A rare thing happened last week. My two year old came home from daycare and went to sleep. Suddenly, we had spare time. I offered my husband first rights of refusal, but he wanted to stay home. Not me.
I left and headed out to my favorite place, the wetlands at Cross Creek Ranch. I out some headphones on to listen to some new music I had downloaded (Missy Higgins, after my friend Mel recommended her to me). On the way there, I felt the absence of a friend. I thought in my head about what it would be like to be pointing out all the reasons why I loved this place to someone.
It has been so long since I have had some time to just chill out with a girlfriend, to paint our nails and listen to each other’s music, tell each other about our books, show each other our neighborhoods. Perhaps this is just a function of age, of distance, of stages in our lives. The friends I do have, we live across town from each other, and our conversations are always punctuated by side conversations with kids. We only have time to talk to each other after work, before bed, or in between kids activities and dinner times. It is not that often, and I feel like I just can’t get enough.
When I got to the wetlands, I was walking through the grass on the backside of the ponds looking for a rare red-vented bulbul (bird). I was listening to my music at first, but then I realized that I was missing half of the outdoor program by having my ears plugged. When I took out the headphones, I heard the raucous calls of the grackals and the coos of the doves. I smelled something wild, something mammalian, and I made up some creatures that it could have been until I realized it was actually just the smell of cattle beyond the fence line. I found a bleached out turtle shell, feeling the thrill of discovery and a childish desire to pick it up and keep it as a treasure. I wandered further down a wild path than I intended to, trying to figure out what bird was making a loud alarm call (a green heron chick). I spotted one of these chicks on a soft place beyond some reeds, all plump and feathery, walking swiftly on stubbly legs towards the safety of the water as I walked past.
I stood for a bit on on of the boardwalks, watching the water move towards me in gentle waves. I wanted to put my hands on the railing, but when I looked down at it, I realized it was covered in white heron poop. In fact, the whole boardwalk looked white-washed in it. I kind of laughed at the absurdity, that these birds have claimed this place from us so thoroughly. Again, I felt the pain of being alone, a wish that I had a friend who lived near me that I could share this laugh with.
If I had a friend with me, though, we would have been talking to each other, and I would have missed all of those smells, sounds, sightings, thrills and discoveries – all of those things that were so stress-relieving about this walk. It is the full immersion with nature, a full disconnection with the exterior world of work and household chores and worrying about other people that makes this type of thing so rewarding for me.
It still would be nice to have a friend who lives close to me, though, to be able to call when I had a spontaneous hour alone, someone to join me in trying out that cool little coffee shop, farmers market, wine store, free yoga class – whatever. I was hoping to meet someone like that in Hike it Baby, and although I did make one good friend sort of kind of through that, she still lives kind of far for spontaneous adventures. I hope that I will meet someone in these new groups I have joined who can be my new neighborhood friend, but I am still in those early stages so I am not sure yet.
Later, over the weekend, I got the opportunity to spend some time with some friends, some old and some new. I met some really awesome ladies and got to know some others better, spent time with a friend out at a park with our babies, and some time laying on another friend’s couch with my little one asleep in my arms. I realized that missing a friend doesn’t mean that I don’t have friends in my life, but it is maybe just that I am missing a stage of having friends that is probably a thing of the past. Maybe friendship just looks different in your forties. Perhaps at this age, we can have friends on deeper levels – friends to learn from, engage in activities with, commiserate about motherhood with, experience new things with, march and resist with, and that’s okay.
During the end of February through now, there’s been a lack of posts on this blog. We had stopped our forays into different urban wilderness areas and were focused on building our own nest. The birds out there might have been busy building their nests with twigs, leaves, bits of hair and feathers, but here we were gathering blankets, clothes, sheets and sleeping structures. I was reading stroller reviews and picking out feeding supplies, going to classes instead of planning our next expeditions.
So anyway, here we are, proud parents of our own “three week old organic biomass generator” (as Jason referred to him in his own version of a baby announcement to his friends), and I find myself reflecting on how parenting is so different now than it was when my first son was born fifteen years ago. There are many changes in circumstances, of course, but I think it is more than that. The main differences in parenting now versus then have to do with technological advances, my age, and levels of support from my spouse and extended family.
Though technically the “Information Age” or “Digital Age” started way back before my first son was born in 1999, we have come a long way, baby. We might have dreamed about personal computers that were small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and allegedly smartphones were in development in the 1990s, but back then, cell phones were not very common. I had some kind of cell phone tucked away in a box that was available in case of emergencies, but I never turned it on. We had the internet, at some point, but I think we must have turned it off to save money, because I don’t remember logging on to my computer very often. I learned about parenting from books and magazines. Most of my information came either from the “What to Expect..” series of books, Parenting magazine, handouts from the pediatrician, and advice from my (ex) husband’s family. If I had a question, I used those references to find the answer. Now, I just Google it, without even getting up or putting the baby down. It is so awesome to have answers at my fingertips.
