Parenting a Newborn, in Three Acts

23 Jan

Our daughter, Annabelle Gwendolyn Speed, was born at 8:32 a.m. on Jan. 10, 2012, and I sure love her.

When they put the wiggling, wide-eyed little girl on my stomach moments after she arrived, I looked down at her and saw the most gorgeous human being I’d ever laid eyes on. I had expected myself to be more superficial, analyzing her looks and trying to determine if she were objectively attractive or not and hoping I’d be able to attach emotionally right away.

Instead, it was clear the second I saw her that there would be no objective way to view her.

I saw somebody tiny and brand new, and somebody who was a part of me. A stranger on the one hand, she also felt like somebody I had known forever. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able adequately to explain the familiarity I felt with that mere seconds-old creature.

Since those first exhilarating days, during which I had something quite the opposite of the Baby Blues and more like a sort of Baby Euphoria (which partly derived from the knowledge that the dreaded Labor and Delivery had gone smoothly and were behind me), the initial excitement has transformed into a more tempered sort of happiness that has been peppered with some extremely challenging moments as well.

What most stands out to me about the newborn days so far is their cyclical nature, rotating through three stages over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and … you get the point. These are tedious – if precious – first weeks.

It all starts with the …

1. BLISSFUL STAGE

During the Blissful Stage, Annabelle is either peacefully asleep or “quiet, alert,” observing the world around her. We feel like she is literally a doll come to life – a perfect, innocent little being whose primary role is to be cute and snuggly. In complete awe of the life we’ve created, we feel like we could stare at her for hours. But of course we can’t, because we need to take advantage of the …

2. GIT’R DONE STAGE

Annabelle is still sleeping but we know our time is running thin, so we have to compress all that we used to do in a typical day into the few sacred minutes we have to ourselves. It’s time to make dinner or clean up or take a shower or post photos to Facebook (I actually count that as “productive”). It’s a lot of pressure to take care of everything in the few free half-hours we have scattered around the clock. But tend to the chores we must because around the corner, staring us down, is the dreaded …

3. CRYING, SCREAMING, “WHAT HAVE WE DONE?” STAGE

Suddenly all hell breaks loose, and I’m not exaggerating. Annabelle pulls out all the stops: purple face, bleating cry, quivering lower lip, flailing arms. I’m sure it’s old hat to seasoned parents, but our own fragile nerves are so easily shattered. It’s like our daughter is suddenly possessed.

We kick it into high gear, nursing her, changing her, walking laps around the house with her, using mind-control tricks from “The Happiest Baby on the Block” on her. And usually one or some combination of these things works, and just when our sanity is threatening to disintegrate into a puddle of madness, our hard work suddenly pays off and we melt happily back into the Blissful Stage, just in time to remember it’s all worthwhile. It’s all … worth … wh … zzzzzzzzzzzz…..

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The W..A..I..T..I..N..G Game

6 Jan

Yesterday, George glued the missing ear back onto this bunny. We've officially run out of home-improvement projects waiting for our daughter!

I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to write another blog post before this baby was born. But, alas, she is taking her sweet time.

Back at Christmas, a week before my due date, we were hearing from friends and family constantly, everybody eagerly thinking maybe today was the day. But the inquiries have slowed.

After weeks of watching the pot simmer, expecting it to boil any moment, it seems the heat has actually been turned completely off. The closer I get to my scheduled induction, the less likely it seems that my water will break or labor pains will begin.

The most common piece of advice I get these days is to enjoy this time with my husband and bask in the final quiet moments. But let me tell you, when you’re both on school vacation and stuck in small-town Oklahoma for the entire holiday season, enjoying the quiet moments is ALL you do.

I have been cooking nearly constantly – chicken soup with homemade stock, sticky buns that took two days, a wide assortment of experimental dinner recipes and baking projects and comfort food to freeze for later.

We’ve watched tons of movies and a billion episodes of “How I Met Your Mother.” I’ve even streamed some of the Bowl games on ESPN.com, which is completely unlike me. We’re both deeply immersed in our books – “In the Garden of Beasts” for me, and some 700-page tome about 12th century England (France?) for George.

And, most hilariously, the home projects we NEVER thought we’d get to are actually getting done: patching up small holes in the walls, cutting a small piece of wood reinforcement for the sagging shelf under the TV, and even gluing the chipped-off bunny ear back onto a bass figurine that’s been living in the closet for who knows how long.

