Monday, October 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, NJ!

It is my oldest son's sixth birthday today. The past week or so, I've been reflecting on the last six years and how dramatically my life has changed. On this blog, I talk a lot about the impact of a child's birth, about choosing whether to breastfeed, about sleep training and car seats and other aspects of infant care, and sometimes I think it's not obvious that NJ is a big boy now. He's six. He doesn't need breastmilk or formula. I haven't just given birth to him. He's been out of diapers for years. He is still in a booster seat. And, now that my child is turning six, why do I still dwell on these six-year-old details?

After all, he doesn't remember how he was fed as an infant. He doesn't know how he was born. He doesn't know how I cried over not breastfeeding him, how I wrestled with the decision to attempt a VBAC with his brother, how my experiences with him have shaped my life. Six years have put me in a completely different place, a different mindset, and a different role than I ever imagined for myself.

At six, NJ eats regular solid foods, sleeps through the night in his own bed, showers and dresses himself, brushes his own teeth, is reasonably healthy, goes to school every morning, and talks a mile a minute. You can't tell, looking at my six-year-old, that he was formula fed. You can't tell that he was born by c-section. You won't see that I spent months of his infancy struggling with PPD because of the mode of his birth and my perceived "failure" at breastfeeding.

I remember baby NJ, and I remember giving him bottles, the pain of the c-section. But, as for him, you don't see a formula-fed baby when you look at him today. You don't see the perfectly round head of a baby delivered by c-section. You don't see the bottles or the cans of formula. That's not what makes a person. That's a year or two lived in the blink of an eye. That's not what you see when you look at my six-year-old.

What I hope you will see is a boy who knows he is loved, a boy who loves his parents and his brothers, a boy who is concerned for his family's well-being. What I hope you will see is a tall, handsome, red-headed boy full of curiosity and ideas about the world, optimistic and enthusiastic. What I hope you will see is an affectionate and talkative boy, a bright boy, an outgoing and uninhibited boy.

And he is a boy now.

He is no longer a floppy, perfect newborn.

He is no longer the charming infant.

Or the inquisitive toddler.

Or the bright preschooler.

Now he is a big boy. A first-grader. A grade-schooler, through and through. 

A few weeks ago, I watched him walking out of class with a friend, chatting about who-knows-what, backpack on his back, with no teacher ushering him from one place to another, unconcerned with looking for me at the gate, and I realized, he really is growing up. He's a boy, with his own ideas and interests, his own view of the world. He can come up with his own conversation topics and share his interests with friends. He is in charge of his own head, and while he still needs me to teach him right from wrong and how to behave, his opinions are his own (the occasional "right, Mommy?" tacked on to the end of a sentence notwithstanding). 

One day, I will watch this incredible child don the cap and gown and march proudly down the aisle to receive his high school diploma. One day, I will (G-d willing) see him wed under the chuppah. One day (G-d willing), I will weep tears of joy at holding his own little red-headed baby, who will look just like that tiny baby he once was. 

And, judging from how fast these first six years have gone, I have the feeling that it really won't be long at all.

Will I, 20 years from now, still ruminate about his birth? Probably. Though long ago in the great scheme of things, the facts will never change. I will always wonder what impact the circumstances of his birth and infancy had on his health, his personality, and my bond with him. I will always wonder what might have been different. I will always feel a twinge of guilt that his brothers have gotten something that I couldn't give him. Does it mean I love him less? No. Does it mean he's not as smart as he could be? I don't see how. Does it mean he's not as healthy as he could have been? Maybe. But we can't forget to keep looking forward. Thinking about the past is only helpful if it influences how we handle future decisions. I hope that I make good choices for NJ as he grows, and I know that I will be able to provide him with the support he needs when, one day, G-d willing, he is ready to enter this scary and unimaginably rewarding adventure of parenthood.

Happy birthday, my first born. Happy birthday, my dear, dear boy. May you always look forward and take the lessons you've learned and put them to good use. May I merit to see you called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah, wed under the chuppah, and grow into a mensch.

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