Okay, I'm willing to admit something here that you won't often hear me say...
I was totally not prepared to be a parent.
Your dad and I knew, from early in our relationship, that we both wanted kiddos. We talked about it a lot over the years we were together before you came to be a part of our lives. We discussed timing of babies, what we'd name babies, and how we wanted to raise our babies. You'll probably hate to hear this, but we talked so much about our future kids that you didn't really stand much of a chance against us. We are a united front of parenthood. You are basically doomed to be the perfect child.
And yes, we silently judged other parents "pre-Baby G." We'd see a child acting up and look at each other like, "They need to get their heads in the game and parent those kids ASAP!" We'd talk a big talk about how we were going to do things differently than those people. We'd ponder parent-child interactions like we were doing post-game commentary for ESPN. We had been around kids enough to know the things we should expect out of them, and spent a lot of time discussing how we would react in those situations. By the time you came along, we were CONFIDENT we were going to be the best damned parents in the history of EVER.
Yeah... about that...
As it turns out, we both agree that we ARE pretty rad parents, but whoa... we were taken a bit off guard by a few things. These instances of "HOLY CRAP!" have helped shape us as parents, and all of us as a family, by learning "on the fly" how we are going to respond to things that pop up out of nowhere. Some things have left us feeling like we are ten feet tall (you know, the GOOD surprises!) Others have left us a bit battle-worn as we contemplate our next moves and how NOT to react to situations beyond our control. Overall, the lessons I've taken away from parenting a child for just a little over a year include: patience, deep breaths during anger, team-work, compassion, observation, and the intense power of the mother-child connection to instinctively "know" when something IS something (good or bad).
There have been many things over the last year that surprised us, but here are a few of the things that came to mind when I brainstormed all of our "HOLY CRAP!" moments.
*Feeding baby once you leave the hospital - Okay, in our defense the hospital was very good at instructing us how much to feed you the different "meals" you had after you were born but told us NOTHING about how to progress with feedings after we left. They told us how big your tummy was, how often to feed you, how much to feed you, and it was so helpful! I had NO idea how tiny a baby's tummy was at birth, nor did I realize how quickly it grew over the first few days! Having the staff on hand to tell us all of these things was vital. Toward the end of our hospital stay we were feeding you about an ounce of formula every 2-3 hours or so and you seemed really happy about that. The first night we had you home things were great until, all of a sudden, they were really really bad. If you remember in my first "Baby G: you terrify me" post, I discussed the first night home and how you wailed and screamed for, seemingly, no reason. Well, finally out of frustration from trying EVERYTHING else I could think of, I said, "lets just feed her again even though she just ate and it isn't time!" It went against what we learned in the hospital, but we were desperate for some relief from the ear-splitting screams. Well, what do you know? All you wanted was food! As soon as we fed you (nearly triple what we thought we should feed you, if i remember correctly) you were fine. A friend of ours told us after that to just feed you until you puked. I'm guessing it was a bit of an exaggeration, but we learned very quickly to just let you eat what you wanted and to hell with what we learned in the hospital. You're still a very good eater, by the way!
*Amount of food going in versus amount being spit up - Having never taken a physics class, I still pride myself in the basic knowledge that pouring a cup of water into a glass and then pouring that cup of water into another glass would still end up being, for all intents and purposes, a full cup of water. This does not seem to be the case with babies. For example, your dad or I would feed you about 3 ounces of formula and over the next 2-3 hours you would seem to spit up at least 12 ounces of liquid (okay, maybe that is a slight exaggeration...) We began to worry that you weren't getting any nutrition because it all came back up. Our visits to the doctor showed you gaining weight at a perfect rate, but I just couldn't see how that was possible since all of your calories ended up on your bib, on one of us, or all over your carseat/boppy pillow/exersaucer. Well, as it turns out, we were awful judges of how much liquid we wrung out of your bibs because by the laws of the universe SOME of that food had to remain in your stomach for you to be healthy and grow up as well as you have. Still, it seemed like a lot and it's very jarring when you're a new parent and all you want is for your baby to get what she needs. You're a pretty amazing baby, but I doubt you are breaking laws of physics at your young age (unless you ARE and then I'll have to update this post again someday).
