A Diary of Motherhood: Week Forty-Five

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 travelwritingfreelancing or Amsterdam instead. Alternatively read one of my short stories or check out some book reviews and recommendations.

Dear Baby Bird,

I have previously shared what your routine was like when you were around three months and six months old. It would have been nice, therefore, if I'd remembered to write a post about your daily life when you were around nine months old, but I didn't, because I still feel like sometimes the days and now weeks move too fast for me to even remember to change underwear. So ten months will have to do. Truth be told, it's not that much different from when you were nine months. I try not to be too rigid with routines and I still maintain that they're more of a benefit to us parents than they are to babies, because you are naturally much better at going with the flow... as long as the flow means you have a change of scenery approximately every seven minutes. Anyway, here we go with your routine at ten months of age.

You wake up when you want to wake up. This can depend on many factors including how many wake-ups you had in the night or what time you finally succumbed to sleep the evening before. I've heard rumours that there are babies that wake up every single morning at near enough the exact same time, but you've never been a creature of that kind of predictability which of course has both pros and cons. So be it 5:45 or 7:30, I wake up and unless your wailing for me is loud enough to wake up half of the neighbourhood, on my way to you I go to the bathroom and psyche myself up for the day ahead by yawning repeatedly on the toilet for many minutes longer than I really need to sit there.

Now that I've mentioned your distaste for a regular wake-up time, I feel the need to add that there is one thing you are very regular with. Your massive morning poo. You wait until I've changed your night nappy and within just a few minutes of a fresh, clean one going on your puffing out your cheeks and grunting your way through a little gift that I can often smell from the kitchen when you are playing in the lounge. Depending on my mood and need for caffeine/food, I either let my branflakes go soggy and change you immediately or wash them down with tea as quickly as I can once I fear the smell of poop will clog up my nostrils and I'll never smell anything sweet again.

There follows some playtime for you while I get your bag ready for daycare and mine for work, or if it's a Thursday or a Friday and your with me for the day, I lie on the couch and watch you play, or chase you around the room as you crawl and cruise your way around the furniture. Your dad and I have adopted quite a minimalist style over the years and the open plan living space we have at the moment was actually pretty easy to baby-proof, apart from a couple of rows of lights just above the skirting board. We can't remove them or tape up the metal fronts which you of course, love to pull off. That's why we recently bought a playpen and if we can't keep our eyes on you, or you make too many beelines for those lights, that's where you end up. Some days the playpen is a hexagonal zone of pure fun for you, other days, you push your face up against the mesh sides as if you've been wrongly imprisoned and you plead for me to take you out. You're getting increasingly good at turning up the volume and throwing your whole body into tantrums. So much so that I often shudder when I think about what's in store for us...

Because we're still doing nights in shifts, your dad sleeps in and it's normally only you and me in the mornings. In a funny way, this actually makes mornings quite easy as I can just get on with whatever I need to do. If it's a daycare day I plonk you in your bouncy chair in the bathroom while I have a shower and get dressed, and then we're off walking the short kilometre down the road, occasionally doing so via our local park so you can watch some of the dogs on their early morning walk... and I can stop by my favourite place to get a takeaway coffee. 

When you're at daycare you follow a fairly set daily routine for food and activities, and over the last three or four months you've finally started to enjoy the food they give you - fruit in the morning, sandwiches or a cooked meal at lunch, crackers and raw vegetables to snack on in the afternoon - but again, it's been a bit of a surprise how slow you've been to enjoy new flavours and textures. You're also very unpredictable about how well you will nap at daycare. Sometimes you'll go down for an hour or two, no grumbling or fussing, but more often than not you fight your naps there, no doubt not helped by the fact that, I believe, you were born with a deep and innate fear of missing out. There have been a handful of days when you've successfully not slept all day there, and weirdly you're not a total zombie by the time I pick you up. But there's no denying you love it there. The carers always comment on how busy but happy you are, and sometimes, when I arrive and you haven't seen me yet, I love to watch you sitting or crawling on the floor, either playing by yourself, or looking up at the bigger boys and girls with an expression I can only describe as sheer awe. It's like you can't believe how fast they run, how quickly they form words in their mouths, how impressively they jump and sing and dance. It's like you're already counting down the days until when you're just like them.... I just love watching you watch others. Then, when you do spot me, you give me the biggest smile and you immediately get on your hands and knees and slap those palms and shuffle those legs along the floor to get to me. That moment is my favourite of the whole day.

