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.
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 can 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 becoming a parent. Ryan and I happened to catch comedian Tom Segura’s special last year on Netflix; we both appreciate his realness, connect with his darker sense of humor. At times a little twisted, but honest. Sarcasm with a sort of back-handed brilliance. Funny or not, one tiny bit from his most recent 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 moments. Time 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…
(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 one of the hardest things is the fact that there’s no way to gauge – there just isn’t a lot of clear feedback in the beginning. No real 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.
I’m proud of the parents he and I have grown into. I’m proud of the challenges we’ve tackled and those we will soon face. 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.
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…
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.