We’ve got babies on the brain around here lately. Well, I should say that Jeff has had babies on the brain since the minute Forrest was born—he’s had a raging, ferocious case of baby fever for about 18 months now, and started asking when we could have a second child when Forrest was 2 weeks old (my response, regrettably, was something like, “Are you joking?! I still have stitches! Leave the room. Now.”)—and the recent births of a new nephew and a few friends’ babies in the past few weeks have me reflecting on my experience becoming a mom. And with one friend after another announcing pregnancies nearly every day, we must be in the middle of baby season.
Motherhood is quite the conundrum. Before becoming a parent, I didn’t expect it to be so wonderful and so difficult; so simple but so confusing; so frustrating and so joyful, all at the same time. It sure started out rough for me. The decision to become a mother was not one I made quickly or easily, and the transition from taking care of just myself to taking care of a screaming, crying, writhing, colicky hellion was, honestly, quite horrible. I hate to admit it, but I did not enjoy much of Forrest’s infancy—he was a beautiful, healthy baby, but he wasn’t easy to live with, and I didn’t adjust particularly well to the constant demands of a newborn. Toss in a family history of depression (including, somewhat ironically, the grandfather for whom Forrest is named), and I shouldn’t have been surprised to find myself feeling miserable and unhappy. As time has passed, though, and Forrest has developed from a screeching hellcat to a mellow, cheerful, hilarious little marshmallow, (not to mention my own acceptance of some big, permanent changes to my lifestyle, routine, and daily habits) I’ve been incredibly grateful to have him in our family and to have the chance to learn and grow right along with him. What truly felt like a life sentence during those first difficult months now feels like the greatest blessing I could possibly imagine.
Top 5 little victories:
1. Teaching him to sleep through the night. I take full credit for that, and it’s probably my greatest accomplishment in life so far.
2. Getting hugs and kisses without asking for them. There’s nothing sweeter than watching him toddle in my direction to collapse on me and give me a sloppy kiss.
3. Watching him laugh and play with his cousins, his aunts and uncles, and his grandparents.
4. Knowing I’ll still love him, even after 3 months of nonstop crying or, more recently, temper tantrums and complete meltdowns in the grocery store.
5. Wanting more kids, even after a very rocky start with this one.
Top 5 little defeats:
1. Allowing well-meant but insensitive comments to upset me during his colicky stage (such as, “I hope you get a better baby next time!” and “I’m glad he’s getting easier—you looked so miserable earlier!”).
2. Being told by my doctor that I had postpartum depression. So much for my delusional, misguided pre-baby visions of blissful, easy parenting.
3. Not accepting offers of help from friends (hot dinners, an afternoon of babysitting, an understanding shoulder to cry on during tough days . . . why did I turn it all down?).
4. Stressing and crying and fighting my way through colic instead of just waiting it out and trusting that things would get easier.
5. Not living near my family sooner. There’s nothing I could have done to change that, but it still hurt.
Top 5 awesome things he does:
1. High-pitched squealing instead of laughing.
2. Walking around with a phone—or anything, really—pressed up to his head, babbling.
3. Handing us the remote when we’re watching a “boring” show and expecting Curious George to pop up instead.
4. Unwavering devotion to his precious blankie.
5. Once again, hugs and kisses.
6. (Couldn’t stick to just 5.) Getting his blankie and lying down on the floor when he’s ready for a nap.
7. (Last one, I swear.) Grabbing a washcloth and cleaning up his own spills. We’ve got this kid trained.
Top 5 baby purchases:
1. Target brand diapers. The absolute best.
2. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Best $10 we’ve ever spent. That boy could—and occasionally does—watch this movie all day long.
3. Footie pajamas. Ain’t nothin’ cuter than a little boy in footies.
4. Crib mirror. It’s been hanging in his crib for well over a year and he still loves talking to his reflection.
5. Cradle swing. The only place he’d sleep for 4 months straight. This thing is worth its weight in gold.
Top 5 conflicting feelings that come with being a mom:
1. Missing sleeping in on the weekends vs. seeing that adorable smile when he wakes up at 6:30.
2. Being proud of him as he grows and learns vs. getting misty-eyed over his floppy, ooey-gooey baby pictures.
3. His adorable over-the-top excitement when daddy gets home vs. jealousy that he’s not that excited when I get home.
4. Pride that he handles being babysat so well vs. insecurity that he doesn’t love us enough to be upset when we leave.
5. Resentfulness over giving up the many freedoms of a childless life vs. gratefulness for the big and little events and moments that come with motherhood.
Top 5 traits I hope I can help him develop:
1. Kindness, even to those who don’t seem to deserve it.
2. Courtesy and respect.
Top 5 tidbits of mothering advice I should have listened to sooner:
1. He’s a real person, not a little toy or programmable robot. He’ll have good days and bad days and react unpredictably, and that’s fine.
2. Just chill out. Everything will turn out okay. Really.
3. The birth itself--and breastfeeding, diapering, sleep program, etc.--are not the be all and end all of motherhood. There are many, many, many more important things to focus on. 20 years from now, no one (especially your kid) will care if you breastfed for 2 weeks or 2 years, or swathed his little bum in a cloth diaper or a storebought diaper. Focus on what matters most: time spent together, the values you want to pass on, letting him know he’s loved.
4. Crying—even excessive crying—is not the end of the world.
5. Crying in the mall, in the grocery store, in church, or on a plane also is not the end of the world. If it’s bothering someone, that’s their problem. Just do your best and stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking about you and your parenting skills (or apparent lack of parenting skills).
1. Compliments from strangers. Although I don’t know how much credit I can take for his good looks (since he doesn’t look remotely like me), I’ll never get tired of hearing people tell me how cute that little bugger is.
2. A trip to the store alone or an afternoon at a salon while dad’s at home with the baby has never been so fun, relaxing, or rejuvenating before.
3. Realizing I miss him after a few hours apart.
4. A handy excuse to wear favorite clothes that have been stained. I like to pretend my clothes are splattered with fresh, baby-related spills that happened just now instead of 4 years ago at Burger King.
5. Buying sugar-laden snacks. I’d feel guilty buying a 2-pound bag of Red Vines just for me, but hey, we’re sharing it.