When we brought Henry home from the hospital as a newborn, some friends organized a meal train, which is the best thing in the world. Every few days, a thoughtful, familiar face knocked on our door bearing gifts of homemade soups and casseroles, bottles of wine, and even croissants for breakfast the next day. They stayed for about 10 minutes, held the baby, and then left.
At that point, we called our little cocoon “Henry’s Magic Kingdom.” Within, the vagaries of the real world slipped away. The only thing that mattered were Henry’s toes, his fingers, his beautiful smile, the smell of his neck just behind his ear. Although Jeff left occasionally to go places (work? The store?), I was content to loaf around letting my body heal from his birth, savoring my newborn, crying for no reason (me, not him), and snoozing. The evening meal drop offs provided just enough social stimulation to keep me, an extrovert, from feeling too cut off from the world.
And then one day dinner came with a crazy family of four. The dad was a colleague of Jeff’s. His wife was many months pregnant with their third child, and his four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter were totally pumped to explore a new house.
The family arrived at our house with a BANG! The four-year-old wasted no time running laps around our living room, the two-year-old opened a bottle of soda and spilled it all over our dining room table. Mom unloaded enough sandwiches from the local sub shop to feed us for an entire week. That was my first thought. But when I saw Mom unwrapping four of the sandwiches, I realized, they had not just brought us dinner. They brought them dinner, too!
They asked for plates and napkins, laughed about their invasion, and then gobbled up their food as we stared with gaping mouths. I nearly cried.
At least I think that’s what happened. I was so sleep deprived and so aghast at what I thought was their lack of consideration that I think I’ve repressed any detailed memory of that evening. I do remember watching their little monsters kids destroy our tidy house in a matter of minutes and put every pacifier they found into their mouths, and I remember thinking how atrocious they all were, both kids and parents.
I’d forgotten about that night until recently, when my very kind and generous friend, AJ, showed up with a shopping bag full of roasted, organic chicken, vegetables, fresh fruit, and gourmet cookies along with her adorable six-month old. She was one of the many folks who offered to bring us a meal when Jeff broke his femur, and I gratefully accepted.
AJ is a single mother by choice who works full time. She is a first time mom. As with all first time moms, her entry into motherhood, like all of ours, hasn’t gone quite as planned.
All of which is to say that for AJ to take a precious hour out of her schedule of full time work and hard working mom and schlep her six-month-old, who is beautiful and perfect but used to a schedule that does not involve driving across town at rush hour (which coincides with his dinner time), is beyond amazing.
Did you get that? She has a six month old. She’s a new mom. She’s alone. She’s working her ass off. Life will get a heck of a lot easier for her—probably quite soon—but she’s in the trenches right now. At least I was in the trenches when both my babies were six months old.
SO. I was humbled and thankful for her effort and even more thankful when she hung out for a bit with that scrumptious baby and we got to catch up.
Make that tried to catch up.
Henry’s been terribly needy lately. He needs me to do no end of things he was highly capable of doing even three weeks ago. Plus, he adores babies. So he tried to squirm into my lap and stare that cute baby right in the eye until Henry’s face got so close his runny nose was almost touching the baby’s dry one. That, of course, set Silas off, who decided to start hopping around the baby. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t fall on the little one, then I saw a look of abject horror on my friend’s face and realized she was debating shoving my kid away from hers (mama bear style) or not saying anything. I insisted Silas hop four feet away.
AJ’s baby started to fuss. She pulled out two amazing chew toys for kids. They had buttons and rattles and were bright and plastic. And they easily slid out of the six-month-old’s hands. My two grabbed and started to chew them. AJ retrieved the toys, washed them with hot, soapy water, and laid them back in front of her son.
Then my kids did the exact same thing they had done only minutes before. AJ patiently washed the toys again. Before she could set them down in front of her son, whose fussing was escalating, she reconsidered and placed them high and out of reach from my monkeys.
Then she decided to feed her baby. At her home, they have an awesome high chair and a routine. We no longer own a high chair. So she tried to balance a recalcitrant baby (imagine that!), several different types of baby food, a bottle, and my inquisitive little spawn. When Silas offered her baby a Cheerio, a food he hasn’t yet tasted, I feared it might be the final straw.
It wasn’t that she was expressing any outward disdain for my grubby little boys who couldn’t keep their hands out of her bidness. I just watched as her stress escalated, and I remembered how helpless I felt many years ago when that crazy family brought us (and them!) sandwiches.
When Henry was six months old, I, too, washed his chew toys religiously. I kept him away from any little creature that had a runny nose or a cough, and I would have been livid if any of my friend’s kids couldn’t keep their hands to their effin’ selves for 10 minutes while I tried to feed him. And if he didn’t eat, as AJ’s baby was refusing to do, I’d be convinced that we were doomed—at least for the upcoming night and probably for a few days.
I think most first-time moms respond that way.
Now that I have two kids, it’s easy to tease moms of one for being overprotective or worried about things that don’t matter. I have actually said (bragged?) that Silas gets about ½ the oversight Henry did, and then shrugged it off: second baby…what do you expect?
As I watched AJ and thought about it later, though, I dropped the smugness of being an I-have-two-koids-and-am-SO-much-more-chill-than-you-brand-new-mom bullshit and remembered that special time when it was just
Henry and me (and Jeff, but he was at work a lot). I knew his needs inside and out. I was highly attuned to his routine. I derived a lot of well-earned pleasure by keeping him safe from wobbly toddlers. I could minimize our chaos. Sure, some of that was the typical OCD-ness of a new mom. And by the time Silas arrived, I relaxed a lot. AND I learned a lot taking care of Henry.
But maybe I also forgot about that super special bond between a mom and her first born. AJ is in the thick of developing that bond, and her sweet grace—working hard to not shove my kids away from hers, playing with them, talking to them, FEEDING us—was a lovely reminder.
Now my family felt like the crazy sandwich family in relation to AJ and her little one. Kids are chaos. The more there are, the more chaotic the environment. Which is why there is something precious about the inaugural months with your only child.
I realize that the first half-year of a new, first baby’s life are filled with sleepless nights, raw nipples, and frustrations of immense magnitudes. But (and yes, this is the rose-colored glasses speaking) there is something incredibly sweet and precious about that unified time. It’s singular and shared, a legacy of many moments between a baby and her parents. It’s fleeting.
I still think it’s odd that the sandwich crew brought themselves dinner and proceeded to eat, but I no longer find it offensive. I can see it through their eyes: dinner, Mom’s seven months pregnant with number 3, and there’s a table in a nearby house to enjoy a meal with friends. It wasn’t that they intended to disrupt our magic kingdom. They’d forgotten such a thing even exists. As it turns out, so had I.