Back in my pre-child days, when I'd look at a very young baby, all I saw was a grouchy troll. It's no wonder, I'd think, that the smart celebrities wait a month or two before releasing pictures of their newborn to the press. Even kids with the genes to ensure they'll grow up to be more attractive than is legal in most states start life looking more like Benjamin Button than Brad Pitt.
Not to their parents, though. The average squish-faced, wailing newborn is a specimen of unquestionable beauty to Mom and Dad. When I gave birth, I was certain my son was destined for the list of Most Beautiful People. Rollie was the most breathtaking thing I'd ever seen (and I've seen Robert Pattinson in high-def). He was 7 pounds 10 ounces of wrinkled skin, fuzzy hair, and long, delicate fingers. I sat in my hospital bed swooning over his puffy eyes, frowny old-man face, and yellowed complexion. I tickled his scrawny chicken legs and wiped carefully around his purple umbilical cord stump, enchanted with all 19 irresistible inches of him.
I was delirious. I had an ice pack in my undies. But I was in love with this egg-headed, flaky-skinned guy. When Rollie developed a raging case of cradle cap at 2 weeks, even that didn't crush my crush. He was a stunner despite the scales. And then there was the baby acne. My son looked like he could have been Proactiv's first newborn spokesman, but I didn't care. I proudly presented him to anyone who would peek inside his stroller.
Dressing my little man was so much fun! I spent more time choosing Rollie's outfits than I'd ever spent on my own. If he spit up on a bodysuit, it was a perfect excuse to put him in another, even cuter one. Rollie was my doll, though he was a bit scratched. Did I mention that his fingernails were always finding his face? I tried everything to keep him from roughing up his skin, but he hated to be swaddled, and mittens made him wail in frustration. No matter how short I kept his nails, he woke from naps with red lines. You'd have thought he shared his crib with a couple of feral cats.
As Rollie grew, he filled out. A lot. Lugging him around in his car seat was like toting a fortune in gold bricks. Strangers would greet him with "He sure doesn't miss many meals!" His rolls had rolls. We were losing Binkies in his arm folds. Also, his hair began to fall out. Not that he had so much to begin with, but by about 4 months, he had developed a bald patch on the back of his head. When new hair grew in, it was erratic and thin, like a half-blown dandelion.
As his mom, I didn't mind these physical oddities in the least, especially when he smiled. Every time I looked at that drooly, gummy, full-on grin, all I saw was a happy baby who would always be beautiful in my eyes. And that's a good thing, because stroller walks eventually give way to time-outs. Instead of being covered in spit-up, Rollie now comes to me covered in dirt from my trampled flower bed. Gone are the rompers of my choosing, and in their place are the T-shirts he insists on wearing until they're ratty. He's no longer a miniature sumo wrestler, but a gangly, smooth-skinned blond with a penchant for spiders.
The moments when I can sit and admire Rollie are fleeting now. He is a whirlwind of questions and fears and tricks and games. My son is a full-blown boy, and it's hard for me to remember him as that scratched-up, balding, plump, pimple-covered infant I'd come to adore.
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of American Baby magazine.