You can fill a baby book with all the momentous firsts in your child's inaugural year: First smile. First words. First steps. But for every milestone our babies are preprogrammed to hit, there are just as many we go through in our transformation into parents. Mother aren't born, you know. We're made. And we're made through a series of close calls, near misses, and stomach-churning scares, all-nighters, and radical changes in outlook. It's only after a few years of this that we can stand up, brush the snot off our pants with our bare hands, and call ourselves moms. You've no doubt been so busy since becoming a mother that you haven't noticed how many of these milestones you've already hit. Allow us to help.
My first diaper bag was plastic and pastel green. It had little duckies on it. Pregnant with my first child, I thanked my mom graciously but vowed never to be seen in public with it. At the time, I carried everything I needed for life -- car keys, credit cards, bottle of water, and miscellaneous trash and receipts -- in a clever little purse. When my mom left, I threw the diaper bag in the closet.
Then I had my baby. Soon thereafter, I discovered that diapers, wipes, the changing mat, spit-up cloths, two changes of clothes, extra blanket, extra socks, extra hat, infant Tylenol, two bottles of milk, a hand pump, two clean pacifiers, the camera (just in case), my keys, my wallet, an emergency $20, various snacks, a liter of water, my cell phone, and a religious medallion (for luck) would not all fit into my cute little purse.
So I dug out the diaper bag and reevaluated its merits. It was waterproof! It was expandable! It had a separate compartment for poopy diapers! My little purse came up short in every category. In that instant I made the transition. I was a mom, darn it. I had to be ready for every possibility. I shouldered my diaper bag with pride from then on.
Until I potty trained my second kid, now 3, that is. I have a cute bag once again, but the contents -- much like my body and natural hair color -- will never be the same. Items found in my purse recently include a pair of vampire fangs, a toy car, a rubber spider, a Hello Kitty pen, three Little Mermaid Band-Aids, an unfinished candy ring wrapped in a napkin, and a bag of crushed graham crackers. I guess you can't go home again.
This Mommy Milestone comes soon after you accept your diaper bag as your personal savior. One day, and soon, you'll be amazed to find that you can schlep one baby, two bags of groceries, one diaper bag, and a mouthful of mail from the driveway to the door. Pretty impressive. But you're just getting started! A year from now, you'll be able to work in a load of laundry at the same time. Add one dangling newborn to the mix the year after that. Remember, all of this is just practice for the Little League years yet to come.
What's it going to be? Baby swallows a button? Baby falls off the bed? Baby wakes up with unidentifiable rash all over his body? Sooner or later you will experience something that gives you firsthand experience with the cliche about blood running cold. No matter how careful you are or how much time you spend babyproofing your house, your child will find opportunities to scare you blind.
But there is an upside. The night you pace the hallway with your screaming, feverish baby, are you thinking about your big 9 a.m. meeting? Of course not. You're trying to make a deal with God wherein he lets your baby live through the night and you agree never to fantasize about sleeping in again.
Humiliation works, too. Picture the time you rush your child to the emergency room because you can't identify the scaly rash on her scalp that wasn't there yesterday. It's a brain tumor, right? Oh. Snot mixed with hair? Sorry.
Next time, you'll remember to breathe, you'll remember that truly sick babies don't gurgle and play like yours is, and you'll remember to try the warm washcloth remedy first. Overreaction is the first step toward learning how to trust our intuition about what's truly life-threatening and what's just an ouchie.
One day a university will offer a PhD in car seat studies. Until that time, we parents are on our own. Car seats, their care and installation, their weight limit and directional regulations, are probably the number-one topic of conversation among new parents, after how our stitches are healing and how little sleep we're getting. And it's no wonder. You'd think the centerpiece of our children's car safety would come with instructions so simple you could memorize them before leaving the hospital.
At some point you'll devise a way of lashing your car seat into your car that seems safe, but you'll continue to have nagging doubts that maybe it's not. So you'll go ahead and conduct a week's worth of research and analysis until you arrive at a version of the truth you can live with. At this point, you'll be a car seat expert (at least for this model year) and you'll have one less furrow to botox out of your brow later. In the meantime, think about how cool it would be if there were a reality TV show featuring the CEOs of the car seat companies competing to get their products into two-door economy cars.
Pain. Panic. Modesty. Name your motivator. Your infant is screaming with hunger and you're starting to look like the winner of a wet T-shirt contest. And there's nowhere discreet to go. That's when you start to internalize your right to use your breasts for what they're there for, darn it! So you sit right down on the bench in front of the bank, hoist your shirt up, and pop that baby on. Not so bad, is it? And nobody's really looking anyway -- or are they? Well, so what? You're on official mom business. This starts you down the road of not caring what the public thinks about how you're dressed, what you're feeding your kid, how you're handling (or not handling) those tantrums, and so on, right through the teenage years. "Yeah, that's my kid. You got a problem with facial piercings?"
Sooner or later you're going to hand your baby over to somebody else, turn around, and walk out the door, gritting your teeth as your child shrieks behind you. Now you can enjoy some of that "free" time that sounded so good just a few minutes ago. But can you? You've been dreaming of this moment, but now that it's here, you're having second thoughts. Get over it. What the babysitters and preschool teachers have always told you is true -- the baby stops crying once you're out of sight and gets down to the exciting business of tasting all those new toys. Now stop blubbering and go have a cup of coffee.
No matter how tacky you thought these things were back before you had a baby of your own, you will soon understand their appeal. You will feel compelled to dress your infant in something frilly, prop her up, jump up and down in the hopes that she'll smile for the camera, and get that portrait. Once that's done, you'll not only spring for the most expensive package, you'll want to throw in the key-chain option as well. And admit it -- wouldn't those portrait coffee mugs make a great gift for Grandma and Grandpa? Go on. Give in to the urge (and get one for yourself while you're at it). Resistance is futile. Remind yourself how handy your new key chain will be when you're out in public and want to show the world how especially adorable your kids are. But be warned: These are a direct precursor to those silly bumper stickers that declare, "Proud Parent of an A Student at Oakwood School."
Sure it's just scribbles on paper, but your toddler hands it to you with a grin on his face that could swallow Pittsburgh, and you know you're going to keep it forever. Little do you realize at the time that the floodgates have barely been opened. So many masterpieces by your little Matisse, so little space in the house to display them -- and preschool hasn't even started. Next milestone: First mural on the living room wall. In permanent marker.
Real moms don't think twice about snacking off what's left on the high chair tray. Think of it as helping to keep your grocery bills down. Not to mention your weight: It's the banana and Cheerios diet! The bad news is, as your baby moves into the toddler years, his diet becomes much higher in fat. And he'll start eating so much less. You'll soon have to decide whether to waste a perfectly good bowl of macaroni and cheese your tot ate two spoonfuls of or risk gaining some of that baby fat back. Size 6 or save the planet? It's your call, Mama.
Don't hold your breath for this particular evolutionary milestone. It may not happen for many months, even years. Or it may not happen at all. Some of us just go out and buy the next size up without comment. What does this milestone signify? That you're still you, even though you're also the mom of somebody else.
The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.