Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fear and Guilt in the Early Days of Grave's Babydom: A Retrospective

I think I'm more blown away by Graves being two than by Ann Peyton being four. Last year it was the reverse. Three just seemed so old, but I felt like he was most definitely a one year old. Since their birthdays are so close and since I'm so analytical, I'm sure I'll think about this every year.

I think part of what it is comes down to that while Ann Peyton being a little girl (rather than a toddler) is a Big!Deal! Graves being at this stage where he's really much more toddler than baby feels even bigger.

And if I'm honest, it's also the way our (specifically Peyton's) relationship have evolved with him. This is a big post for another day, but it took these guys *so* long (like nearly two years) to really learn one another's ways.. I didn't really think about it until his birthday week, but it's another reason why in our particular situation I'm really glad we're waiting on number three....I think I could handle being stretched thin by three little people, and I know Peyton could handle it, too. But I'm glad he has this time where Graves is so infatuated with him and vice versa to really devote to enjoying him (and Annie, but they're been in love with each other since day one).

Like I said, that's a post for another day. Honestly, I hope it's a post Peyton will at some point write himself. He touched on it here, but there's a lot more to it really. It's just been neat to see what has bloomed when I finally settled down and waited on God's timing and didn't try to force it to happen.

What I've been thinking about a lot is Grave's early babyhood, like probably the first six months and how incredibly different it was from Ann Peyton's. I loved him instantly, don't get me wrong, but I didn't have the same feelings that I did toward Annie. I didn't enjoy him as much on a daily basis, my heart didn't feel like it would burst out of my chest, and I wasn't just eaten up with how precious he was.

Now, part of that is that he was number two. I get that.  I fully get that.

But it was also more. I can say that now, because like with other things, I'm so far on the other side. I've said before that one thing about his speech issues (he just doesn't talk much for a two year old- but he's made big strides!) is that it's made me and Peyton able to view these little achievements made by our second child with the same awe we had with our first and we kind of loose our minds over the tiniest thing he says. Anyway, I know all of it didn't come down to him being the second and me just being less enthusiastic about stuff. 

I was really really careful about who I shared these feelings with for a couple of reasons. First of all, I felt like a horrible mother for feeling them. Second of all, I had been incredibly honest about how insanely easy Annie was and I didn't want to look like the wimp mom who just couldn't handle a "normal" baby. But the reality of it was that it didn't feel normal at all. 

I'm not saying I hated my kid. I'm not saying I had post partum depression. I'm not saying there weren't lots of times I looked at his tiny face and thought "I love you, little one". 

 I am saying there were days I hated my life (mostly because of what I was feeling internally). I am saying that I struggled with my feelings (and more so with the guilt for even having them).  I am saying that for a lot of months I didn't love him the way I loved Annie (even the way I loved her those early months of her own life).

I was talking with a friend recently about how things in the past are sometimes sort of magnified. She was saying that I possibly remember AP being a lot easier than she actually was. I think she's right and it's also highly possible I remember those months with Graves being a lot harder than they were. I'll tell you what I do know, though. Annie's first two years were the easiest it's been, mothering wise. Those first few months with Graves (and the child Annie became almost immediately following his appearance in our home) were some of the hardest months I've mothered through. And these months lately? They're harder than those initial two years, but in many ways I'm much, much more content.

I think some of it came down to Graves's personality and that he was just a harder baby than AP (in some ways he's been a much more laid back toddler than Annie) and so I think that made things between us feel more "tense" because I was so stressed out. He had that dairy intolerance the first few months and before we figured that out, life was sort of miz. I really didn't want to share that with people either because I deeply feared being told "um, that's just how babies are, get a grip" and being judged as incompetent. Truthfully, I said those words to myself enough.

I also think part of it was selfishness and stubbornness on my part. Graves just had a lot of different needs than Ann Peyton did as an infant. I wrote about it before, but he was much more "attached" and sadly I kind of fought that in the very beginning. That part of his nature has stuck- he's much more social than Annie and not nearly as independent in some ways. He says maybe two or three two word phrases and one of them is "hold me". I literally don't think Annie ever said that at his age. [And for the record, I don't know who is the more unusual child. Probably Ann Peyton. Not saying he wasn't normal, just saying it wasn't my normal.]

