Sounds About Right

I spent the day with a 6 year old. At one point, he came in from the back yard, where My Better Half™ was working on the pond, to say “It’s soooo boring out there.”

Me: “Yeah, well, I hate to tell you, but being an adult is often boring.”

Him: “Yeah, I know. There’s lots of cleaning involved.”

An Unofficial Mommies Group

It turns out that 4:00 on a Wednesday afternoon is prime-baby time at Safeway. I think they might not even let you in the door if you’re not toting a wee little one. Too bad I don’t know any of these ladies. We could be friends. But since my only opener is “OMG! How old’s your baaaaaby? Can I see how cute?!” I think I’d be considered a weird creeper and not friend potential. Well, there’s that, and the fact that the other moms seem to be able to get their act together enough to be properly attired out in public. Me, on the other hand? I’m wearing sweatpants, I’ve got toothpaste on my sleeve and spit-up on my shoulder, I’m sporting mis-matched Christmas-themed socks, and my only makeup is that I have 2-day-old mascara flakes still lingering on my eyelashes.

I don’t belong to any mommies groups, and honestly, I’m not sure what the hell they’re about or if I’d have anything at all in common with them. But as a working mom, I don’t really have much of a choice. All the baby-mommy events seem to be during the week. Story time at the bookstore? Mid-morning on Tuesdays. Story time at the library? Mid-morning on Thursdays. Breastfeeding support group? It’s on Wednesday mornings. Kindermusik? That’d be during the workday, too. Baby swim classes? I can barely get to work and home on time, nevermind scoop her up and get her to a swim class that starts at 5:00 and is half an hour away. I keep thinking about how much of my time with Baby is spent taking her for walks to the park or to go see the duckies in the canal, and how that activity probably won’t even be possible once it gets hot (which is Any. Minute. Now.)

I’ve got to figure out how to make some mommy friends so, if nothing else, she (and I) can have some friends over for indoor playdates once it gets hot. But they better be mommy friends who don’t make me feel inadequate since I seem to be the only one here not sporting skinny jeans, a fluttery but immaculate tank, and hair that doesn’t look like it’s been poorly corralled with vaseline after six hours in a wind tunnel.

A Crisis of Confidence

On good days, I know that being a parent is something that I am great at. I take pride in my ability to read my baby, to anticipate her needs. I see her squeal with glee at seeing me arrive at daycare to pick her up and I know that I am doing a damn fine job. The mornings make it so easy for me to know that I’m the shit, as far as mommies go. On mornings when I wake before her, I let her wake on her own and, once she has stirred, come in to find her quietly investigating her binky, turning it over and over, vetting its quality, usefulness, and tastiness but the moment she sees me, she springs into a beaming smile, extending her arms as far upward as she can muster as a request to be held RIGHT NOW because it’s been HOURS since she’s been cuddled by me. I scoop her up and devour her with kisses, gobbling her ears and chin and neck and those cheeks. OH those cheeks. And the mornings when she wakes before me? I wake to her soft coos as her tiny hands explore my face, and as I slowly open my eyes, I see her inquisitive gaze erupt into luminous, pure, unabated joy and exuberance. And I know that this is going to be a great day. And all I’ve done to deserve this is be a good mommy.

But there are also tough days. On bad days, it can be hard to quiet the doubts. Daycare had a chat with me today about how “she only naps for half an hour!” On a confident day, I would respond with “And I’m supposed to be able to do what about that?” But after 3 days in a row of no more than a daily 30 minute snooze, I start to question what I’m doing wrong. Should I cut out coffee? Switch her to formula? Somehow take her to work with me so I can shove her in the sling (a surefire nap inducer)? Tell them it’s okay to duct tape her to the mat? I start to run down the list of all the possible ways I could be getting it wrong, starting to think it really could be my fault that she sucks at napping. And then, when daycare learns that not only does she not nap well, she ALSO DOESN’T SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT YET, I can hear them looking up the number for Child Protective Services. But on bad days, even an innocent & simple passing remark can make me question my baby’s development. When they say that babies move up to the next nursery “when they’re crawling so she probably won’t be in there for at least a couple more months,” I immediately jump to my brain’s index entry Crawling, why ISN’T SHE DOING IT YET?

