My first baby made parenthood seem like a warm, sunny day in the park. He slept through the night when he was just 3 months old; he ate well, hardly ever cried and voluntarily forfeited his pacifier before he reached the 5-month mark. He was an angel, a perfect hybrid of adorable charm and squishy baby rolls — and, as it turns out, he was also a cruel illusion that gave my husband and me completely unrealistic parental expectations.
Sixteen short months after welcoming that happy, blue-eyed angel baby into our world, we welcomed his equally adorable and blue-eyed baby brother into our perfect little picturesque lives — which he promptly turned upside down.
His reign began at his 38-week ultrasound. His heartbeat, which had typically sounded like a steady thud, took a turn toward reggae. “It’s probably nothing,” my doctor reassured me, “but he’ll probably spend some time in the NICU just as a precaution to ensure that it’s nothing serious.”
And so it began.
He was born exactly one week later. He spent a very short, yet painfully long, 24 hours in the NICU, and we were sent home with strict follow-up instructions the very next day. Our first days at home seemed pretty normal. He ate, slept and pooped. There really wasn’t anything all that noteworthy about his behavior at that particular time, but soon enough that quickly and drastically changed.
Like any baby, he cried. But his cries weren’t typical — they were shrill and more demanding. He would go from zero-to-60 in under a second, no matter how happy or content he was beforehand. He cried when he was full, dry and completely well-rested unless, of course, he was being held tight or rocked relentlessly. Even then, if it wasn’t me doing the holding or the rocking, he wasn’t completely content.
His quick temper made some of those first months of his life quite difficult on his father and me. It seemed like no matter what we did, no matter how hard we tried or researched or attempted to appease him, we were constantly walking on eggshells in the hopes that we wouldn’t do something that would set him off and send him into another temper tantrum again.
Throughout the next several months, we had a few follow-up appointments with a cardiologist, where he would get hooked up to a 48-hour halter monitor that checked this arrhythmia. During one of those appointments, the nurse struggled for several minutes to get the leads to stick to his chest, and he was beginning to lose his patience. Like I said before, this kid has a temper, so after about two minutes of wiggling around as she spoke softly and cooed to him, he had had enough. He let out a yell at an octave that would put Mariah Carey to shame as he turned bright red and scrunched his angry little eyebrows together. He stared that poor nurse down as if he were verbally assaulting her with his thoughts, and his tiny little fists stayed clenched until she was out of his sight.
I had come to realize that it didn’t take much to make this baby’s Irish blood boil. He’s 16 months old now, and although he’s typically a happy and snuggly baby, he’s still a bit of a hothead. Yes, I realize that kids come with a rainbow of emotions, but this kid seems to stick to the basics: adorable elation or pissed the hell off.
I spent the first year-and-a-half of his life wondering what I was doing wrong and trying to come up with viable solutions to my son’s sometimes-irrational behavioral issues. I questioned whether it was the fact that he started his life in the NICU, or the fact that he was around a toddler not much older than himself every moment since the day he was born.
He’d cry and cry, and it seemed like no matter what I did, he was never completely content. It made me feel like a horrible mother, like I was missing some obvious neon arrow pointing to exactly what I was doing wrong. I researched online, probed his pediatrician for answers and often weathered the unsolicited and borderline judgmental advice of others, but I never once discovered the secret formula for soothing my often inconsolable infant. It was a brutal kick in the gut, disheartening to say the least. I felt unfit as a mother.
I wondered whether it was colic or his arrhythmia or some other physical or behavioral deficiency that caused him to fume when he wasn’t happy, but as it turns out, it was none of the above.
During his most recent doctor’s visit, his pediatrician experienced both extremes before and after his vaccinations. “Oh, you’re a spirited little guy, aren’t you?” she said as he shot her his signature angry brows. “Is that normal? Are kids supposed to get that angry for no significant reason?” I asked her, praying that she wasn’t going to tell me that there was something terribly wrong with him. “It’s completely normal. He’s in perfect health. Some babies are just more difficult than others,” she told me.
And there it was — all that I needed to hear to reassure me that I wasn’t a horrible mother after all.
I love both of my sons unconditionally. They are healthy and beautiful and smart. One of them just happens to hate to wear shoes and refuses to put his bare feet in grass; he turns his head at the age-appropriate food we feed him and stares his father and me down in complete and total disgust if we don’t share our steak with him.
He’s got a temper, yes; but that doesn’t mean that we love him any less. In fact, although that temper might be causing my hair to turn gray prematurely, I’m confident that his strong will is going to take him far in life. He doesn’t always make being his mother an easy job, but I wouldn’t trade a single difficult moment with him for the entire world.
Before you go, check out our slideshow below: