It’s been a very long time since I’ve written something for the blog, and longer still since I’ve published something. But I wanted to share some things I’ve learned in my first year raising Sisu. I’ve written about specific things like the second night, but I wanted to talk about this year in broader strokes. I’ve put together a summary of what I’ve learned in the past year.
I am always learning. It’s a running joke that babies don’t come with instruction manuals, but what no one seems to highlight is that you’re also not handed an instruction manual for each evolving year. Or month. Or day. We’re on the brink of Sisu’s toddler years and I’m both terrified and excited at what’s to come. She taught me how to nurse, I taught her how to blow raspberries, Papa taught her how to growl, and we’ve all taught each other to persevere with determination and a good attitude. But we will never stop learning. Learning to walk, to use a bathroom, to understand grunts and points, learning to turn grunts and points into language, learning to play on our own, learning that dirty dishes don’t destroy a home. We will be learning from each other for the rest of our lives.
I will make mistakes. Closely following learning is the knowledge that I am always making mistakes. They’re usually not dire, but there they are none the less. This post sums up every emotion tied to that knowledge. The disappointment in myself that I am making mistakes, the determination to better myself, and the love and appreciation for the patience of my child, who will put up with all my mistakes and forgive me for them with a gracious heart. She is raising me as much as I am raising her and mistakes will be made on both our parts.
We are always getting into a new routine. There is always a new phase. There is always something new. There is so much new that I forget how much is new day-to-day because it’s simply too much to remember. “What’s new?” is the most confusing question I’m asked because my brain simultaneously answers, “Nothing.” “Everything.” and my mouth just kind of gapes while I try to figure out what word expresses both. Today we’re interested in playing more than eating. Tomorrow we’re interested in eating, but only a specific food which I can’t seem to identify. The day after that we’re interested in playing, but only in dangerous areas while eating. Life with a child is a difficult dance, and one which we never seem to master.
I have no idea what to do with myself when I’m alone. When nap time comes I look around and wonder what it is I’m supposed to be doing. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I have lots to do. But for a year my primary objective has been “keep the baby alive and growing.” Now that she’s becoming independent, I have a brief brain-dead period when I can’t remember what I need to accomplish for the day. Lists help, but I usually spend at least two naps per week wandering around doing marginally productive things trying to remember what to do.
Babies long for the simple life. They don’t care about the new toy nearly as much as you do. They want you, food, and occasionally some space to run around. Sisu’s favorite toy is currently the stairs. She will climb them every chance she gets. Her second favorite toy is the extra mattress in her room, which is exclusively for being tossed onto and rolling back off in her little baby brain. She plays with her toys, but is quickly bored if she’s the only one around. She loves interaction and anything short of that is just dull.
Life is different in every way I didn’t expect, and the same in every way I didn’t expect. Obvious things will change when you have a baby. Impulsive movie-going will become more sparse. Clothes will become more utilitarian, particularly if you’re breastfeeding. You will need to be home more, but you’ll also want to be home more. Your principals will sharpen and you’ll be more purposeful about your time spent out. Interactions with people you don’t enjoy interacting with will be cut short because ain’t nobody got time for talking to Mrs. Bennett when you’ve got a baby to raise. On the plus side: babies are the perfect excuse for leaving any conversation.
I’m more judgmental of parents, but I’m more understanding too. I really hate watching parents who completely ignore their kids, and similarly I hate watching kids who have clearly been shut out for a long time and have stopped trying to get the parents attention. But I understand that sometimes toddlers just throw fits when you’re at the end of your rope, and I understand that a single minute of peace in a phone conversation can reset the fatigue of the day and make for a smoother bedtime routine. I think the reason we get so angry watching parents do specific things in public is that is reminds us of how we are at our worst. It reminds us of that one time the baby wouldn’t stop crying, so we broke down and sobbed or snapped and yelled at our poor loving child. As a mother, I will make mistakes, and I need to remember that other parents make mistakes too. I have to remind myself that while I’m learning, they’re learning too. The important thing is that we all continue making that effort toward learning.
There is such a thing as maternal instinct, and like other instincts there is a time and a place. My maternal instinct has driven me towards many decisions I don’t regret. It led me to pursue co-sleeping for our first few months, regardless of the various warnings against co-sleeping made by the big pediatrics academies and the hospital and the list goes on. It led me to have compassion, even when my nerves were shot. It leads me to keep engaging my child in new experiences, places, and events, even though they may be old hat to me. But it also made me want to behead friends and strangers alike for comments and advice which was probably intended to be kind or playful. Trusting maternal instincts is a double edged blade.
Exploration breeds curiosity, learning, and knowledge. Whenever we leave our home to go out, we tell Sisu, “We’re going on an adventure.” Our outings are usually mundane. Grocery store, grandparent visits, park, mall, etc. But we try to see things through her eyes. A grocery store trip is an opportunity to meet new people, see how strangers react to being talked at, explore different types of flooring and what it feels like to walk on them. She is constantly learning and surprises me regularly with her sharp mind. It’s not easy to go out with a small child. There’s a lot of gear to haul and it can really be daunting, even frightening. Once the child becomes mobile and independent it’s scarier still. But I have to remind myself how important it is that she go on a daily adventure somewhere, even if it’s only to the local playground.