That familiar feeling: things are starting all over again. The wife and oldest son going off to school. Me, I’m not going anywhere, neither is 2yo G. We are going to play, read, eat snack, I’ll do a little housework, at some point go upstairs and get dressed, but then get trapped building train tracks. Finally, we’ll make it to the car and drive around until G falls asleep.
That’s how it went today and will go by and large until mid-June when the old lady’s school year ends. It’s an amazing gig–my job is to literally keep my toddler entertained all day and sometimes it’s really enjoyable. There are sweet moments like when G sits in my lap and we read his little books.
There are of course frustrating moments, like every time he throws a fit. Also frustrating is the lack of activity coupled with the knowledge that the rest of the world is busy out there, commerce is going on, holes are being dug and filled, buildings erected, lives saved and lost, books written, stocks traded, etc. I am part of none of it, barricaded in this little box with my tiny son.
These are the thoughts that run through my head, even while we play, but then G–with his blond bangs and blue eyes–will smile at me or give me and hug and the doubts and uncertainty temporarily vanish. I chose to do this largely because I couldn’t stand the idea of having a stranger raise my kid, at least not just yet. Soon enough, we’ll both be on our own, out in the world, trying not to be devoured.
One of the most enduring stories of my childhood–one that my parents liked to tell regularly all through my life–was that I breastfed until I was two-and-a-half years old. My father would always finish the story by saying that he knew it was time to cut me off when I started walking up to my mom and saying, “I want to nanny-suck.” My parents always laughed at this point, sometimes whoever was listening would laugh, too, sometimes they just got a queasy look on their faces. I usually just sat there smiling, I didn’t really see any harm in breastfeeding that long, why not?
Now that I have a 19-month-old that is still breastfeeding I have two reactions to this story. First of all, I don’t think it was exactly true. I may have said that and that may have been why they decided to stop but there’s no way I was a full year older than my son is now when I quit breastfeeding. I know that because my year-and-half old already walks around talking about how he wants to “eat boo-boos” all the time. Occasionally, this involves my wife sitting on a child’s chair with her shirt hiked up while G stands and feeds.
It’s a strange sight (and not the strangest, but I can’t and won’t go into it) and a little unseemly and has us both thinking about when and how we are going to move G on. Quite honestly, I don’t’ see how my parents could have taken 30 months of breastfeeding. In fact, I don’t see how any parent could because it’s starting to get weird around here.
Over the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the differences between my newly four-year-old B and my almost one-year-old G. For instance, G has more of a sense of humor than B did at that age, but B also seemed more independent at that age. When you spend as much time with your kids as I do it becomes almost an anthropological thing.
Regardless, it hadn’t occurred to me until a few days ago how I might be different, too, how I might have changed as a father. Perhaps that difference is even bigger than the one between G and B as babies.
When I was put in charge of B almost four years ago I had absolutely no idea what to do with him. I knew where to stick the bottle, and how to change a diaper, but that was about it. And I really hadn’t been around a baby in decades, but like countless parents I just found what worked for the both of us, and I have to give credit to B. I threw a lot of stuff his way that a lesser person might have wilted under, but he’s a tough little cuss, maybe because he had to be.
This time around, I kind of have a “eff it” attitude. All the stuff that you have to deal with a baby just isn’t phasing me that much anymore (although, admittedly, every thing with the four-year-old is). In fact, I find myself often just telling the baby to calm down. “It’s not that big of a deal, man,” I say as he loses it at every little thing. Four years ago, I was like him. I might have had a near stroke as I tried to get B to stop fussing.
How will that affect G differently? I think kids really feed off their parents’ energy. As little beings trying to figure out their way in the world, they are trying to not only survive but also thrive and as a result condition themselves around the major influences in their lives, in my kids’ cases, some big man with too much anxiety and hair on his face, and a smaller, kinder woman. A more calmer me might mean a more balanced child.
At the same time, I don’t want to overstate my place in my kids’ lives. Heredity plays a big part, too, and perhaps that’s one reason G has stressed me out a lot less. I think B might have too much of me in him, and maybe that’s why we’ve always butted heads. Lord knows one of me is enough.
As a parent, it’s almost your job to worry about your child’s development, especially when they’re babies. For months, we’ve been waiting for baby G to grow teeth and crawl, by the week, even day, growing more and more concerned. We’re able to compare him to his older brother who was already crawling weeks before when he was that age. Then there are the external pressures, the people that have asked us for months, “Oh, is he getting his teeth?” And there are their peers. Little baby Jimmy, two houses up the street, already has five teeth. Finally, there are the so-called experts who put theories out there, like the one that ties brain development to mobility. As the months, weeks, and days went by and G refused to crawl we grew more worried. What was wrong? Why wouldn’t he crawl? Will he have trouble reading later on?
Then, a few weeks ago, lo and behold a tooth poked through his bottom gum. Now he’s got three. Most importantly, sometime last week G just up and started crawling. Now, he seems like a natural at it. Yesterday, he wanted a toy of his brother’s and crawled across the floor to get it. His Mama and I sat and watched. When he finally got there, we cheered and he sat up and joined in, laughing with us. We were all excited, and relieved. Now we can quit worrying about that, but I wonder when he will start walking. When will he talk?
Seven months ago today, Baby G was born. Even though it was only three years ago that his brother was the same age, I’d forgotten what babies were like, and more specifically what a great age G’s at right now. In their first few months, you constantly worry about them and there’s not a whole lot of interaction. In short, babies aren’t that much fun early on. Then around six months there’s a transformation.
There was a moment a few weeks ago where I said to Mama, “He’s a little person now.” G has his own personality, his own likes and dislikes, quirks and traits. He’s really the nicest little guy, always smiling and laughing whenever he’s tickled and he’s ticklish everywhere. Quite often, he doesn’t even require tickling, just kiss his belly and he’ll laugh. He also loves human interaction, which I would assume most babies do, but you can never be sure. One brother of mine is about as social as the Unabomber and it started when he was around this age, even as a baby he hated to be kissed. G is the other way around, he craves human touch, which is great considering he has the world’s chubbiest cheeks and a ginormous head that is perfect for smooching.
Even his traits that should be annoying or even provoke anger are endearing and adorable. For instance, G has taken to waking up between 9 and 10pm when Mama and I are downstairs reading or watching TV, just trying to decompress before going to bed. Suddenly we will hear little baby gurgles or grunting from upstairs. Last night I volunteered to go grab him, mainly because I love to be on the receiving end of the ear-to-ear smile he flashes when he sees me. Then I bring him down to his Mama who he also grins at, but once her breast is in his mouth he’s back out. I watch him as he suckles and think how great it is to have a baby again. I forgot how much I like them.