When I learned I was pregnant, I made the decision to experience all of everything having to do with motherhood. I’d take the preparation classes, buy the toys, and read the books. And then, when my baby arrived, I’d continue the madness — meticulously filling out every detail in her baby book and documenting every step in pictures. I wanted her to have it all — each memory and experience.
These days, when it comes to making choices about Autumn, I often think of my mom’s words.
“Babyhood is this long,” she says, holding two fingers one inch apart. “And G-d willing, life is this long,” her hands outstretched. It reminds me that the first few years of life are sacred, a time to be cherished and preserved. And also that certain opportunities are only socially acceptable and cute during this limited window. Now’s the time to eat cake with your hands and splash in the dog’s water bowl, to wear diapers and take pacifiers.
Autumn was four days old when she had her first binky-like experience, as Dr. Hall soothed her by placing a finger in her mouth. Soon after, I bought her first paci. During my year of maternity leave, I vividly recall perusing dozens of mom blogs reading about snacktivities and sensory play, leap phases and milestones. But what stood out the most was the obvious desperation. Kids wouldn’t eat or sleep, they’d yell or punch, and some of them wouldn’t, for the life of them, give up their binkies.
“I used the paci fairy,” one mom said. The winged magician flew in at night, replacing all sucking devices with stuffed animals and trinkets. In extreme cases, preparations for her arrival included burying soothers in the garden, where in the morning, they had fantastically morphed from plastic suckers to candy – giant lollipops in rainbow colors. It was awful – and also, absolutely brilliant. I found the musings entertaining, but nothing more. I was certain my daughter would be different – sensible – and if she ended up becoming a paci addict, she’d grow out of it eventually, in her own time, at her own pace, with no intervention.
Looking back, Autumn’s relationship with pacifiers went from casual to serious overnight. Any photo of her from five days to 35 months appears incomplete without that extra zoo animal shaped appendage hanging from her mouth. I openly accepted her love affair – this is who she is – but others were not so willing. Always…along the way…there were grumblings. The mom at The Little Gym who had told her child pacis weren’t allowed. The friend who didn’t realize I was within earshot when he mumbled, “She’s too old.” The little girl in line who announced, “I used to have one, but now I’m a big girl.” They questioned her paci, and implicitly, my judgment as a mother.
“She likes it,” I defended when interrogated. And honestly, so did I. My daughter was freely enjoying her babyhood, soaking in all the little things. I balked when the dentist and doctor mentioned that her teeth would be messed up.
“All kids get braces anyway,” I said.
But then, nearly two months ago, Autumn turned three.
With three, comes potty-training and preschool, and alas, another conundrum of motherhood. I want to preserve her childhood in this culture that forces kids to grow up too fast, but I also want her to develop appropriately alongside her peers. When do I help her slow down? When do I push forward? So I listen to experts on audiobooks and talk to my mom. I observe Autumn and learn from my past.
As of 3:22 pm on Wednesday, June 14, here’s where I’m at:
Emphasizing imagination over academics until first grade
Eliminating most screens most days
Hugging tightly, then letting go
And the big one –
Bribing pacis for Peppermint Patties every morning
Yesterday was her first day of camp.
“I’m not taking any friends,” she announced, referring to both Pooh and Nana Paci, “because big girls don’t bring things with them.”
I’m still not sure who it was a bigger step for, but I never felt prouder of us both.