Each month is faster. I thought maybe it was the holidays, but even January with two and a half weeks of sickness disappeared too quickly. I always imagined a year at home to be enough. Now I am holding on to every extra moment even as I contemplate what comes next.
E is changing every day. She is cautious in her cruising but not in her climbing. In addition to the stairs, she has mastered the side tables and can often be found about to knock the lamps from their perches.
Her language acquisition is also accelerating. You can tell by the expressions on her face she is beginning to understand what we say. And sometimes, it almost sounds like she answers back.
“Are you having fun?”
“Yesh!” Arms high in the sky.
One is around the corner. We are planning her first birthday party, a small but happy celebration, just like her. Then these monthly updates will be over. I will still blog, but already trying to find a theme for each month feels like a stretch. We have sunk into a rhythm, sometimes messy, sometimes smooth. Our lives have adapted to a new normal.
When I think back a year, to all the waiting and preparation, it is incredible to realize how much our lives have changed. I was so nervous. All I wanted was a healthy baby in my arms. Now she is practically out of my arms already. As I held her screeching at a party this weekend, I talked to an expectant mom and could not put into words how much her life was about to change or how much it would all be worth it, even on afternoons when the baby skips a nap and won’t allow you to finish an adult conversation.
11 months, almost one year. Laughter, words, and even a few small steps. My favorites, though, are all the loves and kisses.
Last night E pulled herself up and stood without holding onto anything for a few seconds. Her dad and I stared at each other. We couldn’t believe it. Around six months she skipped sitting and went straight to crawling. Then last week she suddenly started kneeling. Because she was late to the sitting party, we didn’t expect her to be standing so soon.
This month has been about hints of independence. Suddenly other people can babysit her again (thank heavens!). She makes her own jokes and tells her own stories. She is eating all kinds of foods and insisting on feeding herself. She is becoming a kid instead of a baby, (even though I know there are still plenty of baby moments left).
As she is becoming a little person, I am regaining parts of myself, too.
I am beginning to itch to go back to work part-time again. Her rediscovered comfort around others makes me feel better about leaving. While I won’t stop writing, I am also dreaming of teaching. Literally. Half my dreams have been about the classroom lately. I miss my old students. Even interacting with trick-or-treaters brought out that teacher part of me (much to the chagrin of the 11-year-old who tried to double up on the candy). Writing is great, but it fits into the time I steal for myself.
Maybe that is what needs to change, making time for myself instead of just stealing it when she is asleep. I am ready for someone else to take care of her part of the time. I am ready to get serious about work again, whether it is writing or teaching. I will finish the book I am writing first, but then maybe, just maybe, I will be ready to get out of the house and back into a classroom part-time.
Watching her get bigger is a bittersweet process. We are both gaining independence, but she will always be my sweet, cuddly girl. It is a big relief to know she will not need me close forever, even if there is also a whisper of sadness in this realization. Everything at once. Parenthood in three words. I don’t want to take a single second for granted, even if I am also excited for our future.
Earlier this week as I lay in bed in a futile attempt to get Eloise down for a nap, I felt her first tooth. The sharp little edge poked my finger and sure enough, a tiny glint of white sparkled on her gums. After nights of restless sleep and uncharacteristic fussing, I suddenly had proof of her hard work. I called my husband, my mom, texted my dad and my mother-in-law.
I had no idea a tooth could be so exciting.
Month six has been a wild month. She is starting to move across the living room, crawling, scooting, rolling at a turtle’s pace. I turn around and then magically she is somewhere else, as if all that slow stuff in front of Mom is just a ruse. Our decision to co-sleep is either the best idea because she is suddenly awake ten times a night and I don’t have to move from bed, or the not-so-best idea because now she is awake ten times a night. Who knows.
I blame the teeth.
Besides the tooth and the movement, my other favorite change this month is how she is warming up to other people. She stretches her body away from me to be held by visitors, her whole body wiggling with excitement. I love watching her bond with others, especially her daddy. Da, da, da, da, da just so happens to be her newest sounds. Oh yes, and food, I also love watching her eat, contemplating each new taste with a puzzled but self-satisfied expression.
Month six is like a whole new little person has joined us, awake, thinking, growling, particular. The other months we could sense her personality, but now the shy smiles and sideways glances, the feisty kicks and excited squeals, the determined focus on that one toy she just can’t reach, each show us wider glimpses of the little girl she will become. People keep telling us we’re just getting to the fun stuff. I can definitely see what they mean.
I’m a sucker for early gratification, (you know, the opposite of delayed gratification, really not as unseemly as it sounds…). I have been known to give birthday presents early and often insist people open their presents on Christmas Eve. Basically, I have a hard time waiting when I know someone I love is going to love something I can give them.
