I forget things. A lot.

When I was pregnant, we set up an email address for Ben. Only Quinn and I have it. I had the intention of writing Ben letters from time to time, with the hope that he would someday read them when he’s older and be able to understand his mother for the person she was, both before he was born and when he was too young to form lasting memories. As we approach Ben’s second birthday, I have written three of these letters. I keep forgetting he has an email address.

I keep forgetting a lot of things.

Eight months ago: an expectant first-time parent asks me about my postpartum experience. I can’t recall any details beyond exhaustion and a deep sadness.

Two months ago: a friend points out that Ben’s large birthmark has faded entirely. I forgot he ever had a birthmark.

Last night: I catch myself being surprised that Ben’s eyes are brown now. How long have they been brown? They used to be blue.

The idea of having another child at this stage in my life, when my first is approaching two and I am nearing approaching 34, seems like the worst idea in the history of everything. Quinn and I will be in our 50s by the time he’s graduating high school. So as someone with both feet firmly in the one and done camp, I feel a lot of pressure to get everything right this first (and only) time around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled my eyes when other women have cooed at complaints of nights spent cluster feeding or comforting a sick toddler. “Cherish it!” they chirp. “It goes by so fast!”

Right, I think. I’m definitely going to cherish memories of being pissed on and kept awake for days on end.

Like so many other days, today I can only seem to focus on the exhaustion I feel after a weekend of clingy, congested tantrums. When I talk about my frustrations, I can only recall how many nights he hasn’t slept well, how many nights he refused to sleep in his crib, how many times I have had to leave the room during an inconsolable tantrum. I manage to forget — like always — the many, many ways Ben has improved. I forget that bedtime is a breeze 90% of the time, that he can drink from an open cup without spilling, that he will try a bite of any food at least once. I forget all the nights he sleeps 10 hours straight.

I worry about all the things I will forget. Big things. Important things.

But mostly I worry about forgetting the little things, like the sound of his belly laugh. The weight of his big little head on my shoulder, or the warmth of his body when he climbs into my lap to watch cartoons. The way he says “beep!” when I unlock the car. The way he pats everybody on the back when he gives them a  hug.The knowledge that there are so many things that will be forgotten lingers at the back of my mind. I worry so much about forgetting that I don’t doubt that there’s at least some bit of self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

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Who am I doing this for?

“Why are you trying to lose weight?”

“Oh, you know,” I say. “Need to lose a few pounds.”

Don’t tell me, I want to say. I know this one. It’s a joke, asking women why they want to lose weight.

I’m trying to lose weight because I’m fat and no longer comfortable in my body for a multitude of reasons you may or may not empathize with.

Because following the birth of my child, I stopped prioritizing my own health. I regained the 60 pounds I first gained during pregnancy, then lost while breastfeeding, then gained back.

Because my workload suddenly tripled, and I barely have the time to sleep let alone cook healthy meals.

Because my free time is spent playing with my son instead of going to the gym, because I will only have these precious and frustrating early years once.

Because I have developed an emotionally dependent relationship with food.

Because society has conditioned women to believe their value as a person can be measured by their weight far more than their contributions or character.

I don’t say any of this. I rarely do, because historically what I intend to be an honest statement that I hope will inspire or facilitate a deeper conversation is met with admonitions. It’s a bummer, or it’s “too serious.” These responses come almost exclusively from men — which I, for now, assume is at least somewhat related to the bullshit men* are raised with: emotions are a sign of weakness, boys don’t cry, and other assorted, inane nonsense. Women, by and large, nod appreciatively. In the broader sense, it doesn’t seem to matter how empathetic, funny, engaging, or socially minded we are. Ours is a world that makes snap judgments based on our appearances. When was the last time you looked at a stranger and thought “Oh yeah, look at the sense of social obligation on that one?”

My desire for help, for connection, for commiseration and support, is silenced before the things I want to say can surface. There’s a sense of being resigned, of having given up. I don’t want to make anybody uncomfortable on my search for connection and understanding, because, don’t you know? Women don’t complain.

Many of the women I have known grew up aware of the same silent rule I’ve been unknowingly adhering to all my life: girls don’t complain. Women are expected to be caring, nurturing, loving, self-sacrificing. Is this unspoken rule an exploitation of the maternal instinct? Does the maternal instinct even exist? I don’t know. I have no idea. I can say, with certainty, that am not an instinctual parent. I parent by learning. I had no idea how to breastfeed or help a newborn latch on to a breast. I learned how to do so through many, many hours with a squirmy little leech attached to me. I didn’t suddenly know what his different cries meant, or even that he had different cries at first; I learned through paying attention.

