WARNING: This is a long post. Thank you, in advance, if you make it to the end. 🙂
“Arrival is such a definite thing; it is hard to live up to it.” –Peter Mayne, A Year in Marrakesh.
Kai turned one at the end of November which means we made it to the other side of a year, for the most part unscathed considering our lives turned upside down by their pant legs, shaken until their pockets fell out; our house is now sprinkled with “charming” children’s toys, the de rigueur decor of new parents, we go to bed a full two hours earlier than pre-parenthood, and our social lives, as a result, are but a distant memory. By now Kai usually sleeps through the night which means we are fairly well-rested with only the occasional sleepy day after a hard night–although, look closely, and we’re still a little foggy in the eyes as life now seems a constant study in, “And what is in store for today?” But mostly, we are fine, better than fine–ecstatic even–because we have Kai.
Last New Year’s Eve. Kai crashed out at 10:00 pm so we followed suit and never saw midnight.
I told JB, having a baby is like inviting someone you have never met to live with you for eighteen years. First it’s just you and your partner. You establish a routine, you find your groove. Someone is assigned taker-outer of the trash; the other person does dishes; sometimes one person is pregnant so the other person does both duties. 🙂 Then you bring a stranger (your new baby) home and, unlike most roommates, this one will take rather than contribute to the household income. He’ll eat a lot and then fart and burp like no one else is in the room. He will come with a whole lot of paraphernalia and require frequent baths as though we’re not in a severe drought and dictate when, and if, we sleep. You can only hope he’ll grow up to have similar interests and taste as you, laugh at your jokes, make some of his own, and, eventually register as a Democrat. The rest we just have to leave up to nature and nurture and cross our fingers that when eighteen rolls around, he will leave the nest (and head to college), but call and visit often.
Or, as a client and friend said, “Having a baby is like dropping a bomb on a marriage. Having two babies is like dropping two bombs.” (It’s kinda making us want to stick to having just one, but you never know.)
The morning after Kai turned one, I said to JB, “It’s so much nicer waking up to a one-year old than a one-day old.” Mostly because when you wake, it will likely be after you had six, eight–maybe more–consecutive hours of sleep. And sleep is a marvelous thing. A thing so great that you never knew you loved, treasured, and so desperately needed in order to speak or think in anything other than an unintelligible mumble of jumble–until it was gone. I remember watching people on commercials during the early days (Kai didn’t let us focus on actual shows for a very long time, even now we only process about a third of what’s on the screen, the rest obscured by the noises and interruptions of our dear pre-toddler) and the actors would snuggle into their Sleep Number Beds or rest soundly because they took NyQuil and could finally stop sneezing and fall asleep and I’d think, “Oh lucky you. You bastard. You don’t know how good you’ve got it heading to bed like you don’t even appreciate it. Man I’d love to appreciate it for you.” Thoughts were like that. Weird and disjointed, often centered around, and due-to-the-lack-of, the precious commodity that was in low supply and high demand: at least five consecutive hours (the minimum it takes, they say, to avoid clinical sleep deprivation) of, blessed, sleep.
Another noteworthy thing that happens when your baby grows older is you get to switch from counting in weeks like you do when pregnant or with a newborn, to months which is nice since any time computation is involved (“How many months is fifteen weeks? How pregnant is that person? How old is that baby? How old is my baby?”) my head hurts–especially when under the influence of clinical sleep deprivation. And so began the great recounting of what we were doing at this time last year.
Oh it is so much better now than say Kai’s third day on the planet. That third day, but his first day home, we returned to our very new-feeling house that we had remodeled 3/4 of and just moved back into the weekend before I popped out (or rather, “labored out”) a baby. Everything was in place, devoid of dust and it all looked so pretty, if a bit foreign in its newness; it was still a surprise to walk into a freshly decorated room, “Oh, what is this? How nice!” I remember thinking what a double-whammy of excitement it was: moving back into our “new” house with a new baby. Our house had changed, and bringing a baby over its threshold, so had life as we knew it.
