It’s been twenty-one months since I first found out I was pregnant, twelve months since our baby was born, nine months since I returned to work, five months since he started daycare. To say the past two years have flown by is an understatement. I still remember in month six of pregnancy when we were still in the midst of putting together his nursery how far away having a baby seemed. I used to stare at the small mattress in his room and try to picture him there, a swaddled baby with a mystery face that would morph in my imagination from Steven’s mouth to my eyes to his nose – a mish-mashed image created from my wandering thoughts and the grainy Dave & Buster’s “make-a-child” photo affixed to our fridge.
Every weekend was spent trekking from one baby store to the next, as we pored over online reviews of the best baby monitor and safest stroller, choosing swaddling blankets as if pale blue elephants instead of race cars would make a marked difference in his life. The list of “necessities” had been compiled from the advice of every mom and family friend I could survey. I had no idea what half of the things were and wondered how many of them would actually be put to use (turns out, all of them). Looking back, our time would have been better spent less on paint swatches and curtains and more on sleep and quality time with one another. In those first few months the perfect nursery served little more than a nice backdrop to vomit/poo clean-ups and sleep deprivation. A year later, I’m finally able to take a breath and see our experience with different eyes. With all of the ups and down, the only emotion that has remained constant is a sense of awe – I’m in constant amazement at the person that we created, his daily development, and his little personality emerging. Willful and full of wonder, he attacks every new obstacle with no fear and a five-toothed (and counting) smile. To wake up every morning and remember that he’s sleeping in the next room is like coming out of a good dream and realizing that the dream is a real.
There have been many times this year when self-doubt has crept its way into my mind. Questioning whether we were ready to have a baby, questioning in month five of his ongoing illnesses, not eating, and stagnant weight gain if we were doing something wrong. Times after an entire seven days of sickness and fever, when I’d stare at his face with sunken cheeks and tired eyes and feel his shoulder bones as I held him in my arms – questioning if it was our fault. Because that’s the hardest thing about being a parent – the responsibility of making decisions for your child, from day one on every aspect of his life. Deciding whether to breastfeed, how to sleep train, when to put them in daycare, whether to give them medication – the choices are dizzying. You have to play detective/scientist/doctor – study the situation, read the books, consult with as many people as possible, then ultimately make a decision where, unlike every other decision you make in life, you have no idea whether you helped or hurt the problem. A baby’s body is hyper sensitive and constantly changing, and at any one point when something works, there’s no guarantee that it will still work in a week. You just have to tweak the formula and keep the frustration at bay.
There will always be long days, bad days – in fact, the long days outnumber the good ones. Days where work has beaten me to a pulp, I get home to a messy house, stumble through a disastrous dinner preparation (or a fast food pickup), struggle with a baby who refuses to eat and screams like a banshee when I try to put him down, cries through his bath, and fights me on sleep like it’s some sort of capital punishment. Even as I go to bed wondering how I’ll make it through another day, I begin to miss him. Three hours of peace without him and I start to wish he would wake up so I could play with him again. In the morning when I hear him stirring I’m like a kid on Christmas morning, rushing into his room to find him standing, hair tousled with his little arms outstretched over the rails. It’s my favorite part of every day, when I get to hold him again – to feel his arms wrapped around my neck and his cheek pressed against mine. Everything just melts away and the reset button is pressed once again.
On the day of his birthday I was excited to leave work and pick him up from daycare, it was like the beginning of a new holiday. Inside his classroom the teachers had him ready to go; they had crafted a green birthday hat for him – made of construction paper with “It’s My Birthday” written in crayon on a circular badge on the front. He greeted me with excitement and I was surprised the hat was still intact; anything touching the face or head region usually got ripped off by curious hands in less than a minute. “Beckett had a great day!” They handed me a construction paper birthday card that all of his teachers and baby classmates had “signed” – adorable. My parents came over that evening with a takeout feast, small balloon, and cookie monster cupcake for him. Just like at his party the weekend prior, he gingerly touched the icing with his finger then shied away. No interest – he definitely inherited the sweets aversion from his dad. We ate dinner together with him agreeable and happy in his high chair, a rare occurrence. As I watched him pick up bite-sized morsels of carrots and chicken from his tray, I found myself again in awe that my sweet newborn who a year ago could barely open his eyes was now able to feed himself, and smile proudly at me while doing so.