Aside from the moment of birth, the first best thing to happen to me as a mom was at church one Sunday as I rocked my baby in the hallway so as to avoid disrupting the services. I passed one of the young moms of our congregation as she “doodled” her third child and I cradled my first. “Hi,” she said to me, as I lilted slowly past. “So how do you like being a mom?” I think I said what you are supposed to say when you are holding a new bundle of joy. To which Kim smiled knowingly and said, “It gets a little lonely sometimes, doesn’t it?” I think I nodded and we each took our babies in our own direction, but her question answered something deep inside of me. I had tried to pin everything I felt in those first few weeks – including guilt that I didn’t consider this the thrill of a lifetime that everyone talks about – on lack of sleep, hormones, or engorgement, and then Kim actually nailed it: “Grandma” had gone home, “Dad” had gone back to work, the friends dropping by with tiny baseball uniforms, chocolate and dinners had dwindled, and I, “Mom” had to fend for myself. I am by nature more introvert than extravert, but it was the seeming isolation that was wearing on me as I jumped onto the learning curve of the most important job of my life. How rejuvenating to have someone else – someone I admired as a great, hands-on mom – ask, to admit, hey, this momming thing is lonely, isn’t it? Crazy that we all feel it from time to time, when we’re really all in it together.
Let me just preface the following story by declaring that I’d gladly have ten pregnancies and ten med-free births if I didn't ever have to go through the first twelve months after a baby is born. Maybe that is a little extreme, because there are all those precious "firsts," but pregnancy and birth is infinitely better for me than what I refer to as the 12-month (sometimes 18-month) Postpartum Stupor. I like to think I am not alone in this, and maybe the hormones just slam me extra hard, but wow – those twelve months, both times around, have knocked me on my butt. The first six weeks or more is a fog of physical exhaustion that I never quite recovered from – interspersed, of course, with complete wonder over the tiny piece of perfection in my arms, but nonetheless a fog, with an increasing awareness of my own incompetence at grocery shopping, let alone raising a child. Plus, after my second son’s birth – and I am positive it was caused by the epidural – I had the most excruciating constant headache well into the second month of his life. “I’ll pick you up from your cradle in just a second, lovey love, as soon as I can pick my head up off my pillow and pick your brother off the kitchen counter where he’s pouring his own breakfast cereal.” The rest of the first year I spent trying to recover body perception, hormonal balance, mental clarity, emotional stability and social contacts. And running after one, then two, amazingly fast and incredibly industrious little boys who couldn’t communicate yet, all the while trying to convince myself that the feeling of being reduced from a thinking individual to nothing more than a pair of (enormous) bazooms was temporary. But that’s a whole different line of whining…All I really wanted to say is that the first twelve to eighteen months after a new baby, I am just not the well-adjusted, intelligent, capable, organized, generally laid-back and otherwise fabulously functional person that I usually am. And I hope after writing all this, that there is at least one person out there who can relate.
Here’s the relevant story:
I went in to Target one day (expect 80% of my blogs to begin with that line – I am my mother’s daughter) with my infant Henry and not-quite-two-year-old Calvin. Just had a couple of items to grab and then get home to feed the babe. Calvin decided that he really needed to get out of the cart to see the big bin of playground balls up close, and since his vehement requests to “touch! ball!” were about to wake Henry before my Target time was up, and because of the aforementioned Postpartum Stupor (hereafter referred to as PPS), I let him get out. After all, the ball bin was within sight, only three or four yards away from where I was picking out onesies. Calvin went over and started punching the bottom balls in the bin to make the top ones bounce. Henry started to fuss, and I couldn’t find the right size of undershirts, then I looked up, and Calvin wasn’t at the ball bin anymore.
I pushed the cart down two or three aisles to the right of the ball bin, calling Calvin’s name, sure that he would start giggling and I could catch him a wrangle him back into the cart. (“Run Away and Giggle” was his favorite game at the time.) Nope. I wheeled the cart two or three aisles to the left of the balls, calling a little louder. Henry started crying a little louder. No giggle, no answer. It seemed a very, very long time since I had actually SEEN Calvin, I started sweating like a pig, and I asked a lady nearby if she had seen a little boy. Her answer was a blur as I started looking frantically for a Target employee and actually felt like I was in the middle of my own Sophie’s Choice drama – do I leave the shopping cart with my one baby in it so I can look faster for the other one?
