Since becoming a parent, I’ve found myself talking a lot about phases. He’s in a phase where he’s hungry all the time. She’s in a really clingy phase. He’s in a grizzly, unsettled phase. I‘ve noticed that other parents do it too. I think that part of the reason they use this term is to convince themselves that the challenging behaviour their baby or child is currently displaying (and every age features some kind of challenging behaviour, right?) will soon cease. It’s not a rigid habit and it’s not a personality trait, it’s just a phase. This too shall pass.
I wonder if on a subconscious level, voicing the nonchalant statement, it’s just a phase helps parents reassure themselves that they haven’t completely lost control. They’re saying, things might look and sound chaotic right now, but I know what I’m doing. As the parent of any young child will attest, daily reality has a way of changing rapidly. Maintaining even the mere illusion of serenity can be a challenge. In truth, the parent could be flailing desperately to keep her head above water and at a loss to explain why what worked perfectly yesterday doesn’t work at all today – like the poor tadpole who spent weeks merrily flitting around underwater, only to grow lungs overnight and suddenly find itself frantic for a ledge to sit on.
I spent the first four or so months of Elijah’s life quietly congratulating myself for having such a placid baby. Once a night he would gently alert me to his desire for a feed with soft little grunts and snuffles. Then, milk-drunk he would contentedly settle back to sleep. Now my little boy has hit six months and entered a phase where he’s waking a lot at night, anxious for a cuddle and a feed. This has coincided with a noisy phase, in which he’s keen to explore his vocal capabilities at all hours of the night. This month he’s learnt to say, “dada”, and he’s also learnt to shriek like a banshee.
Of course, the logical conclusion is that he’s hungry. He is however, decidedly nonplussed about the idea of solids: whatever thoughtfully prepared puree I poke in with a spoon, he immediately pokes back out with his tongue and a ribbon of bubbly spit. I’m going through the motions because it’s what I’m meant to do, but so far it seems like rather a pointless and baffling endeavour to us both.
Another topic parents like to talk about is how tired they are – which is really quite boring. So all I’ll say is that in truth I’m feeling worn out and a little defeated by this phase. Will it come to an end on its own, or do I need to take drastic action to help my baby transition to a new phase? I’m floundering about, looking for some respite from the relentlessness of broken sleep and a demanding baby.
Then last night, in the middle of a particularly long and frustrating week: a moment as sweet as it was ordinary. I’m singing to Elijah as I undress him for his bath (my own variation of “The National Association of ‘W’ Lovers” from Sesame Street). As I chorus, “Uh, uh, uh, uh,” he erupts into riotous fits of giggles. Mouth a wide, gummy “O”, chubby arms windmilling excitedly in the air. I scoop him up and cradle him in my arms: my nude, squishy, divine little baby boy. “Uh, uh, uh, uh,” I sing again, and he actually throws his head back, squealing with mirth. His bright eyes hold mine, utterly delighted with what I am doing.
And all at once, I’m the frog that’s found its ledge. My heart is full and gosh I feel SO good about myself. We’re looking and laughing at each other with pure joy and adoration. And I’m thinking, let this never pass.