The tyranny of firsts
It’s Friday, friends — and I’m still recovering from Halloween. Not because we did anything wild or over-the-top. But having a popular holiday fall on a Monday? Who thought that was a solid idea?
Since becoming a parent, I’ve put an extreme level of pressure on myself to make holidays “special.” I shop for special outfits, plan special activities and bend over backwards taking pictures of Oliver in his Easter finest or Santa Claus-inspired wear, always worried I’m not “doing enough” or “celebrating enough.”
Not enough, basically. Never mind that, at 18 months old, Ol- lie will remember exactly none of this.
It’s silly to obsess over too many details, I know, but that doesn’t help me stop. I call it the Tyranny of Firsts. Ollie’s first everything — first tooth; first word; first time walk- ing — must be documented. If I somehow miss recording an update from his doctor’s check-up in the Baby Book, my source of unending guilt, then I feel awful.
Some of this pressure stems from what “others” are doing. Despite being 31 and totally away from the cool crowd, I still find myself comparing my reality to friends’ social media posts: those highly edited, fil- tered photos and anecdotes that can make us feel like we’re failing or falling behind.
It’s not all the fault of Facebook, though. As Oliver gets older, I realize how short the “baby” phase truly was — and I feel like I need to capture these toddler days so I can later recall this unique period of his life. Even when, you know, this special time has often reduced me to a zombie looking for her car keys in the fridge.
Before we learned we’re ex- pecting Baby No. 2, the Tyr- anny of Firsts had an even stronger hold on me. What if we never again felt the sweet weight of a sleeping infant on our shoulder? What if the last time has come and gone without us actually appreciating it?
As a new mom, especially of a premature infant, survival was my main goal. There was no “soaking it all in.” When wistful older parents of sullen teens would advise us to just “enjoy it while it lasts,” I had to resist the urge to ask them what, exactly, we should be “enjoying.”
Waking up every hour to a screaming, inconsolable new- born? Diapers that are dirtied as soon as a fresh one is put on? Endless piles of laundry? Sterilizing and scrubbing bottles until your hands are raw? Feeling as though the sleep deprivation may actually kill you?
With time, of course, I’ve calmed down. Gained perspective. I’m distant enough from the exhaustion to get a little wistful — teary-eyed, even — remembering those first innocent days at home with my son before reality settled in.
After Oliver came home from the NICU, our adjustment period was tough. There were times — many times, really — that, as a parent, I felt a little broken. Wasn’t I supposed to be blissfully gazing at my child, filled with overwhelming love and happiness? Wasn’t it supposed to be . . . easy?
It wasn’t. It was overwhelm- ing. Hard. Feelings I was ashamed to admit at the time, but facts I willingly discuss now in an effort to hopefully make others feel less alone.
It does get easier, yes. As par- ents, we figure out our child’s little habits and find ways to prevent that red-faced cry before it erupts (sometimes). We get on sleep “schedules,” even if the schedule is just taking shifts with a partner so you don’t go completely insane.
We start to worry less and trust ourselves more. The baby gets bigger, changes, maybe needs us just a little less. It gets better. I’m better. Until a holiday rolls around. Given Oliver is now a toddler and all the “first” holidays and many milestones are behind us, I thought the Tyranny of Firsts had released its hold on me. But then Monday happened and, like usual, I began obsessing over whether I’d made enough effort with his Halloween costume or taken enough photos or we’d made a mistake by not carving pumpkins. These are traditions in the making!
I fretted all day, drowning my worries in coworker-supplied chocolate. But when Halloween night arrived, we walked Ollie around to visit neighbors and enjoyed dinner with family. Oliver had so much fun, hootin’ and hollerin’ and toddling around with his $1 pumpkin bucket . . . obviously happy and content. That made me feel better.
Confessing these scattered thoughts to my husband made me feel better, too. “Think about the holidays you remember as a kid,” Spencer said. “I bet they weren’t all about stuff. They were about being together.”
I worked myself into a frenzy trying to make a “perfect” holiday when, in the end, the adults are the only ones who will remember Oliver’s second Halloween. Maybe that’s for the best. Kid has no idea how many Kit Kits I pilfered, and I’d like to keep it that way.