I first became a mom in April of 2012, and then again, officially, in August of 2015. The first date is when I became a foster parent to a beautiful baby boy, and the second is when I was finally able to officially adopt him and become his legal mother.
He came to live with me and his father when he was 7 months old, so I can't claim to be an expert on the first six months of parenting, although from what I hear, I didn't miss much. (Babies in the first six months seem to pretty much be drooling, personality-less lumps that cry and occasionally project bodily fluids at you.)
I also can't tell you about all the slightly horrifying pregnancy stuff you want to know about, although I did manage to gain at least 20 pounds of baby weight without actually getting pregnant.
Today my son is 4, and I am now the token mom working with lots of younger women, many of whom are in or nearing that phase of life where you start to wonder when and if you might like to have children. I can't speak for all motherkind, but for me there was no iron-clad moment when I was sure I wanted to be a mom. Some people are just born knowing they want kids, but I think a lot of us never really feel "sure" or "ready." I certainly didn't.
I knew I wanted to help at-risk children and I had been considering fostering for years, but even as I worked my way through the long, bureaucratic process of becoming certified as a foster parent, I never felt without a doubt that I wanted to be a permanent parent. Of course, once the state handed me a 7-month-old baby, I immediately fell in love. I knew then that unless he was able to return to his biological parents, that child would not be leaving my home.
Now, after a few years of momming under my belt, I have zero regrets about the path I chose. Being a mom is pretty unequivocally dope. The only things I really miss from my pre-mom years are taking long naps and seeing movies in a timely manner after their release. So while some of the below might seem like a discouragement from choosing motherhood, they're not meant to be.
These are just a few things I wish somebody had told me before I was being pulled through the rough-but-worth-it undertow of new motherhood. If you're considering or starting your journey into parenthood, here are some things you need to know.
1. You will have no idea what you are doing.
I had roughly a day to prepare for the arrival of my son, and I hadn't been expecting a baby, so I knew less than nothing about how to take care of one. But even with 9 months to prepare, I think all parents have that "Holy sh*t, you're just leaving this thing with me?" moment when they realize they're suddenly solely in charge of keeping a tiny human alive. Nothing really prepares you for that responsibility, and no amount of research really teaches you what to do when you're suddenly thrown into this new, 24-7 job. There is no flight simulator for being a mom.
Seriously, I don't care how superior little Dashiell's vegan mom acts at the playground, we are all winging this sh*t.
You will probably also feel like you're doing a bad job. I mean, you probably are, but so did your parents, and you're OK, aren't you?
2. Ninety percent of parenting a baby is wiping poop off genitals.
In my case, that meant wiping poop off little testicles, but I imagine that getting poop out of a tiny gin-ey is even more difficult/unpleasant, due to all the crevices.
In contract, 90 percent of parenting a toddler is yelling his name over and over while he completely ignores you. The other 10 percent is carrying around a stick or rock or some other precious item he handed you in the park and will definitely expect you to still have an hour later despite seeming to have completely forgotten about it in the meantime.
3. You will have one hour in which to choose from the following things: eating food, taking a nap, cleaning your house, taking a shower, watching one of the rapidly-piling-up episodes of your favorite critically acclaimed cable show, running an errand, exercising, etc.
This is what I would tell teenagers to scare them into using condoms. Early on in motherhood , you can't leave that baby alone long enough to take a sh*t. The only little pockets of time you'll get to complete any form of basic hygiene/nutrition/self-care/domestic duties is when your baby is sleeping. They'll tell you to "sleep when the baby sleeps" but then WHEN DO YOU DO ALL THAT OTHER STUFF? Also, how are you gaining weight despite never having time to eat anything?
(Honestly, though, sleep when the baby sleeps. You're sooooo tired.)
4. You won't be able to stay awake long enough to watch a movie.
Speaking of being tired, it's going to be like a whole couple of years before you watch any sort of movie to completion. Remember making fun of your parents for never being able to make it to the end of a movie without falling asleep? That's you now, hotshot.
