It was 2 a.m. and I was up with Aspen, my 8-month-old. We were watching Baby Einstein Lullaby Time. I’ve seen this movie a million times, on a million nights. It’s a strange collection of images, puppets, and toys set to music that appeals to babies and drug addicts. It’s getting to the point that whenever I hear the soundtrack for the stupid thing I get a tightness in my chest and I think about sitting in a glider, a squirmy baby in my arms, and exhaustion.
Aspen was crying, and flapping her arms like a damn bird, and I kept saying things to her like, “Go the f#*k to sleep,” and “I feel like I’m dying,” as if she can talk and understand what I’m saying. Talking to a baby in the night feels strangely satisfying, and yet it is a clear sign of madness and frustration that is a result of getting up every night for several months.
After we had Aspen, people told me congratulations. I graciously say thank you, but I didn’t mean it. What I wanted to say was, “If my marriage is still intact, I’m not crazy, and the baby is still alive after a year, then you can tell me congratulations. Right now what I need is a long compassionate hug and the words, ‘hold strong.”
Frankly, the first year of life is horrible. It’s a collection of long days, and longer nights. It’s a blur of blowouts, loud angry crying, confusion, frustration, spit up, and wet wipes. It’s not being able to tell when one day begins and one day ends. All of this is sprinkled with small milestones for your baby. Her learning how to smile, figuring out how to crawl, that sort of thing. These are heart-warming moments, and they almost compensate for the strange white stains on my clothing that I have to explain to coworkers, but not fully.
That’s the funny thing about children. I have three of them now. My older two, they do some strange, frustrating things. And yet, they do some amazing and rewarding things, too, that seem to compensate for their irritating qualities. My 5-year-old daughter spilled milk on the floor, and before I had a chance to get flaming pissed, she looked up at me with big blue eyes and said, “Sowry Daddy.” I can’t get mad at that. No way. Not possible. But babies, it seems like they are just a little out of sync. They spend all day crapping and crying and puking, and then, they give me a half smile that may or may not be a result of happiness, and I’m supposed to forget about all that. I will admit, it’s sweet and wonderful, but it just isn’t enough to compensate. Not just yet. And I think this is why I find the first year of life so difficult. The frustration outweighs the reward.
But here is what I will say. Those of you reading this and thinking, “This sounds like hell! I’m never having a baby.” Or “Why would you do this to yourself?” I will say this. There is hope. Every day during that first year you get a little more baby charm. You start to see a little more of that personality shine through. Little bits of who that baby is about to be, and how rewarding it will be to raise that child. What keeps me going through the first year is hope.
I’d been up with Aspen for over an hour. It was 3 a.m. now. She wasn’t going to sleep, so I set her down on the floor, frustrated and tired, and grabbed my laptop. I sat on the sofa, the computer in my lap, and started getting some work done, when I felt Aspen grip my knees. I knew that she was standing, holding on to me for balance, but I didn’t want to look at her. I was sleepy and irritated, so I just looked at the screen. But then, the little sneak tipped her head to the right so I could see her to the side of my computer. She gave me a gummy two teethed smile, her eyes open wide. Then she tilted her head back to behind the computer. A few moments later she peeked around the other side, another big two teeth smile. She did this four times, and suddenly I felt warmth in my heart. I could see a little glimpse of her personality. I could see that she was going to be a little stinker, just like her older brother and sister, and although I was tired, my heart melted just a little.
It wasn’t enough to compensate for how tired and frustrated I was, but it was enough for me to close my computer, place her in my lap, and give her a hug.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.