We decided to shake off a particularly exhausting week on Friday by going to our favorite bar for happy hour. When the manager came over to say hi to Mia, we got to chatting about kids (his are 5 and 7) and we agreed that one of the best things about little babies is how just before bedtime, when they finish their last feeding, you pull them up for a burp and they slump sweetly onto your shoulder. Their breathing is heavy in your ear as they drift off to sleep, their arms draped around your neck. I said that it's such a precious, serene moment, my favorite of the entire day. The manager gave me a somber look. "You know," he said, "that'll be gone soon."
That's what I keep thinking about this weekend as Mia hits her six-month birthday. (By the way, the copy editor in me is completely annoyed at referring to anything other than a birthday as a "birthday." There is no such thing as a "six-month birthday," people.) But I keep thinking that I don't ever, ever want that part to go away! It hurts my heart just thinking about it. I know it will be replaced with new, even cooler parts. And yet I'm already missing my little baby Mia, who - from what everyone tells me - will soon vanish before my eyes.
Six months - it feels like the most incredible milestone. Particularly if we break it in half. I'm going to be honest with you, I walked around those first three months feeling like I got a bit suckered. You see, when you are a pregnant lady, you can't go anywhere without people clutching their chests and fluttering their eyelids at how WONDERFUL being a parent is. How LUCKY you are. How your life will never be the same, IN A GOOD WAY! And when a rookie like me imagined things like "maternity leave" and "bonding time," it sounded like three months of rocking chairs and lullabies and a soft, cuddly little teddy bear of a baby. Now, if you could just excuse me one moment...
What I mean to say is, I was entirely unprepared for how hard it would be. Even though I was one of those pregnant women who read everything she could get her hands on about having a baby, there were a few things nobody told me.
Nobody told me that you could literally spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week doing absolutely nothing except keeping the baby alive, fed, changed, soothed or sleeping. I would watch in horror as the clock ticked off hour after hour after hour, while I sat there tethered to the baby and doing nothing else. And when by some miracle I did find a little bit of time? The list of things on my to-do list was so long it paralyzed me, and I was too exhausted to even fathom tackling it, anyhow. I'm the kind of person who really likes to get things done, a person who makes lists at work every single day and crosses things off with glee. So this part of motherhood was difficult for me.
Nobody told me that taking care of a baby could take such a physical toll on your body. Even more than pregnancy did, in my case. First off, boobs. Breastfeeding was tough for us at first. When it wasn't working right, I was so worried and frustrated. When it was working right, it hurt like holy hell. At the beginning, when Mia was eating every 2-3 hours around the clock, I lived in dread of the next feeding. It took us a solid month before the idea of breastfeeding didn't make me want to cry.
And then there was the rest of my body. Especially during months two and three, by day's end every muscle in my body ached. During the colicky phase - when we commonly referred to our child as "the unholy terror" - we'd spend hours taking turns holding, swinging, rocking and swaying with Mia to try to calm her down. That was a killer on my knees and hips, joints that were already weakened by breastfeeding hormones. For awhile there, I climbed steps like a 99-year-old woman. I also got myself a case of tendinitis in my left wrist from lifting her a hundred times a day. (To be fair, expressing the dog's bladder didn't exactly help that, either.) It's only a very tiny spot that's affected, but the shooting pain can be excruciating.
But here's the nice thing about parenthood: Absolutely none of this matters. Every single problem, complaint or frustration with being a new mom melts away entirely the instant you see this face.
And that's probably why the second half has been so gloriously different from the first. This must be what all those people were talking about! We're getting daily grins that would steal your breath away. Daily giggles and curious stares and funny sounds. I was astonished the other day to finally hear what my daughter's voice sounds like. I mean, clearly she's been capable of making noise since day one. But now she makes deliberate sounds with her real little-girl voice, and it's the most excruciatingly sweet sound I've ever heard in my life. (She mostly just says "Ba! Ba! Ba!" though to torment her grandmas a bit, we are trying to get her to put that syllable between an "O" and a "ma.") Developments like this are thrilling, and conveniently, they bring with them a lovely amnesia that erases all the hard parts from your mind.
And even though I know it's coming, it is impossible for me to comprehend that six months from now, our baby will have teeth. She will be able to stand up, and maybe even walk. She'll be a lot closer to little girl than baby. That's why I'm going to try even harder to slow down and keep in mind the other thing people are always telling new parents: It goes by so damned fast.