I started this post right after I published a post in July. And here we are, more than five months later. I can’t emphasize enough that time is a black hole when you have a child and two careers and a household to run and a special needs dog and you travel for your job and you have your own health issues and grief always looms large in the background with its #bff depression.
A friend of mine told me when I was still pregnant that it would be okay if I did not immediately love my son from the moment he was born. This friend also gave me a beautiful card about self care and retaining a sense of identity as I became a mother. I came home to that card and several other kind gestures when we brought our little nugget home from the hospital. I cried hard tears for a few minutes as I tore into the foil of some mini Snickers she and her partner left me. I find that chocolate is made better by the salt of one’s own tears.
When my labor was induced, I was prepared to navigate the difficult possibility that I would not immediately love this baby who had grown in my womb for 39 weeks and 6 days. I anticipated that I would feel ambivalent about him or maybe I would just be bewildered about the whole process. I spent many sleepless nights between bouts of getting up to pee and squirming endlessly in bed trying to get comfortable worrying that I might have to raise some snot-nosed kid I didn’t love all that much for 18 years and then probably pay for his college.
And by the time I was finally in labor, all I could focus on was getting the baby outside my body. We could deal with everything else later, just give me my body back. Little did I know at the time that there is no such thing as “getting your body back” after you’ve had a child. You get a new body instead, and you keep your old clothes shoved in the back of your closet, and you try to shove yourself into them once in a while, and then you cry into a chocolate bar about how you’re never going to be the same shape ever again.
The first moment I was sure I loved my son was when his heart rate became dangerously low during my labor and my mind swirled with all the terrible things that could still happen, even as he was so close to entering the world. I loved him, and I wanted him safe because my arms ached to hold him and because I wanted to see the kind of human he could become.
And when my labor finally ended 24 hours after it began, I immediately felt white-hot-swallow-you-up-with-fire love for that critter whose first act as an autonomous being was to take a giant poop, even before the cord had been cut. They halfway wiped him off and stuck his little poo-covered naked body on my chest, and all the people in the room who had been testing my introverted patience just melted away. He was finally here. A perfect little poop monster.
More than one person had warned me that it was okay if it took a while to love him. Others had warned me that I might not be prepared—might not be able to prepare—for the overwhelming love I would feel for him. It turned out that was where I fell on the spectrum: I had no idea what I was getting myself into, no experience with a love so all-consuming that I could feel every cell in my body absorb it and fill up to bursting with it.
Those early hours and days are a blur in some ways. The days are long but the years are short… An obnoxious and true platitude. We are already nearly a year and a half into our son’s life, and that reality seems to defy the laws of physics, space, and time. I want to hit PAUSE, blow a whistle, call time out. How can it be speeding by so fast? He’s going to grow up, and we will never get these days back, because time marches on. That seems unfair, but it is bittersweet. As time zips forward without mercy, he changes and grows and learns—and there is nothing more magical than watching the electricity crackle through his brain as he blooms.
Our kid is persistent and precocious. People commented all.the.time. when he was an infant about how he didn’t seem like an infant, he seemed like a much older baby. From the moment he came into the world, he was often alert and awake, looking around, staring. He was this teeny, tiny baby with big, bright eyes that sucked in everything around him. We were fortunate that he did not have his days and nights mixed up, and he was alert during normal waking hours. It would have been less astonishing and amazing if he was observing the world around him at 3:00 a.m.
The first time the baby lion smiled in response to us, he was only a few weeks old. It was life-changing, and it definitely was not gas. He had to go to the pediatrician’s office for a one-month “well check,” where they would administer some vaccines, and make sure he was thriving outside the womb. His primary care physician is a pediatrician so lovely that it can be hard to schedule with her. Thus, you might end up scheduling with any pediatrician in the practice, just depending on which one is available. Leo’s one-month well check was with an older pediatrician (we’ll call him Dr. P., not to be confused with Master P, who would’ve definitely wielded a tongue depressor and made us all say, “Unnhh, Na na na na”) who had been in practice for decades. When our four-and-a-half-week-old smiled warmly at Dr. P., the old man clapped his hands in delighted surprise and exclaimed, “that is wonderful, I did not expect that today! He’s very young for that!”
Sometimes people would ask, “Does he ever cry?” And we would throw our heads back and laugh because he could strip the paint off the walls when he was angry, hungry, or just plain tired, and especially when he was hangry. He is still a happy-go-lucky baby who smiles easily and laughs often, but he has no problem expressing his discontent. He has one cry for when he’s especially tired or heartbroken where he folds his bottom lip all the way over and sucks in air in tiny gasps while he sobs.
For the first few months of his life, every sound he made provoked in me a primitive response. My brain flooded with hormones, my pulse raced, I became clammy and agitated. Only recently have I reached a place where I don’t have to fight the overwhelming urge to bust through a wall like a deranged Kool-Aid man every time I hear him get upset. That instinct was powerful, unlike any impulse I have ever experienced. Even just letting him cry in my partner’s arms—one of the safest places in the world for him—was torture, felt like my skin was coming off. Every square centimeter of my body and mind screamed, my heart pounded in my ears, and I imagined an epic battle between my rational brain and my lizard brain.
