Ian was born at the end of April, which meant it was perfect stroller weather in Washington, DC, where we lived when he was born. Perfect weather to take the world’s most colicky baby outdoors, where he lay in his stroller, screaming and squirming pretty much without end. Sleep was the only time he was peaceful. Every waking moment was filled with fussing or feeding.
Once the weather turned hot, I rolled my awful, squealing infant through the mall, gazing longingly at the food court tables where the good mothers with their good babies congregated. Watching those happy moms drinking coffee and gossiping while their babies sat compliantly in their toy-festooned strollers made me furious. I wanted one of those babies – the easy ones who were content to suck noiselessly on pacifiers as they batted randomly at their “activity bars.”
I walked and I walked with that crying boy and that stroller. I logged miles and miles, because it was better than sitting at home and listening to his screams bounce off the four walls. Some days at 12:07, my friend the radio newscaster would call (after announcing the noon news) and say, “Whatever you do, don’t shake the baby.” She’d had a colicky infant too.
There were lots of tears – many of them mine – as the weeks turned into months and the vexatious squalling persisted. At some point, I gave up on the idea of returning to work. Who, besides this child’s own mother, would be able to endure the hours and days of torture? I envisioned a revolving door of nannies giving notice. One clear summer day, I woke up, got us both dressed, buckled Ian into his car seat, and drove to my office to empty the desk I had once blithely assumed I’d be returning to. He squalled all the way there. When I carried him inside, he blinked a few times at the unfamiliar fluorescent lights and then began wailing anew. I borrowed my boss’s office to try to nurse Ian into submission. He was having none of it. My now former co-workers passed Ian around trying to calm him while I gathered my things. He screamed at every single one of them and then screamed all the way home in the car.
Logging all those miles on foot, I grew thinner and thinner: 110 pounds became 105….101….98. The baby weight came off, and then some. But our routine was my slender tether to sanity: wake, feed, dress, walk, nap, feed, walk, bathe, dress, walk some more.
I think it was his eyes that saved us. Brilliant turquoise and ever so slightly Asian, his eyes were extraordinary to look at. More extraordinary still was the day they suddenly seemed to find their focus. Fall was arriving and the air was slowly beginning to lose its torrid summer heft. Not yet able to sit up, Ian was reclined like a pasha in his stroller as we bumped along the sidewalk, flanked by suburban tree lawns on our left, neighborhood townhouses on our right.
He squealed once. Then, ten steps later, once more. Every ten steps or so, another squeak emerged. I stopped and looked down has his perfect, tiny face. He was smiling! We continued our walk and I soon realized that his little screams were ones of wonder and delight. Each time we passed under one of the uniformly planted municipal trees, he was seeing, for the first time, a verdant leafy canopy etched against the clear blue of the sky.
Watching a child experience wonder and delight is the real payback for all those curveballs parenthood throws at you. You see the amazement in their eyes and somehow it magically magnifies and thunks you right in the chest. It is, perhaps, the only thing about parenting that never gets old. I saw it the first time Ian met his little brother, the first time the boys and I snorkeled (a sea turtle!), and the first time they tasted lapin moutarde.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I told Ian the story of how he used to scream at trees. He laughed, saying, “I can’t believe you never told me that before!” We were sitting at a restaurant in Philadelphia, enjoying a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings. He’s 21 now and spent the summer working and living in Philly, cooking for himself and depleting the sale rack at his neighborhood wine shop.
Days later, we were home in California, where Ian bubbled with enthusiasm as he multi-tasked around the kitchen, steaming broccolini, sautéing wild mushrooms and uncorking a bottle of pinot noir. “I can’t wait for you to taste this!” he enthused, as he served up the risotto dish he’d invented, paired with his favorite wine of the summer. It was wondrous. It was delightful.
It was worth it.