I thrive on productivity. I am the doer of the notecard system, the accomplisher of anything in 5 minutes, the multi-tasker extraordinaire. My life is happily governed by a series of to-do lists and tasks that I can check off and believe me- I do check them off. I love getting things done and moving my life forward in concrete, quantitative, movements. I like schedules and plans and objectives, and that is reflected in my daily life. If I take a leisurely nap, it’s because it was premeditated and planned and I made sure to meet goals beforehand. I squeeze everything possible into every day in alternating waves of fun, leisure, and productivity, a carefully choreographed dance of activity that I genuinely love.
Henry ruins all of that.
I knew he would, and I planned for it. I finished chapter 2 of my dissertation mere hours before checking into the hospital, and I had decided ahead of time to take a solid six weeks off from working, followed by the rest of the summer where I would read for my next chapters, but not write much. I planned to devote the summer months to learning my baby, restoring my body, and adjusting to our new life. Yes, I still knew I would have little things to do, but I was giving myself a pass on the big things. But that was very different in the abstract than it is in the actual.
On one hand, I am doing exactly what I planned. But it feels remarkably different than I imagined, feels unplanned, unstructured, chaotic and unproductive in a way that my life has never been. I knew I would be taking time off from being professionally productive, but I think that deep down “learning my baby” existed to me as a definite objective to master.
If I was honest, the hardest part of these newborn days is not the exhaustion or the physical recovery or the fear that something will go wrong or even the reality that our life has changed and isn’t ever going back. The hardest part for me is understanding my child as a person to love, not a task to accomplish.
Do not misunderstand me – I love that little long-limbed ginger baby with a fierceness I couldn’t have imagined. But reconciling myself on a daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute basis to the reality of how he needs to be loved is difficult for me. Each day I get up and my default response (to life in general) is “what needs to happen today to move as all closer to ________ (insert a million goals here).” With Henry, it is so tempting to try that. I want to make concrete progress on sleep goals, good scheduling, healthy habits — the list could go on forever. By the end of the day, there is spit-up dried down my shirt, half his naps have been on me while I too napped, and my ambitious maternity leave to-do list has nothing crossed off. By the end of the day, I worry that I have done nothing to instill “good habits” in my newborn, that I have accomplished nothing that proactively moved my child closer to… to some far off objective of independence and self reliance that I don’t even know how to articulate.
I imagine that this is the common pitfall of Type A moms. We are addicted to productivity and concrete achievement. Babies throw us through a loop with their utter unpredictability and their ever-changing needs that resist planning.
And so, when I am rocking him endlessly, wondering how I will ever get anything done, feeling like I have done nothing the whole day but cycle in and out of that chair, I repeat it to myself: he is not a project.
When I find myself worrying that we are deviating from our “schedule” and stressing that it will result in a toddler or adolescent someday who is impossible, I repeat it to myself: he is not a project.
When I will the days to pass quickly so that we can meet milestones that make life easier, I chant it in my head like an incantation of this gloriously and tragically short present: he is not a project.
Raising this kid isn’t something that I can just accomplish, something that comes with a prescribed list of steps to work through. Many days, especially these early days, I will get nothing “done” that moves us all closer to any personal goals I have for myself or our family. Instead, we are working on learning each other. I’m focusing on the slow and intangible process of just loving our baby, reminding myself that richer things come from these days than a completed list of accomplishments.