Thursday, June 12, 2008
It’s just not fair that it’s easier for you to say dada than mama. I mean, I’m fine with you saying it. I’m THRILLED that you say it, but can’t I get a little recognition too? Come on, Sophie, throw me a bone.
Okay. Okay. You don’t have to rub it in.
Actually, it’s not that she never says mama. She does. It’s always in a desperate moment, just before she starts hyperventilating, as she comes lunging at me, her eyes trained on the area just below my neck, welling, “Mamamama!.” Or if she’s pulled herself up against the ottoman, is reaching for my laptop, and suddenly she’s down, headfirst, “Mamamama!” I don’t think she yet associates the word with me. I think it’s much more reflexive and visceral than that. Mamamama stands for comfort.
Dadaddada means fun. It’s her curiosity as she picks through the laundry basket and sucks on my dirty sweatpants. It’s her wonder as she pulls up to the dishwasher and rolls the bottom rack back and forth. It’s her joy as she slams the plush head on the floor. It’s her anticipation as she makes her way across my bed to a pile of books.
In many cultures, “mother” is some variation on “mama” and “father” is a permutation of “dada.” It is a chicken or egg argument, but it seems to me that we have shaped these infant utterances in accordance with our culturally-sanctioned gender-defined roles.
Why can’t I be dada?
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
The next hurdle was finding a babysitter. I resisted it for sometime, justifying that I could work during her naps and we couldn’t afford the expense. But Sophia only napped ½ an hour at a time—just as I would get into my groove, she would begin startling and tossing—a sign that she was reentering consciousness. I found myself doing work after everyone had gone to bed—sometimes typing into the wee hours of the morning. I was just as exhausted as when I was feeding her round the clock. Something had to give.
We invited a parade of overqualified, baby-loving grad-students into our home. First for dinner and a meet-the-baby session. Then for the occasional evening out. And finally for hours at a time as I worked out of my closet. I trust these women implicitly. They genuinely adore Sophia. Mimi and Roberta, who come occasionally, insist on non-payment—just the pleasure of her company. When they haven’t seen her in awhile, they call, missing her, wanting to know when they can babysit again, asking us to text recent pictures. Stacey, who cares for her while I work, takes her for outings and scours the internet for fun things to do with a baby on her weekends. When Stacey walks in the door, Sophia greets her with a smile she reserves for her most-loved people. I am lucky. Sophia is lucky.
And though I neurotically typed a two page list of do’s and don’ts for babysitters (do narrate what you are doing; don’t let her watch tv), and left in the line about not making disparaging comments about your own body (my things are so fat) or the baby’s body (your thighs are so fat) despite my friend Nancy pointing out that it was “a little weird”….I’m not at all concerned about what they do with Sophia in my absence. I love the fact that she easily goes from me to them. I’m thrilled that they come up with fresh ideas for play and bring a new energy to my caffeine-fueled routine.
What bothers me is that I’m not with Sophia. That she is having an experience—the first of many—without me. That I don’t know what she’s feeling, that I can’t project onto her what she’s thinking, that I don’t know what she’s doing in the moments we’re apart. I remember once marveling at the infant who was me and yet not me. As she grows, she becomes more and more herself and more and more not me.
I tell myself: This is normal. This is what happens. I’m the one who’s developing separation anxiety. Sophia? She’s getting a life.
Monday, June 9, 2008
I imagine most mothers would be thrilled to watch their child careen through her developmental milestones. And don’t get me wrong. I am one of them. I feel enormous pride as I watch her, at six months, breakdance over to her toy box, pull up to a standing position, lean over the edge and grab a talking plush head (who gave us THAT?). She grins toothlessly, triumphantly, and whips it around mercilessly as it protests (Whee! Achoo! Faceplant!).
I kneel behind her, spotting. I am amazed at her strength. But at the same time I am achingly sad, cognizant of the breakneck speed with which she is growing up. Other mothers with older babies pick her up and exclaim over how tiny and light she is. But she feels pretty heavy to me. One mother sniffed her head and sighed, "she still smells like a baby. My baby lost that smell." I sniffed her child and indeed, the baby smelled grown up. Now, I sniff Sophie’s head, paranoid that her powdery newness will have worn off and all that will be left is hair.
You see, I know Sophie is like me. Or, rather, the way I was. Not content to be a child. Frustrated with the lack of power. Anxious to join the mysterious world of adults: To walk like them, talk like them, be like them. I wished my childhood away. At the time, it seemed to drag on forever. I felt imprisoned. And then suddenly it was over. Now I want to slow down time. No. I want it to stand still. I want to live in this moment forever. Me and my baby.
To make myself feel worse, I put on the Putumayo Dreamland album that we played over and over again during the first days that we had her home. I am transported back to that time, when there was no division between night and day—and time was measured in feeding intervals. When I was in too much pain to sit. Too much pain to stand. When Sophia was either sleeping or clinging to me, uncoordinated and near blind. When we had to take her clothes off, wipe her with a wet washcloth, and finally move her little limbs through a series of calisthenics as my mother chanted, ex-er-cise,ex-er-cise, babies need their ex-er-cise and she still wouldn’t wake for a feeding.
I weep, longing for the most difficult days of my life
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
The whole time Nancy and I were pregnant, we kept saying we need to write down all the things we’d swear we’d never do.
