The Sweetest Thing

While Skyping from Bosnia, my sister asked me what was the surprising but amazing thing about having a kid. At the time all I could pull together was a very un-profound answer about how they change so fast, and how stressful it is trying to figure out the “right thing” to do. Which doesn’t really answer the question, so I kept pondering.

How to answer that question? Several people asked me what surprised me most about having Simon and I wasn’t never sure what to say.  You know having a baby is going to be hard, and it is hard. You know you’re going to learn a lot, and I certainly am. You know you’re going to love them so much, and I am experiencing a new capacity to love, a depth and intensity previously unparalleled because your sacrifice and investment is also unparalleled. I had never spent nearly every waking moment trying to keep someone else alive, and all the other moments trying to keep myself alive so I could keep Simon alive (when he was a newborn). The caretaking which both pours out from and feeds an overwhelming maternal love was a new experience for me and thus somewhat of a surprise, yet I expected to love in a whole new way.

The postpartum hormonal experience was a bit shocking, as I described in “Giants in the Land.” At the same time, I’d heard about the oxytocin-estrogen-etc. rollercoaster and it doesn’t really last that long. Along with this, when Simon was first born I felt very close to Neil. But after a few weeks I realized I felt sort of distant from him. Of course our lives and schedules and time together had all changed and that contributed to the feeling. But another part was simply that I was experiencing motherhood, and Neil could never relate fully to this. He wasn’t breastfeeding eight hours a day or sleeping no more than a couple hours at a time (because he wasn’t breastfeeding). He would never know the hormones, the stitches, or the way motherhood takes over your brain. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a father, but I can’t imagine the transformation is as all-consuming as becoming a mother.

I started to resent Neil for a little while, not because he was doing anything wrong, but just because he would never get it. He’d pop his head in the nursery and ask, “Is it okay if I go play basketball with the guys?” and it was okay, I wanted him to go. But I also wanted him to know what it was like to not have the option to just go and do whatever he wanted. I didn’t even really want to do anything because I was happy to take care of Simon; I just found myself missing the freedom he still had. But the distance and resentment passed soon once we talked, the hormones waned, and Simon grew older.

But to answer the question: what was really a pleasant surprise was how Simon changed Neil. He started warming up to babies a little with our friends’ kids, but to see Neil cry when Simon was born, to watch him fuss over him and hear him brag about Simon’s cuteness was, well, surprising and amazing. He even complained to me when one of the babysitters didn’t wax eloquent about Simon’s cuteness. Now Simon is so excited to play with Neil when he comes home from work and gets sad when he goes to another room. Neil has lots of grand plans of fishing, camping, and playing with Simon when he’s older, but he always says, “I’m not in a hurry for Simon to grow up. I’m really enjoying this phase and how he is right now.” And Neil was never a baby kind of guy. In fact the first time I told Neil I was pregnant his joyful response was “Shit.” (And we were trying). He was scared to death about being a parent and now he’s so in love with Simon. So to answer Courtney’s question, the most surprising and sweetest thing about becoming  a mom was for me to see my husband become a dad.



Simon Says

I had to get that title out of the way. But for real, life does kind of feel like that sometimes now. Parenting is confusing because I don’t want to be child-centered and raise my kid to think the world revolves around him, but my day does kind of revolve around taking care of my baby. The difference as I understand it is between my world being consumed by him, and devoting much of my time to nurturing him. My life hasn’t stopped, but it certainly has changed. The big goals and values are the same but my daily routine is pretty different.

The next episode in Simon’s sleep saga: As soon as Simon starting sleeping at night (see previous post) he stopped napping well. His naps got shorter and shorter and he usually woke up cranky. Again, I felt like I tried everything short of nursing or sleep props to help him fall back asleep but nothing worked. We were both tired and it made it hard for me to make plans with people ‘cause I couldn’t predict when he would be sleeping or awake. Once he started sleeping through the night or at least waking up only once, I felt like I could handle living in 45 minute increments. Ferber says it’s only a sleep problem if it’s a problem.

Then he started waking up more at night, like he was a newborn again. And napping worse, not eating well, and getting crabbier. That’s when I decided it was a problem. I borrowed The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems (horrible title, I know), and I still have problems but a couple weeks on her plan and Simon was sleeping much better during the day and at night.

While implementing her plan I realized I kind of approach Simon like a math problem sometimes. Like if I just read the textbook and study enough and do all the right steps then I’ll figure out the perfect solution of how to help him. This was a valuable realization because while I know Simon’s a person and we have a relationship, I sometimes act like I can program him to always do everything the baby books say they should do. I seriously get more stressed that he’s not sleeping exactly how some book says he should, than that I’m losing sleep or “free time” or whatever.

But Simon’s not a math problem or a machine. And I’m so glad he’s not. An old friend of mine had her first baby, a son, two weeks ago, and he’s still in the hospitable for heart problems. He’s already had two heart surgeries and he’s still got a long recovery ahead of him. I can’t imagine being in her shoes; it would be so hard and so scary…And another friend had a stillborn baby, and there are so many other sad stories I really can’t dwell on too much. But whenever Simon wakes up halfway through his nap or in the middle of night, or is crabby or not acting like a textbook perfect baby, I try to remind myself of what a blessing he is, and how grateful I am that he’s here and healthy.

And in the midst of the little daily ups and downs, I like to stop and think about the wonder of it all: how so much love and broccoli materialized into a beautifully and wonderfully made human being. And how I love him more than I could ever describe.

And I also try to remember that if I love him well, he will not become my world. I need to keep serving other people so he can grow up and learn to serve other people. So our little game of Simon Says must have its limits, but I’m still trying to figure out what those are. And he can’t even talk yet.