And a Very Merry Un-Birthday to YOU, too.

Why hello there, half a year, whereabouts are YOU from?

Maren is turning six months old next week. I’m slowly wrapping my mind around this– last year at around this time, I was just getting used to the idea of being pregnant. First trimester was almost over, and even though I had a fairly easy first trimester, I was excited for the so-called energy boost that second trimester is supposed to bring. I’m not sure that my Second Trimester got the memo that he was supposed to bring his own Energy Boost, but in any case, I had a pretty easy pregnancy over-all so I really shouldn’t bitch.

Dude– having a baby changes EVERYTHING.

Life is suddenly full of all of these little decisions– and it’s ALL on you. You remember that moment when you moved out of your parent’s house, got your first big-girl job, and got a huge electricity bill because you ran the air conditioning at 68 all summer, and finally started getting a bill for the furniture that you bought because there were no payments for 90 days? Remember how that felt– that “HOLY CRAP I AM A GROWN UP” feeling?

It’s scary enough, thinking– whoa– I am the only person in charge of my life right now. I can’t really legitimately blame anything that goes wrong on anyone else, unless I want to come across all whiny and reality-TV-esque.

Having a baby is that feeling times infinity. Because IN ADDITION to being in charge of YOUR life, and YOUR mistakes and YOUR future, you are also now in charge of someone else’s.

I got the first little twinge of this feeling when I got the H1N1 shot in my second trimester. There was pretty much no research on the vaccine, and rumor had it that the government had lifted the restriction on how much thimerosal could be used in the vaccine so that they could mass produce it quickly. AND ALSO– 1 in 4 people who had a serious case of the H1N1ies were pregnant women. AND ALSO– I work in child care. I am literally paid to wipe noses.

So I went ahead and got the vaccine, even though I was scared, because that’s what you do when you’re a grown up– you make the best decision you can think of and then move on.

Nothing serious has happened to Maren– knock on wood– but the first time I had to give her medicine, I was almost a basket case. Here’s why– she looks at you with her half blue half brown eyes, and smiles this huge alligator smile, and just swallows whatever.I.give.her. The trust she has in her parents is one hundred percent. She has no idea what fear is at this point in her life– she doesn’t know that someday she’ll be able to say no and stand her ground and make her own decisions about what is going into her body. That’s all on us.

What a HUGE responsibility.

But, largely, as a parent, you just do the same thing you normally would. You take a deep breath, and make a decision, and let the chips fall where they may. But its so much harder– because its not YOUR life you’re messing with. It’s HERS.

AND THEN– there’s this whole other realm of decisions that you have to make that aren’t life or death, but that no one has told you how to do, so you have to just wing it. WING IT.

For example– for the first few weeks of Maren’s life, she slept in cotton footy pajamas, a sleep sack, AND we swaddled her– because I was afraid she’d get cold. Then when we realized that an ant farting in Egypt would cause her to startle and her arms flailing would wake her up, Mitch very carefully started wrapping her arms. Then we realized– even though we obviously knew this all ready– that the sleep sack was not a magical forcefield against SIDS, it had an actual function, and by swaddling her we were negating it, so we had a heated argument about whether or not we were more scared of SIDS, or more scared of never sleeping again. And we took the sleep sack off.

THEN we discovered that if we turned the vibrator of the bouncy seat on, she’d sleep for up to FOUR HOURS. You’re SUPPOSED to make your baby sleep flat on her back, again, to prevent SIDS. That tells you how sleep deprived we were, that we were willing to break doctor’s orders and everything I’d been trained as a child care professional, just to get FOUR HOURS of sleep. 

THEN it was all about– how the hell do you bathe this kid? SHE’S SO WIGGLY! And the soap makes her all slippery, and HOLY CRAP SHE IS SO STRONG. Gradually we discovered bath sponges, and now bath time is probably her favorite time of day. But it’s still a battle– how hot is too hot? How cold is too cold? How deep is too deep? Can’t I just lick her clean like a cat?

And, more recently, it has become– Dude, how do I put her in the shower at the Y after swim lessons? I can’t lay her on the floor at the Y!!!! If I bring in a tarp and an extra towel, will the other patrons be offended? And this opened up a whole new realm of questions for Mitch, who takes her to swim lessons most of the time– Dude. I am about to be THAT GUY who brings his daughter into THE MEN’S LOCKER ROOM. Now, Maren is a super cute kid and strangers stop us all the time to look at her. So when she went to swim lessons for the first time, I was picturing her sitting in her carseat on a bench, with fifteen naked men standing over her cooing.

Generally, what I’ve learned is that THE WORST THING I CAN IMAGINE very rarely happens to Maren. Usually, it’s nothing. Sometimes, it’s something awful that I never WOULD have imagined (such as walking into someone’s wedding at the park). But mostly, it’s really, really wonderful.

Some people have asked me why I wanted to be a parent– and the honest truth is that I didn’t. Mitch knew this, and it was a major bone of contention, but I think he was thinking that he’d wear me down eventually– or that we’d just have a happy accident and I would come around. Which is exactly what happened. A lot of my friends don’t want kids, and have asked me what is so great about it, if I can define it. And I can’t. They’ll ask “Why have kids?” And I have to shrug– because I can’t tell you. All I can tell you is that, for me, it is wonderful.

The day to day with a baby is so much worry, and sleep deprivation, and more worry, and fighting with your partner, and wondering if she’s going to be smart, if she’s going to be resilient, if she’s going to be successful, am I doing everything I can for her, am I doing ALMOST everything right, and on and on and on– but all of that is wrapped up inside something else that is just so fantastic and I don’t know what to call it.

A year ago, I was having a hard time adjusting to the idea of having a baby– of not going to grad school right away, of not going to the Peace Corps, of not studying abroad… all I can say about all of that is that the light in Maren’s eyes is more precious to me than a thousand things that I didn’t get to do because I got pregnant. The wild delight we get out of hearing her laugh is worth so much more to me than anything else I have ever studied or learned. The smell of the top of her head is worth giving up all my other dreams, so that I could have this one.

Dude, just wait. Pretty soon, she’ll call me Mama. Then I’ll REALLY be oozing with sentimentality.

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