I had a bit of a revelation the other day. Don’t get too excited, it was one of those total “duh,” moments where something you’ve been trying so hard to figure out just kinda suddenly comes into focus.
I’ve been thinking so hard about how to enjoy this whole baby having process. Not the labor part, mind you. I’m not that much of an optimist. I expect that part to be rough. What I mean is the first few months that people so often to refer to as “survival mode.”
Something about that term has always seemed so depressing to me. Like there’s no other choice but to turn into a wacked-out, sleep deprived, leaky-boobed zombie while you count down the hours of the day until the baby goes to sleep again. I don’t want that. I don’t want to waste those precious first few weeks lamenting all the things I’ve lost- sleep, hair, modesty. I want to beat the odds and find a way to be present and relish in all the beautiful moments that come amidst the hardness.
I’ve been thinking so hard about all of this and trying so hard to figure it out, when I suddenly realized I was already doing it. With my dog.
Now I’m not trying to pretend that my 11 month old puppy is the same as having a newborn. At this point he’s potty trained, mostly sleeps through the night and doesn’t usually cry incessantly (unless he thinks we are going to visit his “cousin” Shadow). He doesn’t require carrying, I don’t have to feed him with my body and I didn’t have to give birth to him. Not the same.
But I did spend some sleepless nights getting up to teach him how to use the bathroom. I’ve spent more 2 a.m.’s than I’d like to admit cleaning up some form of bodily substance. I’ve taught him tricks and commands, which he may or may not choose to follow. I’ve fished countless dead mice out of his throat and I’ve chased him across a grass field, desperately crying out his name and begging him to come inside. We’ve had moments of absolute love and affection and moments when I, shamefully, have taken great pleasure in banishing him to his kennel.
Last week was a tough one. He’d been sick and up several nights in a row, throwing up around 2 a.m. He pooped on the floor, which maybe only happened once or twice when he was a puppy, and is really just the most disgusting thing ever. He’d been jumping up on the counter and stealing food. Stealing things out of the garbage and spreading them all over the house. I’d washed his bed and collar at least three times. I’d had it.
I was so frustrated with him that, embarrassingly enough, my husband made a comment about the way I was treating him. I was humiliated.
And then, to make matters worse, we dropped him off at a kennel for four days while we went on vacation.
Mom guilt, the struggle is real.
Despite the fact that I sobbed the entire 20 minute drive from the kennel to our rental house in Sisters- pregnancy hormones, man- I think the time apart brought me some much needed perspective.
All the hard stuff about “raising” Cash, and it has been hard, and smelly, maddening, disgusting and exhausting. All the hard stuff is also why the good stuff is good.
Like how he’s finally started to come inside when called. How he’s figured out that being a labrador retriever includes actual retrieving. How he meets me at the bottom of the stairs in the morning and jumps headfirst into my ever-shrinking lap for a snuggle. How he walks three miles by my side every morning, stops at all the right places and works so hard at resisting the siren song of the neighbor’s dog as we pass by. How he lays his head in my lap in the evenings and reaches up to give me a kiss when I rub his velvet ears.
When we picked him up Sunday afternoon, I felt released from the burden of being the “angry mom” I’d been the week before. We had a fresh start and I was determined to show Cash the respect and patience he deserves.
And the last couple days, being Cash’s mom has been an absolute joy. I’ve found myself saying “please” and “thank you,” and gently reminding him of the rules instead of making harsh demands when he heads for the garbage. I’ve found myself reaching down to pet him when he wanders by, just because I love him. I’ve taken him with me to run errands and realized I’m thinking up things for him to do just because I think he might enjoy them.
Even though I still have to do things I’d rather not- clean up the four Costco boxes he shredded and spread all over the living room, deal with the dog hair in the tub from his Sunday night bath, and force antibiotic eye drops into his eyeballs every morning and night- for some reason, it feels different. Instead of wishing the days away, I’m realizing that I’ll never have this same experience again in my life. My first dog, at eleven months old, being every bit the crazy teenage pup that he is.
And that’s how I’m going to enjoy this baby.
By remembering that I get one or two chances to do this in my lifetime and those first three months with this kid, no matter how grueling they may prove to be, are literally a once in a lifetime experience. Not that I have to be perfect, and not that I won’t forget now and again and spend a few days in zombieland, but I think if I can set my sights on that fundamental truth, me and this kid, well, I think we’re going to be okay.
Because amidst the diapers, breast pads, witch hazel and lanolin, sleep deprivation, exhaustion and inevitable frustration of first-time parenthood, amidst all of that hardness will be the beauty of watching this little person spend the first days of their life.
The hard stuff is why the good stuff is so good.