Not only are there answers at my fingertips, but there are also lullabies. I used to be able to remember the words to so many songs to sing to my first, but with this one, for some reason, in the middle of the night the only song that comes to my mind is some Frankie Avalon song about puppets that I can’t even remember the words to past the chorus. Spotify and Youtube to the rescue! We have a lullaby playlist on our smartphones that we can pull up and then play for baby, or perhaps just use Google or Youtube to help us remember the words for ones to sing to him ourselves.
I also have found that there are a plethora of apps out there designed to help parents track every aspect of their new baby. I found one that I like using (Similac’s Strong Moms App) to track feeding, diaper changes, and sleeping patterns. You can look at graphs of trends, compare days, even email reports to your doctor or spouse if you needed to. You can use it to track and graph growth, bottle feeding, and pumping information (although I haven’t used those latter options too much). Some of my friends have shared my enthusiasm for these apps, while others have poo-pooed them, saying this kind of tracking will either make a person crazy, or really is unnecessary or common sense. “Feed the baby when it’s hungry, let it sleep when it wants to, as long as the diapers keep coming, what is the point of tracking all this?” is their argument. I might change my mind later, but right now my brain is really loving being able to look at the trends, and I find it is most helpful in helping me remember how long ago I fed the baby last. In my sleep-deprived state, I tend to forget those details (I mean, jeez, three days home and my brain was so foggy that I even forgot my baby’s name and had to really think about it for a while before I remembered that simple, major fact). I am also trying to stick to a schedule, waking him up if needed during the day to feed him every 2-3 hours to help him be able to/learn to sleep during the night, so I think right now it is more important to focus on that then just on letting him set the feeding schedule through hunger cues.
Also, there are websites and apps designed to provide parents with not only access to information and reviews of baby gear, but support in the form of active forums where you can be matched with others sharing your same experiences or interests. Most notably, for me, the BabyCenter app is filling this role. I had downloaded their Pregnancy App, and now the My Baby app, both which have me connected to the April 2015 arrival board. I have been obsessed with this board for months now, and even though I am becoming a little less interested, it is still my “go-to” app when I am bored or trying to stay up in the middle of the night during feedings. It is interesting to me to read other people’s stories and read their questions and answers to common (first pregnancy, and now newborn) issues we are all dealing with. It helps me to understand that our experiences and concerns are common, and we are dealing with them in a way consistent with the experience of others. I should be a pro at this parenting stuff, right?, but it has been such a long time between babies that I have forgotten some things.
I think that most of this obsessive researching and tracking/comparing to normal is a function of my age and reproductive issues. I had some complications in this pregnancy at the beginning, and I had lost two pregnancies in the past, so I was a little hyper-concerned about what was going on with me. Some of this is a function of being older and more responsible. In a way, though, some of it is because I am also trying to mitigate the concerns of my husband, who is a first-time dad and also approaches everything differently than my ex did.
I don’t remember my ex-husband reading anything about new baby care, he never went to classes, and his attitude was more like “we’ll figure it out as we go”. Ex didn’t go look at daycare centers with me, we didn’t make a budget ahead of time to make sure we would be able to cover the extra expense of daycare, we didn’t save a nest-egg to be able to afford it all. He just thought we would “wing it”. I know that Jason stresses out more about financial security, and he prefers to research all the options up front.
It seems like babies are more expensive now than they used to be. This time around, I compared reviews and prices of all the baby gear I thought we needed, then made a list of what products it made more sense to buy where. I also compared the cost of daycares, then figured out how to set aside money to pay for the daycare for the rest of the year, plus cover maternity leave for me to stay at home as long as we were comfortable with. I don’t remember if I even had a registry for the baby shower for my first son, or if I had a list of essentials. I am sure I didn’t compare prices and have a list of what I absolutely needed to use the registry completion coupons for at each store to maximize our shopping dollars.
I also did not have the same sense of appreciation of the baby stage when my first was born. I was only 24, just kind of a baby myself really, and I was left kind of reeling over all the physical changes that having a child left me with. I struggled with the late-night feedings, the crying, the lack of sleep. I felt resentful of the sleep that my ex was getting. I feel like this time around, I am getting so much more sleep, thanks to Jason helping out in the middle of the night. I feel so much better physically than I did after the first child, too. I think my body learned how to bounce back and did it better with each consecutive child. Also, that first child was an unexpected surprise, whereas the next two sons I had arrived out of baby fever and biological imperative. I think it is probably easier to appreciate a baby that was intentional, and this does make me wonder how hard it must be for people with less support than I have who have accidental babies. The first month or so with a newborn is no picnic, but cherishing every moment makes it easier.
