When Angela and I found out that we were expecting a baby, my mind raced to all the things that would change. Late-night diaper changes and frequent pausing of our favorite television programs came to mind.
While this stuff is certainly part of our new reality, there is an abundance of other little details that you don't hear much about from other parents.
Next Monday, Luke becomes a happy four-month-old. His smile has developed from an unconscious reflex into a full-blown character trait he uses to cheer up the adults around him. He manipulates objects around him and gets into mischief when our backs are turned.
Even with all these adorable habits, some challenges come with raising a four-month-old baby.
Luke made it through Colic around the time he reached his third month. Colic was a terrible time for him, and a difficult one for us.
He would cry for hours as though he was going through excruciating pain. Often, we were left perplexed as to what we could do to help him. It was heartbreaking.
Very shortly after overcoming colic, Luke started teething. This is another situation where babies are experiencing discomfort, and they don't know what it is or how to cope with it. So, they act out by fussing and crying in hopes that the parental units will solve the problem.
Additionally, going too long between naps causes fussiness. Angela read and heard from sources that a baby his age needs to nap every 1.5 to 2 hours. This is a difficult schedule to maintain with commuting, grocery store trips, baths, and other events.
Meal time is always a struggle. When Luke is hungry, he will go from peaceful and quiet to screaming in seconds. He eats roughly every three hours with longer breaks at night and shorter ones mid-day. We have to schedule our activities around these meal times as much as possible - which isn't always easy.
I'd be lying if I didn't recognize how Luke has changed how Angela and I communicate. We try our best to split the duties of parenthood down the middle. I make it a goal to change as many diapers as Angela, perform as many feedings, and calm an equal number of fits.
Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. I work from home and often have tasks that carry over into my evenings and weekends. Angela has to pick up the slack when I'm unable to meet the demands of a young infant.
My guilt of being unable to be a real 50/50 participant in Luke's upbringing puts me on edge. I find myself trying to make up for lost time by overdoing it when I'm not otherwise busy. I also find myself imagining a grudge between Angela and I over it.
There are times, especially in the mornings, when we have trouble communicating with one-another. I'll be running back-and-forth between calming a fussy baby and getting his clothes, bottles, and other essentials ready for his trip to his grandparent's house.
Angela, often scrambling to get herself ready for her day at work, becomes frustrated when the time approaches when she needs to leave, and the to-do list isn't completed. She will be unaware of how much I've been juggling, in part because I don't accurately communicate tasks as they are identified and completed.
It's important that couple with new babies make time for themselves. Angela and I started watching Breaking Bad (we hadn't seen it until now) while Luke naps. It's a shared experience that we can enjoy together. A simple pleasure that takes us out of the stressed mindset new parents find themselves in.
A solid night of sleep is a memory right now. We haven't had one since Luke was born and probably won't for another few months.
Luke wakes up in the middle of the night wanting a bottle. Angela will often change him while I prepare his bottle. We trade off on who has to stay up with him during feeding and burping. Often, I'll stay up with Angela in case she needs to tag out for whatever reason.
This creates an unusual state of drowsiness that sticks with me throughout the day. If I close my eyes, I can fall asleep. No matter the time of day or situation.
This drowsiness makes it difficult to focus. Where my home office would be filled with music and/or news I now find myself sitting in silence with as few distractions in front of me to maintain focus.
The advice we received from other parents was always to sleep when the baby sleeps. This is challenging. Bottles need to be washed, laundry needs to be done, and any number of other tasks that used to stress us out pre-baby are still present and every bit as pressing as they were before.
Traveling with Luke is a challenge. Not because he is particularly cranky in the car. To the contrary, he's a great rider.
The challenge comes with timing. We have to time trips to the grocery store around Luke's meals and naps. We have to meticulously plan it so we're not caught in traffic when he erupts in a fury of screaming and wailing over an empty stomach.
Likewise, we need to be extra careful that wherever we're going be reasonably conducive to his napping habits. He can nap in the stroller if we avoid stores that are overly busy.
Before Luke, if we wanted ice cream or simply to take a drive with the dogs, we could hop up and head out the door without giving it a second thought. Now, that's no longer a possibility.
Luke is an emotional sponge. He knows when we're not in a good mood better than we do. You can see it on his face. He absorbs our emotional state and expresses it back to us.
When Angela and I are having a bad day, he is having a bad day. When we are bickering over petty things, he feels it.
Likewise, when we are happy, so is he. It's for that reason that we smile early and often when we interact with him. We watch our tone with one-another in his presence and do our best to ensure that the environment he is in is as nurturing and positive as possible.
It is hard to imagine maintaining a positive tone and attitude as a challenge of parenthood, but it is. No one is happy all of the time, and we certainly don't try to pretend that we are.
The challenge is in maintaining an environment that facilitates happy emotions. Our living room is full of fun toys for Luke to enjoy. We strive to make more time for ourselves and each other and to participate in stress-reducing activities.
Perhaps the most important thing I've learned going through this process is that every challenge is worth it. All it takes is one look in Luke's eyes and every midnight cry, every turned-down bottle, and every diaper blowout are worth it.
Luke's contagious smile lights up a room. His breathy giggle brings energy to an exhausted parent.
Truly, this is both the most challenging and rewarding thing I've ever done. In spite of everything... I love being a father.