Around this time last year, when Ellie was not very old at all, I made the mistake of deciding to take her on a little road trip to a neighbouring town to visit my friend Bethany and eat ice cream in the park. Our friend Pam, who was coming with us, ran quite late for some reason or another, so by the time we got on the road at least half an hour of my how-long-until-Ellie-needs-to-eat-again window was gone, and that fact combined with the 30-minute drive to the park we were meeting at meant that I was only halfway through my delicious, delicious ice cream (and had just discovered a rich deposit of peanut butter tucked into the depths of the waffle cone) when Ellie started up with that newborn cry that cuts right through the brain of a new parent and is probably barely noticed by anyone else in the vicinity, except maybe for inspiring brief flashes of pity for whoever is stuck at the park with a crying baby. Ellie was not the sort of baby you could just nurse discreetly while also eating something yourself, so I did what I had to do — or what I felt I had to do — and walked over to the garbage can, threw my half-eaten cone in the trash, and fed her instead. When I relayed all of this to my mom after the fact, she gently suggested that maybe I had tried to take on too much, what with the road trip and having to manage the schedule of two other people as well as mine and the baby’s. I think it was a very good example of the weirdness and wonderfulness of those first few months at home with a baby; you have a great couple of days watching Gilmore Girls on the couch, and you get cocky and end up almost in tears, uncomfortably nursing a thrashing baby in the park under a cartoon-style raincloud of resentment, the memory — right down to the flavour of ice cream — branded deep onto your brain with a level of permanence that is perhaps disproportionate to the event itself.
Cut to yesterday. Same park, same baby, same Bethany, same ice cream cone. (No Pam yesterday, because she herself is days away from having a new baby of her own.) I had just settled onto the blanket when I heard a chirpy “Gah-duh gah-duh?” from the stroller, which is Ellie-speak for “Hey Mom? That thing you’re eating? That looks so tasty? Can I have some?” So I fed her some of my ice cream and consoled myself with the fact that I would someday be able to eat a whole cone, maybe once she was big enough for her own … and then I watched Bethany’s almost-3-year-old finish is own kiddie-sized cone and proceed to eat half of hers. I suppose long gone are the days when I could sit and eat an ice cream cone in peace and quiet. I feel pretty okay about that this year, or at least more okay with it than I did a year ago. I mean, it’s just ice cream, right?
(As an aside: there are things you know you need to enjoy before a baby comes along — sleeping in, getting out of the house without having to bring an entire car’s worth of stuff to entertain someone else, drinking alcohol or taking medication without worrying about affecting someone else’s brain chemistry — but nobody ever tells you that to a toddler, the most enticing piece of food on the planet is the one someone else is eating, so you will never again get to enjoy something delicious without a) sharing or b) hiding. The other day I tried to sneak a yogurt past Ellie, who had been sitting happily in her highchair, completely engrossed in the pile of strawberries she was plowing through, and the volume of the shrieks of indignation she summoned from within her tiny body rivalled any of the peeps she made in the park that day last summer.)
Before we had Ellie, I had a bit of a tendency to drop babies on their heads. Okay, maybe not a “tendency” exactly (I did it twice) and maybe not “drop babies on their heads” exactly (more like take my hands off them for a second while they were seated in front of me and watch in delayed, distracted horror as they toppled forward or sideways onto their giant adorable heads) but those two events were significant enough in my life (although hopefully not in the lives of those two babies, who seem to my untrained eye to not have sustained any permanent damage from these droppings) that when I had Bethany’s five-month-0ld seated in front of me at the park, I gave myself a very stern pep talk, reminding myself, “Self, I know this baby SEEMS very steady, but IT IS JUST A TRAP. He is still wobbly and top-heavy and will tumble forward if you give him half a chance. DO NOT TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF THIS BABY.” Then, just a few short minutes later, Ellie stood up unassisted for the first time, half-crouched and with her hands in the air, and I was so entranced and excited that I let go of the baby, who proceeded to topple over and lay looking stunned on the blanket, probably wondering why his mother had trusted him in the care of a serial baby-dropper. (To her credit, I’m pretty sure this is likely the first time Bethany is hearing of my sordid past, so the poor judgment here is all mine.)
This is such a silly thing to say, because of course it is true, OF COURSE it is, but a lot can change in a year. So, so much. Last summer Ellie was this squalling, needy little creature, insisting on nursing at a moment’s notice and at inconvenient times, and this summer she is crawling and talking and almost walking, refusing to nurse and generally acting like such a big, big kid I can hardly even stand it.