Last June I had a baby – a puffy-faced cherub, whose eyes stayed shut for most of the day as he slept and suckled. Now I have a little boy, who scoots across the room, swinging on one arm, sending toys and newspapers and whatever else is in his path flying. He piles his toys in the bathtub and makes up his own words – “nana” means food, “ba-ball” is ball, and sadly, “titty” is kitty. He babbles endlessly, and he’s not shy about letting me know what he likes and dislikes. “No,” he says, pushing the apple or broccoli away. Or he just turns and drops it on the floor.
I miss him as an infant, miss those long, still summer days, curled around him, nursing. I miss rocking him to sleep, singing song after song to him, while he gazed at me with his newly-born eyes. And, oddly, I miss what he is right now, because I know it will be gone before I’m ready.
Who was I before he was here? It feels like a cataclysmic event separates me from that person. A tornado dropped down and picked up all the pieces of my life and scattered them. I spent half a year scouring the house trying to find the pieces, and for awhile, I was too tired to put them back together again. If I ran into that pre-baby self today, I’m sure I’d recognize her, but just barely. She was better rested, she ran five or six miles most days, she wrote for four or five hours at a time – but I think she was actually less focused and definitely more prone to worrying.
For the first few months after my baby arrived, I felt like I was in combat sometimes – not sleeping, barely eating, pacing up and down the hall for hours each night. One evening, I took a bath, but just as I dropped into the hot water, the baby started squalling. So I raced out, dripping wet, to nurse him. During dinners, my husband and I traded off, pacing and swaying, rocking and singing, while the other shoveled food into his or her mouth.
We did nothing extraordinary. This is just parenting a newborn. If you’ve been there, you might be nodding your head. And if you haven’t and plan to, perhaps you’re nervously reassuring yourself that it won’t be this way for you. You’ll be the type to put the baby in the sling and go about life just as you always have. You’ll hang out in the coffee shop in the afternoons, take that winter trip to Mexico, have friends over on the weekends, and continue with those morning yoga classes. I remember feeling just that way. I had no idea that a few months after my baby was born, simply sitting down for coffee for more than two minutes would feel like a luxury – a vacation. And what I really couldn’t imagine was that it didn’t matter at all. I would never trade my baby for a lifetime of perfect sleep or cruises or European vacations.
I sat down to meditate a few months after he was born, when the tornado was still whipping overhead. I hadn’t sat down alone for weeks. I’ve meditated on and off for years, and I have a busy mind. Thoughts come flipping through like an old-fashioned picture show, and I inevitably end up feeling guilty for doing such a bad job of focusing on my breath. But this time, I was just there – just completely in the moment. Afterward I realized, that’s how I was living. Every day my baby changed entirely, and I was just there with him – changing diapers, nursing, going for long walks, reading him board books, giving him baby massages – but mostly just there. I wasn’t worried about the past or the future. I wasn’t over-thinking anything. I just was.
Needless to say, those intense days at the beginning passed quickly and now I have plenty of time to bathe – and obsess and distract myself. But my little boy has already taught me so much about enjoying the journey.