I recently returned from a fabulous trip to Chicago to visit my best friend, Amy, and her daughter, who was born in late November. Amy and I had a great time doing a whole lot of nothing: going to Target, eating all manner of delicious food, catching up on those glasses of wine we couldn’t share while she was pregnant and –– primarily –– watching Doogie Howser and Unsolved Mysteries and a VH1 documentary about groupies and Say Yes to the Dress and other quality programming while the baby slept on us. It was truly delightful. Her baby is the most adorable, precocious, alert, superbabygenius since Ruby, and Amy is one of the most natural new mothers I’ve ever seen.
Nevertheless, I got a panicked text from her a few days after I returned home, explaining that she had slipped on some ice and fallen while wearing her baby in the Baby Bjorn and, even though her daughter slept through it, she was worried she had damaged her somehow and spent the rest of the afternoon Googling whether a fall could cause shaken baby syndrome. I wrote her back to reassure her and then spent the rest of my afternoon reliving all of the various things I did to my daughter when she was itty-bitty… and things I’ve done more recently. I think I’m a pretty kickass mom, honestly, overall. My daughter says “please” and “thank you” more reliably than many adults I know. She’s thoughtful and friendly and confident. She eats a mostly balanced diet, takes vitamins and has never had a cavity. But that doesn’t mean I’ve never screwed up. She’s only 4, and I’ve already screwed up a lot. Some were accidents. Some were just plain idiocy on my part. Some were actually terrifying. Most were funny later.
The first time, Ruby was 9 days old. I’d been holding her in my arms and bouncing on an exercise ball for more than an hour. Whenever the bouncing stopped, she’d start howling. “At least,” I told myself, “I’m burning calories, getting rid of the baby weight.” But I’d had a C-section, and after an hour of bouncing, the pain in my incision was unbearable. I stood up, holding her, and started down the stairs to summon someone else to go on bouncing duty. As I took my first step down, I realized my legs had fallen asleep, and they went out from under me. I slid down about eight steps on my butt, but I never once had the urge to fling my arms out to stop myself, even though I hit my elbows hard, even though the feeling of falling was so scary. Some brand-new maternal instinct in my brain had short-circuited my basic survival instinct, overriding it, telling me, “You cannot even consider letting that baby out of your arms, no matter what the cost to you.” I even unconsciously did some sort of weird bodily contortion that I am in no way normally capable of in order to wrap myself around her somehow and insulate her from the fall. The aftermath: Ruby was fine. I spent the rest of the afternoon crying and Googling whether a fall could cause shaken baby syndrome and sending panicked texts to my friends. But once the shock wore off, I was actually proud of myself and felt truly like a mom for the first time, instinctively protecting my young at my own expense.
Then there was Bacchus. Whatever Mom Instincts Points I scored for holding onto Ruby as I tumbled down the stairs, I lost for somehow deciding it was a stellar idea to bring a 9-week-old baby to a superkrewe parade. I thought … I don’t know what I thought, frankly. I guess I thought she would be oblivious. She wasn’t. She was –– surprise, surprise –– crazy overstimulated by the crowds and the colors and the floats and ohmygod the marching bands. What was I thinking? Amy says her daughter got overstimulated at Steak ‘n Shake, and this is no doubt true. I took my 9-week-old to Bacchus. Anyway. This was not a good decision, and Ruby started screaming her poor tiny head off right around the time St. Aug marched by, and she didn’t stop until about four hours later. I was a guest at a Bacchus party that some family friends throw every year (though of course I was not content to watch it from their balcony like a moderately sensible person who wanted to bring her 9-week-old to Bacchus and had instead wandered into the middle of the crowd holding Ruby), and after the crying commenced, I stood in their living room rocking her and shooshing her and bouncing her and patting her and wondering aloud every so often, “God, why is she crying like this?!” Eventually, a very sweet grandmotherly type said gently, “Well, sweetheart, she probably got a little bit overexcited. There’s a lot going on out there.” And I immediately bristled and thought, “NO, OLD LADY! YOU’RE WRONG!” And then slowly, I realized, “Ohhhhh. Oh, God. I took my 9-week-old to Bacchus.”
There was a string of other events. I accidentally gouged her forehead with my fingernail while trying to nurse her. I clonked her head against the doorframe while walking between rooms holding her. I mistakenly fed her noodles with Srircaha sauce on them. I lost her at Audubon Park. I put her in her booster seat but forgot to strap her in and didn’t realize it until she hollered at me in the middle of Carrollton traffic, “Mom! I’m not buckled!” And she’s been to the Children’s Hospital ER so often that she says in the car on the way, “Ooh, yay, I can see those fish again! And pretend to be a prairie dog in that tunnel!” (You other Children’s ER frequent fliers out there know what I’m talking about.)
Ultimately, though, she’s fine. She’s a happy-go-lucky, hilarious and slightly reckless 4-year-old who knows exactly how much I love her, despite my missteps, both literal and otherwise. And this year, she can’t wait for the parades to start.
Anyone else whose kid survived childhood despite perhaps less-than-perfect parenting, please feel free to chime in below.