It was a Tuesday. I got home from working in a coffee shop on Main Street. My dad was babysitting boo. They were in the backyard, my mud-covered boo bouncing on my dad’s lap to “Hoppe, Hoppe, Reiter,” a German, bounce-the-baby-on-the-knees song that boo loves a little too much for my taste. He’s becoming an addict. The house was a wreck. The usual mess of toys scattered about, of course, but this was worse. Our cleaning ladies come every other Tuesday. I help them with laundry and Harlan vacuums a couple times a week, since we cut down from every week, but they do the deep cleaning. I tend not to do the dishes the night before and it feels like a luxurious break that I deserve. (My husband disagrees.)
But as I was leaving for the cafe that day, Ernestina called to ask if they could come Wednesday instead. What could I say?
When my mom babysits, she straightens the kitchen, throws out old flowers starting to stink up a vase, runs the dishwasher, even organizes cupboards or drawers, but my dad only notices mess in his own kitchen. So, I came home to mountains of dirty dishes, piles of laundry and old mail, crumbs on the rug, couch cushions and boo’s toys strewn, crusty cat food dishes on the counter. My dad hadn’t fed Aidan, so I pulled out jars of apple sauce, pureed sweet potatoes, cut an avocado in half. I did this on the dirty countertop next to the grim, encrusted cat dishes. I ground my teeth together and told myself Aidan’s food wasn’t actually touching any of the grime, but I felt a little trailer trash and like a bad mom.
When you’re pregnant and in the early days of parenthood, you have all kinds of ideas about how you’re going to raise your little paragon of perfection:
“Attachment parenting is the only way to go; I’m never going to put him down.” “I’m not going to carry him too much so he doesn’t become too dependent on me.” “Cloth diapers are better for the environment.” “The cloth vs. disposable question is an environmental wash, because of the laundry and delivery costs, so I’m using disposable.” “We’re going diaper-free like they do in Africa.” “I’m only breastfeeding until six months.” “I’m breastfeeding as long as humanly possible.” “I’m not into the whole breastfeeding thing” (not too common in Southern California) “I’m going to make all my own organic, all-natural, wheat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, toxin-free baby food.” “I’m gonna cosleep till he ‘s three.” “I would never cosleep.” “I don’t believe in letting him cry it out.” “You have to let him cry or you’ll never sleep again.” (Don’t even get me started on the vaccination debate.)
And then this little person arrives in your life, complete with a full-grown personality of his own (who knew?), at a moment when you’re exhausted and vulnerable and overwhelmed and blissed out…and all those great ideas land in a heap of dirty diapers—not even flushable G-diapers, just plain old Pampers—in the trash bin on the side of the house. And let the rationalizing begin! “It’s better not to be all attachment parenting all the time, you know, or they never learn how to be independent, you know?” Etc, etc, etc.
And you know what? Your baby’s just fine. Because there are no right answers, just different styles, and, as trendy as some of them are right now, healthy, happy babies have forever been sprung from the breastfeeding camp and the formula feeding camp, the cosleeping and the crib, the homemade baby food lovers, buyers of Gerber’s and—horrors!—parents who feed their kids frosted flakes and fritos. (Do those still exist? They must! And their kids are probably psyched!)
You do what you can.
My baby hated his sling almost as much as he hated the Ergo, so he spent a lot of time in a stroller. The cosleeper lay empty by our bed, while Aidan cuddled up between his dad and me, blissfully happy to have our baby by our side all night long and sleeping much better than we have since he graduated to his own bed. And he’s not very big on solids, whether I chop, bake and puree gourmet recipes of my own or spoon puree from the jar (organic Whole Foods brands, obviously). He doesn’t really want to eat, whether he’s perched in a high chair or on a blanket picnic style. (He won’t do much of anything on demand, whether it’s eating, sleeping, getting out of the tub or waving bye bye.) He still mainly wants mama’s boob, so for now I nurse and at some point I will stop—before he is six (I hope). And I guess there will even be days when I look around myself in horror and realize I’m feeding my dirty, squawking little angel apple sauce from a jar that’s seated on a counter right next to a soapy lasagna pan and crusty cat food dish.