Mother Muse: "All in Your Head"

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I am guilty of checking out other men.

I am a happily married woman and not particularly proud of this, but there was a period that I couldn't keep my eyes off of them. For months, I craned my neck from my seat in the car to scrutinize drivers of the opposite sex. I positioned myself in restaurants so that I had a clear shot of the door, not wanting to miss one male patron passing in or out. I sat in the back row of church and, Lord help me, spent the hour scanning the crowd.

What was I searching for? Head shape. I was engaging in unadulterated cranium analysis...scrutinizing skulls and passing judgment. Why? Because of my deep-seated fear that I had given my baby a flat head.

When Eli was just four months old, my mother came for a visit. Completely penetrating my deepest insecurities like only a mother could, the first thing out of her mouth was, "Ah! His head is flat!"

She chuckled as if this was not a big deal, but in that moment she gave voice to what I had spent the previous several weeks wondering about. Up until that point no one else had mentioned the shape of my precious boy's head so I had dismissed my early insecurities as silliness. But from that moment on, I realized there was something to my early hunches and I became obsessed -- with head shape.

My husband, Jake, has a nicely shaped noggin. I've loved him with both buzz-cut and ponytail and the shape of his head is consistently attractive. My oldest son, Oliver, also has a well-shaped sphere resting atop his neck. All his uncles check out okay as well. Even my own head, examined with two mirrors and a tight pony tail, is shaped well enough. This was not an issue of heredity.

I quickly convinced myself that this was, in fact, an issue of parenting...poor parenting...on my part. The first four months of Eli's life had been a dream. I had given birth to a cuddly infant who was at once at peace with the world. He smiled early. He loved to snuggle. He loved to sleep.

After Oliver, who would only relax if someone sang pretty lullabies and held him tight in their arms, I felt like I had hit the parenting jackpot. I didn't think twice about leaving my contented newborn in the swing while I caught up on email. I often put him on his play mat where he would stare happily at dancing creatures hanging overhead while I gave Oliver a bath or read the newspaper.

I was careful to only lay him in his crib on his back as per the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and was relieved by the amount of time he spent there, sweetly sleeping. I celebrated his easygoing soul and my parenting finesse.

But then, faced with imperfection and self doubt, I became obsessed. I went back and looked at pictures of Eli fresh from the womb. There he was with a perfectly round melon. I researched baby skulls and the malleability of the brain. I called our pediatrician and couldn't wait for a check-up.

Eli was from thence on kept upright. I warned my husband. I threatened the babysitters. The swing went into storage and I bought a Bumbo chair in which he could sit without incurring further damage. I wore him upright in the Baby Bjourn rather than lay him down in his stroller. I stuffed wadded up blankets next to his body as he slept in the crib, alternating angles religiously.

I felt I was protecting Eli from cosmetic awkwardness and myself from disapproving looks from the world, who (in my mixed-up, albeit normally shaped noodle) knew that a flat head was the result of a maternal neglect. I stopped enjoying parenthood and fixated on my flaws.

It's a silly thing, really. What bothered me was the feeling that I had doomed my child by my shortcomings. And when things were going great, I looked for a way to make them seem bad. I was so caught up in analyzing my performance as a mother and harshly critiquing every move that I couldn't enjoy the fact that my baby was even-tempered and slept well.

The issue resurfaced recently with the contemplation of Eli's first "little boy haircut." For a second, I faltered. In the months following his four-month doctor's appointment, I had actually forgotten all about the state of Eli's head. But, I found myself once again analyzing it from the side, top, and straight-on. This time I caught myself before I got carried away.

Parenting is much more fun when you lighten up and stay faithful. Eli's head is fine, perfect even. And thankfully, the mind of this twenty-something mother has proven somewhat pliable as well.