That first real smile from a baby is one of those precious gifts that elicits feelings of pure joy upon the lucky receiver. It’s often followed by the craziest of antics or the silliest sort of baby talk, regardless of how dignified said receiver is under normal circumstances, all in order to get another smile from that baby. And the first laugh? That can send many loving caregivers over the moon with happiness! Of course a baby’s smile or laugh is adorable, and all but the grumpiest of people can’t help but smile back when they gaze upon a happy baby. But that smile is even more special to those who have dedicated the long sleepless days and nights caring for, feeding, rocking, changing diapers, and loving that little person who isn’t capable yet of reciprocating love. Those first few weeks with a newborn are amazing but they’re also physically exhausting. A baby’s smile is a sweet reward.
I remember the first time my baby girl smiled at me. I literally could feel my heart in my chest, skipping a beat or two, my throat tightened, and my eyes got all blurry with tears. I’m sure that my own smile couldn’t have been any bigger at that moment. Her smile felt like a gift from heaven, like she was saying, “I love you too”. She was a colicky baby who cried a lot. I felt like I was sleepwalking most of the time, and I often had feelings of panic when I thought, “I don’t know what to do!” Sometimes there was conflict between my husband and I when we disagreed about how we wanted to parent her or whose advice to follow. But we loved her like crazy, and that smile was worth it all. I would do almost anything to bring a smile to my little girl’s face.
I once read somewhere that the hardest years of parenting are the baby years and the early teen years, but they’re also some of the most important, in terms of establishing in the child, a sense of being loved and secure with their place in the world. My daughter is now in her early teen years. My personal experience is showing that what I read is true. It’s a different kind of hard, more emotional than physical, but I’m seeing a lot of parallels. She’s a great kid. She’s normal- or at least she is very similar to me at that age. I keep reminding myself of that when things get a little….tense. Once again, I find myself consulting the parenting books, and thinking to myself, “I don’t know what to do!” Parenting conflicts are more frequent- this time, over issues such as when to grant certain freedoms or how to react to certain….attitudes.
She smiles often, but those smiles are usually directed at her friends. Her Dad and I are more often the recipients of the raised eyebrow, the arms crossed in front of the chest stance, or the angry scowl. But I love her now more than ever. Occasionally, one of her smiles still gets directed at me, and it still lights up my world. I will do almost anything for one of those smiles. But now the rules have changed. Baby talk and crazy antics are no longer appreciated. Instead, I find myself watching the Justin Beiber movie on a Friday night because I know how much she wants to see it, or taking her for make-up lessons downtown, even though I think she’s beautiful without it- because if that’s what it takes for her to feel confident in her own beauty, then okay...we'll make it special.
Just like the baby years turned into the golden childhood years and the memories of the hard work involved eventually faded away into a rose colored nostalgia. I know we’ll move on from these, sometimes, difficult early teen years. And I hope that when it happens, she’ll still know how much she is loved, and how that sweet smile of hers can still bring tears of joy to her mama’s eyes.