I dreamed I had a practice baby. When I woke up, still pregnant, with no free pass on parenting mistakes, I was terrified.
I stepped outside the hospital doors with a new baby in my arms a day after Garry was born. I couldn’t believe the nurse didn’t come home and stay with us. The assurances of a 24 hour parent help line seemed inadequate. These people actually wanted me to raise my child without first practicing on another baby? Thousands of people around the world did this every day, without an instruction manual. That’s just crazy.
The hospital group kindly gave us gifts of a baby hat and an African violet. I said, “Thank you,” but I thought, “What, you now expect me to keep TWO things alive?” That plant didn’t make it past the first month.
At just a few weeks old, I brought Garry to help move a friend out of his apartment. I didn’t lift anything and mostly went for walks around the neighborhood with my son strapped to my chest. That night we ate gourmet pizza. It was fabulous, loaded with pepperoni and jalapeno peppers.
The next morning Garry was fussing, crying, and generally unhappy. I thought, “Of course, my good, easy baby turned into a screamer on this particular day.” Later that afternoon, his aunts and uncles and cousin were coming to visit. I tried to nurse him and thought he’d go right to sleep. It didn’t soothe him, and he even seemed to cry harder.
By the time our guests arrived, Garry and I were exhausted. Garry’s face was puffy and red from hours of crying. At times he wound down a little and just sputtered squawks of discontent like an old car engine. Then, with renewed strength, he’d bring forth another round of straight-from-the-belly wails.
Luckily, his family saw past everything else and just admired his cuteness. They scooped him up and took turns cuddling and rocking him. He gazed at their new faces one by one and was distracted for a few quiet moments. That gave us a chance to talk.
My sister-in-law sighed with relief when she found out about last night’s dinner. “Oh no, that hot pepper oil went right into your breast milk! Poor, poor Garry and his tender tummy.” This wasn’t a giant temper tantrum, thank goodness!
Then, I realized that my first born was now my practice baby, in real life, not a dream. My little baby had his first major stomach upset and it was all my fault. I knew I’d make mistakes as a parent, but I didn’t think it would happen this soon. I figured it would be more like the kind damage that I could appease by starting a fund to pay for his psychotherapy as an adult. This was going to be harder than I thought.