Tonight I cried a little. I put the kids to bed like I do every night—I sit by their beds (E goes first one night and J the next, and they fight over who goes first each time even though it’s gone this way for years now) and ask them what their favorite part of that day was, then I sing their night-night song until one of them rolls their eyes and tells me to stop singing and put on “lullaby”, so then I pull out my phone and put on some Baby Einstein Sleep Music, and then finally I sit there in the dark in blissful quiet and watch their sweet sleeping faces by the light of E’s purple and pink lava lamp night light (Baby Einstein still playing). That last part is hands-down the stillest (yes, it’s a word) and most beautiful twenty minutes of my day every day. I need it. Tonight—in that magic stillness that calms my brain-squirrels down like nothing else—I realized how much I need it, and how fleeting it is. So I cried a little.
Flash back seven years to another night when I cried. A LOT. I had just spent all night pushing a tiny human out of my body through my lady parts, I was exhausted, I had no medication or epidural so everything freakin hurt like hell, my Husband was sleeping on the too-short bench/bed that dads get stuck with in the hospital room, and there was this little pink creature in my arms who started howling the second anyone put her down. And I had to pee. I tried to wake up Husband and failed. I tried to put down baby E, another fail. I tried to find the call-the-nurse button, but realized that somehow all powers of observation, deduction, and reason had been sucked from my brain. Fail fail fail. So I waddled my sore ass into the bathroom, baby in arms the whole time, and dealt with the situation. Then I waddled back to my hospital bed and had what may have been an actual minor panic attack. What. Had. We. DONE??!?
In the next months, I thankfully learned the following about life with a new baby:
LIFE DOES CHANGE, BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO STOP
You know those friends who you used to hang out with all the time but then they had a baby and disappeared forever? No one can go to their house if the baby is sleeping (which is most of the time), because doorbell and loud talking voices. They won’t leave the house with the baby, because germs. They don’t dare get a babysitter, because ohmygod what if she gets distracted texting her boyfriend and doesn’t notice when space aliens beam in and abduct the baby??!! I think my Husband genuinely worried that having a baby would turn me into one of these people. Fortunately for all of us, I had no desire to spend the next year of my life hermetically sealed inside a sterile, quiet, pastel-colored box. And I didn’t figure my baby did either. I figured the best way to get to know my babies and for my babies to get to know the world was to involve them in my regular life and see how they responded to things. They were each different. E didn’t want anyone besides me to hold her–not Grandma, not Dad, no one–but she liked watching and squeaking at the world from the comfort of my arms. J was much more tolerant of friends and family, but he didn’t like too-bright lights or too-loud noise. He loved his bouncy seat, watching ceiling fans, and being taken outside into the cool air when he got fussy. Both of them loved family swim time–in the infant floater and in my arms. And my Husband and I learned how to calculate the exact window of time we had to grab a bite somewhere before the baby turned into a pumpkin. See how that works? Everyone was building “brain muscle”!
BABIES DON’T ACTUALLY NEED ALL THAT FREAKIN EQUIPMENT
The first time we left to go somewhere overnight with the baby, I thought for sure it would be the last. It was ridiculous. We barely fit in our car. We had the Pack n’ Play, blankets, crib sheet, extra crib sheet, a sound machine, the baby monitor system, swaddles, two bears, the bouncy seat, the floor gym, a portable high-chair-like device that was meant to hook onto the table, a roll-up placemat to go in front of her at the table, a box of Baby Mum-Mums, the stroller, of course the car seat, the Ergobaby carrier, this fold-up changing station set, two entire packs of diapers, wipes, spit-up cloths, nail clippers (why??), that bulb thingy meant to suck the mucus from the baby’s nose, a thermometer, a diaper bag full of spare clothes, and another bag full of toys that she didn’t even give a crap about at home. For ONE night.
