Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Love (in theory)

When my husband and I were in the foggy wilderness of our son's first couple months (a cruel landscape!), a friend of mine came to visit. Her son is now 14 years old, but she was able to recall vividly how she felt when he was first born.

"I think in the first three months," she said, "I only loved him in theory. I was too tired to feel the love I knew was there."

This made so much sense to me that I felt guilty for how powerfully I resonated with it. Limp with fatigue and glazed from hormonally induced dementia and anxiety, what I felt for my son was fiercely protective, overwhelmingly dedicated, but something as sharp and known as love hadn't quite crystallized yet. (Loving a newborn is a little bit like loving a meat grinder or a bread maker: you put something in, and something comes out and that's about all). It was as though my body loved him, but my mind hadn't yet had a chance to tap in.

I know that some other parents out there will read this in horror (except for those who had similar experiences). But since I emerged from that dim and strange time of the first few months, it was clear that I loved him. Loved him not just because I was supposed to, but for who he is. Once a baby begins to smile and laugh and pick up objects, you get the glimmers of a personality, though it's still too formless a thing to really be called personality. And in seeing who your baby is, for me, at least, love comes gusting up like the Santa Ana winds--hot and overpowering and all consuming.

Over these months--he is now almost 8 months old--there is no other word for how I feel about him. I love him. Fiercely. Miraculously. It is, as my mother always told me, a totally different, unique kind of love from any other you'll ever feel. Though feedback is nice--when he reaches for me, or laughs with me--it isn't required. He won't have to buy me flowers or write me pretty cards or make an effort to earn my love. He gets a free pass to be loved. Of course, he'll piss me off and try my patience and sometimes we'll feel like we don't love each other, but I always will.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thoughts on Inauguration Day

Today makes me incredibly hopeful that my son will spend his first four, hopefully eight, years in a country that earns back the meaning of democracy, and that puts service back into everyday life.


Is it just me, or do the media sound positively gleeful? I love how unabashedly people are celebrating who should be impartial. Only the comedians will miss the Bush administration.

Damn, that Michelle Obama is TALL. I only just noticed.

The only bummer I can think of re: Obama's election is that Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly will take insufferable to new heights. Fortunately, I don't have to watch or read them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

We Chose This

We've been going through a rough patch lately, mostly, I think, out of resistance to what is. Sometimes I pretend that 7 months ago my life didn't just turn on its head, and I try to carry on as I did before: I shove all the baby toys into a box out of sight, I plop the kid in his high chair with a handful of toys to keep him busy, I check my email, or read a book or try to make something to eat...and then, of course, within whatever time frame that is entirely up to the kid, he gets bored, or hungry or cranky and begins to fuss...or scream. And my head jerks up from whatever I'm doing and I remember: OH YEAH...I have a child. He's not a puppet, or a kitten or something I can ignore for very long. He has needs, and I don't really have much right to feel frustrated or irritated by these needs.

After all, we chose to bring him into the world.

My husband and I had to remind each other last night that you don't have children so that your life will stay the same. But sometimes we need to remember this when it's hard. When the word patience feels like Greek; when he's pooped all up the back of his onesie and kicking his feet into it while you try to clean it and put diaper rash cream on his butt--for the second or third time in an hour; when he pitches holy hell in the middle of the night for no really good reason you can figure out--not cold, not hot, not hungry, not lonely--if anything, just pissed off to be awake; when you wake up with a kinked neck and bleary eyes but still have to do it all again.

I write about the difficult aspects of parenting a lot. But it's not just to complain, believe it or not. I do it because I feel like I have to really probe people to get the truth out of them about how hard it was/is and I want to offer an honest voice about the process to anyone looking. Because if you don't look for validation, you give in to despair. Lots of mothers despair in silence. I think that pretty much all mothers in the fifties drowned their despair in gin and valium. Which sounds really great some nights, I gotta tell you, but of course I won't even take benadryl while breastfeeding for fear it'll make my kid sleepy. Yeah, I know, I'm afraid to make my kid sleepy--crazy! My fear is actually that he'll never sleep again once he's had a taste.

At the same time as he drives me to the ends of my frustration--usually around sleeping--he'll start "talking" to himself in the back of the car, and laugh his butt off when his dad brings him around the corner to see me, and I fall in love with this kid again and again. Thank god...or there'd be sixty of us on the planet, not 600 billion.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Which would you throw out with the bathwater: baby or spouse?

One of the parenting blogs I like to read,
Dooce, by Heather Armstrong, asks a question to mothers out there in a recent post. Is parenthood (presumably the baby part) harder, or is marriage?