*You may feel you have made a huge mistake - Okay, this one is hard for me to talk about and it might be hard for you to read. First, I need to tell you that there is nothing in this world I would rather be, right now or ever, than your mommy. You are the best thing either of us has ever done and we would just as soon hurl ourselves into the sun than experience a life without you in it. Now, that being said, lack of sleep and a drastic change in lifestyle can REALLY mess you up. There is a reason they call it "the baby blues" and there is also a reason why they drill it into your head in childbirth class that it is fairly common for a period of sadness to set in after a baby arrives. Nothing puts the brakes on a regular routine like having a baby! The first 6-8 weeks of your life were really really hard on all of us. We didn't know what we were doing and you had no way of letting us know how we were screwing up. There were times when I wondered if we had any right being parents because I felt like a failure for many reasons (some of which included: needing a C-section instead of a natural birth (I will talk about this in another post in the future), not having success at getting you to latch so I could breastfeed, not knowing why you were crying nearly all the time, and even not figuring out how to swaddle you in such a way that you could get comfort and sleep.) Eventually, the lack of sleep and the feelings of failure/sadness made me wonder if we had made a mistake in thinking we could do this. I loved my new baby, but I also mourned my "lost life of convenience" every time I tried to do something... anything... with a new baby. I missed sleep. I missed hanging out with people. I missed just sitting on the couch, vegging out, whenever I'd had a rough day at work. I missed the luxury of being sick and lazing around until I felt better. I simply wasn't ready for all of the changes. Turns out, I wasn't abnormal. These aren't uncommon feelings for new parents to have, but no one talks about it because it seems really awful to question whether you should have had your child or not. The answer in the long run is, "of course we should have had you! You're wonderful and we cannot picture our lives without you!" But sometimes the answer in the short term is, "I'm so not ready for this, but I'll keep trudging forward until I am." That's what happened and I'm so glad we did!
*Can’t swaddle like the nurses, don’t even try - Remember how I mentioned above that I felt like a total failure because I couldn't swaddle you enough to keep you happy and comforted? Holy cow... we tried so many different things but you kept breaking out of each of them! Our sleep was so fragmented because you would wake up screaming and checking on you to see what was wrong usually meant you had an arm sticking out of some random fold of the swaddle blanket and you were hitting yourself in the face with it. Damn... babies really DO NOT have any sort of control over their little arms! Until a co-worker of mine told me about the Miracle Blanket, we assumed we would just never sleep more than an hour at a time ever again. Have I mentioned how amazing that product is more than a thousand times yet? A thousand times is my goal to continue bringing up how much that invention saved our lives because it was the only thing that gave us ALL sleep. Turns out those nurses in the hospital have the strength of 20,000 oxen and no one... NO ONE... will ever swaddle a baby as well as they do. They only do it about a trillion times a day more than the average person. They are masters of their baby-origami craft and none of us can ever strive to be as good at it. I'll go so far as to say, "don't even try." The Miracle Blanket is for the rest of us and it should just be used right away.
*How quickly they “wake up” and start interacting - Okay, let me put it this way...
Age: 1 day shy of your two month birthday:
Mom: "Hi baby! Hello! You're so cute! I love you!" Baby: (blank stare with cricket sound in the background).
Age: Your two month birthday:
Mom: "Hi baby! Hello! You're so cute! I love you!" Baby: "Oooo... oooo... ahhhh.... ahhh... oooooooooo....." Mom: "OMG hubby! GRAB THE VIDEO CAMERA!!!" (click the link to see the video in question!)
Yeah, babies will amaze you by pretending like they don't know how to do anything and then, suddenly, they're actual small humans who do human-like things! This is one of the good surprises because it gives you hope that you're actually doing a pretty good job as a parent.
