Monday, August 27, 2012

I Love You Baby - Part 1

My first husband and I tried for five months to get pregnant until we finally succeeded in creating our first child. I was very physically active during my pregnancy - young, healthy, taking very good care of both myself and my unborn child, excited about this new life that was growing inside me.

My husband and I were not very close but our life was orderly, and between that relationship and the turmoil of my youth I knew literally nothing about extreme levels of the caring, kindness, gentleness, the nurturing that mothers were supposed to feel. Stupidly in hindsight, I worried a lot about whether or not I could and would be a good mother. Whether or not I had it "in me" to truly nurture another. I remember thinking "I can't even keep a house plant alive - how the hell am I going to be able to take care of a baby??"

But I remember feeling first the faintest and then the increasing sense of love and tenderness from the moment I found out for certain that I was indeed pregnant. There was a growing "someone" inside me. He or she (it wasn't fashionable to learn the gender of the baby ahead of time back then) was part of me. Cradled and growing inside me. Safe because of me.

When he was finally born on December 30, 1983 (10 days late) and I did the stereotypical counting of all fingers and toes, I looked at this new tiny person who I had just brought safely into the world and could not believe that I had made him. He had a warped shaped head from the forceps used during delivery, a wrinkled and red face, splotchy skin, a very long body and a long neck. He was 27 1/2 inches long and weighed 7 pounds 6 ounces. He looked like ET and he was very beautiful.

My husband and I had bounced names around for months before he was born, but if he was a boy I had wanted to call him Shane. My husband had never heard the name before and did not like it, and so after more bouncing we finally compromised on Sean. While still in the hospital I called my parents in Australia and my mother was very upset. This was her first grandchild and she was upset that I had not named my new son after my father because that is what good Norwegian girls were supposed to do. I had no intention of naming him after my father. Not his first name and not his second. I hung up the phone (as I had always done for years) feeling disappointed and dissatisfied and unsettled by our conversation. I did not know at the time that within 8 years I would never speak with either of my parents again.

I made all of the first time mother mistakes with Sean. I rocked him to sleep and he was almost a year old before he could lie in his crib and then put himself to sleep. When he woke up in the night I immediately got up to feed him, not allowing him time to try and soothe himself back to sleep, and it was seven months before he finally slept through the night. I held him for long periods of time. Mother and son bonding closely.

I went back to work two months after Sean was born and I missed him horribly - feeling every moment I was away from him as though I needed to be with my child.  I wanted to be with my son and we could afford for me not to work. Within only a few weeks of going back to work I resigned.

When Sean was three months old I was sitting on the couch and he was sleeping in a day bed on the love seat on the opposite side of the living room. When I heard him wake up I walked over to the love seat and looked down at him. My baby no longer looked like ET.  I looked down at this chubby, round faced, beautiful white haired, blue eyed, toothless and drooling little thing who was wearing a spotted footie sleeper. When he saw me his bright eyes lit up, he smiled, and he began to laugh with his whole body in that way that small babies always do. I laughed when I saw his delight at my appearance, and at the same time felt as though I had been punched in the stomach. I knew in that instant that I loved this tiny person completely and absolutely. The need to cherish and protect him, the feelings of desire to love and nurture him, were overwhelming. I had never felt anything like it before, and I realized in that instant that he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.

I have never, in all these years, gotten over those feelings. I continued every single day to fall in love with him each and every time I saw his wonderful, beautiful face. Continued every day to need to cherish and protect this baby-child-teen-man, driven by the force of motherhood and great love....................

In Sean's first year and a half of life we lived on the third floor in a huge three bedroom apartment in Saint John, New Brunswick. We lived at the bottom of a hill on a quiet street that was sandwiched between two busier streets, and cars often cut through as they made their way from one busy street to the next.

I learned very quickly that when my child was crying and inconsolable, that if I rocked him and stood beside the window he would watch the cars drive by. They always soothed and calmed him, and after that unexpected discovery I would often lay a pillow across the seat of the chair beside the window and lay my little son on his stomach so that he could watch the cars drive by. Sean's first word was car.
My first born child was baptised Catholic (in the way that all good French Canadian children should be baptised).  My husband and his family wanted it that way, and as someone who was not religious but respected others' beliefs, I did not have any concerns doing that.  I had the christening gown that I had worn during my own baptism as a baby in Norway 24 years earlier, and Sean wore that same gown.  Me and both of my sons are the only three people who have worn that gown in 52 years.

