The Fustible turned one last month. I had no idea this would seem so much more momentous than any birthday or anniversary or commemorative occasion, ever. Honestly, the last year didn’t feel especially fast or slow to me. There were the days that seemed like they would never end, and then there were the whole months that just evaporated. On the whole, though, the year felt substantial. It felt like, well, a year. But as we closed in on January 16, and I thought back to where we were a year ago–as the sense memories and the snow crept up on me, I started to relive those early days more vividly than I had, well ever. And it’s crazy. 365 days, and our baby’s no longer a baby.
So, in the spirit of sniffly noses and full hearts, here’s a bunch of random anecdotes and thoughts about what’s up, one year in (and some change). In the inimitable words of George Washington (or maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda, same thing), “I wanna talk about what I’ve learned, the hard-won wisdom that I’ve earned!”
- Everything always happens at the same time. If you have to get on the road early one morning in order to leave town for one day for a meeting, that will be the day of the baby’s 1-year-old well-check, and also your spouse will wake up puking at 4 a.m., and also the baby will wake up an hour early and spill a full glass of iced tea on herself.
- Poop smells. Pee smells. Diapers smell. You get used to it. I laugh when I think back to my fastidious complaints about the stink of second-hand cloth diapers. We do the best we can, and we strip them and we rinse them and we use the Magic Bubbles pods from GroVia and we occasionally throw in a splash of bleach and yeah, it helps. But when it comes down to it? Shit stinks. Ya deal.
- Related: Febreeze, not Glade. I have never been a home aroma person–I own one candle that I’ve had for like 10 years–but sometimes in my world now, this is necessary. And by sometimes I mean everyday and by necessary I mean…necessary. You know how Febreeze’s big claim is that while “other people” just cover up the smell, they actually eliminate odors? Accurate. Febreeze. Not. Glade.
- But actually, none of the gross stuff is that gross. I mean, it is. But you get over it. Sometimes when I’m changing a diaper I wonder how many diapers I’ve changed. 18 months ago, it was, like, 10 or so, my whole life. After a week of parenting I had (at least) quintupled my diaper experience. It’s not like this stuff is ever super enjoyable, but it just ceases to even be remotely of interest. People without kids are excessively interested in the visceral grossness of caring for small helpless creatures but really? It’s just not even a thing anymore. The real danger is in losing all perspective on the gross. I got so used to wiping anything with anything that one day at work I literally had to stop myself from blowing my nose on my skirt. Then I was annoyed that I had to go find a tissue.
- We 100% for sure got a trick baby. I don’t really know what to do with this information, I just know that its true. I wouldn’t say she’s excessively happy or cheerful–she’s got ‘tude and, compared to other babies I’ve seen, she doesn’t really laugh very much, and she does not warm quickly (or even at all) to all people. But in terms of sleeping, eating, health, digestion, teething, ability to travel, go out, etc.? Trick baby. Most of the time this makes me kind of uncomfortable: I don’t want to talk about it much lest other parents punch me in the face. I know there’s nothing we did to *cause* this. There is no method. There is no technique. It’s just her temperament. We won a kind of lottery, but there’s no way for us to meaningfully share that good fortune with anyone else. And yet, in some ways I feel like we have not really passed through the fire of parenting, that our initiation is still pending. I’m basically terrified of what will happen if we ever have another one–or the next phase hits and everything changes and it turns out we’re not even remotely equipped to deal (see: toddlerhood, and it is happening now and I am really struggling to Level Up). Look, I’m not complaining about this. I’m no fool. I would not trade the mild discomfort and awkwardness I feel about being the undeserving parent of a trick baby for the hours and hours of sleep I’ve banked. I’m just highly conscious that our experience was not the norm–and it does sometimes make me wonder whether I have “standing” or “the right” to say anything at all about what it means/feels like to be a parent.
