When Max was three days I old I took him on our first real walk together, around the park at the end of our block. He weighed 6 pounds and 8 ounces that day. No wrap or stroller, I cradled him in the crook of my neck. One teenage boy noticed us on his way to soccer practice.
Look at the baby! His friend was uninterested and unimpressed. Look! I’ve never seen such a little baby before!
He’s three days old, I beamed with pride.
It was an evening in mid-May in Miami, which meant the park was packed at sundown, a relief from the heat. I remember seeing kids play at the playground, parents pushing babies in bucket seats on swingsets. I had a thought I knew was wrong, Those other parents think their babies are little, but they aren’t really. They’re already big. My baby is the babiest baby of all.
Of course, I realized that the playground parents had gone through the newborn stage and were light years ahead of me in terms of parenting, but there was something inside me that wanted so strongly to hold onto the preciousness of that moment: the first few days of a new life.
Babyhood is beautiful! A lot is written about poopy diapers and sleepless nights, but mothers know that those are truly inconsequential details when compared with the earth-shattering joy a new baby brings to a family. Every day offers something new: a smile to be amazed by, a first giggle, the funny discovery of hands.
At the same time, each milestone that marks a beginning also marks an end. Babies grow remarkably fast. Once a baby can crawl, he’ll never be content to bat at a mobile on his back. Once he can walk, forget life on hands and knees. Once solid food is grasped, nursing falls by the wayside (usually, I know and respect different choices).
As eager as we are to get to the next stage of development, it’s hard to let go of the baby we so love. This is especially true for second children. My mom jokes, With the first child, you eagerly cheer their first steps. With the second child, you knock them down. There is a sense that you don’t want to rush through the best time of life. Babyhood is fleeting.
Now I am a mom at the playground. One child rides on his tummy on a big kid swing, the other child is learning to pump his legs to go high. Who knows what newborns are being carted around the park? I’m caught up in my own life and rarely notice.
Friends who have children younger than mine often remark that my kids are so big. I smile, knowing that they don’t get it. They won’t get it until their kids reach the same age. Three year-olds, four year-olds, even five year-olds, are still very little people. When I need reminding of this, I just look at a single body part: an elbow, a shoulder, an ear. They are still tiny.
But it’s OK that they’re growing. I am firmly out of the baby and toddler stage of parenting. My kids are preschoolers with kindergarten on the autumnal horizon. My time with babies is over. I don’t even feel a twinge of sadness about that, because the truth that the mothers on the playground know is this:
It gets better.
Babies are wonderful, but they are also generic.
A baby could be switched in a hospital nursery and no one would be the wiser, but there is no way you could ever pick up the wrong kid from school. Those milestones which delight us are really just rites of passage every person on earth experiences. As children grow, they become more and more themselves. Every day, every year, they come into their own more fully.
Even though the love I felt for my children at birth consumed and overwhelmed me, it’s really nothing compared to my love for them now as distinct individuals.
My love for my four year-old is not the love I feel for my firstborn son. It’s specifically for Max who is thoughtful, observant, artistic, athletic, sensitive, inquisitive, pathologically helpful with an engineer’s mind set to building.
My three year-old gets love not for being my baby, but for being Jack, a reliable clown who lives on his emotions, has a wild sense of humor, a deep love of dogs, and a creative imagination that spins elaborate, spellbinding stories.
And we are just getting started.
The end of babyhood marks the beginning of selfhood.
It is humbling and exciting to see a little one create and reveal his unique identity. It’s much more thrilling than watching him roll over for the first time!
Those inconsquential details I mentioned at the beginning, sleep and poop, well, it’s nice to be done with that, too. It’s a welcome relief to have the ability to break a routine without having a meltdown, to move through a crowd without a stroller, to stop acting like a Sherpa for every outing. An exhilarating freedom comes with a child’s independence.
