Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
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Paris, France
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December 31
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Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
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A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out www.alysasalzberg.com.

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MAY 11, 2012 11:05AM

Before Mother's Day

Rate: 22 Flag
 
 
I didn’t think about the date when our friends Juliette and Arthur called to see if we wanted to get together. We met them in Montmartre last Sunday, a week from Mother’s Day, to stroll around and have a drink.

For most of the six years I’ve known her, Juliette wanted a baby.  Desperately.  When she and Arthur realized they had fertility problems, she did everything possible to be able to conceive.  While I admired and respected her determination and her idolatry of the idea of motherhood, I felt a little worried about a girl in her early twenties getting shot with massive amounts of hormones.  In the end, though, it paid off; about a year ago, Juliette gave birth to a daughter, Marie.  

When we’d visited them for the first time after that, Juliette seemed different.  Not the deliriously happy, baby-crazy mother we’d expected, but cynical, detached, and flat-out annoyed at Marie.  She openly criticized the little girl for things like being a little hairy, or crying a lot.  Though Marie was only about two months old at the time, the boyfriend and I exchanged worried looks; everyone says babies are impressionable, and even if they don’t understand language, of course they can pick up on intonation.  

That afternoon, we learned that Juliette, who’d had issues with depression before getting pregnant, had plunged so deeply into it during the last month of her anti-depressant-free pregnancy, that she’d almost been institutionalized.  Unsurprisingly, she was now suffering from post-partum depression, which explained a lot of her attitude towards little Marie.

Though they live near Paris, and though we like them a lot, conflicting schedules, vacations, and other commitments mean we usually only see Juliette and Arthur a few times a year.  Apart from their wedding last August, where we had minimal contact with them, and even less with Marie, the next time we got together was early November, for our belated Halloween party.  They brought an adorably dressed-up Marie with them.  She was such a happy kid, and seemed so at ease with everyone at the party, despite the fact that a lot of them were wearing masks and strange make-up.  Almost every picture I took that night includes someone holding Marie in their arms, their smile echoed by the baby’s.  At the party, Juliette had told us she was still suffering post-partum depression, but she did seem a little calmer.  Arthur, meanwhile, seemed like such a happy, devoted dad.  Things looked promising.  
 
A few months later, we were at their house for New Year’s Eve.  Arthur was frustrated and flustered, and Juliette was frustrated, flustered, and bitter. The two were juggling an inexplicably formal sit-down dinner that none of us guests had requested, and a baby who didn’t want to go to sleep after seeing this crowd of people.  When they put her into her bedroom, Marie wailed.  The living room was right outside her door; she could hear us all laughing and talking.  At the time, I took this as a reminder that having kids isn’t easy.  

But this past Sunday afternoon, I came to a new and troubling realization.  
 
From the start of our time together, Juliette was now, even a year after the birth, still complaining about Marie. She said she was a wild kid who often threw temper tantrums and wreaked havoc in the house. “She insists on climbing onto our bed,” Juliette told me at one point, “and I try to take her off, because I don’t want her to fall, and then she just won’t stop crying.”

“Why don’t you just lock your bedroom door?” I asked, a little surprised.

”Well, she should be allowed to wander around,” Juliette answered.

As the afternoon went on, I began to wonder about Marie’s life with her parents.  She goes to daycare while they’re at work, but no one mentioned weekend trips to the park or the public indoor swimming pool or the like.  Instead, I heard about weekend strolls around Paris.  Throughout our current stroll, Marie was kept in her carriage.  This was logical, though: the steep, cobbled streets of Montmartre aren’t exactly the easiest thing for a newly-walking toddler to get around on.  

We came to a café and sat down.  Our friends are moving to the south of France at the beginning of July, and we’re sad to see them go.  But Juliette gave us something else to take in: she’d decided to go back to school to get a degree in something she’d long wanted to do.  The only catch was, the school is far enough away that she'll have to rent a small studio apartment to stay in during the week, and come home on weekends.  “It’s only four months,” she told me with a shrug, “and I figure that can’t matter so much to Marie at her age.”  I flinched a little, because I want Juliette to realize her dream, but at the same time, I do think those four months without her mom around a lot will have some effect on Marie.

“Can you imagine,” Juliette went on, “I’ll be a student again!  Isn’t student life great?!”  

Arthur said nothing, which is usually how he deals with Juliette in public.  Meanwhile, Marie got fussy in her carriage.  “She’s always crying,” Juliette told me again.  

