It all happened so quickly. One moment my clothes were dry and my kitchen was clean; the next, my sweater was covered in milk and butter, and chunks of potatoes were splayed across my counter. At the cherubic age of 22, I had been married for one month. Among the many life lessons I was yet to learn: you have to cook the raw potatoes before you mash them with a hand mixer.
Clearly, I was a young idiot. Fortunately, we were on the seven-year plan for having babies because–let’s be honest–a woman who doesn’t know that she has to cook the potatoes first is probably not a stellar candidate to raise small humans. The truth is, even though I told people I was okay with the seven-year plan, I really wasn’t.
I didn’t want kids at all.
Raising kids seemed like a 24/7 babysitting job to me, and I never liked babysitting. Some of my friends reveled in caring for other people’s babies and related well with their children. I was the babysitter who counted down the minutes until the headlights pulled into the driveway after a long night of feigned enthusiasm. Why would I want this to be my whole life?
My husband was supportive of me, but I knew he wanted kids. I pointed out that we had spare time, spare money, hobbies, and an interest in travel.
As we reached the sixth year of our marriage I asked him, “Can we start this whole seven-year plan all over again from this point?”
Two crazy things happened later in that sixth year of our marriage, though, and they changed everything for me. The first is that I read She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. Throughout much of the novel, the primary character, Dolores, aches for a child. As I became increasingly immersed in Dolores’ journey, I suddenly comprehended the ache for children within myself. It happened overnight, and yet it felt like it had been there a lifetime. All at once I felt excitement, terror, love, and relief.
The second crazy thing that happened was, days later, my husband’s teenage cousin was killed in a car accident. The appalling realizations that life is short and that relationships are precious loomed large in our lives in those days. My husband was already on board with being a father, but still I was shaking like a leaf as we entered The Discussion. I wanted to try for a baby!
Of course I immediately changed my mind back again. Luckily for us, however, I’m apparently the most fertile of the Myrtles that ever lived. Before I could say, “Wait, what?”, there were two pink lines on a stick and my pants didn’t fit anymore. Our first boy was on his way! Not only was I along for the ride, I was the vessel that was providing the ride! As the months flew by, I warmed considerably to the idea of being his mother.
By the second half of the pregnancy, I had fallen in love.
The second day of my son’s life was the most important day of my life. His actual birth day had seemed a crazy, painful whirlwind, but in the quiet morning hours of that second day, I pulled him close to me and learned what it means to truly hand your heart over to another human being. My body and soul seemed to be exploding in love from depths I didn’t know existed within myself, and the realization of my life’s purpose hit me:
I get to be his mother. THIS is what I’ve been waiting for.
It has been the shocker of my life that I have loved motherhood as much as I have. I now answer as “mama” to–count ’em–FOUR boys, and I smile to think that they are everything I thought I never wanted. They are responsibility, long hours, physical toil, and frequent worry. They are my heart walking around outside of my body, as Elizabeth Stone once wrote. They are infinitely better than a babysitting job.
Motherhood isn’t for everyone, of course. Many women don’t want to have children, and they mean it, and I respect that very much. They go on to live all kinds of lives, fulfilling, accomplished, deserving. I thought I was among their ranks, but it was only because I didn’t know myself well enough yet to know that motherhood was in me, a yearning that would materialize belatedly and without warning.
I’m a woman who thought she didn’t want kids, and now I happily have more kids than almost every woman I know.
My creamy mashed potatoes are top-notch these days, too.