The first year of my baby boy's life has already come and gone. There is nothing quite like that year carefully measured in months and milestones: first smiles, first crawls, first teeth, first time sleeping longer than three hours. This year of unpredictable schedules, of near-constant sleep deprivation, of alarming bodily indignities -- it's like getting lost in a thick haze, where days are barely distinguishable from one another. I've hardly known the day of the week, sometimes not even the season.
I read once that there is no such thing as a baby singular, only a baby plus a person. A baby could never survive without a caregiver to hold it, feed it, change it, protect it. We love to post pictures of these darling babies on social media, so helpless and dimply cheeked and soft-skinned, and we have the illusion that this baby exists by itself. But really, it's like we've posted a photo of half a head, or someone's toes (and not in some artsy, avant garde fashion). We don't see the person who makes the baby's very life possible - the mother or father or grandparent or auntie - standing just outside the camera's shot, wearing a faded bathrobe with smeared snot on the sleeve. The person with the slightly manic look in her eye, her heart swollen with love for this little sweet-smelling appendage, her hands clutching a mug of coffee gone cold. Don't let the cute baby pictures fool you: they aren't the full story.
2015 was the year of being my baby's person. It has been an honor and a struggle and frankly, I am glad to be on the other side of postpartum. My body has shifted into its new normal, my baby is somewhat regular in his napping and sleeping. He is one now and so I'm getting back to it -- this job of being my own person. It's a slow process.
Earlier this week I went up to Du Nord (which literally means "the north"), which is a clustering of cabins along the border wilderness with Canada. On the last day of our vacation my husband and I went for a morning cross-country ski while my parents watched our little ones (bless them), and we hit the trails hard. It's impossible to overstate the beauty of northern Minnesota in winter, especially when you've just had a few inches of deliciously thick snowfall. We took turns breaking trail along the track to Slim Lake, the tips of our skis breaking upward through the snow like shark fins cresting in water. It was a grey morning; it had been a grey couple of days. We crossed the frozen lake and all was still except for the sound of my muffled breath and the wind.
As we skied along the shoreline, looking for the Druid Pines trail entrance, my mind wandered. For once I wasn't thinking about my son, about whether he had eaten enough for breakfast or if I should be concerned about that diaper rash or how long it was until he needed to nap. I didn't wonder if my daughter was getting enough attention or if she had brushed her teeth this morning or whether we had read enough books to her last night. No, my mind was as blank as the unbroken trail through the towering pine forest. As my husband and I skied together, taking turns leading, I felt untethered. I climbed a small hill, my skis making herringbone v's in the snow, and I turned around to look back at the woods. Over the tops of pine branches I saw it: a patch of cerulean sky. Sunshine was cutting through the grey.
We smiled at each other, my husband and I, as we paused to let the wild and quiet and light wash over us. It felt luxurious -- to let my mind and body exist in space beyond my children. It was a shifting moment: one small milestone on the slow road back to being my own person.