I’ve recently started a new blog about art, and it’s made me think about this blog and my original intention with it, which was to document my various struggles as a new parent. I think more often, I have vented my issues with my own parents here. But it’s what I needed to do. So now I’m asking myself, “What does it mean to feed the baby? Who is the baby? And what feeds him/her/me?”
Jack isn’t really the baby, anymore, but that’s part of my current dilemma. He starts preschool next week, three days a week, for three hours a day. He’ll be right around the corner, at a liberal church we already know about, whose people we already like. I feel in every cell that it’s the right thing for him, the best thing for him. He’s a bright boy, smart as a whip, a good talker and singer and dancer. But he’s also very shy, and he hasn’t been around other kids very often. One of the first things the preschool director told us when we met with her was that at two, they really work on social skills. Bingo. She’s also right in line with our thinking about potty training. “Oh, we don’t force that at all,” she said. “They let us know when they’re ready.” Another gold star for Wee Care. And the cost is super-affordable. We couldn’t be happier. My only hesitation has only ever been, “Can Mom handle this?”
Sure, I have my share of separation anxiety. But Jack’s had babysitters and time with grandparents. We even had him in day care for a very short, disastrous, illness-laden time. (Maybe I still feel guilty about that last one.) It’s less about the time away from him than the realization that at two-and-a-half, Jack is actually *old enough for preschool.* What happened to my baby?? I’ll tell you what happened–what is happening. He’s growing up. Two years ago, I couldn’t wait until he could crawl, until I could ween him, until he could talk. Then I blinked, and here we are. I’ve just recently acknowledged my own need to grieve.
On Tuesday, I saw the movie The Odd Life of Timothy Green. It’s a Disney movie, and if you’re looking for logical explanations, don’t watch it. But I connected to the story in such a basic, visceral way. Two parents can’t have a child, and they take one night to imagine the kid they could never have. They write down all of the attributes, put them in a box, and bury the box in their garden. Then a boy arrives who fits all of their descriptions, and he has leaves growing from his legs. I cried from the beginning of the film until the end. The story touched on the trials and failings and struggles of parenthood, but also the preciousness of raising a child into the world. To top things off, the boy’s paternal grandfather was called “Grandpa Jim” (my father’s name was Jim), and he was played by the same actor who played the father in Contact. If you know that movie, you know who I mean, and I love him.
I really got a double-whammy. All of my mommy nerves were heightened, and also all of my daughter ones. I realized watching that movie that to my parents, I was just as precious as Jack is to me, that their mistakes and failings must have plagued and haunted them as much as my own do me. And that realization broke me open. I cried for the rest of the day.
Since Tuesday, I’ve had several dreams where I’m caring for either Jack or my old cat, Izzie. In the dreams, I keep getting distracted from the task of feeding the baby. In one dream, I end up giving him small cardboard puzzle pieces to eat, thinking at least he can chew them, even though they have no nutritional content. I keep forgetting where he is, what needs to be done. In another dream, the cat is blind and dirty and too thin.
Now, no one would ever accuse me of being too thin, but the blind part got my attention. It could be that the baby and cat in my dreams are exactly what they appear to be, or they could be parts of me that need my attention. Jack is going off to school next week, because it is the best thing for him right now. But maybe, it’s also the best thing for me. Maybe this is a chance for me to look inside and make sure my own inner baby is being fed. What will that look like? More art work, probably, more writing. More sleep. Less time fretting about my fiber intake and my calorie counts. Cleaning out the garage studio so I can actually get some painting done. I don’t know if any of this will actually happen. What it means to feed the baby is changing, and it will continue to change, and I may not even be able to recognize it a year or a month or even a week from now. And of course, I do know that I need to keep feeding Jack, who is a slow and maddeningly distracted eater, just as he was as a newborn. But I commit myself to paying attention and trying my best to nourish the little ones who need me.