Sometimes I feel like I am swinging on an out-of-control pendulum, back and forth between various extremes of common parenting challenges. In the beginning, I have a baby, and her every need must be met, but slowly and surely she gains independence, masters movement, crawling, cruising, walking, jumping, dancing. Then another baby is added to the mix. I have one who hardly needs carrying, and the other who always does. My eldest begins to communicate, and it's oh-so-exciting! But the barriers that still remain become painfully clear. And my little one is still so terribly needy, as my elder prepares for new and different challenges with which to present me. Finally- baby steps with the baby. He learns to sit up. He begins (just a tad) to regulate his sleeping. He can play independently. He can give me a few minutes to myself. But my oldest has continued to move forward- she's defining her interests and desires, and she's learned to make herself heard.
And here I sit. So close, so very close to managing some sleep at night. Every night has been a little different, but a pattern is steadily emerging. Three-to-four hours before a bottle is required. Then, three-to-four more. And, blessedly, often even a couple of more after that second feeding.
In the daytime, the fussiness is greatly reduced. He is, in the playful words of Great-Aunt Marcia, my "zen baby." He is calm, happy, focused. That is, when his big sister isn't pushing him to the floor out of some newly discovered fascination with cause and effect. He is napping regularly (though not always for long). He is eating without a battle. He is gaining (two pounds since last month- just over 19 lbs as of Friday).
I start to feel as though maybe I can breathe again. Not those short, desperate breaths that follow a sprint or distance-run, but slow, deep, calming ones.
It is not to be. I am entering new territory with Abigail, and I often feel completely lost in it.
At the play date that I attended on Thursday, another mother commented to me that she missed the stage that Michael is in, when you could leave the baby to sit quietly, and feel confident that he or she would not be making mischief as soon as your back was turned. I smiled in agreement- that was a bonus of the age, after all- but internally I was thinking that I would trade her in an instant. This was an easy reaction to feel while Abby was happily distracted amongst her playmates. My mind was free to zero in on the fresh memories I had of Michael's daily needs, which include having to physically move him from place to place, being intricately involved in every feeding, working tirelessly to get him to go to sleep, and stay that way, and being in constant danger of getting covered in bodily fluids of all types when in close contact with him (to name a few). No, in that moment (and in many other moments before, and probably to come), I pegged Abby as the easier child. And I chuckled to myself, that my friend had likely forgotten all of the many ways in which Michael's age was really harder to deal with.
But the challenges of parenthood are never that simple. I should know this by now. I've heard, so many times before, that it doesn't really ever get easier- just different. Oh, how true I am finding that to be.
I've come to realize that the behavioral changes I have noted in Abigail of late have been appearing too frequently to be discounted as "off-days" or flukes. It is with a heavy heart that I have accepted that we are indeed entering a new stage in her development, and I feel wholly unready.
I've tried to cling to the hope that if we can just bridge the gap in communication, if we can just get our needs and wants across more clearly, it will all be okay. But I'm not so sure anymore. I read parenting stories like this one, and I have to admit to myself that communication itself is not the cure-all that I am desperately hoping for it to be. I need to face the harsh reality that my daughter is becoming incredibly more of her own person each day, and that means agendas and thought processes that are not only separate from mine, but likely foreign to my understanding. It means the development of a need to test boundaries, which I must be ready and willing to set and enforce. It means learning to tap into reserves of patience that I'm not even sure that I have, and being prepared to fail, at times, to successfully do so.
I'm already having days like the one that Jill, at Baby Rabies, described in her eloquent post. But I can only begin to imagine the frustration that she feels, having come so very far, and still being so very far from where she wants to be. Established communication and all.
Whatever is in store for me, I know it's going to require a lot more prayer than I've been fitting in lately. I'll definitely need to work on that.
I will say this about Abigail, though: she's just so cool, sometimes I can't stand it.