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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It’s Not All Beer and Skittles

People won’t tell you this. New moms are too sleep-deprived and guilt-ridden to do it. And if someone hasn’t had a baby recently, they’ve forgotten. Having a baby means giving up lots and lots of really good stuff. Everyone always goes on and on about how amazing their lives are now that they have kids. Empty nesters and ticking biological clocks coo and talk baby talk at your infant. They want to hold and show off their baby jedi mind whispering tricks. Don’t get me wrong; I completely understand the enthusiasm. Babies are adorable. And fun.

But let me tell you that when you are a new mom you just might, maybe will, possibly let a tiny thought or two creep into your sleep-deprived swiss-cheese mind about how life would be without a baby. AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Here are a few of the things I miss now that I have a baby:

1) Conversation. My husband and I used to spend hours (HOURS!) in the kitchen or on the couch talking about life. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but it was fun to talk. F-U-N. But that was like the holy Grail of conversation. I also miss having a conversation with, like, anyone. I used to be able to listen and ask questions. I used to have room in my mind to think about you and your problems when you were in my presence, not just the drooling, pooping, jumping squirmer in my arms. Now, even if my child is sleeping while I am with a friend, I am twiddling my brain, scared that she is going to wake up, and for that I must have a plan. Will she be happy? Will she need to eat? Will she scream her head off and need to go pull some flowers off of the plants outside?

2) Going to the bathroom like a regular person. I remember when I used to be able to pee or poo whenever necessary. Now, at home, most of the time I can put S down and take a quick pee without her sticking out her cute little lip and pout-scream crying. If I don’t take care of my ‘other business’ while she’s asleep, I have a baby rocker chair (that she hates) that I put her in. Nevermind that it has vibrations and swingy toys for her, she will arch and grunt her way out of it, and I still have to multitask a number two sometimes. And then there’s the road trip. When we need to go somewhere (like Massachusetts) I stop all consumption of liquids and hold it until peeing into a Gatorade bottle starts sounding like a appropriate action to take. There’s also the car seat hater issue. Sometimes S is a rock star in the car seat and handles it like a cool baby. Sometimes she wants to punch it in the face. Once, we had to pull over into an apartment complex on the way home from grocery shopping because she hated life so much she started choke crying 30 seconds from Meijer. It’s not just terrible crying. She STOPS BREATHING. So, I don’t drive through it. On this particular occasion, I pull into this city apartment complex and jump jump jump the baby on my lap in the car for awhile. It’s HOT out. We sit there while she’s happy for a good 30 minutes, which is about as long as I ever want to wait between pees. I have to pee. There’s a car insurance place to my left, the apartments are in front of me, and a fenced in area where the recyclables and garbage go. Perfect! That’s where I nonchalantly squat, pull my skort over to the side, while holding my 18 pound baby, and pee. Right behind the PET #1 and #2 plastic bottle bin. Then I put her in her car seat and swung her between my legs for 10 minutes so she’d relax enough to ride home. Pretty sure no one noticed us.

3) Chewing. Ever since I gave birth it seems that someone has hit the accelerator on my life. I go pee fast. I fold the laundry fast. I read instruction manuals fast. I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a little over one minute. When you are a new nursing mother it is a fact of life that you won’t notice that you are starving(!) until just seconds before you pass out. But what really gets me is when I am putting together some kind of lunch in the kitchen and S starts to whine like she’s a little teapot about to blow and I’ve got to get as many calories in as I can before my hands are full for another hour and forty-five minutes. I have almost choked more times than I can count in the last 6 months.

4) Words. I love words. I used to use more of them. At the appropriate time. I think I said something to my husband about how we ‘pretendered’ today. (My brain showed up to the conversation with “pretended” in its left hand and “remembered” in its right and a really confused look on its face. I couldn’t stop it from coming out of my mouth. I should be happy. Most of the time there isn’t even a dumb fake word available to me.

6) Reading. Someday I would love to read a book again. ┬áIt took me three weeks to listen to Tina Fey’s audio version of Bossypants. (Okay, I confess, I haven’t heard the last CD yet.) I’ve been reading The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver for at least three months. I’m on page 73. I get the Christian Science Monitor every week, and when I get to read an article (or paragraph) I feel as if I’ve been sitting on my brain wrong and it’s fallen asleep, but then I move and the blood is starting tingle its way back in.

7) Doing stuff. I really miss being able to do something when I realize it needs to be done, like call the insurance company, put more rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom, or pluck the lone ranger hair that grows out of my chin every three months. But I also miss expressing my urge to create in any of the ways I used to: knitting, letter writing, drawing, playing guitar, gardening, or baking. I know it won’t be like this forever, but I feel creatively constipated always having to let my ideas and intentions get blown away by Hurricane Boo boo.

You thought I was going to say that I miss drinking wine ’till I’m dizzy, going out to dinner, and sex. Okay, I kind of miss going out to dinner. These are really just tiny details. The child changes your life and marriage and role in this world so drastically you can’t really understand it until you’re there. When I was pregnant, I was worried about getting to run several times a week and getting eight hours of sleep; not *chewing*. New motherhood is crazy.

I watched a couple holding hands walking down the sidewalk yesterday. The woman was obviously pregnant. I imagined a reality tv show soundtrack and the voice-over interviewees describing their hopes and dreams for parenthood…and then a tiny atom bomb and mushroom cloud replaced the serene couple there on the sidewalk.

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