I don’t know if it’s me or my culture’s surplus of anxious parenting essays talking, but I basically feel like I’m on the verge of fucking up my kid all the time.
Knowing this line of thought is ridiculous somehow doesn’t make it go away? That in itself it some ridiculous shit, right there. My parents, I think, don’t get it. I can never know their inner parenting turmoil for sure, but I know that even though they landed on the generational timeline some years after the indulgent Boomers they remained very much steeped in the rural farming community culture of “don’t spoil ’em!” I was talking with my mom about my concerns around finding a preschool for Vera which aligns with my particular emotional values, because apparently that’s a concern I have now, and she was like: “kids are more resilient than you think.” And I agree with that! But I’m trying to figure out how to parent in a way that remembers the best of what my parents did for me, which was like responsibility and independence and resilience, and forgets the worst of what my parents did for me, which was, to make a long story fit inside the end of this sentence, be dismissive my feelings. I’m not at all sure how to balance that, so I worry.
But if you’re picturing me as a frantic mess all the time, don’t. I’m only a mess 3/4 of the time. Kidding! I actually feel pretty good, the closest to myself I’ve felt since pre-baby. This is helped tremendously by the fact that said baby now has very few wake-ups at night, which is the top key numero uno difference-maker in feeling like I can do my life versus feeling like I absentmindedly set my life on top of the car at the grocery store and then drove off and it fell in the street and got run over by a truck plastered with a decal of Calvin peeing on another truck brand’s logo. Truck owners, singlehandedly keeping the bootleg Calvin & Hobbes decal industry going!
Generally I am reluctant to talk about baby sleep because it’s different for everyone and when it’s bad it’s so bad that it casts a long dark shadow over your whole life. But when it’s good it’s so good, because you can actually sleep, too. Or, if you’re me, you can choose to stay up until after midnight watching, for reasons that escape you, Long Island Medium, and you still have to get up at 6:00 am and you’re dragging your knuckles on the ground all day. But it was your choice! No one made the choice to be tired but you! Maybe you’re a M-O-M now but you’re still capable of making all the same bad decisions you made before!
The other thing that helps me feel like I’m pretty much back to the old me is that I don’t use my boobs for shit anymore. I gave up pumping in, I can’t remember, November? Or was it October? It seemed deeply meaningful and profoundly life-changing at the time but today I can barely recall that pumping or breastfeeding was a thing that even happened. Now my boobs are back to being as dormant as winter fields. They sit tucked up away in my shirt all day, out of sight and out of mind, and it’s just like a homecoming.
In hindsight I probably should have quit pumping way sooner and I feel some measure of regret about that. I read a handful of essays about women making the brave choice not to waste a second longer with suction cups attached to their chests, and I was like yeah. YEAH. I spent way too long with suction cups attached to my chest, and no one so much as limply shook my hand for my troubles. I do believe that there’s a lot of guilt pinned up in feeding choices, and that guilt drove me to continue pumping for longer than I strictly “needed” to. But if I could do it again, would I do it the same? I mean, probably! What I want for all of us, with kids or without, is to feel confident in the choices we make and to feel totally unthreatened when other people make different choices. I’ll write up a breathless essay on this when I figure out how to do it.
Confident or not, it doesn’t help that the choices in front of me only seem to be getting harder. Most of the baby’s first year was hard because it involved so much of my own time and my own body, but the flip side is that I had a more or less compliant little meatloaf I could tuck under my arm and take around town with me like an outsized accessory. In her second year, as I’ve won more of my freedom and body autonomy back, the flip side is that I have a more or less opinionated little contrarian who wants to go the complete opposite direction down the sidewalk than the direction we need to go. Before the parenting choices were, indirectly, all about me; about the values we have contrived around breast versus bottle or cosleeping versus crib. Now, the choices all seem to be about how to build her up into a good person who is totally not a dick.
And so I worry.
Because kids are total dicks! I know this because mine has been one since at least the first half of January. Our big issues are 1) touching the houseplants, which Isn’t Allowed, and 2) throwing food on the floor, which Isn’t Allowed. The food thing improved once we started taking her out of her chair as soon as it landed on the floor, but the unintended effect is that whenever she’s ready to get out she starts raining her leftovers down. Picture her using both hands to hurl scraps of food hither and yon while she stares directly into my face with a shit-eating grin. In these moments I am thinking:
- You’re barely one
- Isn’t this like a two-year-old thing? Terrible twos? Isn’t that a thing parents haze other parents about?
- What am I doing wrong that you’re not learning any lessons here??
- No seriously, I set the rules and I am backing them up firmly and consistently and you still think it’s all a BIG FUN GAME
- Can I pick the food up and throw it back in your face??? Like where does that fall on the scale from terrible to responsible parenting????
