Every time I read part of What to Expect The First Year, I kind of want to vomit.
It’s not just because the book prompts me to think about things that I never ever cared about (anyone else interested in penile adhesions? Inverted baby nipples? ME NEITHER.). It’s that the book FORCES me to think about things I never would have cared about…and then to panic about them.
Some parents are warriors.
I, however, am a worrier.
In terms of things that upset me about this book (the paragraph about some babies being born with teeth being high on the list), let’s start with the milestone thing: aka, Crock of Shit Numero Uno. With each month, this parenting “bible” basically dictates at the start of each chapter what your child “should” be doing at whatever age he or she is. For instance: “By the end of two months, your child SHOULD be able to:
- Smile in response to your smile
- Respond to a bell in some way, such as startling, crying, quieting”
That’s when the book starts to become insidious and bitchy. Because what comes next are categories like “your baby will probably be able to,” “may even be able to,” and “may possibly be able to.” The writing may seem unassuming—pleasant even. After all, the gradation categories of skill development are so wishy-washy, nearly imperceptible to non-adverb lovers. You personally could be fooled into believing that the authors are well-meaning individuals who simply want you to be aware of how your baby is progressing developmentally.
That would be the normal assumption. Because that’s exactly what they WANT you to think.
In reality, these “milestone” lists are created for one simple purpose: to drive you insane. (Because if your newborn isn’t doing that already, well, it’s just not fair for the rest of us.)
Because, let’s face it, the list itself is fucking awesome if your kid is doing all the things at the “may possibly be able to” level (aka Baby Ninja Level). As you read the checklist and realize your child is doing all of those things (and more!), you relish your superiority, drinking it in with the same gusto that your brainiac baby inhales your (genius-creating) breastmilk. And, well, when your diamond-dusted-DNA is combined with your stellar parenting? There’s just no stopping YOUR brilliant baby! Your ten pound bundle of baby perfection could pulverize any other baby intellectually, physically, and emotionally. And you? You’re on top of the world because, just as you and your partner always secretly suspected in the three free minutes you have before you collapse into bed at night, your baby basically is a confirmed prodigy, and every other kid in the world is a sad sack of stupidity by comparison. As you spot other babies at the supermarket, lying in their Graco carseats like limp, deranged, cross-eyed, drooling vegetables, you and your own baby exchange knowing, smug—and yes, pitying— glances. As your eyes lock with your baby’s, you both share the same thought as you pass other mommy-baby duos: “Why, those poor, poor simpletons.” Your baby thinks it about the other baby, and you think it about the other mom. The two of you share a patronizing chuckle…but you both know there’s no time for that. After all, if you’re going to take advantage of the beacon of brilliance that is your baby, why, it’s time to get out those Mandarin flashcards and schedule in a Suzuki violin lesson! And God knows it’s only weeks before Juilliard starts banging on your door, aching to see that little kinesthetic wunderkid who can lift her head 90 degrees while on her stomach at a mere two months!
If your baby is NOT doing all the things at the most advanced level—or, let’s be honest, even at the Baby Brown Group remedial level— well, you’re up mustard-seed-shit’s creek without a wipe or a spare diaper. And that, my friends, means it is time to enjoy the gut-wrenching, nausea-inducing ride on the Paranoia Roller Coaster.
I hopped on this horrible ride when Eliana turned five weeks old. It all started simply because I knew other babies (okay, just one) who were five weeks old—and they (she) were (was) smiling frequently.
All it took was one baby doing something my baby could not, and it was enough to nearly make me lose my mind.
Eliana wasn’t smiling—at least not unless it was gas-related. Don’t get me wrong—I superimposed emotion on those smiles like I was a three-year-old slapping stickers on my shirt. But in my heart, I knew. I knew it was the farts and sharts making her smile…not me.
That was when the paranoia set in. And worse, I didn’t want anyone else to know it had set in, so I had to act covertly.
Each morning, I waited until Husband left for work. I waited until Lila was in nursery school. I waited until it was just me and Eliana, home alone. Showered, dressed, and ready, with Eliana fed and content, I became, for twenty minutes each day, the Tiger Mom of the Newborns.
I would get this baby to smile if it killed me.
“Are you in there?”
Blank stare. Drool.
“Today, you are going to smile. Because by the end of this month, the book says you should be able to smile in response to my smile. Got it?”
Very blank stare. Refusal to make eye contact. Staring at wall above my head as if purposefully trying to avoid my gaze.