We had placed the antique bassinet, which would serve as Kai’s bed until he was old enough to transfer to the crib in his nursery, in our master bedroom. The bassinet was a gift from a close friend and design mentor, outfitted with a skirt of ivory-colored linen, draped with an antique lace receiving blanket and accessorized with a vintage teddy bear with moveable arms and legs. I’d styled the items just-so and parked the bassinet on an angle so everything looked magazine-ready–or at least Instagram-worthy. We had just come home from the hospital and JB was on a Trader Joe’s run stocking up on prefab meals. I sat on our bed nursing Kai while talking on the phone with another new mom. I chatted as Kai contentedly nursed and thought, “This is not so hard!” When he began to look a little sleepy, I got off the phone and arranged him in his new bassinet. Brimming with pride over the picturesque scene and the ease with which I was apparently navigating the learning curve of this motherhood thing, I snapped a photo of Kai looking very much like a catalog baby and texted it to JB along with, “He’s sleeping!”–the subtext being, “We got this!” Moments later, Kai erupted in a howl that lasted and lasted. And lasted. Except for the moments when he was eating, or very briefly sleeping (ten minutes here or there), there was no respite.
By 4 am, I desperately wanted to call my mom and ask her what to do but realized she shouldn’t have to suffer just because we were. She had done her duty as a parent, now it was our turn to figure it out. Kai screamed if we set him in the bassinet and walked more than a couple of steps away so the beatific vision of him sleeping there was short-lived (although the bassinet did serve another purpose as a very mobile changing table). Instead JB pulled the back cushions off the sofas to make a pillow fortress so Kai and I could sleep on one sofa (JB on the other) and in case, God forbid, Kai slipped during the night, the drop would only be a few inches and the landing would be cushioned. We “slept” like that, JB continually checking on us from his sofa, and me waking up to make sure that Kai was still safely tucked next to me–and, more importantly, still breathing! Those first few nights were the scariest where the fear of smothering was constant. I’d wake up every couple of hours so tired, but so relieved Kai was still alive!
Our real estate agent had said the first three months of having a baby feels like three years and now I understood. The lactation consultant told us that the parents who were the most pleased with themselves were those of five-month-olds so I held out for that milestone and was happy to discover that by four months it became, if not easy, than easier. Then actually fun. Kai smiled and laughed and seemed to recognize who we were and maybe even like us.
But before that, when Kai was six weeks old, I took a walk with the same new mom friend I’d called on Kai’s first day home. Her second son was two months older than Kai and when I expressed how difficult I was finding being a new parent (lack of sleep, lack of free time, lack of recognizing your former life in your new childcare-filled one where you, as the mom, have the starring role of childcare provider), she chided, “Oh you are going to miss this stage and want another soon!” I stared down at Kai who was looking very serious, grimacing even, but otherwise being perfectly well behaved. And thought, “Really?”
I realized some of my favorite moments were when I was either walking Kai in a stroller or driving with him in the car because I could go at the same pace as I had in my PK (Pre Kai) life, so I was feeling the thrill of power-walking like a non-mom, but I knew as soon as we were home, we’d be back to the strict regimen of nursing/burping/changing/repeat in between bouts of crying. We weren’t quite to the fun, giving back (smiles, giggles, dancing together) stage and I thought, “What exactly am I going to miss about this?” And I still wonder.
I have never felt so dragged down and unhealthy as after having a baby. For a while I was obsessed that I might not live to see Kai grow up to be a man because I felt so unusually achy and mortal (feeling back to normal now, thankfully). I was in awe of all parents. “You did this? You survived this? Your kid(s) survived this?” I felt like something was wrong with me because even though he was small and snugly and cute, it didn’t seem like such a good trade-off for giving up sleeping and getting any work done. Heck, if all I wanted was something warm and little to wrap in a blanket, I would have been satisfied raising my Chiweenie whom I can leave unattended for hours and is fully potty trained.
I think this means I am someone who the Baby stage was a little lost on. I definitely prefer the baby/toddler period to the baby/infant period which is probably for the best since, in retrospect, the infant stage lasted all of a nanosecond (even though if you had asked me back then, I would’ve said time was standing still and I was in a sleepless purgatory) so I figure it’s a good thing I’m super keen on the kid stage since we have years more of that to come whereas the baby part was but a blip on the ol’ childhood trajectory.