When he was four months old the snow had finally melted, the ground had finally dried, and I took Sean outside onto the grass in bare feet for the very first time. His tiny and soft baby feet withdrew as I tried to hold him standing up in the grass. A baby's first time touching prickly grass. By this age he was just beginning to become aware of the world around him, and as I watched this new baby experience the feel of grass on his bare feet for the first time I became acutely aware of the world around me. When he saw it for the first time so did I. When he tasted it or felt it or experienced it for the first time so did I. I relished in the joy and love I felt for this child, and relished every moment I had with him.  He was my world.

When Sean began to sit upright by himself and then pull himself up to a stand I quickly realized that he was becoming a walking time bomb. He would be sitting on the floor happily playing with a toy and then all of a sudden just fall over sideways or backwards. I layed pillows all around him waiting for the inevitable and sometimes but not always, was successful in preventing his sweet face from planting into the carpet.

Once he had smacked into the coffee table a couple of times I took it out of the living room. We had an end table that was filled with paperback books. Eventually those books were cleared out and stored because my first born son liked to climb into the end table, close the door and play peek-a-boo. I had a huge bright red and ugly table lamp that sat on the end table beside the couch. I always knew what kind of lamp I wanted to replace it with if and when that ugly one ever broke. Sean pulled himself up to a stand against the end table one day, squeezed himself behind the end table and knocked the ugly lamp to the floor breaking it into untold numbers of pieces. He spent a lot of time pulling pots and pans out of the bottom of the stove, cramming himself completely into the largest of the pots that lay haphazardly around the floor, and then noisily banging on the rest of them with a wooden spoon I gave him for just that purpose while I was working in the kitchen.

I used to rock Sean to sleep every evening while watching the old comedy show Three's Company. He and I were completely and absolutely bonded by then, in a secure cocoon of love and safety, almost in our own world together. My husband was a part of that world but it was not the same. I was the boys' mother.

Sean's first steps occurred when he was 11 months old. We had a large cardboard box in the living room for some reason (I don't remember why) and my husband and I watched as this energetic and ever smiling toddler pulled himself up to a stand on the box. The box began to slowly slide forward from the weight of my child and Sean took a step forward to compensate for the movement. The box slid forward again, and again my baby took a step. And then he slowly began to push the box forward on purpose, wanting to test out an unexpected and upright newly discovered skill. I still remember him laughing in delight - he dressed in a thin long-sleeved shirt, diaper, and knee high socks. After that there was no stopping him.

I can still clearly picture him with his pull toy caterpillar - toddling through the apartment wearing little overalls with his little diaper butt, turning back often to watch each section of the colorful caterpillar wiggle independently as it moved forward. Turning back often to make sure that it was still following him.  

Sean enjoyed three favorite toys in his crib that first wonderful year of growing and discovery. A large blue train with bright orange smoke stack. It sat on the rail of his crib and when you wound up the smoke stack the train played music as it traveled forwards and backwards along the length of my baby's bed. A stuffed clown who played music when you wound up his nose. And an activity center that was attached to the side of his crib. It contained all of the usual suspects that you would expect to find in activity centers - mirrors, phone dials, push button noise makers, phone receiver, various colorful options that made click clack and sliding noises. One day I stood outside of Sean's bedroom, heard a click clack sound and knew that my baby had woken up from his nap and was playing with the activity center. When I walked into his bedroom I had to laugh at my child - he was laying on his back in his crib, had his big toe inserted into one of the holes of the phone dial, and he was turning the dial with his toe to make noise. I was acutely aware very early on that each and every time I layed eyes on my new son that I was falling in love with him over and over again. I loved him being in my life and loved being a mother.  His favorite stuffed toys were an oversized stuffed rabbit and a Care Bear and he used them often as a pillow in his crib.

In his second year Sean and I spent a lot of time during the summer at a park down by the lake. He woke up very early (as he always did all the way up to the start of middle school) and during the warm months he and I would pack up food, and towels, and plastic buckets and shovels, and we would head to the park. It was always early enough in the morning that the park was still very quiet, and even during the summer we usually had the place to ourselves for a couple of hours.

During each of our visits I would sit and protectively watch over my white haired, blue eyed, very fair skinned little boy playing and digging in the sand beside the water. And then we would sit in the water along the edge of the shore, digging and baby-talking and eagerly regarding the birds and planes and anything else that caught this curious little boys' attention as he began to explore his world. By mid-morning Sean was beginning to tire and people were beginning to find their way to the park, and it was time to leave. We relived this same quiet, bonding, loving routine day after day after day and he loved it. And so did I.

