I write today from my couch. We’ve finally, after two months, moved out of the bedroom. My daughter is fast asleep in her swing two feet away from me. This is still new, and it still freaks me out, but we are trying it. For the last two months, Violet has been in some sort of human contact for about 23.5 hours a day. Napping in my arms, sleeping at night pressed against me, my chin on the top of her head, or forehead-to-forehead. Laying on the bed while I hover over her, waving toys in her face, watching her track, trying to get her to grip.
I read somewhere that you can’t spoil a baby in the first three months. That babies should be held and cuddled all the time, and that their every cry should be attended to, because at this age, babies don’t have WANTS, they only have NEEDS. Apparently, attending to every cry yields a more confident child, free of anxiety. This made sense to me, and so that’s what I’ve been doing. Lately, though, I’ve realized I’m doing it as much for me as for her.
It’s my maternity leave, so, as I see it, I’m SUPPOSED to be spending every second with the baby. Soon enough, I’ll have to go back to work, and I’m willing to bet, at that time, I’ll wish I could give ANYTHING — you name it — to hold my daughter as she naps on a Tuesday afternoon. Two weeks ago, I tried to get her to nap alone. I sat in the hallway and watched her and cried as she cried, and then, when she fell asleep, I cried because she’d fallen asleep without me. These are not rational thoughts. Motherhood is, above all else, not rational. It is not rational, it is loaded with cliches, and it is full of love, worry, love, worry, love, and worry.
Of course, any number of people think any number of different things. Google is my best friend and worst enemy. Every decision I’ve made, I’ve second-guessed at least a hundred times, and there have been at least ten opinions strongly backing up each avenue. Now there is a fear that she can’t sleep without me. I don’t want to shackle her with my own anxieties, my own irrational clinginess, developed the day she was born. I don’t want to be one of those helicopter parents. I don’t want to be a stage mom. But I am starting to understand the impulses behind such actions.
I’ve lost the ability to judge others, and in doing so, realized how very judgemental I was. Everyone does the best they can. When the worry overtakes me again, I tell myself that over and over: I am doing the best that I can. There is no doubt that this baby-pie is loved.
Two feet away from me, my daughter sways back and forth. It is a small step. Perhaps next week I will sit in the next room, perhaps the week after we’ll work on sleeping without motion, maybe even get her into the crib. Her face is — I can’t help it — ANGELIC. Joanna Newsom is on in the kitchen. From time to time, Violet’s hands raise up gracefully and she conducts, or casts another spell on me. I am flooded with an irrational amount of love, an irrational amount of worry. The screen grows wavy. I keep my fingers on the keyboard and resist the urge to pick her up.
What small steps have you taken lately, Annie?
2012 has so far been for me a year of little changes. I’ve been taking a few small (and occasionally painful) steps toward happiness and self-improvement and general well being. I’ve made some lists. I’ve thought some thoughts. I’ve taken some action. I’ve purchased a gym membership (that’s the painful part).
This is an elliptical machine. It is both my best friend and my worst enemy.
I think a lot about changing my scene, about what small and not-so-small steps I can take to make my life more of what I want it to be. On the larger scale, I think about quitting my (fully decent) job and starting over some place new, some place where I don’t run into people I don’t want to run into, some place where I can go outside and not feel cold all the time. (That’s not a metaphor, I mean it’s literally cold here like 70 percent of the year.) I think about checking back in on old dreams I once had, to see if they feel any lighter than they last did. Maybe this time, if I’m older, if I come at it from another angle, if I work harder, maybe I won’t be disappointed. But these are all grand theoreticals, not actual steps to be taken. These are the framework of steps, or maybe they are the forest, and the steps are the trees.
In terms of steps actually taken, I’ve been futzing with my body, trying to find the right combination of diet, exercise and medical care to bring it back under my control. I have long ignored my health, “let myself go”, if you will, and my small steps this year are very much about getting back to feeling good, and strong, and young. Hopefully this will lead me into an intrinsic happiness. Mental health is a direct result of physical health, I have decided. For me, at least. I mean, I realize there are probably very miserable people out there in the world who are also very healthy but if I continue on in that line of thinking I’ll never accomplish anything. So I’m taking small steps to get my systems in better shape. It seems to be working, I’ve lost a bit of weight and I feel more alert and perhaps also less bored, because I spend some of that previously wasted mental energy planning meals and workouts and analyzing my carbohydrate intake and arguing with myself about dunking those girl scout cookies in a pint of Guinness and whether it’s worth it or not. I actually feel sort of gross and unhappy when I eat something that I know is derailing my progress, which is a HUGE change for me. I used to associate a bucket of fried chicken with completion and happiness and now I associate it with guilt and stomachaches (and still a little happiness). The same goes with exercise: if I skip the gym (which I totally have this week) I feel tired, and like I’m wasting my opportunities. It’s a pretty neat trick, like self-hypnosis.
My mental and emotional health has also been part of the equation, and to this end there’s been a lot of weighing and measuring of friendships and social obligations and familial relationships, and consideration of how I use my time and my brain. I realized I had stopped reading books the way I once had, so I’m spending more time in bookstores and coffeeshops, and less time sleeping in front of the tv. I’ve noticed that certain personal interactions make me feel great, and others make me feel less-than-great, so I’ve tried to portion them out accordingly and soothe the beast inside who tells me that I must be loved by everyone everywhere all of the time. I don’t love everyone everywhere all of the time. I’m pretty sure this is okay. I’m trying to write, and draw, and play the banjo. These are things I’m pretty okay at, and could be better the more I practice. I’m trying not to take unimportant things so seriously, and get serious about the things that ought to be serious.
I still have a long way to go, but I am optimistic. I’m a person who needs horizons, I have to have something to look forward to or my mind becomes listless. I suppose the next goal will be to figure out how to keep a horizon always in front of me. I imagine that will take quite a long series of small steps. Like you, I tell myself that I am doing the best that I can, and strive to keep believing it.