I think it was a friend who wisely said, “Being a parent is the best worst job.” Or maybe I said it—I can’t remember; former sleep deprivation has wiped away parts of my memory. I haven’t watched children since I was a child and babysitting other people’s children for money so, at times, it has been hard to change gears from doing my design work to essentially babysitting. (Funny story: One day when JB told a coworker he had to hurry home because I had to be somewhere and he had to babysit Kai, the coworker, also a father, said, “When it’s your own kid, it’s not called ‘babysitting’, it’s called ‘parenting’.” Ahem.) I have female friends who took the first year of their child’s life off from work so they could exclusively watch their kid. I think it is wonderful that they report back, “I love staying home! We make cookies and dance around and go to the park.” In contrast, I see myself enjoying that for the first four hours and then sinking into a cavernous pit of depression.
Don’t worry, I didn’t/won’t go all Brooke Shields (sorry, Brooke); however, I freely admit I didn’t find the transition to parenting to be as seamless as I had hoped. It wasn’t until I realized I needed to hire someone to come in so I could keep up with my work and have some balance in my life which had suddenly shifted to all childcare all the time, that the clouds lifted. Otherwise, a storm was probably imminent.
My rationale for hiring babysitters so I could get some work done, as first told to JB: “I love Kai more than anything, but imagine something else lovable such as ice cream. We’ve all know people who loved ice cream and then got a summer job working in an ice cream store where they could eat as much as they wanted and the next thing you know they hated ice cream. This is why I need to hire babysitters so I can still work. Too much of even a great thing is a bad thing and I want to still love ice cream*.”
*Kai is Haagen Dazs’s Rum Raisin, my all-time favorite flavor of ice cream, in this analogy.
Okay, more truth serum. Sometimes I feel guilty that I enjoy when Kai is napping because that means I enjoy time away from him. Then I remind myself of my ice cream analogy and realize that it’s similar to the sage words of that country lyric, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” If you know another mom who feels like this, or you yourself feel like this, I think it’s important that you know you are not alone and it is okay to want to get things done. That doesn’t make us bad moms, it makes us complex people who like to get a lot done. Plus, that little break can make you come back refreshed, and ready to do things like make cookies, dance around the house, and go to the park. 🙂
I’m not sure why I felt so stressed out and in a giant hurry for about the first ten months, but it was like there was a giant ticking clock in my ear (not my biological clock this time, but the “alarm” of baby Kai waking from a nap with a shrill cry which is how he would awaken, 9 times out of 10). I’d be so grateful for the moments that I could move around with my arms free, at my naturally accelerated speed, that I’d speed up even more. I’d race around going back and forth between work stuff and cleaning and work stuff again. If I was calling a client, I’d be thinking about all the dishes that were still in the sink. But if I was cleaning the counters, I’d be thinking about the client I hadn’t emailed back. Always a sense of needing to do more, faster. Of course, not everyone gets to work at home, so I’d count my blessings, but I noticed I was often having to remind myself how lucky I was, which was kind of telling unto itself and told me it was time to have someone watch Kai during the hours I needed to focus on work and the counters and dirty dishes could wait.
Trip to Home Depot. Kai “telling us” how it is.
When I see other new parents with babies, I think, “Ah, that looks so quaint. Romantic even. What a cute and cozy family.” I visited my niece-in-law when her twins were a few weeks old and they mostly slept and made occasional gurgling noises. I thought, “Well, that looks quite easy!” (Note: I know it is NOT. I since found out that while the twins did sleep through the day, they did not do much sleeping at night. So, sometimes what looks so easy is “smoke and mirrors” which actually applies to many aspects of life.) So why, why, why, did I find it hard with only one sweet baby?
Perhaps it’s the game of Perfection. And I don’t mean metaphorically; it’s an actual game. I had to look up the name because I had forgotten it, but it’s a game I had growing up where you have to fit plastic pieces into their plastic slots while a timer loudly ticks and if you don’t finish in time, the buzzer sounds and all your work is undone as the pieces fly into the air and scatter. Having a baby is a lot like this. I’d hear a loud imaginary buzzer (in reality: Kai screaming when he awoke) that announced: “Put your work down and walk away. Your time is up!” Being a mom you learn to be so fast, so efficient, go as quickly as you can until the baby goes pop (cries). After a while I could feel the stress like a physical toxic goo, running from my shoulders down into my arms and hands. I had to learn stop and breathe and think, “So I may not finish. Oh well.”
