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Snot-nosed brat

I am the worst mother ever and here is why.

You know how people go on about how sweet a new baby smells, how satiny-smooth their pink cheeks are, how adorable their clean little outfits are? Not my baby.

Right now Charlie is tucked snugly into his co-sleeper, wearing a damp sleeper with spit-up on its feet, lying under a blanket stained with vitamin drops, on a sheet that's splattered with coffee stains. (Mine, not his. He's more careful with his sippy cup than his clumsy and bleary-eyed mom. And, no, I did not spill it in his bed while he was in it, so if you were picking up the phone to dial child protective services you can hang it right back up, yo.)

He has a crusty line of dried milk in the crease between his lower lip and his chin, and I would bet good money his diaper was full before I put him down to sleep. He is filthy, our boy, but will not have a bath today. My baby kind of smells.

Worst. Mother. Ever.

You would think that someone who worked so hard to have a baby would take better care of the one she finally got. People who have children after infertility are often regarded, at least by themselves, as more concerned, more attentive, and more appreciative parents than those who conceived without heroic measures. So you'd think I'd at least be after him with a wipe every now and then.

But I am finding the parenting strategy that works best for me is this: If it's not bugging him, it's not bugging me. The collar of his suit may be sodden with milk, but if it's not touching his skin and causing irritation, it's more trouble than it's worth to change it. He may have just mustered a diaperload so massive it's awaiting designation as a Superfund site, but if he's nodding off to sleep I'll be damned if I'll wake him up to change it. He may carry the whiff of sour milk and baby shit, but if it doesn't stop me from burying my nose in his neck — and it doesn't — I'll attack that soft, smelly flesh with kisses instead of a washcloth. If it's not bugging him, it's not bugging me. (Dressing him in a pink suit yesterday, however, did seem to bother him, so I will regretfully be returning the tutu that I got on crazy mega-sale.)

It's more important to me that he be tranquil than that he be pristine. When a bath still makes him squawk, he need not have one every day. When a diaper change wakes him up from a milky stupor and makes him yowl, he can go a few hours without one. I like him clean, freaked out and damp after a bath, but I like him peaceful more.

And we get along well this way. Look, he doesn't complain about my unwashed hair, my lanolin-stained bra worn at saggy half-mast, my chipping pedicure, my rank flannel bathrobe — we'd rather be peaceful, Charlie and I, in these first disordered days.

I am setting a terrible example, adopting a dangerous pattern, no doubt. Today it's spit-up on his feet. Tomorrow it's a river of drool. Next, a runny nose that he's forever wiping on the sleeve of his grubby T-shirt. Beyond, who knows? Spinach in his teeth? Scotch tape repairs on his aviator glasses? Halitosis so staggering it makes people think he's been snacking at an all-you-can-eat gala buffet of corpses? I am afraid my kid is destined to be one of those unkempt Kool-Aid-stained children who make neater parents shake their heads and cluck in pity. At the moment, I simply don't care.

So in that way I'm a bad mother, probably. My baby is occasionally smelly. Together we scare the bejesus out of the UPS man when he's foolhardy enough to ring. And we're happy. Dirty, peaceful, and happy.