When my son, Jacob, was born four years ago, I started keeping a journal. I carefully chronicled the metamorphosis that our family went through as Jacob grew and my husband and I evolved into our new role as parents. Maybe ‘evolved’ isn’t quite the right word. Before we had Jacob, Dan and I were calm, relatively thoughtful, acceptably hygienic people. Within a few months of starting our parenting gig, we became the sort of people who would look at a stain on our clothing as we ran, haggard, out the front door and wonder whether it was one of our child’s bodily fluids. After about a year, my journal entries trailed off. Fast forward a few more years to the birth of our daughter, Emma. When Emma was born, I had hoped to start writing again. But didn’t. I blinked a few times (did a lot of laundry) and now she is one year old. So, I am starting a blog. I may not be able to fix the Middle East, cool our warming planet or find the antidote to having that nauseatingly saccharine Barney song stuck in your head. (Parents, you know what I’m talking about. You find yourself singing it sometimes. And a little part of you dies.) If I can’t leave the world a better place for my children, at least I can leave them a (slightly mortifying?) record of their first several trips around the sun.
But before focusing on the here and now, a quick look back at some of my favorite entries from the journal I kept of first time parenthood . . .
(Written in Sept, 2009)
As we glide into the last month of my maternity leave, I have begun to face the reality of putting Jacob in daycare. Overall, we’re happy with the daycare we picked. But I still struggle with the idea that Jake will spend many of his waking hours with other people. What if he changes in ways, important ways, without our knowing?
While riding in the car on the way to a party, I said to Dan, “So, if we go ahead with the plan for me to drop Jake off at daycare and you to pick him up, you won’t actually see him much in the morning.”
“So, you won’t know what he’s wearing.”
“Do you suppose it’s possible that someday you’ll just . . . you know, come home with the wrong child?”
After a frustratingly long pause, Dan said, “First of all, wasn’t I the one who suggested sewing name tags into his clothes?”
“So, you’re saying that the only reason you’ll recognize him is that he’ll have a name tag on?”
“I’m just saying why not set ourselves up for success?”
On Jacob’s second day at daycare, we were given homework– a packet of questionnaires to complete. Most of the questionnaires asked about his medical history. But, one asked about his “social history”. The first item read “How would you describe your child?”
“Let’s say bald,” Dan offered.
“We can’t say bald.”
“Fine. Put bald, but then initial it so [the director] knows I didn’t write it.”
“Okay, well if I can’t put bald, I’m writing ‘strong, silent type’”.
I put a little asterisk next to this and wrote, “My husband filled out some of this.”
“You don’t need to write that,” Dan sniffed, as he walked off toward the kitchen. “I’m sure she can tell by the handwriting. My handwriting is not girly.”
The next day, the daycare director told me that as soon as she read Jacob’s form she started laughing hysterically and ran into the baby room yelling, “Look at what Carolyn wrote!”
“Well, actually it was Dan . . .”
“Yes,” she said wryly, “I blame everything on my husband too”.
It was Dan’s turn to take care of Jacob. I was getting ready to go out and only half listening to his usual over-the-top patter. I emerged from the bathroom just as Dan passed by in the hallway holding Jacob.
“There she is!” he exclaimed. “There’s Juxtaposition!”
It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but what does when you’re completely sleep deprived? I moved on. But, a few minutes later I was downstairs putting some things in my purse when I heard Dan say, “Juxtaposition is about to go out. Bye, Juxtaposition!” Was this supposed to be my new nickname? At least I had finally gotten Dan to stop referring to me as “The Boobs” when talking to Jacob. (A nursing reference, people. Calm down.)
“Why are you calling me Juxtaposition?” I asked.
“I want that to be his first word.”
Given the exhaustion of nursing a child in the 80th percentile, you would think I would have jumped at the chance to supplement Jacob’s diet with solid food. For some reason, I was slow to move on this. Jacob’s pediatrician told us that we should start introducing solids sometime between the fourth and the sixth month.
“At this point, it’s not about nutrition,” he said. “They hardly get any calories from the amount of food you give them. It’s just occupational therapy.” In other words, this is the age when babies need to learn to put food in their mouths and swallow.
As Jacob was finishing up his fifth month, I suddenly realized we had a limited window of opportunity to begin this ‘occupational therapy’. Most of our weekends were filled up seemingly until Jacob would be old enough to cook his own food. “We’d better start giving him solid food this weekend,” I told Dan, “or we’re never going to get around to it.”
How do you get a baby to eat? Dan just assumed you use the classic airplane into the hanger maneuver. He put a small lump of rice mush on the end of a bright red plastic spoon.
“Here it comes, Jakey,” he said as he made wide circles in the air with the spoon. “Vvvvvvshhhhhoooooomm.”
The spoon was still en route, half way between its take off and destination when Jacob threw his body weight forward, grabbed Dan’s wrist with both of his pudgy little hands and lunged, mouth open, at the spoon.
Dan and I looked at each other stunned.
After about a month of almost-crawling, I came into the living room one afternoon to find Jacob in a push-up position. He was wide-eyed, with his gaze fixed on Dan. Dan was in his around-the-house sweats, two days of stubble on his face, down on all fours and wearily making his way across the carpet.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I thought I would model crawling for him,” Dan said as he continued to pace, on hands and knees, back and forth across the carpet.
I called my cell phone carrier today to figure out whether it makes sense to switch to Dan’s carrier and get a family plan. Of course, the customer service representative immediately launched into his pitch for why I should stick with my carrier. In his thick Southern accent, he reminded me that my plan was “extremely cost effective”.
“Well,” I said, already aggravated, “I have to pay for texting.”
“Okay, but other than the texting charge and the charge for downloading music, your monthly service charge is going to be hard to beat.”
“I’m sorry- could you repeat that? What charge for music?”
“Well, Ma’am, it looks like you downloaded some music on May 22nd.”
“I certainly did not”.
“There’s a charge here for it, Ma’am.”
“I don’t even know how to download music. Is it possible I just pressed something by accident.”
“Ma’am, the system asks you for confirmation. Twice.”
As this conversation was playing out and I was swearing up and down that this charge must be an error, I was watching Jacob crawl around on the floor in front of me. And thinking of all of the times I let him play with my cell phone. The times he discovered how to use speaker phone and voice activation (which, frankly, I am incapable of doing correctly on my own). And all the odd screens I have had to cancel out of. I know that I never purchased any music through my cell phone. My eleven month old, on the other hand . . .
“What music did I download?”
That was Jacob’s first year. Three years and many milestones later (talking, walking, running, somersaulting, and swinging from trees), he’s still keeping us on our toes. And reprogramming our phones.