I also get to reclaim some of my identity that got lost in round-the-clock parenting. I can get out of the house without guilt and pursue my other passions. I can also share parts of myself with my children, like yoga and cooking. Although I happily relinquished much my life to focus on being a mother, becoming Rebecca again is quite refreshing. It’s a different version of Rebecca and it’s fun to redefine who I am as a mother and a woman.
Once babies stop being babies, the real adventure begins!
All the playground moms know that.
This Thanksgiving you know what I’m grateful for? I asked as I snapped my boys’ carseat buckles.
Max and Jack, I answered as I kissed each of them. They were such good boys at the grocery store. Thanksgiving shopping was a breeze.
What does grateful mean? asked Max.
It means to be so happy about something it fills your heart with love, I said. I always surprise myself by flustering answers to what should be easy questions. It’s like when we say thank you.
What are you grateful for?
God, said Max in an instant.
I’m grateful for everything, beamed Jack.
Not to be out-done, Max clarified, I’m grateful to God that we can celebrate everything.
Cue mama’s tears.
Because there are all those times I wasn’t the best mom. Those tiny failures that happen when patience is lost and gentleness is forgotten. Those days when not enough stories were read. Those days when we hustle and bustle, but hardly manage to cuddle. Those days that seem like they’ll never end, but are gone so fast.
Those days ache in my heart when I peek at them sleeping and wonder if they felt enough love?
Could they ever?
God and everything.
Yesterday, the sunrise stopped us in our tracks.
I was on the way to the kitchen to make Aunt Kate’s pancakes for Jack’s birthday breakfast with eager boys in tow, but the sky was shockingly full of color. We diverted our course and headed to the front stoop to soak it in.
It was a fiery dawn. The searing orange glow of the sun reminded the world that it is just a ball of gas on fire. Bright pink surrounded it, softening the effect. Jack said you could see purple too. I suppose that with the backdrop of the blue sky and all that pink, you could see violet if you wanted to.
As I sat nestled between my two sons, I thought about how lucky I was. What a rare moment for a mother to share with her children: witnessing the birth of a day on her child’s birthday.
I remembered the sunrise three years earlier as Andres drove Jack and I home six hours after he was born. The fear and flutter in my heart, not just as the spell of a magical night broke, but at my first moments being a mother of two. Our destination was home, to Max, on the first morning he woke up to find both of his parents absent. Each red light brought less pink and more light to the world.
We found Max in his highchair being fed by Tia Lily.
I kissed him, not tired from labor, but exhilarated by birth, and then I introduced him to his brother.
A moment later I sunk into the rocking chair and nursed Jack while in view of Max. All was right in the world and the soft colors of sunrise disappeared to the brightness of day.
I call myself mamaguru.
Yesterday, the mama part of me wanted to make perfect pancakes for Jack’s birthday breakfast. I wanted to recite his favorite poem about pancakes and have that picture-perfect moment. The table was already set.
But all that was put on hold by the other part of me.
The me in me, my essence, spirit, soul, energy, life-force…that guru part of me was louder.
Look, I said to my children.
When something in this world catches your eye, look at it.
It is the first lesson of everyday.
It is sunrise.
It’s been a long time since I felt like a rookie parent, but last night at my first Open House I made a typical rookie error:
I forgot about chairs.
Specifically, I forgot that preschools only have little chairs. When Max’s preschool opened its doors, I was eager to find a seat near the front of the room, but then I saw them: rows and rows of tiny plastic chairs perfectly sized for my four year old.
Open House was supposed to be 45 minutes, but it lasted for an hour and a half. My bottom is still a combination of sore and numb. Future parents of preschoolers prepare yourself:
OPEN HOUSE IS JUST LIKE A SPIN CLASS, BUT YOU DON’T BURN ANY CALORIES! WEAR CYCLING SHORTS OR BRING A CUSHION!
When me and my sore tushy got home, Max’s godmother told me how babysitting went. All was fine until it was time for lullabies. I warned my children that she probably wouldn’t know the songs we usually sing, but she would definitely know Twinkle Twinkle and Itsy Bitsy. Apparently, that wasn’t good enough.