Baby Girl: Your father is tending to his bass-figurine collection. Arrive already, and save us from this madness!

Nursery Set-Up: All That’s Missing is the Baby!

29 Dec

An early shot of the nursery.

The “nesting” instinct really kicks in when you’re preparing to welcome your baby into the world. You have this sense that you’re about to have the longest house guest you’ve ever had, and you are overwhelmed with the desire to make it a comfortable, happy place for her to live. Before you know it, you’ve put the baby books aside and spent all your time in the oh-so-important pursuit of building an abacus.

Daddy and the Abacus

Since returning to Oklahoma after our summer in New England, we have taken on so many projects it’s ridiculous. We redid the kitchen, with new granite countertops, a new range, sink, faucet, etc. It’s been SO nice to cook and bake more at home.

New Countertops!

We moved the guest room into George’s office and moved George’s office into mine. We tossed and sold some furniture and made way for a nursery. The nursery started as a blank room and slowly transformed into a very special little place for our daughter.

The biggest project was the abacus. Why did we (and by “we,” I really mean George) build an abacus? We don’t really know. I saw one on a nursery blog and really loved it, so I enlisted my husband to do the building. At first, he was hesitant, but within days it became a total obsession that had him out in the garage for hours every night, priming, sanding, painting, drilling and who-knows-what-else-ing until we had a really unique piece of art for our daughter’s wall.

It’s also a nice nod to the Speed side of the family. George’s dad was a math professor for 38 years at Converse College in South Carolina. His mother and sister are both math teachers. Meanwhile, I like the abacus as a funky piece of kitsch that also happens to be pretty to look at. One of our friends suggested we use the abacus to keep track of who does how many diaper changes!

Priming and painting 100 abacus beads

Building the abacus frame.

Placing the beads and closing the frame.

The finished product!

In addition to The Abacus Project, we did the typical decorating and arranging. Crib and changing table. Curtains. Some paint touch-up. Hanging a floating shelf, etc.

We also particularly love the four photos we bought from one of our wedding photographers, Katie Barnes. The nursery colors are (generally) pink and white, so we chose two prints of snow and two of pink flowers. They look so sweet above the crib. To add a little bling for the babe, we got black, glittery mattes (hard to tell in the photo).

Four original photos above the crib. You can't tell, but the mattes are glittery!

My mom made us this Raggedy Ann and Andy hook rug. That was one of my all-time favorite books when I was little.

Love seat and floating shelf with books. George carefully carved through the chair rail to make room for the sconces.

The closet is full of tiny, little clothes and toys — mostly pink (she’d better be a girl as the doctors have claimed)! All that’s missing now is the baby herself. If it were my choice, I’d be pretty eager to be out in this cute, cozy world we’ve made for her — not scrunched up in a surely under-decorated womb!

Come on, Little Girl. We’re ready for you!

Closet full of toys and clothes - what more could a little girl want?

One-Year Anniversary: The Best Father I Could Find

21 Dec

Our New Years Day wedding, 2011: nothing short of perfect.

Forgive me while I gush.

One of the most exciting things to me about entering parenthood is that I will be able to look at our daughter – and any future kids we bear – and know that I have given her the best possible father I could find. I will be able to tell her, “I worked hard not to settle, and as a result, you get a great dad.”

The ability to proudly present your children with an outstanding daddy isn’t necessarily something you think about much when you’re dating, but boy does it reassure you when you take those first steps down the never-ending path of parenthood. Especially when you can’t even see your toes as you walk down said path.

Whether your husband is going to be a total douche through fatherhood (and oh so many husbands are) is one less giant thing to worry about when you are days away from ejecting a squirming, screaming, 8-poundish creature from your body and then holding yourself responsible for her well-being for the next 18 years.

It helps, during those anvil-dropping reality checks, to know that you’ve chosen a mate who will hold your hand in the delivery room, change diapers in the middle of the night, be a comforting force during tearful moments (yours and baby’s), serve as a strong, moral compass during the shaky growing-up years and stand up for whatever your family needs through every upcoming stage. It helps to know that you genuinely like the guy.

A year ago this New Year’s Day, George and I were married at a small, stone church in Newton, Mass. It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon in the 50s, with the perfect blanket of snow left over from a blizzard days before. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. No jackets. No pantyhose. No cold, red ears to ruin the pictures.

