Monday, March 07, 2011

The Next Transition

One of the things I miss the most about my pre-kids life is spontaneity. These days, we certainly don't wake up on a Saturday morning and decide that we'll drive up to LA and maybe even stay the night. But also gone are the days of looking at each other at 5 p.m. and deciding that we'll shelve our dinner plans and go out for dinner instead. I can see that this latter, more modest type of spontaneity might return before our kids are in college- already, Pumpkin would be game for such a change most days. Petunia is overall less dependent on routine than Pumpkin is. In fact, her refusal to settle into a night time routine is driving me a bit batty. But she is not yet old enough to handle a surprise dinner out all that well. We can plan a dinner out, but it requires careful thought about timing, and whether or not we should change her into her pajamas before the drive home, and it is best if we don't mind if the disruption to the bedtime routine spills over into the next morning.

I was thinking about all of this at about 4:45 yesterday, when Petunia's insistence on taking all of her sister's crayons and markers out of their storage bin unearthed a crayon from a long ago trip to Olive Garden, thereby triggering an irrational craving for their Zuppa Toscana.  (So I guess the effort they go to put their brand on those crayons is worth the effort, after all.) Back before Pumpkin was born, that craving would probably have been acted upon. Yesterday, it was not. But it occurred to me that in another year or two, it probably could be.

Because, of course, Petunia is getting older, and soon will be as happy as her sister to hear us announce that we're going out for dinner. I call her my baby, but she's not really a baby anymore. She is a toddler, and one who can communicate fairly well, albeit mostly through signs. (I did notice this weekend that she definitely has distinct sounds for ball ("bah") and book ("buh"), but mostly we only figure out what she wants if she has a sign for it or can point to it.)  She is still quite snuggly, but more and more, she wriggles out of my arms to toddle off exploring- or merely to do laps around the house.

I am surprised to find that I have mixed feelings about all of this. In general, I've found that parenting gets more enjoyable as the child ages, and although Pumpkin's current tantrum-heavy interpretation of three-and-a-half may challenge that opinion, I think it will hold. But there is something about the realization that before too long, there will no longer be a sweet little baby's head for me to absent-mindedly kiss that makes me a little sad.  Sure, I'm looking forward to having a full night's sleep once Petunia decides she no longer needs to check in with me in the middle of the night. But I'm also aware of the fact that something will be lost then, too, even if I can't quite put my finger on what it is.

I think part of this feeling comes from the realization that my sense of my own identity is going to change yet again. It took me almost a year after Pumpkin was born to really get comfortable in my new identity as mother, and quite a few months after Petunia was born to feel at home as a mother of two. I guess I thought that was it, and that things would be stable. But I'm realizing that something fundamental will change as my youngest child turns from baby to little girl, and I was not at all prepared for how unsettling that is. Selective amnesia about the disorientation brought on by the profound sleep deprivation of the newborn phase, the difficulty of cleaning up after a poopsplosion, and exactly how challenging pumping is may help ensure that parents will have more than one child, but it also means that while I have lived through those phases, I can no longer claim membership in the club of parents who really know what they feel like. I'm moving into a new club. Already, I have found myself posting a comment saying that handling Pumpkin's issues with the budding bully at day care is the hardest thing I've ever done as a parent. I do think that, but I also clearly remember thinking that nothing would ever be harder than handling the sleep deprivation of babyhood.*

Maybe what is unsettling is the fact that it is clear that this transition- from mother of a baby to mother whose last baby isn't a baby anymore- is far from the last that I'll navigate.  We rightly focus on the developmental transitions in our children, but forget that they are often accompanied by fairly large changes in ourselves. For years, my sense of who I was hardly changed, and now, in the last few years, it seems I'm never really comfortable in my skin- as soon as I get used to one change, another looms on the horizon. Maybe that is at least partially responsible for the unmoored feeling I have as I contemplate the upcoming end of Petunia's babyhood. Or maybe I'm just going to miss having a sweet little baby's head to kiss.

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*I still think that the sleep deprivation was the hardest thing physically, in the way that it impacted every other thing in my life. But handling the bully issue was harder from a pure parenting aspect- at least with the sleep deprivation issue I had an idea of what to do (soldier on and suffer through). With the bully issue, I had no idea what to do.

11 comments:

  1. SO true. I'm struck how just when you get into a groove with your child, they up and grow, and you have to learn things again. And I know for sure that I'm going to miss the baby stage, in some ways, and certainly the snuggling. I tell myself that at least I'll go back to sleeping through the night... some day... I'm with you; the first time around, I though I wouldn't survive the sleep deprivation and that everything else would be peanuts afterward.

