by LAUREN INCOGNITO
On a random February morning, I vividly recall staring over my newspaper at my soon-to-be 4 month-old daughter. She was sitting in her car seat, smiling at nothing in particular, sucking contentedly on her teething ring. In that ordinary, benign moment, I was filled with a sense of peace, a shroud of calm I had never known, and I remember thinking that I was an amazing mother. My child was so well-behaved and content; her disposition clearly the product of my skill and Zen approach to parenting. I was convinced that I was the most patient of mothers—far better than those poor schnooks wandering around the grocery store with their wailing babies.
“Pay attention ladies, observe my child, observe my parenting prowess,” I glibly thought to myself as I calmly pushed my stroller down the aisle, spiritually centered and shopping for organic apples to make homemade applesauce.
I could take my daughter to any restaurant knowing that I could enjoy a leisurely meal. I felt sorry for the frazzled mothers trying to eat while corralling whiny, over-active kids. (I should note: 2010 was the last time I had a cup of coffee without having to nuke it three times.)
I wish someone had illuminated me to the crushing reality that most 4-month-olds are well-behaved because they don’t actually do anything.
I believed I was extraordinary—a parenting savant, when in actuality, Mussolini or Saddam Hussein were probably just as well-behaved when they were 4 months-old smiling dopily at the ceiling.
Most new mothers can’t envision the day when their perfect baby will throw a tantrum tantamount to the dinner scene in the “The Miracle Worker” when Ann Sullivan and Helen Keller are wrestling on the floor with mashed potatoes in their hair.
My tip-toeing-through-the-tulips jaunt came to a crushing halt once my daughter hit 15 months. Most of us make it to about 3-years-old before fantasies of ripping our own face off begin flittering into our consciousness. My 37 year-old cousin recently had her first baby; the same age I was when I had my first baby. I see my cousin’s photos on Facebook and read about how happy and blessed she’s feeling. I don’t have the heart to tell her she’s only got about two good years before she’s shutting the windows so her neighbors don’t hear her yelling at her daughter like some sort of lunatic.
My memory confounds me. Rarely can I flesh out facts, dates, or conversations from my mind; yet, I recall the exact words my doctor spoke as he lifted my daughter out from inside me. I can sometimes still feel the pressure inside my stomach when my baby came out via C-section. I remember the timbre of my doctor’s voice and the breath he drew in just before saying, “Oh my God, she’s so beautiful.” My daughter’s face, the first moment I saw her, is sketched indelibly into my memory.
By the time my twin boys were born, my daughter was five days past her second birthday. “Scooby Doo” and “Caillou” played on a loop. Honestly, I would have let her watch “Sons of Anarchy” or “Orange in the New Black” if meant she would sit on the couch long enough for me to change or feed her brothers. I had no clue what was happening in the outside world; I hadn’t read a newspaper in three months. Al Qaeda could have invaded Plainville and I’d have no clue, but I knew where “Caillou” left the sweater his grandmother knit him. No one was making homemade anything. In fact, I’m fairly certain lunch for the first year of my sons’ life came from a squeezable pouch. I had about 3,000 photos of my daughter and 11 of my sons.
It’s not that we love our first-born children more, but when there’s only one we have the luxury of time, a commodity that virtually exhausts by the time baby number two or three comes along. I often try to recall the details of my sons’ birth with the same clarity I am able to when I think of the day their sister was born. I simply can’t, and that’s my guilt to bear, but that’s the funny thing about our memories, at least mine. We desperately search the archives of our memories, trying to validate and make tangible those remarkable moments in time that become more hazy as the years pass.
When we’re in the midst of chaos, it often feels the moment will never end, that we’ll never escape, and most of the time it’s our most precious and profoundly beautiful creations responsible for that chaos. Yet when we look back to that time when all we did was breath to survive, the edges of those memories, once jagged, will have softened and smoothed.
Lauren Incognito, a Plainville resident, is a columnist for The Observer.