I picture my primitive brain as an angry Gollum, screaming in my face, “WE NEEDS TO PICK UP DE BAAAAAAABBBBBBBBBYYYYYYYYYYYYY!” Meanwhile, my rational brain is President Obama, cool and unmoved as it says, “Now, let me be clear. The baby, uh, is safe in Dada’s arms.”
I had no idea what kind of mother I would be until I became one, but it is not surprising to me where I landed. One word can sum up my parenting style, and my approach to nearly everything: RESEARCH. I can’t make uninformed decisions. It makes me itchy, hot, and uncomfortable. When it comes to parenting, sometimes making an informed decision means doing research and then following your instinct. Or doing research and choosing which side of an issue most aligns with your conclusions after the research and your gut feeling. Because LORD KNOWS, there is a side. There is nothing as polarizing as being a parent. I’m fortunate that my partner and I generally share views and agree on most things, though I have a fresh understanding of why the divorce rate is so high. Disagreeing with your co-parent on how to do things can turn your home into a battleground, and it’s especially draining when you’re already sleep-deprived.
Fortunately for us, we have this incredible kid who makes parenting fun most of the time. He has a wonderful sense of humor and goofs off a lot. We call him “goober,” “goob,” “goobalicious,” “goobie baby,” “Goob Gooberson,” “Goobie McGoobergoob,” and so on. We also call him any variation of ham, rattling off ham preparations like Bubba from Forrest Gump.
Ham sandwich. Ham salad. Christmas ham. Hot ham and cheese. Canned ham. Ham hock. Ham and beans. Easter ham. Hot ham water.
He is a major ham. He’s so big now, and he hams it up for an audience.
Somehow, we created a tiny extrovert.
Yet, he is also perfectly happy to keep to himself, and loves to independently “read” books and play with toys and explore. Even when he was very small, he loved to be laid down on his own to kick his feet and wiggle his body and talk to the pattern on the curtains or the toys nearby or whatever he felt like talking to. Like most babies, he never cared much for tummy time and we didn’t push the issue,* but if he was in a comfortable position he would happily lay by himself for long stretches of time from an early age. We coupled that with lots of babywearing, skin-to-skin (seeing your bare-chested partner with your tiny nekkid baby buttoned up inside their shirt is one of life’s greatest joys), snuggling, co-sleeping, and other attachment-based activities, and our baby was laid back and relaxed.**
Our son is so much more fun than we ever imagined he could be, and we are the luckiest to be his parents. He is a whole, fully-formed person and had opinions all his own from even before he entered the world. Toward the end of my pregnancy, he would shove a limb up into my rib cage, I would shove it out, he would kick and punch all his limbs in every direction and then go right back to that same spot.
Every day is a new adventure, learning about his quirks and watching him grow—sometimes seemingly overnight. He has been fiercely determined to do everything himself since he was tiny (no idea where he gets that, lulz), and we usually try to let him. That has often meant taking a long time*** to do things instead of taking over for him and doing it on his behalf. It often means food gets flung all over the house as he works to navigate his fine motor skills. The dog especially appreciates the food situation, and has actually been conditioned to beg us for the leftovers on his tray. We got into the habit of setting his tray down on the floor to let her lick it clean out of convenience and because we’re suckers for her big brown eyes.
Except now, she fixates on that tray. This morning, when I came down early to start my day, she got my attention to follow her, and I was sure she must be totally out of water or about to pee on the floor. Nope. She was just letting me know that the baby’s tray was still on the table from last night, and she was here if I needed her, ya know, to help clean up.
Although I have to referee to keep him from feeding her an entire sleeve of crackers, to keep her from stealing cheese from his hands, and to keep him from being too rough with her, their relationship is incredible to watch. She will be 10 years old in October 2017, and her aging scares me. I’m hopeful that she’ll live long enough for him to have even faint memories of her.
He is already an animal lover, which is really important to me. I mean, if there’s anything that could make me not love my own child, it’s them not loving animals. Dealbreaker.
* Tummy time is a fairly recent phenomenon, brought about as a result of the “Back to Sleep” campaigns that sought to impact babies’ safety through implementing safe sleep environments, which is particularly relevant to formula-fed babies who sleep alone. Given that babies had been learning to roll over and develop other gross motor skills since the dawn of time without tummy time, which only gained popularity in the 1990s, we opted to trust our baby. We also loosely follow many of the tenets of a parenting style called “RIE Parenting,” and got validation for our instincts from resources there. We half-heartedly did tummy time here and there, and he sometimes did it at daycare, but it was not a major focus for us. Leo was crawling by nine months and walking two weeks after his first birthday.
** It’s important for me to acknowledge our privilege here, as a couple with resources and a relationship that enabled us to take an attachment-theory approach to early parenting. We were fortunate and privileged to be able to do that. There are two of us, and we both were willing and able to make personal and relationship sacrifices to create that space. I was able to breastfeed through a LOT of persistence, part of which was a function of my privilege: I have great insurance that enabled me to consult in my home with a lactation consultant who is also a pediatric nurse practitioner. I also had three months off work, during which time I was able to focus on breastfeeding and bonding with my son—a true luxury in our behind-the-times culture.
***Again, acknowledging privilege. I work from home unless I’m traveling and Matt holds an executive-level position. We are fortunate to not have the stress of “clocking in” or potentially being fired if we are running late.