Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fourth month...

Our friends stop by after midnight with a dozen farm fresh corn and their three beautiful kids, all fast asleep. It's their first time seeing the baby, who is still wide awake as we stand around their car catching up. My husband and I peek in at their kids, who are so big now, and all long and lean. Their youngest has curly hair and sleeps with her heels together like a frog. She must feel absolutely secure in the car between her siblings, and her parents in front. Later that day we have lunch with friends who are adopting a Vietnamese baby boy, currently four months old. They have two pictures, and he has soulful, wise eyes. I am moved, and tear up, perhaps because this boy and mine are a month apart. I tell the mom-to-be that he's beautiful, but of course she knows. After lunch, we say a goodbye to a family we know...we're not sure when we will see them and their child again. These kids, they grow quickly...

We 'project' on the baby, but in a good way, thinking about activities we enjoy that we would like to pass on, like borrowing stacks of library books, boating & fishing, bike-riding, playing in the park, 'camping' in a tent in the backyard (outdoors experience with indoor amenities). It's still early enough that we are still receiving gifts (clothes via Fed-Ex from Singapore!) and 'first-visits' from friends. 

When I bump the back of the baby's head on the change table, he is startled and initially whines, about to cry, but I see that he is also looking closely at me for my reaction, and whether it was intentional. I apologize profusely, and touch him where he hit, and he is reassured. He smiles and starts swatting at a toy. I'm taken by how intelligent he is to assess the situation. I think this is the perfect age, when he is still portable, and alert and affectionate. His cognitive skills are contributing to his physical skills - between repeats of rolling side to side, he pauses to think about the coordination of it. 

I host a play date with my colleague and her daughter. She is unlike any other mom I've seen so far, very matter-of-fact, and rational. She uses cloth diapers, has resumed running competitively, took her four-month old on a long flight, will use a daycare centre after a year, and is doing baby-led weaning. She is  very attuned to her daughter's needs but not so seemingly sentimental...she is a scientist. I have an artist's sensibilities and a child's eye perspective. 

I notice I am already deferring things to do, like Shakespeare in the Park, which isn't (crying) baby-friendly. I have to think we will catch up later on outings when the baby is a child. 

I become fascinated by the trapped Chilean miners, who seem to be doing well. I am a civilian and would not thrive - I would sit in the corner and chew on my hand. 

I create a twitter account @relytwu and my first follower is @polkaroo. 

We head out of town overnight for a wedding - we sit with other parents of young children: our new demographic. I have a conversation with a six-year old, asking her questions for her to think about and respond to, such as her preferences for various activities. She has three younger siblings, so is able to advise me on the developmental stages to look for at each age. 

We dress the baby in scrubs and take him to the doctor September 13 (6.56 kg, 65 cm). 

The Book of TeaWhere the Wild Things Are

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Easter weekend!

All the firsts are special the first year: Father's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now Easter. Holidays are imbued with extra meaning with a baby in tow.

What will ever be as fresh in experience as this first year of parenthood?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Moments and movements and milestones (third month)..

Two-month weight: 4.95 kg. 

I read my novel as the baby sleeps on my arm...When he's not quite awake but hungry he's like a baby bird, opening his mouth and turning his head from side to side, eating air.

The baby is not self conscious. He doesn't check or censor any of his actions. He's new and fresh and natural. He stretches with his whole body upon waking in the morning, arms and legs straight out. He yawns unreservedly. He's figured out he can roll while on his back by kicking up both feet at once to create energy, and then directing that motion by swivelling his hips and swinging an arm or two in the direction he wants to go. He's opening and closing his hands when reaching for things. 

