For example: Someone's baby has just learned how to walk. This is a major milestone in a child's life, and one that is undoubtedly thrilling for new parents. But every time someone posts about their child's first steps, someone has to make the comment: "Look out! You're in for it now!" Or someone is nine months pregnant and remarks that they just can't wait until their baby is born, and someone writes, "Enjoy the peace and quiet while you still can!" Talk about raining on someone's parade!
Parenthood is hard - I think we can all agree on that. But it is also filled with innumerable moments of joy. For every challenge that comes with a certain age, there is something equally amazing to counterbalance it. And so I've decided to compile a little list of sorts - all the "good" and "bad" parts of each phase that we've experienced so far (and let's face it, you wouldn't trade in the bad stuff even if you could, right?).
So the next time someone tells you to "watch out" now that your baby can roll over, you can come back with, "Ah, but he can find his own foot!" That'll show 'em!
Let me paint you a little picture: You are a new parent. Your child is literally the most beautiful child on the planet. Everyone tells you so on Facebook, and you believe them. (Later on you will look back at the photos and say to yourself, "Hmmm... he wasn't quite as cute as I thought he was, was he?" but by that point he really IS the cutest baby on the planet, so you don't mind.)
You are a walking zombie. You have not had a full night's sleep in weeks, if not months. You walk around with spit-up on your clothing and in your hair, but you are blissfully unaware, because you have a new baby, and nothing else matters (either that, or you are simply too tired to care). Every breath your baby takes is a miracle - every blink and nose crinkle elicits gasps of sheer delight. Surely no other child in world history has crinkled their nose quite so adorably! And when your baby smiles for the first time, a smile that actually seems deliberate (i.e., not a facial spasm or the byproduct of a particularly satisfying fart), your heart melts into a warm puddle of goo. Also, your child can sleep through anything, so you can go out to dinner after 7:00 pm and still have a reasonably leisurely meal (assuming you have the energy to put on real clothing, and the energy to do the laundry required to wear the real clothing). Your baby might not be sleeping through the night yet, but he totally will be by four months. At least, that's what all the baby books say...
|Jack at a few weeks old|
From what I remember (it's seriously unbelievable how quickly one forgets), this was a pretty good phase. Jack was still young enough to take out in his car seat and prop in a restaurant booth, and he was actually sleeping through the night (I know, I know, don't hate me). He also seemed old enough to leave with a babysitter who was not an immediate family member or a close friend with a top secret security clearance, so we could have a real "date." Of course if you're breastfeeding (and have a child who literally eats every 90 minutes, like Mr. Pig over here), your date won't last long. But it's a start.
At some point during this phase, your child starts eating solid foods. This is good because it's something new and exciting (and at this point, there's not that much new and exciting going on - rolling over is somewhat overrated in my experience), but it also means that diaper changing is about to get a whole lot more interesting (note the "ugly" in the title). Fortunately your baby is getting cuter by the day, at least until all his hair falls out, so the ugly is well balanced by the cute.
|Jack at four months, courtesy of Mer Trowbridge|
This is the height of cuteness according to my friend Amy, and I'm inclined to agree. Your baby can sit up and is crawling at some point during this phase. He is curious and smiley and giggly and hasn't yet developed an attitude. He is (hopefully) napping on a schedule (up to four hours a day in Jack's case - woohoo!) and is sleeping through the night. Unfortunately, he can no longer fall asleep anytime, anywhere, which means you have to be home early every night for bedtime. Eating in a restaurant has gotten far less pleasant. Teething is in full swing, and it feels as though it will never stop. Seriously, how many teeth does a person need? Surely four is plenty! Thanks to the teeth - and Jack's lack of interest - we began a sort of involuntary (on my part) weaning around this time, which I dragged out with pumping for much longer than I probably should have. Jack didn't mind formula and clearly we had no issues with weight with this child. I wanted to make it to a year, but it wasn't going to happen, and if I had let go of that sooner I would have enjoyed these months even more. But mostly, Jack was just damn cute at this age.
|Jack at 8 months. Love him!|
Air travel is about to get a lot less pleasant, so if you've got family to visit, do it now! Your baby might be starting to walk (fortunately Jack was slow), which means they will want to be on the ground moving, not tethered to your lap. Things like buttons and paper cups are no longer fascinating to your child, and you will relinquish all claim to your iPhone at some point during this time, most likely while you are on a plane for four hours. On a brighter note, your baby has a real bed time now, so you can put him to bed and leave him with a babysitter for several hours without worry. This is pretty much awesome.
If your child is starting to walk, it's time to babyproof. John and I decided not long after Jack started walking that fencing off the kitchen would make everything safer and easier for everyone, and I am so happy with that decision (although I do have nightmares that twenty years from now my child won't know how to cook and will blame it on the fact that I never showed him the stove...). You also get to plan your baby's first birthday party, or in our case, crash on your baby's friend's birthday party. Yay!
|Ten months, in one of my fave outfits ever.|
Now your baby is really walking, and he's not really a baby anymore. He's a toddler. The strange thing is, when you look at him, you will still see a baby. People will comment on how large your child is ("He's built like a line-backer," they'll tell you) and you won't understand. You'll see another woman with a baby who looks to be about your baby's age, but then you'll see them next to each other and realize a midget Sumo wrestler has actually eaten your baby and is sitting in his stroller. The nerve! And yet this stuffed sausage insists on following you home and calling you "mommy." Hmmm...
The good thing is, your baby is also starting to talk. You realize that all those books you read to your child when he was little more than a semi-animated lump have actually sunk into his brain (and start to pray that all the swearing you've been doing has magically managed to slip by). Every day your baby is learning more and more. His personality is really starting to shine through. He is his own person! And he's about to let you know just what he thinks of you.
|Jack at 13.5 months.|
Now is the time when, if you are a stay-at-home mom like myself, you start to wonder if that part-time job 30 miles away was really such a bad thing after all. You're down to one (hopefully long) nap a day, and your darling angel has a firm grasp of the word "no." Oddly, he hasn't yet mastered the word "yes." He is running around like a maniac (Seriously, what has your husband been feeding that child? Pixie Stix?) a good ten hours a day, meaning you are running around like a maniac after him. He will develop a healthy fascination with body parts, mostly his own, although your belly may soon be making unplanned public appearances.
If you're really lucky, you'll have a baby with a temper, like Jack. Fortunately, he has turned most of his aggression on inanimate objects and hasn't yet bitten another child. Unfortunately, he has chipped both of his front teeth in the process.
On the other hand, your baby may also be incredibly snuggly, like Jack. He will give you kisses and cuddles (generally on his own program, but occasionally when you ask for them) and will sometimes let you hold him for more than 30 seconds at a time. These are wonderful moments.
|Jack at 15 months. Photo by Ali McLaughlin.|
And that's all I've got so far! I'm sure I've forgotten all kinds of ups and down, and hopefully some of you can remind me of them. Overall, the thing that has surprised me most about motherhood is how much I've laughed in the past nineteen months. Sure, it's been the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's been rewarding in ways I never imagined. I can't wait to see what the next 18 months have in store!