A couple weeks ago, as Tim and I took turns alternating between shoveling dinner into our mouths and holding/rocking/jostling our wailing month-old daughter, he said, “I think we can safely say that she’s not a ‘dream’ baby, right?”
I burst out laughing. Of course, Isabelle IS our dream baby – in that we dreamed of having a beautiful, amazing child that is half Tim and half me. But I knew what Tim meant. Before I had a baby, when other parents would say things like – “Oh, my child is a dream baby! He never cries! He slept through the night the first week! He’s in the 99th percentile of awesome!” – I would assume (foolishly, I now know) that when I had a baby, she would be just like that.
Miss Isabelle, of course, is perfect. Not a day goes by that I don’t look at her in awe of the miracle Tim and I created and feel my heart fill up to the tippy top with fierce love. But, a “dream” baby she is not. Once she emerged from her sleepy new baby cocoon at about two weeks old and started to be alert more often, she decided that if she was awake, she would NOT be happy unless she was held in a manner that was, of course, supremely uncomfortable to the holder. And even then she might not deign to stop crying, leaving us bewildered and frustrated. She let out blood curdling screams every time we changed her diaper – big tears rolling out the corners of her eyes while her little rosebud lips quivered and her skin turned blotchy and red. She often slept like an angel during the day but then wanted to eat nearly every hour during the night, running her poor mama ragged.
When I was pregnant, I had visions of what my maternity leave – a full twelve weeks away from my job – would look like. I would take Isabelle on leisurely strolls through the farmer’s market and cook delicious meals. I would clean and organize my house, top to bottom. I would read books and write. I would have time to do all this and more.
I know any parents reading this are probably on the floor by now, laughing at my naivety. The truth is, if I can eat breakfast, pump milk (how glamorous) take a shower and maybe even dry my hair (often a stretch) during the time Isabelle takes her morning nap, it is a huge accomplishment. I’ve braved a few outings with her – mostly errands – but she’s a ticking time bomb. I never know when my sweet baby is going to explode into a ball of uncontrollable wailing fury.
Some days are really, really great – she snuggles up peacefully against me after I feed her, letting me kiss her downy hair and smell her insanely delicious new baby smell. Her face lights up in a smile in reaction to my face. We get outside for a nice walk in the gardens at the arboretum around the corner from our house. She takes a well-timed nap and Tim and I can eat dinner at the same time and have an actual conversation. When she does cry, we can calm her quickly. I stare at her while she’s sleeping and am astounded by how beautiful she is and how much I love her. On days like this, I think, “Okay, I’m starting to get this parenting thing down.”
But some days are harder. She fusses and refuses to nap, demanding to be held constantly. I change diaper after diaper and onesie after onesie after numerous poop or puke explosions. I’m still in my pajamas in the late afternoon. I’m counting the hours until Tim comes home. I get frustrated because I’m not “accomplishing” anything.
The truth is having a newborn doesn’t always jive with my Type A personality. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love being Isabelle’s mom and she has brought me more joy and love than I ever could have imagined. But as a “planner” and a “doer,” I’m learning a sometimes difficult lesson that I’m on her schedule and that my plans often need to wait for another day.
This past weekend, two things happened. Isabelle turned six weeks old and I went for my first run in more than nine months. I think we both turned a corner. Isabelle is sleeping for longer stretches at night (five whole hours!), smiling more often and crying much less frequently. As for me, running again reminded me of a few things:
- Some runs are good and some runs are bad. Lucky for me, this first one was pretty good. I took it very easy and only ran one mile. It felt relatively effortless and I loved being out there again. But I’ve done enough running over the last five years to know that I’ll have some really hard, completely unenjoyable runs over the next several months as I train for my half marathon. But that’s okay. It’s all part of the process and those difficult runs will make me stronger, more prepared for challenges I might face and ultimately more confident.
- Getting in shape and preparing for a race take time. I can’t go out there tomorrow and run 13.1 miles. But if I keep putting in the work, take it one day at a time and am patient with myself, I know it will work out in the end and I will be prepared on race day.
- Sometimes just getting out there is enough. I may have a crappy day and not get through my to do list, but a run – even if it’s not a great one – gives me a sense of purpose and perspective. It helps me get my head out of the past or the future and plants me firmly in the here and now.
And so it is with parenting newborn – a brutal day is often followed by a really magical one. Taking it one day at a time and cutting myself some slack helps me realize that I don’t need to be perfect every day. And, most importantly, just “getting out there” – taking care of Isabelle and appreciating the little things with her is enough. It’s more than enough. It’s a cliché, but I know these moments are fleeting. I don’t want to be so caught up in the race that I miss the runs – the good ones and the bad ones – along the way.