Friday, January 20, 2017

They don't come with an owner's manual

I remember so well the night I became a mom. I was utterly exhausted. The labor process was long and tiresome, beginning in the middle of the night as it so often does, nature's sick way of making sure you sleep as little as possible before you take on the hardest job of your life.

My baby girl had arrived after an 18 hour waiting period and it was nearing midnight. The last stream of visitors had passed through and gone home for the night and it was finally just the three of us, suddenly family. I was weary and would have fallen into that hospital bed and slept for hours on end were it not for this new and tiny little human lying in the bassinet next to me. She was perfect and beautiful and everything I'd ever wanted and yet I felt undeniably overwhelmed. Graham and I just sat there, bleary-eyed, not sure what happened next.

Suddenly a nurse burst in. Change of shift had taken place and we had a new caretaker. I could tell immediately that this woman meant business. She hurtled herself upon us abrasively, neglecting even to tell us her name. She started flipping light switches and opening and closing cupboards, working briskly and speaking only in broken English. She told me sternly that it was time for us to go to bed now, swatting my pillow and motioning my head toward it as she spoke. She moved quickly as she made a cot for Graham out of the chair in the corner of the room. She shoved it up next to the window and ordered him to get in. It was obvious there would be no warm fuzzies or congratulations or sweet lullabies to welcome us into this first night of parenthood.

With the rapid pace at which this woman worked, one would have thought there was a fire in the room next door that she needed to address next. After situating us to her satisfaction, she hurried to the door and hit one final light switch, plunging us into darkness.

"I go now. You do everything," she told us. "All you need to take care of baby is in the top drawer." And then she was gone. Her final words lingered there in the air.

Graham and I lay there in the dark, dumbstruck. What had just happened? Was this a joke? I was exhausted and tired but the furthest thing from my mind was sleep. I wasn't accustomed to such brisk treatment. I felt like I'd done something wrong, that I was somehow in trouble. Not 6 hours earlier, I had pushed a human being into the world. Our family had grown in number and yet never before had I felt so completely alone, lying stiffly in this foreign hospital bed with a babe by my side.

I looked over at my baby girl, her outline barely visible in the dim room. There she lay, adorned in a hat and swaddled so expertly by a nurse earlier in the evening.

When did she need to eat? I wondered. Do I need to set an alarm to wake her? Did I need to change her diaper? What about her temperature? Should I take it?

I had all the questions in the world and no one there to answer them. I had undergone the biggest career change of my life mere hours earlier for which there had been no training and now I was being treated as though I was expected to just figure it out. No hand holding. No one there to cheer me on and tell me I'm doing a good job. No one to help me address the myriad of emotions I was experiencing. It was simply sink or swim.

I remember awakening around two AM, dazed and confused. There were unfamiliar sounds coming from the space to my right. I startled and jolted upright, the roughness of the blanket covering my legs giving me my first clue as to my whereabouts. The baby was stirring. My baby. I had had a baby. I was in the hospital and my baby needed something. I called out to Graham to wake him. Together we fumbled for a light switch and approached the bundle in the bassinet. She was curling her legs up in the air toward her belly and grunting, like a caterpillar trapped in a cocoon.

The nurse's last words flashed through my mind: All you need to take care of baby is in the top drawer.

I opened the drawer for the first time to survey it's contents. Diapers and wipes. A stack of birth cloths. A thermometer. ALL I needed? Really?

I don't know what exactly I expected would be in that drawer. A magic ball with all the answers maybe. Certainly more than a handful of diapers and wipes.

With experience comes insight.

I know now that that drawer was lacking in so very much. There was nothing in there telling me how to manage all the sleepless nights that would soon be my reality. No instructions on what to do about the pain I would experience when my milk came in. Nothing informing me to be sure to clean behind the backs of her ears before she reaches 5 months of age. There weren't any recommendations on nap schedules. No signs warning me that she may not ever actually nap and what I should do about it. There was no list telling me all the best ways to discipline her. And no insight on how to raise and motivate a rule-follower without sending the message that perfection is the only acceptable option. There weren't any instructions on how to manage anxiety in kids, on what to do when getting dressed in the morning turns out to be one of the hardest things in the world to do. There was nothing there warning me that my child might have high needs and that I might struggle to ever feel adequate enough for her. Everything I needed was definitely not in that top drawer.

Kids do not come with an owner's manual. On most days, this seems like a massive oversight on the part of God. It's on my list of things I need to chat with Him about one day when in heaven. I'm pretty sure our lives would be a LOT easier if these darn kids just came with personalized instructions. We can be the most seasoned of parents and still have our kids throw us curve balls each and every day. What motivates one most certainly doesn't even get a head turn out of the other. A system works for one but reeks havoc with another. One form of discipline elicits a change in behavior in one or two but only magnifies it in the third.

These kids, man. They are here to keep us on our toes! If you're lost and bewildered by a kiddo right now, welcome to the party! They can be driving you out of your ever loving mind one day and then the next you walk downstairs to discover they have Googled "how to knit a scarf" on the lap top and are sitting at the table with a ball of yarn, watching a YouTube video and using two mechanical pencils in lieu of needles.

And then suddenly witnessing all this fills you to the brim with so much crazy love that you can hardly even stand it, seeing her there actually knitting a scarf. These kids. This is parenting at it's hardest and finest.

Though there are so many days when I feel absolutely sure certain members of my offspring were born to the wrong mama, I know in my heart that God doesn't make mistakes. He has given me these little humans to teach and mold and shape. And he somehow believes I am actually fit enough for the job. Sometimes I wonder who is really being taught more in this process - them or me?

No, that top drawer of the hospital bassinet did not contain everything I needed to care for my children. But even had it contained an owner's manual, I probably wouldn't have read it. Sometimes we just have to live it to learn it and we're better off for the process anyways.


  1. You have SUCH a gift with words. I love all of this. Thank you!!

  2. Oh thank you for these words, Kelsie! I needed to read this today.

    1. Thanks for commenting Kristi! It's funny how you think the things you write will serve no purpose to anyone and then you find out they are just what they needed to hear. Glad to hear that was the case for you.


posted by kelsie