When Kai was ten-months-old, we took a trip to Hawaii. It was his first time on a plane and he did very well, but was extremely fidgety if we stayed seated and only happy if I stood up and bounced him. As a result, I spent much of the flight standing and swaying and bouncing baby Kai at the back of the plane by the bathroom. At one point a woman stood in line with her five-year-old daughter and told me, “It doesn’t get any easier. I thought it would, but it doesn’t. The challenges just change as they get older.” Hmm. That was probably the last thing I needed to hear. I was already a little nervous about how this vacation-with-child was going to play out and while I smiled and thanked her, I thought, “Thanks for the parental buzzkill, lady.” Personally, I like to think that it does get easier because it already has. I get that the issues will morph, but that also means that we get to leave some of the stages that aren’t so pleasant (diaper changes, the freakiness of watching your child learn to walk and not being able to stop every fall, sucking the snot out of your baby’s nose) behind. So there!
I know it gets easier because even the crying isn’t as hard to hear as it once was. I often wonder if that is in part why having a newborn, at least your first newborn, seemed like such an endurance test. It only makes sense that instinctively crying makes us tense up and go out of our minds because crying is cause for alarm: someone (your precious, vulnerable, helpless baby) is in need and needs YOU to fix it. Once you learn a cry can mean, “I want another chip and I want it NOW!” you learn every cry is not an occasion to jump…or freak out.
However, JB does not seem to be bothered by the cries as much as I am. This must be something built in: the mom gene? To me, the cries are like nails on a chalkboard or any other metaphor for extremely hard to hear and verging on a form of torture. For JB, I think it’s just background noise. For me, the sound is almost physically painful.
For precisely that reason, I wanted to enact a firm “You wake him, you watch him” policy, but, alas, I am the owner of the mammary glands and therefore the great soother. At least I was. Without warning, Kai went from being an A-plus nurser to going on a nursing strike the night of the election (perhaps he could sense my stress). Our pediatrician said he had never heard of a baby stopping so suddenly, but to consider myself lucky since we were only a couple of weeks from the one-year mark anyway and this meant I’d get to avoid having an eighteen-month-old trying to lift my shirt in public.
Here is how it went down: The first time, I thought, “How unusual. You are always such a good nurser,” or something to that effect. It was only the next day, when each attempt was met with a funny “Pffbt” laugh from Kai, a look like, “You have got to be kidding me!” and him trying to scramble off my lap in the opposite direction of my chest, that I knew something was up. So I moved on, grateful for breast pumps. Sappy commercials would make me cry, JB accidentally putting a beloved dessert plate with a gold rim in the microwave where the gold burned off made me yell more than I should have and for the next few days I was probably very hard to live with as I rode the hormonal wave of weepy to tantrum to back to before my body was responsible for someone’s sustenance. It did suck that I didn’t know the last time was the last time so with no fanfare, or gradual weaning to prevent my chest from filling up with what felt like rocks, my magical powers of being able to instantly soothe Kai in general, and soothe him back to sleep, in particular, were gone. My reign as a super hero was over. Darn it, I’m like a normal person again, but I think that gives JB a feeling of equal parental footing (he can now soothe as well as I can) so that’s good. 🙂
I do actually have another latent super power. Even when Kai is sleeping in the next room, with his door closed, the heater blowing, the dishwasher creating its soothing white noise, if he makes the tiniest noise, the most muffled peep is magnified in my eardrum like a large conch shell blowing to say, “Wake up, mom. You’re on!” Funny how what to me is a blaring cry for help, fails to wake JB up and he lies beside me, breathing softly, contentedly a sleeping dad.
One of the best parts about having a baby has been the Christmas-morning feeling of “Oh my gosh, you’re finally here!” I wonder if/when it will wear off. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the first thing my mom thinks when she wakes up, although I have been meaning to ask her, “Do you wake up and the first thing you think of is how lucky you are that I’m alive?” As close as we are, I’m guessing the answer is a definitive, “No.”