I'm surprised how many people in her comments said marriage! I have a hard time understanding how communicating with a fellow adult who can speak full English sentences and has made a conscious agreement to commit his/her life to you can be harder than dealing with someone who screams their needs most of the time, has no idea who, what or where they are, and poops in their pants, to boot.

Before I had a baby I might have (foolishly) thought that marriage was harder, but now I look back at the most challenging times in my marriage (which are luckily few) with envy--they look like paradise compared to the hardest times as a parent so far.

I still am convinced that many, many parents, especially mothers, fear speaking the truth about how hard it is for fear of looking like a bad parent, as if CPS is going to turn up on your doorstep simply because you admit you--gasp--lose your patience with your child and yell, or for appearing ungrateful. Mothers are especially pressured to appear as if we never so much as think a bad thought about our children.

When I was pregnant, nobody told me about the difficult times ahead--I guess they didn't want to break the magic spell of pregnancy, that time of beautiful ignorance. The only thing that anyone told me about was the sleep deprivation, and even that was downplayed to suggest I might be just a little bit tired, as if I'd stayed up late reading. I didn't fully understand how serious SD was, that I would feel trapped in an eerie fog, stuttering (literally--I stuttered for 2 weeks after giving birth), stumbling and grasping at reality between feedings, while my husband hovered over spoon-feeding me like an invalid. It was only recently that one friend pointed out to me: even the Geneva Convention does not support sleep deprivation as a form of torture because it's TOO CRUEL :)

Still, maybe I'm luckier in my marriage than some, or maybe I just find it more challenging to be responsible for a human life than to express my feelings to my partner.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

7 months today!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

For Any Parent Who Thinks They Had a Hard Day...

I just watched a show about a family with sextuplets--six babies at once. This mother manages to get six babies to eat and sleep on a predictible schedule and by 9 months she and her husband are training for a marathon. Hello, isn't raising six babies a marathon? But more to the point, how come I can't get ONE baby on a predictible schedule?

I'm just not militant enough. If I had six, I'm sure I'd be a lot more willing to let them cry. In fact I'd probably put ear plugs in and let them go to town. But I have only the one. And he has proven that he will not just cry for twenty minutes if a need is left unmet or you want him to sleep without aid. He will cry for an hour and twenty minutes, and writhe and twist until his head is pressed firmly into the wall and he sounds like a chihuahua being eaten alive by dingos.

You can tell me all you like about how I've spoiled him, or how I need to tough it out, but I no longer believe my child will be ruined by this. Now, when he's two, there will be a new Sheriff in town.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Ole' New Year's Post: The Year of Patience

I know, it's not even New Year's day but this is still my New Year's post.

So, how to begin reflecting on the massive change of becoming a mother this year, since anything else I participated in or achieved pales in comparison? I've always been one of those people who feels as though I am the first person to experience something. As if trillions of other women and men have not had their lives turned upside down by the small person who takes over the very second they exit the womb. Actually, I think there was a time socially when, thanks to the proximity of womenfolk--aunts, cousins, sisters and their offspring--that having a baby was not such a big thing--what else did you do anyway other than darn and knit and cook and have babies. So essentially I can thank progress and women's rights for the fact that my life has gone all helter-skelter since my fresh-faced new arrival. I mean that in a positive way. I'm lucky that I was so used to my freedom that a baby put a quick yoke on all that.

7 months after our son's birth, I can say that I underestimated a lot about myself before becoming a mother. Oh, and I overestimated a lot, too. This child is teaching (or trying to, at least) me patience and selflessness and things I will confess I thought I already had going for me. Woo baby have I been schooled! He's driven me face to face with my dark side, too, but of course--and here comes the Hallmark sentiment--he's exposed me to some pretty remarkable feelings I didn't know I was capable of. Powerful-die-for-you kind of love.

But most of all, I've come to see that parenting is a messy, imperfect art. Most things are out of your control and what little you can control changes fairly rapidly. As my friend Erika likes to point out, parenthood is like being a kind of mad scientist who continually experiments and tries new things, hoping for an answer, a pattern, a cure.

I don't know if I'm a better person yet, but I sure as hell aim to be. He's definitely made me excited about the world again, eager to share it all with him. And at each intolerable stage of his babyhood, it passes and he grows more into a person and I am ever more aware of how fast it's all going. He'll be in college before I know it.

I think that 2008 can comfortably be called my year of patience. Waiting for his birth. Waiting for him to sleep through the night. Waiting to feel like I have an iota of mastery at this motherhood gig. Still waiting for a lot of it, but I'm glad he's here, glad to be changing, and glad I waited 12 years with the right man to do it.