In the early days of parenthood every tiny thing that our little one did caused waves of panic and frantic Googling action to make sure he wasn’t seconds away from a medical disaster. High on the agenda was over-analyzing poo:
Should it be that color?
Should it be that consistency?
Is that grainy or mustardy?
Is he going too often?
Why isn’t he going more often?
Is that color dark brown, mid-brown, light brown, reddish, green, taupe, or African violet?
How did my keys get in there?
How the hell do I get this out of my jeans?!
We’d hold pictures from our baby app up against the actual poo to color-match like we’d previously done when trying to match paint with curtains and cushions.
Back in the early stages, those excessive parenting fears seemed perfectly logical. After all, we’d been left with a baby to take home from the hospital – without an instruction manual, and with a deeply felt fear that one wrong move could lead to disaster:
Make sure you don’t have the room too hot or cold.
Look out for rashes.
Make sure he’s pooping and peeing X number of times per day.
Don’t put him near cold drafts.
Give him sunlight, but not more than 20 minutes or he’ll burst into flames
Don’t touch him too firmly but make sure you give him lots of cuddles. But also, don’t drop him.
Don’t use a flash to take photos or he may be blinded for life.
As first time parents everything seems important, and also potentially life-threatening. Every minor heat rash appears to be meningitis. Every cough is acute respiratory failure. Every cry is a scream of untold pain and suffering. Every time he was under a yellowish light it was jaundice.
The baby monitor, with its magic movement sensor, didn’t always help calm our nerves. Every time the alarm went off we raced upstairs like two fugitives escaping from captivity – always to find that the baby hadn’t actually stopped breathing, he’d just decided to move away from the sensor pad.
We had endless sleepless nights during his colicky, reflux months. Each one spent trying to stop him from wailing for four solid hours and taking him on an hour-long car ride around town to get him to settle down.
We struggled with the incessant feeling that our little one needed to meet his milestones as quickly as possible:
Was that his first smile or just trapped wind?
Did he roll over on purpose or by mistake?
Did he really just say “Hello, Daddy?” Or am I just hallucinating because it’s 4 A.M. and I’ve already been up seven times?
Shouldn’t he be eating solids by now?
The competition with the other parents in our social group added its own layer of tension:
“Dave said his son can do ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes’ already! Our son doesn’t even know where his head is!”
“Claire said her daughter can already eat with a knife and fork.”
“Denise said her little one can already recite the ‘The Great Gatsby’ whilst riding a motorbike and juggling machetes. She’s only 3!”
So, off we’d go to baby swimming and baby rhyme-time and baby story time and baby massage and baby first aid and baby mountain climbing and baby driving lessons. Anything to keep the little one occupied and to show the world, beyond all doubt, that we were being excellent interactive parents.
All the activities were the same. The little one would be interested for approximately 7 minutes and then start trying to wander off. The rest of the session would be spent wrestling with him to stay or sit or pay attention – all of which is a lot like trying to hold on to an oily squirrel.
Now that our little one is two, all of the above feels like a series of distant, slightly disturbing memories. Although he’s hard work in a whole new way now, we’ve started to feel like we know what we’re doing, we’ve started to trust our intuition.
And that makes all the difference.