I still remember my first post-motherhood movie. It was my birthday, it was "Taken 2" on demand, and you'll never convince me it wasn't the best movie ever made. That sh*t was an oasis in the desert and it delighted me.
5. Your kid will poop in the tub.
This one took me by total surprise. I mean, I get it in retrospect. It's warm in there, it's relaxing, I guess you just let go. But the first time I saw a turd floating in the tub mid-bath, I felt sort of betrayed that no one had prepared me for this eventuality. If this is my one legacy, so be it: I would be proud to be remembered as the one who told you kids sometimes poop in the tub.
6. Your hand becomes an absorbent Kleenex.
Along with stretchmarks and the ability to summon a really mean voice, God also gives you absorbent Kleenex hands the second you become a mom. You will unthinkingly use them to wipe snot directly from your child's nose. You will then wipe it on your own clothing, which is fine, because you haven't worn anything expensive or attractive in weeks.
Actually, that last point was a lie for me. I was so scared of becoming a dumpy mom that I spent the first year or so of parenthood pushing a stroller around in 4-inch heels, which in retrospect, STOP IT. There's keeping up appearances and then there's being f*cking ridiculous. You probably just baked a human in your body, put on a cute pair of flats, damn.
7. You will spit on your kid's face.
Not directly on it (unless you're that bad kind of bad mommy instead of the fun kind). But you will spit on your hand and then rub it on your kid's face to get rid of some dirt or more likely dried snot like we never evolved past gorilla status.
My kid is now old enough to tell me this is disgusting, and every time, I have this deep existential conversation with him. Like, "I know, it really is disgusting. Why do I do it? I know I should stop but it's just hardwired into me on a primal level. I'm sorry."
You'll also find really weird, lame phrases your parents used coming out of your mouth and be horrified. For me, it started with "What part of 'no' don't you understand?!"
8. You will go on vomit auto-pilot.
Your first major vomit incident is what really separates the moms from the MOMS. But along the the Kleenex hands, we seem to be programmed with an innate maternal vomit mode, which allows us to quickly process the necessary tasks and complete them with a minimum of disgust, usually while half-awake.
For instance: It's the middle of the night. Your kid wakes up puking all over himself and you. Believe it or not, THIS IS YOUR TIME TO SHINE.
You pick up your crying child and comfort him while simultaneously stripping him of his clothing. You then start a warm bath and wash puke out of his hair and ears without gagging. Somewhere in there, you strip the sheets and rinse them in the sink, replacing them with fresh, clean ones and stripping off the clothing covering whatever part of you has been vomited on. You change your T-shirt, pull your still-screaming kid out of the tub, put him in clean pajamas and comfort him until he falls back asleep.
Depending on how sick he is, this may happen multiple times in one night. And you just do it! Because you have to, because you're the one there and this is your job now. You don't even have time to be disgusted, though you rightfully should be.
You're a mom now.
9. Your kids will casually say horrible things to you.
As an adoptive mom, I am prepared to someday hear my kid yell at me "YOU'RE NOT MY REAL MOM," probably while slamming the door to his space room. But I wasn't prepared for the fact that sometimes his tiny, innocent face will just spew something super-cruel like it's no big deal.
For instance, in his toddler years he regularly cycled through phases where he was more attached to one parent than the other. When he was in a "daddy phase," it was no bigs for him to say things like "I don't love you, Mommy" as casually as he might ask to watch "Yo Gabba Gabba."
At first, it's quietly devastating, but you kind of get used to it. Now my son is always telling me how "mean" and "rude" I am for not letting him do things like have candy for dinner and I'm basically just like, "Yeah, yeah, Mommy's mean, eat your f*cking green beans."
10. Your kid will straight-up lie about bizarre things.
I get lying to get out of trouble or telling a fantastical tale about how you saw a dinosaur at school or whatever. But my kid makes up bizarre lies that benefit no one, like telling people that Mommy doesn't buy soap. Mommy has f*cking soap, OK? Stop telling people that.
