During the first few months of my son’s life, I delighted in his tiny toes and gummy smiles. I loved to bury my face in his soft skin and feel his baby bird heartbeat as he slept on my shoulder. I felt drunk with love for him and bursting with pride at being his mother.
As he’s grown from a baby into a toddler, however, I’ve had an important realization: I’m not a baby person.
While I love my son, if I had to sum up the baby phase of motherhood in one word it would be survival. And although survival can be exhilarating, it is not synonymous with peace or contentment. It’s a lot more like being on one of those reality shows where you’re stuck on an island performing outlandish tasks with a group of strangers (or in the case of motherhood, one tiny stranger), just trying to make it to the next day. You don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what’s around the corner, and you’re always exhausted.
Although my son slept through the night relatively early as a baby, it was months before I did.
My hormone-addled body and brain remained on high alert at all times, ready to spring from bed at the first whimper of distress. I remained on eggshells during the day too, watching him vigilantly with the anxiety that only a new mother can feel. While the days were punctuated with moments of joy, in the end, the combination of trying to meet his needs when he was incapable of telling me what they were did not result in the happiest period of my life.
Also — and I hope I don’t break the Internet with this statement—I was bored a lot.
The baby phase is a lot like the movie Groundhog’s Day, where you live the same events day in and day out. You spend all day with the same person – a cuddly, adorable person, sure – but one who cannot hold a conversation, tell a joke, or interact in any meaningful way.
In those early days of motherhood, I felt like I gave my son everything I had.
I emptied myself of my time, energy and love, pouring it all into him. My reward was simply his survival, and maybe a good nap. Honestly, many days I wanted more. Although I loved him from the start, I longed to know him. Would he be easy-going or Type A? Quiet or gregarious? I searched for hints of what the future held. I wondered what we’d have in common and what our bond would be beyond having birthed him. I spent hours staring into his tiny face, waiting for his personality to emerge from the blank slate upon which he’d been delivered into the world.
These days I have a walking, talking little boy.
Sure, there are days when I miss my sweet, un-opinionated blob of an infant, but I delight in seeing my son’s personality take shape. Being with him now feels less like caretaking and more like hanging out. We play games. We have conversations and make each other laugh. He “helps” with dinner and the laundry. He has likes and dislikes, clear preferences that he broadcasts loudly and frequently. We argue sometimes but always make up with a hug.
In short, we’re getting to know each other in a way that wasn’t possible when all he did was sleep, eat, and generate dirty laundry. The beauty of this is that every day I love him more – which, to be clear, is not the same as loving him less the day before.
As the mother of a toddler, I know I’m also far more interesting than I was when I had an infant. I’m getting more sleep, for one, so I can hold an adult conversation beyond deciding what to watch on Netflix or whose turn it is to get up with the baby. More is required of me, which forces me to engage with the world differently. While I was mothering a baby, I didn’t have to answer questions about when grasshoppers sleep, or why that man on the phone in the grocery store seemed so angry. I didn’t have to get creative with rainy day activities or be as intentional with the media my son consumes and the messages it’s sending him.
It’s more work, sure, but it’s far more interesting than tracking nap and diaper schedules.
Moving out of the baby stage has also created more mental and emotional space for me to return to things that were part of my pre-motherhood existence – like yoga, writing, and time with friends. These are things I’d forgotten to miss. Having them back in my life, though, has helped make the hard parts of parenting easier, and the good parts even better. So much so that some days, I want more children – just not another baby.
To be clear, I do love babies.
I loved mine fiercely, and I’ll be the first to offer to hold yours at a party or a play date. I simply am not a baby person. Understanding this about myself has been liberating. It’s helped me let go of the guilt I’ve felt about enjoying my son more now that he’s older. It doesn’t make me a bad or less capable mother.
If anything, it makes me more excited to spend time with him every day, knowing it will just keep getting better.