by Dezi Hall
My daughter's first birthday is this week. When I look back on her first year on this planet it was entirely different than I imagined it would be.
I've always wanted to be a mother. Long before I cared to dream up a husband or a career for myself (were there any openings in Manatee-training ballerinas?), I dreamt of my own baby. I carried around dolls and stuffed pillows under my shirt and began piecing together a story for my eventual motherhood. Naively, this narrative didn't change much over the years. Though my views on religion, politics, gender norms and pretty much everything in the universe evolved since I started to hold views on these things, my delicate and precious idea of what having a baby would be like remained somehow untouched by logic or skepticism.
I dreamt in a montage of a rosy hospital scene, brow covered in sweat but smiling with euphoric world-changing love, the first newborn days tiring, but oh so rewarding, images of her crawling, using a spoon for the first time, walking, talking. Our Mommy & Me gymnastic classes. Our lunches out. Our playgroup.
The reality of the first year was a bit of a shock. The first time I laid eyes on my new baby, I was so exhausted and in so much pain I didn't really feel that axis-altering love I thought all good mothers were supposed to have. (Turns out, this is a purely chemical reaction that only about 60% of mothers actually have.) The newborn days were a haze of explosive bowel movements (the walls were covered in poop so many times, my husband seriously suggested building some kind of wall around the changing table) and "witching hour" crying jags that left me feeling depleted and gloomy.
The first eight weeks of my daughter's life were some of the hardest of my life. But one thing that motherhood has taught me is that time goes by so fast. Before I knew it, she was laughing. The first time I heard her laugh it brought tears to my eyes. My husband was holding her and I was making funny faces and it slipped out. It was like hearing the jingle of the bell from the Polar Express and feeling the warmth of the sun on your face at the same time. That giggle was better than any imagined scene I could've come up with.
The Milestone Mania drove me so completely nuts that I had to keep reminding myself to enjoy where she was and not push her to the next stage. She hit all of her milestones early and yet as soon as she did, the joy lasted only for a week or so before I focused all my energy on the next one. Crawling at 6 months? Ok, but let's get you walking. Walking at 10 months? Ok, where's that vocab… It was a draining and unnecessary competition that I created. The crazy thing is, I've already forgotten when she hit some of those early milestones. I agonized over when she would roll over, enforcing Tummy Time like a drill sergeant. I was so obsessed with getting her to crawl, at one point I started moving her legs for her in an attempt to get her to figure it out. Perhaps these are just the burdens of the first-born child to bear.
Watching her take her first steps was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. There she was, choosing her own direction. Looking around the world and running after the things she wanted, reminding me that this universe was full of new things to explore.
The first time we let her loose at the beach she crawled right into the ocean. No hesitation. No fear. Just joy. She moved with determination, wiggling her body into the waves, letting the water crash around her, staring straight ahead, the only thing holding her back my hands pulling her back to the shore. Over and over again, crawled into the water, her hands and knees covered in sand. Her bravery, her fearlessness- it was something I promised myself I would protect. Don't let your own fears become hers, I told myself over and over, Let her do with this world what she wants.
My instinct to keep her safe and her need to be free were constantly at odds during this first year. My husband and I are only having one child, so we want to make her cousin relationships as strong as they can be. But then one of my nieces would get a cold, and we would quarantine our baby. The line between letting her be normal and our desire- our responsibility- to keep her out of harm's way were a constant battle I am still fighting.
The classes I imagined I would take her to never happened. We tried out a few, but they were overrun by coughing kids and the anxiety of getting there outweighed any perceived benefits. She turned out to be the rare kind of baby that absolutely hated being in the car. While other mothers would lament having to drive their infants around just to get them to nap, I suffered a completely different fate. Every time she saw the car seat she would start to wail. So my dreams of cavorting around with my daughter were redrawn to include only a 5-mile radius from the house. Eventually, over time, she got a bit better and we expanded the borders of our kingdom.
I think that whatever lessons I learned in this first year of motherhood can be tied back to time. In the few dark days in the beginning I thought no matter how much I love this baby, I might never actually enjoy being a mother. But then time worked it's magic and I got smiles and kisses and games, so many games. Those dark days are a tiny little pinprick in time I have to squint to see. I am surrounded by sunshine now. I look at the clock and see that it's 5 minutes to her bedtime and wish I had just a half hour more. Just a little more time.
I think of how obsessed I was with the milestones, and though that obsession seems crazy to me now, I know that time will bring me more internal competitions of spelling bees, and algebra and science experiments, but I will try to temper my expectations with time's lesson from this first year.
I think of how each month I have asked for more. Please, just a little more time as a seven month old. I'm not ready for her ninth month to be over just yet. Can't I have just a few more months of month 10? I try to hold on to each day now, each moment, taking too many pictures and videos- trying to beat back against time. Trying to capture the seconds even as I see them slipping away.