I heard a story this week about a young man who makes unusual life choices, such as becoming a monk, deciding to quit the monkhood and ride his bicycle back to Indiana from Arizona with no plan or map, and waking up one morning and running a half-marathon. This is amazing and all, but what the storyteller said last struck me the most: “He did these things because no one ever told him he couldn’t.”
How many times do I tell Story she can’t do something? All the times.
“You can’t go potty in the backyard.”
“You can’t be a dragon at school.”
“You can’t have candy for breakfast.”
“You can’t ride the dog like a horse.”
The list goes on and on. Of course, aside from the dragon transformation, she actually can do these things. It’s just not preferable. So, why then do I tell her she can’t? Why don’t I just explain to her why she shouldn’t do these things instead? I’m familiar with Carol Dweck’s work; I’ve read Mindset, and I know the effects of growth versus fixed mindsets. I also know that if you continuously impart negativity on someone, he or she will likely grow to believe it. I know all of this but still, “Story, you can’t.”
While the things I tell her she can’t do now don’t seem like such a big deal, I don’t want Story to grow up to have an “I can’t” attitude. So I resolved to change my downbeat ways.
My first challenge: Story has decided to fly. She began practicing by jumping from one piece of furniture to another. Once she was successful with this, she graduated to jumping from the deck railing. She kept at it even after quite a few falls, which means she’s serious. After practicing from the middle of the slide and not getting much further with her goal, she decided that she needs wings. She’s reassured me that once she has her wings and flies away, she will find me again by using echolocation like a bat.
And this is where I am. Do I make the wings she wants (and has described to me in detail) and let her figure it out on her own? I have to protect her from harm, of course, so I can’t just let her try to fly from a tree. That takes me back to “can’t.” Do I tell her that humans can’t fly, not on their own anyway? Maybe I should just pretend my resolution hasn’t started yet and tackle the next challenge instead. But who knows what that will be? What do you suggest, friends? What would be your chosen course of action?
It has happened. I knew that it would. My once stationary, sweet little baby has transitioned to a very mobile 1 year old. Games have become all consuming and all cleaning has gone by the wayside.
Like rings on a tree, the rings of toys on the kitchen floor can tell you a child’s age. At three months, your floors are spotless. The counters are wiped, aside from a stray coffee ring next to the always-on coffee pot. The baby is playing happily in her bouncer, and you are singing children’s songs while washing dishes. Okay, maybe it didn’t happen exactly that way, but after you experience a few more months, you’ll begin to imagine it was that way.
By five months, there is a Bumbo in the middle of the floor. A set of Fisher Price keys, a rattling toy, and a soft, crunchy book can be found in a circle around it. You are now washing a dish, wiping your hands on the towel, picking up a toy, and giving it back to your smiling baby. You turn around and begin washing another dish as you feel those plastic keys hit your foot. You wipe your hands, return the toy, wash a dish.
By nine months, the baby is sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by the shape sorter, three different-sized balls, a Little People playset, the walker you are encouraging her to start using, a set of toy musical instruments, four baby dolls, and a set of measuring cups you thought might help entertain her. The toys make a perfect circle around your precious child as she picks up each one for precisely one minute and then throws it down in boredom. You are now singing, with a little more speed to your tempo, thinking about how one might accomplish washing a dish with one hand, while clapping the tempo on your leg and using your foot to pick up a toy and push it back to your poor attention-deprived baby. Inevitably, she ends up in the pots and pans, pulling out each one with a startling crash.
By twelve months, she has become fully mobile — perhaps not walking yet but definitely able to keep up with the best of those crawling. The kitchen now holds 80% of the toys that belong in the playroom. The perfect circle is a more modern-looking series of circles that create a wall along the perimeter. The last line of defense to keep her from escaping. You are now looking at a line of dishes that have been patiently waiting for you all week. After creating a new voice for the troll doll that has your baby captivated, you think you can start working down that line. You turn, pick up a dish, and hear the pitter-patter of tiny legs going straight for the stairs.
And so I find myself here.
Yes, Maddie has discovered the stairs. More and more, I have learned that Maddie has a natural sense for adventure and a sense of humor to go with it. I fear she may be the child who will grow up and think jumping out of a plane is fun. Two weeks into her thirteenth month, she has discovered and fully embraced the fun of scaring people. She waits patiently for me to turn my back to that line of dishes, then makes a mad, one-legged crawling dash to the stairs. She will wait at the first stair until she hears me say, “Maddie, you know you aren’t supposed to be climbing the stairs by yourself!” and begin coming after her. She then climbs to the second stair, stands up, holds onto the rails, and waits. I come around the corner and approach the rails. “Mad–” Before I can finish her name, she uses her whole body to scream, “AHHHHH!” I jump and pretend to be frightened. She belly laughs. “You scared me!” I exclaim as I pick her up and bring her safely back to the kitchen. She is delighted with herself and waits patiently for me to turn so that we can repeat the game.
