It took me a good decade, but I can finally say I think I’m getting this motherhood thing figured out. It was not intuitive for me, not easy or instantly amazing the way it was when I brought home my first pet. With my animals, I knew no matter how challenging things were, we would figure it out and it would be ok. I don’t know why I lacked that confidence with the kiddos. Maybe I’m just part dog.
But no matter! We all have our strengths in life, but the one thing I wish I knew a lot earlier was the idea of resilience, that just because one thing comes naturally to us, it doesn’t mean we can’t take on other things and work our way up to competence. It’s too late for me now: I will never know if I could have been a decent volleyball player. All I know is I was horrrrrrrible at it in school, I dreaded volleyball days in PE, and as soon as I could give it up I did.
But parenthood isn’t like volleyball, a hobby you can dabble in and put away when your back hurts. It’s there, sink or swim, and even if all you do is hobble along, well, that’s all you need to do.
I found myself leaning on my veterinary experience quite a bit those first few years, actually. You draw on your own experiences, so it makes sense. I was actually pleasantly surprised at how many things I learned from the clinic that I could apply to parenthood:
1. Your brain can adapt to an obscene level of noise.
Barking dogs, screaming babies, howling cats, ringing phones, all can be intercepted before they hit your cerebrum by some amazing subconscious mom-filter that allows you to get your records completed or bills done. While others may think you oblivious, the truth is you are an amazing compartmentalizer.
2. Multitasking is an art.
Mrs. Jones is on line 3 and will only speak to you, and she insists she will hold. The cat in room 4 is having a seizure. The man in the lobby is yelling at the receptionist about his dog’s worms, something is bleeding in the treatment area but we don’t know who, and you’re still scrubbed into surgery. Getting used to this level of chaos is the only reason I was able to survive the first years of classroom volunteering, PTA politics, work, groceries, and remembering my husband’s name.
3. Blood and poop are things you can get used to.
I don’t think I even need to elaborate on this, do I?
4. The ones who scream the loudest are not the ones you worry about.
If you’re screaming, you’re breathing. It’s the quiet ones you need to check in on, because it usually means one of three things: they stopped breathing, they are getting in a large amount of trouble, or they are about to have a nuclear meltdown. This rule applies to both pets and their owners. And, I learned, to kids.
5. You don’t need to be the best at something. You just need to want it the most.
In a clinic full of creatures without opposable thumbs, it was astonishing to find out how good some of them could get at accomplishments they weren’t supposed to be capable of. Like, how some dogs could patiently sit in a cage for hours and work at a jiggly lever in order to release themselves and merrily run around the treatment area. Or how some cats could push a jar of treats, centimeter by centimeter, all the way across a table until it dumped its chicken-y contents on the floor. They do it because no one told them they couldn’t.
To me this last one is the most important lesson of all. I remind myself of this often, for myself and for my kids. I don’t want them to be the kid who stops trying to open the cage. I want them to be the one who takes the whole thing apart.
I learned, more than anything, to be this dog.