The Baby Year


Warning: the following post may not be suitable for people without children, or those for whom it has been over two years since the child’s birth and for whom words like ‘newborn’, ‘postpartum’, and ‘colic’ do not cause flinching.

A little over a year ago, I read a blog post by a mother who had reached the one-year post-partum milestone. She was honest. She was tired and transformed, and her marriage had been tested. Her words frightened me a little. I was staring down the biggest challenge of my life (or as much of it that was visible beyond my awkward mountain-belly). Still, I was in pre-baby denial that I or my husband would succumb to any of the tsunamis that seemed to crush and bash and sometimes entirely obliterate lesser, weaker, and inferior new parents. We were going to rock this parenting shiz like nobody’s business and barely notice the shift to our new lifestyle.
Yeah, well I am a dipshit about things sometimes.
There are a lot of things I didn’t know a year ago. Such as:
1) Newborns really need to stay the eff inside of a uterus for another three months, but because of humans’ brain size, they can’t. This sucks, because I am not a uterus even though I tried really damn hard to sound and act like one. S was not fooled. She screamed a lot for 3 (5) months.
2) Once you have a baby of your own, a sort of science fiction movie effect happens when you look at all other infants and children and somehow your child’s face is superimposed on them all: at the grocery store, in the swimming pool, on the nightly news. This explains the mothers’ and grandmothers’ behaviors in the checkout line at stores, but for awhile I was mystified that war continued in a world with mothers and children.
3) Oatmeal looks a lot like boogers. FYI.
4) Kids can start walking at 9 1/2 months.
5) Babies loooooooove plastic bags so much that you actually need the reminder-of-death-by-suffocation warning on all bags (that I used to mock before). Plus, babies think toys are dumb after 5 minutes, but the box and ribbon and plastic or tissue paper they come in are awesome forever.
6) It’s possible you will not have sex for three-month stretches, even if that sounds like misery to you pre-baby. Dammit. (Though, sometimes the thought of getting pregnant again might alone be an excellent form of birth control.)
7) Drive-thrus are not just for lazy people. They are for sleep-deprived mothers with baby-vomit-stained sweatpants on, who forget to put a bra on their size HH leaking boobs, and really really really dear jesus help me, need a cup of coffee, a muffin, and 20 minutes of sitting still.
8) It’s true. They do *grow so fast*. They are *so big* every time you see them after a couple weeks. Your feeble parent-brain will make you repeat these cliches over and over.
9) You think you know what you will do when you have a baby: nurse for 3 years, not nurse past 6 months, never talk in baby-talk, always get down on the floor and babble and play with your exploring child, co-sleep with your baby, put your baby in a crib, never be the mom with the screaming baby, never be the mom with the screaming toddler, never let your child watch TV, never give your child whiskey to help them sleep, etc. However, sleep-deprivation torture changes your story. But most importantly, you haven’t met your baby yet. Turns out they are an important variable in this parenting equation.
10) It is hard. You figure it out. Your instincts are right. Follow them when other parents or doctors or lactation consultants or gas station attendants give you advice. You know your child best. Remember that.

