The 7 Things I Learned in My First Year of Parenting…Part 2

The 7 Things I Learned in My First Year of Parenting…Part 2

I suppose that was more than a little context.

I’m all about context. Just ask my husband.

 

The 7 Things I Learned in My First Year of Parenting:

 

1. The Number of things we can do with one hand is truly remarkable.

 

Maybe I just never payed attention, or hadn’t had numerous opportunities to enact this talent before (or hadn’t spent countless hours holding a tiny human the size of a small watermelon within the alcove of my left arm) – but I found myself consistently awe-struck at the number of things I could do with one hand. Making bottles for example… pouring with accuracy. Fixing the nipple inside the cap. Tightly screwing on the lid.

Folding laundry. Putting on make up. Straightening my hair. Sending emails. Emptying the dishwasher.

Not chopping vegetables. I tried many times. Veggies need two hands.

 

 

At the root of it, this is really about adaptation. I was simply amazed at our innate ability to adapt. Adaptation to our surroundings. To new situations. To limitations. We do this incredibly useful skill, often without even realizing it. I remember walking through the check-out line at our local Sprouts, and as I reached up to enter my pin code, the cashier looked up at me, eyes wide, and said “oh my gosh…you must be so strong – I can’t even imagine doing that”.

I looked back at her, smiling (but also puzzled, because I had no idea what she was talking about), and then followed her gaze down to my left side, where I held my 9 month old son (clearly pushing the maximum density of his newborn car seat) in the crook of my elbow. Yes, it was not the best laid plan. And yes, I only ran in to grab a few things and instantly regretted that I carried him in his car seat, but the exchange reminded me of something. Just 2 weeks after we came home from the hospital, my sister, brother-in-law, and 1 year old nephew (Oliver) drove down to meet Hudson. My sister walked through our front door with a giant turquoise beach bag slung over her left shoulder and Oliver perched high up on her right hip. As she stood in the foyer, statuesque and totally unfazed, the first thing I said was, “oh my gosh, how are you holding Oliver like that?! Hudson is so tiny, and yet he somehow gets heavy…”. Her response? “Well, remember he didn’t start out this weight. You grow with them. Your biceps just…adjust…hahaha”…

We just, adjust. We learn to anticipate their needs. We start maniacally managing our time to optimize each minute. We pull weeds and pot plants with one hand. We make bottles in between chopping vegetables and change diapers anywhere. We carry bulky, awkward and incredibly heavy car seats.

We are adaptable, and this is a very special (also hugely necessary) gift.

 

2. If you can do just one thing, brush your teeth. If you can do two things, brush your teeth, then take a walk.

 

In the very beginning of Parenthood, time warps. Slows to a crawl, actually. It’s like one long sentence, punctuated with showers, quick meals and naps that aren’t nearly long enough. I think it feels like this because when you wake up numerous times each night, you feel as though you’ve lived multiple days within one. And each day is the same – the routine is the same. I remember it seeming like the days just blended together into one long existence. I couldn’t tell when one ended and the next began. People who met Hudson for the first time would say “Oh gosh, you guys enjoy this time, it just flies by – “. I’d smile, but quietly think to myself, “I’m sorry, are you mad? You can’t actually be serious. Every. single. second. feels like an eternity…”

Thankfully, this is just a period of time. As you get further and further from the actual “event” (the birth of your child), relativity shifts, and time picks up – faster and faster, until it starts to feel like it did before. But early on, the slow weeks start to wear on you.

In that very beginning period, two things saved me. The first, oddly enough, was the simple act of brushing my teeth.

 

 

Strange, I know.

I can’t fully explain it, except that it was a small, minute task that delivered massive impact. So much so, that I had to find ways to remind myself to do it. Brushing my teeth; this simple practice of self care was the task that marked an end to one day and a start to the next. It was a clean slate. Refreshed me. Made me feel human again. Even if just for a moment. I never fully understood the importance of moments until now. Ryan and I happened to catch comedian Tom Segura’s most recent special on Netflix; we both connect to his darker sense of humor. A little twisted, but honest. Real. Sarcasm with a sort of back-handed brilliance. Funny or not, one tiny little bit from his special sums this theory up beautifully:

“Now, I’ll be real with you. If you’re wondering about it, about parenthood, you’re gonna have no more time. It’s okay, ’cause you’ll still have momentsTime and moments are different. What’s time? Time is like, let’s say tomorrow you sleep in till noon, and then you eat food in bed. And then you go “F*** today”. And you go back to bed. You got a lot of time on your hands. Moments are like, you take a sip of something… “That’s good.” That moment is now over. See? You live in moments.”.

