Hiatus

Hello friends and followers,

I’m taking a little hiatus to get my affairs in order for the new year. Thank you so much for your continued support. It sure has been swell.

Because I’m an Adult will return the first Friday of February. I’ll be covering the end of breastfeeding, becoming a participant, and any other weird stuff Joanie surprises me with in the coming month.

Some of my love (most of it is reserved for my family. I’m not a monster)

-Leigh KP

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If not a saucy baby, than…

Before I had one of my own to deal with, I’d never thought much about baby personalities. The idea had always been abstract. Babies were babies, akin to dogs in my mind. I was that person at dinner parties interjecting with stories of how silly, smart, dirty my dog can be. Babies were flat cartoons of themselves doing baby things like pooping and mimicking cuss words at inappropriate times.

Even now, after socializing primarily with an infant for seven months, I’m finding it difficult to grasp the concept of baby personality. There’s a thin line between what I perceive to be a trait and that which I have projected onto her, rendering her a white canvas. Of course her life has been short and she has little experience to draw upon, but Joanie is definitely not blank. There are specific tendencies she displays that are undeniable, despite my skepticism on the subject.

Joanie is first and foremost a sociable baby. She’s fascinated by faces and comfortable in anyone’s arms. Usually she’s very sweet, except for earlier this week when she grabbed another baby by the cheek and wouldn’t let go. I’m sure she meant it as a gesture of friendship, or at least an exploration into the world of other humans. Her caregiver couldn’t discipline for this act because Joanie did it with her big toothless smile, the very same that has won her the title of Favourite Baby at Daycare. Which leads me to her second trait: Joanie is cheerful, ecstatically so. When the other babies start to cry, following each other’s cue until they reach a crescendo of wails, Joanie remains smiling if not slightly confused. “Why are all you dummies crying,” she seems to say. They, those that wrote the ubiquitous baby manual, say one shouldn’t compare babies, but how else will I know which characteristics are specific to my daughter and which are just general baby qualities.

Joanie’s personality isn’t the only one I’ve noticed. There’s Shane and his excitable hops. There’s Tare, always striking a pose. I like to call her saucy baby. And there’s Siobhan, who screams when the attention is shifted from her, little narcissist that she is. Can a baby be a narcissist? Aren’t all babies narcissists? Is it narcissistic to call a baby a narcissist?

As for being blank, Joanie is anything but. She has her father’s scowl, her mother’s evening grumpiness, and her own urge to stand up and dance. Though I’d like to think I can shape her, and I’m not discrediting the value and efficacy of nurturing, my daughter’s personality will develop on its own. It’s odd, if not unsettling, that I have to remind myself that babies are little humans with agency, rolling, crawling or walking through the experience that will determine who they become.

Joanie is not a dog. I’m not imagining her smile, but I can’t presume to know why it’s there.

Cave-Ladies and their Little Cave-Babies

“It is assumed that our bodies will ‘know,’ even if we don’t, what pregnancy is like and what it is for; that we are, on some cellular level, wise, or even keen on the reproductive game.”

Anne Enright skeptically writes in Making Babies about the innate sense mother’s are presumed to have about pregnancy, bodies and parenting. If it were true that this sense exists, and I’ll say right now that I have only the slightest inkling of that inborn faculty, then why are there so many texts written about the subject? Why does the What to Expect conglomerate have its own movie? Why are there endless online discussion boards that contradict internally and whose sheer length render them useless? Aside from the obvious profit, I think the answer lies in a real need, one that combats the idea of a natural knowledge.

Before I go any further I want to assure everyone that I don’t deny the existence of a nurturing instinct. Lots of women find they know exactly what they’re doing as soon as that sneaky sperm weasels its way into the egg. I for one was astounded by the confidence with which I held my daughter on her first day in the world. But the notion that I should know my body, my daughter and what to do with both of them is laughable to me. It applies unimaginable pressure.

Despite my reticence towards mantras, I have one: “If cave-ladies can do it, so can I.” My relationship with the mantra is complicated, largely because of my tendency to over think it, rendering it useless. While it has occasionally helped with some of my more insurmountable anxieties, more often than not it leads to a series of questions. What did cave-ladies know about pregnancy and motherhood? At what point did a cave-lady even realize she was pregnant? Was it when the urge to push became undeniable? Terrifying. I imagine the infant mortality rate among cave-babies was significantly higher than it is among their twenty-first century counterparts. It likely took a lot of trial and error to successfully raise a child to fifteen and cave-mums would likely benefit from some warning regarding what to expect. While suggestions of what music to play to a fetus are useless to the average neanderthal, I’m sure they would have appreciated some instruction about labour and delivery.

