life on the funny farm

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Overrating of firsts

Usually when people make the decision to adopt, they rule out all age groups over the age of about 6 hours. Too old. When they find that babies less than a day old are hard to come by, they settle for anything that is still unable to make eye contact. If the baby can smile b/c it's happy to see you and not just b/c it needs to fart, again, too old. Part of the reasoning for wanting to score a neonate is the whole blank slate thing. While nothing can be done to change whatever parties went on in utero, the newborn baby's delicate psyche has not yet been torn asunder. Even a few short months of the infant's needs not being met can have a lasting impact on the ability of this little person to trust and attach with its caretakers. OK, a valid enough point. Though I must mention that damage done early is NOT always permenant or irreversible.

Another oft-cited reason as to why folks want a baby is so they can experience all the "firsts" in their baby's world: first smile, first tooth, first time to sit up, crawl, take a step. As a parent who has been witness to her bio babys' firsts, as well as to her older adopted childrens' firsts of a different nature, I'm here to tell you the baby firsts are a bit overrated. Don't get me wrong, I'll be the first to admit that I was the sterotypical first-time Mom who saved the lock of hair, the tooth, the hospital wrist bracelet, the first poopy diaper. Okay, that last one, not so much. I probably spent as much time chronicling and archiving what my new child was doing at every moment than I did actually interacting and caring for him. It was of utmost importance to me that I record every blessed meaningless thing about him. "This morning, when I changed his diaper at 5:24, he peed so high it almost reached the ceiling! I'll bet when he's in college he'll win contests when he's out with his drinking buddies. I am just sooo proud". Flash forward to my 3rd bio child's baby book: "Came home from the hospital today. He's pretty cute. Hope he's a good sleeper". Next entry: "He started 3rd grade today".
So you see, at some point we make the switch from the constant recording of every detail to actually just witnessing and appreciating them. Either because we lack the time or the brain cells, or b/c we just learned how to prioritize.

These baby firsts are pretty much one-sided celebrations anyway, a tool to help US bond with the baby, not the other way around. The 6 month old could care less that he's cutting his first tooth and probably thinks you're a freak for jumping and squealing and scribbling in your book (again) when he's screaming in pain and chewing on his toes. Their memories of their firsts will be pretty much non-existent. In contrast, when an older adopted child experiences a first, it opens their eyes in wonderment, changes their view of the world, and helps to shape who they are as a person. We expose our children to so much from such an early age, that by the time they're old enough to think about what they're seeing or tasting or smelling, it has lost its impact. The unique becomes ordinary. The special, commonplace. With that in mind, here are a few "firsts" of my adopted children. These things never made it into a baby book, but I was blessed enough to be there to witness their reaction to something new and special in their lives:

the cool, sweet taste of ice cream
a crowded bumpy noisy bus ride to school
a soft, cozy bed of their own
a Mama's warm lap to snuggle in
the steamy warmth of a shower
hunger subsiding when grabbing an apple from the bottomless bowl of fruit
the excitement of tunnels and slides, arcades and lights at a fun center
the crash and scatter of bowling pins
the wind in their hair as they coast down the driveway on their bikes
fuzzy soft bunny fur
a dog in a lap
the chaos and fun of having friends over
salty popcorn and cold drinks while watching a movie in the dark of the theatre
the creamy warmth of a cup of hot chocolate after playing in the snow

the all-encompassing love of a family


  1. Lol to the future "p" contest! I've written things down here and there. Just the other day I opened my junk dresser drawer to look for something and i must have run across five sandwich bags wit a tooth in it. No date - nothin'. Just a teeth. Something about baby books, I just wasn't good at it. Must be something about following the rules - I don't know. TALU

  2. This is adorable! No kids here yet, but I do wonder how moms even have time to document everything their kid does. I'm not sure my mom documented everything, but she definitely kept everything we ever did or made. Projects, report cards, lost teeth as well. (TALU!)

  3. This is beautiful. All my children were adopted and with my first, I was pretty meticulous about writing down his firsts in an adoption baby book (all my kids were 2+ when we adopted them), but with our third, I don't even have a book. I should probably throw something together so she doesn't feel left out. I am an advocate for the lifebook and have done that for my first two - will do for my daughter soon. There is a huge thrill being able to experience some of those first with your older child. Christmas with our three year old this year was so fun!

  4. Anne, what a great post. You had me laughing -- remembering hours I spent one day not interacting with my three month old son but snapping one picture after another *just in case* he did something for the first time. Lots of pictures of a baby propped in a chair like a sack of flour. Startling comparison: he's 11 now and I have the most vivid, teary mental snapshot of the other day when I went to explain something to him and, before I could, he explained it to me. There are *lots* of firsts to look forward to, right? (Oh, and btw, this is a TALU visit - thanks for hosting!)

  5. Those firsts are better than the traditional ones. I reminisce about my (bio) son's first movie theater experience way more often than his first steps. And HE can, too!

  6. Kind of a stop and smell the roses moment - you don't want to be so wrapped up in recording everything that you don't actually experience and live it with them. See, that's why everyone needs their own reality show - so they just have to pop in the DVD and won't miss a thing! ;) It almost does seem like everyone has their own reality show now - scary!!

    The way life has gone, I'll probably never end up having the opportunity, but I had always anticipated getting married some day, having one child of my own, then adopting either an older child - because like you mentioned, most people are only interested in babies, or perhaps siblings - it tears my heart out to think about kids who are separated from their parents for whatever reason only to then be separated from one another to be adopted out because people want one child, or a particular age, etc.

  7. I love looking at photo albums and baby books other people have made for their children. But for my daughter . . . WELL - I kept a journal of my trip to China to adopt my daughter. That is about all she has in the way of "Baby Book" as I never got around to documenting all of the firsts. AND I broke the video camera a week before I traveled. Honestly, I don't know how I could have videoed anything any how - I was alone with a group of people I didn't know with a new baby I didn't know.
    I KNOW she took her first step on my best friend's birthday. . . and her first word was "Pooh!" But this lives in my memory only - and now hers as I have shared these things as she has asked about them.
    Now my DOG, Noodles, that is an entirely different tale -
    Love Katherine, Noodles' Mommy #2

  8. Lovely post, Anne. I must confess that, with my four boys, I halfway kept the first one's baby book. After that, well, not so much. My youngest asked me once where his baby book was. I had to tell him it was still in the box! But I have lots of great memories. I hope my "boys," who are now men, do, too. TALU

  9. None of my three kids (all biological) have a baby book. Not my skill set. Nor do I have the best memory in the world. But I remember EVERYTHING about bring home a puppy - a surprise - when the first two kids were old enough to remember and young enough to have that awesome look of complete joy on their faces that only kids can have.

    On another note, I'm adopted. I may have a baby book somewhere (no clue where), but my mom told me a story every night about the day she and my dad picked me up when I was three days old. It was true, but became the most perfect fairy tale ever to me.

    Sigh. Thanks for taking my brain down memory lane!

  10. Beautiful. I loved the perspective of an adoptive mom.

  11. That was a wonderful perspective...thanks for sharing it on TALU this week. I have to agree that some of those "firsts" are overrated, and I have stopped beating myself up about the "imperfections" of my daughters' baby books!

  12. Thanks ladies! Looks like I'm not alone in letting those books slide a bit with successive children! The memories in our heads and hearts are more important than the ones on paper, right?



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