Personal pleasures, experiences, practices – these are temporarily constricted to moments. We live in moments. Brushing my teeth – this became a moment. And these little moments we get as new parents can make all of the difference.

Aside from brushing my teeth, getting outside my four walls was a second activity that always helped me to reset. Gave my days punctuation. Anytime I felt the four walls of motherhood closing in on me, I knew it was time to pop on the Ergo and take a lap around the block. The true beauty of walking is that it’s a change of scenery and a fresh perspective that really doesn’t cost us anything. Parent or not, it’s a tool that comes in handy anytime we need a quick interlude – something to mark an end to one period and the beginning of the next.

And it’s exercise, so, two birds.

 

3. You might think you know your spouse. You might think you know yourself. But you don’t…

Yet.

 

(you’ve got to give yourself some grace with this one)

 

If you had asked me before we had Hudson if Ryan and I ever fought, I would say hardly ever. Did we have healthy discussions? Of course. Sometimes did they get heated and intense? Absolutely. Especially when the subject matter fell within the realm of the two “F”s – Family, or Finances. These tended to elevate quickly. Still, we didn’t really fight. We talked things out, like rational, sensible adults.

And then we had my son. And we fought like siblings.

I mean, thankfully, no hitting or biting was involved (maybe a little melodramatic here) – moreover, it was the intensity. The intensity level of our conversations spiked, instantaneously. Even with just the smallest discussions, everything felt squeezed. Crushed. Strained to a level of panic – a constant redzone. I questioned it a lot, tried to figure out why all of a sudden we couldn’t communicate rationally, and then couldn’t hardly communicate at all anymore. Why couldn’t we just work together? Especially when it seemed like other new parents were doing it just fine. This got me down, because I’d always prided myself on the fact that communication was an area that I had excelled. And we were always on the same page. Always.

Two things. Comparison is, maybe the slipperiest of slopes. And looks can be deceiving.

Also, the more I stepped outside of “us”, I realized that while he and I had been stressed before, we had never really been in a stressful situation together. And not just a stressful situation, one that felt like we were trapped inside an instant pot, awake for 3 months straight, trying to escape with one hand tied behind our backs. (*Just to be clear, this isn’t what parenting feels like all of the time!). My point is, we were both in our own states of “panic”, and we couldn’t talk each other down. Neither knew the other’s weaknesses, nor had the tools to implement a plan to redirect. This, perhaps, is what other parents meant when they said we were just “surviving”, but, blame it on my (2.) Intellectualism, I wanted to figure out a better way. Sadly, my (1.) Perfectionism usually won out, and I would crumble into a pile of self doubt, comparing myself to others, and wondering what I had to do to be “better”.

 

 

Why do we do this to ourselves? Parenting is tough. It’s multifaceted. It’s basically on the job training. It’s like trying to build a skyscraper you just brought home from IKEA. It’s a puzzle that takes practice in order to be pieced together, and because it’s all new, one of the hardest things is the fact that there’s no real way to gauge; there just isn’t a lot of clear feedback in the beginning, no way to know if we are doing things “right”. So we search, endlessly, for ways to make sense of it.

Of course, by “we”, I mean “me”.

I can honestly say, after much thought, perfectionism and parenting really can’t be in the same sentence. Sure, this may seem obvious. But putting it into practice is really tough. When you begin to compare yourselves to others, try cycling back to the fact that all that matters is what is happening under your roof, and what is working for you – for your family. Every situation is different, and every child is different. I truly valued reaching out for ideas, connecting with other parents, getting suggestions from family. And I sincerely appreciated every suggestion, tip or moment of commiseration we had with other parents during this first year. More often than not, figuring it out was usually a mere matter of seeing what worked for our child. By just, experiencing it.

