I think that a first birthday represents a milestone not only for the baby turning a year old, but also for the baby’s parents.
A first birthday means we’re all still alive after the blessed, precious, intense, exhausting first 12 months of babyhood. Mama and Daddy are still alive, albeit blurry-eyed and with a few gray hairs springing up. The tiny, fragile baby is still alive, replete with new fat rolls. The baby’s siblings are all still alive; those extra hours in front of the TV didn’t kill them after all.
The first birthday is a time to reflect on how life has changed in the last year. If it’s your third baby, it’s a time to wonder how you missed this time around all those major hurdles you perceived and struggled through with your firstborn. (Answer: with your third, they came and went and you weren’t alert enough to realize they were happening.)
That first birthday is ripe with memories of what was happening exactly one year ago, when you were rushing to the hospital and forming a lifelong attachment to an OB nurse and in such pain you thought you might die and then, finally, holding a squirmy, red, warm, wrinkly, beautiful breath from heaven.
I’ve found the first birthday is not well suited to a raucous party overflowing with family and friends who might not realize the significance of the day. The first birthday is more meaningful for me if we just set aside a quiet day of thankfulness for this little life… and that we’ve made it this far together… and, admittedly, that some of the hard tiny-tiny baby stuff is behind us.
The baby doesn’t know what a birthday is. My babies don’t even show a lot of interest in smashing the cake. Our third baby just celebrated her first birthday, and either because we’ve turned into defeated, exhausted parents over the last five years OR because we’ve become smarter, more realistic parents, we didn’t even have a party for her. There was just our family: my husband, myself, our three kids. We took extra time to do the things the birthday girl loves: packing her on my hip so she can have a greater view of the world. Laying on the floor so she can climb over me. Rocking her in the glider. Holding her while she naps.
As usual, rocking and holding allow me time to reflect and ponder. And the occasion of the first birthday has me thinking on this topic: it’s time for all of us here at the Blake house to grow up a little and get back into a regular routine. As in…
Time to be a grown-up and get up. For the last year of not-much-sleep, I’ve held somewhat to the dictum to “sleep when the baby’s sleeping.” And because she sleeps most soundly in the 5 to 8 a.m. time slot, I was sleeping in with her until recently. It’s what I had to do to survive there for a few months, when those couple hours were the only real sleep I was getting. But it can’t go on forever. I decided a few weeks ago to start rising with my husband at 5:30 or 6. While the baby’s soundly asleep, while the big kids are still in bed, I can get out of bed and get a start on my day so that I’m ready to lead our house like a productive human being by the time the sun’s up. Sometimes I shower and wash the cobwebs out, sometimes I sit at my desk and soak in that quiet alone time which I crave so much — and which honestly is probably more healing to me than sleep is. Early rising is something my husband and I want to demonstrate for our kids. Even though it’s not easy for us, we think it’s important.
Time to turn off the TV. I admit it: the Disney Channel has been my friend in the last year. I have used it to pacify the big kids during baby’s nap time, and I have turned it on to distract them when I thought I needed to be getting something important done, and I have even (I’m embarrassed to admit it) turned it on because I didn’t want to hear them talking anymore. It’s gotten to where the 5-year-old doesn’t even like TV that much. (In my idealistic early motherhood, I was a total TV nazi; wouldn’t let him watch more than a 30-minute educational show. Lo and behold, that teaching sunk in, and now he tells the rest of us, “We better turn off the TV. We don’t want our brains turning into mush!”) So, recently, I’ve been challenging myself to keep the TV off and be more present with my kids. I’ve found our day actually goes much better if I throw that crutch aside, and that I feel like I’m building well-rounded little humans if I involve them in every possible aspect of my day… instead of rushing to finish a certain project before they’ve watched Pocahontas through again… for the 123rd time. Even though their “help” is clumsy at best, I’ve discovered there are things they can do: They can unload the dishwasher onto the counter. They can take the baby out on the deck and watch her while I make beds. They can put a little laundry away if I’m very, very specific with directions. They can even scrub the entryway floor with damp rags!
Time to stop eating like the babymoon will last forever. You know how when you first have a baby and you’re exhausted from the birth and you’re nursing and you’re trying to stay alive for your other kids and you consume huge amounts of sugars and fats? Yes, I know. If Walt Disney is my friend, sugary, creamy coffee has been my BFF in the last 12 months. Noodles have been an easy solution for supper. Desserts have constantly pestered my thoughts (Hey, I’ve got a couple spare minutes! I really should go ahead and make that three-layer cake!). Cereal has seemed like a great snack not only for the big kids but for me, too. And Nutella… well, let’s just say it’s from the Devil. I have zero willpower when it comes to Nutella. I love it on graham crackers, but if we’re out of graham crackers, I’ll eat it by the spoonful. It’s simply best not to buy it and safest not to have it in the house. But then again, I’d really hate to be without it in case of an emergency…
Well, with me getting my big-girl-pants on and nixing Nutella in recognition of my baby’s first birthday, it’s obvious that the baby should have some expectations now, too, toward becoming a contributing member of our family. I suppose it’s time for this little sister to stop with the taking, taking, taking and get to know the concept of giving. First item on the agenda:
Sleep. As happened with my first two kids, this third one has shown little to no interest in sleeping through the night or even for a stretch longer than two hours. This is not a joke. This is real life, people. She starts the night in her crib, where she remains for approximately 45 minutes, and the first time she wails I bring her into our bed because I am physically incapable of doing anything more intelligent… and then she and I proceed to roll over every 45 minutes for the rest of the night. Mentally, this routine has been manageable for me — I don’t need a ton of sleep. (I mean, I seem totally sane and clear-headed and well-rested despite it all, wouldn’t you agree?) But clearly this can’t go on forever; every smart mama has her limitations. When the alarm goes off in the morning these days, after yet another round of nocturnal boxing, my arms ache. My ribs ache. My kidneys ache. And my livers ache. Yes, my livers. Luckily, studies show the risk of SIDS greatly decreases at 12 months, and so it’s time for me to start thinking about what life will be like when I sleep again. She’s old enough now that I’ll soon feel comfortable making her cry herself to sleep in her crib. I did it with the other two when they were about this age… and it was hard to make them cry… but it was also short in the grand scheme of things… and they figure it out… and after you do it you wonder why you let it go on so long.
Discipline. With a loving family surrounding her, this little sister has become accustomed to getting what she wants when she wants it. Frankly, she’s kinda been running the show around here. For instance: If she sees me cuddling one of the other kids, she wedges herself in between me and the sibling, whimpering for attention. If I’m trying to read them a big-kid book, she’ll do anything she can to put a stop to it: pulls the book out of my hands, tries to rip pages, makes such a ruckus that the story can’t be heard. If I’m trying to do a big-kid project with them on the table, she pulls at my leg and stomps her little foot and whines… and then, if I pick her up, she becomes intent on destroying the project. Same if they’re working on a floor project (train tracks, Lego city, drawing pad, etc.): she backs in and plops her little butt down right in the middle of it. Well, little girl, no more. You’re old enough now to understand that some things are against the rules… and that you’re gonna get in trouble if you insist on proceeding.
So you see… the first birthday — and maybe any birthday for mama’s baby — is not just three simple words. Instead, it’s time to ponder the last year and make plans for the next one. It’s time to say We just can’t believe how fast the last year went. It’s time to squeeze that little love tight. And it’s time to pat yourself on the back, because you’re doing a real job and you’ve done it well to get this far.
Good job, Mama.
© Tami Blake