This isn't a confession that I am proud to make, but before I started trying to get pregnant, there was a part of me that was dreading the first few weeks of my baby's life. I figured that spewing forth a live human being from my loins (or a big old incision, if it turned out that way), and then being subjected to an intense sleep-deprivation experience all while bleeding from my chewed-on nipples and having a hormone-storm the size of Katrina raging in my body would be fairly unpleasant. It seemed that this was just something that I'd have to endure to get to the good part, which would come later.
As my pregnancy progressed, and it eventually became clear that an actual baby was likely, I realized that I was already not sleeping, and somehow had remained alive, so I thought that if I survived the whole huge head meets small vagina event, all that I really had to fear was post-partum depression. After the great long depression that was infertility, I expected that PPD would happen, and thought that the only real question was how bad it would be.
Boy was I wrong. Birthing was indeed as painful as I had imagined, and it's true that I didn't sleep for more than three hours in a row for the next ten months or so, but Eggbert's first days were absolutely glorious for me. I remember in the days, weeks, and months after her birth wondering if there was such a thing as hormone-induced post-partum Euphoria, and praying that if that's what I had, I would never be cured.
A lot of things were hard in her first year, but they were a good kind of hard. The kind of hard that made me feel strong and empowered and even perhaps a bit proud. She was a needy little things, but as it turned out, her wish was not only my command, but also my wish. There was nothing that made me happier than meeting her needs. And her needs were fairly simple--food, warmth, comfort, and about a gajillion diaper changes/day. Not necessarily easy, but at least straightforward.
As she's grown older, I have struggled a lot more with the whole meeting her needs thing, because sometimes it is very unclear what she actually needs. Despite her fairly limited vocabulary, she is fantastic at communicating her wants, but since her wants include things like chewing on her shoes, jumping on the bed, playing in traffic, and eating only corn and animal crackers, I have found her guidance to be increasingly unhelpful in allowing me to identify her actual needs.
Up until recently, I had never questioned my belief that we are lucky that Mystery is a stay-at-home dad. I love it that they have this time together, that they have such a special relationship, and that I can go to work knowing that my child is being taken care of someone who loves her more than anything else in the world. I know that not everybody has the option of having a stay-at-home parent, and I do think that we're lucky. However, lately when I watch my own little Egg and compare what I see other people's children doing, I kind of wonder what she is missing out on by not being in day care. In my most insecure moments, I wonder if somehow we're cheating her out of the chance to learn from child care professionals, rather than just her goofy parents, and even if we're somehow causing her lasting harm.
The thing is, while Mystery and I are both patient, involved, and interested parents, we both find it very hard to teach little Miss Egghead anything. She has always marched to the beat of her own drummer, and while her development is on average right on track, it's always been wildly uneven--she was walking very early, but at almost 16 months she still has no interest in using a spoon or fork, and I gave up in despair at patty-cake months ago after she left me hanging one too many times. She is curious about the world, but seems absolutely determined to do things her own way. I am 99% proud of this, but there is 1% of me that worries when I see other mommies and babies playing out scenes right from parenting books, and realize that not only has Eggo not read the book, but she likes to rip the pages out and eat them. She has been talking for about three months now, but to this day, she only says what she wants when she wants to, and no amount of questioning will elicit words on cue (although bribery does work if animal crackers are involved). She won't follow instructions to make animal sounds, or point to things, or really to do anything at all that she didn't already mean to do (although we have made some headway in stopping her from doing things that we don't want her to do). I see other moms and toddlers walking along in public, hand in hand, or even just side by side, while the very thought of unleashing a free Eggbert on the public makes me shake and sweat. When we take her to the park, the only place that she's allowed to walk outside, given her tendency to bolt, she starts sprinting the second that her feet hit the dirt. Nothing that we can do, short of picking her up and turning her around, has any effect on her trajectory. We can scream and shout, or sing and dance, or offer her all of the tea in China if she will just for the love of God STOP RUNNING TOWARD THE CLIFF/PIT/RABID DOG! but she will ignore us completely and do her own thing. I end up running along behind her holding onto the back of her jacket just to keep her from running off of the edge of the world.
