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When my husband and I made the decision to have a baby, I thought of it as a conventional choice. People have babies all the time. I was married, had a good job--all things aligned. So we did it. I got big and round. I read the books. I took the birthing classes. I did everything right. And then--bam--a tiny baby boy made his entrance into this world and my life got complicated. Very complicated.
So, when we decided to do a Brave Choices issue, I knew it was time for me to launch the new-mom column I'd been wanting--but been too overwhelmed--to write since that little man showed up 11 months ago.
Having a child, I now know, is nothing if not brave. In fact, I'm still kind of wondering how the human race survives at all. I'm a fairly well-functioning human being, but the sleeplessness, stress and doubts of those first couple of months of motherhood almost pushed me over the edge. Hey, I was an only child. I didn't really know what I was in for. People tried to tell me how difficult this baby thing really is, but I couldn't hear them over the ticking of my biological clock.
These days--I know it’s a cliché, so bear with me--I think it’s all worth it.
Weeks have passed since I first started this article. It's been difficult, to say the least, to sit down and concentrate on writing. After typing the first two paragraphs, we were faced with two (maybe three) illnesses, including one very high, scary fever, three trips to the pediatrician (one in the middle of a major snowstorm), a sick nanny, two continually sick parents and not a whole lotta time to sit down and concentrate. All I really wanted was a nap.
But it was these illnesses that made my husband and me finally feel like true honest-to-goodness parents--nose wiping, fever checking, vomit covered, sick-baby-comforting parents. Not a day has gone by in the last few weeks where we haven't looked in the mirror and found a smear of snot across one shoulder or the other; where we haven't said something to the effect of, "I know it’s your turn to take the baby. I'm so tired I want to die. It has to be your turn."
Illnesses aside, what really makes me know I'm a parent? Maybe it’s the fact that snot no longer grosses me out. (I'm pretty sure my husband is starting to feel the same way.)
I was trying to work in my home office the other day (the snow storm had us camped at home) when I heard from the other room, "Oh man, not my hat." My husband came in grinning, carrying a snot-smeared baby and snot-covered hat. Henry had grabbed it off his head and wiped his nose on it before Dad could shift his hold to stop him--and he was laughing about it. Henry has used our sleeves, our pants, our sweaters and our coats as tissue without so much as an "excuse me." So much so, that we've lately been catching ourselves pulling a sleeve down over our hands and voluntarily wiping a green trail of mucus from a small red nose (one of those things I swore I'd never do). I pick my child's nose in public now, my friends. I am a mother. And I will never again look down my nose (no pun intended) at anyone holding onto a slimy-looking snot-nosed kid, 'cause that kid at this moment is probably mine. I've done all I can do to try and keep him clean. But it’s happened: I have finally become a human napkin.
Yes, kids are pretty gross. My diligent hand washing and surface wiping means nothing when my mobile baby simply decides to gnaw on the bottom of the nearest dirty shoe or stick his hands in the toilet before I can say "baby gate!" Henry has peed on every important person in his life at least once in the last year (and at least half a dozen times on his dad--hee hee). The last baby birthday party we went to resulted in no less than three major childhood illnesses being spread through the spit swap of their play.
And I know that this is just at the beginning. There are mud pies, nasty sandboxes (we have, ahem, cats), grimy string cheese and, oh geez, potty training in public restrooms in our future. I guess I'd better start filing away my germaphobia with my former dislike of snot. But, hopefully, I can try to have some control. I constantly see kids licking seats and poles on the bus. And really, bus scum is where I draw the line. So far I've been able to win the wrestling match to keep my bundle of joy from eating bus slime whenever we're on board. I'll check back in a year or two and let you know if I'm still fighting that good fight.
What's amazed me more than anything is that through all the gross baby stuff and the very mundane trials of the past few weeks, I never thought that I wanted out. I may have wanted to call in sick for mommy duty, but I never wanted out. I have just been more and more delighted to see my little boy crawling faster and faster, trying so hard to figure out those first tentative steps, and very definitely finding his first few words, which probably won’t be “excuse me.” So, yes, these weeks (and months) have been action-packed ... and snot-filled. But I'm pretty sure that what I will remember is not the fever, or the battle to keep bottles clean, but the first time he said "Night-night" to his dad or meowed back at the cat. I'm just so pleased with all these little accomplishments that the snot doesn't matter.
So, do you have to be brave to have kids? Heck yeah. Brave and little crazy (or in my case, crazy AND naïve). But I also think you'd have to be brave not to have kids. Because all the little hugs, tiny steps, first words and smiles would be hard to miss. They're worth a little leakage here, there and, well, basically everywhere.
Amber Willis is an editor with myRegence.com. She and her husband welcomed their first child, Henry, in January 2008. She can be found navigating the murky waters of new parenthood in Portland, Ore.