born to run

When laid-back parents have a live-wire baby

Even as we shared the same body, my daughter and I were not as one. Night after night, she kicked me awake, jabbing my ribs with an insistent poke, poke, poke. I would feel her hands jittering along my belly, here and there, here and there. Then came hiccups, my stomach twitching in a rhythmic hic, hic, hic. Go to sleep, I would think. Sleep. Sleep. SLEEP. It was an omen, a sign. Here I was, desperate to lie still, and my daughter was frantic to get going.

From the moment of conception, our girl was a mover and a shaker — and not only from my biased perspective. While trying to monitor the fetal heartbeat, our nurse practitioner threw up her hands in exasperation. “The baby won’t stay still long enough for a read,” she lamented. And then, with a certain perverse pleasure, she announced, “This one’s a real live wire!”

Yikes! To my husband Matt and me — two placid people for whom the word hurry has no practical meaning — the prospect of normal parenthood was daunting enough. Hours of labor? Multiple night feedings? Mountains of odoriferous laundry? We lived in denial. Surely our newborn would share our penchant for late-morning breakfasts, leisurely strolls on the beach and naps — plenty of naps. It could happen, we told ourselves, given the genetic contributions of not one but two parents whose temperaments bordered on the comatose.

Seeking reassurance, I called upon the sagest person I could think of, my teen-age nephew, David. He howled derisively for several minutes, then managed to choke out this oh-so-supportive question: “What if the baby is like Grandma?” My mother. The human speedball, a woman who never does fewer than three things at once.

“That’s ridiculous!” I shot back. I could have throttled him. But, naturally, I didn’t have the energy. “Temperament is supposed to be genetic. If I’m not like Grandma, that means her personality is recessive. Somebody on Matt’s side of the family would have to be hyper, too.”

“Like Mr. Stodder?” David asked. Oh, Mr. Stodder. My father-in-law does have a bit of a, well, antic reputation. Once, he teased the family dog into such a state of agitation that it leapt several feet into the air and landed on its back, leading to its untimely demise.

There are two problems with worrying over your baby’s personality in utero. One is that your predictions will be totally off. The other is that you’ll be dead right. I was. From the very start, Hana woke at dawn and slept at midnight. She walked early. She talked early. She craved action. Even before her first birthday, she would stand beside the front door, commanding: “Mom! Shoes. Purse. Keys. Go!”

But here’s the funny thing: I don’t mind. And neither, I suspect, will you. Your nagging fears are realized, but then they dissolve. The very characteristics you found alien in the abstract are completely lovable when you meet them face to face in your child. Better still, it works both ways. Although your little changeling will surely bear witness to your mate’s and your worst eccentricities, you, too, will be forgiven. In the end, it’s not yourselves that you and your children will love in each other; it’s the yin and the yang that make a family whole. Happy feet and all.