Wednesday, January 26, 2022

We Turned One

Zoe's one!  She's so old now and still so very, very young.  She's suddenly this little person with a mind of her own, with an acute awareness of the world and with a red hot sense of agency.  Yet, she's still taking life a day at a time, experiencing every ounce of the present, with very little concern for the past or the future.  Of course, she had no idea on the morning of January 26th that she had woken up on such a momentous day, and she will likely not remember the smash cake or the balloons.  But we're not just celebrating for her sake--we're celebrating us!  In those many endless, exhausting days and nights last year, it really felt impossible to picture where we'd all be in a year.  On this day, we can proclaim that we somehow made it through 365 days of this crazy thing called parenting.  I am filled with elation and disbelief that we made it through all of those uncertain and frustrating times.  It's kind of like that feeling you get when you're surveying the view on a clear day upon reaching the top of a peak after a long, grueling hike.  

In some ways, I wish that I were her.  How great it would be to experience life in that way, carefree and with no expectations.  In thinking back to the period of time when we could literally count out her age in days on our fingers, I realize now that life indeed did feel that way.  Though things were tough back then, there was a sort of purity to that toughness.  We were such a fragile, yet united family of three.  Together, we were so lost, and yet so determined.  Everything felt so new and every moment so profound.  Our dependence on each other was so basic, yet so deep.  Now, as Zoe gains a year of experience in the world, we've gained a year of experience as parents.  Like her, we're still inexperienced, and yet much wiser than who we were.  We're still babies in the parenting world, but we're a lot more clear on what our parenting values and practices are now, and we're more willing to take risks and ignore conventional advice, much like an overconfident toddler would.

At the end of almost every night, we have this thing where we sit together and look at all of the photos and videos that were taken during the day with Zoe.  With Zoe's birthday upcoming, we dug back into the archives and scrolled through thousands of photos and videos that we took throughout Zoe's first year, which were captured in a concerted effort to encapsulate those small, daily events that seemed so mundane but felt so significant: Zoe reaching for a piece of cloth, Zoe draped over Wes's shoulder, Zoe strapped tightly in her carseat, Zoe's poop on the wall, Zoe's first tooth, Zoe attached to my boob, Zoe eating her toes, Zoe looking at a book, Zoe lying under a tree, selfies in our bed.  In some of the videos, it was painfully obvious how young and dumb we were as first-time parents.  I swear, some of the stuff we did in those videos made us cringe and ask each other, "Why would we do that??" Poor, innocent Zoe... thank goodness we're all one year removed from that point.  I'm so glad that we took these precious pictures and videos, but honestly those images cannot capture exactly how we were all doing back then.  Those quiet moments glittered like diamonds in a long, dark tunnel. Most of the time, the person behind the camera was terribly exhausted and just trying to do his or her best.  

I think that for me, this year has been a most humbling and healing year of learning and becoming.  I realized that, like many "modern moms," I was holding myself to a very high expectation, thinking that I had to be the perfect mom.  I walked through the doorway of motherhood excited and full of energy, ready to be the best that I could be.  I'd be on top of my child's nutrition, sleep, and milestones.  I'd have lots of creative ideas to fill up her day.  I'd be dutifully and happily selfless, and endlessly grateful, especially since Zoe came after two pregnancy losses.  It felt like there was so much pressure on me to "get it right," even starting from pregnancy, but I didn't mind the pressure at first.  Decisions felt so important when you're essentially laying the foundations of somebody's life, but I thought that I'd know what to do because like everybody else, I've judged other people for their parenting choices before I became a parent myself.  Of course, Zoe turned out to be--despite my best efforts--underweight at birth, a short napper, a late crawler, and just your typical enigmatic infant.  So over time, I had to completely overhaul the way I looked at my worth as her mother, or basically my self-worth in general.  Expectations went out the window as I became exhausted and embarrassed of not having it all together like I thought I would.  I had to learn to mother my inner child almost as much as I was learning to mother my actual child.  I needed to address and heal from a lifetime of guilting because it was inhibiting me from trusting myself or valuing myself for who I am, and not as someone who needs to earn her worth through being outwardly impressive.  I was very fearful (and still am) of screwing up and making the wrong choices because of the shame that would follow, which manifested as a vicious cycle of chronic Googling, consulting, ruminating, going through with a decision, and beating myself up over the consequences or imagining alternate scenarios.  For a long time, I dreaded being left alone with Zoe because the risk of messing up felt too great a burden to bear, and I never wanted to make any decisions alone because I was too afraid to take full responsibility of the results.  I've learned this year to be aware of this, and I vow to be better at forgiving myself and having grace with my inner child.  Also, I'd like to set a mentally healthy example for Zoe as she starts to develop her sense of self concept.

