I've come to rely heavily on the effectiveness of breath mints.
Bella is, for the most part, doing ok with all of this. We have some extremely typical behavior: when people come over to see the baby (or hell, to drop off the mail or fix the gutter) she all but pulls out a microphone, cues the spotlight, and starts crooning "Don't You . . . Forget About Me." She started talking in baby talk. Which was at first, was so completely psychologically appropriate as to be hilarious; then it was annoying; and now it's downright rude and unbearable. We had a talk last week after she started in with her violin teacher using high pitched monosyllables. We've had a few more outbursts than usual, a few more efforts to stall moments when she has our attention. These are, however, interspersed with excitement and interest and outright love for her brother. She loves holding him (and is very good (anal?) about making sure you have his head steady before she lets go). She's helped with diaper changes. She kisses him on the head at bedtime. She is desperate for him to start talking ("I'm pretty sure he just said 'Yeah'!") She's starting to take it in stride when we read the comics at breakfast or I read her book at bedtime with a baby attached to my breast. She's taken to calling him by a nickname I was aware of but didn't think we'd use and it's just so effin' cute that I've caught myself saying it too.
We're all getting used to the new being.
This is, frankly, the area where I feel the least amount of good. I miss my unscripted Bella time. She is presently sporting a wide gap where her two top teeth used to be, and when she puts in ponytails and dons her t-ball outfit it's all I can do not to eat her up. I haven't taken nearly enough pictures of her in this place, and her adult teeth are already punching through. I try -- but sadly, some of my limited one-on-one time comes at bad opportunities. Like violin practice, which may in fact be a victim of this whole little brother experiment. We practiced juggling a soccer ball yesterday while I held a milk-drunk infant (it can be done!). And I tell her as often as I can, for my sake as much as hers, that it won't always be like this. Yes, now there will always be another family member to coordinate around, but he won't always be glued to my breast, my patience won't always be so thin, I won't always be such a tired bitch. I don't want this point to be the nascent beginnings of that mommy/daughter conflict that runs through history. I tell her as often as I can that I love her. I spend as much alone time as I can afford with her, even it means giving up my shower (or worse, taking my unshowered self to pick her up at school or take her to ballet).
And I realize, I felt all this before, but couldn't articulate it, couldn't bear to let the words leave my lips lest I burst into tears (again), and she most likely wouldn't have understood anyway. We weathered a massive maternal distraction before, and by gum, we'll do it again.
Dude, I LURVE having the new baby around, why do you ask?
I am not fond of this stage. And let me say up front, I also don't believe that infertility or a deadbaby precludes one from complaining a bit about how hard live babies can be. I believe you need to vent that steam valve, people, or else the guilt and the hang-ups just build until you're one weirded-out mama. Motherhood is complicated, what with the cute and torturous sleep-dep, the cuddling and the stench of 72 hours sans shower, the first smiles and the shrug when he cries because you really just need to go the bathroom. NOW. Yes, you can be grateful and happy and at the end of your rope and fucking bitchy all at once! Come, let me show you!
My point was . . . oh right. This stage is not my favorite. So. Going through old clothes, I saw that someone had bought Bella a onesie that said something to the effect of "If they could just stay little." No. Just, no. I like my kids walking, talking, and using the toilet. Dressing themselves is also a big bonus. I gave the onesie and a diaper to Bella so she could practice dressing her bear.
The fussiness reached fever peak last week with a long scream session and I was convinced that we were dealing with reflux and decided right then and there to chuck dairy. Which is taking a few days to thoroughly wean from my diet (and I guess takes a week for my system to axe anyway) and yet boom, everything normalized within 12 hours and baby is fine (going on day four of fine), showing moments of happiness during awake time even. I was actually able to get a picture of him smiling, and not from gas. So now I'm thinking probably not the dairy, but I'm going to go ahead and ditch it anyway and slowly intro back in just to see if it helps. He's also that mystery age where "colic" (boy, that's a loose term if ever there was) begins to dissipate. Who the fuck knows. Babies cry.
Having said that, he still refuses to be put down to go to sleep and ergo is spending inordinate amounts of time in the carseat (the preferred hands-free place of recline), the front facing sling, and on my chest. And before you start the chants of "Swaddle!" I just re-read an email I sent to someone my second night in the hospital where I pointed out that even in his super-industrial hospital swaddle enforced with duct tape that he began to fuss and cry the millisecond someone set him down horizontally in his bassinet. I'm thinking he's just a fusspot who likes his parental contact.
