Life with a newborn is kind of like running underwater. Cumbersome and extremely difficult. Leaving the house is an event that has to be timed just right to avoid chaos and utter destruction. For our first few days alone at home without Matt, I refused to leave my house. The thought of waking a sleeping Ellie and attempting to fold her fragile body into the carseat was so daunting I saw sunlight from only my living room windows.
But I figured exposure therapy was the best way to face my fear head on. So first, we attempted the car seat. Our very first day home, Ellie went down for her two hour afternoon nap and I carefully lifted her up from her Fisher Price Soothing Motions Seat and hunkered down and prayed for glory. The minute she was airborne, her arms flew up into the touchdown signal and she began stirring and snorting. I froze. I wanted rewind time and pretend I never did this. I swear I broke a sweat. She wriggled her body for less than a minute and fell back asleep. And so my quest continued. I tiptoed to the carseat and slid her little body into the seat. She was still asleep. Score. The extremely terrifying part was finagling the seatbelt straps around her, clicking the chest clip together, and buckling her in.
When I get nervous or flustered in a high-stakes situation, my go to reaction is to try and get through it as quickly as possible. This a good idea in theory but poor idea in practice because it leaves significant room for more error. Last August, Matt and I hiked Mount Washington and I almost fell off a flat rock face to my death (Matt caught me thank God) and instead of taking a minute to calm myself down and regroup, I insisted on powering through it because I wanted it to be over. I tripped and fell roughly three more times. Putting Ellie in her carseat was a similar experience. First the carseat straps were too tight, but I could not figure out how to loosen them. Then I tried maneuvering them from behind Elliot’s arms to the front of her chest in their current tight state. It was difficult and forced Ellie’s arms in an unnatural position and she began to cry. I further panicked so I clicked the chest clip together but I pinched her onesie inside of it. I yanked the onesie out and quickly buckled her in. She was miserable. Thrashing, screaming, whimpering. That goddamn pitiful whimper that feels like someone staked me through the chest. I started to rock the car seat back and forth on the floor. And BOOM. Out like a light. This filled me with confidence. I can do this. Sure it’s not fun at first, and sure she hates me for like 5 minutes, but we can’t stay at home forever because I will end up in a dark corner of our house rocking back and forth.
With my snazzy new carseat confidence in tow, I planned a Mommy and Ellie day out. And what better place to go on a day in the middle of the week when you have nothing to do than Target. Target seemed like the perfect place. Twenty minutes away so not too far or too close, it has a Mommy clothing section and an Ellie clothing section, and access to emergency food and childcare supplies. And so on a bright, sunny, Monday morning we embarked on our adventure. I hastily put some formula in a container, filled a bottle with 3 ounces of water, and tossed a new onesie in the diaper bag. Then I put her in the carseat and got the carseat in the car. So far so good. She fell asleep as soon as the carseat cover cloaked her in darkness. I was beaming from ear to ear. Hard part done. We weren’t 10 minutes from our house when my mind started racing. I can’t see her in the car seat. Is she breathing? What if she isn’t breathing? What if she starts to choke and I can’t get to her? I was driving, anxious, and as always I wanted to get to Target as quickly as possible. I began slightly speeding on Route 12. Then I thought to myself, “What the hell are you doing? You have a baby you can’t speed.” And so I slowed down. And so our ride went like that, fast-slow-fast-slow, until I couldn’t take it any longer. I pulled into the Stop and Shop parking lot, jumped out of the front seat of my car and hustled to the rear passenger side door where Ellie’s car seat was. I gently lifted her carseat cover and stared at her for a good two minutes to watch her chest rise and fall. She was fine. Head slightly tilted and rested on her shoulder, lip in a pout, sound asleep…and snoring. I shook my head at my own ridiculousness and hopped back into the car. We made it to Target with no additional stops.
Target is a wonderful place on it’s own, but it’s especially wonderful for stay at home moms. The place is like a Mecca. I’m pretty mothers and babies were the sole demographic in the place at 11am on a Monday. First, most car seats fit easily and snuggly into the top of the carts, which is not a reality in most places. Specifically the grocery store, which results in me putting Ellie in her carseat in the base of the cart and piling groceries around her….and maybe putting bread on her lap…Sorry Ellie. Also Target loves babies and boobs. Did you guys catch that video of a douchebag in CT verbally assaulting a woman for breastfeeding and an army of target employees came to her aid? If you haven’t, its a great watch. They support breastfeeding moms. Lastly, Target is the most wonderful black hole for your bank account. You go in there for brown rice and a mop, and you leave with a new pair of shoes, a sweater, a new throw blanket for the living room, and a half of the cosmetics section. Why? Because you’re there, and you can, and it seems like a good idea at the time. And after not leaving the house for two weeks…my bank account, Ellie, and I were ready.
