On parental physicality (or baby chronicles: Part Nine)

To train for parenthood, I would recommend a training regimen of carrying a 15# dumbbell or kettlebell. Varying methods of holding the object, maybe by the handle, cradled against the chest, or even gentle dancing. Doesn’t matter, just keep holding it and don’t put it down.

Carry this object for increasing amounts of time. Maybe start with one accumulated hour of carrying every day. Build up to a few long (30+min) holds in there. Keep that thing close and with you all day.

In the same way that a dog walks the human when a human takes the dog on a walk, parenthood is a surprisingly physical endeavor. Even sleep, the most basic restorative practice, is interrupted several times a night. This is amplified when the change occurs from a total state shift.

Prior to November 26, 2018, I slept soundly for 8hrs in a row. I practiced my movement regularly and with some intensity. I floated and massaged weekly to balance out the activity.

Seven weeks ago, that suddenly changed.

Now I carry that 15# kettlebell for several hours a day, without any on-ramp to the physical strain. I went from changing no diapers a day to changing half a dozen diapers a day for the past 42 days, without reprieve. I bounce him for about an hour a day on the yoga ball, or gently dance him into a slumber. Every day. Restorative practices are rare and rushed when they do occur.

I didn’t expect the challenge of this activity increase. I feel like I am a decent mover, in that I move regularly and in novel ways. I probably fall into the category of active sedentary, moving for short spurts and generally immobile for most of the day.

However, no one really warned me of the physical toll for parenthood. I heard so much about the lack of sleep. No one mentioned how much more movement is required of a parent.

It is worse on Mackenzi, who as of yet cannot quite escape the clutches of our adorable tyrant. She holds him a dozen times a day for 30+min while feeding. Her wrists are sore from holding his lumpy head in place during these feeds. For her as well, the physicality of motherhood arrived in a flash and has not let up.

This is likely a broader commentary on sedentarism in our culture. I thought I moved often. I thought lifting heavy things a few times a week would be great preparation for child-rearing. I see now how narrow-minded my perspective.

Joonsu loves movement. He cycles through sleep-wake faster than I can finish one chore. One bout of bouncing him will satisfy his demands for merely one nap. In the same way that changing his diaper 10min ago does not affect his current need for a diaper change, his need for movement and thus my availability to move is nearly constant. He does not gorge himself with satisfaction for hours afterwards, he grazes frequently throughout the day.

How do parents with physical disabilities care for young ones? I am able to hold Joonsu in my arms and transition from standing to floor-sitting without use of my hands. How much more exhausting is changing a diaper when you have back pain or a limited use of your right side?

And further, how weak am I compared to a more active human? Am I moving my body well, or am I barely scratching the surface of baby-based movement? I have few role-models for this physicality.

When we visit the pediatrician, I observe parents setting down their child immediately, if they were carrying them at all. Friends are having children on social media, but it is difficult to know if they move with their child that way all the time or just for the posted video. Am I much different?

The aches and soreness feels manageable at this point. My body is adapting to the physical challenge of caring for an infant. I am finding new ways to move with him, to challenge both his and my own proprioception and balance. I look forward to this long journey of discovery with Joonsu.

And finally, this physiciality changes my relationship with Mackenzi. Now, we tag in and out of physical responsibility for our tyrant like professional wrestlers. Sometimes we tag out a bit too late, when we can barely reach out for that reprieve. And how sweet that reprieve, to take a moment to stretch and relax after a long session with the floppy kettlebell.

I can see how an infant strains an already tenuous relationship. Tagging out can be demanded rather than requested or offered. So, I understand the importance of continuing romance with your partner once a baby arrives. Maintain a light atmosphere full of love, not just for ourselves but also for our child.

Thus, we are planning a quiet date night this coming week. A friend will watch over Joonsu as we head into the city. We will enjoy a couple’s life for one quiet evening, away from diapers and constant vigilance.

And how sweet that break will be.


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