My firstborn baby just turned a year old. It’s mind boggling to think an entire year has passed since the doctor urged me to open my eyes during what would be the last push so I could meet my daughter.
My daughter – it still sounds weird coming out of my mouth, almost like I’m an imposter pretending to possess something that isn’t really mine. After all, she is the baby my husband and I spent nearly three years trying to conceive.
Looking at her can feel surreal at times, like I’ve daydreamed the last 12 months, and the fact that she’s really here and growing like a weed is all make believe. I can’t get over how fast time passes. That’s parenthood, everyone tells us. But I struggle on a daily basis with why I can’t seem to stop thinking about the next thing instead of enjoying the moment.
I’m under no illusions that this is a revolutionary thought, and that’s part of the problem. I can’t seem to find a solution. (This is coming from someone who is really good at scouring the Internet and voraciously reading everything even remotely having to do with kids.) Maybe there’s a mommy blog out there, in which someone in their infinite mothering wisdom tells me how to stop planning in order to just play.
Instead I always stumble on the impeccable ones that tell me how to do the exact opposite…how to cook, craft, plan, organize, and use essential oils to make my home perfect. I already have an entire drawer full of lavender and eucalyptus everything.
I think a bit of backstory might help. I babysat extensively throughout my high school and college years. While my friends were running off to the mall or hanging out with each other and bonding over crushes and glitter eye shadows, I babysat two kids who lived down the street. I happily sat on the floor with them for hours playing Legos, walked them endlessly around the block, and focused entirely on their happiness and well-being. I was in awe of their childlike joy and ability to make a good time out of a pile of leaves in the backyard or puddles on the sidewalk. It was fantastic.
I haven’t felt like that once with my own baby, and that’s a problem.
So, why don’t I experience that same joy now that I’m the parent, and the baby is mine? Is it simply because I was basically a kid back then, too? That’s the closest thing to an explanation I have. I was naïve to the troubles and responsibilities of life, because my parents were still shouldering the bulk of life’s stresses for me at that point. Sure, I made some cash, but the mortgage, utilities, and gas was paid for. I wasn’t distracted by thoughts of what dinner would be, because my mom had it waiting for me when I got home each night. I want my baby to grow up thinking that Mommy loved playing and didn’t rush everything.
Take, for example, last night. Emma was happily playing with leftover pasta remnants from the dinner she’d semi-eaten. Through her teething and fussiness, she’d managed to get a few pieces down, and then began using her index finger to drag leftover linguine scraps around the tray of her high chair. She was obviously fascinated with this activity, and happily emitting random giggles. Looking back, it was absolutely adorable.
At the time, I was impatient and frustrated, thinking only about how it was already after 7 p.m., and I still had to bathe her, change her, and get her to bed. But, so what? I should have just laughed and played along.
I know I can’t completely change my stripes at this point in life. My desire to please people and be efficient is too deeply ingrained in who I am, but I can learn new tricks. I plan to focus on the following three ideas moving forward, because they’re meaningful enough to force me to ignore what’s next till it actually needs to happen.
My baby’s not bored, I am
Chances are, I’m only bored because I’m actually thinking about the load of laundry that’s still sitting in the dryer two days after it was done drying instead of enjoying how content my little one is in the present moment. I need to stop allowing distractions to cloud my perception of now.
Instead, I’ll focus on the wonder my baby naturally has for everything she experiences. I will get down on her level for more than five minutes each night and crawl around. It really is refreshing to experience her world in this way, dog hair and all.
No one cares as much as I do
This concept is undoubtedly the most challenging for me, because I take pride in my home and genuinely want things to be orderly. That said, I also work full time and need sleep. If that means the kitchen counters remain cluttered for the night, I have to be okay with that.
In the past, I would make myself crazy cleaning up each night, only to crawl into bed exhausted and think, “At least it won’t look like a wreck in the morning.” So what if it does? No one conducts a midnight inspection of my family room. It’s uncomfortable at first. I get it. This is coming from a woman whose mother-in-law visits daily to babysit. I understand the desire for things to be clean and tidy in order to convey that you have life under control. But if there’s a happy, thriving baby running around, is that not proof enough that you have it going on in the mommy department?
I will try my very best to stop imposing cleaning rules on myself, so that the time I have with my daughter isn’t spent worrying about dishes in the sink.
It won’t matter 10 years from now
The most powerful thought I have in terms of reshaping how I focus while spending time with my toddler (seriously, the pediatrician told me she’s a toddler now!) is asking myself what she will remember 10 years from now.
I try to picture Emma as a preteen, hoping with everything I’ve got that she’s well on her to being a happy, confident, and secure young woman. I then imagine someone asking her, “Was the kitchen sink always clean when you were a child?” Because she could never lie, she’ll say, “I’m not sure.” Next question: “Did laundry get done on time?” Answer: “Don’t know. I always had clean clothes to wear.” And, lastly… “Did your mom always play with you?” Her answer: “Yes, always.”
There it is. That’s how I’m learning to just enjoy playing with my baby. It’s the most amazing gift I’ve given myself in a very long time.