Today I watched Little Dude run to our car, marveling at how tall he's gotten, and how energetic and solidly present in the world he is. In moments like this, when I see how much he's grown and changed, I always flash back to the first year of Little Dude's four-year-long life.
Every single time, I have the same thought: I can't believe I made it out alive.
That first year was hard. The first weeks passed by in a haze of sleepless nights, breastfeeding, and trying to acclimate to having a helpless human being dictate my every move. I thought I was doing pretty well, until Blunt Husband came home one night from work when Little Dude was about six weeks old and told me I looked like Edvard Munch's "The Scream."
My mantra became "It is a good day if everyone is still alive at bedtime." I was setting the bar low, but I was ok with that. There were times in those early months when I honestly wondered how I would get through the day -- and I was just a normal mom with the normal struggles -- no colic, no post-partum depression, no complications. I honestly don't know how parents with those challenges do it.
Four years later, and life is radically different. Everyone sleeps through the night. Little Dude and I talk. We have routines. He eats normal food, picks out his own clothes and tells me when he has to go to the bathroom. These are things I could not have even imagined when I was in the trenches of hourly feedings, fighting to stay coherent in the face of sleep deprivation. I dreamed of days when I could stand down from the perpetual vigilance that infancy and early toddlerhood require.
As much as I am grateful for every moment of his life, I wouldn't go back to Little Dude's first year again for anything. I prefer Little Dude to Mewling Worm.
So for all the moms and dads out there who are hitting a wall, who are questioning whether they have the energy to get up tomorrow and do the whole thing all over again, who wonder what the hell they got themselves into, I want to reassure you -- as an "experienced" mother of a four-year old -- it will get better.
Your child will eventually sleep through the night. By "sleep through the night" I do not use the definition your pediatrician is using, which is a stretch of 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. That definition is just cruel. I mean a full eight hours of sleep in a row. It will happen right about the time you think that someone is secretly waterboarding you, but it will happen.
You will not have to do three loads of laundry a day forever. Babies stop spitting up after every meal, disgorging what seems like more than you put in them. Mustard-hued runny poop will stop oozing out of diapers every half an hour -- although you'll pay the price because then it will start to smell. Don't think about that just yet because we're focusing on the good stuff here. Drooling will become a thing of the past. You will be able to put your kid in an outfit that will stay on for an entire day.
In a moment of exhaustion you'll forget to sterilize a baby bottle. You'll realize that it doesn't matter. Sterilization is overkill -- a good washing will do. On the horizon is a kitchen devoid of bottles, nipples and bottle warmers. You will reclaim your countertop, your cupboards and your dishpan hands. Can I get a "Hallelujah"?
Brand new moms -- you know those night-sweats you're going through -- the ones that leave you feeling like you've been sleeping in a bathtub? I know they came as a shock, no one warned me either, but they'll stop soon and you won't have to wring out your sheets every morning. On the bright side, you're still doing those three loads of laundry for the kid, so what's one more?
You'll figure out how to carry the infant car seat that weighs five times what your baby does, your purse and the-cup-of-coffee-that-is-the-only-thing--keeping-you-from-crashing-the-car-thank-you-very-much, all at the same time. One day you'll get rid of the infant seat altogether. That's a very good day.
Your baby will stop staring vacantly at the ceiling and will smile at you. This clever bit of evolution will kick in around the time you're considering sending him or her back for a newer and more independent model. That smile will change your life forever. It will also keep you from going on a bender.
If you're breastfeeding, you'll be able to stop. This is no small thing. Because no matter how meaningful or profound you find the experience, or if you nurse for one month or one year, at some point you've looked at your swollen breasts and sore nipples as you dragged yourself out of bed at 2 a.m. for the 15th day in a row and wished you could mix up some formula, hand it to someone else and go back to sleep. This magical day is coming. You won't be a mobile milk truck forever. If the thought of that makes you a little sad, that too will pass.
You'll learn what all the different cries mean. Whether you choose to act on those cries, well, that's entirely up to you. I won't judge. Even better is when your child starts to talk. Things get so much easier once you know that "glisphiflbab" means "raisins, please." Being called "da-da" or "ma-ma" also makes up for a lot.
The bags under your eyes and the poochy stomach will go away. I'm talking to you too dads -- pregnancy weight does not discriminate.
Slowly but surely, the claustrophobic bubble of parenting that consumes you when your kids are infants will burst. Things will get easier. Things will get better. You'll have adult conversations, enjoy a glass (or two) of wine, and have sex with your partner. You may read a book, hit the gym, or leave the house without a diaper bag. Eventually, you won't need the diaper bag at all. Right now, it seems impossible, I know, but the world is still out there waiting for you. You just have to get through the first year.