Ah, newborns. Just when Jack had finally convinced me that he was settling into a schedule and sleeping through the night, he woke up at 4:58 am. On the plus side, the snow outside looks rather pretty bathed in moonlight.
Joshua is very excited about going out to play in the snow today; I’m looking forward to it, too. Winter and fall are my favorite seasons, and snow just ices the cake. I haven’t the slightest idea what to do with Jack, though. Yeah, I can bundle him up in thirty-five layers of clothes, snow suits, and blankets, but I still have to hold him or put him somewhere. The former leaves me at a significant disadvantage in snowball fights. The latter just seems like bad parenting. “Here, kid. You sit here and watch while your brother and I have fun and pretend you’re not around.” Granted, he can’t participate, anyway, but the guilt is there. Then again, with him up so early, perhaps his morning nap will run long enough to give Joshua and me some decent time outside. It’s still guilt-ridden time, but at least Jack’s doing something productive.
Babies aren’t much fun. They can be cute at times, when they’re not screaming at you or leaking from any or all bodily orifices, but they don’t do much. You can hold them and read to them, talk to them, and give them little “work-outs” by stretching their arms and legs, but that’s about all. Interaction is hard to come by. It’s sort of like having a pet rock when you get right down to it — a very, very stressful pet rock that will, without provocation or warning, expel its last meal onto your shoulder, or worse.* Jack divides his day about three ways. There’s sleeping, which is frequent, though not always so long. There’s eating, which seems to be as much a chore for him as it is for me. (Twice now I’ve asked the pediatrician about any physical deformities in his mouth because he is really, really bad at sucking on things. Twice she’s found none. Nonetheless, Jack never did figure out how to latch on for breastfeeding, his pacifier spends more time out of his mouth than in, and he still has trouble sucking on bottles every now and then. In the wild, this kid would have starved to death by now.) And there’s being worn on my chest while I do other things, so long as those things don’t involve bending at the waist. Not that you ever have to do that with a pre-schooler around.
Just a few generations ago, babies were almost universally considered a blessing. Even today, fertility is a gigantic sub-section of the medical industry. And yeah, without question, having a baby sleep on you is unparalleled in the entire realm of human experience. Nothing at all can stop your day and make everything else seem irrelevant quite like that. This is the image that ought to accompany tranquility in the dictionary. But then they wake up and yell at you. The thing is, babies aren’t babies for long, and I’m rather happy about that. I don’t like babies. Jen doesn’t either. I think I like just a smidgen more autonomy in my progeny. I’m not saying they need to drive or pay down a mortgage or anything. Just, you know, walk from one place to another without going head-first into a wall/table/fireplace.
There are, I think, two huge milestones that don’t really get talked about enough with babies. Sleeping through the night is one of them, but not in the way that doctors talk about it. Medically, a five-hour stretch of sleep from midnight to 5:00 am is considered “sleeping through the night.” And yes, that’s a big step up from waking up every two hours. But I’m talking about really sleeping through night on a bonafide, honest to God, set your watch by it, schedule. The kind where you put them in bed at a certain time every night and then you don’t see them again until a certain time the next morning. This is the first huge milestone in that it marks the resumption, however abridged, of a personal life for the parents. Besides, you can just handle things better with a full night’s sleep than you can with five hours.
The second huge milestone is when they can play on their own with more limited supervision. Joshua hit this one around six months, I think. Time’s a little fuzzy, but I’m in the ballpark. He could sit up, hold his own toys, and generally focus his attention on them without me feeling a constant need to keep a hand on his back so that he didn’t take a header onto the floor, or to play every baby’s favorite, crap-tastic game of dropping things because they forgot how to hold on to them and then getting upset about it. (This is different from when they intentionally drop things to test out that whole gravity thing.)
Those two milestones, taken together, not only make it easier for parents to feel a bit more human, but also for parents to feel like they have a tiny human living with them, and not a pet rock or a hamster. I’m a pretty good dad, and I love what I do, but neither of those things was true when Joshua was only a few weeks or months old. Parents of babies can attest that you’re little more than a robot that responds to different commands and programs. You just react to things. There’s very little pro-active parenting, no real activities to enjoy, and not a lot in the way of experiences to share. Some people eat that up and want nothing more than to keep making babies so they’ll always have one around. More power to them. I’m just not one of them.
*When Joshua was very little, I made the rookie mistake of picking him up over my head shortly after he had eaten. He spat up in my mouth as I was making faces at him. Sometimes, no matter how much I brush my teeth or use mouthwash, I can still taste it, years later.