Keep it simple, sweetheart
This morning Tertia wrote about how much easier it was to have a newborn the second time around. What she left out was a description of all the panicked messages she sent me before Max was born and my affectionate soothing reassurances. I didn't save any of the sessions, but I can reconstruct them pretty effortlessly:
Tertia: OMG freaking out about having newborn! Suck suck suck suck suuuuuuuuck!
Julie: Oh, please. This time around I can do it in my sleep, of which I am getting a perfectly adequate amount.
Tertia: what if i hate it?
Julie: You won't. Well, you will, but even as you do, you'll know you're full of shit, because I promise it'll be easier.
Tertia: babies cry! loudly! for no apparent reason! is inconvenient!
Julie: Only if you actually think you have to do something about it.
Tertia: magnificent mother.
Julie: Don't you have an ibex to milk or something?
It is easier this time around, everything about babyhood, exactly like everyone told me it would be. That's true for a lot of reasons, most of them obvious, all based on prior experience: you know the tough parts end; you know that one day you'll have more time to yourself, more sleep, more sex; you know how to take care of a baby; you know that even if the baby runs a high fever, develops a full-body rash, and suddenly sprouts a third eye just so he can cry more, it's probably just a virus. That experience is much more persuasive than anyone else's assurances, so while the drudgery — I mean the endlessly repetitive daily blessings, hallelujah, lo, how I love skimming vomit from the bathtub! Blueberries, aweigh! — of keeping a baby alive is the same, my feelings about it are altogether different this time. (This time I think, Could be worse. Could be hot dog.)
Only in the last couple of weeks has another aspect of this occurred to me. This may apply only to people with children spaced as mine are, but this time around I know how simple it all is. Not easy, not simple in that sense, but uncomplicated.
It's totally a matter of contrasts. Ben cries because his gums hurt from teething. Simple. But Charlie cries because...well, I don't even fucking know. Sometimes it's because he's tired and needs to go to bed. Sometimes it's because he's not tired but needs to go to bed. Sometimes it's because he's in bed and tired but he can't find the Soledad O'Brien bookmark that he has adopted as a younger sister. Sometimes it's because he's in bed and tired and Soledad — whom he has rechristened Annie, I suppose in recognition of the laudable work she's done illuminating the ethnic experience in America, like, Ellis Island much, kiddo? Kunta Kinte ringing any bells? — is lonely. And needs a friend. And a drink of water. A fresh white pantsuit straight from the dry cleaning bag. And perhaps, if it's not too much trouble, a story read to her...? Which is absurd, because Soledad O'Brien is an established television newsperson who's won several awards for her incisive work as a journalist. She can read her own damn Frog and Toad.
Or this. Ben takes a toy from another child at playgroup. I get another toy and deftly trade with Ben, returning the first toy to its original owner, before it's even occurred to the child to whimper. (Babies are kind of slow.) Ben doesn't quite absorb the extent of my treachery, and plays happily with the substitute toy. (Babies are also kind of dumb.) Simple. But when Charlie prefers not to share a toy, there's this long and delicate diplomatic procedure to follow, a tedious and intricate gambit I read about in Foreign Affairs called Ohhhhh, Yes, You Certainly Will. Explaining that we share. We take turns. We have more fun when everyone's playing nicely together. We apologize when we hurt someone's feelings, because...I said, we apologize when we hurt someone's feelings, and here is why. We listen when we are being spoken to. We come back here right now, mister. I haven't yet completed this sophisticated coup of diplomacy.
And I didn't know, when Charlie was a baby, how simple things were. Again, I don't mean easy, because it certainly wasn't. But many of the things we agonized over were problems with easy solutions. Wasn't sleeping? Endure it or change. Late walker? Work with him and wait. Ready for day care? Try it, then watch him, and see. A lot of our situation with Charlie was legitimately challenging, from the sequelae of prematurity to my own fucked-up postpartum whaddyacallit. But a lot of it, too, we made harder than it strictly needed to be. And the contrast — the simple baby affairs versus the altogether more complex preschooler ones — now makes that obvious. And easier, because it does get more complicated, and therefore quite a bit harder, and, lordy, do I have proof. So I'm not going to hurry to make it so.
To be fair, the rewards with Ben are rather simpler, too; it's not that hard to make him smile. Any cheerful idiot with a dinner napkin and a rudimentary understanding of the rules of Peekaboo can do it. (Standard American, please; he's got Blackwood down cold but he screws up the Jacoby Transfer every time.) But with Charlie, after a day when I know I've done right by him, when he leans against me at bedtime and says with a sigh, "Today was a happy day," well, you know, it doesn't get any better than this. Until, of course, we crack open that six of Old Milwaukee I keep under his bed for just these special moments. So I'm not saying that the simplicity is preferable overall; just that this time around, I recognize and appreciate it for what it is. Because I'm not exactly looking forward to teaching Ben that when I tell him not to throw things in the house, I also mean toss, lob, hurl, fling and, oh, good Christ, whatever nonsense word he invents to describe the action of propelling a body through the air, the better to knock over my coffee. Child, I need that coffee.
The problems Ben currently poses are simple. I even know what to do about the fact that he will willingly eat no vegetable: exactly what I find hardest to do, which is absolutely nothing beyond putting it on his tray. (Other ideas? Strategies? Excuses for me to continue to harass him at meals? Enable meeeee.)
For now, it's easy. It's good. I am satisfied that right now, the most complicated Ben gets is his ironclad determination to reach down and twiddle his business when I'm changing his diaper. And I know why that makes him cry, and what to do about it. Note to Ben: next time put down the tiny plastic styracosaurus first.