It’s a common scene. We are two women—she’s a mom and I’m a grandmother—watching the children in our care playing in the ball pit at a toddler gym program. My granddaughter, who has been a high-wire act since she learned to walk, flings herself through the air, lands on her belly with a hearty laugh and shouts “I did it!” The other baby watches but does not move.
Judging by the look on the mom’s face, I am pretty sure she is having a case of the “All of a Sudden I’m 13 Again Blues” and I know it well. As a young mom, I was afflicted often. And seriously.
This condition affected me most when another child was racing around mine, doing something my kid should be pulling off with ease. But my kid was not doing it very well. Or at all. It would send me to my baby development books to assure myself that we were still within normal range.
When you’re safely ensconced in that dreamland of the hospital maternity unit, it doesn’t occur to you that this will happen in a few months. In the first day or two, everyone visits and their only job is to tell you how perfect your baby is.
That easy part ends when babies all around you begin sitting up, or rolling over, or sleeping through the night. Suddenly, everyone starts keeping score. And maybe when your friend’s baby sits up without a Bobby Pillow supporting him, yours is one of those babies who happily babbles but is more than content to stay on her back and observe the world. It’s the first time, maybe, that you feel competitive in this new space called motherhood. And if your baby isn’t a “winner,” you remember what it was like to be 13.
For one thing, it’s lonely. This is the part when you recall what it was like to stand on the sidelines at the 6th grade dance while Jennifer M. got chosen by Mike P. and you wanted that dance floor to just open up so you could watch them slide into oblivion and stop feeling so jealous.
For another, it’s scary. You haven’t a clue what the next weeks or months will bring because this has never happened to you before. I spent the whole summer before 6th grade petrified that my best friend and I would not get the same lunch period in our new junior high school. That paled in comparison to worrying I would have to give up breastfeeding and send my baby into the uncharted waters of (gasp) formula feeders. Everything was up to me, yet there were so many things out of my control. In sixth grade it was the evil guidance counselors who planned our lunch schedules; in motherhood, it was the evil mastitis that wreaked havoc on my body.
It’s also silly. I’d like the hours I spent as a 13-year-old in front of a mirror, consumed with how I looked. Would my face ever grow into my nose? Would I get my period when other girls did? Would my breasts ever grow? In motherhood, I found new worries I never thought I would. Would he walk before he was a year old or would I get those humble brags from other mothers: “Count your blessings he’s not walking yet! I can’t keep up with mine!”
Just so we’re all clear, this revs up during preschool and continues like a hurricane well into kindergarten, meaning you get lots of warning but it still might be worse than you imagined. A friend who taught first grade told me once that whenever a student entered the first day of school and the parent said, “She can read already!” my friend wished she’d had the guts to say, “Great. But there’s a whole lot more to the story. Let’s talk again in ten years.”
I sensed the mother at the ball pit was going to carry a visual of my granddaughter well into lunchtime. Maybe she would consult her library of baby milestone books. This part of motherhood can hurt. Just like being 13 hurt. But we get through both.