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Opinion What I’ve been up to the last four months

The author, with what she has been up to. (Alexandra Petri)
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What have I been up to for the last four months?

I have been changing diapers. I have filled bottles. I have sterilized bottles. I have bounced and bounced and bounced until I got a repetitive stress injury demeaningly known as mother’s thumb, which sounds like something the three witches in “Macbeth” would have used in potions. I have attempted to soothe and failed to soothe and attempted to soothe and succeeded in soothing. I have awakened at bizarre gray hours between night and day to feed a baby in the orange glow of the streetlight. I know very, very precisely when the print newspaper arrives, because I am awake feeding somebody and we hear it thunk against the door.

I have nodded off in comfortable chairs and nodded off in uncomfortable chairs. I have decanted a baby into a proper container for a walk. I have exchanged nods with all the other people wheeling their charges out on walks. Sometimes, I have been surprised because the entity in the other stroller turned out to be a dog.

I have discovered that if you want to walk to get coffee with a baby where they will bring the coffee out to you so you don’t have to wheel your stroller into the line, your only option is Bluestone Lane! I have achieved previously undreamed-of repeat customer status with Bluestone Lane! I have gotten many emails from Bluestone Lane thanking me for choosing them and asking me to account for my support, and I have ignored all of them.

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I have read that it would help the baby develop if I hugged her often. I have hugged her often. “This is to help your development,” I have informed her. I have wondered whether informing her that I am hugging her to help with her development is undercutting the impact of the hugs. Sometimes, I simply hug her without delineating why.

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I have read to her. I have read her a book called “Little Gorilla.” I have read her a book called “Little Gorilla.” I have read her a book called “Little Gorilla.” I have read her a book called “Little Gorilla.” I have memorized “Little Gorilla” and can recite it to you right now if you want to hear it. Do you want to hear it?

I have pumped milk. I have spent hours pumping milk. I have spent days pumping milk. I have spilled milk (without crying). I have worried that I was bouncing too much. I have texted a friend who is a doctor to ask whether I was bouncing the baby too much and been reassured that, no, I was not bouncing the baby too much.

I have worried because the baby was crying. I have worried because the baby was not crying. I have worried because the baby was sleeping. I have worried because the baby was not sleeping. I have awakened at 4 a.m., seized for no reason with the conviction that something was the matter with the baby and rushed to her room to find her sleeping peacefully. I have tried everything to stop the baby crying and been about to give up hope, only to look down and discover she was asleep. I have tried to watch congressional hearings with the baby, with mixed success.

We have downloaded an app to track when the baby poops and how much and when the baby naps and how much and when the baby feeds and how much. We are amassing SO MUCH DATA! Someday, this baby and other babies from her cohort will be 30 and there will be an absolutely bananas cache of data about what form and hue their poops took. Maybe someone will hack it and it will derail a presidential campaign news cycle.

I have done all my best material for the baby and she has given me nothing. I have played Fleetwood Mac to her and she has screamed with laughter. I have played her the Eurovision Song Contest entries and she has looked confused. I have played her Mussorgsky and she has looked alarmed and started to cry. I don’t understand her. I want to understand her. I want to know what she likes and dislikes and see her smile all the time. Also, unrelatedly, I want to nap forever.

I have read her the print comics and tried to explain them to her. I have realized that the comics do not make any sense. You try to explain Judge Parker to a 4-month-old. She smiles and makes polite sounds that imply she understands, and I feel embarrassed on her behalf because she clearly does not understand Judge Parker.

As for the rest of the newspaper, when I read it to her in the mornings, she makes cheerful noises in response to all the headlines. She doesn’t know, yet, that they have been almost universally terrible since her appearance on the planet. Mass shootings. The overturning of Roe. Inflation. War.

I have held her while she is crying and watched her father hold her while she is crying. I have felt more vulnerable than ever, like my shell was missing. I have tried to write. Writing was always the thing I loved most in the world, the thing that made everything make sense to me, and for a few unsettling months it didn’t even occur to me that it was something I did or could do. I watched the whole world get swallowed up and swaddled into a bundle of high, sweet wails and tiny perfect thumbs.

Suddenly, I existed in a new relationship to a little blob of a person who sat there smiling placidly at me and assuming I knew what I was doing, even though none of it felt remotely natural and if I didn’t figure it out, she would not get to eat. Sometimes, it would take my breath away, the thought: This happened to everyone. Everyone had hands this plump and tiny, and had to be bounced (just vigorously enough) and soothed and, if they were lucky, sung to. Everything in the world feels more real and more terrifying. I feel like there is a crack in me now, where everything can get in.

I love her. I love this. It’s very, very much.

That’s what I’ve been up to.