It’s a new year. And I’m entering my 7th year of blogging. Whoa. But more impressively, I will very soon be entering my second full year of parenting. My new year begins on February 12th, Dominic and Leo’s first birthday. This year has brought more change to my life than… anything ever. Ever. I like to think of this year as baby boot camp. Not that I know anything about the military, but my sister was in the Army and from the way she describes boot camp -being broken down and then built back up into a soldier- makes me think that it’s not so unlike this first year of being a parent.
The first few days in the hospital were euphoric. Yes, I was tired and I was recovering from surgery, but my sweet little boys were finally here and I could hold their tiny bodies in my arms, put cute hats on them, send them off to the nursery at night, and get a beautiful night’s sleep while trained nurses made sure my baby boys were safe, fed and changed. This must be like the bus ride (is there a bus ride?) on the way to boot camp… all of the excitement and anticipation, making new friends, and looking forward to a new adventure.
But then we all came home to go it alone. For the first few days, though I desperately longed for the nurses to walk us through everything, the adrenaline kept us going. We fed the boys every three hours all day and night. And since I was trying to breastfeed, I was also pumping every three hours all day and night, which meant the longest stretch of sleep I got was an hour and a half. In the next few weeks, the adrenaline wore off, Dan went back to work, and exhaustion became me. The boys slept in our room for the first 11 weeks and since they were skinny little preemies and it was winter (and we were new worried parents) we kept the room so warm that Dan and I would sweat and throw the covers off and not really sleep all that well. Not only that, but we kept a low light on all night so that when I got up to feed the boys I could see. These were not ideal sleeping arrangements. This is the part where the soldier is broken down and most likely blind-sided by how difficult this is going to be. This is where she thinks, What have I done?
In the 12th week, we finally decided to put the boys in the nursery, that big beautiful room that we had decorated so nicely and then not used. It was scary putting those tiny helpless creatures all the way down the hall, but oh how we slept. The room was cool and completely dark and, on good nights, I was able to sleep for 5 hours straight. Not only that, but we started to have a predictable schedule. Let me tell you, I love a good routine. Ours was challenging and not always perfect, but I started to feel like I could do this. I wasn’t great at it, but I could get by, like a soldier must feel once they find a rhythm to the early wake ups and long, physically demanding days.
By 5 months, I stopped breastfeeding and the boys started to sleep for 12 hours a night. 12 hours! Not only did that mean that I slept like a normal human being, but also that Dan and I had some down time in the evenings. We could rest and sit next to each other on the couch and just feel a little normal. By 7 months, we took the boys on a successful beach vacation and by 9 months, Dan and I spent two nights away at a wedding while the boys stayed with their grandparents. This is when the soldier starts to feel confident, when she starts to understand where she fits and that the world still exists off base. But that’s where the analogy ends. That’s where I wish being a parent could be a little bit more like being a soldier. For soldiers, there’s no why. There are rules and there’s a hierarchy and you don’t need to figure out why this baby won’t eat his solids and that one won’t take his second nap. For a soldier, at least as I understand it, things are pretty cut and dried. For a parent, you are never 100% sure and there’s no way you can be. You just have to do the best you can do and hope for the best. There are no tests to pass or ranks to climb or medals to earn. Remember those schedules that I love? I also love to know that I’m doing a good job. I enjoy a good evaluation, an award, a diploma. Sure, here and there I am reassured by family, friends, or the doctor, but there’s no right way to do anything and there’s no way to be sure that you aren’t completely screwing this up.
Life as a parent has gotten easier. I feel like I am starting to feel more like myself again. Life has shifted, but it’s starting to resettle and I can wrap my mind around it. I’m not just Laurie anymore. I am Laurie and Dominic and Leo. It’s taken this year of being broken down and slowly built back up into a mother to fully understand that they are, now and forever, a part of me. And maybe in this next year, I can wear my one year badge with pride and rest a little easier. Or maybe not. Either way, I’ll keep doing the best I can because I’m a mother now and that’s what we do.