These were some of the things on my list:
- Feed my child fast food
- Allow her to watch television under the age of three
- Have a house that looks like Toys R Us
The idea was to check back in with each other and see what we were actually able to follow through with. I kept joking that all my child would have to play with were pots and pans and a cardboard box.
What I am happy to discover, is that you really don’t need much more than that. Sophie spends long periods of time just trying to climb all over my body, or explore the house, or swipe at a dangling blanket. And I honestly do not think that these activities are any less stimulating than sucking on a multi-colored combination rattle, book, teething ring “toy” designed by Baby Einstein.
She has a small box of such items in the living room—all of which were given to her by friends and relatives. She does like these things. When the mood strikes her, she inches her way over to the box and hoists herself up on her knees to grab whatever’s accessible, and then tries to cram as much of it as possible into her mouth. However, if I give her a spatula she pretty much does the same thing with it.
Having spent a fair amount of time on the floor of my living room, assembling and studying swings, exersaucers, and jumperoos, I have become deeply suspicious of the whole baby industry. It all seems so unnecessary. These bright, ugly toys designed to make your baby smarter, are alarmingly over-stimulating. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a deleterious effect on brain development. In fact, I would even venture to say that these things were not designed for babies, but for their parents—to relieve them of their infant burdens, to provide time to do other things, to minimize the social interaction and human contact that truly fosters healthy development
I’m willing to bet: if it didn’t exist 100 years ago, chances are we still don’t need it today.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
We sat in a circle, our babies perched in front of us, drooling over the teething rings, unbreakable mirrors, and rattles the facilitator had laid out on the floor. Each mother took a turn sharing her story of initiating solids. Then it was my turn.
I’m going to delay solids for a little while.
A stunned silence.
The facilitator asks, how old is she?
Six months. Six months, today, in fact.
The mothers look at me squinting, their heads tilted, not understanding. They hadn’t taken me for one of those “Breast is Best” people.
How come? Another mom asked.
Where do I start? I launched into my list of practical reasons, beginning with the most trivial:
I’m not ready for her poop to stink
I’m not anxious to take on the added work of preparing baby food, feeding her and cleaning up
It took me forever to get to a point where I could breastfeed painlessly and I don’t want her to self-wean prematurely.
But the real reason, the one that I am slightly embarrassed about:
I am in no hurry for her to grow up
Already those early days spent in pain and exhaustion—recuperating from the hematoma while feeding Sophia around the clock—are barely visible in my minds’ eye. I need my friend Elisa, who helped bring Sophia into the world, and my mother, who stayed up with me night after night and lifted her into my arms to feed, to be my memory.
The thing is: I may never have another child. Sophia might be it. I feel so very grateful for this opportunity to be her mother. And so I have to cherish every minute of her babyhood.
I take pictures. I write. Hoping to capture and preserve this thrilling present. But, like everything, it slips away and only that which has a strange salience remains.
Sophia has her whole life to eat solid food.
And how do we know six months is the magical month anyhow, when suddenly they need something more than that which has sustained them for and made them double in weight in half a year? When I was born, the pediatrician told my mother to give me solids after one month. Now, the research tells us that a baby’s digestive system isn’t ready to handle solids, and a baby doesn’t have the fine motor skills to eat until 4-6 months. If breast milk is such a perfect food, why not delay even longer? I’ve read the studies—the three primary concerns are:
- Nutrients: Iron, in particular—an infant is born with iron stores that he/she utilizes over the early months. Breast milk contains very little iron. After these stores are depleted, the infant needs another source of iron. But that might not occur until somewhere between 9 – 12 months, depending on the size of the infant at birth. Babies are typically assessed for anemia at 9 months.
- Growth faltering: The baby fails to gain weight and grow longer.
- There is a window in which you need to introduce new tastes and textures or the baby will be a picky eater.
Only the first reason has any science to back it up, and still, it doesn’t point to the necessity of starting at six months.
To soften the blow, I told the group that I was going to check in with my pediatrician about it. The facilitator exhaled, relieved. The mother next to me whispered, I’m the opposite of you. I can’t wait until he’s out of this stage. Her baby kicked the air, like a turtle on its back.
At the pediatrician’s, the nurse weighed Sophia. She was right at the fiftieth percentile, just an ounce under 15 lbs. I was disappointed to learn that our regular doctor was out sick. Dr. Cromley, who had never met Sophie, would be standing in.
I asked Dr. Cromley if she thought I could wait. She looked at me like I had three heads, why would you want to do that. This surprised me a little. I didn’t expect it to be quite such an uncommon request. Again, I went into my reasons, this time feeling a bit more selfish and a bit more irrational. Dr. Cromley launched into the “picky eater” argument, surprising me again. I thought for sure she push the nutrients one. When I told her I wasn’t able to find any research supporting this notion, she said her years of experience with countless babies who became picky eaters was evidence enough. (I doubted this, since it didn’t seem like very many people were trying to delay solids in the first place.) She begrudgingly told me no later than eight months. Okay. Fair enough.
Then, a few nights ago, I had a dream: Sophia was dead. I hadn’t fed her enough. My mother was hiding her from me in the car, but I found out. I was screaming with grief and wracked with guilt.
Might I cause her harm, simply because I’m not ready?
As a parent, you are always trying to decide what’s best for your child. Sophie will get her first taste of rice cereal on Father’s Day—when she’ll be exactly 7 months. Until then, I’ll enjoy that I am building her face, her body, her brain with my body and my body alone.