“Are you the oldest mom there?” a friend asked me as we walked to the elementary school to pick up our sons. At least, I think she’s my friend. (Just kidding, Michelle!)
She was asking about the “Mommy and Me” classes I go to with 18-month-old Baby G. You know the kind of classes I’m talking about. They’re the ones where the kids shake/chew on bells that are both musical and receptacles for vomity viruses. They’re the ones where the instructors are often ignored by the moms in the class, who busily and loudly chat with each other (kinda rude, no?). They’re the ones where the instructors say things like, “Do you know how to say hello IN FRENCH?” to the kids, and you’re thinking, “Um, the kid just figured out how to say hello in her native language–let’s take a little pressure off, shall we?”
Baby G loves these classes. Oddly enough, I do too. At 39 (for real–not “39 forever”), I’m not the oldest mom in the classes for the most part. There are other moms like me–moms on their third or fourth child, moms on their first child in their second marriage. But more about this group in a minute.
In some of these classes, I’m alone in a sea of first-time moms. I can tell that they are first-timers by the little clues: the reference, for example, to how hard it was to get out of the house that morning with the kid. In fourth-kid world, it’s not even worth talking about how hard it is to get out of the house with the kids–that’s just a fact of life, like getting dressed. Or maybe I catch a glimpse in their bag, and they’re carrying one of those cloth covers that you put over the kid seat in a shopping cart so as to avoid the kid being contaminated with kid-shopping-cart-disease. Assuming they don’t work for the CDC, this is definitely a first-time mom move. (A fourth-time mom doesn’t even care if the kid is licking the entire cart.)
I remember those days as a new first-time mother well–but what people don’t realize is that in so many ways, being a first-time mom is so much harder than being a fourth-timer.
As a first-time mom, everything is such a struggle, from getting out of the house to feeding the baby to brushing your own hair. And how could it not be? That first kid is a total world-rocker and game-changer. The kid is a breathing paradigm shift. Everything in your whole entire life, from your marital bed if you have one to your own physical body, is now irrevocably different. The world of sleeping through the night and generally living life as you want to is not yet in your distant, forgotten past. You remember it. Even though you love your kid like hell, you sort of, kind of want that all back.
And the OTHER MOTHERS: OY! As a first-time mom, you feel judged by EVERYONE: your own mother, your mother-in-law, your sisters, your friends, strangers on the street.
“Why isn’t he wearing a hat?” “Can’t she talk yet?” “Does she always scream like that?” “Maybe he’s hungry–did you feed him?”
Why can’t all these people JUST SHUT UP?, you think as you cry yourself to sleep, only to be woken up five minutes later by some little baby who doesn’t get the whole night/day difference–YOUR little baby. You not only feel judged by everyone, but you worry–AM I doing the best thing for my kid? AM I screwing him/her up forever? How the hell did they let me become a parent, anyway?? I have no idea what I’m doing, and everyone knows it!
And so you compare milestones, and you become competitive, and insecure, and perhaps just a wee bit bitchy. You don’t recognize yourself anymore but you think, hey, this is just part of the motherhood game. And here you are, back in some grand scale horrible version of high school that doesn’t end. Yuck.
So here’s the secret as to why us “older” moms are having a better time: we have our sea legs. We have already been through that emotional storm at sea–we’ve become comparatively seasoned captains of our family’s destiny. We are interested in learning more and new things, or getting your opinion, sure, but we don’t feel threatened by it, because we feel comfortable in who we are and know what works for us and our families.
And, having seen our older kids grow to call us “Mom” rather than “Mommy,” we know how quickly these kids slip through our fingers into being more and more grown up.
So we sit around these circles and sing the idiotic songs about spiders and bus drivers, and we have similarly idiotic smiles on our faces. I see my kid as she dances with her hands in the air, and think, holy crap, I’m lucky.
And if I have more wrinkles on my face, whether it’s from being older or from smiling so much, well, so it goes.