Sunday, February 13, 2011

Smile, baby, smile

With Mademoiselle, I feel a serenity I didn't feel when le Petit was tiny.

Le Petit and I were and are still all Lewis and Clark. We're setting out in unexplored territory together, searching for mountain passes, paddling rivers upstream, carrying our boat around unexpected rapids. We have no map but the one we're hastily sketching. At our worst, we're bickering over the direction to take; at our best, the adventure and newness of it all bonds us.

With Mademoiselle, I feel that instead of heading out into the wilderness, I'm starting out on a stroll down a well-trodden path in a park, and we're walking together in step in the same direction.

According to a colleague of mine, the late famous pediatrician and author Françoise Dolto, who transformed French childrearing (kind of the French Brazelton; the first to say, "Gee, children are individuals, too"), your firstborn is your brouillon, your "scratch" child. You will inevitably make mistakes that you'll iron out for subsequent children. I don't find this reassuring, perhaps because I'm an only child myself. Does the eldest always get such a raw deal?

I know that I wouldn't be as good a mother to Mademoiselle if le Petit hadn't taught me everything I know about babies. I also know he has suffered from my initial ignorance about everything from infant sleep to potty training to discipline. And yet, we're getting good at learning as we go along, or maybe just at faking it, and doubling back to correct things when we get too far off course. And at some point in the future, my experience with le Petit will lead to mistaken assumptions about Mademoiselle, for she's not the same child, and won't need exactly the same parenting. I'll face plant -- I'm getting used to it -- and pick myself up and try again. I'm learning the process as much as I'm finding any actual answers. And as my best friend says to me, in this parenting gig, we're not aiming for perfection, just a solid "B."

In the meantime, I'm loving the serenity, as long as it lasts. I know how to listen to babies now, even if Mademoiselle isn't the same baby le Petit was. I'm hoping that I'll keep listening adequately to le Petit as he grows, because that's the only way we'll keep finding our way.

(If I'm brave, I'll ask them both in 20 years how well they thought I did.)

* * *

Yesterday, Mademoiselle smiled at me for the first time. My mother-in-law's seen smiles for weeks, but while I'd seen beatific expressions of well-being, I'd seen nothing I could unquestionably qualify as a smile. I tried talking, and cooing, and singing, and stroking her arms and patting her belly on the changing table, but no smiles would come, and I was beginning to feel just a bit pathetic and unentertaining as a mother. Then yesterday Mademoiselle was sitting in her baby swing -- not even swinging, just chilling out -- and I was doing something at a nearby table, and I looked over and she was grinning ear to ear.

Her lips were together, the corners of her mouth turned up wide, and her eyes were sparkling. The smile flickered and disappeared, then came back a second time even stronger. I wish I thought I'd done something to incite it, but I'm afraid it was some sort of inside baby joke.

Or maybe she was looking at me and saying to herself, "Yeah, that's my mommy!"

I haven't seen it again since, and I must admit, I'm waiting for it impatiently. And still cooing, of course.


hush said...

Mlle's first smile? Wow! So sweet!

And I know exactly what you mean about the firstborn being a "scratch" child. Loads of mistakes there.

Cloud said...

A quote from Anna Quinlen came through my Twitter feed recently:

"The first child got me shiny and new like a pair of new shoes, but he got the blisters too. The second child got me worn, yes, but comfortable."

I like that. There's pluses and minuses for both kids.

Jacqueline said...

It's ridiculous the lengths I go to for those adorable baby smiles.

@Cloud - I love that quote!

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@hush - I look back at how ignorant I was of babies, especially, and laugh! Le Petit was a good boot camp sergeant.

@Cloud - I love that quote. So true.

@Jacqueline - yesterday she smiled at me again, when I was changing her diaper and not doing anything in particular. Go figure!