My husband is a problem solver, so this was really challenging for him. I have wrestled with anxiety and self doubt since childhood, so this was a big challenge for me, too.  The most helpful thing for us (again, through trial and error – but also lots of discussion) was determining each other’s sensitivities, our “triggers”, and then coming up with a game-plan to manage them. Identifying these vulnerabilities helped us immensely as we navigated parenting and the “state of the unknown” together. Outside of our new parenting life, I might never have known these triggers even existed for Ryan. I couldn’t have guessed that he unconsciously resembled Hulk if you woke him from a deep sleep in the middle of the night. And he hadn’t realized the power of my anxiety, because I had managed it – I knew my boundaries. It wasn’t until he saw me face some of my deepest fears. Then he knew.

This year we discovered new things about ourselves, about each other. These “growing pains” gave us the opportunity to confront our fears and made space for us to evolve – to change our perspective, and to deepen our human experience.

These are good things.

 

As humans, we so quickly label our struggles as “weaknesses”. Flaws. Personal failures. In the end, these are the things that actually make us stronger. That enable us to grow. And they would serve us much better if we saw them this way.

So we struggle a bit through it? We are doing it. And we are so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for.

 

4. Never underestimate the power of wipes.

 

Always have wipes. Stash them everywhere. Every bag, every car console, every nursery bin, between your couch cushions, under your armoire – inside every nook and cranny. You will dig for them. You will need them. And you will use them.

All of them.

 

 

Wipes. I think they might be my favorite discovery as a new parent. They are not sustainable. This is the one downside – probably my only complaint. But the function they serve is undeniable. I never bought wipes before becoming a parent. People who aren’t parents just don’t know what they’re missing here.

Wipes were a constant necessity through every phase of this first year – and probably beyond. Some of my best girlfriends with children a bit older than Hudson would chat via group text. There was a particular thread that involved discussion of what it’s like to live in a house with toddlers. Imagine a world, they said, in which everything you own gets covered…heavily adorned…saturated…with a tacky, sticky layer of gook. Of gunk. Ooooze.

One of those. Maybe a combo of all 3.

I remember reading this and thinking I could somehow avoid this state of affairs. Hudson wasn’t too messy just yet – maybe he’d just sort of bypass this phase? I would compartmentalize. I could keep things contained to a certain space, or corner, or cushion…

Wrong. So wrong. Snot streaking the sofa cushions. Boogers on the tufted ottoman. A cheesy layer of clingy, cheddary-gold dust peppering the duvet, followed by 5 tiny little straw-colored finger prints. A swathe of crusted sweet potato, snug within the living room rug. Traces of greek yogurt. Stale puffs. Caked hummus. More boogers. I can stop here.

Really, you can’t fight it. You can’t control it. You can hardly keep up with it –

but, you can try to deny it ever existed.

With wipes.

They can blot mashed potato out of your sofa, remove tiny flecks of fruit pouch from your walls, wipe away glistening, iridescent snot streaks from the inner thigh of your pant leg…(this is Hudson’s personal favorite form of torture)…secretly, he must know that when he runs toward me and buries his face into my legs (while whining) shaking his head “no” and subsequently grinding the remnants of whatever he most recently consumed firmly in to the inner thighs of my dark-washed Madewell jeans that I couldn’t love anything more in this whole entire world…

Wipes.

I mean, jeans are just jeans. But believe me when I tell you – they also come in handy for all of the things that you, as a new parent are inevitably destined to carry out. Even just the sleep deprivation alone. Things like bringing your breakfast bowl of yogurt, candied pecans and blueberries along with you, in the car, on your lap, because you miscalculated the time needed to get ready for work (after the morning’s typical shenanigans). Then – attempting to eat said breakfast as you hurriedly dash down College Blvd. – suddenly the bowl tips, and one tiny, yogurt-covered blueberry happens to fall (basically it jumps) right out of the bowl. Wobbling haphazardly down your thigh, it rolls across the center console and then tumbles onto the passenger seat before finally settling into the folds of the seat cushion.

