For the first several months of my daughter’s life, I was nothing but enamored with her. Aside from the occasional meltdown during the first few psychotic postpartum weeks, I’ve surprised myself by really enjoying motherhood and adopting this Madonna-like level of beatific motherly calm.
Maybe that just sounds like typical new-mother cliche speak, so I should clarify: Before I had a kid, I hated kids. I thought babies were cute, but I found nothing endearing about toddlers, and I couldn’t stand to entertain the same space as a grade schooler for more than a minute or two. And while I thought babies were cute, that goodwill vanished as soon as they started crying, failed to smile at me, or spent any amount of time fussing in my general vicinity. I grumbled about babies on airplanes. I rolled my eyes at babies in theaters. I huffed loudly when kids kicked my chair. I averted eye contact if I saw a toddler looking my way at a restaurant.
I softened a bit over the last few years as I started to begin to want a child of my own (though I’m still not sure what the mental switch was). Even still, I was firmly of the opinion that I did not like kids, even though I knew I would like my kid.
I honestly did not know how I would react to having a baby of my own. I knew it was something I wanted desperately. But I didn’t know if I would have the patience I needed to be a steady and loving parent. I didn’t know if I would be able to overcome that indifference I had always felt, or if it would linger in the background — something that might not be obvious to others but that I always knew was there.
I was relieved to discover my change of heart when Quinn arrived. Even in her fussiest times, I was thinking more about how to calm her so that I could ease her unhappiness and frustration — not my own. I looked forward to being with her. I never wanted to “have a break” from her. I never felt like I needed alone time.
That babymoon is over.
While I still feel all those wonderful things for and about Quinn, my old penchant for impatience and frustration is starting to emerge. Take today, for example:
While working on writing, I sat her on the couch next to me with her toys. She tried to launch herself off the side of the couch at least 10 times in the space of 5 minutes. “Launch herself off the couch” is not a hyperbolic way of saying that she kept tumbling over in her cute, clumsy baby way. It’s a literal explanation of what she was doing. Her very intent was to get on the floor, and she thought the best way to do that was to get her feet under her butt and spring off the side of the couch. When she wasn’t trying to pole vault onto the hardwoods, she tried to scale down the side of the couch. Head first.
If she wasn’t trying to fling herself on the floor, she was trying to leap onto my laptop instead. Just when I picked her up and settled her back into the corner of the couch next to me, she was back on my laptop. Over and over and over again. Floor. Cushion. Laptop. Cushion. Floor. Cushion. Laptop. Cushion.
Between it all: Crying.
Floor. Cushion. Crying. Laptop. Cushion. Crying. Floor. Cushion. Crying. Laptop. Cushion. Crying. Floor. Cushion. Crying. Laptop. Cushion. Crying. Floor. Cushion. Crying. Laptop. Cushion. Crying. Floor. Cushion. Crying. Laptop. Cushion. Crying. Floor. Cushion. Crying. Laptop. Cushion. Crying.
I put her in her exersaucer to contain her and prevent a concussion that will stunt her already considerable development. Crying. I get down on the floor next to her and play. We sing. We push all the buttons on all the toys. We are happy. I sit on the couch, which is so close to her exersaucer that she is touching it. Crying.
I put on YouTube videos and sing along as loud as I dare. Strange looks. Some laughter. The music stops. Crying.
We spend a long time like this, and I become more and more frustrated, and more and more insane. I decide to eat cake in the middle of the day to drown my sorrows.
I know these days are common in the life of any mother. I know there will be many more for me. They are not notable in any way. Yet, for me, they signal a deeper worry. They are showing me cracks that I worry will become gaping holes in my parenting.
To say that my own mother was a bad mother would be an understatement. If all my mother showed me was frustration, I would have had a happier childhood. I refuse to allow that to happen to Quinn. Yet, I wonder if my own mother started out with similar sentiments. Are these the same cracks that weakened the whole foundation? Certainly, a few days of frustration does not lead a person to years of abuse and neglect. But it has to start somewhere. None of us are born monsters. I look at Quinn and see myself as a child, see my mother as a child. I see where we started: Vulnerable, in need of protection, wanting for love. That doesn’t become hurt and anger and a lifetime of despair by itself. Each small step led there.
I shudder to think that days like these are the first of those steps.
I felt the words wanting to form on my tongue and the tone wanting to form in my throat, and I didn’t like the echo it sounded. I hugged my sweet girl tight and I smiled at her and kissed her soft, button nose. As it always does, her whole face lit up with a smile, and her eyes twinkled. And I realized how easy it is to make another choice. With every moment, there is another chance for another choice, taking the small steps to something new.