Over time, we slowly refined our definition of “necessary baby gear.” Baby E only ever used, like, 20% of what all we’d pack. At most. As it turned out, our babies only really needed a few things:
- Something to eat. I breastfed, so that was easy—I just had to bring my boobs. (And my Bebe au Lait nursing cover. I didn’t need it, but my Husband got embarrassed if I just whipped one out and started feeding in public.) Once the babies got bigger I’d make sure I had some snacks with me at all times, but I also became a firm believer in feeding my children age-appropriate versions of the healthy food I wanted them to like as big kids and adults. They ate what we ate, just modified.
- Somewhere to sleep. Yes, bring the Pack n’ Play–unless your host or hotel already has one (most good hotels do, call ahead and save yourself some hassle). Both my babies ended up sleeping on my chest most everywhere we went anyway.
- Something to change into when they’re wet or poopy. Calculate how many diapers the baby will need and bring that plus 50%. And 1-2 extra outfits per day is probably ok.
- Something to clean up the inevitable baby mess. One pack of wipes will do the trick across the board. They clean up pee/poop, spit up, baby-food mess, suspiciously germy-looking surfaces, and sticky hands.
- Somewhere to be. For my babies it was mainly in my arms. I also brought my baby pack—“back in my day” it was the Ergobaby—wherever I went. From the dawn of humanity, babies have been worn by their parents. My babies loved it, and I honestly believe it helped them develop healthy attachment. Not until relatively recently in Western civilization have babies been relegated to plastic and foam “carriers” for most of their waking hours. Call me crazy, but carrying a baby in a heavy-ass car seat carrier for “convenience” seems significantly LESS convenient than wearing the baby, snug against her mama, in an Ergo.
“SLEEPING WHEN THE BABY SLEEPS” IS A TOTAL MYTH
A) I have never liked naps to begin with. They make me feel like a drugged zombie when I wake up from them. But more importantly, B) there are so many better ways to make use of that precious time. Cleaning comes to mind (but, ugh, really?). Showering is up there too (that’s more like it). Both of these things are really hard to get to with a newborn, but both are necessary. If you can stomach it yet, showing your partner some grownup affection is a good option, too. Think of it as an investment. One day in the not-so-distant future, you’ll likely really want “fun grownup time” again too. Or a back rub. Or someone to make you dinner and hold the baby while you eat it.
I can think of a hundred better and more realistic things to do than sleeping when the baby sleeps. Watching terrible television (I was hooked on Wife Swap and reruns of Frasier on maternity leave with E, and Property Brothers with J), getting in the hot tub (bring the baby monitor!), and attempting a workout come to mind immediately. But what probably killed the most birds with a stone while baby slept was driving. Both my babies liked car naps, and it’s astonishing how much you can get done from the drivers’ seat of the car. A typical nap-outing would start with the Starbucks drive-through, and include the credit union, the library (for the drive-up book return), or the post office, then a trip to a friend’s house to return something/deliver a coffee/pick up baby hand-me-downs/have a car-side chat, and lots of driving around listening to NPR and podcasts (LEARN while the baby sleeps!).
MULTITASKING HAS ITS TIME AND PLACE
Get all that sleeping-baby me-time in when you can because when the baby is awake, he needs his mama. This is not the time to multitask. This is the time to snuggle with your baby, engage with him and help him build his neural circuitry, and single-mindedly enjoy all the love and miracle of this new little person you brought into the world. The very most important piece of advice I can give new mothers—however cliche—is “enjoy it, it goes by so fast!”
Even now, when they are 5 and 7, I need to remind myself of that important advice. It does go by SO FAST. So fast that I sit every night for much longer than I need to in the room with the pink and purple lava lamp, listening to Baby Einstein, and wanting to freeze time. But that’s not the nature of things, and my “babies” are becoming amazingly independent little humans, as they should. So I’ll just love these moments as part of my self-care as long as I can. Sometimes I’ll even do sit-ups in the dark. And sometimes, apparently, I’ll cry.