He still seems to do some things more by instinct than by intention, especially feeding-related movement and reflex things to protect himself like the startle reflex or turning his face away from objects approaching his face. He doesn't fight sleep to stay awake like adults do, who might work shifts and use caffeine. He interacts but there isn't any guile. At some point he will start to impose his will and adapt his behaviour to ours. Right now he might protest things or communicate by crying, but he doesn't try to manipulate or charm, to influence or adjust an outcome. I wonder when we will have to start parentingSome of his movements are to develop strength in his arms, legs, neck, and back so he can crawl and walk later. Where I do see more of his intentional behaviour is in social behavior of cooing and smiling, though the language acquisition process is hard-wired to some extent. When I talk to him in three languages he is very intent. 

He has a very long attention span, longer than mine. He can play on his mat if I'm sitting near him for 45 minutes at a time! When he is barefoot and wearing pastel-coloured cotton pants he looks like a retired guy who is going to go play shuffleboard, especially when he sleeps like he's lounging, both arms up at the sides of his head. He favours the starfish or snow angel position, all splayed out.

I remember playing with various small children and how they outlasted me with their energy and capacity for hours of imaginative play. The way to earn the trust of preschoolers is to listen to them well, maintain eye contact, and talk to them properly, waiting for a response. Our family doctor can monitor health, which for kids is about growth and development. Whether the baby grows up to be healthy and self-actualized might be somewhat beyond medicine...

July 31: We ask our close friends, a couple planning to have children, to be his godparents. Neither of us have had godparents, but the idea started to grow on us as our friends became the baby's most consistent visitors outside of family. She especially seemed to have a special bond with him, missing him between visits, and holding him for long periods of time. He looks up at her and falls asleep, secure and untroubled. It will be nice for him, and they, to have each other. 

August 7: We receive our first out-of-country visitors: my aunt and her two daughters and son-in-law! We spend a few hours together....I wish they lived closer. 

August 13: Three months old and he celebrates by sleeping through the night for the first time! 1245-0615. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The second month...

At home with the baby, I'm gaining confidence in taking care of him. I develop small refinements: draping a thin absorbent towel over the nursing pillow; keeping one reassuring hand on him all the time while diapering (as massage therapists do for their clients); wrapping his lower half in a receiving blanket to carry him. There are probably other things I'm not aware of, in how I talk to him, carry him, and also take care of myself. This is mother's intuition asserting itself. Parenting is intuitive and experiential and hands-on, so it's working a different part of my brain and body. At work, I'm used to the theoretical and abstract and thought-based. 

July 1 - I lie with the baby on a hammock strung between two backyard trees, with the leafy canopy above us. When we have company, I see again how he is the training baby for those planning or those trying: he reassures them that they can do it too. 

It is early days yet but I am conscious of how my philosophy of parenting will develop and evolve. A friend mentioned that it was possible to 'mold' your child, but I would like him to be curious...

He's started to look at me more and 'pick me out of a crowd.' He will still allow others to hold him but may look at me with furrowed brow if I'm nearby, or will look carefully at the person holding him. 

July 4 - We have the traditional (Chinese) one-month (+) party! We invite our families, extended families, and one table of our closest friends from church. There is an outpouring of support and an excess of good food! 

July 7 - I'm reading up on teaching American Sign Language to babies. I am most excited about language and cognitive development...I will teach him how to be empathetic and how to spell, play rhyming games and encourage his imagination. My husband will teach life skills like maintaining a car, watering the lawn, feeding and taking care of fish, washing his hair, throwing a football, hooking a worm....Suddenly wondering: do boys colour? I will break out the crayons with him when he's older! 

This baby doesn't have many options now, and therefore no preferences. Later, with greater awareness, he will be able to exercise choice based on experience and knowledge of the world. These are easy times, but later the nuances will reveal his personality, and who he is. 

We are already reminiscing about the day he was born, recalling the details of how we felt: pride; tenderness; protectiveness. This is the balance with a newborn: wanting to show him off and shield him at the same time. 

I order to read:  

The Elegance of the HedgehogAngels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern LifeHow Proust Can Change Your LifeBruno Munari: A Flower with Love (Workshop (Corraini Editore))Bruno Munari: Roses In The Salad (About the Workshop Series) 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Five weeks is a turning point...

