Looking back on babyhood

Three years ago, I wrote about the soft, sweet, aching art of watching your kiddos grow up for the Toddler Time column.

In that essay — titled The Need to Stop Time — I promised you, Minnesota Parent readers, that every stage would be super cool, even better than the last. But even then, I admitted my theory might be tested in the teen years. I didn’t really know, I confessed, because I didn’t have that perspective yet. 

Well, now I do. 

I have a teenage daughter.

By all accounts, I’m lucky. She’s wickedly funny, book smart and life smart. She’s well-rounded, interesting, unique. She scoffs at social media — peer pressure be damned — and understands that life is about more than just grades. She is deep and complicated, sweet and salty. 

She is a good kid.

But sometimes — OK, often — she hates me. I mean really hates me. For singing. For eating. For packing stupid lunches. For liking stupid songs. For “thinking I’m so cute” or for “being such a mom.” For crying. For breathing. For — you know — just sitting there.

As you hold your darling glowworm of a baby, wrapped delicately in pastel-hued organic muslin, I just need to tell you that he or she may be so very mean to you someday. 

Even if she is the good kid, the smart kid, the one who doesn’t Snapchat, the one who obsessively listens to the soundtracks of Broadway musicals. (Seriously, how cool is THAT?)

Drink it up now, new mama, because having a teen is kind of like having a horrible college boyfriend: Picture that guy who shows up to your dorm door with pressed khakis and fresh-picked daisies and then later that night makes out with your roommate at a frat party and barfs in your hamper. 

It’s like that scene in Toy Story 2 when Jessie the cowgirl is found by her owner after years of hanging with the dust bunnies under the bed. She cuddles under the girl’s arm on a car ride, elated to be back by her side, only to have that car stop at the dump. 

Life with a teen is like being Jessie in the car. Again and again. With that horrifying When She Loved Me song by Sarah McLachlan playing in the background. 

And yes, I’ve made my daughter watch this clip with me. We laughed. I cried. Certainly, the laughing while crying emoji is the official calling card of mothers in teenland. 

Ugh! That emoji is so dumb, MOM.

When I feel like Jessie, when I want to hold her, but can’t, I remember the night her dad and I went out for our first long date night — dinner AND a movie — while Grandma stood watch. 

My baby girl was about 8 months old. When we returned home that night, she was literally breathless she was so excited to see me — flapping her arms, squeaking, flailing. 

I scooped her into my arms and she swatted my face and tried to eat my cheek. She was so excited. She couldn’t get enough of me.

I think of that and it’s as if my heart is breaking for the first time at age 45. It’s as if I don’t even know who I am anymore.

I cry. I move on. I work hard. I work out. My daughter and I do a million things you can’t do with babies. We go to plays. We talk about books. We shop. We tell jokes. And in the morning, when her head lazily moves side to side as she wakes up, she is that sweet baby. Kissing her cheek, which tends to be cooler than her brother’s, feels to me both biologically familiar and so quintessentially her

Sometimes, she does need to be held and I need to step up and get over my Jessie-at-the-dump crap. I need to try to give her what she needs, when she needs it — even when that’s a cavernous, long and lonely space. 

When she needs to be held, I feel that she is my baby. Now, with perspective, when my own mother hugs me longer than is comfortable, I remind myself that I am her baby.

I promised myself that I would never, in this column or my last, be one of those annoying “enjoy it while it lasts” grocery-store grandmas. And I’m going to keep that promise. That’s not what this is. 

It’s just a gentle reminder: You are somebody’s baby. She will always be your baby. Enjoy your baby.

And when she is overcome with excitement to see you when you get home, when she looks at you like you’re Gwen Stefani or a unicorn or the Northern Lights, tuck that memory away. 

You’ll need it someday.

Jen Wittes is a marketing director, writer, certified postpartum doula and mom of two who lives in St. Paul.