As Little Green approached the eleven-month mark, I broke down and got a book from the library all about the fussy baby. It's the first time I am openly admitting that after all this time my mini man is what the book diplomatically refers to as a 'high maintenance' or 'high needs' baby. (By no means to be confused with 'special needs'... Parents of special needs children are nothing short of saints in my humble books.)
In all likelihood I will always feel guilty about the months of colic and the suffering he has endured for the first eight or so months of his life. Just as I will always be secretly (or not so secretly anymore) niggled by the possibility that I could have done more something to help him, i.e. switched his formula to some funny soya-based one. I will wonder whether this cruel start may have marked him to be the baby he is today, a baby who is markedly more intense than other babies, and markedly less inclined to play or sit happily for even the briefest periods. Oversensitive, easily overstimulated... I will wonder whether there is still something wrong that countless doctors have overlooked, unable to quite admit that all these traits form his temperament. The book stresses the positive, which of course is why I need to read it. To focus on being the most responsive parent I can be since he cannot yet communicate his needs in any other way, and since I cannot change the fact that he is demanding. To focus on accepting his fussy nature as it currently presents itself, rather than trying to change him or hope that his behaviour 'improves' with age (highly unlikely on the cusp of toddlerdom). Sometimes, the book claims, the exasperating traits of so-called high needs babies turn out to be desirable teen/adult traits -- e.g. empathetic, sensitive, and caring. Hm. Of course none of this psychobabble stems from scientific basis, and perhaps the whole theory about the fussy baby serves merely to help me cope with the here and now. But so be it. Anything a parent can do to ease the burden of a challenging baby is time and energy well spent. Hear, hear!
People have often remarked on how serious Little Green is for a baby, as though all these thoughts were going on behind the scenes. I hope his intensity is not a mask for continued discomfort. And I must accept that this is who he is, his personality already shaped to a shocking degree, and already -- I hasten to add -- shockingly aligned with my own dark intensity. (Perhaps this fact, ultimately, is what shocks and disappoints me so? It was certainly one of my biggest and most tangible fears about giving birth to a person who mirror imaged the highlights, and lowlights, of my own personality. How you pray, as a parent, that the bad will always gloss over your unblemished child. I was more than willing to concede that he resemble his father in all aspects, rather than risk him being subjected to my own goblins. But alas, I am responsible for half of his genetic makeup so this was bound to be wishful thinking on my part.)
And so it goes. Each day I wake not knowing what mood my baby will be in, and how I will bear the hours with him if it turns out to be A Bad Day. To strangers I will find excuses -- teething, wind, tiredness -- for my son's distinctive sound that is one part whine, one part grunt: a sound I have almost lovingly dubbed a 'grine'. I catch his smiles, when they come, and smile till my own jaw hurts. And such times, when the sound of his inimitable laughter resounds through the house, my heart swells in my chest like that Grinch character, and feels like it might burst from love and from gratitude. Reminded, as if I should for an instant risk forgetting, how the pain as much as the love of life, can hurt.