Sickening even myself, I began to speak in the high-pitched “Motherese” voice that makes me want to punch someone every time I hear it. (Please read this next sentence in your squeakiest, Minnie Mouse voice while simultaneously plastering a huge, fake smile on your face the size of Texas.) “Are you ready to rock and roll, Eliana? Are you ready to rock and roll, my wittle baby?”
I vomited a little in my mouth even as I did the voice, but if this is what it was going to take to make Eliana smile, well damn it, I was willing to repulse myself.
Truly, the things we do for our children.
Eliana looked at me wide-eyed. Then cross-eyed. I covered her eyes and then removed my hands with the hope that she would no longer be cross-eyed, which sometimes works.
No luck: Cross-Eyed Chick was here to stay.
That was when the Ariel Extravaganza began. I sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” ad nauseaum. I did it in a British accent. I did it in a Mexican accent. I did it as if I were a snobby French waiter. Then I did “Open Shut Them Open Shut Them” until my hands cramped. I sang “B-I-N-G-O” over and over and over again until I forgot how to spell it. We did the hokey-pokey together with such vigor that I swear to God I nearly dislocated that poor kid’s shoulder.
Still, Eliana stared at me. Or rather, she seemed to stare through me. At one point, she nearly nodded off even though I was seriously giving her some of my best material. I nearly cried one time when I saw the hint of a smile curving her lips upwards…and then I really started to cry when I realized it was just gas.
The sad reality was this: a shart was funnier than I was. It is a dark, dark day when you realize this.
I tried to be cool about her not smiling, I really did. Casually, I mentioned once (read: four hundred times) to Husband, “So…do you think she’s….okay?”
“Why?” (Notice: Husband did not provide the CORRECT answer, which is, “Of course she’s okay. Why, she’s better than okay! She’s the smartest, prettiest, nicest, kindest, most well-adjusted newborn on the planet. She is the fruit of our love, and there is nothing in the world more perfect than that. Now stop worrying your gorgeous head about it, and let me give you a foot massage while I simultaneously pay all the bills, make you a gourmet dinner, and clean up the entire house just because I feel like it. Did I mention how much I love you both for your extraordinary beauty and brilliant mind, my most precious jewel of a wife?”)
I tried to remain cool.
“Because she’s not smiling. The book says—“
“The book says at the end of the second month! She’s only six weeks old! She’ll get it! Give her a break!”
I nodded and tried to let it go, by which I mean I let it simmer and fester in my brain like a bloodied blister that’s rubbed raw. Why couldn’t Husband understand—I didn’t want Eliana to simply “get it” by the end of the second month. For the love of God, she’s OUR CHILD. And isn’t our child supposed to be a genius? She should have gotten it three weeks before she was born, and that wouldn’t have been soon enough either.
Each day, I tried to make Eliana smile. And each day, I grew more and more paranoid that something maybe was wrong with her. My heart sunk to my feet each time the thought crept into my mind. No matter how hard I shoved it away, there it was, lurking in the corners, waiting for me. It’s the thought that makes every mother sick any time it enters her head.
Furiously, I began reading the “mastery” list of “by two months.” Could Eliana “smile spontaneously”? “Squeal in delight”? “Laugh out loud”? My heart started to race; here we were at week seven…and where were these skills!? How could she possibly fend for herself in the Real World one day if she couldn’t even pull it together to do the advanced skills in the second month?!
And then…that’s when it happened. Lila, Husband, and I were in the kitchen. I was sitting at the table, speaking to Eliana in that cloying, sickening voice that makes me want to vomit.
I shook my head, disgusted by myself again. What had I become? A monster. A zealot. A smile terrorist.
Dropping the Motherese-voice, I looked Eliana in the eye.
“Eliana? Can I just please get one smile? That’s all I want. One smile.”
And, just then, as if all she had been waiting for was for me to simply ask, it came. Her eyes started to arch upwards. There was twinkling. The lips curved. The mouth opened. The eyes wrinkled, and there it was: the smile I had been aching for, the smile I was terrified would never come, the smile I had craved each day during our daily Smile Training Sessions.
I waited…surely a shart was to follow.
Eliana locked eyes with me. And then, she really let me have it: the biggest Muppet-smile I’ve ever seen in my life.
As it turned out, all I had to do was ask.
That was when I put on the brakes and got off the Paranoia Railroad. I had reached my destination.