As much as Heidi Murkoff’s patronizing tone annoys me, I needed her books. Although I forgot everything I’d read as soon as I felt Joanie’s wriggling, slimy body for the first time, I’m thankful that I am not a cave-person, and that I can refer to a vast library of resources for advice about baby sign language, poop taxonomy, and chapped nipples. I have no innate sense when it comes to the aforementioned topics and I challenge anyone who implies that I should.

Note: If you’re like me and you don’t feel like being placated by TLC (the channel not the girl group. If T-Boz, Chilli and Left-Eye want to placate me they’re welcome to) or Heidi Murkoff or Vicki Lovine, then I recommend Anne Enright’s Making Babies. Enright treats her readers like the intelligent, mature and thoughtful people that they are. Her book is an island of reality in a sea of schmaltz.

At The Children’s Hospital (The only title that wasn’t too glib)

Preamble:

Joanie is fine. She had a complication from a virus that landed us in the hospital under observation for four days, but she has since recovered fully. So nobody freak out… for her… feel free to freak out for all the other parents and kids still there.

The Children’s Hospital in Montreal, like any children’s hospital is a terribly depressing place. No matter how many Despicable Me t-shirts the nurses wear or how many broken mobiles hand from the particle board ceilings, it’s still wreaks of sorrow. Tragedies are behind every curtain. Across the hall from our room a boy no older than thirteen recovered from a tracheotomy while escaping periodically to smoke. A mother was shipped off to the general hospital because she collapsed. She was, as I overheard, “non-responsive.” Walking down the hall of the seventh floor, I couldn’t help but peer through the windows at the rooms that looked a touch too lived in. Large sofas, cots made up with sheets from home, framed family photos on side tables; these comforts suggested a ramshackle make-shift permanence instead of the home all the kids were missing. Amidst all this weighty chilling sadness shine tales of unbelievable bravery.

On the other side of the curtain that separated our room, I heard the high pitch gasps of an infant struggling to inhale enough air into her too tiny lungs. It was constant but the rhythm was irregular. I listened, trying to intuit the kind of illness that would cause the squeals, until the second morning when Jim, her father, said from behind the curtain, “don’t worry, the team here is really great.” I couldn’t see his face but I could tell from the cheerful timbre of his voice that he wore a soft grin.

“They’re very nice,” I added. Without having much more to say I sat in silence.

Then his face, gaunt and stubbly appeared smiling from the other side of the curtain. He was clutching a mug with a picture of a baby boy printed on it. “We were here with my older son last year. He has a lesion in his brain. One in two thousand babies have it and he needs neurosurgery. We’ve been here for a month with my daughter. They transferred us from Ste. Justine a couple of days after she was born. She was diagnosed with down syndrome,” he said with a boggling degree of detailed nonchalance. “Everyone here is really great,” he repeated.

“I’m sorry,” I said, stupidly. Again, I was at a loss for words, and blurted something, anything out, when I probably should have said nothing.

“Don’t be sorry,” he corrected, “this was determined when she was only eight cells. She couldn’t be any other way. She wouldn’t be her if she wasn’t this way.” He had rehearsed this speech, but it was still so heart-warming. Maybe it was that it was rehearsed that made it so poignant.

For the following two days I listened to Jim and his wife Ella work together as a practiced team. They scheduled appointments, shared research, alternated the questioning of doctors and found time to chat excitedly about the hockey game. Despite having a daughter in the hospital, recovering from a cesarean, and planning another surgery for their son, Jim and Ella remained positive and proactive.

Could I do that? I wondered. Yes, I think eventually I could, but I imagine it would be tough. Much tougher than saying I could do it. Jim and Ella were professional parents in control of everything. I marvelled at the almost super-human qualities they displayed in the face of life’s most difficult trials.

Over the four days and three nights Joanie, Eric and I were in the hospital, I barely left the building, and when I did I felt distant from all the people around me. They were bustling to and from work, school, the gym, library, shops, doing their every day duties while I had slid off into this otherworldly space that is the hospital. It was as if I was very far away from the humanity of everyday, while simultaneously so close to the extremes of it: a mother desperately searching the halls for her missing son, a father collapsing at the sight of his daughter’s blood, families decorating hospital rooms, trying to make a dire situation and a sterile place seem like home.

Everyone there is really great.