It has been a wonderful week spending time at my sister's and getting to help out with my adorable nephew. I'm tempted to say "bond with him," but he's too young yet for that to really take effect from this relatively short visit. I know I'll be back often in these first few months though, so hopefully he'll start to figure out that I'm a solid presence in his life.
I've learned how to efficiently change diapers, to read feeding cues, the difference between sleepers and sleep sacks, how to swaddle, the terror of diaper rash, good diaper bag packing, how to mix formula and more. I have even been peed on, a couple of times. All in all he is actually a really good and quiet baby. He only cries when he needs food or changing, or when being changed as he hates being mostly naked and cold. My sister and brother-in-law are tired, but there is an increasing rhythm with the days and everyone is settling in rather well. The parents are clearly in absolute love with their child and it is a beautiful thing to be present for. I know this time I spend with Ryker will also draw my sister and I even closer. Needless to say, it's been a bit of a love-fest.
In case anyone is wondering (and I've already been asked three times), no maternal instincts or second thoughts have arisen about children. I have loved these days, and look forward to much more time with my nephew, but my role as doting/weird/protective aunt is plenty good enough for me.
We've been reading books about babies, my sister and I. Lots of interesting information and more than most anyone really needs to know about them. The most amusing bit to me was where one of the books explained that while there are lots of tips and advice, every baby is different and it can kind of all be thrown out the window if it doesn't work. So, really, all parents are just winging it. Figures.
There was one particular bit in a book that caught my attention and has really stuck with me as I've observed Ryker over the past few days. It defined two types of alertness and sleep, active and inactive. In sleep it is simply the difference between a baby so quiet you want to check if he's breathing, and one that is sleeping but making cute little noises and mildly moving about. The interesting bit is in alertness. Active alert is an obviously awake baby who is waving their arms and legs, looking around, making facial expressions and noises, etc. Inactive alert is a wide awake baby who is super quiet and still but their eyes are wide open and they seem very focused. In this state they are just absorbing the stimuli around them. The world is a whole new place to them where everything is interesting. It takes a lot of work and concentration to take it all in. They will spend a couple of hours a day at this.
Babies are masters at being present, it is the only way they know so far. There is not a next moment, or any attention paid to the one just past. Ryker is upset when cold, but immediately calms down when the clothes are put on. Then he is right back to his regular repose until something else is needed. And the inactive alert time is just fascinating. He is clearly taking a lot in, but it is such a tranquil state and I find myself watching and as focused as him for long stretches. Clearly I don't know what it is like for him. But for me it is a strange melding of both inner and outward work. My focus is outward and on watching him. Inwardly there is great calm, but with a plethora of thoughts teeming about. Each thought is given attention and then sinks back into the mass; there is ease and flow. It feels very similar to meditation. But rather than seeking stillness, I'm instead serenely aware and engaged with the activity in my mind as well as the flow of stimulus from my outward focus.
I equate active alertness to the way most of us spend the time in our days. We're busy being busy with work and projects and conversing and eating and cleaning and reading and interacting with our worlds. This is good time, needed time and activity. But I think maybe it is good to find a little time for inactive alertness in our days. Just taking it all in. Letting the world wash over us and being supremely fascinated with what it reveals.
An infant doesn't have much to be busy with in a day. All they have to do is live and breathe and eat. Weeks will pass before there is anything more to do. No one will expect more of them or judge them for doing so little. Living is enough. That is a lesson worth remembering for all of us busy adults. Just living is enough. The rest is extra.