In the winter I bundled him up in so many clothes that he could barely move, me trudging through the heavy snow while pulling him behind me in a small wooden sled. One day I tried to maneuver him up and over a snow bank and tipped the sled over sideways. By the time I had quickly retrieved my small boy he had a face full of snow and a look that told me that he did not know whether to be OK or to cry. Kisses and soothing words and hugs and my child quickly realized that he was alright.

Sean's favorite TV shows during this time included Mr Rogers (I had showed him school buses on the show one day because he enjoyed cars and buses so much, and Sean loved the show from that point on - he called them "school bu bu"). Winnie the Pooh cartoons and we sang the silly songs together and laughed together when Pooh always got stuck in the hole in the tree while trying to retrieve honey. Sean had large wooden Pooh characters decorating his bedroom wall.  Woody Wood Pecker was also a favorite. Sean called him Woody Pecker which the adults around him thought was hilarious. And it was of course but my little guy had no idea what he had said or why the grownups were laughing. Sesame Street and Cookie Monster was his favorite character. He called him Coo Coo Man. And an exercise show that I watched often. I would call to Sean if he was in another room, to tell him that "the dancing girls" were on TV and he would come running into the living room to happily watch the dancing girls with me.

By the time my husband was posted to the military base 50 miles north of Saint John I was pregnant with Chris. Canadian Forces Base Gagetown was a huge base in central New Brunswick, and the town of Oromocto where we lived existed solely because of the base. My parents were back in Canada again - for a few years they floated back and forth between Australia and Canada unable (as they so often were) to decide exactly where they wanted to be, until they did eventually decide to settle back in Australia for good. They lived in Saint John at that time, and my husband's parents lived in a small town called Minto. After Chris was born I spent time visiting both sets of grandparents, traveling either north or south on day trips with my boys. Their grandparents were called the French Canadian words for grandmother and grandfather - Pepere and Memere - but Sean pronounced those words Papa and Mare.

Hours turned into days turned into weeks turned into months turned into years where all I did was watch over first only one and then two little boys. The boys. They were always "the boys". I loved being a mother to these two happily, healthy, curious, exploring little tykes. These two beautiful little people who somehow and unknowing to them brought out feelings in me that until that point I had known nothing about. Feelings of absolute love for others, feelings of selfless giving, of compassion. They softened my heart in ways I knew nothing about, and I was acutely aware of that softening, and for the first time in my life I embraced it. Relished in it. Loved every moment of it.

Sean had some trouble adjusting to sharing his mother with a little brother, and he was very jealous of Chris. When Chris was only six or seven months old I remember watching Sean as he sat on his little blue and yellow plastic ride on car. As Chris crawled around the living room my oldest child would very carefully maneuver his toddler powered ride-on car over to his little brother, very carefully ride over Chris' fingers, look back over his shoulder and then very carefully back up over the same little fingers. And Chris would cry.

Or Sean would walk over to his little brother who was again crawling around the house and just swat Chris' hands out from underneath him. Chris would face plant into the carpet and cry.

I remember (so clearly as if it was only yesterday) watching my oldest little boy in the back yard, hovering around the two older girls who lived next door, trying hard but unsuccessfully to keep up with them as they played. Watching him mow the lawn with his clicking and clacking noisy red and yellow plastic lawn mower. Watching him trade lawn mowers for a time with a little boy across the street who had a lawn mower that blew bubbles. Watching him during the summer time trying to eat a large red, white and blue Popsicle that we had bought from the ice-cream-man-in-the-truck, but really watching him get red, white and blue dye all over his face and chubby toddler belly and hands. Watching him "help" his dad shovel snow in the yard after so much snow had fallen that the base closed down for three days, we had to climb out of the window to get out of the house because the snow was blocking the front door, and all we could see was one small section of brown on the roof of the car in the driveway. He with his grey snow suit, grey and white snow boots, grey and white hat and scarf, black baby mitts with the strings attached, his plastic snow shovel. He with the bright red cheeks from the cold, and the happy laughing face because he was so proud to be "helping" his dad.

While my husband worked I spent days at the lake with the boys. Times when both played in the sand and along the edge of the water, times sitting protectively beside both of them while they napped on a blanket under a tree and while I still had the attention span to read endless books, times when we ate endless picnic lunches outside and then drove home after hours in the fresh air and sunshine.

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