But on the days when we're together, there is definitely a lack of routine aside from having meals at roughly the same time you would have them at daycare, and also ensuring your down for your first nap two hours after you woke up. After that it really depends on what needs to get done, what I want to do, how long you nap for and how much energy I have. You... you always have enough energy! On Thursdays we often venture into town to the main library in Amsterdam where there's an English storytelling session at 10:30am and after that we enjoy lunch with a group of mum friends and their little ones. This can take up a surprising chunk of the day and it will often be near enough three or four o'clock by the time we're home. Depending on naps, work and how much of a state I left the house in that morning I'll either tidy up or make dinner as you play - in the fun-zone/prison or the wild freedom of our living area depending on your lust for destruction - or we'll go to the supermarket where you love it when I balance the shopping basket in between the handle for your buggy in front of you so you can peer into it and pick up whatever contents are within grabbing distance. I can't count the number of times I've got to the checkout and had to present a banana with skin you've gnawed through or a box of cereal with a very soggy corner,

Fridays I try to keep free so we can do something fun together like go to a museum or a long walk together, but invariably we have a playdate booked, which I've no doubt you enjoy much more than a museum or a long walk with me. Having other "mum friends" with babies of similar ages has greatly helped both fill days when I would pull my hair out not knowing what to do with a baby, but also just regularly giving my healthy doses of perspective. It reminds me that I'm not alone in feeling exhausted during the weeks your sleep is worse than normal. It reminds me that it's okay to feel frustrated when you don't eat the food I prepare for you but instead smear it into your hair, your ears and occasionally up your nose. It reminds me that whatever "my challenges" are other people have other challenges too. Heck, it's all challenging. They also remind me how rewarding parenting is, especially if you celebrate the small wins.

Oh, the small wins. They are so, so, so small, but celebrate them I must. Putting a piece of cucumber in your mouth three times before you throw it on the floor. Only crying for two minutes before you go to sleep for your nap. Smiling at me when I blow raspberries into your neck - when normally you place your hand against my face and poke your fingers in my eye to push me away. Getting two loads of washing done in a day.  Managing to answer a few emails during nap time. These are small, small wins, but they have to be acknowledged or I'll feel like I'm never achieving anything.

Actually, that's not true. Since becoming a parent, I've ended days feeling overwhelmed, knackered, useless, inadequate and stretched beyond what my emotional elasticity can cope with, however, I've never felt like I wasted a day. I used to feel that a lot before I became a mother. Be it from laziness, illness, or deleting a 10,000 word document I was working on, I would feel like I achieved nothing in a day and it would leave me empty, sad and frustrated. Not anymore. I feel like every single day I have been a mother to you has been a day I've achieved something.

I suppose that's why I feel routine doesn't and shouldn't matter. Having too strict a routine would only risk breaking it and feeling like I messed up. At the end of the day I will have done the very basic things I needed to do to get you through the day - feeding you, changing you, holding you, loving you, stopping you from eating daisies in the park - all these things, like the small wins, matter. 

And I'm always reminded of this at around five or six in the afternoon, when your dad comes home and takes over "lead parent" duty by playing with you - often in the fun-zone/prison right next to you - and I go for a run, or make the dinner, or just go back to sitting on the toilet yawning for a few more minutes. After we've given you some food for dinner, we all gather in the bathroom where you have a bath - still one of your favourite things to do - and every day we notice how much more in control you are of your body, how much easier it is to stand with only one hand holding on to something, how much fun you now think it is to throw half-full cups of water over the side of the bath. You are a true terror in the making...

Because I'm still nursing you for your last milk feed of the day, bedtime is still mostly our time, and again I quite like this. Not because I can just get on with it, like I do in the morning. Quite the opposite in fact, because it's when we slow down. During that last feed of the day when your skin is soft from the moisturiser I've smoothed into your skin, and when your hair is still a bit wet on the edges and I can run my fingers through it marvelling at how long and curly it's become, that's when I stop and take stock. I count the small (and sometimes big) wins. I acknowledge any tiredness or disappointment I may be feeling for whatever reason (or no reason) and I do my best to let it go, because in those sweet, suckling moments when you have completely surrendered yourself in my arms, I am thankful for a day that wasn't wasted because you're still here and so am I.

And then I put you in your cot and I walk out after telling you I love you. Invariably, you fall asleep happily by yourself and we don't hear from you for another six or so hours, on a good night... but let's not dwell on what does or doesn't happen at night. Because writing this makes me realise how even with all the regular and irregular challenges of parenting popping up, our days are pretty damn good and they are never, ever, ever a waste of time. Every day is an achievement as a mother. That's one of the most amazing gifts someone has ever given me, Baby Bird, so thank you, thank you, thank you.

Your ever-so-grateful, jealous-of-your-curly-hair, crazy-in-love mother x

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before settling down with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
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