This Diary of Motherhood is a series of weekly letters to my first baby, my little son who I call Baby Bird. I know not everyone wants to read about the highs and lows of motherhood so you can read non-baby related posts about travel, writing, freelancing or Amsterdam instead. Alternatively, you can read one of my short stories or check out some book reviews and recommendations.
Dear Baby Bird,
In just two short days time you will have completed your first journey around the sun.
I am filled with both shock and impatience for this moment. It has been the longest shortest year, or the shortest longest year. Either way it's been inexplicably short and unbearably long. This is why - and I know I'm repeating myself now - I understand how people refer to parenthood as the longest shortest time.
My goodness, does it drag on and on when you're living it, but a moment later, when you look back, you reel at how fast it all went and how bittersweet it is that it's gone. That your curled up newborn body will no longer sit comfortably on my chest. How I would hold you under the shower for the first few months of your life because you didn't like baths. How you would stay in one position when I put you down. The way you bowled me over with love the first time you recognised me after I'd left you for a while;
you smiled at the sight of me like I was a slice of chocolate cake. How proud I was of you when you rolled over for the first time, learned to sit and how in awe of you I was when you played peekaboo with us for the first time
. Oh, how long ago so much of that feels. And now, honestly, it feels like Tuesday, your birthday, is coming too soon. In the same way I didn't feel ready to have a newborn baby - "Are they seriously just going to let us walk out of the hospital with him? - I feel now that I'm not qualified enough as a mother to have a one-year-old. That first year of a child's life is huge. They go from little immobile blobs of two or three facial expressions to active, constantly expressive little human beings. Although, yes, you've done your bit, but surely I should feel more confident, more accomplished, more capable?
But perhaps this is the way it goes. I will never feel as able as I think I should for this, the most important job in the world. And every year will feel just as big in terms of how much you are going to grow and learn. But I do still feel like I deserve to take a moment and celebrate. I feel like I've achieved something, if not the inner peace and ease I was hoping for.
To be honest, I've been wanting to celebrate your first birthday for a long time. Not just because it's amazing that we got to this point when there were so many moments when I thought we wouldn't, but because I really want to celebrate being your mum.
When you were born, and during the months that followed, that didn't seem much to celebrate. In fact, it felt like people should be commiserating me and everything I'd lost by becoming a mum - my freedom, my career, my creativity, my eight hours of sleep a night, my routine, and temporarily, my sanity! -and I'm fully aware of how terrible and self-centred this sounds. Yet I need to admit this in order to now acknowledge how fulfilling, life-enhancing and above all, how much fun it is being your mum. That's what I want to celebrate that with my friends and family. I want to spend a few hours surrounded by people we all care about and I want to spend them smiling wildly, rather than forcedly or with a strange sadness in my eyes. Because that's the difference between a year ago, and now.
I wish that sadness hadn't come. I wish that I could have gone the year with aching cheeks from smiling so much, because that's all a gift like you deserves. I also wish that I didn't still have days when my eyes that hurt because they're cried dry, or my head aches from mulling over too many worst case scenarios, their sharp edges almost physically hurting my mind. But it does still happen. I do still look in the mirror and see all the good things I'm not, rather than all the good things I am. And because of this, I have made an appointment to see someone who will help me deal with these days. Of all the people I've shared this fact with, it's hardest telling you. Not because I'm embarrassed - I'm not, I think seeking help for one's mental health is something to be truly proud of - but because I don't ever, ever, ever want you to think that you are the reason I need this help. You are not. Or rather, you are not the problem that this help is aiming to solve. It is true, however, that you are part of my motivation to be a better, healthier and happier person. But I'm not just doing this for you. More than anyone, I'm doing it for myself. And it's this part of motherhood that I want to work on more; doing things that make me happy. Because if I'm not doing things to make myself happy, how can I teach you to do the same?
So yes, we are having a party for you. It will be next week, when your Ama and Afi will be here as well as several other friends both from here in Amsterdam and from London. I will bake cakes, your dad will buy beer and bubbly wine, and a small group of big and little people will share our joy, I hope. You won't remember a single second of it, but I can tell you this. You will be so very, very loved.
As I type this during your nap on Sunday afternoon, our doors and windows are open because we've had a week of hot weather. A chorus of "Lang zal hij leven" has just broken out celebrating a neighbour's birthday somewhere close by. I can hear children's voices singing a pitch or two higher than the others and it just hit me that I still don't know what your singing sounds like. I mean, I can have a good guess because you are constantly babbling, and rolling your Rs, and yodelling to yourself and to us, but I don't know what it's like to hear you sing a real song, maybe one I teach you and we will spend hours singing together. And I don't know what it's like to hear you say "mama" or "mummy" or whatever you want to call me (within reason!) and, right now, I can't even think about what it will be like should you ever, one day, tell me you love me... That just makes too many of my internal organs go mushy.
This makes me realise that there is so much more to keep working hard for. You are so much for me to keep working hard for. I'm so glad I'm ending the year feeling confident that I have the energy and ability to do so.
Happy 52 weeks on this Earth, Baby Bird, I can't wait for a million more with you... or failing that, as many as we're lucky enough to get.
Your proud-as-birthday-punch-of-you, and-proud-of-myself, crazy-in-love mother x