When you're leaking milk out of both nipples and wearing spit-up stains like epaulets, it's hard to remember that the early months with baby don't last forever. But as everyone from your mom to the grocery store cashier will tell you, the 3 a.m. wake-up calls, fights with the five-point harnesses, and incessant "Wheels on the Bus" medleys really do pass in the blink of an eye. In their place remain only the sweetest moments of early parenthood, when smelling your baby's head was as relaxing as a yoga class and when your arms hardly ached after holding her for hours.
Of course, that fondness won't hit you for a while. My son is about to enter kindergarten, and I've just started to forget how exhausted I felt back then, how I had to schedule my days around his naps, meals, and diaper changes. Here are the 10 baby book-worthy memories I think about instead.
1. Baby fat. My son was a solid 9 pounds at birth and never looked back. As such, I was able to enjoy a year or two of pure baby roll bliss. His cheeks were fleshy balloons, and his pudge created insanely cute (and deep) creases around his neck, thighs, fingers, toes, and wrists that were visible even under clothes. The rolls meant a little extra maintenance—the ones around the neck were notorious milk-trappers—but they also made him look like a buff mini superhero. And what mom doesn't love that?
2. Spontaneous happy screams. My 5-year-old is absolutely capable of unbridled enthusiasm—but it's nothing compared to the ear-splitting yelps of joy he let out as a baby. Like a tsunami of happiness, his squeals came on strong, loud, and without much warning. It was like his little body couldn't contain all the exuberance, and—thankfully for me—the excess had to come spilling out somewhere.
3. Easier travel. He may be able to sit still for longer periods of time these days, but vacationing was surprisingly easier when my son was younger. If we were running late, we could just scoop him up in our arms and bolt to the departing gate. Travel was cheaper, too: He rode on our laps during flights and train rides until he was 2, saving us the cost of an extra ticket, and we never had to deal with relentless requests for toys from the gift shop.
4. Food comas. I loved feeding my baby. Besides the built-in bonding time, it was widely respected QT where I could catch up on TV, check email, or drink in this wonderful, weird little person without any interruptions from the outside world. And then there was the beautiful food coma that awaited him at the end, a sweet slumber that never failed to calm fussiness or cure a bad mood. If only his after-school PB&J had the same effect.
5. Nap time. For 18 long, terrible months, my son refused to sleep through the night. My saving grace during that time—other than coffee, of course—were his daily naps. Sure, I sometimes wished I didn't have to plan my day in pre- and post-sleep segments, but I took those pockets of down time for what they were: stretches of much-needed me time where I could sink into the sofa or do things that required two hands, like make a sandwich. Every once in a while, when it's 3 p.m. and I'm still building Lego towers, I'll ask if he'd like to take a nap. He says no every time, but I'm holding out hope he'll have a change of heart one of these days.
6. Simple pleasures. Pre-baby, I knew two speeds: fast and faster. But once my son arrived, I learned the art of slowing way down. I figured that he was experiencing this world for the very first time, and the least I could do was not rush his process. So I traded speed walking for strolling and retrained myself to notice (and point out) anything that might be of interest to him. This meant we spent a lot of time making the most of mundane moments: watching lines of ants march across our sidewalk, listening to the different sounds dried leaves made when we stepped on them, letting blades of grass tickle the soles of our feet, and counting how many construction vehicles whooshed down our street.
7. Adorable clothes. Kimono-style onesies, footed pants, sock with grippers on the bottom, clothes with animal faces on the bum—there's nothing cuter than baby clothes. And if you're the parent of a boy, you'll quickly discover that the cuteness of his wardrobe peaks around age 2. After that, it's a downhill slide into superhero shirts, sweat-stained athletic socks, and grimy jeans. Trust me.
8. A constant stream of visitors. Having a baby gave my husband and me a built-in reason to bow out of a 10 p.m. dinner party in Brooklyn or skip a holiday party neither of us wanted to attend anyway. Not that it mattered. Our friends and family couldn't wait to meet our kiddo so they happily traveled to us—usually with a meal in hand.
9. Strolling. Truth? I had a love-hate relationship with our stroller. It was a necessary evil—how else to get across town on foot?—but it was also a pain to navigate. If a store had a set of stairs instead of a ramp, I didn't go in. When we went out to eat, we had to deal with squeezing our baby's ride into an already-crowded stroller parking area. If we were ambling through a hipster neighborhood, we had to withstand many a stink eye. But now that my son is able to walk everywhere, I've come to appreciate—and miss—how much faster we used to move on wheels.
10. Oh-so-sweet baby smells. Peonies, step aside. Vanilla-scented candle, it’s been real. The first time I caught a whiff of my son’s delicate, honeyed newborn scent, I was hooked. Let’s put it this way: It was so intoxicating that I found myself even sniffing his sausage-like toes. It’s a good thing I soaked up the goodness back then, because some time around the start of the school year, his sweet tootsies turned into full-on stinky kid feet.
11. All the small firsts. I knew I'd want to capture the major milestones—rolling over, sitting up unassisted, a meal of solids, walking—but it turned out, I got just as excited for the smaller ones. And lucky for me, they happened virtually every day. Our first picnic, his first ride on the subway, his first playdate, the first time he tried barbecue, the first time his feet actually smelled bad—no detail or moment was too small for me to celebrate. I recorded them all in a journal, and reading my notes years later, I can still remember just how in awe I was—and still am—of this child of mine.