*Worried about milestones then BAM! - But then, all of a sudden, that same baby that made you feel like you were doing a good job as a parent will resist hitting a certain milestone and will make you worry that you did something wrong as a parent, somehow. Worrying about milestones IS good because it can help you determine if something is wrong, but worrying about them too much (guilty as charged) is completely pointless because babies are going to do what they want to do when they want to do it. Most of the time babies want to do things after they've seen their peers do it. Peer pressure starts early and shows up regularly, especially if your baby is in day care. Your child, who didn't know how to crawl when you took her to day care that morning, will all of a sudden know how to crawl like a champ by the end of the day. Once babies "get it" they master their craft in record time. It boggles the mind! You went from taking your first steps on January 10, 2012 to running all over the house a week or two later. It happens SUPER quickly! It's surprising and a ton of fun!
*How quickly they develop opinions - Oh my gosh, you are one opinionated baby! You used to be pretty laid back about things like books or foods or what sorts of activities we did. NOT ANYMORE!! If you don't like a book we're reading to you, you shut it and shove it off to the side. If you don't like a food, even if you liked it the day before, you will spit it back out. If you don't want to get in the car seat to go on adventures, you will whine and cry and contort your body so it makes it "just this side of impossible" to put you in successfully. You have some opinions and you aren't scared of sharing them! It really surprised me how early your preferences began to show their faces because I didn't think you'd experienced enough in your short life to really have an opinion on things. I guess you have! I'm going to put that in the "parental win" column for exposing you to enough things for you to have a preference!
*One day: Happy cooperative baby. The next day: Whiny needy baby - I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by this, but it's always a bit confusing to have the greatest day ever with you only to have the following day be miserable for all of us. I know with teeth coming in, unsuccessful naps, mommy and daddy trying to get you to do things you don't feel like doing, and erratic schedules at times, it can be hard to be a baby and you won't always be happy. Still, we treasure the good days and manage to get through the rough ones, together, as a family.
*Where are you learning how to do these things??? - A common phrase set heard around the house nowadays, "Do you do that with her? Where did she learn how to do that? I wonder if she learned that at day care? That's hilarious!" Some things you've learned are obvious in origin. You say "Hi" with the same intonation that I use when I say "Hi" to you, exactly! It cracks me up! Other things you seem to pick up without us having ever done them with you. I never know if it comes from day care or if you just looked in a mirror one day, made a face, thought it was awesome, and just kept doing it. Either way, you are picking up things at such a rate of speed that it makes us feel extra conscious about what we say and do around you. I've scolded the kitty in the past saying, "No! No! Bad kitty!" just to have you wag your finger at her and say, "no no no no no!" Clearly you are already watching everyone around you and picking up new things. We're going to have to be very careful from here on out!
*Babies learn surprisingly quickly how to mimic you - Which brings me to the next thing... babies learn so quickly how to mimic you! They copy exactly what you are doing and it makes them so proud to be just like you! Hearing you babble incoherently on and on and then, all of a sudden, say "Hi" just like I do is so completely amazing! It's like looking into a tiny, cute, giggly, little mirror! This is one of my favorite things about parenthood right now!
*How very much I love you - This shouldn't come as a surprise to me, but sometimes if I sit and think about how very deeply I love you and how much more fulfilled I am as a person to know that I am your mother, it really boggles my mind. I have loved many people in my life, but the kind of love and affection I hold for you is like no other feeling I've ever had. Your dad and I talk about how you have changed our lives and how we can't imagine a life without you. When we go out for date nights, you're still one of our favorite topics! Actually, I'm not surprised that I love you so much, I'm more surprised that this level of love exists in a world where people sometimes don't love each other as much as they should. This type of love gives me a bit of hope for humanity, a view I had long abandoned prior to having you.
I'm absolutely positive that you will continue to surprise us time and time again throughout your life. Frankly, I'm ready for it! I may not have been prepared for parenthood when you first arrived, but we've all learned together and NOW I feel like I have the skills to keep you safe and happy... until I don't... and then I'll learn from that, too.