A friend and I were admiring a newborn in the church nursery the other day. It wasn’t that long ago that I had an infant, and yet, looking at those tiny fingers and sleepy eyes, I couldn’t help but feel my baby days were long behind me.
“Oh, doesn’t this make you want another one?” my friend asked, the wistful smile on her face revealing her feelings on the matter. “No!” I exclaimed quickly, perhaps a little too quickly.
My friend looked surprised, and I brushed off my strong response, saying something about enjoying sleep too much. I looked down at that beautiful little girl, breathing in her intoxicating baby smell, and I knew that even though I have wonderful memories of my children as infants and toddlers, there’s no way in this world I would go back to that time.
It may be a little taboo to say, but I didn’t particularly enjoy being a mother to a baby. Of course, I loved my children fiercely and I delighted in witnessing all the important milestones: first smiles, first coos, the panting and grunting as they lay on the floor, determined to figure out how to roll their bodies over. It was exciting. But it was also very exhausting, and I must say, confusing.
We make jokes all the time, but babies really don’t come with a manual, and that means being a parent becomes being a detective. And while it may sound intriguing to search for clues as to why your baby is upset and find ways to help them stop crying, no one tells you that the answer that you finally discover today may not work tomorrow, and will almost certainly not be the solution for your next child’s problem.
As a mom to a newborn, I sometimes felt like a hamster on a wheel, just marking time and really getting nowhere. Some may argue that’s what parenting is in general, and I would have to agree, except that the stakes were so much higher for me when my kids were babies, partly because I was a new mother and my confidence was a little shaky, and partly because newborns are so vulnerable, and what may seem like small problems could turn into serious situations if they are not dealt with properly.
When my daughter was 10 months old, she had to be hospitalized due to dehydration. Vomiting and diarrhea in small children can quickly get out of hand, and that left me feeling unsure and a little scared.
The fear began to ease up as my children got older and I was able to communicate with them, and they with me. I found it so reassuring when my son could point to what hurt, or when my daughter could tell me what was bothering her. Sure, it’s nearly impossible to reason with a 2-year-old, but at least you begin to see the foundation being laid to what will hopefully be a good dialogue with your child. And when they are 5 and 6 years old? Well, they’ll kill you with the corny jokes they tell over and over again, but at least you don’t have to play guessing games with their health.
A mom with teenagers once told me that parenting doesn’t get easier, the challenges are just different. And I can certainly validate that claim now that our house is less about push toys and Barney and more about video games and Nickelodeon.
I do miss smelling my babies’ heads and having them wrap their little hands around my finger. But I also love hearing them telling me about their day and watching them interact with their friends on the playground. You can’t go back again, and at least for now, that’s alright with me.
Jennifer is a mom of two and WRAL-TV assignment editor in Fayetteville. Her food obsession memoir, “Designated Fat Girl,” came out in September. Read more about Jennifer and her book on her website. Find her here on Go Ask Mom on Tuesdays.