Splice to R, decked out in her professional attorney attire, holding Max on the rocking chair and looking up lyrics to Lollipop on her blackberry.
Guess I’m not a total rookie.
Eight children died last week in the United States because they were left alone in cars.
This article was originally published in May 2010, but I urge you to read it and repost it. We cannot allow this to happen anymore. Eight babies dead in one week. Completely senseless, completely preventable. We must do better.
Ah, summer…. The warm air approaches, a plethora of life explodes from the ground and the scent of suntan lotion hints at beach days ahead. Eagerly we await what is just around the corner: lemonade stands, watermelon seed spitting contests, oh yeah, and the sad reports on the news about yet another baby roasting in a parked car. Everything in this article you already know, but please take a moment to be reminded. Nobody ever expects these senseless tragedies to happen to them, yet somehow they keep happening.
The most important thing we need to do is to follow our own safety rules. I’m sure you have a list in your head.
1. Never leave a child or pet alone in a car.
2. Never drive distracted or drunk.
3. Always wash your veggies even if they claim to be prewashed.
4. Never allow children to play near a pool without a locked gate.
5. Don’t answer the phone while your children are bathing.
The list goes on. The problem is, even though we write these rules and adhere to them 99% of the time, we do sometimes fudge a bit in the urgency of the moment. The reason to never, ever break one of your safety rules is not because a tragedy may happen. It is because it probably won’t happen. Most likely you can run into the store for a quick purchase of milk while your baby sleeps in the car and NOTHING BAD WILL HAPPEN. We all know this. We know our neighborhoods. We know how quick this particular errand will be. We know ourselves. We know we would never forget our child. We can justify a safety cheat because of our knowledge of these specific variables. But when we do that, we miss the point of our own rules.
The reason it is so crucial to strictly adhere to safety rules is that breaking one and getting away without consequences normalizes risky behavior. Our comfort zone just got a bit wider, which means our child’s world just got a little more dangerous.
Think back to a time in your life when you were a bit reckless (probably your teens or early twenties). Remember your first tentative steps breaking the rules. You probably didn’t sneak out of your house, drink alcohol, lose your virginity and drive wasted down the highway all in one blowout night of first-time bad behaviour. No, most likely you dipped your toes into risk by driving a tad over the speed limit, or kissing a boy at a party. We break small rules, take small risks, before we work our way up to a big one. This normalizing process happens without our awareness. We may not even realize when we cross the line to seriously dangerous behavior.
Moms today are too busy. There are simply too many responsibilities heaped upon our shoulders. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out ways to lessen the burden for myself and other moms. Unfortuantely, I don’t have any significant solutions yet. What I do know is that if something has to fall by the wayside, it can’t be safety. In our society we are constantly trying to streamline and multitask. Good safety requires the opposite behavior: slowing down and taking extra steps.
But you already know this which is why you wrote the rules in the first place. Follow them, so that for summers to come the over-priced, extra-sugary lemonade you drink will come from your own child’s stand.
Please pass this article along to every parent you know as a gentle reminder. It is not breaking news, quite the opposite. But the whole point of this article is to avoid being the breaking news story. Have a beautiful, safe summer.
7 May 2010
I was a little busy. I missed everything. The time difference and a two month old baby meant that I never saw Michael Phelps swim in Beijing. Not even once.
Now Max is four years old.
I’m feeling nostalgic about sleepless nights and difficult feedings. Yesterday Max tore around the house with his homemade rain stick pretending it was the Olympic torch. I realized that the Summer Olympics will always be a benchmark for his growth, something that slams my heart with sudden memories of the early blurry days of his life. So much growth happens in four years. Next time around he will be eight years old.
That seems impossible. And yet, isn’t that the thrill of the Olympics? Watching the impossible unfold right before your eyes.
Bedtime is a battleground.
Every six months or so, the boys tend to rebel against sleep. Usually, if we hold fast to our routine, the problem passes within a few weeks. Not so, this time around. We gave them an extra half an hour of wake time, but they just can’t seem to stop the sillies. Their brother bond is becoming stronger everyday, which sets my heart a-flutter until they turn their teamwork to defeating Mama and Papi’s rules.
