Today is my son's 11th birthday. He is our first baby, our guinea pig, as I like to say. Before he was born I was so afraid I wouldn't know what to do with a baby, but when he was born on a cool, rainy Sunday afternoon at the end of August, two weeks before his due date, I held him in my arms and knew we'd figure it all out as we went along. I include my children in that "we", because their personalities are as much a guide to us as parents as any baby book has ever been. So far it's worked out just fine, but every year on his birthday I think to myself "I've never parented a child this age before!" and I feel a little ping of anxiety for what is to come. Being a parent is a constant adventure, a constant learning experience, very humbling and nerve-wracking, and very, very joyful.
One of our birthday traditions is to read Happy Birthday to You, by Dr. Seuss, on the eve of the birthday. In the morning, the birthday child wakes up to a decorated house. I always bake a cake of the birthday child's choice, using a recipe from The Cake Mix Doctor. For the past I-don't-know-how-many years my son has chosen Hummingbird Cake. My daughter scoffs at his predictability. She views her birthday as an opportunity to try a new cake recipe. That can be fun, but I am personally happy my son always chooses Hummingbird Cake, because I like traditions, and because Hummingbird Cake is a favorite of mine as well!
On my son's birthday I naturally reflect on his birth and the first days of his life. I had woken up in the middle of the night with contractions, but thought they were indigestion at first. For several hours I paced around the house, wishing the indigestion would go away so I could sleep! When I came to the slow realization that I might be in labor, I fixated on the fact that I had no clean underwear to take to the hospital, so I started a load of laundry at 4:00 a.m. I remember having to stop a couple of times while loading the washing machine because the contractions were already so strong. Never mind that you don't wear underwear to give birth. I needed that underwear anyway! Aren't you supposed to always wear clean underwear in case you end up at the hospital? What does is say about you if you know you're going to the hospital, but fail to have clean underwear?
By 8:00 a.m. I was ready to go, but my husband, being the good Bradley Method coach that he was, said it was too soon. He ate breakfast, read the Sunday paper, took a shower, cleaned the cat litter, and took out the garbage. I wanted to kill him! When I started swearing at him, around 10:00 a.m., he agreed it was time to go.
I was very progressed when we got to the hospital, and was able to have the unmedicated birth experience I wanted. (My husband took some credit for this at the time, having kept me at home longer than I wanted to stay there!) I was very proud of myself, but everything about me was eclipsed by my joy in my child. He was such a wonder. I was so besotted with him I even thought he was clever for demonstrating the Moro reflex.
I remember with some embarrassment his first poo, which happened while we were still in the hospital. I was alone with him, and hadn't yet changed his diaper. In fact, I had never changed a diaper at all. I wanted to call the nurse, or wait for my husband to return from where ever he was, but I thought no, this is my baby, I am his mother, and this is what mothers do, so I hauled myself out of the bed and laid him in the bassinet and fumbled around with the wipes and the diapers. I felt an absurd sense of pride when I was done and had an urge to open the door and yell out to anyone who could hear me "I just changed my son's diaper! All by myself!"
Later, when a nurse came in and did whatever exam on him she needed to do, she changed his diaper again. I watched her closely, and as she put a fresh diaper on him I realized with much chagrin that I had put his diaper on backwards. I was mortified, and thought wildly that I'd blame it on my husband if she said anything, because I worried that otherwise she might think me unfit and not let me take my baby home. But she just smiled at me when she handed him back and never said a word. Smart people, those maternity nurses!
I've made other parenting mistakes in the past 11 years since that backwards diaper, but so far nothing has been more horrible than a backwards diaper. I'm in that next decade of parenting now, though, when things are going to get more complicated, and any missteps on my part are going to have bigger repercussions and be harder to fix than a backwards diaper. I always make a little wish of my own when my kids blow out their candles that everything will just keep on being all right, that I'll have the wisdom to help them keep on growing, and that they'll always bounce back from the things that go wrong.