- It’s probably like a -127 right
- WHAT AM I DOING WRONG
So yeah, maybe it’s true I’ve been feeling pretty good in my personal life, the one where I get to make bad sleep decisions and keep my useless boobs inside my shirt, but my parenting life is currently poked right full of holes. I don’t feel empowered. I don’t feel inspired. I feel like: maybe I will never be able to teach my kid not to be a dick.
Knowing this line of thought is ridiculous somehow doesn’t make it go away??
On the other hand! Even though my kid is a dick, a lot of the time she’s not. Despite already testing limits, this age has turned out to be pretty fun. She’s 14 months now and whipping out new tricks at 1,000 beats per minute. She started walking between Christmas and New Year’s, and everybody was like “Oh, get ready! It’s gonna get crazy! Shit’s gonna get real now! You’re in so much trouble!” Again, I don’t understand why parents perform this particular brand of hazing, but the upshot is that when the dramatic thing finally arrives and it’s no biggie you get to feel like you dodged a massive bullet. In our case, walking was a #blessing because she was so happy to FINALLY be able to move around like she’d been desperately trying to since day one. Picture a toddler cruising slo-mo across a room to the thunderous soundtrack of George Michael’s “Freedom!” and you pretty much have it. This is what walking has done for her. And for us.
What else? So far 14 months has been very much about bringing me books and I start to read them to her but she immediately toddles away, leaving me making silly sounds at an empty room. Her favorite book is Go, Dog. Go! by P. D. Eastman, and she likes to jam her face reverently into the crease between the pages and say “woo woo!” (woof woof!). Who taught her to say what a dog says? Who taught her anything? I have to assume she is learning a bunch of stuff at the nanny share, because I also don’t recall teaching her how to nod her head yes, shake her head no, or give kisses. The kiss thing rarely happens but when it does it involves a great deal of gravitas; she’ll start by staring deeply into the black plastic eyes of her toy stuffed rabbit and then s-l-o-w-l-y leaning in and pressing her pacifier against its snout. Then she’ll fling the rabbit to the floor, let out a bloodcurdling shriek, and tear off across the room in search of other objects to scatter on the ground as tripping hazards. I have been known to pick up bothersome underfoot items from my pathway in the kitchen and throw them against the wall, because my lightning-quick temper somehow did not get switched “off” when they handed me a baby. I am working on being more zen about stepping on toys but failing so far, let’s hope I can get a clue dialed in before she goes mini-me and internalizes that Hulking Out is an acceptable response to any large or small annoyance! Setting a good example is another thing I worry about as a parent but shhh, we are done with the worries for at least the rest of this post.
Her communication has leveled up, too. We started signing for her at six months but it took another six months for her to actually start signing back. Her first was “all done,” and true to her mulish nature she put her own spin on it by performing it as a frantic side-to-side single arm swipe (the real sign involves rotating the palms of both hands in and out). Technique aside, it’s proven to be quite a handy phrase for much more than meals. She has all-doned me, diaper changes, riding in the stroller, being at the park, not being at the park, clothes put on her, clothes taken off of her, the carseat, and Bob Marley. I hear you, baby, I am not a huge reggae fan myself. She even signs “all done” when she sees the houseplants because she knows she is not supposed to touch the houseplants, but then she touches them anyway. 14 months is, I guess, not the age of impulse control.
She’s got some actual words now, which is fun. Hi, wow, and yes are in heavy rotation but she also says garbled imitations of apple, dog, and thank you. She also just started saying no last week, which is terrifying — as if she needs any more tantrum ammunition. The cool thing is that she seems to understand much more than she can show, though. Like if I tell her to get ready to go outside, she’ll run to the front door and grab her shoes. If I ask her to shut the gate to the stairs she usually will, and sometimes she’ll take it upon herself to do it when I haven’t asked, which is great for all those times I forget to shut the gate. I’m not sure what I envisioned teaching a kid about the world would be like — I guess I thought that I’d have to demonstrate each new concept and repeat the words we use for it several times, and then get her to practice while I helped, and after a time she’d catch on. And that will probably be true for some things. But for a lot of others, what has basically happened so far is that I ask her to do something and she does it. Nothing particularly special, she has just absorbed stuff through watching us. My lazy heart rejoiced! How long do you suppose she needs to watch me do taxes before I can hand the task over to her?
The other day I was looking at some old videos from months two and three — from back when a single face contortion seemed like a huge neurological milestone — and I felt a little bit sad that I would never know her that small again, but mostly I just reveled in the realization that even if she is a dick, I wouldn’t want to trade this age for any of the previous ones. I don’t want to live my life looking backwards. I don’t want to spend my time mourning what’s gone. I saw that I’m genuinely excited for what’s happening now, and what’s coming next. And that wound up being a much bigger relief to me than knowing that my anxious thoughts are ridiculous. Knowing rarely saves you from feeling!
I’m guessing my future parenting life is going to involve a lot of hard choices made with very little confidence and some degree of feeling threatened. But my kid is a goofy, strong-willed, spirited little weirdo and I find myself liking her more and more every day.
Bring on the fucking up.