A few months after our son was born, I started having going-out-to-dinner dread. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of a meal out, and in those early days, our son was super portable. He would sleep blissfully in a car seat beside the table for hours while we took a much-needed breath in the outside world and had adult conversation. The only problem? I had nothing to talk about. Well, that's not exactly true. I had one thing to talk about, and it was asleep beside the table.
"How's being a mom?" my friend's would ask, a question that encompassed such a vast and complex territory that the only way to answer it over dinner was to list the mundane. Feedings are great. He's a good sleeper. We think we got a smile yesterday. Inevitably, their eyes would glaze over and they'd move on to my husband.
"How's work?" they'd ask. He'd rattle off something about filming in Egypt, and I would want to crawl under the table with the car seat.
I was jealous of my husband in those moments. While there were a million little reasons for that (everything from "he doesn't have to breast feed" to "he doesn't rocket out of bed like the freaking house is on fire if the baby cries") what I was most jealous of was the simple fact that he was still interesting. Fascinating, even. A parent and a person. He had opinions about the day's news. He knew which movies were playing in the theaters. He still had a vital life outside of me and the baby and the strange cocoon of milk and heartbeats we were living in. And when he was around, he was a good dad--present and helpful and really loving his new role.
"It's like every day, she gets more interesting and I get less," a friend with a 3-month-old baby told me last week, and I laughed out loud, the way you do when someone nails a feeling you had to hide from at one point.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I didn't see magic and miracle having a child, or that I didn't appreciate the good ways in which my priorities had changed. I had real moments of being overjoyed in those first months. But I also had real moments of sadness and anxiety. The 3 month mark was a particularly brutal one for me--with every passing moment it seemed like the baby was becoming this amazing little person while I became a hazy counterpart. Add to that the fact that there was very little about my day that translated into a conversation anyone wanted to have and well, it could get pretty darn lonely.
So what changed? Everything and nothing. The baby grew less needy and more responsive. I sought out other parents who had been through the same moment and found that there were people who got it. I went back to work. In some cases, with a few friends, I even managed to shed a little self-consciousness and talk about things I'm sure bored them to death.
Almost two years later, I can look back on those months with the kind of nostalgia you reserve for traveling through a treacherous country. It was hard, and in some cases even horrible, but it also left me with the strange resilience of knowing that I can do a lot of things for my kid, including losing and redefining myself. Does it make me more interesting than my almost-two-year-old? Not a chance. But it does remind me that a lot of the process of parenting is a forgiving one, especially if you have the patience to listen to your own conversation.