When you’re carried by the fast flow of time’s passage, it’s difficult to veer into an eddy for a breather. But now more than ever, as a parent of a baby-turning-toddler, I feel I’ve got to make the effort to sit on life’s sidelines once in a while – if for no other reason than to marvel at this precocious little creature that was once nothing more than a vague shape on the horizon.
It being the beginning of a new year, I suppose I’ve been thinking more about time’s passage than usual. It’s also because I’m the parent of a 10-and-a-half month old, who recently started playing pat-a-cake, pulling her socks off, watching Baby Einstein DVDs, and pretend coughing. (Me: “Oh, does Elle have a bad cough?” Elle: “cough-cough.” Me: “Ooh, that’s a bad cough!” Elle (with dramatic flourish): “Cough-cough-cough!”)
These may seem like inconsequential milestones, but if marked by pushpins on the timeline of Elle’s life thus far they represent a very busy year one. In fact, there is a rapidly expanding cluster of development markers crammed into the final third of my daughter’s first year, and it freaks me out. It wasn’t so long ago that we were celebrating Elle being able to heave herself onto her tummy (now she walks), or starting to coo (she is currently in what Craig calls a “finding her voice” stage, which includes screeching at varying decibel levels), or smiling for the first time (she is now a giggle monster, particularly before bedtime).
It all went by so fast. I no longer have a tiny baby. She’s more like a little girl, who does little girl things like blow kisses and hug teddy bears. And I have to wonder, looking back on all that she has accomplished in the past 10 months: Have I appreciated parenthood enough?
When a baby is new, everything is a big deal. A burp is a big deal. A dirty diaper is a big deal. Then you grow accustomed to the fact that the belly bump has indeed turned into a human being, who inevitably poops and burps. You accept that she really is just a small person, and not some ephemeral pixie whose every move is cause for jaw-dropping amazement. Slowly but surely life begins to feel less inside-out and more back to normal, as normal as life can be with a child who likes to eat dog food, rub mashed potatoes into her hair and pull every tissue, one by one, out of the box.
A routine emerges, in which a day is divided into pre- and post-nap segments. Those days shuffle by like a slideshow in fast-forward. In one frame, I’m dressing Elodie for a trip to the farmers market. I’m pulling a T-shirt decorated with a carrot-eating bunny rabbit over her head. Just a few frames later I’m gingerly folding that T-shirt into a box that will go into the attic, trying to imagine Elle being small enough to fit into it.
Babies have a way of shining a spotlight on the passage of time. Their almost daily successes and discoveries and accomplishments serve to remind parents that this phase of child rearing – babyhood – only lasts but a short, short while. And during much of that time, you’re sleep-deprived and over-worked and feel like you can never get all the things you need to do done.
So be it.
While I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, I have resolved to readjust my relationship with time in 2009. I can’t stop its march forward, but I hope to at least move out of the fast lane occasionally to watch my daughter grow. When I turn off the news and shut down the computer, leave the dirty dishes in the sink for later and just sit with Elodie, I become happily marooned in an eddy of time. It never lasts, because the phone rings or the pasta’s done cooking, but it’s nevertheless a refreshing break from the future’s steady onslaught.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor across from my daughter, who has just realized that those little wooden shapes actually fit into the puzzle, I’m struck with awe for this little person – whose every move is cause for jaw-dropping amazement.