Nothing makes me feel quite so inadequate as a mother than the baby book. Maybe I'm being a bit melodramatic, but I think the baby book is a constant reminder that I'm not appropriately celebrating my child's milestones. In fact, according to the baby book, I'm unaware that some events are even considered milestones. I'm so wrapped up in, you know, mothering that I forget to stop the 10 things I'm doing at any given moment to record such events.
The idea of the book is lovely — a tangible record of the baby's first year. Before I was a mum, I gifted them to pregnant friends while smug in my thoughtfulness. And my mother, an avid record-keeper according to my completed baby book, gifted me one for each of my daughters while I was pregnant. I remember flipping through the pages with magic anticipation while I rubbed my growing belly because I was too naive to see it for what it really was: another chore.
As my babies grew, the blank pages I had eagerly thumbed through remained blank. To stem my shame, the baby books moved from the living room to the dark recesses of the kids' closets where I didn't have to be reminded of their existence or my continued neglect. However, mum guilt is a particularly potent strain of guilt, so I eventually caved and brought them back out. Last night, after my daughters went to sleep, I decided to have a glass of wine and fill out the baby books.
I have never felt so inept in my life. The vacant pages felt like a glaring testament to my failure as a parent.
Just short of physically patting myself on the back, I mentally commended myself on my productivity: clean-ish house; to-do list completed; kids fed, bathed, and sleeping. There was nothing I couldn't do! I opened the baby books, pen poised in hand, glass of wine on table in front of me, and was ready to conquer. But that feeling of optimism quickly waned. Huge swathes of pages remained blank as I struggled to pinpoint months, let alone dates, for specific milestones. The pen began to droop in my hand, until eventually, I dropped it and picked up the wine glass instead.
How could I not remember these dates? Did I have memory issues? Does every other mother know the day her child first rolled over? If I write that she never had diphtheria or whooping cough in the Childhood Illnesses section, am I jinxing her? Why is there a Childhood Illnesses section in the first place?!
I have never felt so inept in my life. The baby book might as well have been written in Aramaic, because I couldn't figure anything out. I've taken the LSAT and the GRE, and neither compared to the stress of not knowing an "answer" for the baby book. Not to mention, some of the items were unclear. Did "first tooth" mean the first hint of a tooth or when it had fully come in? Was the first smile considered authentic if it was borne from gas and not happiness? I suppose that it's up to me to interpret the "rules" of the baby book, but that seems too arbitrary. I'm recording history here! I need this to be accurate.
Equally vexing were the sections for which I had nothing to add. I realise that the makers of the baby book want to be inclusive, but when my daughters see that there were no birth announcements, are they going to feel slighted? It's a bit underwhelming to write that we just sent out a text to friends and family. The vacant pages felt like a glaring testament to my failure as a parent. A picture of the first bath? I was hardly able to hobble over to the sink to watch considering I was balancing an ice-filled diaper between my legs and slightly sore from the whole process of BIRTHING A BABY. And what about the list of shower attendees and their corresponding gifts? What is this? A way to drag otherwise loving kin down with me? "Yes darling, I may have failed to take a picture of you eating cake on your second birthday, but your aunt apparently thought your birth only merited a nail clipper and hairbrush. Psssh!"
As I sat puzzling over dates and specific memories, my annoyance grew. First, at myself, for not writing in the baby books in a more timely fashion. And second, at the creators of the baby book, for making another unnecessary metric of successful parenthood. I told myself the baby book authors are misogynist jerks intent on crushing a mother's confidence as part of some antifeminist agenda. I doubt there are many fathers who, after a long day of working and parenting, feel compelled to fill out baby books instead of taking a few minutes to relax. This is nothing more than a ploy to keep women subjugated and trapped in the role of mother!
Luckily, around this time, I got a grip on reality. After all, the baby book wasn't worth ruining my evening over (nor was venturing into crazy conspiracy theorist territory). Obviously, the baby book was created as a means for preserving special memories and not as a tool of maternal bondage. I wasn't going to let it undermine my confidence in my capabilities as a mum. The rest of my kids' lives are blank pages, and it's a hell of a lot harder to actually make memories than it is to write them down.