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,
Long before you were born, your father and I would occasionally join friends or friends of friends on their boats and we would cruise around the canals of Amsterdam, drinking beers, talking, sunbathing, laughing and watching the beauty of this city serve as the most idyllic backdrop for some of the best days of our lives. Your dad has longed talked about getting a boat, because we enjoyed it so much. But we never did anything about it. Then you were born and we did.
Which is really dumb.
Because now the last thing we can do on a boat is drink, talk, sunbathe, laugh and watch the beauty of this city pass us by. We can barely do one of those things at any single time when you're around, and seeing as you're our kid, you're around quite a bit of the time.
However, we bought this boat with a friend and after many months of work and waiting, it's been ready for us to take out. So this week after your daycare days, we did.
I was so excited to get you on a boat. I thought you'd love it. The ever-changing scenery, the new sights and sounds of a boat passing us by, the outdoor air and waves from passers-by.
But no. Nope. Not you.
Our first trip as a family was truly awful. Your dad was nervous, having never taken it out without the more experienced eyes of the boat's co-owner, and all those things I thought you would enjoy? You barely noticed them. Or you did, but you just weren't that impressed. Within minutes you were bored. Reaching up at me and sort of half-grimacing I offered you food, milk, cuddles but you wafted them all away. Back down on the floor you raised up your arms to be picked up again. And this cycle repeated itself until I suddenly I realised I had missed half of our journey around the Herengracht and out onto the Amstel.
In the end you calmed once we'd positioned your dad's phone in front of you streaming Peppa Pig videos. Finally I lifted my gaze and watched us glide by a string of grand mansion houses now we were back in the centre of town. Just a few minutes later, your dad was asking me to help him park by holding ropes and stopping the boat from knocking in to the wall. Because I dared to leave and the boat's slight jolting knocked the phone over, you began to cry again.
By the time we were back on dry land I felt like we'd crossed continents rather than a small fraction of Amsterdam's waterways.
"Next time, we take the boat out on a daycare day," I said to your father over your head as you glued your gaze back onto Peppa.
But we'd already agreed to go out with some friends and their babies at the weekend, so we did. And you were no different, your short attention span only highlighted by the much calmer other babies.
Even off the boat, you have begun to really test my sense of humour. There was the time you knocked a coffee cup out of my hand and soaked us both with the (thankfully not hot) contents, only to do the same with the water bottle I was using to try and get the coffee out of my jeans with. I'm the fool from not learning the first time, I know, but it did make me wonder how much pleasure you get out of causing such destruction, because the older you get, the less I feel I can blame it on accidentally wayward limbs. Especially when these limbs seem to have perfect control when I'm offering up a piece of banana or a rice waffle to you...
We've known for a long time that you're a "spirited" baby. You like to move. You like to explore. You don't have much time for sitting still - unless your friend Peppa is around - and you have always fought sleep with a stubborness that has impressed many and scared me shitless. Of course, I know a lot of babies are like this. Babies naturally have short attention spans and they are very good at causing mess and chaos, but it's unanimously agreed among those who know you - family, friends, the wonderful daycare staff - that you are comparatively very active, busy and you really don't seem to need the same amount of rest and sleep. Now that you're becoming less and less like a baby in so many ways, I can't help but wonder, what next? Are you going to take this spirit of yours and walk all over me? And this week's exhausting, frustrating and downright anti-social and ungrateful behaviour - I mean, do you know how many people would kill to have their parents own a boat?! - has me contemplating how exactly I'm going to deal with disciplining you?
I honestly have no idea. My natural leaning is to not be overbearing and to let you, literally and figuratively, roam free as much as I can but sometimes that is physically not possible, unless I want social services knocking on my door. I really don't want to forever be saying "No!" and "Stop!" but to ignore things would be to potentially condone them.
Before you came along, I was ready for the cuddling, the feeding, the caring, the nurturing, the loving, the "always being there" - as tough as some of that was - but I really didn't think about the things that would happen next. The other needs that would need to be met. At least I didn't think about it enough for me to really understand my own feelings on topics like discipline and rule-setting. Because of the week we've had, this all feels much harder than the stuff we all regularly talk about being hard - night feeds, pooey nappies, blocked milk ducts. Right now, I feel like I'd take another three years of newborn months over the next three years I'm facing, which will ultimately be about teaching you the difference between right and wrong. This is kind of a huge deal. This is life-altering stuff. I mean, it's something we keep hearing about people getting wrong every single day in the news with horrific effects.
Maybe I'm jumping the gun a bit. Maybe this was just a bad week for you. Maybe next week you'll go back to playing calmly by yourself without the need to throw toys or wail at the top of your lungs because I have the audacity to make myself a cup of tea. Maybe next weekend, we'll go out on the boat and you'll smile at all the people who wave at you as we sail on by?
But I know I have to think about this discipline thing. I know that I can't not. And I will. I'll spend some time on our boat one day soon while you're safely at daycare and I'll talk it over with your dad as the beauty of this city serves as the most idyllic backdrop to this latest challenge in my motherhood journey.
Your rocking-side-to-side-because-I-feel-like-I'm-still-on-the-boat, thanking-all-the-Gods-for-Peppa-Pig, 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 starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. 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 two young sons around Amsterdam.
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Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.