by Joanna Waggoner
This is the world of a new baby.
Sight: Hazy, nebulous images
Sound: Loud, alien noises
Smell: Strong, keen scents
Touch: Light, soothing sensations
Taste: Sweet, filling, liquid
This is the joy of a new parent.
Sight: Angelic, peaceful countenance
Sound: Quick, rhythmic breathing
Smell: Fresh, clean fragrance
Touch: Soft, bundled warmth
Taste: Tender, gentle kisses
From the onset, I had a very skewed understanding of what it actually means to be a parent. I clearly was misinformed as to what it entailed to care for a child on a regular, daily basis. My ideal, unfortunately, was based on my mother and father's scant retellings of my own babyhood and adolescence, which honestly, I think I positively tweaked for obvious personal reasons.
I must admit, their withholding of pertinent childcare information was a source of much anger and hostility from me toward them both; that is, until I realized that perhaps neither of them actually knew anything more
than me upon becoming parents. So, I put aside my righteous resentment, and set about to be the best parent ever.
Now if all there was to caring for a child was the changing of diapers, coupled with feeding times, baby baths, and the periodic rewinding of the rocking swing – I might have been fine. Or put another way, had my baby stayed an infant forever, I would have been none the wiser as to my own inadequacies and incompetence. Yet,
that's just not how it works, really. In fact, day by day, the soft bundle of warmth desired more and more sweet filling liquid, and his angelic peaceful countenance often let out a loud, alien noise of its own making. As I quickly found out, a baby does not stay a baby for very long. And, initially anyway, I was relieved! Free from the endless hours of washing, feeding, cleaning; free from the constant second guessing and fretful worry, free from sleepless nights and haggard mornings; yes, I was free, at last, to reclaim my life – no longer at the mercy of my baby's stringent need for routine and predictability.
Yes, free, free, until I realized, that it's all about change – change from newborn care to toddler hygiene, change from crying to smiling to da-da and ma-ma, change from diapers to clothes, change from milk to solid food, change from coddling to fostering the first steps of self-sufficiency, change, actually, from holding on to the beginnings of letting go.
And that's when it hit me. Parenting, as it turns out, is not just a physical labor, nor strictly mental or even emotional. In fact, my new found freedom had led me full circle, and I came face to face with the spiritual heart strings that had been an integral piece of every moment thus far with my baby. And suddenly the longing for the fresh, clean fragrances associated with all things baby and the need for the light soothing sensations that calmed and nestled his little body closer to my own took on an entirely different meaning. The quick rhythmic breathing was not solely his little heart working, but more so my own, beating in wild fascination at the wonder and awe of him. And those strong, keen scents that he breathed in each day, I now saw as gifts of comfort and security - safeguards he had counted on in his strange new world.
What I had discovered was that even if my two parents had been the most loving creatures on the face of the earth, loving another is truly an individual endeavor. The truth is one discovers how to love all on one's own. And loving a baby, while it may, as in my case, have started as a mechanical exercise of endless multi-tasking, that's not how it inevitably ended up.
For somewhere during the course of strained peas and regular doctor visits, those hazy nebulous images of who we were to one another, grew, with love and many tender, gentle kisses, ultimately changing us both into who we are meant to be: My baby into a man one day, and me, into the parent I always hoped I could be.