The Assorted Gifts of Parenthood

A baby is, of course, the greatest gift that the universe can bestow. In fact, it’s pretty amazing that such a gift is handed to a couple of naive amateurs who only hope they know what they’re doing. In those first few swoony weeks, my fella and I would often marvel that we could be so lucky (seven months in it would probably be good to remember that at 5:00 in the morning when our Bean awakes and my fella feigns unconsciousness while I stumble to her room, seething with sleep resentment). Maybe this is the reason that parents can be so selfless: they’ve already won the prize, so it gets easier to share the goods with our little ones in the future. (I’m mostly thinking candy here. I’ve never been a good at sharing – it’s a weakness I can admit to – but I will happily hand over the best jujubes to my little bean, when the time comes).

And a baby is the gift that keeps on giving, a tiny, gurgling Santa Claus with a bottomless sack of life lessons. There’s the fierce and infinite capacity to love, of course, and the realization through natural childbirth that I can probably withstand any amount of pain and suffering (torture?), as long as my child is on the other side of it. One of my favourite gifts is the absolute joy that the Bean has brought to my mom. Being a Grandma looks pretty darn great.

Not all the gifts are so precious. Parenthood also brings a severe – if intermittent – case of the stupids. Shortly after the birth we moved to a home with a lovely sunroom, which I struggled to describe to friends: “… and there’s an armchair to curl up in directly under the… what is it… ceiling window?” My mind searched in vain to grasp a term that I was sure I’d known, but eluded me as if I’d encountered it just once on an architectural tour of some foreign city. And it didn’t happen once. Three times I resorted to describing the feature as best I could, while friends looked at me with an expression of bemused sympathy. “You mean… skylight?”

Right. Nothing new here, fatigue-fueled gaffs are an accepted part of new mommyhood, and I’ve had my share: saying goodbye to a visitor only to find the coffee I’d promised her an hour ago still sitting in the bodum, finding yesterday’s lunch still sitting in the microwave (I remember looking at my sandwich and thinking, this is a small lunch, having completely forgotten the soup from moments before), finding a bottle of pumped milk sitting on the counter beside the fridge instead of in it, pulling a nursing bra out of the dryer and finding both nursing pads tucked into one side and the other empty. I mean, I wore it that way, who knows how many times, without noticing one pillowy boob?

I never understood Baby-on-board signs before; shouldn’t everyone drive carefully whether there are kidlets in surrounding cars or not? Now I understand: those yellow diamonds are warnings that there’s an exhausted, distracted, possibly frantic driver ahead. Watch out world! Mom on the loose!

Also in the less-than-awesome category are the – ahem – interesting physical mementos that birth leaves on the body. I don’t want to imply in any way that I resent the awe-some experience of childbirth, but we all seem to have our own variety of souvenirs. I won’t get into specifics, but let’s just say that if I had ever hoped for a future in the porn industry, that ship has sailed.

And the B.O. – what’s that all about?

We take the not-great with the good, because the answer to any complaint that might come along is the same: yeah, but… baby!

All of these things I anticipated: good or bad, there are certain things you look forward to with a baby, the things you’re told about, and inevitably experience with marvelling wonder. Something I hadn’t anticipated, and one of the best things that the Bean has brought to my life, is Attention.

Not as in, people pay attention to you because you have a baby (or rather they pay attention to your sweet bundle and you just happen to be attached to the stroller or carrier), but rather, attention as in the mindfulness kind, as in, attention to the world around you.

Mindfulness is all the rage. Everyone’s trying to be more mindful in an effort to sleep better, perform better, Be better. Here’s a tip: have a baby. Nothing allows you to forget everything and be in the moment like a baby. You kind of have to forget the mess and emails and tasks when you are watching to make sure that the tiny being you’ve created doesn’t put cat food in her mouth or roll off the edge of the sofa.

But it’s more than this. The time I spend with my little one, on the floor, out and about, sitting in parks, has allowed me to view my world at a slower pace. As she discovers her world, so do I. As I point out the kinds of trees we pass as we walk I notice how the light and wind make the leaves seem to twinkle. When she plays with a plastic cup, eyes earnestly upon it as she turns it in her hands, I consider the shape, the shade, the way the edge rounds. When I give her a new food try, I imagine discovering the texture on her tongue and the smell for the first time. As we sit on our front porch and I point out the people and traffic that go by I notice the same man walks by each evening, eyes down, wearing the same slightly oversized suit and carrying a plastic grocery bag whose logo is nearly twenty years old, and I wonder where he is going to and coming from, what his story is. (Mostly I think about that plastic bag: has been holding on to that one grocery bag for two decades, carefully laying it flat each night to keep it from aging? Or does he have a stash of them, stockpiled and neatly folded back in the nineties in case there was a bag shortage some day?)

These moments are like a long sigh at the end of a busy day. I thought that having a baby would make things a little more hectic, and it does, sometimes. But more often, being with her cuts through all the crazy and makes life feel a little simpler: here is what’s important. Maybe that realization is the greatest gift of all.

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