I haven't even attempted to read two books for pleasure at the same time in over fifteen years. When I was in grad school a few years ago, I read what I was assigned and barely picked up anything for pleasure at all.
Most people won't tell you how a having a kid can turn your world inside out. Yes, there is the wonderful experience of watching a small human bloom into a self-aware person with tastes, morals, passions, and decisions of her own. But before that wonder can happen, you open up your body to move that forming person into the world where your own tastes, passions, and decisions had lived undisturbed by anything but your own neurosis for so long. (I say you, but I'm talking about me here. And you, too, if you are a practicing creative and then become a mom.)
I have five very dear writing friends who had babies in the last year, one as recently as two weeks ago. Three of these babies are first children. I'm watching this process of complete loss of self, and the slow regaining of self, happen all around me. I remember when my daughter was so small, and we'd go to the grocery store, and a well-intending cashier would say, "Don't you wish they could stay that age forever?" and I would want to punch the lady in the nose. It wasn't until my little girl hit the age of four that I could answer that question politely.
Side Note: My daughter is amazing. She is strong, stubborn, smart, musical in ways that remain mysterious to me, and has a bitingly wonderful sense of humor. And she cares about the world and social justice. And she reads like mad. If she weren't my kid, I'd still want to hang out with her.
It is possible to be completely in love with your child while, at the same time, in a state of grief over your lost self. So if you're a new parent (mom or dad), and you're suddenly aware that your world is inside out, and that all was once at its center is drifting in the depths of space while a tiny human sits in its place, here are some things I have learned that may help:
- It's OK to grieve. You can love your child and still be sad about losing time with grown-up friends, talking about grown-up things, or even just the ability to decide to go grab a coffee or a glass of wine without having to arrange a sitter or pack ten tons of baby equipment.
- Remember, you won't grieve forever. Your baby will grow into a toddler, a child, a tween, a teen, and a young adult. Your child is already preparing to launch.
- You can prepare to launch, too. Just like they say sleep when the baby sleeps, if you hang in there, you'll see that those things that once defined you are still there, waiting. When your baby starts to be able to play alone for a few minutes, read some flash fiction, sketch a coffee cup (as a sleep-deprived parent, I know you've got a ton of them lying around - oh wait, that's me talking about me again), pop in one headphone and listen to your favorite musician or podcast, call a grown-up and tell them you want ten minutes of grown-up talk only... whatever it is that you're missing, find a micro-version of it, and enjoy it while baby is sitting in the bouncy seat or coloring on the walls.
- Mark the milestones. Your baby will hit milestones, and so will you. Each time your child becomes a little more independent, you'll find yourself with a little more mental space to do the things you love. I didn't read a novel from the time my kiddo was born until she was about four (hence my polite response to the cashier), but I shifted gears before then and read flash and short stories. As she got into middle school, we began swapping books and sometimes reading together. And now, I'm reading two books, teaching college English, and submitting and publishing my own fiction. This summer, I launched a new facet to my creative workshop business. Meanwhile, she is learning to drive and starting to think about college.
She needs to know she has value as an individual, that she is strong enough to do her own thing, that she has a mother who respects her enough to let her fly. That means building my own launchpad now so that, when the time comes for her to take off, I'm not holding her here with me to fill the vacuum of my lost individuality. And also, so that when the time comes for her to fly, she knows that it can be done, that she can live the life she chooses, because she got to see her mom living it in action.