Motherhood Year One
What babies do
Stumble, fall, and rise on their own...
It was a spur-of-the-moment experiment. I saw my little one stumble and fall from cruising the furniture quickly. While I heard the thud, a part of me waited for the cry of pain; a part of me resisted the urge to run and help. What would he do? He laid there for a couple of seconds. I stood still. And then - to my surprise and relief - he picked himself up, smiled at me, and laid his hands on the couch to cruise once again. It's all right, Mom, he must have thought.
Was it a showcase of bravery? Could it be credited to him being a boy? Maybe it just didn't hurt at all? I've seen this happen, over and over, in different contexts and situations. Then I figured it out. He's just doing what babies do: experiencing life and then responding to the newness, to the rawness of it all. Perhaps we need a redefinition of babies? In my one year of being a mother (oh so short but also oh so long!), my son has showed me that he is not a helpless creature. Yes, of course, they need to be carried, fed, bathed, and changed. But for all that they cannot yet do, they know how to learn. It's in their system; these littles ones are wired to adapt to the world they were brought into. Babies actually make adults look like we're doing nothing all day long. They've got it in them to grow. The secret is to be parents who let them. And oftentimes, that means showing them the way and then - the hardest part - stepping back to watch them stumble, fall, and rise on their own.
The change started with the sleep. I could only have three hours of solid sleep before Noah would wake up again after midnight. Once I heard the cry, I knew the routine:
1. Carry him and bounce on the exercise ball (yes, seriously, I had to exercise half-asleep).
2. Wait till he deeply falls asleep before I stop bouncing otherwise I have to start all over again.
3. Lay him down quietly.
If that didn't work, I had to carry him my whole shift before it was my husband's turn. Our days blended from one day to the next. We were walking zombies. We were parents who didn't have any energy to enjoy their child. Even our son didn't have the spirit to be curious and playful and cheerful. I thought, there must be another way. I searched and searched till I found a sleep coach who saved our family from exhaustion and helplessness. The demands were tough: he needed to sleep in his own room, he had to cry for a few days, he was on his own a lot. But our sleep coach shared a nugget of wisdom that carried us through it all: Babies know how to sleep, it's the parents who have to learn what to do. It's been seven months since then and our boy (and his parents!) has been sleeping through all the nights.
We've also given him the chance to eat on his own. We've cut out most of his milk to get him accustomed to the ritual of eating on the table and feeding himself. With the help of this beautiful wooden chair, efficient placemats, and delicious recipes, my husband and I have a new seatmate on our dining table. It's always a mess, the meal planning and the cooking take up so much of my days but they are all worth it when I hear him say 'Yum!' with a spoonful of food in his mouth, when I see him scoop into the bowl for more, more, more.
And then there are the books -- the glorious compilation of printed paper that brings my son to infinite worlds and characters and colors. There's always a moment in the day when I let him out of his play pen and I watch him crawl, crawl, crawl quickly to his mini bookcase. I don't have to reach out and choose for him anymore. He lifts himself up and picks out one book after the next, flipping through the pages. Sometimes he'll stay long with one book; sometimes he'll skim through another. It's an exquisite moment to see my son lose himself in it all, literally surrounding himself with so many of the books he's picked out on his own. What joy that must be for a child... to have so many worlds laid out before him.
Motherhood Year One taught me this: my baby is ready. I am not. He knows how to sleep, he knows how to eat, he knows to read, he knows how to rise again. I did not know that about him. Sure, we have to guide them, lead the way, prepare the right environment. But at the end of the day, they're doing it all - both the amazing and ordinary feats - with their own gut, courage, and spirit. Most of the time, it hurts to take a step back because aren't we supposed to hold them, caress them, protect them all day, every single day? Isn't that what a mother does? Well, yes. But I think the final and most important step is to let go. Because when we do, that's when they fall and fly.
That's the magic of motherhood, isn't it? Once that baby is in our arms, we're actually given the lifelong privilege of watching another human being grow into his own. And by that privilege alone, I reckon we are a thousand times blessed. We've given life to someone and already, in their first year of life, they're showing us how to live it. Is there anyone else who can give us such joy, wonder, and awe? It makes everything else we've given up worth it, huh?