Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

May 07, 2001

Moving target: Lucy's on the loose

Babies giveth, and they taketh away.

In the past two weeks, Lucy has delighted me by learning several new tricks. She can crawl on her hands and knees (although she prefers the GI Jane creep, undoubtedly because it matches her short, fuzzy hair better). She can sit herself up, and can even lurch forward and balance on her knees. Also, she can pull herself up in her crib. And finally, she is a master of the yoga position called “the downward dog.” Her skill here puts Adam to shame.

That’s the good news. This is what Lucy has given me. What she has taken away, however, is the last bit of freedom I didn’t know I had.

Here’s what I mean by that.

It used to be that I could leave Lucy alone for a few moments. Once upon a time, I could pee without making a federal case out of it. Before Lucy was fully mobile, and before she truly comprehended I was her gravy train with the biscuit wheels, I could leave her for a few moments in her “gym” — an activity mat with two arches full of happy, dangling toys. Lucy would play here for long spans of time, and it really didn’t matter to her whether I was right there or not.

Nowadays, I have to plead my case with her when nature calls.

“Lucy,” I say, “Mommy will be back in 30 seconds. Every once in awhile, she really needs to do one of those things you do, only she doesn’t have the luxury of wearing a diaper. Believe me, for this half-minute separation, you’re going to be fine.”

And then I pack her into an object or toy with a five-point safety harness, while she bends her face into a huge frown and turns into a tear factory. The crying is horrible. Not only does Lucy look absolutely pitiful, the running water makes me feel like I have a hog on my bladder.

What’s more, Lucy is starting to figure out that these plastic things we call “play yards” and “activity centers” are actually rainbow-colored jails. Whenever I try to put her into either, so I can pick up the living room or eat a sandwich, she looks me up and down. The message is clear: Why should I be in this thing, when there’s a) a cat over there who wants to have his tail pulled; b) a remote control I’d like to whap my head with; or c) a magazine that looks positively scrumptious?

Once upon a time, I thought a more independent Lucy would mean a more independent me. Sweet merciful crap, I was an idiot. And I am sure this is just the first of many times I will say that.

What I am learning is, the more Lucy grows, and the more amazing and independent she becomes, the more she needs me.

It’s not the same kind of need she used to have, where she needed pretty much constant holding and feeding. Rather, she needs me to keep her from cracking her head like an egg.

The newly independent Lucy is a menace. She’s a danger magnet. If there is a threatening object to be eaten, touched, petted or head-butted, Lucy crawls for it with all her might. The more dangerous an object is, the faster she crawls. Baby toys never inspire her to action. As I write this, she is at my feet wrapping her neck with the cord of a spare computer keyboard, smiling blissfully.

Baby-proofing is a crock. It doesn’t matter if a room has been baby-proofed. That phrase is a myth designed to sell outlet plugs and hearth bumpers. Lucy can turn anything into a dangerous object. The only Lucy-proofed room would be an empty one with padded walls. And then, she would still try to eat the padding.

If there were a protective foam suit for infants, I would buy it for Lucy. Only, I’m sure it would be a waste of money because this newly independent baby has also decided she hates wearing clothes and diapers.

Getting her dressed and changed has gone from Lucy’s favorite part of the day to a wrestling match. Every morning, our rumble goes like this: I put Lucy down on her changing pad (which has been taken off the changing table for safety’s sake), and she pops back up. I unfold her legs to put the diaper on her; she rolls over and starts making a crawl for the doorway. Up and down, back and forth we go, until both of us are sweaty, crying and agitated.

Lately, I’ve taken to giving her a big, rubber boot to play with, just to distract her long enough so that her naughty bits are covered. Even then, she’s wet on me three times in as many days, because I’m just not fast enough with the diaper.

I’m sure this is why people no longer dress infants in the Colonial-era safety garb known as the pudding — a donut of fabric tied around the waist. Sure, a pudding probably made for a nice, soft landing. If babies in the old days were anything like Lucy, they refused to wear them, and instead, focused their energy on chewing the pudding to ribbons just small enough to pose a choking hazard.

As Lucy is developing the ability to move around, she’s also getting much better control with her hands. I have proof of this in the form of scratches on my arms, chest and face. It used to be that Lucy would only slash at me with her nails when she was eating. Now, she has the dexterity to pick off the scabs. It’s making me realize that both of us would be better off wearing foam suits.

The really crazy thing is, I would have thought that all this extra moving around would make Lucy really tired. The bright side would be that she’d sleep through the night all the time. But a curious side effect is that all her new skills keep her up at night, because she’s practicing them. This, at least, is what I read in one of those infant-development books.

I’m not sure I believe it. Lucy says nothing about “practicing” when we try to put her down to sleep at night. Adam has devised a whole, elaborate ritual per the advice of those very same books, that involves putting on jammies, reading a book, kissing every one of her stuffed animals and saying night-night to various household objects, including my wardrobe. And then, the second she’s in the crib, she shrieks like her mattress is made out of nails.

She also rolls over, stands up and explains loudly —with feeling — that she’d like to be anywhere but the crib.

And, though I try to be firm, every once in awhile, I take her out, and let her fall asleep in my arms. She gets warm and heavy, and I get weepy just looking at her pink cheeks and soft eyelashes.

Independence is a good thing. It’s a sign that Lucy is fast turning into a toddler, and I am so proud of all the things she’s learning to do. But I confess that I’m secretly glad that in spite of all her accomplishments, she still needs me, all the time.

The truth is, I need her just as much.


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