Pouring In

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Some days the pouring in feels like too much. You asked for it even as an infant, even in the hospital. You wailed if you were left alone, insisting that we hold your fresh, sturdy body even as you slept with a slight grimace on your face. I wondered why you wouldn’t sleep without us putting in work—the rocking, the hours of walking, the dancing to Amos Lee on Pandora.

You were our first baby, so I didn’t think of you as unhappy, but after having your brother, I see the difference between a truly happy baby and you. You were intense, focused, always watching.

I read about high needs infants and wondered if people were just creating a self-fulfilling prophecy—whether I, too, might be creating such a self-fulfilling prophecy if I believed it. Yet I couldn’t stop seeing how it all lined up with your little personality. The books and websites promised these demanding babies would grow up to be truly amazing people. But I mostly saw that it would take a lot of work on the front end. 

I sat in the back seat with you almost anytime we went anywhere, facing your little carseat. We might hope for sleep, and we might get fifteen or even (blessedly) thirty minutes from you. But then it was library book after library book, song after song, talking to you, hoping that you would stay calm and we could keep driving. When you had enough, there was no going forward.

Because of your brother, I know now that some babies calm themselves. You were not one of them. You needed to be pulled out of your carseat and held in my arms where you would sob until you calmed down enough to nurse desperately, as if I had never fed you before (even if it had just been half an hour ago and another roadside gas station).

It just wasn’t easy. I see that now. I thought I was exhausted by the night wakings, but your brother wakes up as often as you did and I’m not exhausted. I realize it was rather the intensity of your days. You wanted to be close to me. You wanted to be held all evening so you could nurse as much as you wanted. You hated being on the floor, hated tummy time even when I tried to entertain you.

When we went to restaurants, one of us was outside with you most of the time. You didn't like high chairs or strollers. You preferred to be held and talked to--"preferred" is the wrong word; "demanded" feels more accurate.

I see now that the main difference between you and your brother is your mouths. It’s hard to capture a picture of him without his mouth in a wide-open smile, grinning as if his whole face is expanding. If he’s not smiling, his little mouth is just the tiniest bit open, as if he’s staring in pleasant wonder at the world.

Your pictures are different. Your lips are closed, pursed as if in concentration. Of course we have pictures of you smiling, but I remember the theatrics we did to get those.  The laughter did not bubble out of you as it does your brother; you never smiled with your whole body.

And I understood you. I delighted in the fact that you were me—the inside of me—the part of me that is always watching, never fully comfortable in the world.

So I sat with you on almost every car trip, truly delighted that my six-month-old already forced me to get stacks of books from the library so we would always have enough new ones. I carried you constantly because you hated anything else. I reduced our errands to the bare minimum, and we told family members we couldn’t travel much. You couldn't handle too much newness, and it was so hard to calm you down once you were upset.

I delighted in all of this because I loved watching your personality unfold.  I grew my mom muscles walking you around the floor for hours each night, just praying you would calm down enough to sleep. I sang "Old McDonald" and "Who Built the Ark?" to you while you sat in your baby seat while I showered, just trying to entertain you long enough that I could rinse the shampoo and dry off. You hated the blow-dryer, so my hair mostly air dried.

As you grew, each stage required more pouring in. I finally invented Liam & Kitty stories to tell you in the car—stories of you and your cat and the adventures you had. They were nothing profound, but you started demanding them. I couldn't talk to other people in the car because you insisted on more and more stories, first with your little hands and whimpers and then with your word for “more”—“na.”

At sometimes, it felt like a burden. I remember wishing I hadn’t invented those stories because you wanted them constantly. And more than anything, you wanted me constantly because you knew that having me tell you a story meant getting my full attention.

Maybe I expected you would outgrow it—this need for all of me all the time. But you haven’t. I sometimes feel totally poured out for you in a way I haven’t with our second child. You force me to be creative, to be calmer and more patient than I even thought possible, to apologize. I have to give and give and find ways to avoid resentment toward you because honestly, it’s sometimes hard to say “No” to an activity I know you can’t handle or be interrupted loudly with your one-syllable “What you saying?” nearly every time I talk to anyone with you around. So I pray for grace and study creative ways of teaching you and find that God gives patience when I ask.

None of this is to say that you aren’t absolutely delightful. I couldn’t have imagined a little boy as wonderful as you if I tried. You ask profound questions like, “Do you think God will make Heaven be on another planet?” You occasionally channel your energy into making your brother laugh. You say “thank you” and “sorry” and “You make the best popsicles, Mama.” You show me the cool things you build with your blocks (and you really do make cool things!), and you get so proud of yourself as you conquer things that scare you. Multiple times each day, I am in awe that I get to be a part of you, that you’re my little boy.

But on tired days, the giving, the pouring out, feels constant and draining. I question whether we are doing the right thing in all this giving, all the planning and strategies it takes to get through each day. I wonder whether we really should give into your desire to be constantly in pajamas at home. I wonder if we should put our collective feet down more often and not give into your clear preferences about so many things. Sometimes your vocabulary and attitude make me treat you as older than you are; I have to remind myself that you are only three, that you are still a little boy. Sometimes I have to remind myself that living in this world can take a lot out of me just as it does you.

A couple of nights ago as you cuddled as close to me as you could, you asked if you could tell me a bedtime story. You began your story in the most enthusiastic little voice, “One day…” You took me on a brief journey as you invented a character who went on a series of adventures. When it ended, you searched for a way to signal closure and finally said, “The story has ended now.” Then you asked if you could tell me another. You told me four stories and then asked what I would dream about. Then you said, "Goodnight, Mama," in the most angelic little voice. 

And suddenly, those hundreds of Liam & Kitty stories seemed the tiniest price to pay for such wonder.