There are a lot of strollers in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Lately I’ve been noticing more first-time moms with newborns close to their chest in baby carriers. And probably because Mother’s Day is approaching, I can’t help but notice the adoration and pride on their faces. I’ve gotten a little misty-eyed passing them on the sidewalk, as I think about all of the joy that’s to come for them, especially on Mother’s Day.
But I know newborns aren’t always about sweet smelling skin and irresistible cooing sounds. No matter how many “What to Expect” books one reads, some mechanics of motherhood can be a complete mystery. Case in point: My next door neighbor, who is a new mom to baby Sandi. I couldn’t wait to meet the little munchkin and brought over some children’s books and the girl’s first car — a yellow Flower-Power-painted toy VW Bug — apparently a big yawn from her vantage point.
When my friend was ready for her first mom-daughter outing to the Botanical Gardens, I helped her adjust the straps on her three-week-old’s Baby Bjorn. And even though the precious bundle slept the entire time, my new-mom friend worried that her baby wasn’t comfortable. I flashed to my now 26-year-old son Harry’s newborn screams that could have awoken the dead if they* weren’t happy. “I think she’d let you know if something wasn’t right.” I said.
“Oh, I’m such a newbie!” she groaned. “I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.”
I remembered thinking that very same thing quite often when Harry was little. After discovering the six reasons he could be crying as an infant, came the time at two years old when he told me “inside” his head he was a girl. A year later he wanted to be a girl when he grew up. Then at six years old, they were content being a boy, but wanted to wear girl clothes from the dress-up box.
“You’ll figure it out,” I told her. “Experience is the best teacher.”
Experience helped me the most during my clueless early years as a mom. The lessons learned from my gender creative child also played a big part on my journey to kickass in the mom department. The learning curve was sometimes steep, and in many ways required that I become what developmental and clinical psychologist Diane Ehrensaft calls a gender creative parent. I know I became a whole lot smarter thanks to my kid. Here are a few things Harry taught me over time.
- No matter what books you’ve read about what to expect from your child, it’s the unexpected that makes you think.
- Children don’t think about what they can’t do or shouldn’t do. They think about what they can do and would like to do. Just like adults, they want to be free.
- Children are better than adults at accepting their differences.
- Fitting in means being accepted for who you are.
- Life is supposed to be fun.
My remarkably self-aware, gender creative kid taught me more than I ever could have imagined when they were born. The lessons have been learned, remembered, and are mine to share.
Before and then again after the few years Harry was convinced that the holiday honoring moms was a Hallmark creation, he’d make a drawing or collage that filled me with love. Harry’s handiwork always included my favorite flowers, and I’ve saved every one of those Mom’s Day pieces. They’re stored in a memory box on my closet shelf. I don’t take it down often enough, but there is one very special piece I see everyday. Harry made it for me when they were 13.
It’s a print of a pink wild rose from our garden. Harry took the original photo, and then his dad showed him how to play with the image on the computer and add type to the design. The piece hangs in my room and reminds me how creative Harry has always been in thought and deed. Despite all of the times I wasn’t sure I was doing motherhood right, what Harry remembered growing up was always my unconditional love and support. I can’t wait to hug him this Mother’s Day.
*Harry uses the pronouns he, she, and they interchangeably.
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