Friday, November 3, 2023

The Rookie Mama: Four decades, four boys, for sure it’s a wild ride

By Michelle Cote

And there we have it; I’ve just turned 40, blinked and find myself full speed ahead in this mad, mad dash that is parenthood-times-four, mama to a large brood. Everyone who has ever had kids has uttered to others the ‘It goes by so fast’ or ‘The days are long, but the years are short’ adages, complete with the hearty sighs, the pats on the back.

Michelle Cote
You’ve heard it, you’ve said it, there’s a chance you’ve lived it.

And what I’ve learned is this – Indeed, those days of parenting little ones are long. The years, short. It indeed goes by wildly, beautifully, messily fast, like an accidental extra swipe of paint that misses its paper mark and swoops squarely across a fine piece of furniture like a Pollock design, or grass stain streaks across denim-covered knees – all at once both slow motion and lightning speed – I’m still in relatively early stages of discovering just how quickly by it goes.

Like the daily laundry spin cycle which convinces you there must be people living in your home you haven’t yet met, life’s a spin cycle. It’s wet socks and pungent soccer jerseys.

Pockets full of surprises.

But of the most rewarding variety.


My name is Michelle Cote, and I’m thrilled for the opportunity to return to writing this column after a bit of hiatus to share some anecdotal tongue-in-cheek mama musings with you.

My column’s ‘Rookie’ moniker derived from days of yore when this column first began nearly 12 years ago and I was, indeed, a legitimate rookie to all the things parenthood.

I’d just returned from my first maternity leave back to a daily newspaper where I served as creative director, when my publisher announced his readiness to launch a Sunday paper.

I’d just barely set down my traveling Medela and found myself already full speed ahead to deadline.

He wanted its material to cater toward young families.

I was inadequately rested, but I was rich in eagerness to share ideas, because I was newly immersed in this novel orbit and loving the whole new world.

I recommended we cover baby product safety. Include content about cultivating new family holiday traditions. Find advertisers who cater to young mamas and pops learning to navigate a wild new terrain with a newest plus one. Recipes. Baby registry navigation.

I wanted to be sure we included context that was real, relatable, useful.

From across the conference room table, my publisher folded his hands together, and said, ‘Okay, then. Why don’t you write one column. For our inaugural edition.’

I did.

And thus, ‘The Rookie Mama’ was born, mere months after my first son was.

The ‘one column’ quickly pluralized and would continue weekly for several years.

And my baby son – he’s now 12.

Since that first sleepless era, there have been more.


And sleepless nights, too.

Today, my husband and I have four boys, all wonderfully distinct from each other and three years apart – 3, 6, 9, 12.

I’m constantly kept on my toes as I need to be mindful of their markedly different developmental ages, ranging from cribs to creative middle-school lingo.

Here’s what our wolf pack looks like: I have six clotheslines in constant use with garments ranging from Baby Shark onesies to lacrosse jerseys.

What appears to be a deck of cards in my wallet is in fact a stack of insurance IDs, almost necessitating a wallet of its own.

I’ve been changing diapers for 12-plus years, and, under no circumstances can I have nice things in the house on display. Potted plants have migrated to our greenhouse – more on that later – and far, far away from our window sills.

I double every recipe. Sometimes triple, if I wish to be kind to myself facing a week of sports practices and zero meal prep moments.

Witnessing my tribe of littles in full-on light saber battles clad in pirate hats and quoting ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ on a weekend morning is totally normal.

Quiet in the house is what’s worrisome.

I’ve learned a lot since the early ‘Rookie Mama’ days when we were a party of three.

We’ve since doubled that recipe, too.

Since my first column was published in 2011, I’ve since quadrupled my labor and delivery output, and my meal planning modus operandi is a bit more on point.

My packing-for-camp list-making has become a well-oiled machine with practice, because I’ve got the trials and tribulations learned along the way to show for it, my friends.

I’ll certainly draw from these experiences as I share these shenanigans with all of you, but I hope that most of what I write can be applied to all families, regardless of gender, regardless of quantity. I’ll share frugal living tips, minimalist goals, handy cooking ideas, favorite game-changer hacks, crafty concepts, all peppered with nuggets of wit and unapologetic puns.

I’m still learning, still a rookie in many ways.

Each of my kiddos are extraordinarily different and have different needs, and we’re all evolving together as we remember they’re learning how to be kids, and we’re learning how to be parents.

I’m still a rookie mama from ‘son’ up to ‘son’ down, one among the many in this beautiful, unpredictable life.

– Michelle Cote lives in southern Maine with her husband and four sons, and enjoys camping, distance running, biking, gardening, road trips to new regions, arts and crafts, soccer, and singing to musical showtunes – often several or more at the same time!

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