Could you walk into work like this? Sure, you could. You could blame your infant son as you try to explain away the crusted yogurt to your colleagues. You could tell your husband that Hudson “must have spilled something, probably…” when he asks you later what sort of mayhem occurred inside the car. You can hopelessly surrender to the fact that basically, you’ll be the “yogurt girl” for at least another month or so. But, if you have wipes…

well, then it’s like it never happened.

 

5. Redecoration will be your handy new hobby. Side hustle. Religion, maybe.

The truth is, you will have to let go of the life you once knew. This feels scary.

 

 

Letting go is one of the most difficult challenges we face. Often the natural reaction is to resist the change, to fear the change. Resent it. Maybe even ignore it, sometimes. Well Folks, I am guilty of each one of these things (and guilty of some more than once).

So how do we learn to shift our mindsets? How do we ease up and roll with the changes that accompany new parenthood? Scroll back over to #1…(on “adaptation”)… remember that it doesn’t have to be about what you lose, but rather, try and make it about what you gain. Think of the delight you’ll discover in new ways of doing things, in new possibilities. In a new way of being.

Mentally, when Hudson was first born, I was totally prepped. I’d spent the final months of pregnancy gearing myself up for this huge change; a finite, almost unfathomable disruption in my current state. I knew it was coming. Had it all mapped out. It’s true, within that very first second you are handed your child your entire state of being is changed, however…this is not singular.

I had built myself up for this one big gear shift, but really what was to come was a series of shifts – a sequence of progression that would happen with each passing week, with every new milestone.

For this, I was not prepared.

 

 

Looking back on my experience, one of the biggest opportunities for growth over this first year was learning how to live with constant change. Constant reorganization. Basically, total evolution every 3-5 weeks. As parents we see first-hand just how rapidly our babies develop; they shift, morph and solidify into newer versions of themselves – almost weekly. Sometimes it seemed like Hudson changed over the course of one 3 hour nap. While I loved watching my son transform, I (frequently) struggled to keep up.

One such occasion involved a candle. It was a Tuesday morning (Tuesday’s were always my Monday’s). Seeing my tall, sage-colored, smoke & vetiver scented candle in danger of destruction (yet again), I snapped. After moving it from the side table in the living room (to make room for the breast pump) to the base of the fireplace (until Hudson started crawling) to a 3-tiered plant stand in the corner of our dining room (until Hudson pulled himself up) and then finally cursing the candle and debating whether I’d even be able to light the freaking thing again during this lifetime –

I saw the glitch. I was so fixated on trying to salvage the familiar fragments of my former life that I couldn’t accept the possibility of a new way. I was fighting a losing battle, and I was exhausted. Though it took numerous occasions (I repeat, numerous), I finally understood that If I didn’t change my perspective (not only was I going to go insane) I was going to systematically erase every bit of joy from this experience. My resistance would force me to miss every  single opportunity to discover something new, something unique – maybe even a more satisfying configuration or a superior method.

Instead of desperately holding on to the way I’d organized my life, my space, my thoughts – why not embrace Hudson’s changes as opportunities to try something different? To rearrange, to play with new renditions and new iterations. To wipe things clean and take delight in rediscovery. We tend to get comfortable in our ways and in our space – it’s where we feel in control. But why limit ourselves to this one way, forever? At some point you have to make a decision. Though it can be a little frightening to venture out, in the end, is venturing out more rewarding than having never adventured at all?

If I’m being honest, this is a process. Even today I battle my own mind. My go-to? I say to myself, “Think of all of the beautiful, insightful, gratifying opportunities we’d miss by just keeping things status quo”.

I really did like the way the vetiver candle looked on the side table in our living room. I also loved the pop of green my pothos plant added to our mantel (side note: pothos plants = an unexpected child hazard). And the thought of having a giant, glossy, primary-colored kitchen lining the wall of our dining room made me cringe. Cry a little bit.

Both of these.

But each time I move my candle, I love the new space it inhabits. My pothos is just as happy higher up on the shelf opposite our guest bed. And when I see that little spark of curiosity in my son’s eyes as he uncovers a new feature of his kitchen, I’m so thankful we bought it. (And now they make kitchen’s that are classier than the one you cook in – so you can make a healthy compromise here.)