After a lovely ceremony, we celebrated our nuptials at the All-Newton Music School. Instead of the traditional dance party, we opted for a “cabaret,” where our incredibly talented friends and family performed a series of “acts.”

They entertained us with clarinet, piano, guitar, voice, violin, flute, cello and trumpet. There were original lullabies and a short play and three unforgettable toasts. The food satisfied, the decorations were handmade and stunning, and nearly everybody stayed until the very end. We didn’t spend much money, as far as weddings go, but we’d like to think we provided an original and meaningful affair for everybody there. It will forever be one of our greatest memories as a couple.

While we would have loved a year or two or ten to bask in our romance before bringing children into our family, we also knew we wanted kids and didn’t necessarily want to put it off. We started trying and, as George often likes to marvel, “It worked!”

Now here we are, a year into our marriage, and it looks like we’ll be having our first kid before we have our first fight – although I suppose there’s always room for a good, old-fashioned, “I Hate You Why Did You Do This To Me” temper tantrum during delivery. We’ll see!

And even if I do direct my fury toward my poor husband during those hours of unbearable pain and frustration, I will know that mere moments later, our daughter will be resting in her dear father’s arms, and I will look over and know that she is a lucky, lucky, lucky little girl.

The Romantic Era: So Far, My Child Is Perfect

21 Dec

Pregnant ... with good intentions.

Editor’s Note: I wrote this on another blog Aug. 6, so some of the info is outdated (e.g. we know now that we’re having a girl)!

I’m 19 weeks pregnant with my first child, which I have come to see as the Romantic Era of parenthood.

With the I Hate My Life, Everything Makes Me Want to Vomit Era well behind me now, and the I Can’t See My Feet, All My Joints Ache Era still in the somewhat distant future, I can sit back and relax in my stretchy pants and empire-waist dresses, eating handfuls of bonbons, without guilt, and dreaming of cuddling up with a snuggly little bug in a onesie who coos when she hears my voice.

Not only am I physically well for the first time in months, but there seems no limit to my fantasies about how perfect and amazing parenthood will be.

Today I told my husband (who actually IS perfect beyond my wildest fantasies) that I imagine us with a child who breezes through the ages of 2 and 3 without ever being remotely “terrible.” And my husband agreed, himself suggesting that perhaps we will have a baby who never cries!

We will simply ask our little one, “Are you hungry?” And he will nod, politely, silently, and we will feed him. A little while later we will say, “Are you tired?” And again, he will nod, and then go down for a long nap without a fuss.

Yeah, right. I know. But in the Romantic Era of pregnancy and pre-parenthood, you can actually let yourself believe these things!

All your questions serve up only the most favorable answers.

Will delivery be torture? No, my experience with childbirth will be miraculously pain-free! Will our child keep us up all night? No, she will be a sleeping prodigy!

We don’t know yet if we are having a girl or a boy, and either seems ideal to us, since we are in the Romantic Era.

If it turns out to be a boy, our son will, of course, grow up to be the consummate gentleman, just like his daddy. Holding doors and saying “please” and “thank you” without prompting. He will be good at sports without ever wanting to run in the house.

If it’s a daughter, she will look adorable in pigtails and be a superb tea-party host to her dolls and stuffed animals. She’ll speak comfortably with adults without ever clamoring for attention.

Our parenting, also, turns out to be flawless in our Romantic Era fantasy.

We imagine that we right all the wrongs of our own upbringings. We will strike the perfect balance of loving and strict. We will always be consistent with discipline and rules. We will put our children first without spoiling them. There will be family dinners every night and no fighting, ever.

Oh, the joys of parenthood when your child is still in the womb!

The only thing that sounds better than the Romantic Era is real life.

In truth, I can’t wait to hear my baby cry. I can’t wait to see my child testing the limits of his world. I’m even sort of looking forward to that annoying phase where they can’t stop saying, “Mommy, Mommy, look at this,” and then you look over and see them doing something totally dumb and unimpressive.

Because as romantic as it is to be 19 weeks pregnant and brimming with idealism, I am so looking forward to the day I hold my baby in my arms and know that she is real — that she is beautifully human and uniquely flawed.

She will have cranky days and character impediments, just like the rest of us. She will keep her poor parents up at night, and there will be many days we want to tear our hair out.

But our child will be unlike anybody we’ve ever known or imagined, and that is what excites us most. He will be perfect because he is not.