It’s been one hell of a year. It feels like five years in which I haven’t stopped, but it also feels like five minutes and I’ve achieved nothing (except growing a tiny little boy from a tiny little baby who is totally awesome, of course).
I was trying to explain to a pregnant friend what it’s all like; wanting to tell the truth without glossing over the daunting parts like so many people did with me. Only I had no idea where to start. I remember feeling that I’d prepared, read books, spoken to people, even done a course… and then the baby came! It was unbelievable how clueless I was. I learned a degree’s worth of information hands on, in a couple of months.
…And then abandoned most of what I’d learned and started all over again as we entered a different phase… and then another.
The way I see it the year splits in half. Some of my points from the first six months (which I found SO hard) just don’t apply to the next, but anyone who’s been through this one year marker will recognize most of these, I’m sure. In no particular order, here are some of the gems I’ve gathered in the past twelve months:
1. Even though every experience is unique, there is a vast commonality and that means an amazing world of supportive, interesting, wonderful people out there to share it all with.
3. To abandon all judgements – you know exactly how that mum got to that point in the supermarket now; it’s not bad parenting it’s a bad day, a bad world, and a momentarily bad child!
4. That guilt and foreseeing doom are two side effects of childbirth and they don’t go away. Scary stuff! https://beingmelissakay.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/the-day-the-world-went-dark/
5. How annoying sympathy can be – those pulled in eyebrows and tilted heads from the mums whose children sleep all night are a good example (except in the second six months when mine was sleeping I somehow adopted exactly the same expression when talking to sleep deprived friends – oh no! how could I?!)
6. How annoying advice and clichés can be – I really had to restrain myself from punching people who suggested I ‘sleep when he sleeps’, and I couldn’t believe how many people did (give me the advice, not sleep when he slept!).
7. To take advice from anyone and everyone! – Yes, I know what I said in point 6 but it’s also true that those offering the advice generally have very good intentions, are occasionally right and clichés are clichés for a reason. I resigned myself to trying anything once! (though sleeping when he slept never did work for me!)
8. How to operate on no sleep – it’s incredible how you can keep going. I used to do sleep deprivation in terms of clubbing or camping (or Barb Wire/Tofani Porini for those in the know) but nothing like the endless nights of an hour here and an hour there followed by hours of crying or feeding as your husband snores in the other room. I’m honestly surprised there aren’t more murders committed in those first few months! And yet, we survive. We even get up, occasionally add make-up and eat something and somehow everyone is kept alive and reasonably happy. (note: I only have one child, if I’d already had one at this point I could not guarantee the safety of said imaginary older sibling during those first months!!)
9. How to do everything with one hand – As if it isn’t hard enough to start with – in plenty of pain from the birth, attempting to breast feed (see next point), sleep deprived, hormonal – you are also expected to suddenly cope without one hand as it is constantly holding your baby (even when it weighs over 10kg and wriggles it cannot be put down!) It took a while but now I can even butter toast with one hand!
10. How to set up a pram, install a car seat, build a cot – all of which are rocket science (and that’s without sleep deprivation). These were all skills which absolutely terrified me, led to broken nails, a trapped thumb, many tears… And then then I learned to suck it up and do it all with one hand!
11. Kids bounce! – not that I’ve deliberately tried out this theory, but my wibbly wobbly walking boy has fallen off everything in the house and hit his head on everything with corners, and somehow he still pops up smiling. They are much tougher than they look – thank goodness!
12. Being a mum makes you cry – I now cry at adverts! Actually TV in general is bad – there’s always something to trigger it. And the news is a nightmare. But it’s not just TV, it’s everything: parking, supermarkets, being late, any excuse really.
13. You do adjust. If someone had explained what my life would look like today a couple of years ago I would have laughed and said there’d be no way I’d allow that to happen. I was a free spirited, travelling, partying, creative, writing, singing, sociable blonde with boobs that stayed up and time for everything. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. But would I go back? If you’d asked me this in month one I might have said yes! But honestly, absolutely no way. Somehow or other my life morphed into my current existence and along the way I caught up and we are ok. No, better than that, we are happy.
14. How to shower with a child of 2, 10, 20 etc weeks – with all the techniques for keeping them safe and busy at the various stages I think I could write one of those tiny books you find at the checkout. The bouncer on the bathroom floor, the washing basket full of plastic balls, a special drawer for him to unpack and reload. Anything to allow me those crucial ten minutes – without which it’s best if I don’t leave the house for the rest of the day!
15. Flying with a baby is horrendous!
16. How to drive with a crying child – I have a terrifying memory of my boy yelling so loudly for so long that I finally pulled into an A road layby to feed him. It was pouring with rain and I hauled him out of the back into the front with me and had to breast feed as great big lorries roared past shaking my little car. Not fun. Now I mostly can ignore him without getting too stressed but it’s definitely no one’s favourite experience being stuff in traffic on a motorway with a baby that has no understanding of why they can’t just have a cuddle.
