The Babies!

Monday, March 8, 2010

This is mostly not a baby post.

Motherhood has, in a strange sense, fostered a newfound generosity of spirit in me. Let me explain.

Taking care of an infant is exhausting, repetitive, often unrewarding work. Patrick is a good baby, a happy baby, but there's virtually nothing he can do for himself. And so, I do it all for him. I am happy that he rarely cries because it means he is content with his current lot in life. His needs are met-- and I meet them. It is easy to love him, because he is my own child, but I also respect him because he is so helpless and yet still tries so hard to accomplish things. Reaching out for toys, soothing himself with his fingers, seeking me out even when it means having to roll on his side, making his tongue work so he can communicate in his own way-- he does these things despite the great amount of effort it takes sometimes to accomplish them. And because he works so hard and I can see the effort it takes, it doesn't bother me to change his diaper for the second time in ten minutes (at least he didn't pee on me) or to change my shirt for the third time in one day (at least he didn't spit up in my hair). See? I see how hard he is trying and it makes my spirit more generous-- and gentle. And it's so easy to be this way because, even on days like yesterday when I was tired and not feeling well and maybe didn't engage him as much as I should have during play time, he still forgives me and offers me a smile when he wakes up from his naps. Every time, without fail. Maybe that's a bad baby memory or maybe his spirit is generous.

You would think I'd have nothing left to give anyone else after putting all of my generosity (or "work") into a baby. Truth is, I didn't have it to give in those early weeks. I barely had it to give to him. But I found some untapped well of patience and understanding inside me because, well, I had to-- and it doesn't just extend to Patrick anymore. As my confidence in my abilities has grown, so too has my sense of generosity and forgiveness. Patrick has softened me in some ways, ways I didn't really know I had become hardened. More than one person has commented that I seem very "calm" and that motherhood suits me. I laugh it off and interpret whatever calm vibe I'm sending as pure exhaustion, but I sense what they mean. Even when everything is chaos and my brain is racing in six directions at once, there is a calm at my center that wasn't there before. An ability to let go and forgive and reach out and be kind. Because we're all trying, aren't we? Patrick's efforts are so obvious to me because he's a baby, but I find myself looking around and seeing that others are trying, too. Even if their efforts aren't as transparent, even if their work (and suffering) is going on beneath the surface. We're all reaching, soothing, seeking and communicating in our own way.

And I know this sounds all gooey and Zen (and I did enjoy Momma Zen so much that I sent a copy to another new mom friend who I thought would appreciate it), but that's what motherhood has done for me. I'm not one of the "my child is my life" mommies-- I think I will always identify as a writer, first and foremost, over mother, or wife-- but I'm discovering unexpected emotional growth because of motherhood. My goal is not to change my identity to become only "Patrick's Mother" but to help him grow his own individual identity and give him wings. We all need encouragement with that, I think. Whether we're three months old or forty three years old, it feels good to have someone understand us and accept us for who we are.

I still get frustrated with slow drivers and slow lines at the grocery store. I still have no tolerance for rudeness. I still need more sleep, more time to write and more help with baby. But I'm finding it easier these days to reach out, to soothe, to attempt to connect, to try to communicate-- and, when all else fails, to forgive and offer a smile.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Letter to Patrick, Three Months Old

March 4, 2010

Dear Patrick,

You’re a quarter of a year old today, baby! I know that’s not very old at all, but the time… it flies! And you have changed so much in the past month. I’m delighted and startled and even sometimes sad because it seems as if I barely get a chance to enjoy one new thing you’re doing before you’ve gone and added something else to your repertoire, practically over night! As I told your father this morning—just when I get used to our routine, something changes. You!

The biggest change in the past month has been your sleeping pattern. A month ago, your longest stretch of sleep was maybe five hours. One short month later and you have graduated from five hours… to seven hours… to nine straight hours of sleep! The first time it happened (two consecutive nights), I was online searching for the phrase “infant sleeping too much.” Yes, your mother is a silly woman sometimes. Even after I realized there was nothing wrong with you, I was a little sad to have missed out on that 5 AM feeding when we were both warm and sleepy and you would go right back to sleep after eating and cuddling with me.

Of course, that third night you were back to sleeping seven hours—which had also startled me, but not nearly so much as nine hours—and I got my 5 AM cuddle time back, but it was temporary. You’re now sleeping eight to nine hours most nights, with the occasional aberration. A few nights ago, you woke up hungry at 3:30 AM and sucked down two 4 oz. bottles. I suspect you simply hadn’t eaten enough during the day.

