I'm Leah, and in a lucky twist of fate, I've landed my three dream jobs:
book editor, writer, and mother. Since having my son in December 2008, my
work-life has been in constant flux - full-time? part-time? freelance?
working at home or in the office? It depends on the day and which way the
wind is blowing - and figuring out how to keep it all going is a constant
challenge. Heck, I'm still getting used to the idea of being someone's
Check out my profile on Work It, Mom! and my personal blog, A Girl and a Boy.
Two Thanksgivings ago we spent a long vacation in England visiting relatives, one of whom was a five-month-old baby, my niece. My sister-in-law was the brand new, first-time mother of this baby girl, and knowing that I would soon be a brand new, first-time mom myself, I was all ears and eyes and mouthful of questions about the everyday mechanics of taking care of a baby. My SIL gave me a ton of great advice (and maternity clothes), but I think the best education I received about motherhood came from just being around an infant all day, every day, for several weeks. It’s an experience I recommend all expectant mothers seek out.
Living with a baby for an extended period of time is vastly different from other common baby encounters, like holding your coworker’s kid during the office holiday party, changing a wet diaper “just for the fun of it,” or babysitting for an afternoon. Even the worst of us can figure out how to take care of and entertain a tiny human being for two or three hours, but up those two or three hours into twenty-four, and make that one day into every day, and we must dig into our reserves–of creativity, of patience–to answer the question “What do you do with a baby all day?”
One thing I remember from that trip to England was my SIL boucing the baby on her knee to the beat of a nursery rhyme about the many and varied ways that the many and varied people of the countryside ride horses. (”This is the way the gentleman rides: a-gallop, a-gallop, a-gallop, a-gallop…”) She went through all five verses three or four times in a row, and while the baby was all drooly smiles for most of it, she soon lost interest. “Now what?” said Simon, the future father of my future son. “EXACTLY,” said his sister.
So, what DO you do with a baby all day? I’m finding this especially hard to answer in regards to my own baby, who, at seven weeks and change, isn’t exactly “interactive.” He sprawls on his playmat and gazes into the attached mirror, he smiles when I pinch his cheeks, and he pulls enthusiastically at my shirt when nursing. He knows how to coo–I’ve caught it on camera–but he only does it on alternate Wednesdays when the moon is full and the wind is blowing north-northwest. Mostly, he just looks around the room, eyes a-goggle, smiling at the crown moulding and grunting at dustbunnies. Does he even know I’m there? More than a few times I’ve found myself busy with other things and looking over at him only intermittently, like during commercial breaks or while I wait for a YouTube video to load. Oh boy…so this is what Mother Guilt feels like.
Sometimes the baby cries with, it seems, no cause; he’s been diapered and fed, he’s just woken up from a nice long nap, I have him on my lap, face to face, and up until two seconds ago we were making pleasant although one-sided conversation about the events of the day (or the dustbunnies). I’m doing my best to fill our time together, to be creative with songs and games and toys and slapstick routines, to stimulate his tiny little brain, to be a good mother…so can someone please tell me why all the screaming? Are my songs not peppy enough? My games too complex? In a bout of mental exhaustion, I throw up my hands–after placing the baby gently on the floor on a nice, mostly clean blanket–and admit that sometimes I’m at a loss. He’s just going to have to lay there for a minute while I figure out what to do next. Puppet show? Finger paints? Interpretive dance?
If you’re already a mother, you probably know what’s coming: the second I put the kid down he stopped crying. It turns out he didn’t need more of my attention but less. Sometimes babies, just like grown-ups, need some downtime, to be left alone to do their own thing. Sometimes the best afternoon–for him and me–is the one spent doing nothing, lying on our backs contemplating our hands, listening to the hum of the space heater, no crazy lady gooing and gahing like a lunatic, no bouncing or jiggling or rocking or a-galloping–nothing more than a stretch of time to just be.
We talk a lot about moms needing “me time,” but babies (and older kids) need it too. (The added benefit, of course, is that when baby’s having “me time,” I can enjoy some too and not feel guilty about it!) I must remember to put the kid down once in a while. I must resist the urge to race in and scoop him up the second he wakes from a nap lest he feel neglected. I must believe that if he’s perfectly happy laying on the floor looking at the pattern of light streaking in through the blinds, I should let him enjoy it instead of bursting into his quiet daydreams with mirrors that light up and toys that sing and books that jingle and crinkle and squeak. I must remember that there’s such a thing as overstimulation.
I must remember that I’m not the only one who needs a break.
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