One Sunday afternoon, more than a month ago, I left M.B. at home with his dad and took the subway into Manhattan hoping to trade in my maternity jeans for regular ones, and to find some springtime tops in my new thinned-out-but-not-yet-back-to-normal size. For the first time in months I didn’t have a baby slung to my chest, and so I raced in and out of my carefully pre-selected stores and shopped like a professional — flipping through the racks with a critical eye before my breasts became too engorged with milk, making my purchases, and returning to Brooklyn with a loaded bag of goodies and a boost to my self-esteem. At home I found, hanging out on the stoop, a content (if hungry) baby, and a dad in control of things — a far different scene from the first couple of months of M.B.’s life when he and his father couldn’t go more than an hour or two without me.
At four months old my Mama’s Boy was growing up fast. He’d discovered ways to comfort himself that didn’t have to do with Mommy, like sucking on his thumb or on Daddy’s inner arm, making wind chime sounds with the toys hanging above his play mat, hugging his stuffed doggie, or staring at his real one. One day in month four we switched his stroller from the bassinet to the upright position, and though he slumped down in the seat a bit, and his legs dangled many inches above the footrest, he was happy to be looking out, rather than up, at the world. In such a short time he’d gone from amphibian-like infant to full-fledged curious, engaged, and opinionated baby.
Because M.B. was years in the making, the fleeting nature of his infancy is like a soft hum in the back of my mind. Will this be my one and only time with a baby? Is each new milestone a goodbye? I can’t help but feel nostalgic for every day that passes, as exhausting as it may be. “Remember this moment, this touch, this feeling,” the hum reminds me when I am too tired to breast-feed or to handle another two a.m. wake-up. I carry a camera in our diaper bag (though I’ve yet to do more than admire the downloaded photos on my computer) and I try to remember to BE with my son for a few minutes every day and to not just DO with him (inspired by the New Age Eckhart Tolle book I paged through one rainy morning in Brooklyn). Still, when I put away the clothes my son has outgrown, sorting them for the donation pile, the give-away-to-friends pile, the maybe-who-knows-if-we’ll-have-another pile, I’m already wistful for these early months.
Before becoming a mother, it bothered me to hear parents tell their children what “big boys” or “big girls” they are. What’s so great about being big, I wondered? Isn’t the point of being a child to be small? To not be grown-up? But now I find myself using the same words for M.B. “What a big boy you are!” I say, exchanging size one diapers for size two and then size three, folding up his newborn clothes and digging into the bags of hand-me-downs from friends in sizes four and six months, and donating his way-too-small Moses basket.
Oh, and did I mention, amidst all this change, that our family just moved to Vancouver, Canada, trading coasts and countries?
The biggest changes, though, are the most intimate ones. In our new home, a small, bright one-bedroom in a walkable and family-friendly urban neighborhood, we set up an empty storage closet as M.B.’s mini nursery and tried out our first night of putting M.B. to sleep in his co-sleeper in a separate room, rather than tucked in bed with me. Neil convinced me to go to dinner rather than listen to the crying it out we anticipated and dreaded. Loaded down with my laptop, a stack of magazines, and the newspaper, I went for sushi across the street. Within minutes came an email from Neil: M.B. was snoozing. Our big boy has proceeded to fall asleep on his own — after a nice big bottle and two temporarily big breasts — for several nights in a row now, waking up only once a night for a nightcap and diaper change. I am proud of him and exhilarated to be sleeping eight hours a night, although I miss my bedtime companion, the little man nestled into me all night long for so many months.
M.B. looks bigger all of a sudden, too. In a month he went from 25% to 75% on the height charts — and this is a baby who was slow to gain in his first weeks, who needed supplemental formula and weekly weigh-ins to break through single digits on the growth chart. At five months, he’s now ready to try solids, and had his first morning with a babysitter the other day. Our son — who was whisked from my womb to the NICU just last Christmas Eve — is giggling, rolling over, making demands, and asserting himself.
And since I’ve started sleeping decent hours, I feel like a person again. I got my haircut, went to a yoga class, and sat at a café for an hour and wrote this column. I’m grateful for the sleep, for the moments when M.B. can amuse himself on his play mat, for the delight in seeing him meet milestones. Still, I’ll miss those first chaotic, surreal days. These last months, as challenging as they have been, have been the best ones of my life.