Oh how I love him.
He is almost one. It's so hard to believe. A friend of mine had a baby a few days before Noah, and she recently wrote on Facebook that this has been "the best year of [her] life, hands down." I thought about her sentiment and wondered if I could echo it. I wasn't sure that I could. This year has been overwhelmingly good, but it has also been overwhelmingly challenging. I've always known that I wouldn't be a perfect mother (I mean, honestly, who is?), but although my brain knew that, I think my heart secretly hoped that I would surprise myself. Maybe, after my years of waiting for a baby, I would somehow be an enlightened, wise, infinitely patient mama from day one.
I wasn't. At all. And reconciling the disparity between the mother that I hoped I would be and the mother that I actually am has been humbling and at times painful, but ultimately so worth it.
The months of Noah's colic were long and very very hard. There were times when I held my bawling baby in my arms and I bawled myself, asking him over and over, "Please stop, Noah. Please stop." I felt guilty when people who knew of our long wait for Noah would say to me, "I bet you are just loving every single minute of this." Because truthfully, I wasn't. There was much of the experience of new motherhood that I loved--but I didn't love the hours of screaming and the feelings of inadequacy, isolation, and exhaustion. Did that make me ungrateful? Did it make me an awful mom?
There were times when I watched other young mothers at church with their babies all snuggled up and sleeping soundly against their chests, and I wondered, "Why won't my baby cuddle? Why does he have to be so hard?" It was difficult not to feel jealous when I heard about other babies who took long naps or who sat contently in their swings and watched their mamas work on projects. It felt unfair that my baby had never sat in his swing or under his mobile for more than five minutes without crying. I loved my baby desperately, but it turns out that I was still a little selfish.
As Noah got older, he got quite a bit happier, but I still wasn't perfect. I loved being a mom, but I didn't always love being a stay-at-home mom. Without the structure of my job, with its set deadlines and regimented schedule, I couldn't seem to force myself to use my time wisely. I constantly felt mad at myself for it. It had nothing to do with Noah--I loved him to bits--it was me whom I was frustrated with. Some days I spent too much time on my computer and didn't interact with him enough. Some days I didn't prioritize prayer and scripture study, and then I got snippy with him when he wouldn't stop crying and grabbing my legs while I was trying to make dinner. Some mornings, when he woke up at 5:00 a.m. very grumpy and very whiny, I lay on my bed and felt sorry for myself instead of getting outside for an early-morning jog. Looking back on this year, I know that there were lots of times when I was self-absorbed and a far cry from the mother that I'd hoped I would be.
And yet, in spite of all of those weaknesses, there are a lot of things that I did right.
I took good care of my little boy. I snuggled him close, my arms around him, my head resting on his soft hair, as I fed him bottles. It was the only time of day when he was still, and I took advantage of it.
I told him I loved him every day, a hundred times a day.
When I felt like I didn't know what I was doing, I stayed up late reading books about babies--sleep books to help him get the rest that he needed, mothering books to make sure that his development was on track, and food books to make sure I was feeding him properly.
I kissed him all over his little face before each and every nap. In his tired, almost drunken state, he'd press his face against the bars of his crib, his mouth half open and grinning as I got down on my knees and smooched his nose, his cheeks, and his forehead.
I let him feed me with his dirty little hands, nibbling on his sticky fingers with dramatic sound effects that inevitably put him in fits of giggles.
My baby loves me, imperfections and all, and I adore him. I am amazed by how much he has grown and changed this past year. How is it possible that he has gone from a squishy little newborn to a spunky little toddler? How is it possible that just a year ago he couldn't even lift his head, and now he runs around the house? His physical and mental changes have been so astonishing and so visible that it is sometimes difficult for me to recognize that someone else in the picture has also changed. Though I look very much the same as I did a year ago, I have changed perhaps just as much as Noah has.
I still have such a long way to go until I am that wise and ever-patient mom that I hope to be someday--but I have learned so many lessons this year that I can't quite verbalize or quantify, yet I know are very real. I am not the same as I was one year ago.
Looking back on the challenges, the changes, the growth and the joys, it's easy for me to see that maybe, just maybe, this has been the best year of my life after all.