I would lament the change of my not-so-clean house to my we’re-using-paper-plates-now house if the game weren’t so much fun.
Lessons Learned: Buy more safety gates, enjoy it all, find solace in the fact that Apple will likely someday invent a self-cleaning dish app (the iDish), and begin researching how to appease adrenaline junkies without jumping out of a plane.
It’s been an emotional week for Ali and me. Maddie turned one, and we had to say goodbye to “baby.” Story graduated preschool, and we had to say goodbye to “little girl.” I knew these transitions were going to be tough, but I had no idea of the effect they were going to have on me. I was always curious about mothers’ reactions to preschool graduation and the first day of kindergarten. Why on earth were tears always involved? Wasn’t this supposed to be exciting? Not being much of a crier myself, I thought that maybe those moms were just the emotional sort. Never did it occur to me that I might react the same way. I thought I was fine and dandy for preschool graduation; Story certainly was. It turns out I wasn’t.
Monday, Maddie’s birthday: I left my work computer at home. I live too far away to just run home and get it, so I had to borrow one, and it did not care for me. I forgot our summer intern was starting that morning and had to rush to pull things (and myself) together enough to get her going. I lost my to-do list and forgot a deadline. I left my workout clothes at home, too. I lost my wrist brace. (I have carpal tunnel syndrome.) I forgot Maddie’s balloon and birthday card for the party.
Tuesday: I wore my leggings backwards all day. I made coffee with leftover grounds. I still could not find my wrist brace and guessed it was under the mountain of laundry on my couch. I also could not find clean socks for Story, so I sent her to school in mine. I wandered around at work, periodically forgetting where I was going and what I was supposed to do.
Wednesday: I forgot my lunch. I also forgot to look under the laundry mountain for my wrist brace. By this time, my wrist was killing me, so a coworker made a sort of brace out of wooden craft sticks and rubber bands. (Thanks, Rachel.) I cried a bit at the end of Book 10 of the How to Train Your Dragon series as Story and I listened to it on the way to school and felt a strong kinship with Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III.
Thursday, Story’s preschool graduation: I cried a bit in the morning as sweet Story ticked off all the ways she would still need me even after graduation. I don’t remember the work day at all. I teared up during the program as they showed the kids growing up. I held it all together though until after my family left and Story fell asleep. Then I sobbed into my pillow until I got the sup-sups.
Friday: I felt supremely better! I found my wrist brace. I remembered everything. I got through my to-do list. Story told me I was the bestest mom in the whole wide world. And she let me put the toothpaste on the brush for her, without reminding me that she could do it herself.
I understand now. Thanks for the lesson, Universe. And I’m sorry, moms, for judging you.
You, my baby, are turning one this week. The cake is made, the decorations bought. Yes, the celebration is on. For me though, the celebration is bittersweet. Besides the obvious joy of you embarking on childhood, there are also a lot of selfishly good things that come along with your turning one — no more formula, you can have honey to soothe coughs, pureeing baby food will become a thing of the past, and I am one step closer to sleeping again. This was enough to help me get through Riley turning one; in fact, with her I looked forward to it. But you are my baby, and I know that I will not have any more. This time, it means saying goodbye to all of the ups and downs that make up a baby’s first year of life for good. As we celebrate, I can’t help but also lament those things that I’m going to miss about you, Maddie.
1) Toothless smiles. That time you smiled, I mean really smiled, and your mouth was all gums. I spent my days doing the most embarrassing songs, dances, and games just to get that gummy smile to come out. Even the stress of teething was eased by the enhanced cuteness of your smile with each single tooth. I’ll miss that.
2) Your shoes being painted on your socks. Slipping on those adorable painted-on mary janes completed every outfit. They were your go-to shoes. Easy to slip on and endearing. Soon we’ll be wrestling to get out of the door with even one shoe strapped to your foot. Shoes aren’t so adorable anymore. I’ll miss those socks.
4) Lifting up your belly to unfasten your diaper. You progressed quickly from being an easy diaper change to rolling all over the place. Now, diaper changes typically start with you sitting up, which requires the lifting of your plump little belly to unfasten it. I’ll miss that little belly and all the little rolls that accompanied it.
5) Snuggles. Morning time when you want to relax on my chest for just a little while longer, your little hands rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. During the day when you just need a rest and lay your head on my shoulder. Nighttime as you suck your fingers and drift to sleep. I’ll miss all of those.