We celebrated S’s first year with a playdate with our best buds, a couple of beers the night before with some good buds, and some low sugar whole grain carrot cake (most of this health fest ended up on the floor…OKAY…I ate half the cake) with grandparents. It wasn’t all about S. She has done some hard work this year. We have, too, and we celebrated the fact that we did not kill, maim, divorce, or punch each other (well, S punched me and C a couple of times, but she didn’t mean it…I don’t think.) And we celebrated our new family that is learning to be a family all the time. I will say what everyone has ever said to me about having kids: It’s worth it.
S is hilarious sometimes. She is curious and hyper. She is adorable and strong. She doesn’t have any brakes, so she has lots of bruises. She likes birds and plants and dirt. She hugs teddy bears and tries to talk to little people who are her size. I have to run to keep up with her now. I like her. I am sorry that she seems to have inherited my flat butt.
One thing that has changed now that S is one is that I am no longer a NEW MOM. Sure, I still have moments when the gas pedal on my VW bug of a brain is pushed flat out as I chug up a steep learning curve. Most days I have an “oh shit!” moment when I realize something like the fact that I am going to have to teach my child to sit on a toilet and let things loose or that I am going to have to buy shoes and coats that fit EVERY YEAR until she’s 17. Or 20. Twenty? I don’t even know what that number means. But, I have been broken-in and I’ve mastered some basics like Mom to Mom sales, multi-tasking, planning 2 months in advance or seizing opportunities at the last minute with an abrupt change of plans. I know how to pack a diaper/lunch/toy/medication/change of clothes bag every time we leave the house. I can’t flash the New Mom Card every time I am late or leave the windows down on the car in a rainstorm anymore (though, I now have a Toddler Card, which gets me a few places).
It’s been a year of initiation and sacrifice. It’s been a year of rapid growth. I am truly a different person, and I am still struggling with that, but I am thrilled to be moving on from The Baby Year, because I feel like what is ahead is a whole lot more sharing of who each of us is (all three) and getting to know each other. S rides along with me in the jogging stroller while I get some fresh air and a light workout. She walks around the garden saying, “Woww!” and eating dirt as I weed and plant seeds. She listens when I talk sometimes and I do the same when she babbles something very exciting she wants to share. It’s good to be here. We have been ‘crushed’ and ‘bashed’ and we are not ‘the shiz’ we thought we were, but we are doing OK. I’m glad we made it!
How could you look at those little cheeks and not say, “It’s worth it!”?

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Some Thoughts on A Year of Nursing

Most of my experiences with breastfeeding have taken me totally by surprise. The 1st 2.5 months, looking back, I have no idea how I nursed with open wounds and thrush on my nipples. The only thing I have to explain it is instinct and stubbornness. Around 7 months, with the nipples healed and S’s projectile vomiting due to my oversupply finally over, I started to appreciate nursing and really enjoy it more than I had expected. Plus, S didn’t really start eating solids until 10 months, so it was a relief to know she wasn’t starving (Hahahahaha!) S wasn’t interested when we tried solids at 6 months and continued to offer them regularly. I was glad to have nursing to make sure she was getting everything she needed. I didn’t choose to exclusively breastfeed for 10 months, but here was this child that was signaling to me that that was how it was going to go. From very early on, I thought that S would be such a busy toddler that she would wean around a year. (Also, before parenthood, I had this erroneous view that I alone was ‘the decider’ about things like how long I nursed and where and when my child slept… I wasn’t aware of how important a baby’s temperament is in making these decisions).

I didn’t think seriously about the details of extended breastfeeding until recently. If I had been pumping, I am pretty sure I would have stopped at a year or sooner, but nursing on demand is a different story. When S got the stomach flu at 10.5 months, it occurred to me that I want that option when this kid gets sick, if possible. Now I am thinking it would be great to nurse her through next flu season if she doesn’t wean herself because it is soothing to a miserable child and provides nutrients and fluids when they are hard to keep down. It’s probably relaxing to an anxious mother, as well. Now that she IS a toddler, I realize how much she needs to nurse and probably won’t wean soon. Her “dive head first” personality seems to be soothed and balanced by nursing sessions. Plus, she still only has four teeth and just doesn’t always love solids enough…she is getting much of her nutrition from breast milk, still.)

I have moments when I consider how weaning would free me up and allow me to have some of my old self back. It would, I hope, open up opportunities for S to get more caregiving from her father and others. I get anxious that time is ticking and my identity is melting away (Ahhhghgh!) into the time-suck that is full-time caregiving. (suck…haha) But sometimes I realize that this relationship I have with her will change so fast and too soon. I feel fortunate to be able to do this for her, and yet very impatient with how it limits me sometimes. Because of a discussion among mothers on Facebook, I am working on enjoying the Zen-nature of this experience and appreciating the circumstances that allow me to cultivate that kind of attitude about nursing.