Time moved slower back in my mid-twenties. It felt like the years between zero and three went on forever. People would tell me, “oh, the years will fly by, cherish them while you have them”, and I thought they were crazy because it seemed like an eternity. Now, though, age and experience has shown me that the years do literally fly by, that between three and fifteen disappears in the blink of an eye, and that I will never have this baby back, as he will grow into a toddler and then an adolescent, a preteen, a teenager, a man – and though I will love all those stages, I will miss my baby and it will make me tear up when I think about it later.
So, this time, when I am up in the middle of the night soothing him back to sleep, I am not weeping quietly to myself, but stroking his soft skin and marveling at his sweet face. I am trying to seal this to memory, so I can hold on as long as I can to it. Since I am so much older, I know that this door will be closing soon, and as the reproductive years end, so will these sweet moments with baby. Every moment is a gift, and I plan to treat them as such.
It reminds me of this poem I came across:
Song for a Fifth Child
by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton
Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
We went for a walk tonight – my boys, my dogs, and I. We went for a super-secret walk, in a place no one could find us. We went for a walk in a place we weren’t supposed to drive to, but we did it anyway.
The dogs went for a swim tonight. The water was a little shallow, maybe a little scummy. It is possible there was an alligator, we found out later. We let them swim anyway.
My little son, I’ve been wondering about him. About six months ago, we had to put down a family dog that had been with our family for fourteen years, which is twice the sum of little son’s years. The whole sum of little son’s life had taken place beside this dog. Yet, when we came out of the vet’s office after saying goodbye, we had a moment that I have pondered over these months since.
The older son and I were bawling our eyes out, and this little one tried that with us for a minute or so, and then just opened his eyes and looked at us. “Do we have to cry about this?”, he said. We both looked at him in astonishment. “No,” I said, “you don’t have to.” Then in unison, my older son and I both added, “but we want to!” and kept on bawling while this little son just sat up, relieved.
I have wondered about what this means since then. J says it is just normal, he is a seven year old boy, they don’t always understand or are in touch with their emotions at this age. One of my best friends, though, suggested that it is not normal not to cry after losing a family pet, and suggested he might be a sociopath. “A sociopath?” I asked. “Oh, don’t worry…not all sociopaths are murderers!” she tried to reassure me. She said it was just a disorder where people did not have empathy for others and only cared about themselves.
I tried watching him for this, but I wasn’t sure. I mean, he IS seven – there are times he cares about himself. But he also does seem to care for others, and he especially enjoys the pets at the house.
As we were walking, the dogs came running down a hill, and there was a bird walking around on the path. The bird was making a lot of noise, but didn’t fly away as the dogs ran past it. The Lab jumped in the water, but the Aussie stopped to check out the bird and considered mouthing it for a minute. I told him to leave it alone, and he did.
Then my young son came running down the hill towards the bird on the path. “Be careful of that bird,” I said to him, “I think it is hurt.”
“I know, Mom,” he said gently. He just wanted to look at it. “It has a broken wing,” he observed. He watched it run up the hill, towards the comfort of overhanging brush.
“I feel bad for that bird,” he said, turning back towards me.
And then I knew that there was nothing wrong with him. That he was just a normal seven year old boy. Maybe he didn’t experience his emotions the same way that day with Rascal, but he was capable of caring about others.
I asked him about that day with Rascal, why he didn’t cry. “I just didn’t understand why were crying over that,” he said. “Were you sad?” Yes, he had been sad, he said, but it made sense. Rascal was hurt, and then he wasn’t hurting anymore. He misses him, but it made sense.
Now, my Aussie, who had spent the whole sum of his life as well (except for a few months as a pup) next to Rascal, also had been adjusting to life without his dog brother. The Lab as well had lost her life partner, our other Lab, last fall. The past six months, we’ve seen their relationship dynamic changing.
At this moment, it was sinking in to the Aussie that the Lab, as well as two of his people, were on the other side of the retention pond. As much as he didn’t like swimming, and had resisted thus far on the walk, he finally couldn’t stand the separation from her, and jumped in to swim towards her. She saw him, and jumped in to and swam out to him.
They met in the middle, nosed each other, and then she swam with him back to the side where J and my older son were, being his moral support for his swimming fears. It was the sweetest thing. I tried to get a picture, but all you can see here is the sun setting.
The sun setting on the sweetest thing you couldn’t see; a bird escaping to live another day, a boy who really was just a boy, and two dogs who’ve learned to love and support each other after their respective partners have passed away.