why the first year of parenting reminds me of boot camp, and other year-in reflections

This is the last day of Bram’s first year of life. The last day! Tomorrow marks one year since this sweet creature made us pomo + mama, and two years since Emmett Ever made us parents. This, I think, calls for a well-organized reflective post full of anecdotes and observations. The trouble is, I only have the length of one nap time to write it. I hope, then, that you’ll settle for a hastily organized, mildly reflective post full of what I manage to hold in my head long enough to write about it. :) Here goes:

I went to boot camp in December of 1997. I think it sounds strange to people now, but the truth is: I loved it. Not at first. At first I was terrified and homesick. I craved the comforts of sleep, relaxation, and good food. I felt small. I longed for a friendly voice and a hug. For touch. I don’t do well without touch. But as time went on, I began to realize that everyone felt that way, which was of immense comfort to me. When I went to officer training six years later, this was not true. People who go to officer training are, for the most part, already skilled in things-military. They are competitive. They want pilot slots, navigator slots, intelligence slots. They want to outperform their peers — doing so is the whole idea. But at boot camp, pretty much everyone’s a kid, and pretty much nobody knows anything. For this reason, boot camp suited my soul – everyone all vulnerable and relying on one another and having to work together – while officer training broke me. So when I say that parenting reminds me of boot camp, I mean it with love and adoration. I mean: the first year of parenting is fierce and formative.

By two weeks into boot camp, I knew the women in my flight. I knew who they’d left behind. I knew who got letters, and who didn’t. I knew what I could rely on them for: who was best at folding and ironing underwear into a perfect square (yeah.), and who was dynamo at polishing boots. I did pre-inspection checks of all of our lockers because I have a good eye for detail. I looked over uniforms. I quized them in preparation for the exam. Other airmen paced me as I struggled with the run. We took care of each other. We were scared. We missed our family, so we became family. By the end, I didn’t want to leave. I was exhausted, but I didn’t mind. We had made it through together, and there was nothing sweeter on earth than that feeling.

Nothing since boot camp (except officer training) has made me anywhere near as tired as I am today, and those experiences can’t even compare. I’m saying: I am tired. My fantasies are of napping in a cool, dark room, in a warm bed, alone. That must be what most parents fantasize about. Because really, there is nothing like attachment parenting a child through his first year of life to teach you exactly what the word tired means. But the exhaustion? I don’t care. I am so proud of the hours I spent sitting up with this person, holding him, rocking him, singing, bouncing, kissing, loving him through the newness of living. Through teething, Through colds and flu bugs and learning to share with Sauly. Though it has not always been pretty here, I am so grateful to have lived it. There is nothing sweeter on earth than this feeling.

And the community! Even with all of the community we had before parenting, I still couldn’t have expected this. Friends I just trust and rely on. My mom coming through all the time to make dissertating while parenting possible. Friends and family who’ve held our hands through every new hurtle. Who’ve offered guidance. Or quietness. Or help. Or all of these things in exactly the right way. Kate at All Things Relative is not too far into her first year, and she’s been struggling with some postpartum depression. I read what she writes and I think: yes. And I think: you are a lovely and a powerful mama. And I think: you are doing great. You don’t know it yet, but you will. She’s still in the trenches (that’s war, so I’m mixing metaphors now, but cut me some slack: I haven’t slept a full night in a year!). The “my baby’s sick.” The “what if something happens?” The vigilance. The insecurity. The trying to have something leftover for your partner, or sometimes, just sometimes, even for yourself. The depth of love that most days, you don’t even know what to do with. The terror of loving somebody this much. The way it almost crushes your heart sometimes.

And though it’s so much deeper than the intimacy I shared with those women all those years back, the sense of having done thistogether, with J is immense. We let go of the comforts. We let go of the indulgent pleasure of childless evenings. We jumped, together, holding hands. We put this little boy before all else because doing so was exactly right for all of us. I watched her become a pomo. I am her truest witness, and she is mine. I am fiercely proud of her, of us, not because we didn’t have a hard year, but because we did, and we’re here, and we’re in love. There’s nowhere near enough time for each other, but we are in love. We get tired, we get worried, we snap at each other, but we’re in love. Being her co-parent is the hardest and finest thing I’ve ever done. We got each other through this year day-by-day, hour-by-hour. On bad nights, minute-by-minute. No one will ever know the mama I am at 2am except her. She recognizes the subtle shift in my voice that means I need help. That I might not have it to give for just a moment. It’s a dance, and we’ll go on perfecting it, but it is the hardest and finest thing.