And lastly, I think part of it was I was sad about what I had to give up for him: namely, my easy well-behaved first child. Now, I'm not saying that I resented him for Annie's behavior. I'm also not saying that it wouldn't have happened eventually anyway, in fact that it might not have happened at that very age regardless of the circumstances. I mean, there is a phrase called "terrible twos" and I wasn't the first person to experience the reality of those words. But at the same time, it was like my angel baby morphed OVER NIGHT into a sort of malevolent monster. When he was days old, she hit him in the head (hard) because I was HOLDING HIM.  I know, perfectly normal reaction to a new baby from a two year old but I'd be lying if I said it didn't break my heart. It was so uncharacteristic of her. It took me until she was two years old to see her sin nature really clearly (it took me until maybe a year with Graves) and when I saw it it just slapped me in the face. And honestly, I struggled with how to deal with it. I never really wished we hadn't had a second, but I questioned the timing- had we added to our family too early? And I questioned myself- had I not done a good enough job equipping Annie for this change? More importantly- was I not doing enough job giving her the attention and affection she desperately needed during this transition? It was just such a battle in my mind. 

Anyway, fast forward to about the six month mark. We figured out the dairy thing and I figured out Graves and learned his little ways. I also sort of embraced the kind of baby he was and the needs he had and we did some things differently with him. And I got ahold of Annie. I let her know what wasn't acceptable and we had lots of conversations and I carved out special time for just her and gradually she warmed up to him. We hit a good groove and I really enjoyed life more. Then a few months later, the rest came. I started enjoying him more. And not just that, I sort of became obsessed, in love with him the way I was in love with Ann Peyton.

A mom talked to me recently about that phenomenon where "there's just something about little boys and their mommas". I generally avoid those sorts of statements like the plague, because when I had just a girl they sort of stung my heart- for myself and my daughter whose relationship seemed to be minimized and also for these women and their daughters whose relationship seemed similarly undervalued. But now, in a way, I get it. I love both my kids equally, but they are so different and the things I love about them are so different.  The things I love about Annie are largely things I relate because I know them to be inside myself- her sensitive spirit, her inquisitive nature, her seriousness of purpose, her stubbornness, her ability to think "deeply" about certain things. I love that she enjoys playing delicately with breakable tea sets. My heart almost breaks from her preciousness. The things I love about Graves are entirely different. I love how affectionate he is, I love his charm and his personality, I love that he's so full of life. I love that he rarely has a bad day and when he does it can be fixed with hugs and snuggles. I love his energy. I love his passion. I love his sweet spirit. But I also love his rough spirit. I love that he enjoys doing demolition to block towers. My heart almost breaks from his preciousness. I don't know how much of this is a boy/girl thing, though. And I don't think it matters much. I just know it's a Graves and Annie thing. 

I wrote all this partly because it's part of our story and I enjoy sharing our story. But I also wrote it, because as is sometimes the case with my writing, I wish I had read it. I wish someone had normalized this experience for me and told me that I didn't have to keep asking myself hard questions about if I'd always have a "favorite". I wish someone, ONE person, had told me it was okay and time would smooth the broken edges. 

And if they had a time machine, they could have told me we'd figure out his dairy issue. That I'd learn to die to myself in a way I never had. And that I was giving Annie the best gift- the gift of her best friend.  

But really, telling me that it was normal and okay would have been enough.   


Mallory Pickering said...

Love this post. Love it for its vulnerability. It's relatable to me, even though my struggles are different.

Kara said...

Thank you! My second is 4 months and I needed this. I am currently fighting against her neediness-not winning!

Megan said...

I can really appreciate the raw honesty of this post. But, I think this might be the kind of post that you need to make private or take down once AP and Graves get to the age where they could read it. I could see how a child (or a young adult before he had multiple children of his own) could read this the wrong way or take it to mean that you loved/love Annie more. I don't think that's the case and I don't read it that way... But I know teenage me would have been heartbroken to read something similar from my mom and wouldn't have understood.

You dont have to publish this comment and I truly hope you don't feel attacked or criticized... That is not my intention. Just a thought.

Sarah Denley said...


I want to thank you for your honesty and candor. I really appreciate the heart behind your comment. However, I doubt I'll ever take it down. Though it may not always appear so, I weigh carefully what I write in regards to what my children will one day read. The first time I ever did that was when I wrote about how horrified we were when we found out we were expecting Ann Peyton. That's something she'll know once she's old enough to know and so it's not something I shirk away from sharing publicly. Similarly, Graves will know of this.

The truth (the hard truth) is that I lov(ED) Annie more at first. But these days, my love for them is equal in every way. In fact, he's hands down the more "lovable" toddler in the sense that he's much more affectionate than she was at his age and is such a momma's boy.

Also, for what it's worth, my mom has been very honest with my sister and me (even when we were young) that there were stages where she was more close to one of us than the other. I think it was very healthy and beneficial.