Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Babyhood

The other day I was standing in line to buy coffee and holding Mattias on my hip. The stranger in front of me smiled and said, "I miss that. I miss what it feels like to hold a baby on my hip."

And I knew, immediately, that I, too, will miss this stage when it's over. I can already imagine the phantom baby and haunting muscle memory. Yet, I hope that I remember how exhausting it can be. Because in the midst of Babyhood at its most intense - you don't even have a chance to sit down and think about the exhaustion or the demands as clearly as I am now. In those times, this kind of reflection is an unaffordable - even inadvisable - luxury.

The last two months or so, I feel like I'm seeing glimmers of the end of babyhood. They are becoming more frequent. Today, Mattias made me take off his diaper so that he could use the potty.  Two hours later, he tore the babygate off its hinges. Somehow he mangled the babygate plastic in a way that makes it completely irreparable. But then later, he wanted me to hold him while I cooked supper; he wanted to eat his dinner on my lap; he wanted me to hold him while I loaded the dishwasher; he wanted to nurse.

(removed: super cute photo of Mattias sitting on his child-sized potty)

Officially, Mattias hasn't been a baby in almost 8 months (he's 20 months old). But unofficially, we've still got trademarks of babyhood around here. To me, those trademarks are as follows: waking up during the night, nursing, diaper wearing, and teething.  I believe all these things are connected: and I believe that I could push Mattias out of babyhood by, say, weaning him which would probably result in sleeping through the night. He's only got two molars left to break through; and if I had the motivation, he could probably ditch the diaper.

I'm mostly glad that we're here at this point. I don't relish this baby stuff. In fact, I pretty much dislike it. (Am I allowed to say that I dislike babyhood?) Maybe that comes as a surprise given the extended nursing and ongoing nighttime comforting. I mean: even I think I sound crazy. I hear the voices of my mother and my aunt: Why not wean him? Why not let him cry at night? If he can use the potty - then, for Pete's sake, take off the diaper and have him use the potty, Ann. He's old enough; and you sound like you are ready.


But there is this voice in my head when it comes to my children. I'm not really sure if it is a Mommy voice, or just a Stubborn Me voice. Is it a voice that is trying to validate my stay-at-homeness by keeping the toddler a baby? Is it a lazy voice? In fact, it might be a different voice for each trademark of babyhood. Regardless: it has this incredible influence over my actions. It says, wait. Slow down. You don't think you can do it, but you can, you will. Just a little bit longer. You'll do it for him. You can do it. You can. 

Then I let Mattias be a baby a little bit longer.

And I feel rather amazed that every time the voice asks me to do a little bit more or to wait a little bit longer, I do and I can.

I have confidence that Mattias will outgrow the nursing, the nightwaking, and, of course, the teething, all by himself. That's the nice thing about the second child - you've been through it before - you doubt a lot less. And these days, I also have hard evidence that the end is near. Relief. Milestones can be about waiting, if I let them be. If I want.*

But do I want?

There's always the intellectual counter argument in my head. It comes from reading about women subverting themselves, their dreams, and their careers for others. I observe Fritz with Mattias, just as I did with Noah, and as much as we are partners in this whole parenting thing, we are NOT equals in regards to care during babyhood. I worry about what I have 'subverted.' I try to pick it apart and make it into something quantifiable: I spend X amount of time doing Y with Mattias. Fritz spends X amount of time doing Z with Mattias. Therefore, we are equal. I think? Or not. Somehow, the equations don't work with Mattias' babyhood as neatly as they work with Noah's preschooler-hood. (And it's not just Mattias - because, actually, he's my easy baby. Noah was more difficult.) I feel like the maternal burden is heavier during babyhood, but it is difficult to quantify. So why the waiting? Why prolong it? Just make it over with, right?

I also think, if my children were closer together in age, they wouldn't get this extended time to be babies. I am sure of this. I would end their babyhood out of necessity and practicality.

I am indulging them. I am.

I pause to consider the consequences, good and bad. I think about talking credit for the good and pinpointing the bad on poor parental decisions. But that's overly simple, like attempting to quantify  equal parental responsibility during babyhood. It's just not a good path to follow.

This morning, Mattias (maddeningly) fell asleep in the car seat, after dropping Noah off at school. It was before 9 am. I sighed. He should not nap at 9 am!

I decided to indulge him, once again. Let him sleep, I would make alternate plans. What errands could I run with a sleeping toddlerbaby?

I drove to the coffee shop with a drive thru and called my aunt. I don't normally use my cell phone when driving, but the coffee shop drive thru seemed like an acceptable place to break my own rule given my derailed plans for the morning. Maybe I could borrow some pots for planting tulip bulbs? Could I swing by and pick them up now?

I pulled forward to pay for my chai, and the cashier gave me a strange look.

"The person in front of you paid for your drink," he told me.

"Oh!" I said, smiling brightly. An illogical kindness. An opportunity. "Well, then, I'll pay for the person behind me."

He looked at me like I was crazy. Come now, I thought, is it really so wrong to indulge another person?

(Thank you, strangers.)


* I pushed Noah on the potty training; it took four solid months at age 2. He turned out just fine. I haven't decided which way to go with Mattias.

4 comments:

Katie (Mama May I) said...

This might not be useful advice but I say indulge him! I would bet that as he starts turning the next corner, he'll be needing his mama less and his brother to play with a whole lot more. ;)

Loved this piece!

Shalini said...

It is TOTALLY fine to not like babyhood and miss it at the same time. I do not like babies much at all. But three-year-olds? Whoa are they cute.

Pregnantly Plump said...

I'm more of a baby/toddler fan, but we are struggling with the potty training. My mind might change about toddler hood. Four is definitely killing me, though.
So nice about the person buying your drink!

Marie Green said...

I found you through CBHM, and I just wanted to say that I believe babies are babies until AT LEAST age 2, and that we as a culture are pushing them out of babyhood much faster than needed. We take away bottles, nursing, and pacis long before the "need to suck" is gone, we force "sleeping all night" before their nervous systems or bellies are ready for it... I mean, even as recently as when WE were kids, we were watching Sesame Street well into kindergarten or 1st grade. Now? Sesame Street is for 1-3 yr olds, and by 3-4 kids are watching full length Disney movies. (I don't think any of us watched full-length movies as kids, at least not regularly.)

Anyway, I'm saying all of this to say, hurray for letting him be a baby. Fulfill his needs and they will go away, when they are meant to! We have all of live to be grown up, but such a short time to be little.