- Food: it’s what’s for dinner. Once we got back into the full time work lifestyle, the most important adjustment that drastically improved our quality of life was throwing away all prior hopes, expectations, and plans related to cooking. I’d like to say that I’m exaggerating but when I think back…I’m not, really. We’ve never been super foodies…for us, making dinner is pretty much functional, not recreational. But we used to cook actual things more or less from scratch. Like, brown raw meat, sautee vegetables, use the oven. When I tried to keep this up, it was a nightmare! It was simply not possible to get out of work, do the daycare pickup, walk the dog, feed the baby, bathe her and put her down, and also cook dinner. Something had to go. We have become extremely reliant on frozen meals (or at least frozen components) from Trader Joe’s and on a few quick to assemble standbys (frozen pierogi + kielbasa + cabbage; breakfast for dinner). We rarely do takeout or restaurants during the week but we eat out ALOT on the weekends. For $$ and for health, we should probably try to scale that back (but I don’t wanna!)
- I’m trying to get better at taking things at her (and our own) pace. It’s remarkable–shocking, really–how hard (impossible) something is when you or she is just not ready for it, and how easy it is when you are. I noticed this mostly with food. I was SO EXCITED to introduce solid foods and it just, like, wasn’t working. It took weeks and months to even successfully get much food in her and it’s honestly only lately, like, from like 11 months on, that she seemed to enjoy anything about the prospect of eating or any particular kind of food. I had a sort of out-of-body experience while at the center of a battle of wills over rice cereal (which she *never* came around to) when she was like barely 5 months old, and just realized….there will be infinite battles in the next 20 years. This is not how I want to live my life. For us, getting beyond the bottle is the next frontier. We tried to go cold turkey onto sippy cups when she turned 1, and it just didn’t work. We fell back into an exclusive bottle habit for a few weeks, and now I’m trying to remember to at least consistently offer the sippy cup first. She’s not that into it. But, as wise Anne always says, I’m not really worried that she’s going to go to college with a bottle. She’ll get there. I mean, we could force it. If we just threw out the bottles, she would learn to deal. But just…why? Why is it necessary to draw a line in the sand over this right now? It will be that much more painless if it happens on her schedule. I guess I’m just learning the value of not pushing it–and also accepting that she spends 50 hours a week in the care of others. Their involvement in her life and caretaking is non-trivial. Do we, as parents, have the ultimate authority? Yes, of course. If we said no bottles, they would follow that instruction. But it just doesn’t seem necessary to me to make all of their lives harder because we’ve decided arbitrarily she should be off the bottle TODAY. She’ll get there (quite possibly via peer pressure from her buddies when she moves up to the toddler room), and we will too.
- I was not prepared for the grandparent thing. Our girl is the first grandchild on both sides–anxiously anticipated, long-awaited–so needless to say they were/are a bit excited. This is wonderful and we welcome their love, support, and involvement. But I was knocked flat, not really in a good way, by the intensity of the grandparent interest, love, attention, concern, etc. And the truth is, our parents live out of state and are generally chill and not obsessive! They are not even close to overbearing or overly involved! I just didn’t anticipate or understand the impact that this would apparently have on their lives. I thought grandchildren were just, like, an amusing distraction for a few hours a few times a year. I guess this doesn’t say much for my relationships with my own grandparents. And also my in-laws, with whom I’ve always had a great relationship, suddenly had opinions about our work choices, our driving, etc, because “everything is different now.” I feel like only now, a year later, can I even begin to imagine the prospect of my baby one day having a baby, and what that would mean. I’m also just starting to wrap my head around the fact that my mom and I are now in the same club. We can commiserate. I can ask for her help and advice. I didn’t really exploit this amazing transformation in year one because I was too busy flying off the handle as I attempted to adjust to and manage the grandparent factor. In all honesty adjusting to grandparents was harder for me than adjusting to a newborn, and the transition was not aided by the fact that “NO! DO IT BY MYSELF!” was my own personal mantra for the year. I feel like a year in, we are finally hitting a groove–in part because the gparents have relaxed a little bit–they know they’ll see her soon! they know we won’t epically screw up in the meantime!–and in part because I feel less under fire/under the microscope every time they contact us.
