My son has outgrown his exersaucer. Do you know the thing I mean? A little seat surrounded by a plastic ledge with toys attached to it. Here’s a picture of ours:
Actually, he outgrew it a while ago. It sits in a corner of our kitchen these days. My son will walk up to it sometimes as I’m standing at the sink and flick the giraffe head or bounce the pandas up and down on their seesaw for a minute. But he doesn’t sit in there anymore. He’s much too big. And, anyway, he’d rather check out the pots and pans or the magnets on the fridge. He’s not a baby anymore. He’s a toddler now, thank you very much.
So, the exersaucer’s got to go. But I’ve been stalling. See, for me, the exersaucer isn’t just a cumbersome plastic toy that we can finally get rid of. It represents something. A milestone of sorts. But my milestone, not my son’s. It was buying that exersaucer, bringing it home, that proved to me I was going to be okay.
See, after my son was born I got very sick. For a month after giving birth I lived in a feverish world of pain, hardly able to walk, let alone pick up my son. My husband and, later, my mother did almost all the childcare. I was a milk dispenser and a distant observer. Nothing more. Or, at least, that’s how it felt.
Finally, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening infection and hospitalized. When I emerged a week later I was frail and weak. My mom and my aunt helped out for a while but they lived far away and, eventually, had to go home.
It was time to learn to care for my son. I was terrified. For weeks I’d let other people take charge. And they’d done it with selfless attention and care. But now the baby and I were suddenly alone together. What do you even do with a baby?
I began by mastering the basics. I changed his diaper and fed him at regular intervals. I learned how to put on the snuggly and, as my strength began to return, put him in it for short periods of time. I put him on the floor where he batted at toys hanging from a little play gym. One day I realized I was well enough to lie down there with him. We lay on the floor a lot.
As I got better our world grew. We walked around the block. We sat in a cafe. We went to the bookstore. And we began to meet other moms. I joined a neighborhood group and we went to meet-ups in restaurants and people’s homes. I felt the first glimmers of myself begin to reemerge.
It was at one of these meet-ups that somebody mentioned the exersaucer. A debate was raging. Someone said they’d just bought one and her daughter loved it. Someone else was saying how dangerous they were for development and growth. I listened, fascinated. What was an exersaucer? And who were these women who had such clear and impassioned opinions about it?
In some part of my still recovering mind I remembered the kind of mom I’d thought I was going to be. Someone who knew what was best for her child. Who didn’t fall prey to the fads of the day or the over-cautious, fearful advice on parenting forums. Someone who’d been a teacher for ten years for goodness sake and knew a thing or two about kids. Where was that mom, I wondered. This mom, the one listening to other moms debate the pros and cons of exersaucers, was just trying to get by, considering it a success if she got out of the house once in a while and remembered to bring her keys.
I went home and Googled exersaucers. The debate was not limited to the mommies in my group. It had taken to the internet with all kinds of posts about whether or not they were safe or beneficial or worthwhile. It was more than I could take in. My mind rebelled. I could’t think about this now. I wasn’t ready to be the mom I’d wanted to be. I could only be this mom.
Time passed. The seasons changed. The cold, dark, New York City winter blossomed into spring. My body continued to heal. My son continued to grow. He became more mobile and I began to worry about how I’d contain him once he began to crawl. It was impossible to fully baby-proof our tiny, New York apartment. What would I do if I had to do the dishes? Or run to the bathroom? Finally, I remembered the exersaucer.
I found myself weighing the pros and cons. Thinking about what my son and I needed. What was best for us. What I believed in. Then I clicked over to craigslist, typed in “exersaucer” and bought one.
My son and I went to pick it up one day in June. We got it, fully assembled, from another mom who lived in our neighborhood. I had to balance it on my hip and hang onto it with one hand while pushing my son’s stroller with the other. It was ten blocks back to our apartment.
Ten blocks isn’t far. These days I can walk it in about eight minutes. But there was a time when I couldn’t walk it at all. A time when getting down the three flights of stairs in my building was a nearly impossible task. A time when walking down the block was a Herculean feat.
The exersaucer on my hip was heavy, but I was carrying it. Its weight was less an issue than its cumbersome shape. I was walking. My stride hampered, but steady and sure. I was carrying an object I had decided to get. For the good of my son and of our family. I had weighed the pros and cons and figured out what I thought. I’d acted like a mom.
There, on the street, pushing my son and carrying an enormous piece of plastic, I suddenly knew it. I was well again. I’d made it.
At home I put my son in the exersaucer for the first time. There was a pause as he surveyed his new surroundings. And then his whole face lit up. He reached out and batted at the giraffe. He tipped the pandas back and forth. He laughed! And he looked at me as if to say, Wow, Mommy! This thing is awesome!
And it was. It really, really was.
I’ve been healthy and strong for a while now. My son and I are thriving. He’s growing up, just as he should. And we can’t hold on to all the toys that remind us of things that have happened in our lives. But, I won’t lie, it’s hard to give up that exersaucer. But it’s time.
Goodbye, you beautiful hunk of plastic, you. And thanks.