Ellie was fast asleep and so we took our sweet time perusing all of the aisles. The juniors and women’s clothing sections. The shoes. The baby section and clothing. Onto the make up section. We spent a good hour in there loading up our cart with really nothing we needed but things that would fill the void that had formed after not interacting with humans for a few weeks. We checked out using self check out and cue my happy dance. We made it. We successfully made it out of the house. No melt downs, no fussiness, no crying. I got us out to the car and put Ellie’s carseat in the car and began loading it up with our treasures. I went to get my phone to check it as I had been so enamored with the big red circles I hadn’t spoken to anyone I loved or cared about in at least an hour and a half. There was no phone. I began frantically ripping apart the diaper bag…still no phone. I started searching through all of the target bags…no phone. I started muttering a slew of profanities under my breath. I grabbed Ellie’s carseat and placed her back into the cart. And so we went, back into Target. I hit the service desk and asked the kind Target employee if anyone had turned in a gold iPhone. She solemnly shook her head no and began using Target’s landline phone to call it for me. After it reaching voicemail several times, I told her we would go retrace our steps. I was hopeful in that I have a decent member and because how, in a store full of compassionate women with babies, would someone not turn the damn thing in. So we returned to the women’s clothing section and the shoes section. But I was positive the phone was in the baby section as we spent the majority of our time there.
I began weaving the cart through the racks of clothing. I was frazzled and moving quickly. Remember that room for error? It was kicking in. In my attempt at being stealth and swift, I rammed the cart into the corners of the clothing racks several times. I came to one particularly large rack filled with festive clothes, one that resulted in me purchasing a jack-o-lantern onesie with a tutu attached to it (Jesus Christ) when I heard it. The piercing cry of an infant. I froze. Before I could even whisper a preemptive “shush” to Ellie, somewhere in a separate area of the baby section a different baby began to cry. I knew we had to make moves. I darted down the greeting card aisle figuring I was safe. I was not. There I found a mother with her toddler having a tantrum over the fact that her mother would not buy her a dog chew toy that she wanted for herself. Christ, they were setting each other off like car alarms. The woman with her toddler turned to me, looked at me with a vacant stare and said, “Leave before it get’s worse.” I nodded and knew we had to escape before it got worse. We had to get the hell out of this hole before the melt-down spread to my perfect sleeping angel. I began heading to the exit. I could see the light of the checkout lanes like the north star. We were so close.
And then Elliot began screaming. Donald Duck screaming. I was still moving fast. I vaguely remember passing the many faces of target shoppers tossing me sympathy looks. We hustled to the front of the store so I could at least get her carseat out of the cart and sit in Target’s mini food court to give Ellie a bottle. She hadn’t eaten in three hours and it was about that time. I grabbed the diaper bag and opened it up only to realize I left the formula and bottle at home. Fuck. And so my life came down to this:
iPhone or Hungry baby.
I remember saying out loud “Fuck my iPhone.” Screaming Ellie and I made our way back to the car. I listened to her cry herself into hiccups as we peeled out of Target’s parking lot. By the time we passed Buffalo Wild Wings in the Crystal Mall she was sound asleep. I went home to find Facebook messages from my husband and mother telling me Target had my phone. Apparently right after we left some angel turned it in. I was too traumatized to go back out for it that my mother had to leave her job in Westerly, RI, drive to Target it Waterford, CT, and then deliver the phone to me in Ledyard.
This incident scarred me for a significant amount of time. So much so, that it actually took me pretty much up until the past couple days to develop the appropriate mindset to venture out again. A significant amount of my anxiety is definitely because I fear I’m an inadequate mother and that I won’t be able to soothe my baby in public. I also think our rough first two weeks of Ellie’s life exacerbate this fear. I’ve learned two things. 1.) I need to get over it. I said in my first post that I need to understand that Elliot is a baby and will not always be perfect. In fact, she is going to have meltdowns in public for no reason. She’s going to explosively poop her onesie just as we are about to walk out the door or just as we arrive to our destination. She’s probably eventually going to accidentally pick up a piece of dog kibble and swallow it with impressive speed before I can intervene. And I am working on grappling with this. Progress not perfection folks. 2.) I can soothe her. Handling a fussy baby in public is 10% skill and 90% confidence. I’m convinced my baby smells fear. If you get worked up, it only makes the situation worse. And most people really don’t give a shit when your really cute, clearly newborn baby is crying. They are pretty understanding. Yesterday my husband’s work had a family day at Mystic Seaport. We bundled up Ellie, packed the diaper bag (had formula AND a bottle this time), and headed down there to spend the gorgeous fall day. We spent an hour and a half perusing the Seaport. The place is pretty boring but it was just nice to get out. Then we grabbed a late lunch by the water at Red 36. Elliot was awake the entire time. Two weeks ago, the thought of going out for a sit down meal with Elliot wide awake and risking the chance for her getting fussy or having a meltdown would have given me agita. I probably would have stayed home and watched the leaves change from my living room. But I held her at the table and fed her a bottle, talked to her, and rocked her fast asleep. For a brief moment, I was that cool-as-a-cucumber mother I find myself staring at out in public green with envy. I think Ellie and I are finally starting to get our groove on. It takes time and practice, but we are getting there.