“Why don’t you let her out of the carriage for a while?" I suggested. "I’ll take a walk with her to that shop across the street.”

I took Marie by the hand and we carefully went to look at the brightly-colored jewelry for a while.  I’ve been with bad kids before. When she was little, my sister was a terror.  A few years ago, I babysat a kid I’m convinced was one of the worst-behaved in Paris.  But Marie didn’t seem to have their stubbornness.  When I told her it was time to go back to our table, she happily turned and took my hand again.  

“I can’t believe she’s being so good today.  You should see how she misbehaves at home,” Juliette told me at one point.  I can’t say I’m a fly on the wall, and I can’t say I don’t know that kids can have a double nature.  For all that my sister was a troublemaker around my parents, it’s true that, with certain strangers and family friends, she appeared to be this cute, wide-eyed, fun child, and that’s all.  But doubt started to creep into me, even so.  I realized how weird the afternoon was. There we were, walking around a beautiful neighborhood with a young kid, but not really stopping and doing anything kid-oriented.  The weather was nice; why hadn’t our friends said we’d have a drink and then go to a park for a while?  Goodness knows there are a lot of those in Paris.  Instead, we’d spent the afternoon just as we would have before they’d had a child.  And while I know any parent needs to get away now and then, when your kids are present, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who does that?”  

A few hours later, we headed down the hill towards Juliette and Arthur’s car.  Arthur pushed Marie’s carriage, as he’d done for most of the day, and chatted with the boyfriend.  Juliette and I walked along a few feet behind them.

“So,” she asked me, “when are you going to have a baby?”

It’s a question I get asked so often that it’s become blasé.  But this time, I wanted to laugh.  

And yet, I kept telling myself, maybe it was all a matter of presentation.  For all that she criticized and moped about Marie, Juliette really did love her. 

Maybe she’d just had her too early.  It’s hard for me to make that judgment because I’m the opposite kind of person: I think about things so much that sometimes I end up wallowing in worry instead of taking action.  When it comes to having children, I want desperately to get it right. I know enough moms to know that I will never be – or even think I am – a perfect parent, but some part of me hopes to be able to do the best I possibly can.  I think about my own mom. I know she fiercely loves me, my sister, and my brother.  But she never forgets to remind me that having children is a burden. She often says, in a dread-filled voice, “You’re not pregnant, are you?”.  I think about my father, who loves his biological and adopted children, yet who never fails to tell me how he can’t wait till everyone’s out of the house and he and my stepmom can be free.  I think of my stepmom, one of the most maternal people I know, and how she stresses herself so much about making everyone happy that's she's actually had to go to the emergency room before.  I don’t have a parenting role model, I realize.  I’m not saying that a parent will never be stressed or frustrated or exhausted.  But I’ve never met someone who just seems to take having kids as a more or less completely good thing.  
 
I know there are people like this. The ever-calm wife of one of my boyfriend’s friends, for example (though this friend once confided in the boyfriend, “Having kids makes couplehood hard.”), or my unflappable cousin Melanie, who’s got two kids, a new house, and a full-time job (then again, she also has a mom and a sister who live extremely close to her and are ready at any time to help out).  

My way of dealing with it all seems to be standing like a deer in the headlights.  And yet, Monday, six days before Mother’s Day, I went to the doctor’s and faced two fears: the fear of not being a good mom, and a rather debilitating fear of needles.  The nurse drew blood that would be analyzed for toxoplasmosis -- the first formal step towards planning to have kids.  Even before the needle was in my arm, my phobia kicked in, full force. I lost myself to fear.  I sobbed and made strange noises, I breathed so hard the nurse thought I was going to faint.  The boyfriend is sort of my litmus test in terms of how much I’ve completely lost control.  Though he’s witnessed me being physically ill from IBS, or having panic attacks, I’ve only seen him get truly worried about me two times.  This was one of those times.  

It’s now two days till Mother’s Day. My tensed muscles and the way I was unknowingly moving while the blood was being drawn, have left an ugly bruise in the crook of my left arm.  The lab results have come back already: amazingly, despite the fact that I’ve been around cats most of my life and often eat raw or rare meat, I don’t have toxoplasmosis.  So that will mean one more challenge to face when I’m pregnant. I’ve read that, whereas in the US, pregnant women aren’t regularly tested for this bacteria, in France it’s standard procedure to have uninfected women get blood drawn once a month, to be sure they haven’t caught it. But I worry that the stress and physical tension I go through anytime a needle is involved, should be avoided as much as possible when there's a fetus in the picture. I’m going to have to stick up for myself and insist on doing this part of my pregnancy like an American.  

