The baby will be 2 in four months and I need to stop calling him a baby. He refers to himself as a baby in pictures. He points and says, "Baby! Dat Baby!" He points to my phone and asks for, "Bibeos baby." So, I show him a video of him singing "Happy Birthday" and we laugh because that baby is cute, he is silly, he is outlandish and outsized in his big reactions and his small body.
I've been thinking a lot about his babyhood. His real babyhood. That first year when he was red, wrinkled skin and fists that barely reached his head. Before he could yell, "Mo candy!" or make the sound of a fox: "Ring ding! Cha! Cha!"
I didn't handle the transition from one to two kids very well. I've been trying to figure out why. Maybe it was just more overwhelming than I was prepared for. Maybe I needed more Zoloft than I was willing to admit. Maybe I was too rigid in my expectations. Maybe all of this has made me softer and more willing to bob along in the chaos.
I hated who I was then. I cried a lot. I yelled even more. I wasn't kind to Dave. I wasn't kind to my daughter, who was just 2 and understood nothing. I remember once, in a fit of desperation, after she had pooped on the floor and refused to nap, I took away her blankie as a punishment. Blankie is her favorite comfort object; she's been snuggling him since she was 9 months.
She sobbed, "But dat too special! But Blankie too special!" I felt like a monster. More than yelling. More than screaming, taking Blankie away made me hate the parent I was in that moment. All the advice says that when disciplining children you need to be firm and consistent. I caved. I gave Blankie back. The next day, we were back there again. Poop on the floor. No nap. I didn't take away Blankie, but I did just shut myself in my room and cry, while she cried and then the baby cried.
I remember thinking, Things will be better when he is 6 months old. Things will be better when he is 9 months old. Now, he is 20 months old and his baby book is incomplete and I look back on that mom and I wish she hadn't wasted all that time. I wish she would have just learned to bob and weave earlier. I wish she would have stopped scrubbing the floors at midnight. I wish she would have just given the 2-year-old the iPad and napped next to her.
Lately, the words I've been repeating to myself are: "Settle in." It's not about leaning in or trying harder. It's not about leaning back and finding reprieve. It's about settling into what I have. It's about realizing that this is a long haul. It used to be my mantra when training for half-marathons. I'd say to myself, "You have 10 miles left, Lenz -- settle in and don't get antsy." I'm not a fast runner, but I enjoy the challenge of long distances. I like it when my body finally stops leaning forward with the eagerness of the start or desperation of the finish, and settles in for the long haul of the middle. My shoulders settle back; my pace becomes more even.
Right now, I say that to myself about my writing. "Settle in." Writing is a long slog. You edit. You edit. You edit some more. You submit. You are rejected. You do it again. Let your shoulders go back. Let your pace become more even. Take a breath, settle in.
I am finally beginning to feel this way about parenting. I understand now that once one thing is conquered, the next thing arises. I'm always being warned about 10-, or 12-, or (God forbid) 16-year-olds. I tell people, I'll worry about it when I get there. But first I have to get there.
And I won't get there if I keep feeling like I did when the baby was little. Like I'm always peeking around the next corner.
One time, when I was 10, my sister threw me into a lake. We were having fun. She had been throwing us all in, and we would laugh, bob up, and ask her to do it again. But when I opened my eyes in the dirty water, I panicked. I didn't know which way was up. I didn't know where to swim, and I didn't know if I could hold my breath long enough for me to find out. It must have only been a few moments, but I thrashed and kicked, a scream pushing against my closed lips, until I found the light and the air again.
That's what it feels like sometimes.
I told someone that story once, and she said, This is how people drown -- by fighting it. You just have to relax and let yourself float up. Of course. I remember someone else telling me that it's not the water that drowns people, it's the panic. I should have just relaxed into it. Settled in. Floated up.
This morning, I woke up throwing up from a migraine. The kids are on spring break and I have deadlines and I haven't been able to find the help I need for this week, so I have to scramble through and then throw a birthday party -- and in the meantime, people need to be fed and cared for and provided with a warm, loving family environment.
It's nothing dire, but I still sometimes feel like I can't find which way is up. This time, I turned on the TV, made macaroni and cheese for lunch. This time, I floated.
It's not without its risks. I worry my kids will feel the neglect of these days more than the relaxed fun. I worry whether I should have given them juice. Maybe I should go take the iPad away from my oldest. But then again, I remember, I can't worry too much about things before I get there. Big breath. Settle in. Float up.
This post originally appeared on LyzLenz.com