Whether it’s nature or nurture, the end result is the same. On my list of priorities my mental and physical health hovers towards the bottom, because I have ended up in a place, mentally, that no longer sees the pursuit of better mental or physical health as something of value. I find myself spending a majority of my time at home cleaning. That’s it. Cleaning. Picking up, wiping down, rinsing off, changing over. Time I could be spending writing, or reading, or doing yoga or just… staring at the wall.

That’s pretty bleak, right?

It would be easy to let myself carry on like this, never growing, never moving out of this very uncomfortable comfort zone. But here’s an opinion you hear so often that you probably don’t believe it when you hear it anymore: being a parent makes me want to be a better person. I love my son, but my desire to be a better and healthier person stems from acknowledging how influential his father and I are in how he views and interacts with the world.

What kind of person will he grow up to be, if his first and biggest influence is depressed, unhappy, unhealthy? How will this influence his view of women? Of marriages? How can I hope to raise a well-rounded, empathetic, conscientious human if I can’t be those things myself? What will I do with myself and my life when he’s grown and left home? Do I want to be like this forever?

I always end up with more questions than answers. That’s okay, though. I like questions.

When it’s time for a I’m uncomfortable in the body I currently exist in, due the the limitations an excess 50 or so pounds puts on me. I’m unhappy with my energy levels and eating habits. I’m not okay with no longer being able to see myself for the breadth of who I am: engaged, attentive, passionate, and maybe more than a little difficult.

So, yeah, I’m doing it partly for my kid. Mostly, though, I’m doing it for me.

Related Reading Around The Web

An interesting take on maternal instinct as a social invention

Kids learn to undervalue women from their parents

*(or, more specifically: people assigned male at birth and raised with male gender roles and expectations)

“This mom thing is bullshit.”

Ben, my almost-17-month old, is face down on the floor, wailing. He’s been teething for three days, sleeping six of the twelve hours he needs at night, refusing to eat, and being generally non-responsive to children’s over-the-counter pain medication. The frustration is compounded by my temporary helplessness: his needs are met to the very best of my ability, and yet in this moment I have, on some level, failed him.

It was part exhaustion, part par-for-the-course toddler tantrum. The trigger (this time) had something to do with me trying to cook myself a quick breakfast. I stood over him, cooing gentle and supportive words while he shrieked so loudly I couldn’t actually hear myself speak. He would occasionally look back up at me to make sure I was still audience to his display.

This is bullshit, I thought. I dropped the cooing. Sometimes silence is the only way to handle a tantrum.

I bear the brunt of his moods because as many a toddler will tell you: only mama will do. Only mama is fit to be the target of their literal infantile rage. My husband looked at me and shrugged — not just shrugged, but gave me that “I’m doing what I can, but I don’t know what else to do” look that looks like defeat mixed with confusion and maybe a small hint of failure.

“I’m going to write a book about all the bullshit they don’t tell you about parenting.”

(Hi: this is that thing. This clearly isn’t a book, but it’s… close enough.)

Parenting, I’m learning (I’m new at this, please be cool and fuck back off to your perfect Instagram life before you pass judgment), is a lot of bullshit. Yes, my child has become the thing I hold most dear in the world. Yes, my world would be shattered and it would take years to regain some sense of rightness with the world if anything ever happened to him. If I could trade But there’s a lot they don’t tell you about, like the endless screaming fits or seemingly inborn death with or how some people will tsk-tsk you for getting frustrated, like, ever, or for not matching their socks or whatever. They don’t adequately warn you how much pressure you will truly feel: is he happy enough? Is she hitting her milestones too slowly? Why can’t I get him to sleep through the night? Why did they allow me to reproduce without passing a basic competency check*?

They also don’t tell you how gross and adorable it will be when they start giving big, sloppy, open mouth kisses fifteen times a day because they feel like it, or how you will become the center of their world and that this small human will, at least for a few years, become the world that the sun rises and sets on. They don’t tell you that naps will become your second or third favorite thing ever, or how much your view of the world and the people in it will shift. How your taste for media will rule out anything that shows small children in any kind of peril (maybe that’s just me). How you will suddenly feel compelled to be a better person, even just slightly, because you realize that how you face the world is also how your child will learn to face the world.

This mom thing is bullshit. Or maybe, more clearly, the facade of motherhood in the internet age is bullshit. Perfectly curated lives and pristine white-and-gray iPhone photos and kids that never, ever get sick or messy. Twenty ways to clean your house completely while your kids are napping (because one thing you aren’t is a human that just wants to sit down for a fucking minute. Ten (completely unhelpful) tips for parents that don’t get enough sleep. Three ways to do the years of emotional work you neglected before the kids get home from school. Keep up, they tell you. Be super mom. You aren’t human, are you?

There’s a lot of bullshit. The internet — a central component of many of our lives — is full of it. But those big, sloppy kisses and giggle-filled screams of hello at the end of the day? Man, they almost make it worth it.

*Eugenics is bad.