Last Sunday, we said goodbye to our friends.  As we headed home, the boyfriend muttered, “I’m worried about Marie.”  Juliette was the boyfriend’s close confidante for many years before he met me, so he doesn’t have a problem telling her what he thinks. At the café, he’d said to her suddenly, “You shouldn’t talk about your daughter the way you do.  She understands a lot more than you think.”

“You’re making me feel bad,” Juliette had replied, her voice heavy with guilt. The boyfriend often says things that might not be full of social grace.  Normally I make a funny remark to ease the tension.  But this time, I’d stayed silent.

Five days before Mother’s Day, I emailed Juliette and Arthur some photos we’d taken from that afternoon together. I’d hesitated at first: we had dozens of pictures of Marie and Arthur, but there was only one of Juliette and her daughter.  I didn’t know what they’d make of that.  I decided to send them anyway.  

When I see a couple like Juliette and Arthur, I can’t help but feel vindicated by my decision to wait to have children a little longer.  And yet, I know it’s not worth gloating about.  Parenthood is unpredictable territory. Two days before Mother’s Day, I feel like I’m standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, getting vertigo as I try to see all the way to the bottom.  The only things I can make out clearly are the two questions that soar up like birds, flying in circles: When it comes to motherhood, in the words of Paul Simon, “Who’ll be my role model?”  And, no matter who I look up to, no matter what maternal vision might give me hope, when the time comes, what kind of mother will I be?

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Do you have a parenting role-model - especially a real-life one?
A nuanced piece here Alysa. With some tough issues. When I had my son very young, my role model was NOT to be like my mom, strict and cold ( in my eyes then). After being a mother I realized how difficult it was and when I see how loving my siblings are I only hope to do as well as my parents. You will gain trust in yourself, when you are ready, you will know. Best to you, I wish I had had half of your maturity and forethought at your age.
As with all things people do some women are intermittent mothers, others are great parents... today my parents would be regarded as felony child abusers, but they weren't monsters... they were doing the best they could with what they knew... fortunately by the time I was 25, we found common ground and they turned out to be outstanding grandparents for my younger brother's children. Being a parent, especially a mother, is a learning experience and my parenting role models have been my maternal grandparents who in their time as parents were a bit monstrous themselves. I just never saw them behave that way.
Thoughtful and wise, Alysa. I, too, have the feeling that Juliette's mothering skills are cause for concern.

When I reached the part about the bruise on your arm from the shot I glanced at the bruise on the back of my hand from being pecked last night by Midnight the hen. She was sitting on the floor on a chick that had just hatched and I was trying to move them to a more protected area. Nothing lacking in her mothering instincts.
My dad is my parenting role model: always had a smile on his face and a cheerful word, always ready to go fishing, or play catch, or just let me tag along which I was always desperate to do even when he went to the neighborhood tavern. Not much for hugging or expressing emotion, but while a stern look could send me running, he was not a hitter. He would look at his belt and say:"If I have to take this off, you are in big trouble." He never took it off though. R
Very well considered, Alysa. Just one thing. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed being able, as a Mom, to experience children's literature once again and to cuddle with my kids as I read to them.
Your posts are always so thoughtful, Alysa, which pretty much proves to me that you're going to be just fine. Whoever raised you taught you to be caring and thoughtful, to have an awareness about the people and things around you, to treat people gently, to follow your dreams, to respect and seek knowledge, and not to be rash. They probably weren't bad role models. And, even if they were, you turned out fine. Love whatever children you have, and they'll be fine too. Particularly since that boyfriend of yours seems to have some pretty good instincts in case you ever slack off or run too far afield.
The book "how to be the perfect parent," has never been written, and never will be. Parenting, if you're lucky is a two person job. Although more and more these days, it's become a single persons job. I for one, think the most important thing about parenting, is to have the right partner. Having just recently met both you and the boyfriend, I'd say you are both the right partners for each other.
I hope, in the future to read a post titled me, the father and the baby.
R
Alysa, you're wise beyond your years.

I agree with Rita: trust in yourself and when you are ready, you will know.

My own parents should never have had children--too wrapped up in each other.

I had no ambition to be a mother myself, but my husband thought it'd be a fun adventure to build a family together and managed to convince me too (twice). My greatest fear before becoming a mother was that I'd copy my parents' behavior. Somehow all the good parenting examples of people around me (other than my own parents) got absorbed and most days I'm doing ok. as a mom.

