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It creeps in gradually, piece by piece, until you finally realise it and it hits you: your love has changed. All the milestones, all the little things you watch for and monitor and keep track of, they add up as time goes on and it’s not until you step back, away from the details, and you see the bigger picture, that the pieces making up the whole have changed.
It could be because you spent Friday night with your wife just scrolling through the photos and videos on your iPad, and on the computer, and on your phones. Marvelling at the first delicate hours and the first silly smiles, laughing at the recent claps and dances, amazed that eight months passed by in two hours on the sofa.
And it could be because you had to go out and get a new car seat, because she’s outgrown her old one, and because the baby stuff store is close to your doctor’s surgery it’s a route you’ve taken a lot over the last eight months. Eight months ago they’d started building a block of condos close to Yonge and Davenport, and each time you pass it grows, and now you see it and it hits you that now there’s a building there.
It’s no longer a hole in the ground, or a shell, or a building site, it’s a building. It’s not a theoretical mass of potential, you can look beyond what it could be, because you can now see what it is.
So maybe those are the reasons you see her so differently now, maybe those are two of many contributing factors. But you think back to that little girl who came home with you from the hospital, and what it was about her that you loved: The fragility that you wanted to protect. The innocence that you wanted to preserve. The fact that she was yours, that you had made this, that this was your responsibility -
(A couple of days after coming home, your wife is in the bathroom, the baby sits in your arms as you rock on the rocking chair. She’s so new, she still looks at you with no comprehension, so you whisper, as quietly as you can, “I’m your Daddy, and I’m going to look after and keep you and your Mummy safe for as long as I can,” and by the time your wife has come out of the washroom you’ve just about wiped and hidden all the tears in your eyes)
- But the bigger picture has changed with all the little building block milestones. She has a personality now, she doesn’t just react to things. She instigates playing by hiding her face from you in her stroller. She claps and laughs when the woman in the Baby Laptop sings the ABC song. She sees you come home from work and a joyous realisation covers her face and she flaps her arms and legs in a ‘welcome home’ dance like a chubby butterfly. She dances when Taylor Swift comes on the radio, and splashes in the bath and loves peaches and carrots but not avocados and bananas.
Your love has changed, because the thing you love has changed. She’s no longer a theoretical mass of potential. She’s a little person, with a personality, and she’s a little person with a personality that you love.
An interesting thing about talking to other parents is how some of them interpret your adoption of different parenting techniques as a rebuttal of their own abilities. Somehow the fact that you’ve decided to do something different to them is, on your part, a tacit message that you think they’re terrible parents.
The conversation usually goes with them telling you that they’ve adopted Doctor Pastrami’s patented Book-Bath-Feed-Book-Feed-Sleep technique, and that it’s worked very well for them so far. You non-judgementally respond by saying you’ve had excellent results with the Sprogrest Institute’s Bath-Book-Feed-Book-Book-Feed-Sleep technique. What they hear, however, is you telling them that they’re unfit to have a child and you’ll be calling social services as soon as they’re out of earshot.
I guess most of us have the insecurity coming from the fact that we’re completely winging this whole ‘raising children’ thing, and when other people do things differently to us it comes to the fore and we get defensive.
The worst for this, I’ve found, are members of the older generation, who were often given different information, which was considered the best at the time. “Why aren’t you putting her to sleep with a smoked mackerel on her forehead?” they ask. “I always put a smoked mackerel on my children’s heads when they went to sleep, and they were wonderful sleepers.” (And if the interlocutor is your baby’s grandparent, you’ll get the additional “…and YOU turned out okay…”)
"Well," you say in response, "at that time the perceived wisdom was that it was best to put smoked mackerel on a baby’s forehead. You were doing the correct thing at the time. But subsequent studies indicated that the practice led to a higher risk of Haddock Temples in later life, so it’s not really recommended any more." Still, the rejection of this hitherto-accepted practice is seen as a personal insult.
"Humph," the other person will grumble, inwardly seething at the offence. "You are still tying half a parsnip to her right elbow on Tuesday lunchtimes, though?"
"Of course," you answer, "how else will we keep the Lymph People at bay?"
Tantalus was an ancient Greek dude who pissed off the Gods to the extent that he was cursed to spend eternity in a lake of water with a fruit tree’s branches just above his head. If he ever reached for the fruit or the water it would move out of his reach, meaning he was going to spend his entire afterlife trying to get nourishment that wasn’t forthcoming.
Famously, Tantalus’s fate gives us the origins of the word “Tantalize,” which makes you wonder if the Gods were like, “Hey, Tantalus, those mortals have started using your name as a dictionary-defined word,” and he’d be like, “Really? What does it mean?” and the Gods would be like, “Erm, ooh, I did know this, what does it mean, ooh, it’s on the tip of my tongue, Oh! Yes! It means, no wait…”
Mind you, given his current plight, I’m not sure being an eponym was much of a consolation to old Tanty.
I do wonder, though, whether Tantalus’s fate was that impressive, given that after a few years of trying to grab the water and fruit, Tantalus would probably have come to the inductive conclusion that there wasn’t really much point to attempting to gather them. Like, even a small child eventually realises after you’ve offered him a candy and gone “Just kidding!” and taken it away, laughing, several dozen times, that they’re probably not going to get any candy today. I’m pretty sure behavioural psychologists have a word for it.
So at the end of the day, as long as he has the ability of basic pattern recognition, Tantalus probably just gave up reaching for the food. The punishment is more of a “ha ha you’re really hungry” than a “ha ha you’re eternally reaching for something that isn’t there.”
One thing we were told before Audrey was born was that “The first two weeks are the hardest; once you get through those, everything seems easy.” Then, at the end of the first fortnight, when parenthood did not magically achieve the proverbial log-falling ease, people said “It gets so much easier after six or so weeks, whenever your baby starts to smile.”
Because the six week growth spurt leads to a much fussier baby (albeit one who can smile), people would tell me that the magic time for Ideal Little Angelness is three months. That wasn’t entirely accurate, because at between three and four months, babies tend to lose all ability to sleep. I am reliably informed by a colleague that the first five or six months are the hardest and that once you get through those, everything seems easy.
That same colleague, for the record, has a 14-month-old who is, she told me today, currently in the ‘running around biting people’s legs because he’s teething’ stage. A month ago he was in the ‘running around hitting his head on tables and being taken to ER’ stage.
This has been a post.
Audrey is still at the stage where she’ll pretty much only go to sleep if someone is rocking her. 99% of the time that person is me, because if her Mum rocks her Audrey just assumes milkmilkmilkmilkohmygodmilk. For this reason, I have compiled a list of my most useful and effective rocking techniques.
"I changed your pants/I changed your diaper too/’Cause they were full of poo/And it was all yellow"