Nico is four and a half months old. I meant to write so much in those first four months, and instead I have a handful of half-finished sentences and scrawled thoughts, and 7,185 photos in my camera roll. (See, Facebook, I am being restrained.)
I just read back some of those scrawled thoughts — they’re like an ice bath now, a sudden dunk back into those first weeks of fear and pain and exhaustion. Of being terrified to do anything and also to not do everything and Google telling me over and over again sixteen million times a day that breastfeeding is the only answer and that everything is normal until it’s not.
But now we’re here. If not confident, we at least have our legs under us. We can navigate leaving the house, going to appointments, buying groceries. I generally know when he needs to eat and when he needs to sleep. I can squeeze myself in around the sides, stolen moments of work and exercise that remind me that I was once a person, too, and one day might be again.
I don’t begrudge him that — he needs me, and I’m so into being his mother it’s embarrassing. And it turns out everyone was right about how fast it goes. He’s already so different than he was. We look at pictures of him as a newborn and struggle to draw the line between there and here, even though there was only weeks ago. Time has never moved faster or slower. I’ve never been so content or so bored, so focused or so lost.
I don’t begrudge this brief, endless period of total need, but I do resent it sometimes. I resent the way society is constructed so mothers are down here in the trenches at home alone while the world moves around us, like making new people isn’t part of the world… kind of the core part, even. Humans are sort of the MVP of humanity.
This week Nico likes to drink water out of my glass. I let him try because it was cute, and now there’s spit and water all over the house. He pulls his own socks off when I’m changing his nappy. He hurls himself bodily at things he wants, and then rages in frustration when he can’t propel himself across the carpet by sheer force of will. He’s full of gummy smiles and giggles for anyone and everyone, but cries real, red-faced tears if we leave his sight in an unfamiliar place. He likes to “walk” holding onto my fingers (by which I mean stamp his feet while wobbling around on fat, bowed little legs), which is murder on my back but fuckin’ adorable. He can sit by himself for, oh, seconds at a time, and will play happily and independently with a toy for ages as long as he can reach out and touch me, and I don’t try to do anything else. His life goal is to get my phone into his mouth, which says far more about me than it does about him.
He’s basically a cartoon of a baby — all eyes and smile, with that serious forehead and those comical eyebrows. I’m obsessed with his fluffy duckling hair and his chubby little feet. I’ve cried several times in the last few days because I get so overwhelmed by how much I love him.
It’s embarrassing to admit that. It feels like you’re not meant to let on how much you love your children — or you’re only meant to talk about the hard bits. I feel a certain amount of judgement in some circles just for breeding — like I’ve sacrificed my work or my social life, or I’ll get so involved with my own tiny family that I’ll forget to care about the big picture. Sometimes it feels like the very act of having a baby feels unfeminist, like I’m letting womenkind down by being so openly womanly. Or at least thoroughly complicating the issue.
Childbirth and parenting do complicate it — but I think they should. Hormones and biology are complex topics, over and above society and its biases and expectations. Having a baby runs you hard up against the fact that women and men might be equal, but they’re not the same. Brazil couldn’t carry the baby or give birth to him, and he can’t feed him with his boobs (although Nico will give it a go, given the opportunity in the bath). So much of this has to fall on me. Society doesn’t help with that, but there’s also no easy solution to it. I find myself wanting to talk about this all the time, because I have no idea what to say about it.
As for the other stuff, I care more about current events now that I made a person who’ll have to live in this broken world, but I also can’t find room to care as much as I used to. I’m too tired and my feelings are too raw. I can’t even cope with the ducklings in the stream this year, because I’m so concerned for their safety I find watching them actively painful. I’m working, and I want to work, but I’m frequently startled by how little work matters. I like it and I’m good at it, but I’m just not as angry as I used to be about how people are Making Websites Wrong.
I often see articles reporting on studies that have found that having children makes you less happy. But now I wonder what they’re measuring as happy. Am I more frustrated? Less free? Frequently exhausted, emotionally and physically? Yes, yes and yes. I can’t do what I want to do when I want to do it. My life, by all accounts, is looking pretty pathetic right now. But under that… something that’s always been empty has been filled. It’s not that I’ve found a purpose — more like I don’t feel like I need to anymore. I’m just here, today, operating naptime to naptime. And a lot of those moments aren’t what you could call happy… but I’m happy. Happier. Happiest.
People are all that matter, in the end. And new people… I have this whole new perspective on humanity. I’ve never been more conscious of the fact that we’re animals, mammals, organisms made up of collections of cells. But we’re also phenomenal: watching someone learn how to reach out and touch something he wants to touch has made me aware for the first time of what a ridiculous feat of biological engineering it is that I’m typing on this computer right now. That I can tie my shoes and name things with words and use my imagination. We are incredible creatures.
We’re also born craving connection. The love of a child is absolute. I used to feel like that was somehow a weakness in parents — like it was vaguely exploitative to have children for love, like there’s something vaguely odious about needing other people that much.
It’s beautiful, though. This baby is so incredibly happy to see me every single time he sees me. I make his day just by showing up. He has no concept of hate or disgust or anger. He gets sad and frustrated and he doesn’t understand why I sometimes want to use the bathroom without him, but his requirements in life are so simple: me, Brazil, cuddles. The two of us form his entire pyramid of needs. Food and sleep and shelter are all contained within us.
I watch him watch a tree move in the wind and his total delight is contagious. I’m also realising he’s happier playing with one toy than six, with the cords on my hood while sitting in my lap, than the plastic elephant-shaped ball-shooter thing I bought him for $70 and four D batteries.
I used to joke that toddlers are proof we’re all born sociopaths and have to be moulded into responsible citizens through bribery and brute force. Maybe I’ll change my mind once we have one, but right now it’s fucking wonderful to realise the opposite is true: we’re born loving everyone and everything with indiscriminate abandon. This baby isn’t only teaching me about myself — I feel like I’m re-learning the world along with him.
It’s pretty great, you know?
Anyway, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I wrote all that while he slept. And then he woke up feeling like he’d been dramatically wronged by the changing table in general and his left sock in particular, following which he was done some kind of grievous harm by avocado, which only yesterday was his best favourite. Then he enjoyed some no-nappy time until I left the room for eight seconds and he pooped, rolled in it, and then peed across all of his toys. Then he smashed a pot plant, threw up in my hand and now he’s back in bed.
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