You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.
Franklin P. Jones
Encouraged by a friend who said she likes to read my writing, I’m taking a shot at dusting off my blog. For the past few weeks, I’ve been on a huge learning rollercoaster with our daughter, born seven weeks ago. At the moment, she’s sleeping in her crib, so I have a few moments to reflect upon some things I’ve learned already.
“Sleeps like a baby” – right!
One of the first things we had to learn as parents is not to jump off our seats and run to the baby whenever she makes a sound. Especially when she’s sleeping. There’s grunting, whining, snorting, moaning, and a range of other graceful and not-so-graceful sounds that reflect the different stages of sleep but do not imply anything’s wrong.
This is adorable during the day, when she’s napping. At night, when I’m trying to sleep, it’s not so adorable. Call it a mother’s instinct or whatever, but I tend to wake up to even the smallest whines and grunts. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s very useful – if there’s a sudden change in the baby’s breathing pattern, I am alert enough to check if something’s wrong. However, when there’s nothing wrong, the baby is breathing and sound asleep (pun intended), it can get just a tad frustrating. A work in progress, this one.
Motivation and obligation
A friend and I talked about the way new parents often seem like they were ‘born to take care of a baby’, in the sense that they look so natural when handling their baby. I suggested that it’s not necessarily about natural aptitude but rather about very intense practice. From the day she was born, we’ve been the ones taking care of her whatever the situation. By the time we left the hospital, we’d both probably picked her up dozens of times and changed what seemed like a mountain of diapers. She was four days old. You get pretty fluent pretty fast.
Another reason most parents become the best parents for their baby pretty quick is the fact that babies cry. It’s one of the only things they actually have control over, so they signal any discomfort by crying. And for many parents (ourselves included) there are few things in this world that spur you into action faster than your own offspring screaming inconsolably. You kinda want to find out what’s wrong and fix it. When you manage to soothe the child, the rewarding sight of a calm baby strengthens the learning experience.
It kind of reminds me of what’s been called the best way to learn a new language: get yourself in a situation where everyone speaks the foreign language, and where you have to find some food and a safe place to spend the night. Even if you think you’re really bad at languages, chances are you’d pick up a handful of key expressions in a matter of days. Again, successes are likely to cause huge surges of positive feelings such as relief, gratitude, feeling safe and connected.
Maybe the rapid learning in these cases is caused by the combination of the two: a strong initiating force and the huge emotional payoff at the end. Plus, of course, repetition upon repetition. If you want to survive a week in a foreign country (or with a newborn, for that matter), one problem-solving situation is just the start.
The whole carpe diem thing
With a newborn, the concept of “I’ll just do this, and then…” flies pretty much out the window. When the baby is awake, it often requires your undivided attention by demanding food, a clean diaper, or other basic comforts. When the baby sleeps, you need to have a slice of your attention directed towards the crib in case the baby voices a demand.
Furthermore, there’s often no telling as to how long the baby will stay asleep. In other words, if there’s something you need to get done while the baby’s asleep, you’d be wise to jump to it as soon as the baby falls asleep. This group of activities includes things like eating, taking a shower, emptying the dishwasher, and going to the restroom. Things that, pre-baby, were blissfully easy to schedule: first, I’ll do X, then I’ll do Y, and then I’ll do Z… but first let me Facebook for a moment. 🙂
Now, there’s a clear hierarchy of priorities: as soon as the baby falls asleep/calms down, I’ll get a glass of water. If I get stuck Facebooking for too long, she might wake up and demand a clean diaper, then food, then burping, and two hours later I notice I didn’t get that glass of water. This whole Do-It-Now thing is no joke.
There’s another side to the carpe diem approach, too. The moments when the baby is awake and alert are a precious few during one day. They are the moments to connect with the baby, sing, read, cuddle, find eye contact and encourage interaction. It feels like such a waste to ignore the baby when she most yearns for connection. And if I try to “get this one thing finished and then” connect with the baby, she might already be too tired or hungry, and the moment is gone.
Of course you can’t catch all of these moments. But you can try.
And you can try to catch those kinds of moments with grow-ups as well. If you feel like saying something beautiful to a friend, say it. Don’t hold back just because “she knows how I feel about her” or “I can’t just say it out loud”.
Thank you so much for reading, once again! *Blowing a sprinkling of insightings your way*
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