It Gets Better (parenting edition)
This weekend Daphne attended her first "kid party" for a coworker's 4 year old. This was a big eye-opener for the husband and I, seeing lots of other parents and their kids of all ages. There were elementary school-aged kids, Pre-K kids, toddlers, and plenty of babies, too, including a 5 week old. I was struck by two things with this 5 week old: firstly, if Daphne was ever that tiny I don't remember it and secondly, wow such a peaceful quiet sleepy baby.
Having a kid of your own changes how you look at other kids and parents, and inevitably you start making comparisons. We've encountered a number of other babies since having ours, most of them pretty similarly tempered, so I'm not sure what it was about this particular baby that prompted my husband to say on the drive home, "Well that settles it.... our kid was a huge pain in the ass." He quickly backpedaled to note that she is awesome now and happy and wonderful, but the confession was out there and I was more than happy to jump on board. In those early (hazy) weeks of pouring over books about baby care and behavior, I can recall my husband repeatedly defending our newborn as being a "textbook" (ie, not that bad) baby. "All babies cry" he would say, and I was just hormonal and very tuned in to it which made it seem worse. Now, however, after encountering so many other newborns happily snoozing away in their car seats in the noisiest situations, doing things I would never have DREAMED of attempting with Daphne at that age, I know that we were gifted with a challenging baby.
My husband is quick to defend her, pointing out her reflux and how long it took us to get it under control with the proper dosage, and he's right that a lot of her crankiness could be attributed to that pesky tummy acid burning away in her esophagus. However I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN that my child would not take a pacifier for those first three months, and pitched a fit if you even offered one to her. I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN that my kid would not take a bottle for those first three months, and pitched a fit if you even offered one to her. I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN that my child spent every waking minute scowling at me for the first five weeks of her life. I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN the late nights of endless rocking her to sleep, pacing endless circles with a swaddled squalling baby, shhhhh'ing and jiggling until I was ready to throw in the towel. Every time I see a parent holding a peaceful newborn in their arms that just gently drifts to sleep without the three ring circus my child seemed to need to calm the f**k down, I shake my head and shove down that green-eyed monster that wants to rear its ugly head.
Here's what I wish I could tell the me back then: It Gets Better. There's a large part of me that wonders if I would appreciate just how awesome my kid is now if she hadn't been such a turd for those first weeks (turdiness peaking in the first 2 weeks, then gradually diminishing with each passing week until just past the three month mark). I joke with people that just after the three month mark, it's like somebody replaced the child I gave birth to with a pod person, and I'm not letting them trade back. It's true, however, that once you get past those first 3 months (aka the fourth trimester) it's like somebody flips a switch and you have a whole new kid. Daphne's last holdout in her turd factor was the bottle/pacifier business which she did get over after a couple weeks at day care. Suddenly I got to find out what it was like to have the kid that I saw so many other parents had. As my kid got more and more pleasant (she still required plenty of work to get to fall asleep, but all those other turdlike qualities disappeared), I couldn't help but wait for the other shoe to drop (teething, colds, etc.). I watched in awe as Daphne tackled her first cold with smiles and undisturbed sleep and started to teethe with little more than the occasional cranky moment. Who was this kid? She smiles, she giggles, she plays. I had an awful suspicion that this 3-6 month period would be our honeymoon. This must be how so many couples end up with two kids so close in age: they get to this period and think "wow, babies are easy, let's have another" and then they get pregnant just in time for the kids to revert to turd mode (aka the terrible twos which I hear starts far earlier than age two).
Now, at seven and half months, I know that my kid was just getting started with the awesome. Right at the six month mark my kid was going to reach the best milestone yet, one that I didn't even realize was going to be as great as it is: self soothing. No more swaddling, no more swing, no more rocking, no more tiptoeing around a sleeping baby at night. Daphne gets put into her own crib in her own room at bedtime, she falls asleep on her own, and (barring the occasional bad dream) will put herself back to sleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night. It never occurred to me just how much time and energy was spent getting that kid to sleep until I no longer had to do it. Weekends are now something like this: Daphne eats, Daphne plays, Daphne starts to get cranky, Daphne gets put into her crib, she sleeps, she wakes up, repeat. Now when my kid is unpleasant, I just plop her down in her crib and she settles herself, I DO LITTLE TO NOTHING. Sometimes I'll watch her on her video monitor and she'll just hang out in there, talking to herself and playing with her Horton blankie. It is such a tremendous blessing to know that I have somehow managed to raise a child that (so far) is capable of just enjoying her own company. Sure, I no longer get to enjoy her snuggled against my chest for naps (except for the noted exception of her most recent cold), but the trade-off of having yet another chunk of my own life back is priceless.
So THIS is how people end up with more than one kid. I get it. In the scheme of things, I had to completely uproot my life for about six months while we learned how to find a new life where we could both get what we needed and wanted. This weekend I attended my first late night event in over a year, and it was liberating to tuck the kid in to bed at 9pm and know she'd be just fine with her daddy watching over her sleeping body until I got home. But... I spent most of the night thinking about her and missing her. Even though she would have been asleep all that time I was gone anyway. Ugh, I am sick in the mommy head. There was also that part of me that knew she was still going to wake me up at 7am no matter how late I got home and was flinching about it. So let's hope that our next baby hurdle is to teach our peanut how to sleep in. I'm not holding my breath on that one.