If my BFF were here, she would say that I’m being too hard on myself, that I’m doing my best, and that I’m being way too sensitive to daycare’s, uh, advice, and that baby is developing at a healthy rate on her own time, and that all babies are different. And on good days, I know that’s true, and I trust my instincts. But on those tough days, sometimes it seems like maybe daycare does know more about my baby than I do, because they get to spend more time with her. Hopefully the smile on baby’s face bright and early tomorrow morning will remind me that that can’t possibly be true…and that I’m damn fine at my mommy job.

6 Months, 6 Life Lessons

Now that I’ve got a 6 month old on my hands, I think it’s time to reflect on what being a mom has taught me thus far. So here are the 6 things I’ve learned so far from baby, one for each month:

  1. Be Yourself. Having never been a parent before, I had no idea that there were formal parenting styles out there – Attachment, Slow, Ferberization. I don’t know about you, but if someone asked me “what kind of person are you?” I’d just look at them dumbfounded, and it seems just as strange to confine and box in my parenting role. Do what feels naturally; that is what you will excel at. Trust your instincts. Use common sense. Whatever works for you? Do that. Your baby wants you to be you, accepts you as you, and loves you for who you are. Being your authentic self is all your baby asks of you.
  2. You Can’t Fix Everything. Sometimes you will not be able to sort out what’s wrong with baby. You’ve changed the diaper, you’ve fed, you’ve held and rocked her, you’ve sung to her, you’ve walked her, and yet? Still crying. You will try everything in your bag of tricks. Your family, friends, and neighbors will try different things. And yet, nothing seems to help. Then? All of a sudden, the clouds part and your happy, content baby returns. You may never know what was wrong in that moment, but just know that your very efforts to try to console her are what matters. That brings us to:
  3. This, too, Shall Pass. Right after we first brought baby home from the hospital, some friends brought over their 6 month old, and gave us some of the best advice we could have heard: Don’t spend too much time trying to sort out what is “wrong”, because baby is ever-changing, and so her needs and development dictate that it will always be something different. One week, it might be that she seems hungry every hour and that you may never sleep again, but then the next week she seems to have settled into more of a feeding routine and goes 3-4 hours between nursing. One month it might be that she needs to be held an awful lot and you may never be able to eat anything that isn’t hand-held again, but the next month she seems slightly more independent. Just in the past 6 months, I’ve seen baby go from sleeping only an hour or two at a time to sleeping 6 hours at a stretch; from eating only an ounce or two at a time to hoovering a 5-oz. bottle; from not wanting to be put down to wanting to play by herself on her rug for a bit. Every phase is surpassed by the next, and you don’t want to miss a moment, so don’t spend your time wondering what’s wrong. Instead:
  4. Take Every Moment at Face Value. I’m not about to tell you that every single instant with your little one is a blessing or that you should try and cherish every. single. minute (and I thank Momastery for stating that so well). But there is something to be said about the application of mindfulness meditation to being a mom. If you are thinking of what’s next, you might miss that funny look you’re getting right now. And if you’re stressed about the fussiness from last night, you might be stressing out your baby, too. They’re very sensitive to you. So try to just take life moment by moment. And see what unfolds. Just being a keen observer of my baby is, in itself, fascinating. One moment she’ll be crying, then that cry will turn into a babble, then that babble into a smile and half-hearted giggle, then all serious. There’s no predicting, and it’s fun to go along for the ride.
  5. Make Time for Play. I often hear or read about baby routines, and it’s usually all about when baby sleeps or eats, but what’s important to me is not a routine, but to be sure and make time for the small stuff. I find playing with baby to be the most joyful experience I can imagine. Her contagious giggles, her wide-eyed smile, and her desire for you to “do it again!” are all I need as a reminder for how pleasurable life’s smallest moments (and people) can be. Play is when I discover the new moves she’s got, new facial expressions, new reactions, and the things that she enjoys the most. It’s also fun for us – she has a magical ability to make all adults around her behave like utter goofballs.
  6. Dismiss All Unsolicited Advice – including this post. Take everything as it is – close friends and family offer advice with only the best intentions of offering you some tried-and-true tips that worked for them. Your pediatrician may have some great insights for you on why your baby might be behaving a certain way. Folks at daycare will offer their helpful “suggestions” for you. And total strangers will come up to you to offer their two cents. If it sounds ok and the source is good, something to think about. But the most important rule is #1 – Be Yourself. So if any advice you get seems a little odd to you or just doesn’t gel with your style? Fuhgeddaboudit!