Then there is the POWER OF THE BOOB to solve most problems. I am too lazy to give up the magic boob that does most of my parenting for me right now. Way too damn lazy! I must admit. 🙂

There is the cultural aspect of nursing a toddler. I actually have been picking up on some discomfort in others when I nurse a toddler. (S started walking before she had any teeth and before really eating solids.) But I just don’t give a rip. Two days ago, we were in a park and S needed (I thought) desperately to nurse, relax, and nap, but was refusing. I did what always works at home: I laid on my back on the ground and lifted my shirt and flashed the boob and let her crawl all over me and nurse. I kind of surprised myself. No one was nearby really, and it just needed to be tried. She doesn’t nurse in public much, so that reduces opportunities for comments or glares, which is a great thing because this is what nursing looks like for us right now:
*car seat/ I lean over and nurse her before a car ride home from playing when she is exhausted and hungry or we are on a long family trip…and I half expect truck drivers to honk if they catch a glimpse
*nurse to sleep on the couch around 10/11 AM, both of us prostrate, watching PBS cartoons, when she’s cranky and ready for a nap but can’t settle down (happening right now)
*nurse on the living room floor in the evening when she is wound up and cranky and hungry, me on my back, she constantly climbing and moving and kicking her legs, and taking breaks to tell me something as milk dribbles down her face and all over the place
*nurse to sleep at night and at nap time in bed if we are home
*very rarely does she ever lay in my arms, still, and quietly nursing like all the pictures I see in PSAs and LLL media.

In my dream world I go back to teaching middle school English in September and all of this situation changes. For now we are just going with the flow. (flow…haha)
I have so many mixed emotions about this. I think all of the parents I know are doing a grand job with their children. Choices about parenting are saddled with guilt and self-doubt. We do what we think and feel is right for our children and try to preserve our own sanity in the meantime. You might wean your child earlier or later than you expected because none of this parenthood stuff is what you expected anyway. I say enjoy it as much as you can and karate-kick any guilt monsters in the fangs if they show up. Or ask me to. I am probably better at kicking other people’s guilt monsters than my own.

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OMG My Baby is Mobile and My Life is Over

Cheeks (a new nickname S got from a friend last weekend) is crawling and cruising. She is also tumbling and head bashing. She is also not napping longer than 20 minutes. (That’s just enough time for me to check email while she falls deep enough into sleep for me to take my boob from her, go pee, drink 2 glasses of water, and scarf something to eat while shoving laundry into the washer.) I haven’t had time to do anything, especially writing. Boo.

Here are some random thoughts that have been on repeat in my head lately:

I’ve run several marathons. I’ve backpacked for many days over mountains. I’ve hauled a stupid chainsaw two miles into the woods every morning and out again every evening for two weeks while working on trails in northern MI. But I am EXHAUSTED after chasing, flipping, and holding my 23 pound child during diaper changes.

My kid isn’t in love with solid foods yet. She eats three spoonfuls every day and then quits the business in the high chair. I don’t have any concerns that she will grow up and not like food. What is the idea (that the pediatric nurse is all worried about)? That the kid will wean and only be able to drink SlimFast for the rest of her life? A friend sent me a text message today that said something like, “Wanna come over and let the babies play with the dogs, maybe go for a walk, and have some cranberry cake and ice cream?” And I swear the words describing food GLOWED. My child will love food. No prob.

This whole Schweddy Balls boycott by the Million cranky moms is so much nonsense. That SNL skit is like the broccoli of humor. Everyone needs their green leafies. And I have yet to get my hands on some Schweddy Balls in this town. Kids should not be anywhere near the ice cream aisle, anyway. Geesh!

Naomi Wolf is giving me migraines with her book _Misconceptions…_ about pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. And I’ll probably keep reading it anyway because it is pretty much word for word my life. And yours. And everyone in The Motherhood. I can’t find it in ebook, though, so I won’t finish it until Cheeks is in kindergarten.

I heard a woman at the Y say, “I am free tonight. There’s a program on at 10 that I’d like to watch, but other than that…” It’s been five months since I’ve watched anything except 2.5 Weeds episodes in 10 minute intervals and a handful of Modern Family season 2, but I have to watch each episode three times before I see enough to understand them. I asked B if he thought that maybe when Cheeks is 3 we might be able to watch a movie again.

I usually have profound thoughts in the car.

That’s it. I have to sleep. Hang tough, mommas. Or hang ten.

Deep Breath

As a parent, and especially the mom, it’s my job to worry and plan, two things that I’ve never really done in proportion to their need. It’s in my nature to worry too much and plan too little.