 

 

Shifts in perspective like these take time. It’s OK if they don’t happen overnight.

Our “nightly routine”, for example, used to mean unwinding with Netflix and a beverage of choice.

This has since evolved.

While it still includes a beverage of choice (one that is enjoyed much more slowly, is sometimes spilled, and is frequently misplaced) and Netflix (sometimes a full episode, but more often just pieces of things) – it is now punctuated with the picking up of stray legos, bath time fun, 15 or 20 minutes of “Stinky & Dirty” and a good, solid bedtime story.

We enjoy the things we loved before, just differently now. In a way, I suppose, it gives them perspective. Makes them more meaningful. And I’d be remiss not to mention the benefits that come with said evolution: the epic bubble-blowing during bath time, cozying up together on the couch to the theme of his favorite tv show and the serene, calming effect of a familiar bedtime story…

we experience more. In less time.

And really, these days, it’s all about efficiency.

Update: the vetiver candle now happily resides opposite an emerald-colored sansiveria (snake plant) on top of an antique garden stand against the back wall of our family room. That is, until Hudson is tall enough to reach it. At which point it will be relocated.

6. Mom Guilt. It’s a thing.

I wouldn’t call myself a stranger to guilt. It’s possible that I am, by nature, more susceptible to this phenomenon. Nevertheless, I think what surprised me most was the undeniable physical response I felt toward my son – whether I wanted to, or not. It was like a gentle pulling. A tugging. A kind of internal tug-of-war that would happen throughout any given day. And what’s funny is that it’s grown significantly stronger as he has gotten older, even though my confidence in his self-reliance has grown right alongside it. It’s almost as if the more I get to know him, the deeper the pull.

In trying to determine the source, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I felt before becoming pregnant; how I viewed the different roles I played in my life. Before Hudson, I had never worked a real, full-time job. Often I worked full-time hours – a few different part-time jobs equating to a heavy load of hours per week, but the roles I played in these jobs and their levels of commitment were established, well-defined. I was an educator. I was an instructor. Then a trainer. A coach. Sometimes I was an editor. Other times I was a choreographer.

When Hudson was born, I became a Mother. This was my first full-time job.

 

 

Maybe it sounds a bit too calculated to put it this way. I fully believe that there is a physical and emotional bond between a Mother and Child that by nature, creates a deep, impenetrable connection, but viewing my new role through this lens was the best way I could make sense of my feelings. It was a new level of commitment. Of responsibility. Motherhood was a brand new full-time gig and I hadn’t really considered how it would fit into the mix – how my other roles would have to adjust. To be honest, I had a mild identity crisis.

When Hudson was 3 1/2 months old, I started working again. He entered a daycare program nearby (this came with a slew of other challenges) and even though deep down I knew I wanted him to be strong, self-reliant, well-adjusted (all of the things) – the entire first month that he went I felt awful. Terrible. So confused. I cried. A portion of the tears shed were because I missed him, but a larger portion of those tears were due to the fact that I felt like I was letting him down. Like I was sleeping on the job, asking someone else to do the work.

Why did I feel this way? I was so excited to go back to work. Excited to start bringing those parts of myself back to life. Why did it feel wrong?

In the role of Motherhood, the level of responsibility is astronomical. The stakes are too high. Perhaps we don’t realize that when we take on this role, if it seems like we’re not “fully committed” – it’s like we’re failing. Abandoning our post. Disgracing the role. Doing a bang-up job. While these feelings of self-scorn might certainly trigger an identity crisis, they will also trigger something else.

Guilt.

We feel guilty if we think we’re not doing our best job. We feel guilty about the potential of letting our child down. And on the flip-side, we feel guilty for wanting to be ourselves again – to be our own person, but exactly just who is that now..?

Call it social constructs, call it a personal code of ethics – each of us operates within our own “framework”, something we use to define and organize the many roles that we play within our lives. When this is challenged (as expected) we tend to feel a little lost. This might be the time to ask yourself if your current framework is still relevant. Still fits. Maybe it’s time to redefine the roles you play in such a way that you feel more confident, more authentic. Balanced.

