There Is A Toddler, And There Is Me

I didn’t know I wasn’t really a baby person until I spent a year with one. I love NS, obviously—everyone loves their own babies—but babies are tedious little creatures sometimes. They’re in there, but the humanity is sketched broadly and roughly: an unchisled sculpture. Moving into the toddler era has been a seismic shift, an explosion of language and movement, communication and personality. Now there are jokes. Now there is wonder.

NS, as a toddler, is much like he was as a baby. He loves chatting away (only now he’s using words); he loves toys (which he can distribute throughout the house at will); he loves jokes like being snuck up on or being tickled, funny voices or silly songs. He has never loved being cuddled, but now, in moments of sadness or distress, he’ll turn to us and lift his arms up: I need you, please come love me. Babies need, all the time, but in different and poorly communicated ways. Help me, don’t touch me, leave me alone, feed me, carry me, help me sleep, help me. Toddlers need, but it’s mixed in with these incandescent moments of independence and self-ness.

He has preferences: certain toys, certain books. He likes some foods over others. He has favourite activities, like going to the park, and sub-preference within that (not the swings, please). He is fascinated by older kids, watching their rambunctious play with open wonder. The screaming! The laughing! The throwing around of their bodies! With them, NS screams and laughs and throws his body around too. It’s amazing to see his baby-self in moments of quiet—storytime, when he nurses—and his emergent kid-self in other times. There is a doubling, a layering, a historical version of this person, despite him having so little history.

I don’t know if NS will be an only child. The thought of doing another baby era fills me with dread: the sleeplessness, the body horror, the toll it takes on my own sense of humour and my relationships. The other side of that dread is, of course, the knowledge that the baby time is finite, that they grow every day, and that one day, they emerge into toddlerhood and things feel brighter again. But a year is not nothing; a year with another kid in the house sounds like an accordion of time: some days squeezed together in a dusty haze, others pulled all the way apart so each minute ticks by like water from a tap. Thinking about another baby year—not to mention another pregnancy, and, god damn, another birth—does not inspire me.

Trying to retain my original-flavour self in the face of new motherhood was a fool’s game; I eventually had to admit that yes, I had changed. I am changing. I couldn’t tell which of us was the sun and the moon; I knew we orbited each other, pulling and pushing and spinning on a new axis. It was dizzying, and exhausting, to try to be funny and kind, to be wise and flexible. It was hard to balance the work of money-earning with the work of mothering. I felt consumed, in the literal sense, by each role. Only now, with some breaks and lots of support, do I feel like my sense of humour is returning, like my sense of urgency, of emergency, is quieting. The baby year is an intense one, friends. Forgive yourselves if it’s a hard one.

I went to yoga last night, for the first time in more than 16 months. To be honest, I was kind of nervous about it: it had been so long since I had really stretched, really given myself over to presence in my body. In fact, the last time I had focused so intently on my breath was probably NS’s birth. I had some reservations about the whole thing. But it was wonderful, rejuvenating, energizing, calming. And on the way home, I realized that toddlerhood leads to kid-ness, leading to school and time away; and for me, time alone. The baby time is never alone. As Donald Winnicott said, “There is no such thing as a baby. There is a baby and someone.” Having been that someone for a year, it felt good to recapture my self, even just for an hour. Toddlerhood let me do that. How could I not love this time?

About the Author

Kaitlyn Kochany
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Kaitlyn Kochany is a Toronto-area freelance writer and editor. She had her son, NS, in January 2016, and has been trying to sleep and write since then.

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