Lately, I've noticed that my apparent inability to lead, guide, or discipline the Egg effectively has been getting me down. It's not her behavior that bothering me, but rather my concern that her behavior means that I'm doing something wrong. I can't really put my finger on it, but she's just so different from other people's kids that even though I am for the most part delighted by the differences that make her her own unique and special person, they also make me worry.
Last Sunday we had kind of a bad morning. I had spent days searching through all of the wrong stores to find some crayons so she could start to learn to draw. Finally I found them, and we had the big "reveal" on Sunday. I let her hold all of the different colors, showed her how to use them, scribbled a little myself, just to show her that it was fun, and then she poked the crayon into the paper three times, looked disconcerted, sat there for a minute doing nothing, and then bit the end off of the crayon. After which she picked up the paper and started shredding it while I fished waxy bits out of her mouth. Not quite the tableau that I had envisioned. Then I tried to do a puzzle with her and she just wanted to throw the pieces, and I tried reading a book and she walked away, and I put on some music so we could dance and she wanted no part of that either, yet when I decided to let her play alone, she got upset about that too, and spent the rest of the morning whining. Nothing was wrong, but we were just obviously not on the same wavelength. That had never happened before, and it really took me by surprise. For the first time, my recent worry about her made the leap from the category of "things that I occasionally think about idly in moments when my brain is otherwise unoccupied" to "the sick feeling that something might be really really wrong." I started thinking things like ADD and autism and attachment disorders and leprosy and things that go bump in the night. You know, the usual suspects.
That afternoon, I popped the Egg in the baby carrier and took her to the park, even though it was kind of cold. As usual, when I put her down she was off like a shot. She ran straight to the muddy ditch, then to the rusty grate that looked like it had been infused with some kind of special military-grade vaccination-cracking tetanus spores, then to the big pile of cigarette butts. Every time I redirected her by physically picking her up and moving her to another region, she found something more dangerous and filthier to race for. I kept trying to interest her in pinecones, trees, birds and other pretty and nice things that she could look at, while she kept her head down and her legs spinning as she searched for some kind of dirt-encrusted toddler holy grail. Within a few minutes, she looked rather a lot like Pigpen. Eventually, we made our way over to an area with a lot of trees, each surrounded by its own individual mound of dirt about 1 meter high. Upon spotting the mounds, she immediately stopped her aimless running and spent the next several minutes walking straight up to a mound, falling down when the grade got too steep or the ground too loose, getting up, marching right back up the hill, falling down, getting up, falling down, getting up, etc. At first I tried to stop her, but then I realized that the ground was soft, she was well-padded in a winter coat and hat, and she was having a good time, so I just let her be. After many failed attempts on a big mound, she looked around, chose a smaller mound, and started working on that one. Within 10 minutes she was running up and down the small mound, after which she moved back to the big mound. A few minutes later, she was standing at the top beaming. Then she came down, ran right over to me, and hugged me. I picked her up and started talking about something-or-other, and she somehow picked out the word "tree," (which she hadn't used before) and started saying "twee?" "dwee?" I pointed at a tree, and said "tree", and she then pointed to every tree on the landscape, saying "dwee! dwee!" Then just to make sure I got the point, she wiggled until I put her down, ran over to a tree, patted the trunk, and said "dwee!" Then I showed her a pinecone, and she held and patted it and carried it around for several minutes before giving it back to me, I assume for safekeeping.
The whole way home, she beamed out at all of the passers-by, and the second that someone so much as looked at her, she started waving cheerily at them. Our walk home was punctuated by a trail of "awwwww's."
I think my little girl is going to do just fine, as long as her mama can just relax and let her be herself. I'm working on it.