A couple of days ago, I asked my sister Kate whether I seem like a good mother. That’s an awkward thing to do to a person, and unlikely to be helpful besides—luckily, the baby woke up almost immediately thereafter, giving me a reason to run from the room.
On the planes back from Illinois, Joey had a pretty rough time. I’m starting to suspect that he’s not a good traveler; if so, he comes by it honestly. My husband felt the need to stage some kind of “You are a bad traveler” intervention with me, an accusation that I hotly denied:
Him: You’re really exhausted and messed up whenever you travel! You need recovery time, and you have to tell your sister that!
Me: I’m a great traveler! I . . . I’m quiet, and I don’t have to go to the bathroom very often!
Him: You’re an adult now! No one cares about that!
I brought up this conversation with Kate and my brother, hoping to rally them to my side, and my brother pipes up with “You do get really tired and need to sleep a lot whenever you travel. . . .” Now I’m begrudgingly nearing step one: admitting that I have a problem.
Anyhow, so Joey did quite a bit of crying on the plane rides home. And I’d hold him and talk to him and pat his back, because sometimes my chatter seemed to help him feel a bit better—I had to pretend that no one else could hear me, but was pretty successful at that until I landed. Then a surprising number of people said nice things to me or told me that I was doing a great job, which I found intensely embarrassing; for whatever reason, I have an easier time dealing with the people who are just mad at me for having a crying son. One woman kept telling me that I was so patient, and finally asked how I could be so patient, and I said lamely that “I’m crazy in love.” And that’s true, of course, but also, how could I get mad at him? He’s a tired and sad baby, and he’s got a long way to go before he’s home. Too, I wonder how much the fact that he is generally so sweet-tempered helps; as soon as I got him home, changed his diaper, and set him on the bed, he was smiling and laughing. It might very likely be harder to be understanding if he just screamed all the time. But yesterday was one of our harder days, for sure—and yet I spent much of it thinking that maybe I don’t want to have any more kids, because just having Joey is so perfect, and I’m so happy with him, and why spoil that? His whining little scream doesn’t make my socks roll up and down, but Lord knows I can’t fault him for feeling puny—and surely he should get to say what he’s feeling.
I’m worried about my parenting because today we go to see my parents, and my mother does not approve. She thinks that Joey is manipulating me, and while I no longer completely endorse the position that “a baby’s wants are his needs” (the boy does not need to be standing all the time, or to get a sip of my soda, or to be allowed to launch himself deep into the bathwater without Daddy’s interference), I do in general want to help him to the things that he wants to do and let him take comfort from me whenever he wants it. And we’re not going to hit him. And I have lines all ready about how this isn’t me indicating disapproval of their parenting, it’s just that the times are different and I am different, etc. But it is, frankly, me making a conscious decision to try to make Joey’s childhood better than mine was. My parents prioritized obedience in their children, and are pretty open about that; I want something different. I read a parenting book about trying to cultivate qualities that you appreciate in a child or qualities that you value in an adult—my parents chose the first, I think, and I aspire to the latter.
Thanks so much to those who agree with me about Joey’s cuteness; his eyes were much grayer when he was born, and that blue is his dad’s and likely to stick. I am delighted.