Just then, a redshirted assistant manager strolled out of the swinging warehouse doors at the back of the toy aisle and I – this tells you what state I was in after a mere two minutes – I was crying before I could even say, “I’ve lost my little boy.” I can laugh now, but I can’t even tell you all the scenarios my panicked little sleep-deprived brain had come up with for the disappearance of my son…
Then the Target Man took it into his own hands, asked me a few questions about Cal’s height and age and what he was wearing (can you believe – I couldn’t even remember that for a second!) and he radioed the info to his fellow employees. Within a split second, an intercom announcement blared: “Attention, Target Team Members, we have a Code Yellow. Please take your positions. Again: A Code Yellow. Please go to your stations.” Suddenly, there were red-shirted Target Team Members everywhere. If there was ever a scene that epitomized “crawling out of the woodwork”, this was it. It was as if the shelves of merchandise actually morphed into redshirted child-finders. I am not even joking, there were so many of them. One or two of them joined my first Target Man, patting my back, talking goo goo and trying to shush Henry (who had some serious milk coming in for him), and telling me, “It’s OK, ma’am, we’ll find him. I know, it’s OK, they get away so fast. Let’s just walk up to the front of the store.”
I didn’t want to leave sight of the ball bin because I had fixed on it as the place where Calvin should have been, but as they started patting my back and walking me and my crying baby in the cart to the front, a radio call came in that they found Calvin – not slung over the shoulders of a black market child vendor trying to duck the front door surveillance cameras, but in the jewelry department. We continued to the front, where redshirts stood by all of the exits to keep anyone from leaving with my boy, and a line of them followed me. Calvin was sufficiently sobered, waiting in the arms of the jewelry counter clerk and I felt like I hadn’t seen him for ages. I grabbed him in my arms and I didn’t know what to say, to him or to the army of Code Yellow responders. Thank you? Sorry I’m such a freak and I can’t keep track of one little child? Great job on running your Code Yellow drill?
It all seems quite ridiculous now, I’m still a little embarrassed, and I really cannot believe how I went from zero to sheer, unreasoning panic in less than ninety seconds, but it actually became a defining moment for me as a mom. That day, Target Team Members came from nowhere and staved off the panic, brought me back to my senses, and caught up with my son when I couldn’t. And not more than a week later in the Target parking lot, when a “safety feature” on my car locked my keys and Calvin in while I rounded to the otehr side to buckle Henry in, and the FIRE DEPARTMENT responded to rescue the “trapped” child, I decided that I had more to learn from this than not to go to Target during PPS.
Sometimes, my life with two toddler / preschool boys seems to be one giant Code Yellow, both because they are frenetically curious and because I am, well, you know, just plain old frenetic. It is a little disconcerting that I’m only three years into it. They haven’t even started driving or dating yet. But now I believe there is always any number of Team Members – fellow moms, perfect strangers – waiting to morph into existence and help me keep it together. Call it my take on the village raising a child thing. All I know is that it’s a true phenomenon, and we all figuratively get to take our turn patting some mom’s back or needing someone to radio reinforcements for us. Other than the pure joy of watching an actual human being come into existence and having him call me – imperfect, impatient, impetuous me – his Mom, the greatest gift of parenthood is finding that it is a universal experience, rich in opportunity to connect with each other, overflowing with chances to give and receive support and strength even in our craziest moments. All we have to do is 1) stop playing “perfect” and admit that we have those moments and 2) realize that admitting it doesn’t mean we are inept or that we hate our children. And so I blog.
I saw my friend Kim again last week. We’ve each had one more child since that day three years ago at church. I smiled and waved and asked, “How are you doing?” She smiled back and said with a laugh, “As well as I can be with four kids in Target.” I laughed and nodded toward Calvin poking the back of Henry’s head as Henry Houdinied out of the seatbelt, screaming at Calvin. As we headed for the parking lot, I added Kim to my comforting mental list of red shirts.
One side note: as soon as Calvin knew his colors, he chose yellow as his favorite, and has never changed his mind.
Posted by Code Yellow Mom at 2:15 AM