How a Teenage Boy Taught Me to Be a Mother

For the first year of my daughter's life, everything was big: big love, big frustration, big anxiety, big mood swings, big me. Not since I was a teen had I been so transfixed by my own now-shriveled navel.
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"Brah, you used to be fun." That's what Timmy, my husband's 16-year-old cousin, liked to remind me during our ridiculously frequent text message exchanges.

He was right. I did used to be fun. But then I became a mom. During my daughter's first year, nothing was too small for me to obsess over. How often do I need to take her outside to encourage a healthy relationship with nature? How was I going to break it to her that she inherited my ginormous calves? Why can't I stop posting her pictures on Facebook? I'd fantasize about strapping my baby to my chest and wandering out into the wild. Free from the confines of "soft hands" and Hooter Hiders, I'd be able to nurture her wildly and intensely, like a mama wolf. My maternal instinct was too mighty to be hampered by a search for the world's most perfect sippy cup. And yet, it was.

For the first year of my daughter's life, everything I experienced was big: big love, big frustration, big anxiety, big mood swings, big me. Not since I was a teenager had I been so transfixed by my own now-shriveled navel and it seemed like the only person who could empathize with my faintly adolescent strife was Timmy, despite the age difference and familial oddness. Being a new parent is a sort of second adolescence, sharing an eruption of hormones, changing social dynamics and a whole new role in the world. In the same way that Timmy woke up one day six-foot-five and obsessed with girls, I woke up one day peeing when I sneezed and obsessed with my baby. We converged at the intersection of novelty and tedium.

Timmy and I met when he was 9 and I was 22. We played Monopoly and he cheated, but no one called him on it until I kicked his shins under the table. He unblinkingly responded, "You realize you just kicked a child?" We've been "brahs" ever since. He is the little brother I never knew I needed, someone who shares my dark sense of humor and knack for irritating people. And perhaps, given that I'm a grown woman who enjoys Mario Kart a bit too much, I have a minor case of arrested development, one that I wore better as a 20-something college instructor than I did as an adult responsible for the life of an actual child.

Before I became a mom, I occasionally emailed Timmy or sent him letters at camp, but once I fell into my second adolescence (or third, depending on how we're counting), I made hobbies of "that's what she said" jokes, parsing out the intricacies of prep school social order, and learning things about These Kids Today that I'm going to have to forget before my daughter hits puberty. Day after day, I'd be parked in some carpeted living room watching my daughter drool on another kid's toys, trying to hold up my end of a conversation about tedious stuff like the ideal blender speed for pureeing baby food and then, mercifully, I'd get a text from Timmy. "Sup brah."

Ignoring the other mothers' scorn for texting during circle time, I replied, "nm" -- not much -- "just learning about gluten-free substitutes for bread crumbs."

"Dude, ur such a mom now."

That could have been the end of the conversation, but it turns out that my new mothers' group in West Hollywood wasn't all that different from his East Coast prep school. For every bit that he was preoccupied with getting into college, I was fixated on finding a preschool. Timmy and I were both non-wealthy outsiders trying to butt our way into cliques of rich people and expected to forge meaningful bonds based on the flimsiest of commonalities (grade-level and same-aged infants, respectively).

Timmy, who had yet to get a driver's license, steady girlfriend or GPA appropriate for a college application, understood my restlessness. Sick of the minutiae of prep school, he longed for the world he hadn't yet explored with the same ferocity that I wished to rewind to a more innocent time, back when I saw grapes as a precursor to wine and not just a potential choking hazard. But none of that was as important as the fact that Timmy liked to discuss things that had nothing to do with babies, and I liked to be reminded that those things existed, even as I obsessively mommy blogged my way through new motherhood.

Eventually it all got a little out of hand. Seeing me at the dinner table pecking away at my phone one evening, my slightly annoyed husband asked, "So, what's up with Timmy?"

"En em. Grinding in WoW, pwned some teacher in front of the class, eating Hot Pockets of the supreme pizza variety."

"Honey, you know he's my cousin, right?"

Not looking up from my phone I'd answer, "Mine now."

"And that this is weird?"

"Cool story, bro."

Strange as my relationship with Timmy was, it was mutually comforting. He reminded me that though I'd morphed into an exhausted, vomit-stained worrywart, I still had a sense of humor. And in return, I listened to his unintentional Holden Caulfield impression and told him to say no to drugs. But at some point I had to stop coming up with elaborate ways to torture Timmy using and reenter the adult world. One day after venting to him about the way breastfeeding seemed to be overtaking my personhood, he responded, "Bewbz."

"That's helpful. Thanks, kiddo."

He rebutted, "What do you expect a 16-year-old to tell you about breastfeeding?" A salient point. To borrow Timmy's term, it was time for me to sack up and make some age-appropriate friends. Three years later, he's still my "brah," but he doesn't update me every time he eats a Hot Pocket.

Besides, we don't have as much time now that he has a driver's license and I have a second child, a son, who my husband and I did not name after Timmy, despite numerous texts requesting otherwise. I considered it though. After all, we grew up together.

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