Sunday, March 8, 2015

Baby Things

Aden holding Quinn, 2006
I am so far removed from babies anymore it's weird.  There was such a long stretch of baby things in my life for a while, but now my babiest baby is eight.  As I am typing this he is making a batch of crepes on his own, so no, my life no longer includes the baby things.

But I have a nephew due to arrive in the world in a couple of months, and a friend just adopted a newborn, so I've been thinking about what, if any, advice I have that may still be relevant to those with babies.

Baby things change fast, so there are many things that were important for me that are already out of date.  For instance, in the few years since I was carrying Quinn around in a Baby Bjorn those Moby baby wrap carriers have become the rage and wearing my baby the way I did is decidedly out.  Car seats are forever evolving, and I don't miss dealing with those.  Baby food doesn't even seem to come in jars now that I can see, so I'm glad I collected those when I did because they come in handy in my shop.  Is Tummy Time still a thing?  Aden hated Tummy Time and Mona always fell asleep.  I don't think I was ever in a position to set Quinn down long enough to bother with it by the time he came along.

In any case, my friend with the new baby thanked me for a couple of things I said to her before her baby arrived, and I thought while I still remember anything about living with babies I should jot them down and hope they help someone else.

The main thing I wish I'd understood before having my first baby was how isolating it can be.  You're tired and unsure and kind of alone even when there are people trying to help.  You get tethered to this helpless person's needs and it shrinks your world in a way that's hard to explain if you haven't experienced it.  For me, blogging helped create connections to other people who understood what I was going through.  Calling my grandma daily helped, too, because she was never bored hearing about baby things.

There are a lot of simultaneous mixed emotions that come with babies.  It makes you both self-assured and clueless.  It's okay to find it all miraculous and boring at the same time.  It's okay when you're with the baby to want to be at work, and when you're at work to want to be with the baby.

When Ian and I had Aden we lived by the "one thing a day" rule.  Whoever was home with the baby was in charge of keeping her alive, and possibly doing one more thing.  That thing could be dinner, or a load of laundry, or dishes, or even taking a shower.  But as long as we got to the end of the day and Aden was alive and we could claim to have done one other thing besides, we had accomplished something.  (And if we didn't manage one other thing?  Well, no big deal.  The baby was alive and what was just one extra thing?)

Realize that many baby things have a short shelf life.  We found the vibrating bouncy seat indispensable, but it only fits a baby for a couple of months.  I think that's where much of the clutter comes from--the fact that things get outgrown quickly and you have other things waiting to be grown into at any moment.  You end up with much more than you need at any given time, and other than to be hyper-organized about the rotation I don't know if there's much of a way around that, but sometimes just realizing the reason behind it makes it easier to live with.

Don't panic about the trend of the moment, particularly with food.  It changes frequently, and honestly it's probably all fine.  I breast fed my kids exclusively for six to eight months before introducing solids, starting with vegetables.  We never did cereal or formula.  We avoided honey and eggs and I forget what else for the first year or so on our doctor's recommendation.  But you know what?  I know other kids whose experience with food that first year was completely different, and they are fine.  To prevent allergies you were supposed to avoid certain foods, and now they are saying the opposite.  Whatever you are carefully doing now will likely be scorned later.  Be sensible, monitor your kids for weird reactions, but don't let anyone bully you into thinking you are feeding your kids all wrong, and don't be overly judgmental if you see other parents making choices different from yours.

Same with sleep routines.  Do what works for you.  I absolutely could not do any form of "cry it out" with my babies.  I wanted my kids to associate their beds with comfort and safety, and the moment they were upset I scooped them out of there.  We used a co-sleeper for the first few months so I wouldn't have to get out of bed to nurse, and at about four months they were all sleeping through the night and we moved them to a crib in another room.  My kids were (are) all good sleepers and are happy in their own beds so that worked for us.  I know other people for whom sleep training was a necessity because their own sanity was on the line, and that worked fine for them.  I talked to one mom the other day who admitted guiltily that her toddler and baby have a bedtime of around 10p.m. because otherwise she wouldn't get to spend time with them, and I told her she shouldn't apologize for that.  If they don't have to get up early what does it matter?  But there are people who try to make her feel bad about it, which is ridiculous.  There is no one right way to do anything, regardless of how certain some books or people make a particular approach sound.

