Valley Voices

A year ago, we just snuggled. Now he eats dirt by the handful. What happened?

Exactly one year ago today, this little being felt like my second heart beating outside but always snuggled against my own body. He seemed like he’d grown so much in that first month, and I was still riding high on the triumph of growing and birthing this sweet, satisfied, sparkly baby.

The future seemed infinite in those hazy days and nights so full of new life. It was the blissful honeymoon period of motherhood, where all that the world expected of us was to bond and grow and fall in love. Nothing else really mattered.

And today, literally today, this same baby has learned to climb all the furniture. He tries to scale the blinds, has conquered the coffee table, and eats dirt by the handful. He looks me in the eye and wags his finger in a very deliberate “No! No! No!” gesture before bursting into a huge smile right before he does anything (and all the things) that he knows he’s not supposed to do.

When did he become so bold, so playfully defiant? I am surprised and amazed and feel completely unprepared for this new toddler autonomy, though it is so very clear that the timing and force of the transition are not up to me.

I’ve gone from being his life force, his life source, to an every-second all-day lifeguard. He is out in the world with a speed and vigor that increase by the day. He has tripled in weight, learned to crawl, walk, run and eat with the enthusiasm of a very hungry horse. He explores every little crack of his world with fierce curiosity, burgeoning confidence and absolutely no fear.

He empties drawers and cupboards faster than I can retrieve their contents and refill them (yes, even the “baby-proofed” ones). He pushes all the buttons within reach, especially mine. I’ve developed a new mama mantra, a prayer for patience, “Take a deep breath, take a deep breath, take a deep breath.”

The dragging, sleepless nights of infancy have given way to marathon days of balancing newly discovered actions and emotions. The shift was so gradual I cannot even mark the day when the change occurred. But simultaneously, I am astonished that it feels so sudden, as though I’ve just looked up to find he’s transformed into a completely different child.

I am suddenly functioning like the bumpers on his bowling lane, guiding him, letting him explore and learn and grow while preventing serious bodily harm. At least that’s the goal.

It is exhausting. And constant. And all the rest of life feels like it’s crushing in on us with its appointments and demands and unexpected changes, pulling my attention away from him when all I really want is to soak up every baby smile, rest in his sweet cuddles and memorialize each moment of baby love that we have left before he becomes a big boy for real.

This contrast, the push and pull of time and emotion makes my head spin whenever I pause long enough to let it soak in.

Despite all this small-scale chaos, I know that I will look back someday on a photo of him from June 2017, at just a year old, and think about how simple life was back then. How sweet, pure, and easy it was to protect his baby heart and soothe his baby bruises.

And though this job seems simultaneously like the most thankless and most gratifying thing I’ve ever done, the bottom line is that I love this boy, this baby heart, now and forever.

Next year it will be different. And in 10 years, I’ll be lucky if I can even truly remember how sweet life is right now, in this very moment.

This is the shock of motherhood. The shock and the magic and the tumultuous ever-changing sea that I’ll navigate for every remaining day I live, where the only constant is love.

Amber Herzog Lyman is a wildlife educator, yoga instructor and fifth-generation Fresnan. She resides in rural Fresno County with her husband and two sons.