- Speaking of “there is no method,” Don’t worry about the parenting books. Except for “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk,” which seems amazing (also a good guide to marriage and work relationships) but not so useful if your kid can’t communicate verbally. All the factual information about milestones, illnesses, etc. you can find online and all the methodological stuff is, well, eh. You can read the summaries of various approaches on Wikipedia and, in reality, that’s probably all you’ll need of any of them. No matter what, you’re going to adapt to what works for your baby, not the other way around. Shortly before the Fustible arrived, I asked new parent friends for advice on good books about parenting and they were like, “The things with the pages?” A few months later, I understood what they meant. Use your local library if you want to read up. Sure, have a general reference book on hand, if you want. But don’t spend a lot of time or money getting tons of these things.
- I can do things now that I never imagined. Little things, like picking banana goo off my kitchen floor. If you told me 18 months ago how much time I would spend up to my elbows in banana goo, I would have laughed and then thrown up. I HATE bananas. Seriously, before we had a kid, the primacy of bananas as baby/toddler food was a thing I actually expended energy fretting about. I don’t even like having them in the house. I can smell them from yards away (bananas, not kids). But now? I am pretty much resigned to the fact that there will be at least one half eaten, quickly blackening banana on my kitchen counter at all times. And? It’s fine. I feel like I’m growing. Other new skills? Tuning out shrill noises. Implementing relatively smooth and symmetrical tiny pigtails on a tiny head that is moving away from me at the speed of light. Lightning reflexes–I have saved so many pints of beer and pitchers of water from being pulled off of restaurant tables. I can catch a pitcher without looking while placing an order. I can catch a glass bottle IN THE AIR. I dodge hair pulls and intercede on stair dives and pin down naked spider babies trying to flee diaper or bath. My dexterity and ability to anticipate movement in my immediate environment is second only to Daredevil’s. (Not a good show to watch with your infant, BTW. If she has night terrors in a few years we’ll know why).
- Getting a dog is not the same thing as getting a baby. It’s worse! Ha! Ha! I kid, but only kind of. OK, look, we love our dog and the baby loves the dog and the dog loves the baby and love is all around us. But! Taking care of the dog in the manner to which she had become accustomed has become extremely difficult in the wake of the baby (and also, you just don’t care as much. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true.) I guess I’m showing my stripes as not a true dog person, but at this stage it’s hard for me to imagine ever voluntarily bringing a new/different dog into our lives again. Our baby sleeps through the night; our dog goes through phases where she wakes up in a random barking fit and has to be soothed two to three times a night. I urge you, nay, beg you: if you have just gotten a puppy, wait 3 years before you have a baby. And if you just had a baby, wait three years before you get a puppy. Toddlers and puppies at the same time…I shudder to think. And not just because chaos. Because someone’s gonna get bitten.
- Speaking of fretting, go ahead and sweat the small stuff if you want to. As long as you can move on eventually. The week before the Fustible was born, I was frantic about mixing bottles of formula. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to figure it out. I made a practice bottle. (OMG I wasted 4 precious oz. of formula, that’s how naively anxious I was). In the early days, I really stressed about stuff like matching socks and clothes–because, what else was there to do with my nervous energy? And, we had all these gifts that she had to wear at least once before she outgrew them! Then there was the cloth diaper obsession. More recently, as you may recall, I had issues with stains. Then it was obsessing over whether daycare had all her stuff sorted properly. In the last couple of weeks, finding shoes that fit has been a thing. In time, I let go of each of these things. That feels good. But you know what? It just gets supplanted by the next thing I don’t yet understand or know how to deal with. I know now–having been through the cycle 17 million times in the last year–that when I start to obsess about small things, it’s a symptom/manifestation of feeling overwhelmed/out of my depth on big things. Recognizing this means I can roll with it better. But I accept and expect that this is just going to keep happening. The cycles might get smaller or less dramatic, but I’m never going to stop sweating the small stuff, at least temporarily. It’s just part of how I deal with change.