You’re still napping pretty well during the day, though the times and length fluctuate from day to day. That’s okay, my only goals for you were to get you to sleep through the night in your own crib and you are very successfully doing that. Yay, baby!

After two months of never being away from you for more than a few hours (and six weeks of caring for you by myself), I found a wonderful part-time babysitter. I had been so reluctant to hire a stranger to take care of you, and luckily I didn’t have to! I’ve known Ashleigh for almost nine years and it’s been wonderful having her here, knowing that she is taking good care of you. I get text messages about you throughout the day, keeping me updated on what you’re doing. I’m so grateful for the time to write and run errands (and even have the occasional lunch with a friend), but I’m also happy to come home to you after my few hours away. You seem to enjoy having another person to entertain with your smiles and babble, and that makes me feel good about my decision.

Speaking of babble, you’re talking up a storm these days! You were starting to coo a month ago, but now you are prone to giving lengthy (and serious) lectures. You have “discovered” your tongue and the various sounds you can make when you move it this way and that. I love listening to you, though your best talking seems to occur when you’re getting sleepy and I’m guilty of keeping you up longer than I should just to listen to you talk. Keep talking, baby. I promise one day I’ll understand every word!

Other developments include your growing interested in your toys. Not only are you paying more attention to the colorful toys that dangle from your playmat and the giraffe mobile over your crib, you’re actually reaching out to grab things! The butterfly toy that hangs in the laundry room (which is actually a dog toy bought for Henry, who had no interest in it), is most often your target for capture. You get your diaper changed on the counter in the laundry room, so you have plenty of opportunities to plot your strategy. You can now hit the butterfly with accuracy and manage to catch it in your hand often enough to delight us both. (Failure to hang onto it causes you great frustration, however.)

Your hands continue to be your dearest friends. You suck on them constantly and you do not discriminate—a finger is as good as a thumb is as good as the entire fist. I attempted to give you a pacifier last month when we were going through the last (and worst) of the fussy nights, but you weren’t interested in rubber (especially since it didn’t have milk in it!) when you could have your own hand. Your drool production is increasing exponentially, which results in wet clothes for both of us, but you don’t yet seem to be teething. You can take your time on that development, baby! I know teething will bring pain and fussiness and probably some sleepless nights—and I don’t want that for either of us!

You have started showing interest in rolling over in just the past week or so. You usually get halfway there, laying on your side with your fist in your mouth, then you stop, content to stare at whatever it is that prompted you to roll on your side. But yesterday while we were playing on my bed, you rolled from your back to your stomach—twice! I tried to get you to do it a third time so I could make a video of it, but you decided it was an event best left undocumented (though I do have a camera phone picture). I imagine you’ll be rolling over pretty regularly by this time next month. It’s a wonderful development, but I will miss being able to put you in the middle of my bed while I get ready in the morning. Try not to roll off the furniture, okay?

You still love your swing and your playmat and the ceiling fans remain favorite objects of distraction (as does anything on the television despite my best efforts to distract you from that evil box). Your father has enjoyed listening to you “talk” to him on the computer. Just two more months and he’ll get to enjoy you in person! Spring and summer are around the corner and I’m looking forward to seeing what your new favorite things will be when we venture outside. I suspect the ceiling fan in the gazebo will make the list.

You’re growing like crazy and weigh fifteen and a half pounds now! I packed away all of your newborn and 0-3 month clothes yesterday so I could make room for your growing wardrobe of 6 month clothes. That was a little sad for me, but I’m having so much fun with you now that I can’t be too sad. I did separate the clothes into the “possible future baby/give away” pile and the “keepsake” pile, because I can’t bear to get rid of a few of those precious newborn outfits, especially your brown stripey sleeper with the raccoon on it. Your mother is silly and sentimental, but those are good qualities to have in a mother, I think.

We’re doing really, really well, baby. Everybody says what a happy baby you are and I feel very lucky that you’re an easy, cheerful baby most of the time. It’s still exhausting for me to take care of you alone, even on the best days and even with a babysitter twenty hours a week. I have days where I long for more help and a few more hours to write, to read, to sleep. It is going to be wonderful to have your father home and I know it’ll seem so much easier when there are two of us to take care of you. We’re going to have so much fun! But no matter how tiring and difficult it might be sometimes, I suspect that I will look back wistfully on these early months and have only good memories of when it was just my little baby and me.

Happy three month birthday, Monkey. Mama loves you.