Who put the baby in charge?

(Shutterstock / Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta)

(Shutterstock / Sunny studio-Igor Yaruta)

Now that baby number two is on the way, my husband Patrick and I are wondering what — if anything — we will do differently in the parenting department. Have we learned any lessons from raising Seamus? Are there best practices that we plan on adopting based on our experiences?

The short answer is: Who knows? But the question deserves a little more thought than that.

If I had to describe our approach to parenting Seamus, I would call it (with just a hint of archness) “baby-led.” He is not a regimented child. He is not on a schedule. I try and pay attention to his patterns and to anticipate his needs. He eats when he is hungry, sleeps when he is tired, runs and climbs stairs when he has lots of energy, sits and “reads” books when he is feeling focused and sedentary. He doesn’t talk yet, but he has always been able to communicate his needs pretty effectively. I am hanging out, playing, keeping him from pitching himself down the stairs, but usually I also have two or three projects underway that I can leap-frog to when the circumstances are right.

When Seamus is really focused on blocks, I can run down to the basement and switch the laundry or sit at the table to pay bills or catch up on mail. When he wants to be in the kitchen and play with pots and pans, I can wash dishes, make yogurt and get a head start on dinner. Should he need a nap, I can park myself in front of the computer, nurse him, check email, work on my column and watch Grey’s Anatomy (not always in that order). If he is clingy and needs to be held, it’s time to strap on the ergo baby carrier and do some energetic cleaning with lots of running up and down the stairs. The times he needs some fresh air are the times I can walk down to the post office/bank/grocery store and hit the playground on the way home.

On good days, this approach is seamless and works for both of us. I get things done and he has a stimulating, varied and active day. But not every day is a good day. You may have noticed that this approach requires me to pay close attention to him and be ready to switch gears and drop projects pretty fast. On a less than great day, it means that the laundry is half done, the bills are piled up on the dining room table, the dishes are still in the sink, and I have swept the floor but not managed to get the dirt into the dustpan or the trash can. On a bad day, I have also bailed on a friend date because I could not get out of the house and missed the deadline for my column.

And, every day, I start looking forward to Patrick’s return home hours before he actually appears. I reassure myself that once he gets here I can enjoy a stretch of solitary and uninterrupted time. When reading Hi Baby, Welcome to the World for the 40th time, I rearrange the list of things I will accomplish once my husband gets home.

Now, a lot of this is changing because Seamus doesn’t need to nurse as much anymore. Breastfeeding used to be the magic elixir that made him happy, calm, sleepy and willing to let me sit down for more than five minutes at time without feeling guilty or negligent. Now, for the most part, he could take it or leave it. With the new baby coming, this is a good thing. But it also means I need some new tools in my toolbox. One thing we will try to do differently is encourage the new baby to be a self-soother, who can go to sleep without nursing — maybe not right away, but before 14 months.

Does that mean the new baby will be one of those Gina Ford super-scheduled, super “contented” babies? Unlikely. I don’t even own a watch these days and resist my own efforts at being super-scheduled. But I think that some semblance of a routine will help Seamus and the new baby (and me) all get what we need in any given day. So we will be on the quest for the happy medium. We will also be on the quest for the way to channel Seamus’ curiosity and boundless energy away from the baby’s fragile head.

So, what will we do differently? I am not sure. Ask me in eight months, once I have had a chance to adjust to the new complete chaos of two small children. I think that a lot will stay the same. We’ll still use cloth diapers. Although, before Seamus was born, I had a fantasy that I would hang them on the line to dry, saving energy and taking full advantage of robust solar power. Ha. That never happened with Seamus and it will never happen with baby number two either. Three cheers for the dryer.

Breastfeeding is here to stay. I hope that all I learned with Seamus will apply to the new baby, because starting out was frustrating, painful and nerve-wracking. I credit breastfeeding with the fact that the kid has had a handful of colds, one ear infection that he kicked without antibiotics and no other health problems. We’ll still stagger immunizations, opting for many trips to the doctor over mega-shots of eight different vaccines at once. We’ll still dress the baby in mostly hand-me-downs, mostly gender-ambiguous clothing. We will continue to use our eyes and ears instead of baby monitors. We will continue to keep the baby accessories and accoutrements to a minimum. We will continue to buy Cheerios and bananas by the boat load.

We’ll still do lots of baby wearing, even though it is so trendy these days. A Google search returns hundreds of thousands of hits for the term. For those who don’t know and can’t just put the two words together, it means carrying your baby on your body as much as possible (as opposed to the car seat, the stroller, the vibrating bouncing chair). I don’t understand why it is the hot thing to do these days. Women have been carrying their babies for millennia without coming up with a new term and new market niche for it. But, whatever, it is really easy and convenient, and you get a lot of exercise in the process. By the time the new baby arrives, Seamus will be riding a trike or something, so I will only be wearing one baby at a time, thank goodness.

All these parenting decisions work for us and for Seamus — so far. And we hope they will work for Seamus’ little brother or sister too. Every day is different. Whoa. Maybe that is the big lesson of parenthood. When you string together five days of constant baby companionship, it doesn’t feel like anything is changing, but Seamus is constantly changing. He is not the infant we swaddled and fed a year ago. He is a walking, communicating human being with a will of his own. His dad and I are constantly in dialogue as parents, tweaking the things that don’t work and discovering new approaches that do work, and Seamus keeps changing. So, with the new baby, we will do everything differently and maybe nothing differently, all at the same time.

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