I have to brag about something: I currently have amazing biceps . Shock and awe, sleeveless-shirt worthy biceps. I’ll even give my secret to these biceps away for free. Free! Today only! Special offer may be void in Alaska or Hawaii.
The answer: Parenthood. Who knew? Who would’ve guessed that all it would take for me to get in the best shape of my life would be nine months of person-growing and another year plus of person-tending.
Let me specify what I mean by the “best shape of my life,” lest you picture something inaccurate. No washboard abs. No thighs you could crack an egg on. It’s not my size that has changed, but my strength.
I heard the term MomStrong from a friend this week. It reminds me of the long German words which are intensely specific combinations, but is much more useful. Physically, I’m at the peak of my game. I am running after a very active baby half of the time and carrying a very tired baby the other half. Cardio and weight training together make a dynamic strength-building team. More than that, though, is a different kind of strength.
Before having my son, I have to admit I didn’t realize what I was in for (does anyone? mercifully, I think not). As Ygritte would say, “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” substituting my name, of course.
My parents had four children and never did I hear a word of complaint out of either of their mouths about the activities we were committed to, the entire bags full of groceries we consumed at each meal, or the stress of balancing work and home. As an adult, I saw the moms around me being cast in a play and taking on six roles at a time: mother, wife, chef, chauffeur, coach, and drill sergeant, and still smiling at the end of (most) days. I thought, Well, that doesn’t look so bad. I didn’t realize that my parents and those women had to outgrow their former selves like the very hungry caterpillars they’d read about to their children eighty times a day for the past seven months.
One of the best things about becoming MomStrong is that it grows daily with your child, the addition of more children, or their changing needs. There was an interesting story today on NPR about how people with a purpose live longer than their peers, and motherhood has provided me with more a purpose than anything else I have ever attempted. People with a purpose manage stress better, which explains why at a certain point, most moms I know just say “Screw it, the kids are alive and there is some kind of food on the table. Today is a good day.” The adaptation that parents have to go through reminds me of the story of the little boy’s mitten hosting a forestful of animals. Just keep adding one more thing to worry about, or do, and most of the time (for better or worse), the parents I know make it work.
The other best thing about being MomStrong is finding support in the times when you don’t feel so strong. To continue the already stretched metaphor, the moments in which a mouse enters your already full emotional mitten.
I was fairly new to our small town when I had my son. I felt alienated, even despite the best intentions of those around me. Becoming a mother gave a common connection to me with a variety of wonderful women in my town and has opened the door to me feeling a part of the larger community. Even beyond that, women I have never met offered me support during some of the darkest days of my pregnancy and parenthood. Bleeding during the second trimester. Colicky nights. Struggles with breastfeeding. I owe a debt of gratitude to these MomStrong women, these bloggers and forum posters. Thank you.
I know I’m barely begun on my journey as a parent, but my MomMuscles are just starting to flex. I know when my son is eighteen I won’t be able to hoist him on my hip like I do now, but I hope he’ll always know how closely I’ll always carry him.