We’ve tried every parenting technique under the sun to solve this problem. I even turned scary-mom, which felt awful and unnatural, but I had to try it in case that was the one thing that would work. It didn’t. Nothing worked. I realized that last night, after the third time I went into their bedroom. I looked them in the eyes, and it dawned on me that they were just as helpless as I was to solve this problem. I restated the rule, turned around and walked out of their room, then out of the house.
I sat on my front porch and stared at the darkening sky, wondering what to do. Suddenly, the Serenity Prayer sprung to mind. My semi-photographic memory enabled me close my eyes and read the prayer written in blue ink on a bookmark given to me twenty years ago by the late Mrs. Dodd.
God, grant me the serenity
In an instant I received both serenity and wisdom: I can’t do anything to solve this sleep-silly problem.
There is only one solution to this problem: Max and Jack just need to grow up.
They need to grow up and out of this problem.
And they will. The solution is already in place. As I write, their cells are turning over, bones are getting larger, and neurons are rapid-firing in their growing brains. When I kiss their chubby toes, I often wonder how much longer they’ll stay scrumptious before they morph into stinky man toes. They are growing and I can’t help it.
Strike that. I do help them grow. Everyday I actively participate in making them larger people. I will continue to feed them, love them, nurture them and guide them. They will grow up and out of my arms soon enough.
The solution is in place.
All I have to do is wait. Oh, if I could control the hands of time: fast, slow, forwards, backwards, still, moving.
The things I cannot change.
This morning the boys were noisy. Last night’s electrical storms made our clocks blink nonsense, so I had to reach for my phone to see if it was time to be angry or happy to see them.
They were clear.
Max urged Jack to go to our room: Go ask Mommy or Daddy. Mommy, ask Mommy.
Thud, thud, thud. His soft pads hitting the wood floor. Jack appeared at my head and I feigned surprise.
I have to go potty, he smiled.
Jack hasn’t mastered climbing onto the toilet himself or pulling down his pants. We really should dig out the small stool we used to keep in the bathroom before we got the larger steps. The steps work best for reaching the sink, but are too tall to reach the toilet. It’s a small bathroom, so we really don’t have space for both stools. For now, this is the price we pay for a potty-trained toddler.
I got up, relieved that Jack was relieving himself before breakfast without a fight.
Max came down from his bunk bed with a shy look across his face until I said, Good morning. That is the cue for a hug and kiss and means he will not be in trouble for getting up too soon. Luckily, he was happy to be the first four-year old to use the toilet this morning, rather than the begrudged second boy to use it. These days they fight for first all the time. That and the middle, meaning one brother takes a prime spot on a chair while pushing the other off to the bare edge. These mini-battles erupt all the time, except when they don’t, and our home is given a moment of unexpected tranquility.
The boys left the bathroom towards the dining room and I stopped back in my bedroom for a bra. I was going to let Andres sleep, but the dog distracted the boys from their quest for food, so I spotted a delicious opportunity. I climbed back into bed and said, Let’s cuddle, knowing it would end badly. I didn’t care. I wrapped myself in my husband’s arms and positioned my head so that the sunbeam peeping in from the gap between our black-out curtains would hit my closed eyes.
Human beings are programmed to wake to light. The sun activates hormones to release in our bodies and sleep shrugs off our shoulders effortlessly. Waking up in a darkness means a slow, grumpy start to the day. My head is full of all kinds of facts like this.
Fifteen seconds later, the pitter-patter of eight feet pounded towards us. The soft, springy pads of my sons’ kissable baby feet were almost drowned out by four eager paws hitting the wood floor. Max must have figured out the gate to let the dog out.
Listen: our home is small. They were close and getting closer. But in those brief seconds, as those eight feet scurried happily towards us, certain to break the spell, I had time to ponder life.
The amount of life crashing towards us was bigger than the sunshine.
Brighter than sunlight.
I am awake.