17. How to cook everything without salt – you develop a weird phobia of salt as a new mum!
18. How to make new friends fast – you need them! Sometimes just a honest comment or a sympathetic ear can prove to be the beginning of a new friendship. This has been a surprise to me in many ways as I always said – ‘just because they’re mums too doesn’t mean I’m going to like them all’. Of course that’s true, but it’s amazing how many I do like!
19. How to appreciate the little things – some days they’re all you’ve got! But often it’s amazing how the tiniest thing can light up your day.
20. To appreciate my parents (see above link to ‘the day the world went dark’)
21. Never to put a cup of tea down -you’ll forget and it will be spilled in spectacular fashion
22. That your heart has an unending capacity to expand. Every time you think you couldn’t love them any more, you find you can.
23. How to have a conversation when no one finishes a sentence!
24. Everything’s a phase (a handy mantra for surviving the first year)
25. The pure joy of he first smile, first laugh, first steps. I didn’t expect to get much back for the first few years, but have been very pleasantly surprised.
26. How to handle poo (in all its guises. Who knew it had so many?!)
27. How to handle a wriggler covered in poo (…shower!)
28. Nothing matters very much, and very little matters at all (thanks Gran!)
29. Children are disgusting!
30. Despite point 29, all children are beautiful and absolutely deserve to be loved. I’m not sure I really got that before. I mean I did, of course, I wasn’t an evil child hating monster, I just wasn’t that bothered. Now refer to point 12 – even other people’s children can make me cry. Hell, even fictional children can make me cry!
I’m sure this isn’t all I’ve learned, it’s just what came off the top of my head when I sat down to write. I’d love to hear what you guys would add to the list, but these are a few to get you started.
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What with rolling, crawling, walking, weaning, entertaining, cleaning, nursing (both in terms of milk and medicine!), and desperately trying to maintain some elements of your old self and a house that doesn’t look too much as though it’s been burgled… there hasn’t been time for a lot, but looking back I am surprised to be able to say I am quite proud of the year’s accomplishments and I am incredibly proud of my beautiful, clever, sunny little boy. We’ve moved house (twice!), been to Italy and Kenya, celebrated birthdays, had our boy christened, Damien’s worked (often abroad for weeks at a time), I’ve written several articles and done some PR, and all whilst managing to remember to stay in love! Not bad!
Happy happy birthday beautiful boy. Thanks for all the smiles you’ve brought into our lives. Shame about the various bodily fluids and sleepless nights but you’re worth it!! We love you.
Having a baby lights up the world. It’s not easy, but all the clichés are true about how you’ve never known love like it, how magical it all is blah blah. The thing is it comes with a dark side too. One I only fully understood slowly over this first year of my first child as I fell totally and utterly in love with this tiny little character.
It didn’t happen all at once, it crept in, seeping into my heart and head and every cell until I realised… what a horrible, dangerous and messed up world we live in!
Seriously, I’ve lived my life absolutely fear free. I have travelled all over the world, leapt off cliffs, out of planes, been skiing, had typhoid, pneumonia, malaria, been in gun sieges (yes, plural!), camped with wild animals. It never really occurred to me that my brave brave parents must be quaking somewhere with the heads in a bucket of sand.
And all that was nothing really. Not compared to the terrifying prospect of the thousands of childhood diseases, bullying (cyber or otherwise) that can cause children to take drastic actions, perverts, roads! Oh my goodness, I have to work so hard to switch my head off sometimes.
We are nearly at our little boy’s first birthday. What a year it has been. Highs and lows to the extreme. But it has all been pretty cosy and safe so far, and this amazing kid just smiles and smiles and smiles. The thing is, he’s barely seen the outside world – that amazing, glorious beautiful world that is so fraught with danger I’d like to keep inside wrapped tightly in cotton wool with a layer of bubble wrap for good measure! I can handle him bumping his head or eating dog hair, I am pretty un-stressy mum about that stuff, but the thought of him caught up in drugs and unable to communicate with us simply because he’s a teenager and thinks that we won’t get it, or don’t care, or whatever – well it makes me cry. And I mean to the point where I can barely turn on the tv. Last night a childrens’ cancer advert followed by a BB2 film called ‘Disconnect’ about the internet world we live in had me absolutely beside myself, red faced and snotty because all I could think about was him and all he’ll have to face. I don’t want it to change him; for him to close up because his heart’s been broken, or because some other kids thought he wasn’t cool enough. I can’t bear for him to go through any of it.
But then I remember the incredible gift that my parents gave me: They kept all that fear a secret. I don’t mean they didn’t talk about issues and concerns, but that they let me go without showing me how frightening that was for them. At every stage they let me run off with no idea that they were still standing there, watching me go, arms wide ready for me to run back whenever it got too much. How very, very brave they were.
And how hard it is going to be to pass on that gift! But I am determined we will do the same for our boy because without that freedom he might miss all the joyous, beauty and wonder that is out there too.
So, on this Valentine’s Day don’t just think about the kind of love that makes you all mushy and romantic. Think about the big loves. About family and friends who have been there and supported you, both in tough times and celebrations.