And of course, recognize that it may take a few different iterations before you find the one that feels right.

 

 

 

In the first few months back at work, though my “work” sustained, I was a basket case. I felt like in the all of the studios and behind every desk I was now “mom” all of the time. It was hard for me to take off that hat and put on the others that I had worn so many times before. I spent weeks feeling like I wanted to be two places at once. I questioned my choices, questioned my personal desires –

Questioned everything.

Really, these were questions that only I could answer, once the dust had settled.

Taking on any new full-time job is an adjustment and it means that everything else has to shift and reorganize. Sit back for a moment and think about how you felt during that initial period of your most recent new job…nerves, questions, butterflies…right? After months of feeling this internal tug-of-war, I realized that throwing Motherhood into the mix had shaken everything up. Now all of the roles I played needed to be redistributed. Redefined.

This is OK.

Missing your child doesn’t make you a bad mom. Missing your work doesn’t make you a bad mom. Feeling anxious about your new full time job is to be expected – it means that you care, take it seriously. That you have integrity. Feelings of guilt mean that you understand the magnitude of what you’ve taken on, and that you truly, deeply care for your child. Let the dust settle. Take the time to redefine your roles so that they are an accurate representation of  your current self. Of your values.

And Folks, let’s be honest. Defining a more accurate, well-adjusted, more authentic self –

this is never a bad thing.

 

7. There is nothing in this world, quite like watching your child become a Person.

All of the questions I had about becoming a mom – the feelings of uncertainty, the wondering if I could really love my child, day in, day out –

all of this seemed to break apart, to reduce and then boil down one simple, incredible phenomenon: the beauty in watching my tiny human become himself. This is something you can’t find anywhere else. And it is, by far, my favorite thing about becoming a parent.

 

 

What you don’t realize, in the beginning, is what you do not yet know.

I remembered back to the first time we brought our dog, Ella, home to our little two-bedroom apartment. She was only 3 months old. My husband had found her photo on a local shelter site and fallen head over heels. A day later he sent me a 6 second video of her, tail wagging, behind a wired gate; she walked toward him and climbed up, pulling herself to a stand with tiny paws just peeking through the little holes of the fence and in an instant I knew – this was our dog.

We completed the mountain of paperwork and piled into the car. I sat holding her – a towel precariously draped across my lap – the whole way home. Ryan actually got lost at one point – he was so excited, so overwhelmed, and though my gaze was ahead, all the roads looked the same. We spent the next few hours watching her sleep. At my request, Ryan constructed a mini-fort using an old futon and our sturdy woven arm-chair to make her feel protected. We hadn’t purchased a crate yet. Or even a leash. There she sat, curled up beneath the awkwardly positioned futon taking in her new surroundings and like spectators we watched, waited for her to warm-up.

The next morning I had to leave for approximately 1.5 hours to go to work.

I totally panicked.

The class felt like it lasted years. I couldn’t stop thinking about where she might hide – how scared she must’ve felt. I’d laid towels across our bedroom floor, went around strategically placing stuffed toys and treats in safe places – but what if she had choked? Or suffered a mini-puppy panic attack? Our roommate was at work and Ella was by herself, all alone.

When I returned home, it looked like a tornado had swept through our tiny bedroom. Pillows were scattered, blankets were turned over – all of the towels lay bunched up, their corners and edges flipped upon themselves. A hardened, tiny little poop rested beside a toppled futon. No treats in sight.

I found her, hidden beneath my nightstand – a little disoriented but not entirely unhinged. I remember looking into her eyes and trying to somehow communicate the sorry that I felt – in not explaining to her that I’d be back, in not understanding her needs. I felt hopeless, and the hardest part about it was that she looked at me like she didn’t know me. Because, of course, she didn’t. Yet. We were still strangers and I hadn’t had time to build a level of trust, to show her I cared for her.

Now when I look into Ella’s eyes I see much, much more – years of good meals, ear strokes, belly rubs and neighborhood walks will weave a story of their own. I’ve watched her grow and change, and not without challenge or hardship. But these things make our bond stronger, deeper.

Even still, Ella is a dog. An emotional, complex, rather human dog –

a very special dog. Sometimes she feels like a child.

