Life with a Toddler

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Definitely plotting something

I have mentioned before that the toddler stage has definitely not been my favorite. I didn’t realize it when in I was deep in the fog of new parenthood, but infants are so much easier. After awhile, you can get them to eat, sleep and poop on a schedule. You can strap them into their car seats and they will gladly fall asleep or stare off into space while you enjoy a meal. If they are fussy, you can usually calm them down by rocking them for a while or making a few funny faces.

Toddlers are a completely different breed. Their lack of impulse control, propensity to become overstimulated by circumstances that are completely mundane to grown-ups, limited communication and inability to listen to reason make them pretty much impossible. I’m pretty sure that the first toddler tantrum was what finally snapped me out of my new parenthood fog and brought back vivid memories of the good old days. Suddenly, I remembered exactly what my life was like before this screaming little terror took it over. Spoiler alert: it was awesome.

Also, if there are any soon-to-be parents out there, be forewarned that the term “terrible twos” is a misnomer. The demon behavior starts almost immediately after they turn one. Get your wine glasses ready now.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many days when B is completely adorable and we have the best time together. But some days, she is completely insane. I realize that it’s not her fault, for all the reasons I mentioned above…but some days she drives us completely insane as well.

Like someone who has had too much to drink, she is prone to frequent stumbling and violent outbursts that include throwing things. She laughs and cries at random, often inappropriate times. She will dance around with plastic containers on her head. She an fall dead asleep, anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

Like a senior citizen, B lacks any kind of filter. She has no problem telling me that I am fat, for example. Okay, so she hasn’t actually said this to me, but the way that she squeezes by belly and laughs certainly implies it. Like someone in the advanced stages of senility, she has hidden my cell phone in the oven of her play kitchen and I have found her toy keys in my refrigerator. I have to repeat everything I say at least fifty times because she never seems to hear me the first time around.

Like a puppy, she is prone to accidents and has ruined every nice thing that we own. She craves attention for showing off her tricks, all the time. On the plus side, she can now sometimes be bribed with snacks.

Although I can’t say that I have ever encountered a terrorist or a hostage-taker in person, I’m pretty sure that I have read enough books and seen enough movies to know that B is just like them, too. She is full of demands and she will resort to torture, such as biting, pinching and hitting when she isn’t obeyed. She has perfected the art of hanging onto legs and wrapping her  arms around necks to trap her victims.

Like a mental patient, she dances to music that only they can hear and talks to people that only they can see. I have seen her go from all-out mania to crippling depression in a matter of minutes. Her ability to listen to the same story, sing the same song and eat the same food over and over again could easily be mistaken for OCD.

Fortunately, nature knows what it’s doing, so it also equipped this little monster with the ability to look at me with wide eyes, pull me into a hug, and whisper the word “love” in my ear. Those fleeting moments are probably what keeps us parents from abandoning our toddlers on busy street corners, with signs around their necks that says “free to good home.” Those are the moments I try to remember when I’ve had to peel a screaming little person off the world’s largest rubber duck or been the target of a 6 a.m. kitchen floor meltdown because I gave said little person Honey Nut Cheerios instead of the regular variety.

It’s either that, or I open the liquor cabinet and drink all of its contents in one sitting. But, I’m pretty sure that dealing with a tiny, drunk, senior citizen, while nursing a hangover is the worst idea ever.

13 Things About the First Year of Motherhood

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10 days old.

Photo by the fabuloulsy talented Amanda Young

As we approach the end of the month, I’m excited to celebrate two big occasions: Little B’s first birthday and the fact that I made it through the first year of her life.

Before everything turned upside down during the past year, I always approached everything–whether in my professional or personal life–as a “project.” I would do all the research that I could about the task at hand, make a plan and carry out that plan in some sort of linear, organized fashion. Lists and spreadsheets may have been involved. Diversions from the plan or mistakes along the way were most unwelcome. I tried my best to make sure that everything was perfect.

I approached motherhood in the same way. You might remember that I talked about some of the stresses that I was feeling a bit in this post, which I wrote when B was just six weeks old.

It was rough during those first few months. Somewhere along the way, I realized that being a parent wasn’t something that could be managed in a perfectly coordinated way. I got better at going with the flow. At not being so hard on myself when things weren’t perfect. At just being. At taking in all of the little moments instead of just checking things off the list. At realizing the things that really matter.

