Out hiking with a friend, our toddlers strapped to our backs in packs built to make that weight seem as light as a feather. I’m wearing what are called “camp pants,” a nylon-spandex blend that is lightweight, moisture-wicking, and UPF 50. They are slim-fitting but not tight. It’s easy to move my body as my friend and I make our way up a very steep ascent. My shirt is similarly appropriate- seamless recycled nylon with fancy technology that eliminates odor before it starts.
Today, my body is a cotton-free zone.
Right down to my underwear and socks. On my feet are true winter hiking boots with all the right specs: waterproof, insulated, Vibram outsole. Tough as a mother. My favorite shoe.
I don’t remember what my favorite shoe was ten years ago, but it wouldn’t be a hiking boot. Maybe it was a crisp brown leather pull-on ankle bootie with a slight heel that clicked when I walked. I loved attention, then. Especially from men. I smoked cigarettes. I passed time drinking beer in dark bars with my friends. I just started a cool job at an indie book store, which I grew to both love and despise. I was aimless and directionless, waiting for life to happen to me instead of me happening to it. I did whatever was right in front of me. I thought about the future as a distant idea, something to sort out when it became the present.
Now, when I look at fashion websites I used to troll religiously, all I think is, when would I wear that textured dot wrap midi dress? Where would I wear that? Instead of fashion, I think about practicality. I think about wearability. I think about running after my kid in the snow or in the sand. I need shoes that won’t fall off my feet. I buy bright pink Tevas with an ankle strap and heel support.
I think about who I used to be and wonder what happened to her.
And then I remember: oh, yeah, I had a baby, and motherhood changed me.
There are other ways motherhood changed me.
My body, for one. What happened to my belly button?
My son is obsessed with its depth. My belly is softer and squishier than it ever was before. I think that is a common side effect of growing an entire human being in one’s body. The promise of “bouncing back” is too easily broken. I’m learning instead to love this body of mine with all its squish and curves and muscles. Because that’s another way motherhood changed me.
I have never been stronger. I have never been more active.
And it’s not just all the chasing I do after my kid. We go out almost every day, even if it’s just to the backyard. I used to think the outdoors was where I had to go to get from Point A to Point B, but now sometimes I crave it. Some mornings, I wake up craving the solitude of the woods, even though I am never really alone anymore. This is a change too. I am never alone.
There are other less obvious, less physical ways I’m changed by motherhood. It’s become much harder for me to ask for help.
It’s always been hard for me to admit I don’t know how to do something. But more than that, I think it was having my first baby in the midst of a global pandemic when there was nowhere for us to turn without feeling like we were taking a huge risk. Everything then was a cost-benefit analysis, and the cost always won out. Now, that kind of thinking has become ingrained in me. The risk of being vulnerable with someone, even my own mother, and having them say no to my request is too great so I don’t say anything at all.
On the flip side, motherhood has made me braver, more self-assured, and kinder.
That hike I was on with my friend? She had a friend visiting, who joined us. Or, rather, I joined them. A few years ago, I would have demurred. Three’s company is hard to navigate. I get shy and awkward, and that little bit of social anxiety, worsened by COVID takes over. Smoking was a cover for that in my early twenties. I always had something to do with my hands and there was always a balcony to escape to. There was bound to be someone else with the same addiction to talk to, at least for the few minutes it took to smoke our cigarettes.
Now I have no cover. No crutch. How can I expect my son to be brave and curious and willing to try new things if I don’t model those behaviors for him? I am more inclined to say, Yes, I’d love to when I remember that his experiences and connections rest on my capacity to extend myself past my comfort zone.
Life on the balcony gets boring and lonely. I want adventure and joy and love. I especially want these things for my son.
They say your priorities change once you have kids. I mean, obviously.
Motherhood gave me the gift of perspective.
I now know the things that truly matter to me, the things I make time for. Time and quiet are my greatest and most spare commodities. I am learning to use them wisely. Almost every morning, I get up before everyone else, get my mug of coffee, and sit down at my desk to write. There was never a time in my life when I gave my writing practice that kind of dedication. Not even while I was in grad school.
My yoga practice is more malleable for me now.
I used to think I had to go to x number of classes, become a part of the studio’s community, be this and that and the other. But I don’t need to do any of that. I don’t need to roll out my mat at all to practice. Some days, I sit against the wall and listen to my breath.
Motherhood changed my entire perspective on being alive.
I am not here to produce until I fall down dead of exhaustion. I’m not here to promulgate consumer culture, although there was a time in my life when I definitely did that. No, I’m here to follow my passions and my heart wherever they may take me. Hopefully, my son leads the way.
We all change as we age. Motherhood speeds up the process. I’ve evolved past the cigarette-smoking, clothing-as-armor-wearing, sad girl I was at twenty-four.
Motherhood forces me to slow down, pare down, and connect to who I truly am, way down deep inside. Motherhood changed me into the person I was always meant to be.
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