The early days of parenthood are such a blur. There are things that would be nice to remember for functional purposes, like when did I last give this baby a bath or which breast did he feed on most recently? But in the scheme of things, who really cares if he’s one day dirtier or I’m a little bit lopsided? For the things that I care enough about to remember, I have a journal.
Towards the end of my pregnancy with James, a woman who works with my husband, Dan, suggested that we keep a journal of just one sentence per day describing what happened that day for the first year of our child’s life. Dan and I liked this idea so we decided to give it a try. Every night during what is hopefully James’ last feeding session I write in my journal. Dan has his own separate journal. He actually writes one or two sentences per day, very to the point. Mine is a bit longer because once I get going, I find that I have more to say. But why would I add one more new task to days already filled to the brim with new tasks? I have my reasons.
Some things I want to remember so that I can remind myself that I survived them, like the excruciating early days (weeks!) of breast-feeding. I didn’t have a day of breast-feeding that I would consider “not painful” until James was six and a half weeks old. Every single day of the first 5 weeks was rough. Then I got a milk blister and it was so much worse. The point is, nursing was something that I dreaded doing, that I had to do many times per day, and I got through it. I want to remember that!
Some things I want to remember because they make me smile, although at the time they probably made me cry. Everything made me cry those first two weeks. Every. Single Thing. During one of our first nights home from the hospital, Dan proposed giving our son a tour of the house. I said “this is room X” he said “this is where we will do thing X together”. Clearly, he brought much more value to this tour than I did. I was like a realtor and he was a sentimental new parent. This is something I want to remember when I’m mad at him for putting dirty diapers on the table next to the pack n play, instead of in the garbage where any normal human being would put them.
Some things I want to remember so that I can tell my son about them when he’s older. Some of them will make him laugh. I can see myself telling James that within five minutes of being home from the hospital, Dan was changing him and he fountain peed on the beautiful new rug in his nursery. He also peed on Dan and all four of his grandparents before we realized that he was too big for newborn diapers. All of his grandparents knew that undersized diapers cause leaks, but they didn’t want to tell us what to do. Finding your own way as a new parent is a long and winding road, and a very wet one too.
I’ll also want to tell James that the first time he was ever away from my husband and I at the same time was when he was six weeks old. My parents came and stayed with him so that Dan and I could race into the city to go to the opening reception at a gallery where I was showing a painting. This wasn’t just any painting. It was a portrait of James. I hope when I tell him about that night, he’ll get a kick out of it, or maybe be proud of me. He’ll probably be embarrassed because that’s how kids feel about their parents. Looking back, I’m not sure how I had time to paint the darn thing, get it framed, and get it delivered to the gallery by the time he was six weeks old. I’ll also file this one under remembering what I’m capable of doing.
Of course, there are some things that are better captured on video, but you have to know that they are going to happen before they begin. One weekend afternoon we noticed that James had a pretty impressive grip when he squeezed our fingers, so we decided to see if he could crush a cherry tomato. He just dropped it a bunch of times. But it was funny and we got it on video. That never made it into my journal.
Eventually I might want to see how Dan’s journal compares to mine. The two will undoubtedly have different views of visiting family members… Parenthood is so personal. The interactions that I have with my son are different from the ones that my husband has with him, even if the two of us are both watching him do something simple like tummy time. I want to remember what I saw, what I did, and how I felt. With too little sleep and too much stress at the beginning of my baby’s life, I know that many of these moments would be gone from my memory if not for this little journal project that I’m so glad I started.
A version of this post originally appeared ProjectHotMess.com as “Beautiful Advice This First Time Mother was Given”.