Its really important to have a network around you---friends and family who will help you be a good parent and most importantly give you absolution when you have the occasional "bad mom" day. You will make mistakes and you'll learn from them.
no parenting role models, and less help than any other human being i know or know of, would describe my experience, alysa.

and when asked to answer this question, i am unable to: which surprises you most: how much you love being a parent, or how hard it is?

i love it a thousand times more than i thought i would, and its a thousand times harder than i thought it would be.

i could never tell someone to become a parent, bc its brutally hard. i could never tell someone not to, bc it is the best thing i've ever known.

and i have only one piece of advice: you know how all the magazines say "explain this and explain that to your child, so they know WHY you tell them something." dont do that. the ex told me, "all he needs to know is you said so." and i thought the ex was a crazy control freak. turns out he was right. this constant dialoguing we do with kids creates a false equality, like they have a say. they dont need a say, and they dont need to debate whether or not clean hands are necessary.

long answer.

maybe if you are in a position to, you can invite marie to come visit you sometimes. any memoirs i have read show that that can save a child far more than you'd think.

good luck.
This is compelling in its honesty.

As far as role models go, I think my parents were pretty good.
No one can be a "perfect parent". They did their best.

That was to raise us in way that allowed we kids to be our own persons, and also part of The Family. They managed to allow themselves that privilege as well. I wish I could tell you how they did that.
Sometimes it's the reverse role model that makes the easiest model of all - I don't want to be like her, so I'll do things differently. You learn what does not work for you and you, then, don't do that. My mother always had us dress up on holidays. I hated that! So my kids were told it wouldn't be a holiday if you couldn't wear whatever you liked.
Hey Alysa, I have plenty of parenting role models. Have had all my life.

Every time I sat on my bed as a kid, crying and rubbing my belt strapped ass, I said, "When I grow up and have kids, I'm never doing that to them." Each time my dad said something mean or cruel and hurtful, I reminded myself that you don't have to insult people or belittle them to get your way or to assert authority. Each time my dad or my mom did something thoughtless or hurtful -- or any of my Aunts and Uncles, the parents of friends who did something I either did or didn't like provided me with a role model.

The trick is learning that you can have bad role models and learn as much about how not to do shit to your kids as well as you can with parents who serve as good role models.

I didn't always succeed at holding to my views. I have even come to realize the phrase, "Because I said so," has a valid use. I have spanked my kids (though have managed to change my methods well before they were seriously damaged -- or my relationship to them was) and regretted it every time.

On the plus side, my ex-stepson still occasionally calls me just to talk and he doesn't really even want anything more than advice or to talk. My daughter and I converse regularly and she's just turned 20. In fact, I have to tell her I fixed her laptop. She clearly recognizes my value, not only as a dad, but as a techie geek, too. :)

My observation of kids and parents has been fraught with the same kind of overthinking and anxiety you express here. Until I had a kid of my own -- then I was just too damn busy. Or so I thought.

All your thinking and worry have already conditioned you to be a more thoughtful person in general. You clearly seem quite observant. Your description of Juliette and Marie tell so much with so few words that I can literally see the expressions that must be on their faces and I know, in my heart, much of the subtext that comes with statements like, "You shouldn’t talk about your daughter the way you do. She understands a lot more than you think.”

And I think you do as well. I think you'll end up being a great mom who prevents a child from wandering where you don't want them to or where they aren't safe. Parent's room, no matter who you are and no matter how free you want your kid to be in the home, is off limits to the kids without a special and openly stated, "Just this time," pass. Mom and Dad need a private cooling off and destress area and the sanctity of the Master Bedroom is essential to avoid going insane. This time I ask you to take my word for it.

Kids need, nay thrive, on boundaries that cannot be crossed. Not arbitrary ones, mind you, but ones that make them safer or provide them a sense of routine. And not exclusively, of course, but the majority of a young child's life is fraught with the lack of wisdom and experience that tells them something is inherently unsafe for one of their young years -- it won't stop them trying and that's why the boundaries are important. If nothing else they give you that fraction of a second hesitation on their part to allow you to react.

Being there, in my view, is the single best thing you can do while raising your kids. Not intrusively, surely. But just having your presence nearby while they're playing, drawing, or just watching TV provides them that sense of presence that tells them you care. And that you're there for them, either to protect, answer questions, smile with or just get a hug.