- I don’t feel that different. I still don’t really identify with the label of “mom,” which feels odd. I think this will start to sink in more when someone is calling me that on a consistent basis. I also don’t think I “present” as a mom when out alone in public. At an airport, recently, for example, my attempts to engage with a woman traveling alone with a toddler, to offer help/commiseration, were totally rebuffed, while an obvious mom a few seats away was warmly received. Somebody get me some mom jeans? I don’t feel insecure about my bond with her, or my authority/role/primacy in her life. And yet, a year in? The identity piece of it hasn’t really kicked in. I feel most like a mom when she’s vomiting or punching me in the throat. Loving steadily through the ugly stuff is what makes a parent–which makes me wonder if the “trick baby” thing is a factor here. If we fought through more ugly stuff in year 1, would I feel more like a mama warrior? I also really have a problem with the whole concept of a “mama club” (even though I referred to it above). My social network consists of maybe 25% parents and 75% non-parents, so when I envision my peers and friends–the network by which I define myself–it’s largely in a non-parental way. Moreover, it’s the non-parents who by and large have been our strongest day-to-day supporters and friends–babysitters, gift-givers, emergency problem solvers, show-up-with-a-bottle-of-wine-and-ignore-the-weeping-mine-and-hers-both-ers. So I am pretty actively resistant to the idea that parents have some special understanding of what it means to serve or sacrifice or care about other people or be patient or tired or flexible or whatever. I don’t feel like my perspective or abilities on any of these fronts has changed since having a baby, and I certainly don’t feel superior to my non-parent friends who have given such love to our girl and support to our family, and been the models of “the village” that I only wish I could emulate. Is it because I reject the “only moms will understand this” Facebook memes that it still feels funny to call myself a mom? That doesn’t seem right.
- Honestly, this is not yet been “the hardest and most rewarding job I’ve ever had.” It’s been incredibly fun, it’s been boring, it’s been maddening, it’s been emotional, it’s blown my mind, by turns. But I guess for me the “job” analogy just doesn’t translate. My job is both harder (requiring a LOT more complex thought, communication, planning and organization, managing literally dozens of other people’s priorities and whims etc.) and easier (I mean, I get paid time off and it’s quiet and I get to engage at a high level of thinking and problem-solving with smart, awesome people) than my parenting experience thus far. The job is rewarding in shallow and deep ways: you know, I get money. And I can see the tangible results of my efforts in weeks or months. And the people affected tell me they’re grateful for my contributions (imagine!). If I had to compare parenting to *something else* I guess it would be more like taking up a long-term hobby, like serious baking, collecting, playing a musical instrument, or marathoning. It absorbs massive amounts of time, energy, and focus. It consists of endless practice of small, repetitive, sometimes grueling or boring tasks. And the payoff is in the long-term mastery (or simply delight in) the synthesis of all of these elements. Except also you’re never allowed to quit. I guess if we use this analogy I am in 6th grade band right now, which is illuminating to me actually. I only stuck with band through the end of high school–and I now haven’t played at all in more than 10 years–but when I think about what came naturally to me as a senior, that I didn’t even know about in 6th grade–techniques, terminology, the literature, the culture, etc.–well, it’s a lot. Parenting is an immediate, all-in, transformative kind of thing, so it can be easy to forget, but the fact is I’m still a super, super novice, and that makes a lot of sense and feels right to me. Some things that feel hard right now will probably come naturally later. But also, I’m increasingly conscious that I’m not even remotely aware of the richness and complexity of all of this that will reveal itself in time, or that will become possible as we all grow and develop.
- I’ve never felt so lucky, so generally stunned and amazed that I get to live this every day. Well, except in 2012 when I was doing a job that I loved and I used to walk the dog at 5 am literally staring at the stars and counting my blessings and telling myself this was probably as good as it was ever going to get. I wasn’t wrong, re: the job. But “IT” overall wasn’t as good as it was ever going to get. It got better.
Aaaaand, I guess that’s it: 3,500 words covering everything you never wanted to know about my first year of parenting.