In retrospect (five months after the birth), the first two weeks were the most difficult, with recovery from delivery, establishing breastfeeding, doctor's appointments, daily visits and drop-ins from well-wishing family & friends, and the overwhelming emotional bond with the baby. The third week things settle a bit from crisis mode. The fourth week there is greater mutual trust, with the baby meeting you more than halfway, and an interactive process of getting to know each other. At week five, the novelty is still there but we start to regain perspective. 

The nurturing instinct for me was reinforced by seeing how a well-fed baby = a content baby who sleeps well. In my husband's family, food is love...I've only recently understood this. Whenever his mom prepares a meal, or his dad insists on paying the restaurant bill for family gatherings, these acts of provision are to them an ongoing fulfillment of parenting. In my family, books were love...and I gained a deep and abiding love of books. But then, even to this day, I haven't a single 'family recipe' - passed from one generation to the next. My son being born to us will be be both well-fed and well-read! 

When at five weeks we go for a stroll at Ikea I notice we are in a new demographic, the invisible tribe of those with baggage (kids). It's utterly mundane yet incredible to hold a baby or hold the hand of a trusting child. 

I see also that a baby is an object on which hopes and dreams can be projected. I receive a visit from a friend who miscarried - in such a time, it is a comfort to rock a cooing baby to sleep. We have another visit from adoptive parents - I catch a glimpse of the newborn time the mother missed in adopting a 12-month old. We visit my maternal grandmother who is still independently living downtown. There's nearly a century age gap and three generations between great-grandmother and first great-grandchild -  they share a silent moment sizing each other up. 

For my part, at a family gathering, I consider my husband's siblings (and spouses) from the baby's perspective. Dad's oldest brother is most up to talking about history or politics, but is fun and will do tricks and use puns. Dad's second oldest brother remembers the early days and is hands-on, confident in handling the baby. Dad's third oldest brother is the bachelor uncle who chooses infant-size designer clothes and will buy sporting equipment before the child is ready for it. 

At five weeks, the baby shows some understanding of processes (diapering, dressing/undressing, bathing, feeding), and therefore some patience and tolerance. He doesn't exactly smile but he looks with eager anticipation or with bright shining eyes (smiles with his eyes) or frowns or fusses or cries. He has moods but doesn't hold onto grudges. Every emotion is pure and immoderate: he can mellow right out or be set off and be inconsolable (for a few moments). 

The watchful worry of being a parent has taken hold. Every once in a while, as if at a well-baby check-up, I catch myself running through his history in my mind, noting his feeding and sleeping patterns, behaviour, and developmental milestones. I'm thinking about the "10,000 hours" it takes to become expert in something. It didn't take long for the baby to become attached to me, to become a mama's boy  - does time in the womb count? 

We celebrate the first day of summer (June 21) by taking a walk outdoors. We experience a small earthquake (June 23). We use the Wii Fit Plus feature (weigh your pet) and set the baby up as a tail-wagging puppy to try it out. 

The first month...

Oh, but those early days were challenging....The lack of restful sleep meant that the daytime hours cycled between either first-light-of-day hyperawareness or mid-afternoon sluggishness, and the continuous 3 a.m. feedings were a quiet desperation.

But then the baby was staggeringly beautiful, taking my breath away...every movement cat-like in its elegance. At times before he cried he seemed to invoke sadness, scrunching up his face and clenching his fists to embody the emotion.

From birth, the tension begins between the baby's and the mother's needs. Sometimes they are mutual needs: bonding, napping, mother's need to feed / baby's need to be fed. The mantra of 'baby first' is most compelling at the beginning. Mother and baby also become one entity at times, interdependent and emotionally linked. We become a they to others: 'they're feeding,' 'they're sleeping.'

The early days are also the beginning of the near-inseparable bodily contact during the waking hours of the first months. The newborn manages to snuggle back into me while we nap together, even though each time I wake I carefully re-establish some breathing room. He craves contact, lulling movement, warmth. 

I'm already aware that these early days, living moment by moment, will not last.