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The one who keeps you humble

Joined: 11/6/2008
Posts: 702
My dad’s cousin Julie told me, “You always get one child that keeps you humble.”

This statement (which came when Julie and I chatted over glasses of wine and large plates of mashed potatoes during a family reunion) was in response to her asking
how my baby, Story, was doing. I answered her stoically – weaving my tale of woe from the last 10 months.

Story has humbled me. Completely. Some days she makes me feel hollow. I often joke that at her first birthday party, I’m getting wasted and celebrating the sheer joy that I somehow survived the first year with her. Looking back on the past 10 months of life with her, I realize how hard it has been. I see the circles under my eyes, the sallow hue of my once vibrant skin, the wrinkles that I didn’t have less than a year ago – all remnants of my baby girl’s willfulness and demands.

She came into the world shrieking – hands in fists, red faced, eyes closed. We said she was a Wednesday child – full of woe (as some versions of the days of the week nursery rhyme puts it). Our doctor said that we were going to give her a complex.

I don’t think there was ever a time that I didn’t think our second daughter would be a handful. I knew it even during my pregnancy. I felt sour the entire time. I could smell through walls – sniffing out old garlic hidden in the shadowy corners of our cabinets that my husband couldn’t even smell when he finally unearthed the offensive bulb. “How could you smell that?” he asked.

I just could.

How did I know my baby would be (as we lovingly call her) a widow maker?

I just knew.

The first day of Story’s life, she greeted her never-ending stream of visitors with grace and cuteness. They gooed at her and she appropriately responded by yawning and staring at them. After the last visitor left, and we breathed a sigh of relief, Story began her first of many non-ending tirades. We each took turns holding her and comforting her. Even the nurses commented on how “angry” she seemed.

People say all sorts of things when you are expecting a child or when you have one. I remember a woman who stopped me in a farmer’s market and marveled at our first daughter, Raina, when she was about 8 months old. “She’s so calm. That’s because she has calm parents.”

So, what happened in the span of 4 years? Did we become stressed? I didn’t feel any more stressed than I was when we had Raina, so what was the difference this time?

We found out, after discovering blood several times in Story’s diaper, that she had a milk protein allergy. Because I was exclusively breastfeeding her, I needed to eliminate all dairy from my diet – no cheese, milk, butter, yogurt, cream, ice cream, cookies, dessert or chocolate (basically all the good stuff needed to be removed). It seemed to help the blood issue, but it did not stop her screaming. Some days, I nursed her every hour or more as that was the only remedy for her crying jags.

Even with all that nursing, Story remained tiny – small but mighty. Her presence in any room was noticeable. It wasn’t just the screaming, but her wide open, blue stare. We say that she stares into people’s souls. (Just as a side note – don’t tell your doctor things like this as he will look at you with worry and say, “What do you mean by that?” As if I really think my daughter can stare into the souls of others).

Story’s presence was explosive in all ways those first few months – I think my record in one day was about 20 diaper changes. One nasty explosion after another.

We were all exhausted by her. Our daughter, Raina, who couldn’t wait to have a baby sister, seemed confused by the screaming, red faced being who needed constant attention. Raina was continually told “no” for the first time in her life – no touching, no holding, no trying to play with mommy while she nursed. We told her that Story was off limits when she was nursing or sleeping . . . which was pretty much all the time. So, Raina fended for herself and started doing things alone. Who can blame her?

I really thought I had the parenting thing down before Story came into our world. My best friend told me that it was my own fault because I named her Story. “What did you expect from a child named Story?” I’m not sure what I expected, but what I got was close to mental and physical exhaustion.

I look back and think about how humbling these 10 months have been. I feel stronger as a human being having survived it without breaking down, and I feel weaker knowing that I was not a perfect parent who had answers that other parents didn’t. I didn’t have some magic touch with children that made them calm just because I was. I didn’t always know what to do with my baby (other than just hold her) when she screamed and screamed and screamed some more.

And lately, I have been humbled in other ways. My daughters take baths together, and I am humbled by the sight of their love for each other. So much so that I can’t walk into the bathroom without crying seeing Story’s tiny white back and Raina swimming around her like a mermaid with a washcloth. My husband took over bath time for me, just so the girls didn’t think something was terribly wrong with mommy. I am humbled by the way Story loves me. She flaps her arms and claps whenever I walk in a room. She smiles at me with such force that her face turns pink. I am humbled by my 5 year old’s love for her baby sister – her constant will to “help” and hold and take over even when Story’s wrath and screaming fits wake her up and we push her away – telling her “no”. She is the big sister and she will not take “no” for an answer. She loves Story too much to stay away.

The most humbling part of all is that it made me realize how human we all are in my little family. My 5 year old daughter is searching for her place as both a big sister and as a little girl who needs love, attention, and constant approval from her parents. My husband and I are searching for our space with ourselves and each other while parenting a high needs baby and a 5 year old who feels neglected. And Story is becoming a happy baby rather than an iron fisted dictator.

We have been humbled, but I doubt this will be a time we look back on and feel sad. We will look back on this time when we bonded as a family, that we loved Story with every ounce of our beings, that we loved each other even when we didn’t have the answers.

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