And now here we are. We are the parents of a one-year-old son. I am the mama of a one-year-old son. A son who took three steps from his Great Aunt Nancy to his Bubbie when I wasn’t even watching. When – after what has felt like a year of never looking away – I glanced down. A son who will go on being his own person, at once of me and not of me. A son who loves broccoli and eggs and chicken – his pomo’s boy – and curry and French lentil soup and oven fries – my kid. Who lights up for pomegranate seeds and animals, Oh Animals! A son with a hilariously goofy overbite, and his pomo’s big eyes, and his mama’s uncaged expressions. A little person who hates to sleep without one of us curled up next to him. Who knows how to hug and to smooch like nobody’s business. Who knows the word “dance,” and who wiggles and bounces every time he hears it. Who signs “more” when he wants anything, and is sheepish and quiet when we ask him to sign “please” instead (though just today, he finally did it!). A baby whose laugh holds all of the goodness. All of it. A little light in the world who is at turns vulnerable and tough and brave and clingy. Whose love for play is as aggressive as his love for our arms. For being in our arms.

All these years later, I still think of the women in my flight at boot camp. I’m not in touch with any of them, but that doesn’t matter. We met 4am together, day after day. We urged each other through one more mile, one more day, one more fear. We listened. I would not have made it through without them and – philosophical concerns about the military aside – the person I was then needed to make it through. Being a mama is eight trillion times greater than being in the military [and more important! and harder!], but there’s something of the pride and gratitude and camaraderie that I felt then in what I’m feeling now, one year in. There are lots and lots of people I couldn’t be the mom I am without, and I’m thinking of all of you now. And of my partner in all of this, and of how sure I am – despite all the bumps – that I chose very, very well. I’m thinking of our little girl, and of her almost-brother this year, whose lessons to me as a parent were how to let go. And I’m thinking of our little birthday boy. Our sugar-sweet son, whose joy is the only thing I ever need to believe my life here is meaningful.

Happy birthday, Bram.

Strong work, pomo.

And thanks to all of you for cheering us on through this sweet sweet sweet (hard) year of parenting.

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12 thoughts on “why the first year of parenting reminds me of boot camp, and other year-in reflections

  1. This is just beautiful. I love your thoughts on parenthood even the shortened nap version (though, I have to say, you did a pretty eloquent job of reflecting even with the constraints!).

    I can’t believe that B is a year old tomorrow. It blows my mind. Happy Birthday, sweet boy!

    (I’d love to hear more about your experience with the military at some point. I know you’ve referenced it here and there but I’d love to hear about why you joined, what you did and why you left. You know, maybe when you’re done writing your dissertation!)

  2. Happy Birthday, Bram — and to you both! There is nothing like the first birthday for all involved. What a lovely reflection you have written. I

  3. What a lovely post. I want you to know how much I’ve savored and been with you through each post (nifty reader app on my phone has allowed with such speed!) even when I haven’t commented. Cheers and best wishes to you two, and to Bram, as you move into year #2.

  4. Happy birthday Bram! I remember being here with you last year (sort of). Waiting and waiting to hear that he had arrived, and wondering with held breath to see if it would be on the 19th and what you would call him and how he would be. Thank you for letting us be with you on your journey–it’s a great honor, and a joy.

  5. Happy birthday, Bram!!! And what a beautiful post. I also remember waiting last year to see if he had arrived yet and to “meet” him. One year later, here we are! Congratulations, mama and Pomo for making it through the year and finishing strong!

  6. What a beautiful post. I keep waiting to have time to write a thoughtful response, but…since that wont happen, just wanted to say thanks!

  7. I am honored that you thought of me while composing this post. Thank you for being a bright and beautiful family that has brought light in my moments of darkness. It is hard, but when I look at families like yours I remember that this is worth it. We will make it through the hard parts and the fun parts will only multiply. :) Happy Birthday, Bram. Happy Happy to you all.

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