Friday, July 19, 2013

Thoughts on Raising A One-Year-Old

Whit is one year old. Twelve months. 365 days. One thing is for sure, this past year has been nothing like I thought it would be!

The past year seems to have flown by, yet I'm acutely aware of every temper tantrum. It feels like Whit has always been part of our lives, but we still have moments of yearning for the times when we could go out to dinner on a whim. His little face has become the constant fixture in my day, and I hardly recognize the baby I brought home from the hospital in his newborn photos. How can so much feel completely normal and still unusual at the same time?

{Enjoy these recent photos, then scroll down for my extensive 
thoughts on my one-year-old and our journey}

Here are some thoughts from our brief time together:
       For his first few weeks Whit only slept. My mom, visiting the week we brought him home, said he was one of the calmest-tempered babies she'd ever seen. So, what happened...? Before long he eased into a comfortable {for him} routine of colicky crying. He did have reflux, which we treated, and still he would cry for hours at a time (unless being held by Mom or Dad and moving in our arms). The expensive swing we bought, all our loving family members and church friends, swaddling, and every other contraption that was designed to soothe a crying child never worked. My friend, Ashley, teased that I was back to pre-pregnancy weight so quickly because I was constantly holding Whit and bouncing on an exercise ball!
        For the first couple of months Whit would only take his fourth nap of the day while laying on my chest. I would hold him and watch Ellen until Ben came home then say, "Help! I"ve been held hostage!" Genuinely annoyed that I hadn't been able to even wiggle into a comfortable position for fear Whit would have woken up. But for the vast majority of his life Whit has not wanted to snuggle. Even his wanting to be held and rocked almost never equated to gently laying his head on my arm or softly swaying from side to side. And now he fights equally between asking to be held and pushing my hand away- fighting against the very thing he's crying for. I wish I'd know during those first few weeks how precious and scarce those cuddly moments were.
        He had a particularly difficult time learning to breast feed, but we stuck with it- even after he teethed non-stop from 5 to 10 months. To sum it up in 5 words: I. Can't. Believe. I. Survived. It wasn't just painful, it was incredibly emotional to struggle through something I knew should be best for my child! Even after he figured it out and we both got the hang of things, intense feelings of sadness would still creep up while breastfeeding as a result of months of pain. But we did it!
       One tender mercy from Heavenly Father is that, through losing Eleanor, we were intensely aware of how much we longed for a child and the intense capacity we had to love. We have depended on that love countless times to keep our patience through those months of high-stress crying. I knew babies pick up on the emotions of their parents, so I was careful to practice soothing breathing techniques, sing songs of love, and concentrate on a river of tenderness flowing through my touch before reaching for him, though it made no difference. I have developed a patience I was terrified didn't exist pre-children, and I'm proud of myself for that, but Whit continued to be inconsolable for months. He has gradually outgrown the worst of those phases, but has been deemed a highly sensitive and anxious baby by my mom, a Child and Family Therapist, Ph.D. Her grandmother/ professional diagnosis has given me some comfort- it's not how I'm parenting (necessarily)- it's just his current personality. So don't take it personally if you have tried to hold Whit and he was immediately sent into waterworks. He's never been that sort of kid!
        Another surprise for me is how difficult it is to wait and accept Whit's timeline for physical and intellectual development. Ben and I are both pretty skilled over-achievers (if I do say so myself), so I naturally assumed Whit would be leading his counterparts already. Instead, he crawled a month after the latest of my sister's kids, barely takes one step and stands on his own after months of walking and standing with help, and still refuses to sign with me after my consistent signing over the last six months. I find each earned milestone to be a relief because it means he's capable, and worry with each milestone to come that he'll never conquer it. There are moments when I'm convinced he's delayed- perhaps my way of preparing for the worst. You can't blame me for that. I jokingly asked my mom once, "Is is possible to be disappointed in my child?" her response, "Of course! Do you know how many times I was disappointed in Andy?!" :D
          Though things weren't as easy as I expected, and my effort and dedication doesn't always produce the effects I'm used to achieving, one thing was a given from the very beginning: This child has changed our lives, for the better, and I can't believe how much I love him. There have been many, many times that I have to put Whit down and step away because joy and desire are running so strongly in my veins that I feel myself turning into the Hulk and I'm afraid I'll squeeze the life out of him! I've learned to grit my teeth or bite my lip instead, and actually developed a mucocele in my lip and jaw pain trying to restrain myself! He is just funny! He is so expressive, loves to explore, has a long attention span, and has the cutest little smile full of bright white teeth. He is just crazy and wonderful and funny and sweet and frustrating and everything else in one little body. I love that his toes are almost all the same height, I'm fascinated watching him grasp and explore with his slender fingers, and am completely enchanted by his lavender eyes. I could stare at him all day. I have cried so many tears of hope and love over his beauty and sensitiveness, and I have uttered countless prayers for his health and well-being.
          One of my favorite things about Whit are the moments before I set him down for a nap. He is still trying to convince me he's not really tired and will give me all sorts of happy smiles, sometimes even "kissing" my jaw. I love that! And when he's really excited and happy his smile is so genuine that his nose crinkles and he starts to wheeze. That nose crinkle just makes my day, and is my constant goal. His fingers are so nimble- I could watch him pick things up all day. The way he moves his body is just entrancing. I love when he begins to do something that I say "no" to repeatedly. Eventually he realizes he shouldn't do that thing, will move toward doing it, then look at me for approval or disapproval. I'll keep a blank face, but that look of asking he gives me makes me swell with pride! He doesn't laugh automatically, but when he does that little giggle is the sweetest, most fun noise I've ever heard. I thrive on those moments when I see the evidence of his joy.
       What I've discovered in the past year is that Ben and I are not exactly baby  people. This first year was a huge struggle for us keep our cool with this frustrating little bundle of joy who depended on us for more than everything and whom we were constantly trying to understand, but we are having more and more fun with him as he grows and learns new things.
         We are so excited for this next phase of his life (terrible two's don't seem like it could be worse than his infancy!). I can't wait to have him walk and run into my arms, give me a meaningful hug, hear his voice speak, and be able to play more together. I want to talk and babble with him endlessly about nothing, I want to go for walks together and point out the life around us, I want to go to playgroups and watch him (hopefully) make friends, and we can't wait for him to enjoy camping, rock climbing, playing instruments and singing with Ben, and eventually going kayaking together.
       My love for him brings tears to my eyes, but I do believe the best is yet to come!