Starting Eloise on solid foods has been no exception. While our laid-back pediatrician gave us the green light to start solids between four and six months, I wanted to be cautious, especially since the general recommendation for beginning solids is now six months and Eloise had colic (which can be an indicator of stomach sensitivity). I also wanted to be careful not to let food crowd out the nutrients and immune protection of breast milk prematurely.
Still, she was showing the signs of being ready earlier than six months– particularly a strong interest in what we were doing during mealtime. While this is not the most crucial sign, I started researching and came across baby-led weaning (or baby-led feeding in the states). Instead of spoon-feeding “solids,” babies are given food to feed themselves that is of appropriate size and consistency to prevent choking. The idea is that babies will only eat as much as they actually need/want and solids will remain more of an exploration than a replacement of breast milk in the beginning phases.
This seemed like the perfect solution– if Eloise was not ready for solids, she would hypothetically be unable to get (and keep) the food in her mouth on her own. A little more research showed that beginning this exploration at five and a half months was not dangerous. So, we set her up with smushed avocado and let the fun begin. We hovered to make sure she did not put more in her mouth than she could handle, and sure enough, she had a blast while only consuming a small amount. Now we have a way to keep her occupied during meal times that is teaching her fine motor skills while also giving us a little quiet (and entertainment!) while we eat.
Even though I’m not sold that baby-led feeding has to be an all or nothing endeavor, I am excited to introduce more foods as she continues to grow in her readiness for solids. And, the pictures below pretty much say it all. I guess I should also add it’s a little on the messy side…
Since the beginning of our journey, our doula has told us, “Instead of worrying about perfection, be happy with good enough.” At first I did not know what she meant. I had never questioned my ability to be a mom, I figured I’d be good at it because I pour every ounce of myself into everything I care about. Ha. I should have remembered the learning curve in becoming a teacher, hard work does not always translate into greatness…
The first twinges of inadequacy crept in at the hospital, first with nursing that did not seem to work, then with the screaming in the middle of the night, and finally with the news we might have to go down to the neonatal unit, where I would be unable to sleep beside my new baby, in order to treat her jaundice. It turned out we got to go home, but when the tests came back again and we had to return to the hospital because her bilirubin levels were still rising, I fell apart.
I sobbed in the arms of my mother and all the way back to the hospital. The poor intake dude must have worried about me, such a mess over something so minor in the grand scheme of problems worthy of the pediatric unit, but I felt like I was letting my three-day old baby down by not being able to hold her through the night as she bathed in neon blue light, like we were missing a critical moment in our bonding. Thankfully, the pediatric ward is different from the neonatal unit, I was allowed to sleep in the same room, even if my inability to pick her up and soothe her felt traumatizing in my three-day postpartum, hormonal haze.
Minus the near-daily heel pricks and cruel joke of a cold the first week brought, the rest of the month passed without too much self-analysis as I recovered from birth and absorbed the sweetness of my new baby. However, month two has been a different story. Colic. If you don’t know what it is, count yourself lucky. Colic sucks. Screaming, sometimes uncontrollable, almost every evening for hours at a time. I joke as the sun sets that the vampire baby is waiting to emerge. Forget the Happiest Baby on the Block. Baby carriers like the moby and our rocking chair are our only solace, as long as we have the energy to keep moving.
Couple this with sleep deprivation and yet another stupid cold and I often feel like maybe I am doing something wrong. Last month I reported that the sleep deprivation was manageable. After eight weeks, I have changed my mind. It is survivable, but manageable makes it sound easier than it is. If it weren’t for my mother-in-law, who comes and rocks the baby sometimes for a couple hours during the afternoon, or my husband, who stays up until three in the morning rocking her in his chair, I would never get a chance to catch up. It turns out the advice of sleep when the baby sleeps only works if your baby sleeps! Accordingly, I have written this blog entry in 15 minute chunks and foregone the opportunity to do any chores to make this post happen.
She is worth it though, all of it. Her smiles, her little laugh, her intent focus on the world around her, make all the other bits disappear. She has made me the happiest I have ever been. But even with the happiness, being a mom is hard. All the worry and challenges can feel isolating. In the last few days I have let it out and found myself supported with words and hugs from the women in my life. I have realized that while concepts like attachment parenting are beautiful in writing, sometimes in our culture of mom at home by herself instead of surrounded by other baby holders, you have to put her down to survive.
So, find a mom out there and give her a gigantic hug. God knows she deserves it. And, if you are a mom, let yourself find peace in being good enough. Chances are, there is another mom nearby who totally gets it, and if there isn’t, well, I do.