Wednesday, July 26, 2006

In the beginning...

The Map Man and I will be celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary next month. We were together for almost 5 years before we got married. That's nearly 23 years of togetherness. Yet we didn't feel ready to add kids to our household mix of humans and animals until we were pretty far along in our life journey together. But at some point, the topic came up, and we dove headfirst into trying to conceive, pregnancy, childbirth classes, and finally actual parenthood.

I had a serious case of post-partum euhporia -- I couldn't believe how much I loved that little bundle of new pink skin with intense blue eyes. I reveled in the wonders of breastfeeding, bonding, and "nesting". I felt as though a whole new me was born along with the baby.

We spent the first year together as a family in blissful ignorance that anything was less than absolutely the way it should be. As first-time older parents with zero baby experience, it never occured to us that babies don't typically stare at lightbulbs for hours on end, occasionally don't mind being put down for a second or two, or don't scream for 4-5 hours every evening. Babies are fussy, they are supposed to cry, right? They are all individuals, every baby is different. I was blown away by how different other babies I saw, including with close family members, behave compared to Jacob, but I chalked that up to our "odd" parenting style. We called it "instinctual parenting" before we realized there were a whole lot of other parents out there doing the same thing, and that there was actually a name -- Attachment Parenting -- for this parenting style. We had both been raised quite traditionally, so our familes thought we were a little "out there" with all this extended breast-feeding and co-sleeping and constantly carrying the baby around in a sling stuff. Surely that must result in a baby that behaved a bit differently.

There were other clues -- when Jacob was 5 months old, we went to a baby reunion for an internet pregnancy support group we were a part of. Jacob could not tolerate being around the other babies, and I spent a few uncomfortable days trying to keep away from the very people we'd traveled to see. The other parents described him as "intense" and "pensive". It was a side that I hadn't seen of him at home with our usual routine, and I chalked it up to having a few "off" days.

By the time Jacob was sitting up on his own, he was stacking blocks and cups about 6 high. He of course had trouble coordinating his movements to do this (seeing as 6 month olds aren't supposed to be doing that sort of thing!), but when I asked a group of parents about this, they all just said to take the blocks away until he's able to stack them. I didn't, I let him work through his intense frustration, and by the time he was a year old he was stacking them as high as he could reach.

Once he was sitting up, he was a very easy baby to keep happy -- just hand him any sort of toy at all, and he would play with that one toy for hours. Everyone commented on what a blessing that was for us, and how great it was that he was so easily able to entertain himself. They didn't see what happened if we tried to take that toy away from him, and eventually we stopped trying, once he had something, we just let him have it for hours until something else finally captured his interest and he moved on. They (and we) didn't notice that while he was happy staring at the toys, he had no interest in looking at or interacting with the people around him.

I took him to Storytime every week at a bookstore near my sister's house, where she took her kids (including his cousin who is 6 months older than him). He sat in my lap staring intently at the book being read, or being nursed in the back row. At 8 months I started taking him to Kindermusik classes. That didn't go as well -- the transitions between activities were too quick for him and we usually left the building with him screaming at some point during the class (on those occassions where I could actually get him IN the building -- sometimes he just refused to go in). Still, it never occured to us that this was out of the range of expected behavior for this age, and with the encouragement of the teacher, we persisted in showing up for however much of the class he would tolerate each week. Most of the time, when his schedule was kept steady and he was given enough time to explore whatever object had his attention, he was a content, cheerful baby. Even an easy baby. And the fact that he didn't walk until after his first birthday (still within the range of typical!) made taking him places easier -- he was happy to hang out in the sling with me, didn't have a need to be exploring his environment.

How lucky we were to have such an amazing baby! (And at least we were right about that part!!)


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