In my vast body of experience (8 whole weeks) as a mom, I’ve learned One Big Thing.
It’s not just one lesson, it’s that my whole earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting, rays of light filtering through the clouds while angel choirs sing theory/mantra is actually called: One Big Thing. Or OBT for those trying to peck out a blog post on their iPad in bed.
You’ve probably noticed that newly minted moms will tell you that they can’t get anything done since they had the baby. That whole days just slip away and all their best pre-mat-leave intentions of productivity go out the window. That they are lucky to even manage the time to shower or get dressed with a newborn constantly demanding care and attention.
This is kinda true and kinda untrue. It’s true that I’m busier on the day-to-day than I’ve ever been in my life, as I imagine most moms find themselves. Newborns are unpredictable, time-sucking, relentlessly needy tyrants. The Devil may wear Prada but he/she also surely wears Pampers. This is the truth. It may seem ridiculous to suggest that an immobile lump of baby can run you ragged, but this is also the truth. There have been days where I hit my 10,000 step FitBit goal (all hail FitBit) WITHOUT LEAVING THE HOUSE. It’s a lot, but as for the moms who genuinely can’t find the time to shower/dress, they just need an intervention…put the baby down in a safe place for five minutes, and back away slowly into the nearest bathroom. Baby will survive, I promise.
But what I’ve learned is that when most women say they can’t get ANYTHING done, it actually just means they can’t do EVERYTHING. Because we are suddenly not able to do every single thing we are used to accomplishing in our normally structured, multi/tasking, to-do list driven lives, we feel like we are flailing – if not outright failing, when in fact we are just screwing ourselves over and then beating ourselves up for it.
This is where OBT comes in. The sooner you accept the fact that on any given day during the first few months of your new child’s life you can only accomplish OBT, the better.
One. Big. Thing.
You wanna take baby to the zoo? Great! That is what you will do today. You will not also go out to dinner, and exchange something at the mall, and go to a doctor’s appointment. You will go to the zoo and then get back home in two pieces (you and baby) and that’s all she wrote. You wanna go swimming? Awesome! You can splash and play to your heart’s content. Here’s what you can’t do: any fucking thing else. There will be no errands or visits from friends or boot camp classes before or after the pool. Dinner out at a restaurant tonight? Fab idea. Now go ahead and take a knee until the clock strikes 6 pm, because your dance card is full, my friend.
Because of course you’ll be doing a ton of other stuff too. A gazillion little micro-actions of feeding, burping, wiping, pacing, rocking and cooing, natch. But my OBT rule also allows for adult meals and what we’ll call maintenance – of both self and home. With OBT, I can maintain order by keeping on top of my mess/dishes/laundry, be presentable (this includes taking a proper shower/bath with things like leg shaving, bubbles and letting the conditioner soak in for 5 minutes while you listen to a podcast) as well as pulling off a reasonable facsimile of “done” hair and makeup. The meals part entails eating a half-assed breakfast and lunch, grocery shopping and throwing together a simple “real” dinner. All of this, plus OBT is totally do-able. Anything more is insanity. Trust.
Before OBT, back in the early days when I thought I could still do ABOS (a bunch of shit) like normal, things got out of hand. At the end of the day I’d be stressed out, tired and hungry – and have a baby to match. You can do ABOS, but something has got to give. And a day where you haven’t eaten, tidied, showered, snuggled or rested enough with a newborn is not a good day. And potentially, not a good night or next day either, because you never know when baby is going to decide to party all night long. Babies don’t give a fuck that you had ABOS to do and overdid it yesterday. One day of trying to be superwoman can end up fucking you for two, maybe three, days – it’s the ultimate hangover.
So whenever you catch yourself wanting to say yes to a secondary plan or tempted to tack on an extra activity, chore or side trip to an existing excursion, just repeat the mantra “I’m down with OBT” and politely decline and resist the urge.
All of this is not to say that you have to do OBT every day. In fact, you probably shouldn’t try or expect to, because this is yet another way of screwing yourself over. You and baby will have – and want – days where you just want to hold and be held. A phenomenon known as “Velcro baby” (thanks again, Nicole G.). For example, the day my visiting in-laws returned home after a busy two weeks culminating in a long weekend road trip to a wedding, I drank iced tea and watched HGTV while rocking my baby for a solid 5 hours. On these days you will have nothing to show for your time but a baby who is warm, fed, loved and reasonably clean. And this, it has to be said, is more than enough – explained more eloquently than I ever could in this excerpt from an article by Anne Rust:
So what are you doing all day? Not much that can be measured, really. You’re simply responding appropriately and with patience (through fatigue), to smiles, to tears, to hunger cues, and to drowsiness, teaching your baby how to navigate this complex and (to a baby) highly emotional and raw world. You are keeping your baby clean, which on some days involves more costume changes (for both of you) than any non-mother can begin to fathom. You are teaching a tiny, helpless person all about the world—at least the important parts, like how we treat each other and what it means to be connected to a family. You are creating a foundation of love and trust between you and your baby, one that will help you set your parenting compass, inform your future interactions, and provide a basis for the way your child relates to the larger world. You may be breastfeeding your baby—another time consuming task (though once established, it takes less time than bottle feeding) that reaches forward through time to heal and protect your child, and simultaneously reduces your risk of disease. Oh, and you’re becoming a mother. It started the day your baby was conceived, and it continues beyond birth. Your baby is stretching and growing into this new body, and you are too.
But that’s about it, really. That’s your day.
Our culture doesn’t have a good way to measure what you are accomplishing. Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check. But to the untrained eye most of this work, at the end of the day, will look like nothing.
But we know better.
There is no greater task than the nothing you did yesterday, the nothing you are doing today, and the nothing you will do tomorrow. Caring for a baby is all about the immediate experience, yet the first two years are all about investment. It’s give, give, give, and give some more. These are hard-fought, rough-and-tumble years that can cut us down to our core and take us soaring high above the clouds, all in the space of 5 minutes. And yes, as you do the hardest work of your life, it will seem like you’re not getting anything done at all. Crazy, huh?
But here’s where it gets interesting: As much as you need and want a break now (and you should take one, more on that later), no mother has ever looked back on this time and thought, “I wish I had held my baby less.” You will not remember the dishes that didn’t get done, the vacuuming that you just couldn’t make happen, or the dirty clothes you wore more often than you’d like to admit. You will remember the first smile, the first belly laugh, the first words, the first steps. You will remember the way you looked at your baby, and the way your baby looked at you.
So the next time you find yourself wondering how another day is gone and nothing is done, stop. Hold your baby—feel the way that tiny body strains to contain this giant soul—complete, and full of potential all at the same time. Take a deep, slow breath. Close your eyes and measure your day not as tasks, but as feelings, as sounds, as colors. Exhaustion is part of it. And it’s true, you will get “nothing” done. But the hard parts will fade. The intense, burning love is what remains, and it is yours to keep forever.