I have made it. I have crossed the threshold into toddler-hood, and I am still alive. I used to read posts like this back when Cullen was only a few weeks or months old, and think that a year felt like a lifetime. But boy if it didn’t pass in the blink of an eye.
I worked really hard this year to stay present. To pay attention. To take that 30 extra seconds to grab the video camera and send his first steps to his grandparents. And to miss my window to shower because Cullen was sleeping on my chest, and I didn’t know if it was for the last time.
Of course there are many things you should do during the first year – all those fun firsts like a trip to the zoo, a splash in the pool, and that perfect first photo in a pumpkin patch. But here is my list of things that are a bit more abstract — the types of things you don’t realize you should have done until it’s too late to go back and do them! Here are ten things you should try to do during baby’s first year:
1. Find a good babysitter (and use her!)
Before Cullen was born, Casey and I swore up and down that we would make our marriage a top priority – even with a new baby. And then he arrived and we fell into survival mode — too many mindless nights in front of the TV, too much sweatpant-wearing, and not enough date nights. Find a babysitter that you trust, and take the time to nurture your relationship. Now that we get out for some one-on-one time alone, we are both more refreshed, our communication is better, and we’re happier at home. It makes a huge difference.
2. Let them sleep on you as often as possible
I’ll spare you the monologue about how babies grow up too soon (it’s true!). But I had no idea how many aspects of baby-hood were really limited to just the first few weeks and months. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING better than a peaceful baby napping on your chest. I know that email is backed up, laundry beckons from the hallway, and the dishwasher hasn’t been emptied in days. But don’t take those snuggly naps for granted. Once they end you will long for just one more.
3. Carve out time for yourself
I’ll be the first to admit, this has probably been my biggest struggle this year. It is very easy to fall into hyper-mom mode – making sure everything else is done, and putting your personal needs at the bottom of your to-do list every day (which we all know never gets finished). If I could change one thing about this year, I would have worked harder to fit in regular childcare, regular exercise, and consistent time just for myself. Whether that means reading a book for an hour, going for a walk with your dogs, or taking a relaxing yoga class – do it. Every time I DO carve out the time, I come back refreshed and feeling like a better mom.
4. Keep a journal
Most new parents are incredibly camera-happy – click, click, click. And while photos provide wonderful memories, sometimes I look back and can barely remember how I felt during those early newborn weeks. How was I recovering? What was our daily schedule like? Record more than just pictures – write it down. Take a few minutes once a week to jot down how things are right NOW, because they will likely change tomorrow, and yesterday will become a blur. Whether it’s a paper journal or an online blog, find a way to record what is likely to be one of the most important years of your life.
5. Create a memory box
To add to journaling and photographing, I’ve had fun putting together a memory box for Cullen. I know I love seeing the physical items from my childhood – tiny hats, old threadbare dresses, hospital bracelets. Find a small box and keep important mementos. If you are like my mom, you can even have a small box of baby teeth, but I personally think that’s taking it a bit far.
6. Take a daily/weekly/monthly photo
Before Cullen was born, I decided to do a 365 day project and snap a photo of him every single day. I posted them to a private family website so our loved ones could watch him grow. It’s so fun to look back and see him slowly change over the course of a year. If a daily photo sounds like too much, opt to do something weekly or monthly. Pick your favorite outfit and a fun location, and snap away. It’s incredible to look back after a year and see all the changes.
7. Dig up old photos of you and your spouse
Somehow babies seem to change every single day. Cullen will go to bed looking like my husband, and I swear he will wake up and look like me. Ask your parents for old photos of you as a baby, and compare them to your current little one. It’s fun to find the similarities!
8. Record your baby’s laugh and cry
When Cullen was six days old, we had his newborn photos taken. The photographer kept telling me to record his newborn cry. I didn’t understand why, but I did it anyway. I also captured his first giggles, and continued to film his laugh as he grew and changed. I love watching these videos now, and hearing how different he sounded. It’s also fun to show HIM the videos — he loves watching “the baby” on my computer!
9. Travel — the earlier, the better!
I had read this tip during my pregnancy, and I’m so glad we followed the advice. We took Cullen to Hawaii when he was 3.5 months old, and a lot of people thought we were crazy. No, we didn’t relax on the beach for hours on end or go out for late dinners, but we still had an amazing time. The older your baby gets, the more complicated it gets to travel. Things like solid food and baby-proofing can be tough on the go, so I recommend traveling with your little one when they are still tiny and have very simple needs. Our vacation really gave us the boost that we needed in the early months of parenting.
10. Record videos as much as you can
I know digging up the video camera is annoying when you’re trying to be “in the moment.” And of course you don’t need to record everything. But I started taking videos of Cullen from his first day in the hospital, and I tried to take at least one each week after that. At the time, I was doing this so I could send them to eager grandparents living too far away, but now they are such treasures. For Cullen’s first birthday, I put together a 20-minute video — it’s a series of clips from his first year, and it’s amazing to watch him grow right in front of you.