Honestly, the happiest moment of my life has been and still is when I held my daughter for the first time, literally within a minute of being born. I don't know about my wife's happiest moment, but I can honestly tell you I don't think it was having a baby. She seemed a lot prouder of her moment of attention when she climbed up on stage and handed a big rose to the Rod Stewart impersonator at a company party than when she ever held either of her children.

Take what you will of what I write here, it's all meant to provide one more point of view for you to worry over and freak out about before you have a kid. Once you have one, you're going to be too damn busy to worry too much about anything other than what's going on right this instant. It's my perspective that your current state of worry and anxiety makes you more than adequately prepared to be a parent.

--r--
I'm sure you will be a wonderful mother, Alysa. My mother wasn't the best parent, and not the ideal role model. My role models growing up was my aunt and godmother, Rony who visited from Milwaukee from time to time and we stayed with almost every summer, and Doris Day.
I had my sons late, at 35 and 36 and had bad pregnancies where I had to work 6 days a week in my store. After giving birth 3 days later I was hauling them to work with me as I had no family to help me.
I got mono after the second and was so tired and sometimes I wondered why I had kids with someone who was an only child and wanted them to be at least 12 years old when they were born.

They grew up with daily in house fighting every single day and it has affected them sad to say.

They could not understand decisions I had to make so I could still be here typing today and not be like Marie or dead like my sister.

So each time holidays roll around I psych myself up to say it does not matter if I do not get calls or cards. It does matter... and it will mater to Marie when she grows up and I hope she does not end up hating her mother.

You on the other hand est une joie de vivre.. No problems with you ma cher.
HUGGGGGGGGGGGG
I enjoyed the grit and depth of your post. I worry for Marie, too. Are you going to be able to watch your child get vaccinated?
My Aunt and Uncle, B & G. They were my parenting role models. They never had children of their own.
Those two sentences together look hilarious to me. It’s funny, right? But I’m serious. I learned more about how to love a child from them, then any other “parental influence” I was subjected to. They were my lessons in love. They still are.

I get the feeling you will be a lot like them. Thoughtful, loving-the best.
I think that it is very common for a young woman to have her first child, and then feel a sense of loss: of career, freedom, all those things. In Sweden (I think it's Sweden?), they permit both a husband and wife to take a year off for childbirth. Perhaps that is what is really needed. Mommy time shouldn't have to be alone time!
oh not a darn need to worry...for you got the empathy..

"uliette was now, even a year after the birth, still complaining about Marie. She said she was a wild kid who often threw temper tantrums and wreaked havoc in the house. “She insists on climbing onto our bed,” Juliette told me at one point, “and I try to take her off, because I don’t want her to fall, and then she just won’t stop crying.”

“Why don’t you just lock your bedroom door?” I asked, a little surprised.

”Well, she should be allowed to wander around,” Juliette answered.

mm hm. yeah according to whom? you? no, i would prefer not, Juliet would say. so make it so! Kids need to know the rules, the boundaries. why? cuz they crave that, as u learned in
your delightful romp with the brat.
children respond to and need discipline.

my parenting role model is me.
i would do a damn good job raising the precocious little shit
i was.


It simply is NOT "unpredictable territory", dear friend,
if you know what you are doing. And that is just
second nature.

For it is of your own nature.

of your body, sans toxoplasmosis.
needles are easy if ya relax into em.

of your mind.."
“I can’t believe she’s being so good today. You should see how she misbehaves at home,” Juliette told me at one point. I can’t say I’m a fly on the wall, and I can’t say I don’t know that kids can have a double nature"

damn sure.

my mom called em little monsters. she was not a fuzzy wuzzy
mom who loved other womens' children. in fact,
she F-ING DELIGHTED in pointing out
"thes womens' todays'" faults. All rather
correct. Especially re. day care, gotta say.
a young genius like me never woulda
survived in day care , under the
influence of strangers. believe me.
While there are no perfect parents, one of my parenting role models is my late "aunt" (she was my mother's best friend) Hinda. Hinda had only one child; a son named Aaron. Possibly because she was an elementary school teacher, Hinda had a natural affinity for children and instinct for the sorts of things (foods, activities; objects) that would delight them. It was Hinda who introduced me to some of my favorite foods (avocadoes, matzoh ball soup; kippers) and some of my early favorite songs (by the Beatles, Cat Stevens; Bob Marley).
The really cool thing about Hinda, though, was her sense of perspective and balance. For all her joy in bringing joy to children (her own and other people's) she did not let children walk all over her and she held us (my brother and I, her son and others) to high standards of kind, considerate, polite and generous behavior.
Hinda also dared to take time for herself, her husband and her friends. Unlike a lot of modern parents, whe wasn't afraid to hire a sitter for her son so she could go out and do something fun. She would also not hesitate to say, "It's grown-up time, your mother and I are talking now. Go read a book or draw a picture and we'll have kid time later."
I would say that Juliette is an example of why one should be careful what one wishes for, but that's too glib. I very much hope that she can be the mother she imagined she would be back when she was longing for a baby.