While it is similar, there is a definitive end to how much Ella can learn. Understand. Interact.

 

 

Bringing my son home, in many ways, was the same. The excitement, the overwhelm. The fear of the unknown. White knuckles on the steering wheel and plentiful blankets and towels (though this time, it was swaddles). There was a similar period of panic – of trying to identify needs and looking for cues, trying to reassure and to soothe. Bringing Hudson home, in the beginning, felt a bit like a science project. Like in the 7th grade when my home-ec teacher Mrs. Miller handed each of us a fresh egg to take home – the only instruction being to care for it, to “make sure it doesn’t break”. A lesson in fragility, certainly, but perhaps more importantly, a lesson in caring for something that you don’t know. That you can’t fully understand. Something that doesn’t verbally tell you what it needs or explain to you what it’s feeling inside.

Much like the egg, Hudson was smooth, fragile and delicate. Hard to read. A blank slate.

In the beginning, I tried hard, just to make sure he didn’t break.

Sleep deprived and drowning in a flood of my own questions, I remember trying to forge a connection with him that felt sound, looking for any signs that he felt secure, loved. We played on the boppy lounger, we kicked, we wiggled. Did lots of tummy time. Days passed and I watched. Waited.

There was an ornate, gold-framed mirror that hung above the fireplace when we first moved into our new house. It was left with the house, a grandiose fixture epitomizing the hearth of the home. Not more than a month after unpacking the boxes and returning the U-hauls, I delivered Hudson, and while the mirror echoed a life that had once occupied the space, it no longer felt right and we took it down. Ryan leaned it up against a wall inside our office, buffered with a pink, fluffy dog toy so as not to mark up the wall. One morning in the office, Hudson and I  (he sprawled) on top of a turquoise-colored patch quilt of llamas and letters – a gift for his birth. With legs crossed, I turned to face the tilted gold mirror, just as I had done many times before – but this time I saw something.

I pulled Hudson up on top of my lap and sat him forward to face the mirror. His gaze, at first quizzical, suddenly fixed upon his own reflection. A profound discovery in one single moment. Here, for the first time, he saw himself. And he didn’t know what to make of it – other than the fact that he was completely engaged, totally transfixed. A smile. A tiny spark of recognition and then a flash of excitement lit up his features and for the first time I felt the magic of what it means to watch your child grow up.

 

It’s the blending of pride, excitement, happiness and surprise, tailored and tightly woven into the softest, coziest of blankets.

I watched with eyes wide as he learned to crawl. As he began to babble. Looked on with delight as he hobbled and wobbled through his first steps and stared in disbelief as he suddenly pieced together his first wooden Melissa & Doug puzzle. When he pointed his tiny little finger up to my nose and mumbled “Nohh” – I melted. When he let out a giddy, throaty “Hiiiiiyyyeeee” as I approached his crib to pick him up from his nap, I giggled. And then, when I held him against my chest, he affectionately cupped my face in both hands and with a gentle, tempered authority uttered the word “Ma-ma”…my chest seized. My heart cracked.

There’s something indescribable in discovering that your child knows something they didn’t before – that they possess, in fact, the ability to surprise you. To astound you. Over and over again.

Children have an ability to present life through a new lens. To see things differently. To show us beauty in way’s we might never have imagined. This we know. This, however, is not something I, myself, experienced until I had a child of my own.

 

 

I’m no expert. Certainly. What I can say, to my questionable, confused and “uncertain” self looking back on this first year as a parent, is rest assured. Though it may be on your own time, or in your own way, though you might even get mad about it sometimes – rest assured – you will love your child more than you love yourself.

Quite a lot more, in fact.

He is an extension of you, familiar and yet unique. With a spirit and soul all his own. He is family and friend, through shared experiences, through genes.

Each of these.

He is so perfectly himself. With a tremendous hunger. And with endless possibility.

So for me, it’s this magic. The thrill of watching my child learn, live and grow. Watching who he becomes, the curves of his features, how he laughs, sneezes and snuggles, how he speaks and wears his expressions, the way he runs and how he treats others…this is the true gift of parenthood.

And this,

this is beautiful.



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