11. Your kid will ask you questions that make literally no sense.
Everybody knows about that "Why?" phase, but I expected my kid's whys to be basically sensical things that I could, like, Google. "Why is the sky blue?" Cool, Mommy and the Internet have got this one. But my kid will do things like point at a car while asking, "Is that a car?"
"Yes, that's a car," I'll say.
WHY IS IT A MOTHERF*CKING CAR? How am I even supposed to answer that? It just IS a car. It's like having a conversation with a tiny Confucius.
12. Your boy child will have an extensive period in which he is obsessed with his and others' penises.
I can't speak for what goes on with girls and their genitals, but my son went through an extreme penis phase. It started about the time he started getting toddler hard-ons, which terrified him. "MY PENIS IS HUGE!" he'd scream at me in terror while I tried not to laugh.
Then we had to go through the long list of everyone he had ever met and talk about whether each person had a penis. "Does Daddy have a penis?" "Yes." "Does [little girl at school] have a penis?" "No." "Does [local barber] have a penis?" "As far as I know."
I got so tired of talking about penises that I was delighted the day I saw a new light dawn in his eyes right before he asked me the question that had obviously just occurred to him: "MOM. DO YOU HAVE A BUTT?" That's when I got to say my favorite parenting phrase so far: "Everybody has a butt."
Little boys also have no trouble taking their penises out and messing with them when you're just, like, watching Netflix Kids on the couch. I talked to my son about "privacy," but he just started taking his penis out, turning to glare at me and going, "MOM. I NEED SOME PRIVACY."
But, as one mom friend put it, "You become completely OK with a family member's genitals as if they are an arm or leg because you have to clean and deal with them all the time."
13. You have to teach another human being how to use the bathroom.
Look, I'm sorry so many of these are about poop, but that's Mom Life for you. I think we're all pretty aware of babies and diapers and everything you have to deal with there, but what I didn't fully process until it happened to me was that at some point I was going to have to potty train. Like, actually teach my child how to go to the bathroom in the toilet.
Also, for a lot of kids, there's a gap between when they get the peeing-in-the-toilet piece of the puzzle and when they get the pooping-in-the-toilet piece of the puzzle, so there's at least a couple of weeks where you're just constantly washing poop out of new underwear.
If that doesn't freak you out enough, the son of one of my mom friends recently informed her that he didn't need to go to the bathroom to poop anymore because he "just pushed it back into my butt with my finger."
14. Kids don't understand how to blow their noses.
Like, my 4-year-old still doesn't get this. When they're babies you sometimes have to suck snot out of their noses with those little turkey baster looking dropper thingies. Now, I just pick boogers out of my son's nose. I find it strangely satisfying in the way that some people seem to find zit-popping. Those people are nasty, though. I'm just a mom.
15. The mommy wars are a war against moms.
This is the big secret that they don't tel you about becoming or not becoming a mom: Either way, you can't win.
Women who have children often have to try to "have it all," juggling kids and careers while trying to remind everyone that your name isn't actually "Mom" and you're still an adult woman with a personality and a sex drive, goddamnit. Those who choose to remain child-free may feel judged by society and small-minded relatives who just don't understand why they don't want to fulfill their "ultimate purpose."
Each group thinks the other group is judging them, but in reality we're just living in the same sexist system that continually pits women against each other in a game nobody can win. The best thing you can do is opt out and remember to respect each woman's individual choices.
So to all my non-moms in the house: If you can boldly look this parenting real talk in the face and still want to join #teammom, then you're ready. And if it all made you a little queasy, you might be ready, too. (Honestly, it just doesn't feel that gross when it's your own kid. In fact, you love this little helpless creature so much that being able to wipe his poopy testicles can actually feel like -- I swear -- a pleasure.)
And to all my moms in the house: Please share the weird/gross/unexpected things nobody told you pre-parenthood in the comments. Knowledge is power.