During my years of trying and failing, I often experienced great anxiety over whether I would really be a good mother. For better or worse, I never got to find out, but I can say that what you're experiencing is completely normal. In fact, it would be more worrisome if you didn't feel this way.

Nothing in this life is 100% certain. We just do the best we can. I think you're going to be alright.
I think your looking at the reality of parenting pretty squarely in the face. It's not easy. And it's far easier if there are two people that want to be parents. When my daughter was born she filled a hole in me I didn't know I had. But it's forever and so is the responsibility, so make sure you're ready to make sacrifices. It's worth it, to know the love for your child, and see their innocence and growth, but like others have said there is no manual. You have plenty of love and realism to be successful when the time is right.
PS. My mother (aka "Rosy Cheeks") was and is a wonderful mother in many ways. She was (and is) affectionate, creative, smart, funny and brave; an inspiring role model in all those respects. But I don't count her as a parenting role model because I think she was ambivelant about parenting and probably had children too young (though my brother and I were planned; she just didn't know what she was getting into. Among other things, she thought she'd be able to finish college while caring for baby me. Didn't happen!)
I am concerned about your friend, Juliette, and little Marie. It really seems that Juliette hasn't recovered from post-partum depression and is trying, in every way that she can, to escape from motherhood. That's very sad for her and for Marie. I hope she's getting really good therapy as well as good help in caring for Marie. The situation is salvageable but very difficult.
As for you; well, Juliette's situation has shown you what PPD looks like. It can happen even to mother's who are well-prepared and eager. If it happens to you, there will be things you can do to help yourself and your child; you'll recognize the symptoms (as will your boyfriend) before it's too late.
That said; you're not old enough to be worrying about fertility (or lack thereof) very much, as yet. If you need more time, take it! You (not your Boyfriend, his parents, your friends or anyone else) are the one who will bear, birth and (primarily) care for the baby. Your readiness is the most important thing, for the child's sake as well as yours.
Very interesting. I remember Juliet from a while back. My mother would have been my parenting role model. She just loved to be a mother . Everything was for her kids and just always there and always supportive, and downright selfless. Maybe, she was too good a mother and is still too good a mother.
I'd bet anything you'll be a great mother, Alysa. You have boundless energy, brains, and heart.You shouldn't worry I tell ya.
Alysa... I want to hug you and tell you it's all going to be okay...but you'd know I was lying. As a mom, I've twisted and messed up my kids and they love me anyway...they have forgiven me for being "not perfect"...and they all know I love them. But you are right: "Parenthood is unpredictable territory" ...and then there is all of the advice you get, some good and some bad. My mom, a luminescent, glowing, calm woman gave birth to me: an opinionated, sensitive, needy girl. I think of how she did her best, and how, in turn , I did mine. It is all we can do, dear one.

When you are at the Grand Canyon, look up and not down. xoxoxo
I posted a whole big comment, then Safari crashed. Trying again. I honor and love my mother, but my sisters and I were born into her first, very unhappy marriage. She was a professional career woman in the 50's and 60's, and we hated it. We saw her escapes from the house as desertion. Children may not understand the nuances of adult behavior, but they're affected by it.

I stayed home with our son, who's childhood into what is now young adulthlood was/is clearly happier, healthier, more centered and saner than ours ever were. In retrospect, my wise mother says it's because he was raised surrounded by love and respect, given boundaries, encouragement and stability. Issues, sure, but no dark secrets. People who love each other sometimes fight, everybody makes mistakes, has bad days. You get help (professional, if needed), you help each other, you learn. And you love each other.

My husband says our kid will be on a shrink's couch someday saying, "I got too much quality time."

You'll know when, or if you're ready. Bottom line, follow your best instincts, which will obviously include a lot of loving care.
Thank you all for your advice and support, guys. I think this was something I just needed to get out. That afternoon with Juliette and Arthur was troubling, and this helped me process it. I really appreciate your reading and weighing in. And I hope the moms who commented here had a happy Mother's Day!