There's a shrinking purple balloon gathering dust under our stereo--a lingering reminder of our daughter Julia's first birthday. Suddenly, she seems like such a big girl.
While Julia thought balloons and package bows were exciting, and she enjoyed her first cake and ice cream, this birthday was more a milestone for me--a celebration of the changes parenting has worked in me.
When I got married, I felt I was leaving everything behind (my friends, church, and job) to follow my new husband, David, to the ends of the earth as he completed his schooling. It rocked my world. But those changes turned out to be positive. David and I grew together by having to depend on each other. Then, just when things were getting comfortable, the coming of Julia rocked my world again.
Even if my parents, friends, and sisters hadn't warned me, pregnancy was an obvious, nine-month-long clue that my life would never be the same. I received free baby advice from everybody--even people I'd never seen before.
A friend and I were eating at Pizza Hut when a total stranger informed me that quitting my job to stay home with my baby was the right thing to do.
Other strangers touched my growing baby bulge. Bag boys began carrying my groceries to the car. Things like that had never happened to me before.
I was ruled by hormones. Sitcoms made me cry. I had panic attacks over the slightest whiff of polyurethane ("This could kill the baby's brain cells!"). If David and I disagreed over something minor, like what to have for supper, I was convinced we'd never agree on important parenting issues like discipline, education, and what euphemism we should use to refer to our baby's diaper deposits.
At night, when I wasn't in the bathroom, I spent hours trying to get comfortable. I looked dreadful, too. David's old flannel nightshirt was the only "gown" that fit. I wore a mouthguard because my elevated stress level (full-time job, vomiting night and day, impending motherhood) made me grind my teeth. And fluid retention made my arms ache and fall asleep, so I had to wear wristguards on each hand. When David came to bed, he'd take one look and get the scare of his life.
Then there was labor and delivery. I once read an article by humorist Dave Barry called "Childbirth Is Yucky." He ought to win a prize for understatement.
I was overwhelmed by instantaneous love for my newborn, but hardly back to normal. I cried buckets of hormonal tears and underwent a period of extreme sleep deprivation. Months after Julia was born, when I started back to work part-time, I actually fell asleep at a stoplight.
Then I discovered that even though a baby is just one teeny-weeny person, she can make a mess like eight teenagers. One morning I spent half of Julia's naptime--my precious free hour--poking around behind my oven with a barbecuing fork to retrieve coasters, music cassettes, and credit cards.
Two months ago, Julia couldn't even walk. Now she's toddling--fast--all over the apartment and rearranging everything as she goes. Tennis shoes in the Tupperware cupboard. Puzzle pieces in the cat-food dish (she tosses them over a gate). My silk half-slip in her sock basket and canned goods on her toy shelf.
How Time Keeps Flying
Whew! Between chasing Julia from room to room and picking up after her, it's a wonder I have time to tickle her toes, smooch on her earlobes, and blow noisy kisses on her tummy. It's downright miraculous I still have time for my marriage, job, friends, and spiritual life.
Actually, David and I struggle for time alone together. And when we find the time, we often choose sleep instead of romance. The addition of a family member has added stress--but the two of us share the unbelievable miracle of our daughter. She's a miniature replica of David, complete with his dimples, but she acts like me.
As parents, David and I love each other in visible, practical ways. My husband often gets up when the baby awakes long before the crack of dawn, or steps in to handle the umpteenth dirty diaper. I enjoy watching his tender care for Julia, and I'm convinced Julia already knows her parents love each other. The backdrop of love in our home is richer than ever before.
There are other fun things about life with a little one. I'm slowing down long enough to remember a baby's pleasure in feeling the shape of a spoon or climbing head-first into warm laundry. Going to the petting zoo. Getting to know all the families at church who have kids in the nursery.
Last night when Julia woke up for the fourth time (she's teething), I walked smack into her bedroom doorframe. After staggering to the living-room couch, I cuddled her warm head against my skin to nurse her. And I had one of those rush-of-love moments. My love for Julia has deepened my affection for David and softened my spirit toward others. This nurturing role is teaching me that everyone in this harsh world needs tenderness and a kind word. It's given me fresh motivation to keep tackling my oldest, most stubborn challenge: taming my tongue. I've always been impatient, yet I've found astonishing reserves of patience with Julia.
Julia's needs are so present and demanding, I must meet them. But it's surprisingly more easy than I ever thought to serve her with a willing, cheerful spirit! A year ago I couldn't picture myself toiling over a fragrant, squishy diaper while smiling and playing piggy toes and tummy tickles. Serving with joy feels so good, I'd be happy if it became a regular habit (and I think God would be, too).
There's so much parenting advice out there. I struggle to know what's best for Julia. I've always been too much of a worrier, and now I deal with fears for Julia's safety in such a troubled world. These concerns drive me every day to ask God to protect my girl, to give me judgment and wisdom as I train her and make choices for her, and to help me be the Christian woman I want her to see.
I've seen God's fingerprints in the changes this year has brought--in my marriage, my work, and in myself. Of his numerous gifts, Julia is one of the most precious and perfect. She's changing so fast, I know there are more changes in store for me, too.
I'll never be the same, but I'd never want to be.
Annette LaPlaca is associate editor of Marriage Partnership. She and her family live in the Chicago area.
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