The Things I Learned About Myself During My Baby’s First Year On The Planet
My first child turned one a few weeks ago (cue racking sobs and blubbering about my baby!), and in that time I’ve learned a lot about parenthood and, surprisingly, myself. In the last twelve months I’ve learned that:
My body is a fascinating, glorious machine. It can swell and stretch, tear and heal, sustain and contain. My body built my baby, brick by microscopic brick, and it bibbidy-bobbity-booed a whole new organ in the process. My body gave way to bring a whole new person into the light and then, if that wasn’t enough, my body alone continued to nourish that new being for almost a year, all while simultaneously contracting back to (almost) its original parameters. When you really think about it, it’s easy to understand why fertility goddesses were a thing. The biology of motherhood is miraculous.
I like having a baby. Some people don’t. They count the days until their baby can do things by himself, ache for when they can leave for more than three hours at a time. I wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t be one of them. It’s still a little surprising to me that I loved my son’s infancy so much. I would happily splash around in babyhood for years. I love having a baby and everything that comes with it. I love the nursing and the diapers and laundry and the delicious baby smells. I have a love affair with those fingernails, those crazy sharp, impossibly tiny fingernails. I love those giggles and coos, those gummy smiles, those chunky dimpled legs. I take immense pleasure in hearing my toddler call for his Mamamama, give me slobbery kisses, and cling to the backs of my knees. But, babyhood is such a sweet, short time. I already miss it.
I’m the authority on my baby. During those early weeks of my son’s life, I completely over-prepared. I read a few books and asked questions of my mother and my pediatrician and my mom friends, trying to arm myself with as much information as I could as I navigated this first year. Mostly though, I’ve found that, if I’m willing to pay attention, my baby is pretty good at communicating his needs, and I’m pretty good at meeting them. By the time he was three months old, I swear I knew what cry meant he was tired and what cry meant he was bored and what cry meant he was hungry. This ability to read my kid made us all happier and made the past twelve months the best time of my life.
I would be a horrible stay-at-home mom. I daydream about it sometimes, especially when the baby doesn’t understand that mommy needs to get up and function and no we can’t have a 3:00 a.m. dance party, but as much as I miss my baby during the weekdays, I 100% believe I am a better mother because I work. I’m lucky. I like my job and my coworkers, my hours are flexible, and I never need to take work home or check email at 8:00 p.m. When I leave for the day, I’m done. The rest of the day I can be present and engaged with my family. I know that, if I was home all day, the quality of our time together would decrease. I need adult interaction. I need my own money. I need to be able to take a sick day and actually use it to recuperate. I applaud the women who stay home with their kids (whether by choice or circumstance) and make it work. Their role in their family and in society is not an easy one to play. I am immensely thankful for the stay-at-home moms in my life. I benefit, as does my son, from knowing a plethora of women who can pinch-hit for me or schedule a girls’ night or just remind me that this time in my life is precious. In the past year I’ve learned that the women who stay home are worthy of much more respect and gratitude than they usually receive, especially as I learned it’s not a role I would play well. I always assumed stay-at-home-mommying was not a good choice for me, but I didn’t realize how much it was not my thing until I became a mom.
My baby is not much of a baby anymore, and while I will mourn the end of his infancy, I am so excited that I get to watch him grow. I can’t wait to see what the next years of childrearing will teach me about my son and about myself. It’s a wild ride, this mom gig, but I am ready. I will hold on tight, as long as he’ll let me.
Shannon J. Curtin is the poetry editor of The Quotable, a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two collections of poetry, Motherland (Anchor and Plume Press), and File Cabinet Heart (ELJ Publications). Her writing has been featured in a variety of literary magazines including Mothers Always Write, The Muddy River Review, The Mom Egg Review, and The Elephant Journal. She holds an MBA, competitive shooting records, and her liquor. She’s the mother of Quinn, a real boy, and Bruno a dog that wishes he was a real boy. She would probably like you. You can find her at www.shannomazur.com and @Shannon_Mazur.