Babies and Personal Archaeology

Before my baby daughter was born, one of the most common statements made to me by extant parents was, ‘The birth of your child will change your relationship with your parents.’ Well, my parents aren’t around anymore for my relationship with them to be changed. In one sense. In yet another, I have come to realize the simple, crystalline, truth behind this claim.

Most prominently, my daughter’s birth and her first eighteen weeks have sparked a rampant curiosity in me. What were my parents like with me in my first few months? What was I like? Was I a difficult baby? Did I sleep well? Did they ‘sleep-train’ me? Did I require it? How long did my mother breast feed me? Did I sleep in the same room as them? In their bed? Did my father leave all child-rearing duties to my mother or did he help out? What was my father’s reaction to the news of my birth? (He was away at an air force base when I was born.) The answers to these questions–and many, many others like them–are not forthcoming, ever.  I had never thought to ask them of my parents before. They didn’t strike me as particularly interesting; indeed, I’m not sure they ever occurred to me.  Beyond the odd comment on how I had suffered from colic (I think), or how I was sometimes put to sleep by my parents by taking me on long drives, and the obligatory set of baby photographs (far fewer in number than those of my brother, who as first-born, naturally received far greater photographic attention than I did) there is little that informs my sense on what these early days of  my life were like.

I do not know how genuinely informative the answers to my questions would be and whether they would play any role whatsoever in a reconceptualization of myself. But the inquiry that sparks them is informative in its own way about myself: they strike me, this new ‘me’, as questions I am compelled to ask, as I work through the challenges that my child presents to me. Perhaps they would comfort me, perhaps they would reassure me in a way the testimonials of the other parents I meet these days partially do. And there’s seems no end to them being raised in these early days till my daughter reaches the age where my conscious memories began for me.

And I do feel–even when my parents are no longer here to know this–that my perceptions of them have changed. Now, more than ever, I can imagine them as not-parents, in the times before my brother and I were born, sometimes as eagerly expectant mother and father, sometimes as anxious, tired, sleep-deprived, caretakers of an extremely helpless dependent being. As I come to inhabit the skin of a parent, to take on a role they played for as long as they did and join them in an enterprise they undertook in their own way, their own fashion, so many years before, I find a connection, a link, a bond, with them, and their memories, I didn’t have before.

I thank my baby girl for many things; this is yet another of them.

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