All you think you know about the baby changes every couple of weeks.  As soon as you have some routine down in terms of what to expect with feedings or naps or general behavior, it changes.  It all evolves very fast and a lot of what you thought you knew keeps going out the window.  You don't have time to get complacent about much, and everyone else is adapting all the time, too, regardless of how much more together someone else might seem.  (They are probably looking at you the same way.)

The baby is different for different people.  This one took us some time to learn.  I would give Ian detailed instructions about what to do with Aden in various circumstances throughout the day, and then I would come home to find out he did things completely differently and it would throw me for a loop.  But it turned out the things that worked for me in terms of soothing the baby, etc., only worked for me.  Ian had to do other things.  It made sense, when we thought about it, that the parent who was also a source of food might elicit different reactions from the baby than someone else.  It took me a while to accept that Ian doing things differently with the baby was not just okay, but good.  Different isn't the same as wrong, but we are so vulnerable with that first baby that it can feel that way sometimes.

Anything that allows you to care for the baby while keeping your hands free is great and worth investing in.  We did a lot of baby wearing in the aforementioned Baby Bjorn (and originally a Snugli), the bouncy seat was great, Quinn had a doorway bouncer that I wish I'd had for the girls because they would have loved it.  Being able to actually get something done while keeping the baby happy feels like such a victory!  Take it where you can get it, but if you have a baby that prevents you from doing that one extra thing it's okay.  The other stuff will still be there later.

Milwaukee is unusually obsessive about checking for lead poisoning in babies, but if you live in a place that isn't I recommend you get your baby's levels checked at some point, because it can sneak up on you.  Aden never had a problem, Mona had a slightly elevated level that required treatment, but Quinn was inexplicably off the charts at eight months and the county sent people out to inspect our house and do soil samples from the yard.  We caught it early and got him treatment, but we never did pinpoint the source of the lead.  (It can be in common things, too, like toilet paper, and keys.)

Keep in mind that every choice you make with parenting, from babies on up, is going to be viewed as wrong by somebody, so get over that early if you can.  You can't win.  But in a way, you also can't lose, because as long as you're intentions are good and you're not inflicting harm, it will all be fine.  Trust yourself.

Because the main thing I learned having my second baby was how little impact I make on who my kids are.  Mona is not Aden.  There was almost nothing in the handbook for caring for Aden that applied to her sister.  And that was a relief to know!  I think if I'd only had one child I would have an exaggerated sense of my input on her behavior.  We don't have as much influence as we believe.  Doing the same thing with different children and getting different results brought that home in a way I wouldn't have understood without the comparison.  They are who they are.  I think our job is to love them, give them a baseline of safety and opportunity, and otherwise stay out of their way, even when they are babies.

The biggest cliche in parenting is true:  It all goes by so fast.  Some days drag on forever but the years fly by.  I miss the baby hugs and remember them so clearly, but they were so long ago.  Soak it up, take pictures, and try not to get so frustrated during the exhausting parts that you lose sight of how remarkable your baby is.  I know you won't, but still.  It all goes by so fast.

And the last thing is that it gets easier... kind of.  It gets different.  There are things that are easy and hard at every stage.  There is a simplicity to babies that I miss.  They don't need much.  They are hungry, sleepy, or need to be changed, and that's usually about it.  When they are crying it does not have to do with existential angst or drama at school or homework.  My kids are self-sufficient, and I like that I'm not involved anymore in getting them dressed or bathed and that they can feed themselves and do their own laundry, but when they are upset it's not usually about something I can fix for them, and that's hard in a new way.

However, I thought when they were no longer little some of the magic would be gone, but I was wrong.  It is endlessly interesting to hear them share their own opinions and views and see their creativity.  They are amazing people.  I am forever grateful that I get to be a witness to their lives at all of these stages so far.  (But I do miss kissing those baby cheeks.)


  1. You are having a nephew?? Congratulations! I read your post very carefully this morning and again to Dosha. Useful and insightful!

    1. An actual nephew!! So I will be an uncle! Or I guess an aunt again. I like being an aunt. Maybe in your kid's case I should be an ant. (Glad you found anything in this post helpful.)