Parenting Round Two has been so vastly different than Parenting Round One. Becoming a mom for the first time was amazing in so many ways. But also, during Round One, I remember a distinct feeling of panic underlying almost all of my activities. Everything seemed HARD. Nursing was hard for a long time, sleeping was non-existent (for any of us), and I’m pretty sure I didn’t cook a meal that didn’t involve a tortilla for the first four months of Miles’ life.
I looked frantically for solutions at every turn and, even amidst the vast array of crowd-sourced-Internet-and-Amazon baby wisdom, there were very rarely any solutions to my newborn who slept at least three hours less each day than every book promised me he would (try Googling THAT schedule) and who needed to eat twice as often as that elusive “average” baby.
This time around has been different and wonderful in its own way. Baby 2’s birth and the ensuing days and weeks have been covered in so much peace. This probably has something to do with the fact that I am not unpacking boxes, that I actually took maternity leave, that Mark works for an organization forward-thinking enough to offer fathers paternity leave, allowing him to be home for those first couple of new weeks as a family of four. Maybe it has to do with my baby, who just seems to have a more effectively charged internal clock, who seems more mellow, or maybe I just know a little more about what to expect – and what to not expect.
There is a lot more laundry this time around and my house may never actually be completely clean again, thanks especially to my curious and busy toddler. I wash my hair not nearly as often as I used to and dry and style it less frequently than that. But even now, after the first haze of the brand-new baby days has worn off, even on the busiest of mornings when our house contains the work-days of two adults, a babysitter, an infant, a toddler, and an oddly ballooning population of tractors and trains, our days have a steady confidence, an expectant rhythm to them.
Waldorf education philosophy, with which I am almost as mildly obsessed as I am with extra-sharp cheese, talks about how a day is built out of alternating periods of contracting and expansion, much like breathing. We come together, we pull apart. Days, especially for children, should have a pulsing steadiness. Like kneading bread.
I love this picture of pulling outward and settling in. I think it’s almost as important for adults as it is for children. Maybe our rhythms are different; but I go a little crazy when I don’t know what pieces of my day I can depend on. (This is probably THE HARDEST part of parenting young infants for me – this always-not-knowing.) And it is amazing to me how this sense of rhythm changes even the way I handle my infant’s sleep schedule.
Schedules are hard for babies – not scheduling at all is hard for families. But rhythms? Rhythm is something I can watch for and listen for and encourage. Rhythm is something I can fall back on when our day starts to feel messy and hectic and scattered. Rhythm is something I know will return, even if an evening or a morning or a day feels unpredictable and chaotic.
I try to set landmarks in the day for myself, just as I do for my children. Mine are slightly different – my few minutes alone with the coffee carafe and my cup, a few stolen minutes with a book or a magazine (like this one or this one), a window of time during which I get to water my two pet pots of geraniums. And these landmarks – naps and meals for my children, these little moments for myself – help to guide our day, to reassure us that chaos is not in fact winning – that the days are being redeemed, slowly, steadily, one by one.
And even when the laundry piles up and the tractors and trains line the halls and the crackers need to be vacuumed from the floor for the nineteenth time, I can breathe more easily, knowing that we’re finding our rhythm. And we’ll find it again tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that.