Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Ellen Dooley’s essay, “Writing Fiction, Raising Teenagers,” and Diana Renn’s essay, “A Foundation for a Fortress.” We invited readers to: “Write about a time—either in motherhood or writing—when you discovered reality wasn’t what you expected it to be. What did you learn from your experience, and how did it change you?” Below is Susie Hill’s response:
Adapting to the Reality of Motherhood
By Susie Hill
My mother made everything from scratch and canned vegetables, made jelly, sewed dolls and Halloween costumes (still does). I knew no different—my friends’ moms baked and sewed and ran Girl Scout troops or 4-H clubs, and still cooked dinner every night. I had no idea there was any other way.
I became a mother at 35, with the birth of my daughter, long-awaited and much anticipated. I stayed home eight weeks, fully intending to relish my newborn but still get the attic organized. Instead I slept and nursed and ate—and cried when I returned to work. I drove a half hour each morning, dropped my daughter off at daycare, then went to an office where I sat staring at my computer screen, so sleep-deprived that I could barely focus and pumping constantly so she could eat. So I quit, doing part-time work as I could.
Still I was not the mother I thought I’d be. We tried a garden but couldn’t keep up with the weeds. My daughter didn’t sleep. I had little social interaction with adults. I knew no one with a child her age. As she grew, it got better—I even made her Halloween costume and canned tomatoes. But with life changes, stress took my patience, and the solitude depressed me. We moved, leaving everything she knew behind. I felt like a failure when she cried at bedtime.
After more changes and more moves, we added a boy, almost three now. He is a joy. And exhausting. I’m 43 now and still don’t sleep through most nights. Again I work a half hour away, unable to keep up with laundry and meals. I yell. A lot. And I always thought I was organized, but I’m not—I just remembered where things were, which I don’t anymore. But my kids are generally happy, and healthy, and they get to play and grow and have fun.
Our life is not what I imagined. It’s better in some ways, worse in others. I’m learning to enjoy it for what it is, now. As a kid, I didn’t care that my mom didn’t prioritize a clean house or matching socks. She loved us, as I love my kids, and they know it, as did we. I’m changing my outlook—deciding what’s important and what to let go. I’m also still learning to live with these little people whom I can’t control and don’t always like. But they make me a better person every day for knowing and loving them. I realize that our parents likely didn’t know what they were doing either. We only thought they did, giving me hope that my kids will think so, too. I want to teach them it’s okay not to know and to embrace the challenge ahead rather than regretting the picture fading behind us. I’ve learned that plans will fall apart, everyone will be sick at the same time, and they will still expect me to get up, feed them, and make sure there are clean socks. And I will. Every single time.
After bouncing around a bit, Susie Hill now lives in coastal North Carolina with her husband of 16 years and their 2 children, who came so late into their relationship that most people had stopped asking about kids. She spent summers filling her bike basket with books from the library, and her love of writing stems from that first love of reading, which she still maintains. Most of her current writing consists of wills and trusts and checks to the babysitter, but she’s working to change that.