This week, Aiden began attempting to say “Mommy”. While he’s said “Daddy” for about a month, he was slow to say “Mommy”. At first, he would yell out “meme” in his crib when really upset, but never used it during the day. He didn’t really have a daytime greeting for me.
This week, he began saying “Mama” and was obviously making pains to say “Mommy” – variations such as “Nana” and “Nyanny” came about. Today – “Mommy”!!
I returned to full-time work in January (I am a high school Social Studies teacher), a bittersweet milestone to begin my second year as a mother. The transition was easier than I had thought it would be. I love my job and was excited to be working with my students again. The mental challenge of preparing and teaching lessons was wonderfully stimulating after living by a baby’s routine for a year (wake up, eat, diaper change, chew on some toys, etc.). I think I also had an easier time transitioning back to the world of work because I had never allowed myself to imagine an alternative. I knew our family financial situation wouldn’t allow me to stay home full-time and the nature of my job makes a part-time schedule challenging. I also knew, after my first few months at home, that I wasn’t cut out to be a full-time homemaker.
But being back at work meant being away from Zayden for most of the day. That part of the transition was harder. Luckily, my job is a pretty high energy one with plenty of distractions that keep me from missing him constantly. I put a picture of him on my lectern in my classroom; it made me smile in the midst of a stressful class, but could just as easily make me miss him all the more.
We are very lucky that Justin’s mother is retired and willing to take care of Zayden full-time while I am at work. Flexible childcare is amazing, especially considering the realities of my job. I rarely leave work at the same time everyday. From tutoring students to play rehearsals to photocopying, I can leave the school anywhere between 4 and 5pm, and I don’t have to worry about getting charged extra for a late pick up. I also know many teachers who pay for a childcare space they don’t use in the summer or over spring break just so they don’t lose their child’s place at the daycare. It is also comforting to know that my son is being taken care of everyday by someone he loves spending time with and who loves him in return. We never had to deal with the heart-wrenching first days of daycare with a little guy crying and clinging to us. Instead Zayden was excited to be at his grandparents house; some days, when I come to pick him up, he doesn’t want to leave. But most of the time I get an excited “Ma ma!”, a happy smile and a hug when I come through the door, which is one of the best moments of my day.
Overall, going back to work has been a good experience. The only downside is that I have a lot less downtime in the evenings because I now have to juggle getting a toddler fed and ready for bed with my usual evening chores and any work that I have brought home (marking, lesson prep, etc.). But it’s manageable. Besides, no one has ever said that being a working mom is easy.
Aiden is very cuddly. I mean, very cuddly. Even as an infant, he always wanted to be held. He never had much patience for play, but always wanted to be carried around and taken out.
As he’s grown older, he’s become more independent. In many ways, his independence is quite strong – he dislikes holding hands when walking and wanted nothing to do with finger walking for a long time. That said, he is still a Mama’s boy – during his free play, he comes to show me his toys on a regular basis and, as he gets tired, asks to sit in my lap or have a cuddle. In the morning, when he’s most tired, he climbs into and out of my lap dozens of times.
Aiden will happily put his arms up to any stranger for a hug and to ask them to show him around. He loves being held. He will run up to Mommy, Daddy or his Grandmas for hugs on a very regular basis for no other reason but that it makes him happy to do so. The huge smiles he has when doing so definitely melt my heart. I love the hugs and the kisses.
Of course, this cuddly tendency does go against my desire to encourage Aiden’s independence in his play. Even during free play, he keeps up his adult-radar – always looking up and seeing where people are and circling around, showing his toys, asking for feedback, or interacting. His free play is not as free as some kids I’ve seen, that’s for sure.
I know he’ll outgrow this stage. I know he won’t always run to me for hugs. So I try to treasure each and every moment that Aiden spends cuddled up in my arms.
As you know, I’ve chosen to continue breastfeeding Aiden past his first birthday. If he self-weans at any time, I’ll have to come to terms with that. If he doesn’t, I’ll make a decision some time past his 2nd birthday about when we will stop. That’s a long time to be wearing nursing bras that were doing absolutely nothing for my self-confidence.
Despite the fact that I’m now stronger than I’ve ever been, after a few months of personal training, I’ve not dropped all my baby weight… and was not my ideal weight when I got pregnant, either. I blame years of chronic pain. And muffins.
Anyway, I was feeling a little down about myself and my uniboob was no help. Let’s face it, nursing bras are ugly. I did my best to find a nursing bra that looked good and was comfortable, but even then, it left something to be desired. Plus, nursing bras made me feel more like a mom and less like a woman… you know?
So, I decided to give myself a lift – quite literally! I bought new bras… non-nursing bras! I headed over to Calvin Klein, my favourite brand of bras, and bought two underwire bras that would fold down for easy access when nursing. I figured that, being well established in my nursing and not nursing a newborn, I wasn’t likely to have any plugged duct issues that underwire can make worse.
It was the best purchase decision I’ve made in a while. And heck, I might as well enjoy the cleavage that breastfeeding is giving me, right??
