I love babies for their toothless grins and beautiful smiles, don’t even get me started on their flawless skin, jiggly cheeks and wide curious eyes! Or is it that peaceful bliss on their face when they are asleep? Their tiny fingers and curled toes. It is hard to say one reason but babies are so wonderful… to look at, to play with… I mean for a limited time… as long as I’m not thrust with being “responsible” for any of their needs and they are merely there to entertain and make me happy. That is how most people interact with a baby. But being a parent, the primary caregiver, is the other end of it. This adult is responsible for taking care of the baby’s needs. But how much can a tiny little baby need?
A baby or even a toddler is this tiny person with limited physical, emotional and mental capabilities but who has this enormous task of crossing so many growth milestones so fast with their limited resources on hand. They work very hard.
- Limited physical capabilities: they are lying all day until they learn to roll, strengthen their neck muscles and then they try to sit with a wobbly back, then they need to develop those leg muscles and bones to get them on their feet standing and then step by step waddle slowly until they walk and then run. On top of this external growth, their internal organs are developing too. Oh and they cut teeth and drool wetting their shirt all the time. All this pain is known only to them. They are clumsy and fumble a lot, make a lot of mistakes and get into troubles and create a lot of accidents.
- Limited emotional capabilities: Sometimes they feel curious and want to venture around, sometimes going a little far makes them feel scared and they want to be held close. Sometimes they are satisfied and happy, sometimes they just need some attention to satisfy their need. Sometimes they just want to vent out, other times they are in pain and need help soothing. They soak up on other’s emotions too, especially the parents. If there is something off- a raised voice or bad moods, that upsets their world.
- Limited mental capabilities: They want so many things but can not say it in words that people around them understand. Communication is a major deal for them. Lets forget about the play stuff they want to just have their fingers around, even for food or gas hurting that tummy which needs to be burped or a soggy wet diaper sending chills all over their little body… they have no way of saying it, except for crying. New tastes and textures in food that sometimes they find weird before getting used to! They are still working on sleeping through the night.
To shadow this little human every hour of the day and possibly night, every day of the week and help them through with their limitations and needs as they grow up is an enormous but important task. The first couple of years are the most vulnerable and foundation years for a person’s life. The primary care giver, in addition to meeting their needs, wants and duties, has to take care of another human who has far more needs and far less capacity to express/achieve the same. So the adult has to be attuned to the child’s needs before making a close guess as to how best to help them. This constant look out for signals adds to the strain. Their hands are so full that they don’t find time for general unwind and relaxation we find in a normal adult’s life. Even their own basic needs are stunted. I don’t eat when I’m hungry. Either I eat before so that I am ready for my baby’s meal time or I split and rush through my meals to handle a crying baby. I can not sleep when I feel tired and just want to crash. I would have to put the baby to sleep before I can drift off. Nature’s call too is sometimes done in an unavoidable condition that can not be postponed otherwise. Sometimes, the child is cranky and wants to be held. I would have to finish my tasks with one hand. Other times the child is holding on to my legs and I can not move around and do stuff in a normal fashion. Basically we are operating at a partial capacity ourselves and that is generally more time consuming and needs lot more effort and creativity, especially when there is a time constraint.
Now double this frustration and effort to handle the same when the baby is sick, which happens more often than not because of their weak immune system and their periodic immunization shots.
Compromised sleep, constant demand on me for attention, unable to find time for relaxation or for self, absence of meaningful social interaction – all this makes caring for a baby a tough job. Being a baby or a toddler is pure hard work too. And every time I approach the limits of my patience, I try to remind myself of this fact. Automatically, I get so much respect for that little being in front of me and it helps me put things in perspective. Making time for attending to my own needs on regular basis recharges me to come back energized. This phase is a golden period when I can cradle that little human’s whole body in my arms and soak up on that toothless grin that brightens anybody’s day. Every time they look up to see their parent’s face, their eyes light up and they give a beautiful drooling smile that melts my heart. They trust their parents enormously and look at us every single time with the same love. How precious is this unconditional love from this being? This journey and the eventual understanding and trust that gets established between us enriches me spiritually.
20 or 30 years down the line, it does not matter which car you drove now or which dress you wore or even which mobile you used. But when you are present in this child’s life and make precious memories with them, you get a chance to live beyond your life, into theirs, through those memories!