I knew my learning curve would be steep. What I didn't know was that I'd pick up some profound lessons not only about child-rearing but about life itself.
1. The people who make high-end baby clothes are sadists.
My husband and I were lucky enough to be given tons of hand-me-downs before the birth of our child. We took it all, from onesies to rompers to adorable cardigans with miniature pockets, with no regard for color or cut.
As our son cycled through them, we discovered a fundamental truth about baby clothes: the more designer the label, the less practical the outfit. Holy guacamole! Tiny collars requiring an iron. Wee buttons that have to be done up in order to keep the shirt on his shoulders. Zippers all of three centimeters. The people who designed these clothes must really hate humanity, or at least parents.
2. I'm OK with belly fat.
When I was pregnant, I used to lay in bed (on my side, obv.) and fantasize about running. Long runs in the early morning, the wind in my hair, my sneakers flying along the pavement. Mind you, I hadn't run since high school. No matter. I fantasized about lightness. I would be fast. My calves would be lithe.
Nowadays, when I lay in bed, I sleep. And when I pinch my belly, or pull it and, ahem, pull it some more, I think about how it stretched to accommodate my baby. Then I let it wobble back into place (more or less) and go grab another Trader Joe's cookie cup. If I'm even close to my pre-pregnancy weight, it's largely due to hair loss, because goodness knows nothing about my body has gotten smaller. When I was pregnant, I thought I would care about the pooch that drapes over my pants when I sit. I don't. Having a child roots me to this earth, and lightness no longer interests me. Also: those cookie cups are really, really good.
3. Babies can transform the biggest cities into small towns.
I live in New York City, a part of the world not generally touted for its friendliness. Yet everywhere I go with my son, people talk to me or him or both. They hold open doors. They smile and wave. They congratulate us. Strangers have blessed him and wished him a happy life, given me recommendations for increasing my supply of breast milk, even tugged his feet or rubbed his cheeks as we rode the subway.
Perhaps babies bring out the best in people. I know my son brings out the best in me. I find myself holding open doors, smiling, and letting people go first, regardless of whether he's with me. The world feels like a kinder, better place with him in it.
4. You (we) can't bend Baby's will.
Between us, my husband and I have seven degrees. Seven. And yet we constantly, consistently lose arguments with our 19-pound bundle of joy. There's simply no reasoning with someone who lacks verbal skills.
We decide it's time to lose the pacifier. OK, guys, no prob, he smirks, then refuses to take more than a 10-minute nap for days. We agree that he can't get out of the crib before 6:30 am. Sure, sure, whatever, he nods, batting his long blond lashes, then screams his head off promptly at 5. Let's not even talk about the back-and-forth about solid food. He wins, every time.
5. Babies are like scratch tickets.
You never know what kind you're going to get. Some people hit the jackpot, with infants who hardly cry, rarely fuss, sleep through the night within a few weeks. But those babies are as rare as three cherries in a row. I mean, what are the odds?
Much like rubbing the silver off of scratch tickets, there's something so satisfying about watching my baby's personality reveal itself. One day he's lying there like a potato, the next day he starts laughing because he hears me laughing. One day he's content with whatever toy I hand him, the next day only the pink spatula will do. He loves being outside, cooing, a Beanie Baby named Brobee, and being tickled. This week.
6. No routine is a routine.
That's what I tell myself anyway. After so many months, I thought for sure Baby and I would be settled into a pattern by now. Nope, not even a little bit. He demands to be put down at 6:30 pm every night, and by "demand," I mean "whines and fuses and is generally unpleasant from 5:30 until bedtime." Other than that, though, he is wildly variable, from the number of dirty diapers he has to the number of naps he takes to the number of times he wants to nurse each day. So while Baby hasn't made me a Buddhist, I find myself repeating "no routine is a routine" when confronted with the (perfect) schedules of other parents. It's my version of a mantra.
7. Babies breed intimacy.
Much is made about the negative effects of children on their parents’ relationship. Granted, no relationship expert has ever recommended sleep deprivation as a way of keeping the spark alive. Nevertheless, figuring out how to have sex in the bathroom while Baby sleeps, or having very serious conversations about Baby's very green poo, or smiling at one another as Baby plays with an empty water bottle on the couch have deepened my marriage.
All I need to do is watch our son light up as soon as he sees my husband, or watch my husband as our son turns to show off his applesauce-covered face, and I know that bringing Baby into this world was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Not as good a decision as marrying his dad, mind you, but up there for sure.
8. It gets easier, and harder, and easier, and harder.
It took me months to scrub the cradle crap off my son's head, not because I was unclear about how washcloths work, but because I was afraid of touching his soft spot too vigorously. As a result, I believed my son had brown hair—that is, until the crud came off and we discovered that he was actually blond.
You master one heart-stopping or incredibly complicated aspect of parenting, such as leaving your kid with someone else for an evening, only to have another crop up, such as letting him crawl or feeding him French fries. I imagine this cycle repeats itself ad infinitum, and therein lies the real work: learning to do what you need to do in such a way that you're not a worrying mess who avoided leaving the house for whole days because the carrier—with all its buckles and straps!—seemed too complicated. Not that I speak from personal experience or anything.
9. Babies don't stay fragile for long.
Upon bringing Baby home from the hospital, my husband and I sat his carrier in the hallway, then turned to one another. Two minds, one thought: "What now?" We knew only that we were responsible for this scrawny, chickenlike creature. He was just so small. Dressed in onesies, he looked like the "after" shot in an ad for gastric bypass surgery.
Then he wasn't. Overnight, his thighs doubled in size. He began to resemble the “before” picture in those ads. Duh, right? Babies become bigger, then grow into toddlers and children and tweens and teenagers and young adults. That's how life works. At seven months, of course, Baby remains a long way from self-sufficiency. He can't even get to the grocery store on his own, let alone sit up for longer than 15 minutes. Yet one of his favorite things to do is sit on my lap and ram the back of his head against my sternum. He's less fragile by the hour.
10. Sometimes my son makes me feel like a superhero.
When he settles at my voice. When he practically leaps across the room to nuzzle me after a day apart. When he blows raspberries or babbles at me or checks to make sure I'm watching as he jumps in his swing. When he tucks his head under my chin as I read to him, his fingers grazing my arm. Especially then.
That's not to say that I'm the sole person capable of comforting him, or that my tricks or touch don't fail. My son giggles whenever his dad enters the room, for example, and often only his dad can calm him back to sleep in the wee hours.
At a food court the other day, after mowing down the roll from my husband's BBQ sandwich, Baby got beasty. He didn't want to be held, he didn't want to be put down. He didn't want to look out the window, he didn't want to hear us sing. Forget playing with Brobee or taking a walk. So I nursed him, and he fell asleep, smooshing his fat face against my breast, letting one hand dangle behind him. It didn't look very comfortable. Amidst the hullabaloo and piped-in music, this little person slept in my arms. He got his fill of succor and love, and slept. And I felt invincible.