6) Milestones. One of the best parts about having a baby is that you are never the same month to month. There are so many milestones along the way in this short first year of life that I am privileged enough to witness and in some cases help you achieve. Sitting, successful tummy time, eating baby cereal, crawling, smiling — all of it is new and exciting. The look of pride and the accompanying grin as you achieve all of it is priceless. I’ll miss those.
7) The stumbling progression to walking. From the moment you first pulled up on the coffee table and began to cruise, I knew that walking would soon follow and life would never be the same. Then you began standing on your own, swaying with your little arms out for balance. Then the many, many falls on your little diaper-cushioned bottom until you finally master that one first step. It’s the anticipation and the inevitable glory that make this so much fun. I’ll miss that.
8) Baby smell. No, I’m not talking about the dirty diapers, the formula-scented spit-up, or those gaseous toots you were famous for around four months. It’s that mild, understated smell that babies have. For those who haven’t smelled it, it’s hard to explain, but for those who have, it’s hard to keep from smiling while remembering it. I’ll miss that.
9) Unencumbered excitement. Whether it’s me returning to daycare at the end of the work day or spotting your missing ball across the room, your entire body reacts to the joy. The joy bounces your legs, which bounce your torso till it escapes from your ear-to-ear smile. This excitement can pull me out of any bad mood and reminds me that days are full of small things to celebrate. I’ll miss those bounces.
10) Being needed, all of the time. It’s the thing about having a baby that tests a mom’s patience but is also, hands down, the greatest part. You needs me for everything — to be fed, to be dressed, to be calmed down, to share in excitement. Every accomplishment you have, you look to me for praise. Every boo-boo you get, you want me to comfort. The mother-daughter bond is strong and interdependent. But, as you pass your first birthday, you will begin your journey to independence, and it’ll be my task to help you get there. I know that it’ll be a joy to watch. I also know that I will miss the days that you needed me for everything, and I was easily able to meet your needs. I will deeply miss that.
If I’ve learned anything in my journey of motherhood, it is to take the time to acknowledge what is hard and enjoy all of the other times. This birthday, I’m finding this lesson especially important. Sometimes what is emotionally hard as a mom is a great accomplishment for our kids. It’s part of letting go. So this is me letting go of a phase of my life, and my baby’s first year. I can’t wait to see the woman she becomes.
Story is an only child and lucky to be so. All my extra energies (and income) go to her. Every time I look at her, really look at her, I’m overwhelmed by how much love it is possible for me to feel. I understand now where the phrase “my heart is going to burst from my chest” comes from. That’s really the only way to describe that so-intense-it’s-scary emotion. It is very difficult for me to deny her a smile, whether that comes from a gift of a toy or allowing her to sleep in my bed. I do it (sometimes). I can’t give in to everything or I wouldn’t be a good mom—at least that’s what I tell myself—but it hurts a little. Like any other mom, I want to give my child everything.
Story is an only child and unlucky to be so. She doesn’t have that special bond that is only between siblings. My family is the absolute best; I don’t know what I did in a past life, but I certainly won the lottery in this one. One of the many things that makes it so special is my relationship with my two younger sisters. I would not be who I am today without them. They each own a piece of my heart, and the really cool thing about their being my sisters is they always will be. We’re all stuck with each other; we’re family. There is an invisible but incredibly strong ribbon that binds us. If one of us tugs on that ribbon, maybe without even knowing it, the other two feel it and show up. My point is, Story doesn’t have that. Her ribbon is only wrapped around her.
So, I had the great idea to give her a sister. This is a bit problematic for a couple of reasons. First, I would need to procure sperm from somewhere. Second, it is not yet scientifically possible to predetermine the sex of your child. Bummer. So my great idea took a turn and extended to adoption. I really thought quite hard about it and was excited. And then I talked to my mom. My oh-so-wise mom asked one question: “Lesley, do you want to adopt because you want another child or because you want a sister for Story?” Well, damn. There went that idea.
I’d come to accept that Story is going to be an only child. I didn’t know how it would be possible for me to love someone else that much anyway; my heart is only so big. But Story said something the other night that made me rethink all of it. As she was getting ready for bed, Story was practicing her letter sounds. “Hey, guess what! Everybody in our family here [my family lives in different towns throughout the state] has an E sound at the end of their names: Mommy, Story, Remy [dog], Henri [fish], Ali, Riley, and Maddie!”
Story is an only child, and Story has sisters; she has a toe in each pond. It’s not at all what I pictured for her. I think it might just be better.