Sunday, September 27, 1998

September, 1998-- Little Liam

            Baby number two. Second child. Having another one. These phrases, tossed around with great frequency just a few months ago, when I was pregnant with my second baby, scared me a little. They all seemed to imply that I was doing something again. Something I had done before. And in the midst of disappointingly familiar morning sickness and swollen ankles, I wondered if having a second baby would simply be a repeat of having the first, except without the overwhelming awe that accompanied each new milestone. Looking back on the babyhood of my first child, Jacob, it seemed to be a string of wonderful accomplishments. Though the childcare books had taught me that the average infant rolls over at four months and sits at five, there was nothing average about my feelings when my own son did these things. He was a genius for discovering he had fingers, an athlete for being able to stand. As he bridged the gap from babyhood to life as a toddler, his feats became more complex, and I marveled in his newfound language skills. Now, as I entered the final trimester of pregnancy, he was three and a half, and I was his biggest fan as he raced through little boyhood, learning to kick a soccer ball, jump off the porch, and spell his name. I watched him, though, with one hand on my ever-growing belly, wondering if I'd be able to tear my eyes from his race long enough to appreciate this new baby, who was still in the starting blocks. Though I didn't doubt that I'd love the baby, I wasn't sure if I could love him with the passion and the unbridled excitement with which I loved Jacob.
            I approached my due date warily, remembering all that a newborn demands. With Jacob, the late night feedings, the never-ending diaper changes, and the bouts of crying were buoyed by the thrill of every new accomplishment. I hoped I would rediscover the magic of those tiny milestones from so long ago, but feared that they might not hold the same excitement, the same suspense. I never watched reruns on t.v. because I didn't see the point of watching when you already knew the ending.  I feared baby two would be a rerun.
            Liam entered the world late one night, oblivious to all of my questions. Nursing on my breast minutes after being delivered, he assumed he would be loved and kept warm, and as I stroked his tiny cheek, some part of me emerged that had never before given birth, had never nursed, had never held a newborn. I was in awe.  Again.
            In the days and weeks which have followed Liam's birth, however, I am discovering that my awe is different the second time around. With Jacob, I had waited eagerly for each new developmental feat, each new sign of growth. I loved monthly doctor's appointments because I could see him getting longer and gaining weight. I grinned at him until my face hurt in an effort to coax out a first smile. With Liam, though, I know what is to come, and I don't feel the need to rush things. I love the smallness of him, the softness of his legs, the sheer newbornly feel of his head. When the doctor announced at his six-week check-up that his size was in the ninety-fifth percentile, just as Jacob's had been, I didn't feel victorious, I felt wistful. My little baby was slipping away already, turning into someone bigger.
            If Jacob's babyhood gave me an appreciation of the miracle of growing independence, Liam's is teaching me that dependence is equally miraculous. I nurse Liam without wondering when he'll be weaned, and rock him before bed without being concerned that he learn to fall asleep on his own. I look into his eyes, and think with amazement that he doesn't know how to talk, he can't even say one word, and that somehow, despite this glaring deficit, he can communicate all his needs. I put him on a blanket in the middle of our family room and he is happy to lie on his back, smiling at the ceiling fan. With Jacob, I might have whipped out a toy or a book so that he could learn something while he was lying there. With Liam, though, I find myself more apt to look up at the ceiling fan with him. And seeing the fan through the eyes of someone who has never seen one before, I recognize that it is mysterious and beautiful.             
            I find myself simply enjoying Liam for who he is; a two-month- old baby who smiles and flails his arms and looks around with limited neck control. In the next month, he will probably figure out that he can reach for the things he wants, but I'm in no hurry for that to happen, for there is a certain peace in holding a baby who is too young to do anything besides relax against my body. Liam is dependent on his father and me in a way he will never be again. And while I am happy when he lifts his head higher than he did the day before and makes eye-contact while cooing, I am just as happy when he sleeps in my arms like he did when he was only hours old.
            As I revel in the non-milestones of Liam's life, I am trying to teach myself to do the same for Jacob. I watch him ride his tricycle and strain not to think about the two-wheeler he might have next year. I pull my mind back from imagining his first day of kindergarten. I hold him as he cries, and swallow my words of "you're too big." And as I do these things, I give thanks for this second baby of mine, not a rerun at all, who is teaching me that childhood is not about milestones and accomplishments. It's about being a child.