It’s taken all year, and of course, I still have my moments. But, I think I have come a long way. As I reflect back on the last 12 months, here are a few things that I have learned during the first year of motherhood:

 The first three months are the worst. It’s temporary.

The baby will be so fragile and was so needy and you will be completely clueless about what you should be doing. Life will feel like an endless cycle of bottles, naps, diaper changes, exhaustion and general frustration. You will wish that you could fast forward to a time when those newborn days are over, and your baby less of a blob and more of a person.

Then, all of a sudden, when the baby is about four months old, it will seem like she has finally woken up. And, then being a mom won’t feel like work all the time. The fun moments start to balance out the hard ones. You will love spending your days with her.

It’s a shame that some of the most precious moments come when you are too tired, overwhelmed and anxious to truly appreciate them.  So, take a ton of pictures and try to write down everything that you can about your baby. Otherwise, you might not remember anything about those first few months. Try your best not to wish those early days away. As you get closer to the one year mark, you’ll wish you could go back and relive them again, knowing all of the things you know now.

Everyone will want to give you advice.

Seriously. Everyone. Your mom. Your friends with kids. Your friends without kids. Strangers on the Internet. Strangers in the grocery store. Some of it’s good. Some of it is terrible. Some of it is just plain ridiculous (sleep when the baby sleeps, anyone?)

Smile, nod and thank them for their words of wisdom. And then, decide for yourself what the best course of action is. Be confident in those decisions. You are really the only one who knows what is best for your baby. If that is different than what everyone else thinks, oh well.

You will feel guilty. About everything.

Related to the prior point, you will find that sometimes, the only thing that all that well-meaning advice causes you to feel terrible about some of the choices that you make. There will be some days when you feel like you are trying to balance so many things  at once and failing miserably at all of them.

You will feel guilty about the big things, like how you choose to feed your baby or your decision to go back to work (or stay home). You will feel guilty about the little things, like the time you decided to spend an hour on a Saturday afternoon at the nail salon instead of with your baby.

This particular thought pattern seems to be the hardest to manage sometimes. You constantly need to remind yourself that you aren’t perfect. That it is still okay to have a life outside of your baby. That you are doing what is best for your situation. It’s a lot easier to feel joy when you aren’t carrying around all that guilt.

 You will cry. Over everything…

…Especially in the beginning.

You will cry when she gets formula on her shirt. You will cry when she won’t stop crying in the middle of the night. When she finally falls asleep, you will cry while you watch her, thinking that she is the most beautiful creature in the world.

You will cry when you pack away those newborn clothes and when she crawls for the first time. You will cry on your first day back to work, as you spend more time than you should looking at pictures of her on your phone. You will cry when you come home at the end of the day and she seems less than happy to see you.

You will cry over sad stories that you hear about moms who have lost their babies or about babies who are sick or abused. You will cry in Paper Source when you see a greeting card with a quote that perfectly sums up how you feel about your little one.

Basically, those pregnancy hormones? They never go away again.

Similarly, the baby will cry. Over everything. Sometimes there is a good reason. Sometimes, it’s just because. 

You have verified that your baby isn’t in need of a diaper change, food or a nap. You have followed all the steps in the “The Happiest Baby on the Block” and she just will not stop.

Don’t take it personally. The baby doesn’t hate you and you aren’t a terrible parent. Crying is the only way that they can communicate, but it is often damn near impossible to figure out what the heck is actually bothering them. And, if it gets really bad, there is nothing wrong with handing the baby off to someone else or putting her safely in her crib for a few minutes will you go have a good cry yourself.

You thought “Pregnancy Brain” was bad? “Mommy Brain” is even worse.

 A couple of days after you first get home from the hospital, you will find yourself unable to remember what that huge, box in the kitchen, where you keep the milk, is called. You can’t remember the last time you washed your hair, but you can recite “Goodnight Moon” from memory. Small talk with strangers seems more tedious than usual when you can’t think of anything witty to say.

You will learn to do various tasks, while keeping one eye on the baby to make sure  she doesn’t fall, eat from the dog food bowl or stick her finger in the electrical socket. However, you will soon get so used to dividing your attention that you will find it difficult to focus on one thing for more than five minutes at a time. If you go back to work, your co-workers will love your inability to multi-task or make sense of the even simplest instructions.