    I also miss the spontaneity, the last-minute weekend getaways, or even just meeting for dinner and a movie after work on a lark.

    But, for me at least, and against all expectations (for years I wasn't even sure that I wanted children!), becoming a mom has made me feel better in my own skin. More centered. I don't know exactly why this is -- perhaps more purpose? I struggled with anxiety and depression, not the mention the typically female "am I good enough" crud, before having kids and now they've largely subsided. Anyway, I'm grateful!

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  2. Oh, Cloud - "mixed feelings" indeed - you nailed it! The last 17 months have flown by at a speed I cannot comprehend. That's both a good and bad thing, I supposed.

    The part about finding the crayon from "The OG," as we like to call it, made me chuckle. They do a great job of catering to kids... and marketing themselves!

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  3. This post fascinates me...just yesterday I was tucking E in and having precisely the opposite thought. She's almost 4.5 now, and as I was lying there snuggling her I realized just how happy I was, and what a great weekend we had had, and how "mother" has just sort of mingled itself in with my identity now...it isn't so huge and scary as it was. I found (and am still finding) that sleep deprivation is the hardest thing in the world for me to cope with - probably because I seem to need at least 8 hours in order to be functional (and my husband needs 9, so no backup there, but at least there's a ton of understanding). But I don't miss having a little baby around in the slightest. I love that so much of my interaction with her can be fun and not a grind. Also it helps that she's totally up to our usual level of spontaneity - she's never been a creature of habit - which is infuriating at times, but certainly has made some things a lot easier.

    It's funny though. I'm feeling totally on top of this whole "mother" thing...but the grad student thing is still kicking my butt. Someday I will get my act together and graduate, but first I need to stop being constantly sick.

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  4. Aw...I can definitely see that (re: your last sentence). Even though Evan is only 4.5 months, there are things we don't do anymore (like him falling asleep on my chest). I try to keep these things in mind when I get frustrated or annoyed.

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  5. Cloud, I'm right there with you, I also have a whole bag of "mixed feelings" regarding the transition between baby and toddler (it didn't help that her daycare moved her to the "toddler" group at the beggining of the year, yikes!). On one hand I'm happy that I'm sleeping better, we don't have to deal with pureed foods anymore and the children can play together now, but on the other one I miss having a baby fall asleep on my arms or just gaze into each other's eyes.

    To me the shock has been to realize that our children are not the only ones constantly changing and growing, but also us, the parents. It makes for quite an exciting trip, too bad it often is a bitersweet one!

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  6. This is a great article. I would like to be a mom someday, but I think I am too young now. I am only 22. But I would love to have a new life to take care of. I guess that is the most beautiful thing in the world. I sometimes picture myself having a baby and I think he or she (although I truly hope for a she) would be the coolest baby ever and the most loved one. So I have to say that your article wakes the “mother feeling” in me. Thanks for sharing it.

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  7. Such a great post. DH and I were just discussing how life seems to be moving so much faster ever since we had kids. Seeing these little creatures change so fast is amazing but it feels like we are always trying to catch up and our parenting skills set is always a half-second behind where it needs to be for whatever new stage they are at.

    I sometimes miss the spontaneity. And definitely the ability to travel. But, on the other hand, having wee ones has forced me to be more organized and grounded. In some ways, I've become a kind of person I've always wanted to be. Having a routine can be boring and mundane, but it is also comforting and easy.

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  8. @Today Wendy, I actually like each phase of motherhood better than the last... so maybe it is just the transitions I find jarring. But there is also something about the knowledge that Petunia is my last baby that makes it harder to let go of the baby things.

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  9. I don't think I'll ever feel *settled* again. It's so bittersweet to see Monkey growing up. I was just thinking this morning, watching him in his jumperoo, how fast it all changes. It's so fun to see him now, but I already miss those early days. With (eventual) #2, I'll certainly take advantage more of those newborn moments.

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  10. Oh, I totally hear you. I'm so bummed that my chubby baby is now a lean toddler (18 months this week!), but equally thrilled about all the new things she's discovering/telling us about. I love babies, but not enough to add more people to our family :) And really, what I want is BabyT's babyhood back, not someone else's!

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  11. cloud, i just read this, and was struck over and over by how much i could relate to it all, from finding the sleep deprivation pretty crippling, to the challenge of adjusting to a role that continues to change. you worded it perfectly:

    "We rightly focus on the developmental transitions in our children, but forget that they are often accompanied by fairly large changes in ourselves. For years, my sense of who I was hardly changed, and now, in the last few years, it seems I'm never really comfortable in my skin- as soon as I get used to one change, another looms on the horizon."

    i don't think i will ever forget that. i also think it's a good reminder to be a little easier on ourselves through all of this. thank you!

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