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 read one of my short stories or check out some book reviews and recommendations.
Dear Baby Bird,
Your forty-sixth week on Earth began in Tuscany, Italy, staying in a villa perched on the top of one of many rolling hills that give the region incredible views and thus happy tourists, like us. We were there with friends from London, a couple who got married in South Africa, the first country you actually travelled to, albeit as a six-week blob of cells in utero. We've been to Tuscany with them before, just under two years ago, and based on such fond memories of that trip your father and I were really looking forward to this getaway.
Of course, it was a completely different holiday to the one we had before. With you there, waking us up early (and multiple times in the night) and with your needs having to be constantly met, there was approximately one fiftieth of the relaxation time we'd had before. I was quick to realise this. I remember on our first full day there - the Sunday - I kept wondering to myself, "Will a holiday ever feel like a holiday again now I'm a parent? Will I ever return from a trip feeling refreshed and relaxed? Or will every single holiday from now on leave me wondering why we didn't just stay at home as at least you slept better, you had all of your toys there, and I had a good network of mum-friends to meet up with and moan about our little demanding babies together? Will I ever lie on a sun lounger under a beautiful, big, brilliant sun with a beautiful, big, brilliant book in my hand?"
This self-pity and lack of perspective reached a peak on the Sunday afternoon when we were in Lucca town centre looking for a place to eat lunch. For all the wonderful memories of our last trip, somehow we'd managed to pick the worst pizzeria in the city so we were very determined to make amends. Your dad was busy on TripAdvisor and Google Maps, while I looked at the menus of restaurants we strolled past and asked the waiting staff questions in my now embarrassingly broken Italian. We finally found a place we all liked the look of, but there was a ten-minute wait for a table, and I at least hadn't forgotten from studying Italian that this really meant twenty minutes.
Hungry, you began to moan in your pushchair as we stood and waited. Your dad twirled you around. I walked you up and down the street. But you kept groaning and moaning. People in the restaurant watched us and gave you blank expressions. Your dad was busy chatting away with our friends telling them some story that really didn't need to be told at that moment in time when you were reaching a crescendo and starting to cry, loudly pushing up against the straps of your pushchair. With no sign of a vacant table coming up I began to feel things inside me close up. My windpipe seemed to narrow, my ribs wouldn't stretch out as much as they should, and my jaw locked itself into place, firm and tight and awkward. The panic attack was coming on strong.
"I'm going for a walk," I whispered in your dad's ear as he began to tickle you in your pushchair to distract you.
"Okay," he said, looking at me as if I had a second head. It was not like me to leave when you needed entertaining or calming. It was much more like me to take over and dish out orders.
But I needed to get away. I needed to breathe easy again. I needed to walk around Lucca's beautiful cobbled alleyways, all of which seemed to eventually open up onto a piazza centred around a church, and I needed to occasionally look up at the blue sky and feel the sun warm my skin. I needed to remind myself that I was on holiday too.
Twenty minutes later, we were sat at a table and you were throwing breadsticks around and reaching for my cutlery and covering yourself in pureed carrot, and I certainly wasn't the epitome of calm and collected... but you had food, I had a glass of wine and we were sitting outside in the terrace of a welcoming restaurant (#6 on Tripadvisor, no less) and the sun was shining brightly above us. We were on holiday.
Later that afternoon, we all descended to the villa's swimming pool. The water was shockingly cold but your dad and our friend K were jumping in bravely like the men they are. I held you and we watched them together. Then you started to squirm, wanting to move, so I put you down and I followed you around the wooden decking, eager to keep you away from the water and out of the sun's direct light. The thoughts rolled in again like clouds full of thunder, ready to rain on our parade.. "Oh God, I'm never going to sit still and just enjoy the warmth and the view and the feeling of holding my baby boy. He's going to want to crawl around all afternoon and he'll get the shits when I stop him going where he shouldn't go... Will a holiday ever feel like a holiday again...?" And so it went on.
Until you stopped near the base of the olive tree that gave us a little shade on the deck. Sitting there you picked up leaves that had fallen and dried out, a little withered and twisted. You picked them up and studied them like they were works of art and when your stilll a little clumsy fingers dropped one, you'd pick up another and another. And then your eyes caught the sight of a fly buzzing past you, just a few inches from your head, and you looked after it, trying to find it again. You kept looking until a big splash pulled your attention back to the swimming pool and your dad was poking his head up out of the water and waving at you.
"Hey! Do you want to come in?" He asked.
And we tried, Baby Bird, We tried to put you in that freezing cold water, as cruel as it was. Perched in your rubber ring, with only your legs immersed, you cried and grimaced and we smiled and laughed until we felt really, really evil. Then I picked you up, wrapped you in your towel and we did sit and you did stay still and I did just enjoy the warmth and the view and the feeling of holding my boy.
It's far too early to say, of course, but no, I probably won't go on holiday again, not like I used to, when all I had to think about was meeting my own needs, which mostly shrank to just eating, sleeping and relaxing as soon as I was on holiday. Now, holidays aren't just about me, they're about you and for now, your needs don't really shrink when we're on holiday. In fact, in many ways they multiply. But holidays are also about us - your father and I - and while he seems much more able to relax and enjoy himself while still meeting your needs, it seems I have to work on this a bit more. And I will. In fact, I think I already did, because the rest of the holiday was a joy. A joy filled with hard work, bad sleep, and only thirty pages of my book read, but also filled with moments I will remember for some time, like when you learnt to climb up the terracota tile steps at the villa's entrance, like you discovering ciabatta and freshly-made pasta, like when you would tentatively reach out your hand to stroke the villa cats who always came to say hello in the morning, and like when you took a very unusual two hour nap one morning so I could lie under the beautiful, big, brilliant sun and really feel like I was on holiday.
Your sleep-deprived-all-over-again, not-as-tanned-as-I-would-like, wondering-where-to-take-you-next, crazy-in-love mother x
Frances M. Thompson
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