At times when I feel like I will never get anything done or do it when I want to or for as long as I want, it will suddenly dawn on me that JB’s mom and my mom are not having to worry about when we are hungry or tired or need to go to the bathroom and that they (for the most part) do as they please, which means this is just a stage. I figure I better get that concept soon so I can enjoy this as a transitory period, not a sentence, so when Kai is a tween and wipes our kisses off and wants us to drop him off a block from the school or the skate park and rolls his eyes behind our backs (Kai, please don’t turn into “that” kid), that I will think we sucked everything out of this stage like it was a bone and we got down to the marrow and that we were really present, enjoying it as much as possible. So when my selfish self surfaces and I get frustrated that my time is no longer my own and when I fear that all the one-way conversations with Kai may make my mind turn to mush, or at least make it 50% more likely that I might start talking to myself in public, and, during the other times, when it is just plain lonely, I try to remember that, just like the breastfeeding, when it suddenly stops, I very likely will be startled into saying, “Wait, slow down! Can we just freeze time?”
We are in a super cute stage now. There are the bobbing dance moves (his and ours) any time music comes on–even when I “sing” (in quotes because it’s not that musical) and his trick of holding things in his mouth hands-free (cute things like his rubber ducky, his sippy cup, and less cute things like his dirty socks) while making a noise that says, “Look, Ma! No hands!” There’s what I call “the ET finger” where he points at everything he wants and says, “Doh” like he’s Homer Simpson. The sort of screechy “pterodactyl speak” has turned into a heart-warming “Minion babble” although Kai seems to think the word for almost everything (besides “Mamamama” for me and “Dah” for JB) is, strangely enough, “Dog”. And the other day he held the remote control to his ear like it was a phone and said, “Ello,” like he was Oliver Twist and the parental, “Aww!” was probably audible even next door.
The other day, I started to tell a pregnant acquaintance about how hard the early days were and I saw her face begin to fall so I quickly swerved the story from drama to comedy and made sure to give it a happy ending. She didn’t need to hear me complain. She’ll have her own sleepless nights. Like the woman on the plane, I didn’t want to be her buzzkill.
At ten months my mind seemed to reawaken and it felt like most of the cobwebs cleared out. Prior to that, thoughts would wriggle away like slippery fish before I could catch them. Free time was non-existent so reflection was out of reach. Even writing in Kai’s baby book seemed almost impossible. Now when I look at it, I notice my handwriting was very near illegible in the early months as I raced through getting the words down. As time went on, my penmanship became almost comically clearer. So maybe it was just this sense of not having the time, and cognizance, to process the biggest (and greatest) thing that has ever happened to us that made it hard to “go with the flow” as much as I wanted to. I wanted to be a Superstar Mom, a mom who was loving every minute of it. At least we weren’t in Syria (my go to aphorism for cheer)–or worse. We were blessed so what was I complaining about? I guess there was still an “elephant on our foot” even if the elephant was darn cute and didn’t even weigh ten pounds yet.
I remember when Kai was one week old, I went to the weekly hospital weigh-in where a lactation nurse would make sure you were feeding your baby correctly. One I liked in particular said she would watch the new moms pour in the door, stunned with the “Thousand-yard stare”. She used phrases like “shell-shocked” and being “still in the trenches” to describe new motherhood. I think this says it all. There’s a sense of having been to war. We have come back to civilian life, but we’re different now. I am still fascinated by this parenthood thing and can’t entirely grasp that we are actually living it. I have spent most of my life as a non-parent so it’s rather radical to suddenly be one forevermore. The closest thing I can compare it to is we opened the treasure box, the white light poured out, and we saw what was inside. We are forever changed because we saw something special and now it is time for us to raise someone special. And for that I am eternally, blissfully grateful.
If you made it this far, thank you. Stay tuned for the next blog post as we will be back to our regular programing of all things to do with design.
Lastly, this week we lost a great talent, the actress, and amazing author, Carrie Fisher. From one “over-sharer” (she used that term to describe her writing) to another, if they read blogs in heaven, this one’s for you. 🙂
Happy decorating and Happy New Year! 🙂