It started almost as soon as my newborn son and I got home from the hospital. Admonitions to “enjoy it while you can, it only gets harder from here!” drifted through the fog of my sleepless stupor. I perched achily on an inflatable donut as visitors – family members, friends, people who were already parents there to usher us into the club – came to deliver early holiday gifts, stock our refrigerator with ever more dishes, peer at the tiny baby in my arms and inhale his downy hair.
Then they’d look at me slyly.
“I’d give anything to go back to the newborn stage. Just wait for the terrible twos.”
“I’m so jealous; just wait until he’s walking.”
“It’s the best right now, when they can’t move.”
I was dismayed. Slack-jawed and teary, I wondered: How could it get harder? What could be more difficult than healing from a fourth-degree tear, than feeling completely out of control thanks to a shocking ebb of the hormones that had flooded my brain for nine months, than struggling to bond with an infant I felt I couldn’t possibly yet know well enough to truly care for? His little form felt heavier and heavier in my arms as these foreboding predictions settled in, echoed by sentiments I read in Facebook comments and online moms’ groups.
As my postpartum hormones began to balance out in the weeks and months that followed, though, I learned the best possible thing: They were all wrong. The older he got, the more fun we had. And I promise you: Toddlerhood is an utter joy.
“Just wait until he’s walking”
Yup, following a running toddler around is exhausting. But you get to play tag, hide-and-seek, and pretend you’re not fast enough to catch them only to devour their sweet bellies with kisses when you do. You’ll watch them approach new situations with their own caution, test the limits of their physical ability and their courage. You’ll see how proud they are to be moving under their own steam, and your heart will grow three sizes (a la The Grinch). You’ll burn lots of calories chasing after them. And their little tired bodies will sleep so soundly afterwards.
“Soon he won’t stop talking”
Now 18 months, Miles chatters an almost-constant stream of high-pitched nonsense that delights me to no end. The startlingly articulate identifiable words that are peppered in crack me up. (“Birds are birds,” he said to me recently. Yes, they absolutely are.) The first time he said “mama” nearly wrecked me. And it’s the most flattering thing in the world when you are the only one able to decipher your toddler’s babble. (As an added benefit, they will start to be able to sometimes tell you what it is they need. “I need up,” he moaned to me one day in the midst of teething a molar, and I right away swooped him into my arms and held him there until he felt better, both of us warm and satisfied.)
“He won’t want to cuddle like this for very long”
Yes, the bittersweet night will come when they won’t need to be nestled in your arms to fall asleep anymore. But do you know what else happens that night? You get to sleep, in your bed, with no one touching you. Read that sentence again. For hours and hours, you’ll sleep with the hum of a baby monitor reassuring you that your baby is safe and well and doing the same in their own room. I can’t overstate how profoundly good sleep will transform your life (and your baby’s!).
“Before you know it, there’ll be marker all over your wall”
And on the sofa, and the rug, and the dog. And on dozens of pieces of paper –– works of art you’ll take pictures of to text to your parents, that you’ll frame and hang in your office, that you’ll inspect and then search Google for things like “how to tell if my baby is artistically advanced.” You’ll tape swathes of butcher paper to the floor and spill out endless tools which your child will use to create lines, dots, and shapes that will be, to you, the most beautiful thing in the world.
“Just wait for the temper tantrums”
They’ll come, sure as the sun will rise. But so too will come the knowledge of your child’s preferences. Opinions. Ideas. Frustrations. You will learn how to guide them through anger and fear. You will negotiate, and distract, and sometimes plead. You will comfort. You will have the distinct privilege of shaping them into people who can do hard things.
Do I miss his sleepy sweetness? Being able to hold him for hours without tiring? Binge-watching TV during marathon breastfeeding seshes?
Yes, I do. I miss all those things and more about him being small. But what I have now I value so much more: A partner in crime, a stand-up comedian, a friend. A creative, adventurous, surprising soul that I get to parent. Someone who has thoughts and feelings and opinions, and who I love fiercely.
Fellow mamas, as much as we can honestly miss those hazy, cozy newborn weeks, let’s please also try to share the absolute bliss that new parents have to look forward to.
Those mamas who ache in their freshness, their physical pain, their anxiety or depression, their sleeplessness need perhaps more than any to hear that the daily joys will multiply exponentially.
A friend who’d recently became a mother looked at my son playing on the floor by our feet one day, her new daughter nestled in her arms. “Does it get easier?” she asked me, and I thought for a minute. “No,” I said, smiling, “but it gets so much more fun.”