I'm far from being free of mom-guilt and I still get anxious when it comes to decision-making and transitions, but if I could go back in time and tell my newborn-mother self some things now as a 1-year-old mother, it'd go something like this:

"Breathe--you are about to enter the hardest year of your life so far.  It's okay to be nervous and to feel inept--mothering does not come naturally, even though people seem to have told you that you'd be a great mom.  Your love for Zoe will grow more and more, it's okay that you feel like you gave birth to a complete stranger who you barely know how to act around.  In a surprisingly short amount of time, that stroller will get easier to collapse and put together, that bobble of the baby's head will feel less scary, those pump parts will feel less clunky, that sense of identity as this kid's mom will set in.  It's okay to doubt yourself, but remember that you can only do your best given what knowledge that you had at the time.  You can't know everything even if you did your research.  Others don't know anything about your personal preferences either, so try not to place too much weight on what they say.  Stop worrying about what others would think for the first time in your life and just focus on what feels right to you.  You'll probably never "get it right" on the first try when it comes to anything having to do with baby-raising.  So go for it--try something and mess up.  Then try again, and be gentle with yourself.  It's okay that you're figuring it out as you go along--everyone is, whether it looks like that or not.  Zoe is gonna be okay, she needs you just as you are.  You'll change so much in this next year, so try to find that same unconditional love for yourself that you have for Zoe and open up to the transformation that's about to occur.  You may think that you're losing yourself at first, but you'll realize that you're finally finding a part of yourself that you never knew existed.  And the best news is, in less than a year from now, you'll be back to eating dinner at your usual time, hiking, and sleeping through the night. "

We're now approaching the 13th month of Zoe's life.  I didn't have a chance to update right when she was turning one, but we did manage to have a big family party in our backyard!  Her birthday coincides with Lunar New Year, so the theme was quite easy to pull together since Wes's mom had a ton of holiday decorations already!  It was so exciting to have everybody come and see her, since the last time there was a get-together she was only about 6 months old.  She did great with all of the guests, too!  She didn't seem to mind being awake for four hours straight and eating every single thing to her heart's desire.  She also was able to crawl to her future career of choice in a traditional game played at 1-year-old birthday parties--she chose a camera!  Future photographer?  We shall see... 

We're still new at this whole act, but I can say that we're at least comfortable with referring to ourselves as parents now.  We as a couple and as two individuals have both come so far from who we were when Zoe came into this world, yet we're still only at the beginning.  Parenting is a constant challenge and there’s no finish line, but I think that birthdays mean so much to parents because they serve as little markers along the way to remind us that we're moving forward.  I wonder where we'll be and what Zoe will be like next year.  One can only imagine... and that is how the rest of our lives will go, I guess!  All we know for sure is that our love for our delicate newborn baby quickly blossomed and overflowed beyond our expectations.  It's been a trip to see her little personality unfold, one minute to the next, and it's also been a trip to see our own personalities unfold as parents.  We have never been so high on life, and so low on rest!  Now that we're over the baby phase and moving into toddlerhood, I'm so relieved and yet I'll always remember how truly special this last year has been.  

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