Saturday, December 01, 2007

Spoiled

I knew absolutely nothing about babies before le Petit came along. I was more than naive, I was staggeringly ignorant. Although that ignorance is now largely remedied, it still deserves a confession.

I figured that small babies spent much of their time sitting quietly by themselves. I'd seen plenty of them in portable car seats, peacefully sleeping in all sorts of situations. I'd started to think of a car seat as some sort of handy infant carrying case; an accessory, perhaps, like a handbag, complete with a useful adjustable handle. I expected le Petit to spend most of his day in his car seat, and imagined going to restaurants, to friends' houses, and just about everywhere with him.

I thought the sleep deprivation new parents complain about was simply because most aren't as adept as I am at falling back asleep quickly. I imagined le Petit might wake up as often as every two or three hours, but it didn't concern me. I would feed him, then put him back in his crib, and voilà. His crib was set up in the room next to ours, and I had a straight-backed, armrestless chair temporarily placed beside it for middle-of-the-night nursing.

Le Petit arrived, and he didn't want to have anything to do with his car seat most of the time. He didn't want to sleep in his crib at first, or anywhere other than in our arms. He wouldn't stay quietly in his corner. He cried, and remarkably loudly, when he was upset about something, like being out of our line of sight for more than thirty seconds. Restaurants were definitely off the menu for the foreseeable future, even if we had had the energy to go out.

We found a comfortable chair for le Petit's room, then finally moved his crib into our bedroom. We reluctantly slept with him next to me in our bed for weeks before we coaxed him to sleep by himself. I invested in a couple of different baby carriers. Meanwhile, I looked through every book I could find for an explanation of his behaviour. When I found he corresponded most closely to the "high need baby" described in the Sear's Baby Book, I wondered how we would survive.

Then, over the weeks that followed, the strangest thing happened. Le Petit was demanding, that was certain, but I stopped seeing him as difficult. Instead, I appreciated and enjoyed him more as I accepted him. True, it became a lot easier once he started sleeping well and in his own bed at night. Yet I realized belatedly that by asking so much of me, he was forcing me to ask a lot of myself, and it was making me a better mother.

Now when I see zoned out babies being carried around in car seats, I am proud of my child for having such personality. I'm learning to temporarily structure my life around his needs. I've learned to clean the kitchen with him in a baby carrier, to distract him from another room by singing stupid songs, and to take a shower in just the amount of time he'll be happy playing by himself.

I've been warned by many that I'm spoiling him, and that he'll get too accustomed to being in my arms all the time. Others tell me that on the contrary, with all this reassurance, he'll become more independent. I used to worry who was right, but now I no longer care. He's happier, I'm happier, and that's all that matters to me at the moment. I've learned how wonderful it is to do nothing more than cuddle him and walk quietly around the house.

At the last prenatal class I attended, a children's nurse asked the room what babies needed. What a stupid question, I thought to myself. "Milk," was the first answer shouted out, followed by "sleep." Then, someone added "lots of cuddles." Cute, I thought, but I would have said "diapers" -- to me, cuddles were something parents and babies enjoyed, but they didn't make the list of bare necessities. Little did I know that cuddles, too, were a biological need and far higher on the list than clean diapers, according to most babies.

There's still a lot I don't know, much I'm utterly unprepared for as a parent. I knew nothing about babies; I probably still know nothing about toddlers. But one thing I'm sure of now: spoiling does not come from too much attention, but rather from trying to replace affection with toys and gadgets. We've bought tons of presents for le Petit this Christmas because we frankly couldn't resist, but I keep reminding myself that the thing he most wants right now is us. And that is the best gift he could give us, too.

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