamental. But if that’s the case, why do I find myself staring blankly down Aisle 5 of the grocery store, trying desperately to remember why I went there in the first place?

I’m going to blame scrambled mommy brains.

Combine a lack of solid sleep, a super active toddler, having the inane lyrics of dozens of children’s songs stuck in my head, and the frenzied pace of a day trying to squeeze in work, baby, and household chores, and my poor brain is left flopping around in my skull like Charlie the Tuna flung to the dock before being canned and eaten.

I think when I became a mom, a section of my brain got roped off with a little sign that has my daughter’s name on it. Now, that portion of my brain is always on hyperdrive, trying to figure out how to keep her safe and content. I think it’s like that whirring noise a computer makes when it’s so overheated the fan starts kicking in. WHIRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR … no wonder it drowns out all other thoughts.

I try to remember to take more fish oil, but I forget … and also to Google which foods give the most energy, but I forget … and to make sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, but I forget …

However, for so many years, although I had it together professionally, my brain was also preoccupied, wondering if I would ever be a wife and a mom … if I would ever have a family of my own. There was a vacant spot in my heart reserved just for my future husband and children …

And now my heart is full …

Perhaps my brain cells can’t ever come back, and maybe I’ll be a lot more forgetful in my old age than I had wished. Whatever state my mind is in now, though, all the moments of seeing my baby grow and smile each day will feed my memories with so many positive thoughts and emotions in the future.

Even if I still don’t have what I needed from Aisle 5 …

Role of a Lifetime

Happy Mother’s Day 2014! As my first time officially celebrating as a mother, the day holds a sweet poignancy and sense of immense gratitude. Becoming a mother was the answer to many, many prayers, not just from me, but from loved ones.

I don’t know how or when the longing to become a mother was planted in my heart. Sure, as a youngster I had a baby doll that I toted around. Sure, I watched my mom in that role as I grew up. But somehow, there was an inner confidence that if I had a child … I would be good at being a mother. I just knew it. I would be kind, patient, loving, and gentle. I would be like Ma Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie: sewing by the fireplace and always there to lovingly steer my little ones. And in return, my children would reflect all that I had put in by having mannerly, quiet, and genteel dispositions.

Fast forward to 2013, to the hospital room where I’d just given birth to my daughter. I felt overwhelmed with relief, joy, and exhaustion. But where was my confidence? Suddenly it had abandoned me.

I didn’t know how to keep this little critter happy. She was already wailing … I was almost afraid to hold her, much less change her diaper. One wrong move, and I would be the Worst. Parent. Ever.

It didn’t help that I encountered difficulties with breastfeeding . Oh, the discouragement I felt when it didn’t just click “naturally” and baby wasn’t gaining enough weight. Our pediatrician urged me to supplement with formula, but it didn’t feel right to me. Mastitis hit too, and it was like I was living in a furnace built of my brick-hard boobs. Baby sucked hungrily, and I sucked in my breath with pain. There were nights I just had a good cry on the couch while everyone else was sleeping. I didn’t know how other moms coped with all this! Or maybe it was just me, stumbling gracelessly through motherhood!

Around this time I also experienced the joy of a barrage of parenting advice, telling me I should/should not:

  • respond to baby’s cries right away
  • put baby to sleep on her belly
  • use a pacifier
  • hire a babysitter
  • use disposable diapers
  • co-sleep
  • etc. etc. etc.

I was mocked for reading parenting books instead of just using “common” sense or just raising children the same way it has been done for “ages” (with the comment “well, we survived!” thrown in). While I trusted the experts I read, it still made me wonder why the older parents felt so confident. Did they really know more than all these authors?

Well, it’s been a long road in the 9 months since those hospital days, so fast and yet so laborious at times. While I still waver on trying days, I can finally say with confidence that I was born to play this role. I was meant for my daughter, and she was meant for me. And while I may not always get it right when it comes to parenting, there’s no doubt that I love my child and would do anything in her best interest. If I screw up here and there … if I think in the back of my mind, “I would do that differently if we had a second child,” I put it all down to trying anything that’s new. There’s some trepidation, some uncertainty, but if you are driven by passion and love, then the knowledge and confidence will come with time.

And maybe one day down the road, I’ll be dispensing parenting advice to a newcomer … just kidding. My only advice would be to enjoy every moment of being a new parent. All the emotional highs and lows are part of the growth experience. You’ll look back on those memories and smile to yourself … at how much both you and your child have come in such a short amount of time.

Welcome!

Welcome to The Graceful Mama! I started this new blog out of a desire to relate to other mamas who may find the transition from career woman to mama challenging. I initially thought I should title the blog The Awkward Mama, but I wanted to give myself something to aspire to, ha! Besides, this blog isn’t an outlet for negativity. Humor, inspiration, relating to others, yes. Above all, the thought is that having a baby is one of the best times in life and is to be cherished, although dealing with so many new experiences may be hilarious at times. If anyone told me when I was twentysomething that in my thirties, at the height of my career, I’d be covered in spit-up, poop and breast milk and walk around with frizzy hair, droopy eyes and a little belly that just wouldn’t go away, I’d tell them they were bonkers. After all, so many images flood the media of the new mom bathed softly in morning sunlight, cradling her newborn and singing gently to her, while baby coos back contentedly. There’s no hint that baby’s screams could peel wall off a paint, or that her poops can be as explosive as an old man who’s just eaten too much Metamucil. Imagine my shock when we took baby home from the hospital and she wasn’t as quiet and smiley as all those Hallmark greeting cards. What??? Was it that I was such a graceless mama, or that this is like any awkward transition on the way to finally growing up? Adolescence has its zits and braces, and new motherhood has its own challenges, albeit accompanied by the best kind of adorable package. So for all those other mamas out there who aspire to be more and more graceful each day, this blog is for you. You may look awkward now juggling that huge diaper bag, umbrella stroller and 25-lb. baby, but one day it’ll all be second nature. You might have stains down your shirt today, but tomorrow you’ll be that polished glamour puss picking up baby from school. With Christ, all things are possible.