Life with Lilybird is good. In fact, it’s so good that I’ve been lobbying to seriously consider just having one. Things feel manageable, I’m being productive in domains beyond my breasts, and Lily is just one seriously sweet kid.
A big part of this is the talking—she talks and a lot. Not only can she makes her needs and desires known quite plainly; she converses. Here’s what I woke up to this morning at 6:30. (Keep in mind that we still co-sleep, her snug in the middle, us forming the banks.)
Her voice still sounds sleepy. My back is to her, and I grunt softly, half-acknowledging her, half hoping she’ll decide to go back to sleep for a bit longer. She pulls herself up on my shoulder and leans over close to my face.
“Mommy sleeping?” The question is asked right in my ear and in such a sweet tone that I can’t pretend not to hear.
“Good morning beautiful. Mama’s here.”
“Mama. More nummies,” she states in a firm voice.
“Don’t forget please,” I say, rolling over. Somehow being woken up at first light by a little human who wants to drink milk from my body is easier with please. It really is a magic word, especially in an adorable toddler voice.
“Peeease.” She adds quickly.
I pull her in close to my body, and she nurses for several minutes as I drift in and out, still in the clutches of sleep.
“Mama. Book!” This is usually a sign that she’s really up (as opposed to the very occasional times when a belly full of warm milk will coax her back to sleep).
“You want to read a book?” I ask.
“Yup,” she responds (seriously—toddlers using slang is remarkably cute). “Cawrl.” I dutifully reach for Good Dog Carl, the favorite book of the past two days.
“No, Daddy read.” Now Stephen starts to make motions towards waking.
“Daddy kiss,” Lily says as she puckers up and reaches towards him. Daddy gets kissed.
"Now Mommy kiss." And then I get kissed. And then we both get hugs.
“Pali kiss.” At this point Lily looks towards the door for Pali. We all call for Pali to join us, and soon we’re four to the bed. Pretty soon Lily’s playing a game of “hiding,” and while this is the sort of repetitive game that I grew weary of in my few babysitting attempts prior to motherhood, somehow I now find it almost as amusing as she does. I think it’s because her squeals of laughter are so completely genuine when we say in earnest tones, “Where could Lily be? Is she hiding?” (Of course, she simply has her blanket over her head, hiding in plain sight.)
When she tires of that, it’s on to particulars.
“Pee pee diaper. Daddy change it.” I love it when she specifically asks for Stephen to change her diaper (which he normally does anyway first thing), as somehow actually getting up out of bed still seems beyond my abilities.
After she gets a clean diaper, we read about the adventures of Carl and the baby—Lily begins jumping up and down on the bed chanting “jumping” along with the merry-making pair.
This non-stop observational commentary and direct requests continues throughout the day, and it really has made taking care of her needs much easier. We seem to have very few incidents of frustration, and it's really quite fun to know at least a part of what she's thinking throughout the day.
Of course we have some moments when I realize this is actually—at least according to one of the childcare books that I no longer have time to read—the height of those dreaded “terrible twos.” Yesterday she hit a friend; today she kicked Pali. We’re starting to use time-outs (which Lily so far accepts so cheerfully that she tells me when she needs one—great except when I was pretending to ignore something!).
My point is simply that the 18-19 month stage has seemed like a turning point. I am starting to carve out more work time for myself, which feels good. I do find myself conflicted by my desires to be both a rooted, nurturing presence in Lily’s life and to contribute to the world in ways that remind me that I still have a mind beyond Good Dog Carl (and a desire to use it in more traditionally productive ways). This topic itself is its own post, but it’s the biggest underlying angst-producing issue that I wasn’t prepared for. Women of my generation were told we could do anything, be anything, and still be mothers. I believe that. I have to believe that. But I don’t think I was prepared for how difficult the logistics would be, and how conflicted I’d be trying to prioritize between these two identities continually on an hourly basis.
All of which brings me to my question about family size.
I’ve always assumed that having kids meant, well, kids. Two kid families are definitely the norm, and I love, love my younger sister. Isn’t it the least you can do as a parent to give your child a sibling, something who knows your family’s particular dysfunction and history?
But things seem so good right now, why risk change? Lily is thriving, I’m starting to think there might be room for me in my own life again, and Stephen and I are starting to remember that we’re spouses and not just parents—we finally had a date night on Monday night, babysitter and all (we found that we’d almost forgotten how to have a lengthy, coherent conversation). Who knows if your children will get along? Why can’t one be enough?
Funnily enough, I’m not the only one thinking about this. Just days after I allowed myself to even voice this thought I saw that Time had a cover feature on families with only children—the recession is prompting many families to realize they can’t afford more. And apparently the widely-entrenched myths that only children are lonely, maladjusted, and selfish got started by one psychologist decades ago, and the truth is quite the opposite. In actuality, only children thrive on having the undivided resources of the family focused on them.
Stephen is not remotely thrilled by this conversation. In fact, I’ve had to fight to simply allow it to be an open question. At the very least he realizes that my questioning adding to our cozy nest means that I’m definitely not ready to start that process anytime soon. I'm just not in a space to expend any more energy without doing harm to myself or my marriage.
In talking about this question with my girlfriends, I realized that one of my patterns is trying to find a place where things feel right and then freeze them there. I'd totally bottle this moment in time if I could. I resist change and try to hold on to moments of tranquility and stability. I was starting to apologize for this, to see this tendency as a flaw.
But my dear friend, in true bosom friend fashion, reminded me that after a hectic year filled with many miles on the road and too many moves, I deserve a little calm. I have earned my stasis.
And so I’ll just sit here with my happy Lily, my blossoming toddler, and enjoy her.
Maybe this will be the last time I nurse a 19-month old.
Maybe we won’t have to upgrade to a bigger bed to hold us all.
Maybe us three is what it will be.
*I just want to note that all of the photos in this post we taken by my insanely talented friend and child portrait photographer, Janine Wagner. If you're lucky enough to live near her in the Bend, OR area, here's her website.
Goodness gracious she's adorable right now! This morning, in addition to trying out the new words/phrases she learned yesterday ("arboretum" and "okay-dokey"), so also told me that breastmilk was "good." Here's how it went. She was nursing and stopped to talk to me (this happens a lot now).
"Mama nummies. Yummy," she patted my breast gently.
"Mmmmmmmmmmm," she added enthusiastically. Of course we giggled at this. Nummies must be very yummy indeed. Then she added, "Nummies good." That was the first time I'd heard her use "good"--and of course it seems a perfect use.
This reminds me of the story my grandma tells of her attachment to nursing (her word for nursing was "keekee". Right about Lily's age, a neighbor came over and saw my grandma nursing from my great-grandmother (isn't it amazing to think of this line of women who have nurtured and nourished their babies?). The neighbor, Mrs. Varney, apparently thought my grandmother was a little too old to still be nursing and said something to that effect. According to family lore, my grandma responded:
"Go away Varney. Keekee good!"