Which means I could be in serious trouble here.
I must have been HIGH (HIGH!) to think I could've dealt with an infant and a 2.5 year-old. (HIGH!) That age gap (two and a half) was not really my preferred choice, but Bella was so late in coming (two years) that I figured we'd better start in with the second before my already slow-to-eject eggs became scrambled. Mr. ABF wasn't a huge fan of the close age gap either; he and his brother never really clicked (and woo boy, look at 'em now) and I remember some testy conversations about making sure the kids got their space and weren't forced to do activities together and share friends and whatnot.
And look how that turned out.
So now we're dealing with a 5.5 year gap and it's STILL really hard, but ohmygod, how nice that she can get ready for school by herself, and feed herself, and brush her own teeth, and GO TO SCHOOL and leave me with a few hours to deal with Mr. Fussybritches. It's a dream to know she can get in/out of her carseat without help. She can get her own drink at dinnertime, help set the table (albeit with a sidetrack of whine), and help water the garden, and what was I thinking that I could've done this when she was a toddler? A toddler who still couldn't use the toilet and didn't go to school? A toddler who DIDN'T NAP?!
I shudder. I realize that part of my zen about this era of sleeplessness is that I've been through it before and know it will end, but also that I can often deal with baby one-on-one. And I feel . . . well, not sure how I feel. I'm not big into counterfactual history and sitting around wondering what would have happened if the South had won or JFK survived, so I'm also not big on wondering what would have happened had a terminally ill child somehow been born healthy or otherwise have lived. It didn't happen that way. It happened this way. So I guess I go forward, thankful for the small things time has afforded me.
I wish it afforded me a shower more often, though.
Mr. ABF pointed out that there are two types of congratulations; there are the ones from people who know the backstory, which are met with exhales and smiles when I proclaim myself to be "tired yet relieved." And there are those where we simply say "thank you," and the other person has absolutely no idea what mental gymnastics we went through to get here. To them we are simply another couple who had another baby which is obviously the most normal routine thing in the universe.
I have been invited to join a new and soon-to-be parents group on the street in back of my house seeing as come fall there will be six new babies including my own. While I rejoice in the ease of future playgroups and playdates, I admit to being a bit nauseated when faced with the prospect of frequent brunches with a group of parents -- some who know, some who don't -- who want to chat baby exclusively.
Truth is, I'm still really squeamy about babies even though I have one.
I'm not sure what it is -- like I said above, I don't deny parents the right to bitch and moan a bit about sleeplessness or their birth experience or the pros/cons of cloth diapers, regardless of their live/dead baby ratio. I can't really go through life with the mindset that I will only ever be comfortable around other parents who've experienced similar -- hell I've already become great friends with parents who haven't, and I'm not going to deny my child friendships because I've got a hang-up. Maybe it's a bit that I don't want to rain on the parade, maybe it's the whole optimism of new life that I can't relate to.
Maybe it's that they're firmly here, on this side, able to move forward through the maze of first-year issues while I'm still getting banged on the head with a frying pan of reality: it worked. He made it. He's here. I'm not here yet, but he is. Breathe. Just breathe.
I also think it's the tricky ability to see the future. I have no idea how a pregnant woman can join this group (and a few have). I have no idea how you now look at an infant and think, "He could be drafted by the Phillies someday!" when I'm reluctant to buy clothes for him six months in advance. I think I'm ok with older kids, it's the babies. Babies don't do much, and they certainly don't reciprocate the love and attention dished upon them; parents instead do this themselves by projecting into that future where the baby smiles when s/he sees you, and hugs you, and presents you with hand-drawn artwork, and signs a major league contract. I'm having trouble projecting, I'm very firmly in the now having only just committed myself to coaching soccer again this fall -- the most forward planning thing I've done in over three years.
I'm having to drag myself kicking and screaming to this side. It's not that I don't want to be here, I just can't possibly think it will turn out ok. I got burned last time, and I've learned not to touch the hot pot. It's hard to deaden the nerves and go ahead and pick it up and splatter soup on the walls while laughing and screaming, "Who gives a Fart!"
Not there yet. But he is.