a panoramic shot of the park on a beautiful day
Dolores Park, where Nate took his first steps (Photo/Wikimedia-NMaia CC0 1.0)

Learning to enjoy the small things while they’re little

The year after my first son was born was a very long one. There was the shock of sleep deprivation, the blur of endless feedings and the steep learning curve of figuring out how to soothe a baby prone to fussiness and crying jags. That was the first few months. We settled into a more manageable routine after that, but I still found myself always wishing he would be a little older: old enough to sit up on his own or to crawl, old enough to play by himself for a few minutes, old enough so that he didn’t whine to be held while I was cooking dinner or getting dressed.

On his 1st birthday, I watched him take toddling steps in Dolores Park, and I felt a rush of happiness and achievement. My husband and I celebrated with champagne. Things were only getting better from here, I was sure. And I was right. Though I loved my son when he was a baby, I hadn’t fully found my footing as a parent. When he turned 1, I felt things click into place. I loved being the mother of a growing, moving, willful, independent, curious toddler, temper tantrums and all. From then on, the months rushed by, and I never looked back.

That little boy is going on 5 now, and as a family, we just celebrated his younger brother Harvey’s 1st birthday. The past 12 months have been full of changes: We moved to a different part of the country, my husband changed jobs, and I became, for the time being, a stay-at-home parent. It’s a role I never sought for myself, and the shift hasn’t been easy. I now spend my days in the company of a preverbal child, living in a place where I know few people and don’t have close friends.

Yet, despite the challenges, this first year as a mother of two has whizzed by. Adding a baby to our family has meant a lot more work, but it’s also brought uncomplicated joy without the stress I felt when I had my first. In part, this is because I now know how to take care of a baby; it may also have to do with the fact that my youngest is a bit less intense than his older brother. But the biggest difference, I’m convinced, is in me.

On the day Nate was born five years ago, I started two difficult journeys. One was adding a whole new person to our family, getting to know him, learning to meet his many needs. The second was internal: becoming a parent. I don’t subscribe to the idea that becoming a mother fundamentally changes who you are at your core, but I do feel that it’s an entirely different way of relating to the world. The hardest thing I have had to accept as a mother is that my time is not my own, even basic things like when I sleep or eat revolve around my children’s schedules. This is a rugged shift to make when your first child is born, and looking back, it took me a whole year to transition into being a parent. But when my youngest son was born, I already was one.

So I’ve taken pleasure in the small joys of having a baby in our family this past year, and I haven’t felt the urge to hurry Harvey along in his development or pined for him to get older. I’ve figured out simple routines to fill our days, and while I look forward to the time when I return to work and have more adult companionship, I’m not overwhelmed by the idea of taking care of a baby full time, as I would have been when his brother was younger. I know the difficult phases are temporary, but so are the easy ones. After all, he’s a 1-year-old now, and won’t be a baby for much longer.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a J. parenting columnist and former staff writer.