When I started teaching middle school, I got much better at both of these things. First, you simply must plan well when you are faced with 20 13 year-olds in a confined space every day for 180 days. Second, after waking up at 2 AM every morning awash with anxiety for several months my first year of teaching, I had to do something to stop worrying. And I did. I decided that I would either get up out of bed and take action, or if I could not solve the problem right then in the middle of the night, I would let myself forget about it, take lots of slow deep breaths, and fall back asleep. It got better.
Fast forward to mothering a 9 month-old. Both my worrying and planning take my mind, spinning like a gyroscope, to the outer reaches of my actual experiences. If I let my worry and planning take me away, I find myself in strange lands, surrounded by unfamiliar and imagined creatures, landscapes, and dangers. Instead of sticking with plans to start saving for college, or limiting my worries to things like actual high fevers or actual bleeding cuts, I drift way out and worry that my child is autistic because she rubs everything on her face while she does a little seated dance. I need to do some work.
I used to think of teaching middle school as a kind of spiritual practice. All day long I was presented with small challenges that got in the way of my plan or agitated my ego: an angry student, a needy coworker, an unscheduled fire-drill. My challenge was to condition myself to act and react in ways that were helpful and put out the fires of drama rather than stoke them. All around me were lots of people who were fanning the flames of drama. There were plenty of opportunities to get a spiritual workout.
Funny, that habit hasn’t necessarily carried over naturally into my current situation. There are plenty of reasons why, but one reason is that this is all still very new. And I’m starting to understand that it’s never going to be all that predictable! So, it’s a new challenge that requires slightly different skills.
In some ways, I can do what I’ve always tried to do: pay attention only to the worries that I can act on. “Oh my god I think my baby hates me and is bored with her life and isn’t getting enough stimulation she’s going to fall short of her potential and live a life of regrets oh my god!” really should be, “okay  kiddo, time to get out of here and go play…maybe we can pick up a new book, too.”
Or, on another front, “oh no my husband doesn’t want to talk to me while he cooks dinner I can’t believe he doesn’t love me anymore and now our marriage is in tatters after having a baby and we will suffer through 18 years of stunted conversations and finally get a divorce when S moves out and goes to college because we’ll realize we have nothing in common anymore.” Instead of, “B must have had a long day at work. He would probably enjoy some time to chill out, cook dinner, and listen to the news for a little bit.”
You know what I mean. This is by no means a state of mind unique to me.
I’ve had this song on repeat in the car for two weeks:

Chris Smither, “Outside In” (“I know that you think worry is your ever-faithful friend/ ‘cuz nothing that you worry over ever happens in the end.”)

And with T-Day around the corner, I’m thinking about gratitude. Someone suggested to me that I pause before starting a new activity to realize the things I am grateful for right then. As I came home from a jog the other day and was walking up the walkway to the front door, I stopped for 5 seconds to consider my good fortune. My body and mind were refreshed by the quiet time and the endorphins. On the other side of the door were my two favorite people, both of whom would likely make me laugh countless times before the night was over.

So, that’s the plan. I’m one lucky mother. I want to dwell on that as much as possible.

Tongue Twisters

Yesterday I said, “breeze eathier” and didn’t notice. I didn’t notice until B broke my tense moment with a smile and repeated what I had just said.

B and I were having another intense conversation about Thanksgiving Day travel plans and I was confirming that we would be visiting my family…but I must have said (I don’t remember) “Christmas” instead of “Thanksgiving” and B replied in frustration, “What does Christmas have to do with this!?”

Either my husband is playing cruel tricks on me or I have some serious potholes on the highway from my brain to my mouth. And both are likely.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to put my thoughts into words merely for the rehabilitative effect that it might have on my faltering mind. I think it was starting to work.

I haven’t written anything (anywhere) in a while and I’ve noticed my articulatory skills waning in effectiveness. Plus, I can’t talk.

In the meantime, little S-chop has started some creative babbling. I talk back to her in babble. Maybe that’s not helping.

So, back to the keymoards for be. I’m going to give it my shest bot. And until it gets better I’m going to blame it on baby growth spurts and teething, which are to blame for everything.