Big breaths are essential after dark, when I put my daughter to bed only to have her wake up again, again and again. Rocking her in the dark, bedraggled, caught up in fatigue and frustration, I let out a long, deep exhale... and repeat. Long exhale and repeat... as my muscles relax the frustration and irritability gently fall away. My daughter falls asleep as the sky turns pink. I close my eyes, slip back into bed, I'm almost there... until my daughter bolts up and starts speaking in her signature ChiSwilli (part Chinese part Swahili). I sigh (this is a form of a long deep exhale)... long deep exhale and repeat.
2. Rest and digest
When my daughter first appeared on the scene, she was a little rude, sometimes falling asleep when people came to meet her, or wanting to party in the middle of the night when the neighbors were asleep. Eventually she learned that after her bath, cozy pajamas and a lullaby, it was time to sleep for the night. She also learned if she didn't take a couple of naps during the day and go to bed early, she could kinda be a bitch.
Like daughter, like mother.
I learned that my staying up past 10 has dire consequences for those around me. I learned to steal moments of sleep anywhere I could. When my baby would fall asleep in the car, I would get home, park and pass out like a drunken sailor in the driver's seat. After putting my baby down for a nap, I learned to put down the "device," lie down and close my eyes. I learned that after brushing my teeth at night, as a rule, it was best to go directly to sleep (unless there was a possibility of sex, in which case I'd say rules were meant to be broken).
My daughter learned how to digest: how to pee and how to poop. I learned that shit happens.
3. Learning to eat
I watched my daughter learn to eat, to mush food around in her toothless mouth and to swallow. As she tried steamed broccoli for the first time, I tried steamed broccoli for the first time. Yes, I was technically a vegetarian before I met my daughter but it was more of the cheese sandwich and corn chip variety. I didn't cook much, except for boiling spaghetti, definitely stayed away from anything green, and only used the steamer to heat up take out dumplings. I didn't like cooking for myself but when I was dating a new guy, I'd pull out a cookbook to impress the pants off him. After the pants were off, the cookbook went back on the shelf.
Now I had a new person to cook for, and I wasn't trying to impress her pants off (I usually changed her before we ate). I was nourishing her. Food for nourishment?! All of the sudden my eyes opened, as did my mouth and I started to explore the food alongside my daughter. I would watch my daughter eat, slowly, thoughtfully, rolling each new taste around in her mouth and I would imitate her. I would imagine what it was like to taste the sweet, soft tartness of an orange for the first time, the creamy, fluffy nuttiness of oatmeal, the beguiling buttery sweetness of steamed spinach... I learned how to eat this year because I started to taste food again.
4. Sometimes it's OK to cry... but there are better ways to communicate needs
In the early days my baby cried when she was hungry, tired or wet. As her communication became more sophisticated she'd give us subtle cues such as moving her mouth when she was hungry. Lately she's become more direct in communicating her needs like just grabbing for my boob.
I have learned how to communicate my needs more directly as well. In the early days, I would collapse in sobs from exhaustion, anxiety and frustration. Through the muffled tears my husband may have heard, "Boobs... hurt... tired." As time went on, "Hi honey, are you in the middle of something?" has turned into, "I was up three times with her last night. I'm exhausted, can you please take the baby so I can sleep?"
Just as my baby is refining her communication skills, I take her lead and try to improve mine as well.
I used to send articles to my mom to explain our parenting philosophy and try to lead by example. Now I'm following my baby's example of becoming more direct. "Hey mom, please stop spoon feeding. Hey mom, please let her explore on her own. Hey mom it's 80 degrees, she doesn't need five blankets." When my childless friends invited me out for girls' night out in some swank restaurant on the other side of town, I would try to figure out ways to make it work. Now I say, "Hey if you want to hang out you can come over for brunch between 12-2." Just as my baby is refining her communication skills, I take her lead and try to improve mine as well.
5. A smile begets a smile
My baby smiles a lot. It's crazy infectious. She smiles first thing in the morning and even though there has not been one day in the past 365 where I feel like I woke up feeling rested, there was also not one where I didn't wake up feeling happy.
I watch her out in the world, smiling at strangers on the street, the cashier at the supermarket, the dry cleaner, the recluse neighbor who never says hello to anyone. She smiles at them and they smile back and they get that same little feel-good boost as the corners of their lips turn upward at this simple human interaction. And then they are smiling and someone catches their smile and smiles in return and it's a domino effect. Suddenly she is really out there making the world a better place by sharing a smile. I may be stuck in traffic and thinking that I am the luckiest one of all because I am the recipient of so many smiles and suddenly I'm grinning from ear to ear and the person in the car next me looks over and smiles too.
In just one year, my 1-year-old daughter has taught me everything she knows. Not bad for a baby.
by Masha Sapron. She is an actress living in Los Angeles. She became a yoga teacher to keep her sanity. She became a mom only to lose it. She became a writer to document it. More from Masha here.