Thursday, August 27, 1998

August, 1998: Having trouble being a baby

Liam, our four-week-old baby, was having a very difficult day. By 10 a.m., he was on his fifth outfit, having spit up more milk than I would have believed my breasts could produce in one morning. He was crying off and on, and I wasn't sure why. Jacob, three, watched as his brother screamed. Jacob had been asking me what was wrong every five minutes for the last hour, and I had been answering him with guesses as to what the problem might be. Liam was hungry. Liam spit up. Liam needed changing. Liam needed to be burped.
Finally, annoyed with Jacob because of all the questions, and Liam because of all the crying, I blurted,
            "Liam is just having trouble being a baby."
            "Oh," Jacob replied, as if this made perfect sense. He went back to his trucks, and despite the fact that Liam didn't calm down for another half hour, Jacob did not question me again.
             At the time, I didn't even know what I meant when I said that Liam was having trouble being a baby. Later, though, I realized that in my frustration, I had stumbled upon a truth.
            He was having trouble being a baby.
            Just a month ago, Liam was not a baby— not really. He was a fetus. His food and oxygen were delivered through an umbilical cord and there was no need to eat or breathe. He lived in a warm, wet, quiet place, where he had been held tightly and rocked for the past nine months. There were no clothes there; no diapers; no changes. There was no need to burp, and nothing to spit up. While relatives joked about what a tough life a newborn had, all eating and sleeping, it was in fact, a tough life compared to his blissful floating in the womb.
And now, one month into his first experience with gravity, air, temperature changes and hunger, my tiny son was having trouble being a baby.
Jacob, by virtue of being three, had understood what I meant even before I did. Things weren't so simple for Jacob, either, I realized. Within the last year, just as he had become comfortable with leaving the last vestiges of babyhood behind, new responsibilities emerged; going on the toilet, saying please and thank you, getting dressed. Jacob probably understood Liam's difficulty being a baby because sometimes he had trouble being a three-year-old.
            Talking to my husband about it later, we discussed how easy it was to look at a stage long left behind and think of it as problem-free. As a couple, we often caught ourselves reminiscing about how simple our life was before kids. In our blurred memories, it was a carefree time, filled with late nights and romantic dinners. Struggling to deal with the demands of two small children, we conveniently forgot the difficulties of our early marriage; the frustrations that came with trying to blend two lives together, the questions about careers, and the multitude of other issues that time somehow ironed out for us. If we were able to forget the obstacles which faced us only five years ago, weren't we also likely to look at the lives of our children without recognizing their struggles? 
"He's having trouble being a baby," became our operative phrase. We understood it to mean that right now, Liam was trying to learn something about his world and it was difficult for him, just as difficult as it had been for us to land jobs or balance our checkbook just a few years ago.
Hearing us use the phrase, Jacob picked it up, and often would ask it as a question.
"Are you having trouble being a baby today, Liam?" he would say to his brother, stroking his newborn cheek or grasping Liam's hand in his own.
             The phrase diffused bouts of crying, helping us to remember that for Liam, being wet or hungry was a problem that seemed to have no solution in sight. "He's having trouble being a baby" gave me the insight to realize that sometimes Liam just needed to be held; not because anything was wrong, but rather because his life experience prior to babyhood was one of constant touch. Somehow, the phrase seemed to carry more compassion than saying Liam was fussy or cranky — negative words which implied that if he wanted to, he could change his condition.
            As the weeks went by, Liam turned two months, then three, and I found myself using the phrase less and less frequently. Day by day, he seemed to be finding it easier to be a baby. He started smiling at anyone who made eye contact with him, as if to show just how much he was learning. I rarely had to change his outfit because of a spit-up, and he let me know he needed a feeding or a fresh diaper with small whimpers rather than frantic screams.
 I looked into his eyes one morning when he was being especially delightful, and was amazed at the new baby confidence I saw there.

            "You're not having much trouble being a baby anymore," I said to him. He stuck his fist in his mouth and cooed back at me. And I wondered if he was proud of me, as well. I wasn't having as much trouble being a mom.