Zayden is now officially one-year-old, which means I have also survived my first year in the trenches of motherhood. It is a journey that has changed me profoundly and that has brought more love into my life than I can even fathom. There are incredible highs and frustrating lows, but every moment has taught me important lessons about myself, my son and parenthood in general. Here are a few of the biggest lessons I learned. I figured these all out the hard way; hopefully you won’t have to.
As long as it’s safe, do whatever works. Everyone—book authors, family members, perfect strangers—will have free (and often unwanted) advice to offer on how to raise your child. While these tips can be useful on occasion, more often than not they are an annoyance that can sometimes make you feel like you must be doing something wrong. As often as possible, try to ignore unsolicited advice and remind yourself that you know your child best and persevere with what works for you and your family. As for those well-intentioned advice givers, keep a few comeback at the ready to politely deter any further suggestions. My two favourites were: “Thanks for the tip, but we already tried that, and it didn’t work.” and “This is what our doctor advised us to do.”
There is light at the end of the tunnel. The only trouble is, you’ve never been through the tunnel before so you don’t know when it’s coming. In the midst of your 900th mid-night feeding or 84th explosive diaper or 22nd day of teething hell, it is hard to believe that the torture will one day come to an end, but I promise you, it does. I think that’s why second babies are supposed to be “easier”; because you’ve been through it all before, you have more faith that you can survive it a second time.
RELAX! Easier said than done, right? This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. In fact, I’m still learning it. It is really easy as a new mom to start to obsess about tiny details until you drive yourself crazy. Look back on some of our ActiveMama posts and you will see that Arieanna and I have stressed about everything from how often we needed to shampoo our little guys’ hair to how many ounces of milk they consumed in a day. Sometimes you need to relax about the big things too. I drove myself mad trying to “fix” Zayden’s sleep “problem” when he was only a few weeks old and perfectly normal. When I gave him the time to develop and figure things out on his own, both he and I got more sleep with less stress.
Don’t allow yourself to become trapped in the house. This means finding activities to do with your baby in the community to help break up the day and to keep you both happy and stimulated. Social time with other moms and babies is a key ingredient to actually enjoying your maternity leave and to helping your child develop. But getting out of the house also means making time for date nights with your partner and making time for a few solo excursions as well.
Laugh. For me, the fastest way to combat the stresses of parenting is to laugh about them. When Zayden farted poop on the wall mid-diaper change, we laughed when it might have been easier to get frustrated, angry or tearful. Laughing your way through it also helps you to find and to focus on the tiny and often overlooked joys in your day—the funny oatmeal beard at breakfast, the drooly hug, the sheer delight in throwing every toy in the toy box all over the room.
Record it when it happens. Taking pictures is the easy part. We have lots of those, but if I tried to fill out Zayden’s baby book right now, I wouldn’t be able to remember half the stuff that happened this year. At least a few times a month, sit down with your baby book or journal and record some of the milestones and memorable moments from your baby’s first year.
See milestones as a guideline not a a checklist. Don’t worry, your child will get there. Sometimes your baby will be the first to achieve a milestone in his group of baby friends and sometimes he will be the last. Zayden was one of the first to roll over in our group, but he is quickly becoming one of the only ones who can’t walk. But I know it will happen when he’s ready. A week or two can make a huge difference in a child’s development at this age, so your little one may catch up with his buddies before you know it. And doctors usually wait months, not weeks before worrying about missed milestones.
Never be afraid to ask for help. We have some trusted family and friends on speed dial to help us cope on overwhelming days and to babysit when we need a baby-free night out. We also hired a housekeeper instead of continuing to fight and stress about the state of our home. And when sleep issues started to rear their ugly head again, we went to a talk with a professional sleep consultant that helped us get things back on track.
Think ahead. Don’t commit to anything you wouldn’t want to do longterm in order to cope with a parenting challenge; it can be very hard to go in reverse once a habit is developed. Before Zayden was born, we talked about our childrearing goals and the pitfalls we wanted to avoid. We decided against bedsharing for numerous reasons because we didn’t want to wake up one morning with a 2-year-old lying between us. We also made it a priority to take turns putting Zayden to bed so that he never became dependent on one person to help him fall asleep. But the biggest goal we stayed committed to was our plan to leave him with a sitter as soon as possible because we didn’t want to reach his first birthday without going on at least one date. Now that he is used to being cared for by others, we can enjoy date nights without worry and feel much more confident about leaving him with his grandparents when I go back to work.
Be flexible. Babies are unpredictable, so you need to learn to go with the flow. In case Plan A fails, make sure you have a Plan B and sometimes you may need to develop a spur of the moment Plan C. It’s all part of the fun of parenting. While it can be frustrating, an unexpected change of plans can turn into a cherished memory—like the day Zayden rejected the lunch I had prepared, which resulted in a walk to the Lonsdale Quay, the purchasing of some Mexican food and an impromptu picnic in Waterfront Park in the August sunshine.
What was the biggest lesson you learned in your first year as a parent?