One year ago today, my first child was born at 1:45 PM. We had heard that she was going to arrive the day before, when, at my last checkup, my doctor said, “you’re having a baby tomorrow!” I went home and lay down on the bed — a direct order — while Josh packed a paltry amount of clothing and things that we thought we might need at the hospital. When we left in the morning, we had no idea what life would be like when we returned. Our friend (hero) Michael came to stay with Penny, our Chihuahua — possibly the most tragic character in this whole opera — then we walked out into the deep snow and locked the door behind us.
We returned about forty-eight hours later with a baby. A stranger. A cool new roommate. Nearly seven pounds of person, clearly but not strictly human. She was weird and scary and seemed to be hanging on by a thread. Her name was Zelda.
Zelda wasn’t hanging on by a thread, though. She seemed far more robust than either of her parents. She didn’t have a sniffle or a cough until she was nearly nine months old; she didn’t have colic or ear infections; she didn’t wake at all hours of the night after the first two months; she’s had no allergies; and she isn’t fussy or picky about food. Just an hour ago, I watched her happily and thoughtfully shovel pieces of roasted onion into her mouth, and she eats kale and mushrooms and leeks and chickpeas as if they were cheese and crackers. She is easy. She is a joy. She is beautiful.
But we’ve had our rough moments. There have been long and lonely afternoons when I’ve thought, “What am I doing? I’m the worst mother on the fucking planet, I am bad at this, this baby is killing me.” But they pass. She smiles. I smile. Being a mother is about doing and experiencing, not critiquing. This has been a hard lesson for me; I love to sit back and critique, to dissect how and where a situation went wrong. But so many things go astray or awry in a single day of parenting a newborn that being a bitch never gets you anywhere. The baby still needs a bath, food, love, and affection. And she gives them back in kind (well, the affection).
She’s not a baby anymore. She is officially a “toddler.” A new phase of human. This year has been beautiful but it’s also been arduous, for all of us. “Live in the moment!” people tell you. What does that mean? I think it means, “have a baby.” The baby will show you how to live each moment “as if it’s your last.” Not like, Leaving Las Vegas or Bonnie and Clyde-style living, but true, joyful, actual living. The kind that bolsters you, and transforms you. The kind that gives back. And it really does. Babies are hilarious. Like, belly laugh funny. They get their senses of humor early. Each parent lays claim to that trait, but the truth is it seems to comes naturally to humans, which makes it even more of a marvel.
I’ve read that babies can’t form memories early in life because their brains are too full of doing other things. There isn’t space; they’re busy learning. Language and physical skills. That’s probably for the best, I tell myself when I cringe to remember certain of my less-cool Mom moments. But I believe in the explosion as I zoom through my iPhone’s old videos of Zelda. Just six months, ago she was “sitting” propped up in a weird baby chair unable to bring a little toy to her mouth. She just couldn’t do it. Her eyes cross as she tries to focus in on the toy. She struggles. She looks up at me for encouragement. She fails. She fails so many times. In the video, she never succeeds. But I know that eventually, she did. She learned to bring things to her mouth. To taste things. All things, edible or otherwise.
If I have felt failure this year, so has she, even if she won’t remember it. She has tried to stand up so many times and failed for the most part. And then, one day, a month or two ago, she succeeded. She stood. First for just a few seconds, and then for longer. She marked the occasion as she does so often, with a grin and nothing else. And then she plopped down on her butt, happy with her four seconds of success. Good enough.
Let me learn from my daughter, who is, today, one year old. Let me learn to keep trying as she has, lurching about the room now like an old lady with a walker, so close to walking that I almost fear it. She must learn from me how to be a human person, with manners, self-respect, and dignity. And I must learn from her how to keep trying. How to keep going in spite of overwhelming and discouraging information. The world isn’t kind. It’s shitty, it sucks and sometimes the things we want most are to lick electrical outlets and eat dirt. We can’t have those things because we’re people, but it’s okay to admit we want them.
It’s okay to admit we want things we can’t or shouldn’t have. So I’ll admit that there have been times over this past year where I imagined desperately this moment we are at now: to not have a little baby but a toddler. I couldn’t have that then. I had to go through these days, three hundred and sixty-five of them, often struggling but always thankful. Now I do have what I want, and like Zelda, I again want the thing I can’t have: to have her be a baby, again.
Happy birthday to you, Zelda.
The Parent Rap is an endearing column about the fucked up and cruel world of parenting.