“I Just Want To Say” is a series of short(er) blog posts on random (and not so very important) thoughts I have during the day. It was inspired by Nora Ephron’s short pieces by the same title in her book, I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections. Since most of my day revolves around caring for Baby, a lot of my thoughts are related to him. But occasionally there will be stuff that have nothing to do with childcare, parenthood, and housekeeping.
The plan is to post an “I Just Want To Say” once a week. That’s the plan. And, yes, I hear God laughing, too.
So without further ado, here’s my first installment of “I Just Want To Say.”
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It’s been a while since I’ve been to my local parent support group. When I started out as a mom, going to these weekly meetings felt like a lifeline in the new sometimes treacherous world of motherhood. We sit in a circle and relate our best and worst times in the past week. I found myself surrounded by women who regarded me and I them with compassion and love (unlike most gatherings of women, I would add.) The relief from being able to talk and hear about our postpartum trials and baby related triumphs without concerns about boring or confusing the listener felt like getting a giant hug from the universe.
And since feeding is the main event during a baby’s first few months, I could whip out my boob, we could all whip out our boobs, nipples proud and ready, and feed our babies without hiding our acts of devotion behind nursing covers because it was good, our boobs were full of goodness, nursing was a moral directive, and we were Mothers. There hung a milky white halo over each of us.
We could rock our babies to sleep in our arms because sleep training was far in the future, no one turned up their nose when a dirty diaper was changed right there in the circle because, one, newborns’ poops don’t really smell and two, a pooping baby is a healthy baby. And if you showed up wearing mascara (forget heels or even jeans at this point of your post-partum body’s return to not being waterlogged) you were a superstar. Sitting there wearing our oxytocin goggles, every mom was a reflection of me, and I them, reflections that smiled kindly, nodded in understanding, and approved.
Naturally, once the initial anxiety of motherhood settles down and the postpartum hormones fade, one of the things that happens is you stop seeing other women (and yourself) as Mothers and start to see them again as just women who also happen to be moms. And with this de-deification, you begin to listen to the other women more critically. One of the things I began to notice is that every time a new mom had a question or situation regarding their baby that no one could relate to, the stock answer offered in chorus was, “Every baby is different.”
“Oh your baby won’t take any bottles even though you’ve tried every kind of bottle available at Target? Well, every baby is different.” “Oh your baby is four percentile in weight? Well, every baby is different.” “Oh your baby won’t eat any solids at seven months? Well, every baby is different.” “Oh your baby hasn’t pooped in a week? Well, every baby is different.”
It’s a placebo answer.
It’s meant to be comforting. But, of course, it isn’t. And it isn’t true. Actually, most babies are very similar. That’s why there are such things as milestones that act as guides to our babies’ development. Most babies grow and exhibit developmental behaviors at a similar rate. There’s a range, sure, but that’s just it: it’s a range, a circumscribed period of normal. Outside of the range and your baby is in the scary unknown world of the different, the abnormal.
And hell no you don’t want your baby to be abnormal. You do not want your baby to still be crawling when he’s two. You do not want your baby to be in the one percentile range for weight or height. You do not want a baby who won’t eat. You do not want a baby who doesn’t know how to shift objects between his hands, avoids eye contact, can’t sit up and whose head lags when you pick him upat six months , doesn’t smile, won’t turn to your voice, et cetera. You want your child to be different only in so far as they are the same. The same and normal.
And with this realization of the un-comforting and untrue nature of, “Every baby is different,” and it’s corollary falsehood, “Different is good,” you cling gratefully to signs of his sameness and to the hope of him growing up within the range of normal, to not be so different from everyone else.
And you pray to a God you don’t believe in and you say, please just let him be normal. Let him walk when the other kids walk, talk when he should, smile and laugh at stuff that’s funny and not amuse himself with killing small animals. Let him make friends, but not too many friends because that’s fake, and friends who are kind to him who he has adventures with that involve things like hide and seek, playing baseball, and rebuilding cars. Let him have a good sense of balance so that he can ride a bike and a snowboard, but not become an extreme sport athlete. Let him have a girlfriend in high school, who he loves, but breaks up with before college so that he can have relationships with other women so that he can learn about himself and grow emotionally. And speaking of girlfriends let him be heterosexual if possible since he will be living in a world where heterosexuality is still considered more normal than homosexuality. But if he is homosexual let him be well adjusted and loved enough that he won’t be afraid to tell his mom and dad who will tell him that’s great that he’s come out and they love him and they will always love him. Let him go to university and get a liberal education where he learns to love to read literature, gets drunk a lot and then realizes that he doesn’t like to get drunk all the time, and has sex with a dozen girls, maybe more, but not a whole lot more, dating a couple of them long term. Let him have his heart broken once so he knows what that feels like and thus appreciate love more. Let him not date a cruel woman who chokes his self-esteem and leaves him lonely and cynical. But if he does become lonely and cynical, let him have the wisdom to seek professional help, maybe even call his mom. Let him not get an STD, especially herpes. Let him try marijuana and ‘shrooms, but stay away from the harder stuff. Let him get a job where he can sit down a lot of the time and enjoy what he’s doing. Maybe become an architect or an animation artist or a writer. Just throwing out some ideas. Let him fall in love with a wonderful woman or man who reminds him of his mother and father in equal measure. Let him have children and discover what it means to love unconditionally. Let him have a nice home that’s fairly clean, which he returns to at the end of the day where people he loves are there to kiss him hello. Let him live peacefully without tornadoes or hurricanes that rip apart his home, without crossing paths with bombers and psychos that blow off his kids’ legs or gun them down at school, respectively, without accidents that leave him paralyzed or blind or in need of a face transplant. Let him not be that different.