Maybe you are just sleep deprived. Or, maybe your brain has to get rid of useless info so you can remember the stuff that you need to do to keep the baby alive and happy. Whatever the cause, just resign yourself to the fact that your brain will never work the same again.

The pre-pregnancy clothes in your closet will probably never fit you again.

Everything shifts around after you give birth. So even once you lose all the baby weight, don’t think you will be able to get back into those skinny jeans. Yes, you will look at your baby and remember that there is a totally wonderful reason why your waistline is wrecked. Still, there is a new level of frustration associated with getting dressed in the morning and all the fun is taken out of shopping for yourself. The good news is that you can channel your energies and funds toward dressing your baby. They look cute in just about anything (and will make you feel jealous that you could never pull off that romper with the pink ice cream cones on it).

There is no such thing as time to yourself any more.

There will be some days when you just cannot wait to put the baby in her crib for the night (Just add this one to the list of things to feel guilty about). The crazy thing is, you will start to miss her before you even leave the room and soon, you will realize that there is really no such thing as time to yourself anymore. You think about the baby 24/7 and you can always find something to do—wash bottles, do laundry, sift through pages of the Google results that are returned when you search “is it normal that my baby…”—even when she is out of your sight.

And, even if you can think of a million ways to fill your time that are not baby-related, chances are, the only thing you will really be able to muster up the energy to do is stare at the television, without really processing what is actually happening on the screen.

Your thoughts will be consumed by the topic of sleep.

For the first few weeks, you will be petrified that something will happen to your baby in the middle of the night and that the only way to prevent it is by keeping yourself awake so that you can stare at her and make sure she is still breathing. You leave the lights on in the bedroom, just so you can be sure that you don’t miss a thing. You start to realize why they use sleep deprivation techniques as a form of prisoner torture.

You will be stressed out because you can’t get the baby to go sleep. Other times, you will freak out because the baby slept for a solid five hours at night without waking up for a feeding, which clearly means that something is wrong with her. Then, there is the whole business of “sleep training” and getting the baby to sleep alone, in its own room. If you don’t do that part correctly, so says everyone, you could be scarring your baby for life.

Eventually, the baby will sleep through the night. You, on the other hand, will become permanently accustomed to sleeping with one eye open.

Just when you think you have it all figured out, you don’t.

Babies are tricksters. They lull you into a false sense of security and then change things up in the blink of an eye, just to make sure you are paying attention.

You think you worked out the perfect eat/sleep/play schedule? That’s awesome! But, it will go right out the window when she starts cutting teeth or going through a growth spurt. She tried green beans on Tuesday and loved them? Don’t be surprised if she is throwing them across the room at you on Wednesday.

At times you feel like a total pro, and then ten minutes later you’ll feel like an amateur. So, get comfortable with constant change and uncertainty. Fast

The love you will feel for your baby is absolutely overwhelming.

It drains all the life out of you, yet makes you feel complete at the same time. And, even if you spend nearly an hour trying to find the words to more adequately describe it, you will fail.

Life will never be the same.

Obviously. See all of the above.

Still, there will be days when you miss your “old life…” in spite of the fact that you can’t really remember any of the details of those good old days clearly anymore.

Even on the worst days, it’s absolutely worth it…

…because if you didn’t put up with the challenges, you would miss out on some of the best moments of your life.

Like:

Figuring out this crazy, new life with the guy you love the most by your side and realizing that you couldn’t have picked a better dad for your tiny human.

Watching your family and friends fall in love with the newest love of your life.

A Saturday afternoon with nothing to do except snuggle a napping infant.

The intoxicating smell of a baby’s head.

First smiles. And, even better, first belly laughs.

The totally disgusting parental rite of passage of being pooped on and vomited on. At the same time.

The reaction that someone has when they taste ice cream, tear the wrapping paper off a Christmas present or feel the sand on their toes for the first time.

Cheering someone on as they figure out how to sit or stand up on their own (and realizing all of the basic life skills you take for granted).

Having someone look up at you like you are the best thing that they’ve ever seen.

To my dear, sweet Little B: Every day with you is a gift. I love you. You are more to me than anything in the world. Thank you for making me a mother.