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 could read one of my short stories or check out some book reviews and recommendations.
Dear Baby Bird,
The other day we met a potential new babysitter for you. A professional nanny for over ten years she came round for a cup of tea and asked us lots of questions about you, including the following.
"How many teeth does he have?"
"Four," I replied proudly. "And he's actually been okay with teething. He has about 24 hours of a slight fever and clingyness and then he's fine..."
She nodded and smiled. "That's great!"
Yes, it was. But this week you made me swallow those words whole and I can still feel them clogging up my throat. Surely I should know by now that you will prove me wrong again and again and again!
After you fell asleep on me when we were out for lunch on Sunday, your father and I were suspicious something was up but after a normal-for-you-night's sleep, you woke on Monday morning ready to play and enjoy life. So I took you to daycare. In the afternoon they reported that you'd slept moe than usual and you'd not eaten very much. I nodded and explained your clingyness on Sunday. On Tuesday I had to come and pick you up early because you hadn't eaten anything at all apart from your milk. That night you refused sleep in your cot and even in our bed, and you cried and screamed and writhed and spat out your dummy until I had to put you down and just watch you because you seemed to find it painful being held. That wasn't very nice for any of us.
"What's wrong with him?" Your dad asked.
"I don't know!" I raised my voice in frustration.
"Try giving him the boob," he said.
"But we're trying to cut back on feeds at night!?"
"Yeah, but he's clearly not very happy about something. He'll need the comfort."
So I tried but you did the same thing, your face turning red and damp with sweat from all the effort you were pouring into crying.
"Maybe it's another tooth?" I said. "He doesn't seem to like anything being near his mouth.
"Yeah, he hates the dummy now," your dad said after you pushed it away from your face with your hands. I tried to put my finger in your mouth to check for a new sharp edge pushing its way through your gum, but you were just as violent about forcing my hand away.
WIth your dad holding your little limbs down, I gave you some paracetamol and then I held you, still writhing in my arms until I had to put you down again for fear of dropping you. Your dad and I continued to watch you express more anger and displeasure than I thought it possible for an 11 month old to hold in their small body, until finally, you gave up and started to slow down.
You calmed enough for me to hold you and you slept on me for a while, and then when I felt my muscles get tired, I placed you back in your cot. We repeated this performance twice more before it was time to get up and get on with our days.
Much to my surprise you seemed back to your old self so I took you to daycare again and a few hours later one of your favourite carers there sent me a photo of you eating a cracker as you sat on her knee. Still I came a little earlier than usual and I put forward my theory of teething and she said she'd looked but couldn't find anything. That was more than you'd let me do as everytime I'd tried to go near your mouth, even when you weren't screaming, you 'd clamped your mouth shut. I took you home and we battled through another disruptive but not nearly as dramatic night.
On Thursday morning, when I went to your room, you were standing, smiling widely and to the left of your bottom teeth was a thin white line.
"Ahh..." I said. And I picked you up and held you close and told you how sorry I was that this tiny little thing had given you so much grief.
Later that day I met up with two friends and their babies for brunch and I was telling them all about the week we'd had so far. I freely moaned about how exhausted I was, though this was probably strikingly clear from the fact I was in clothes they rarely saw me in (running leggings, a baggy T-shirt, my hair greasy and pulled back away from my face) and the fact I'd pushed back our meet-up time because I just couldn't, to be blunt, get my shit together that morning. The moaning and the coffees continued until I realised you were due a nap. However you seemed happy enough playing on my lap, so I kept talking... Until you weren't and the writhing began. I then had to try and get you to sleep when you hate sleeping in your buggy and I didn't have the carrier. I held you closely to me, sang your favourite song and tried to pop the dummy back in your mouth. You were having none of it. The dummy that is. But less than five minutes later you were fast asleep on me and I held you tightly treasuring the hot weight of you on me, only slightly annoyed it made eating my scrambled eggs almost impossible until my kind friend offered to chop it up for me. This is why mothers need other mum friends!!
As I packed up your stuff to go home after the meal, I found the dejected dummy lying on its side on the floor.
"Maybe I shouldn't try to give him the dummy again? He really doesn't seem to want it," I said.
"Absolutely! That's fantastic. It's one less thing to worry about later," one of my friends said.
Because yes, you have many, many more teeth to come that will give you cause to cry and me cause to worry until I see that little slither or white poke through a red and raw gum. But along the way there will also be many, many more things that I won't have to worry about because they aren't as much of a challenge or maybe they're a total strike of luck, like you no longer wanting a dummy - a task that gives the parents of toddlers (or older!) weeks and months of frustration.
Lucky, unlucky. Giving, taking. Four days of suffering for just one small tooth, the sudden disinterest in your dummy. Parenting is a constant balance of inexplicably difficult challenges and the occasional surprise win. The sooner I get used to this, I suppose, the sooner this all gets a bit easier. Or maybe not, maybe I shouldn't get used to anything because it's all going to change as I learned when I smugly thought teething wasn't a problem for you. Maybe the only thing I should get used to is being there when you need me. And the good news, Baby Bird, is I definitely think I can do that.
Your sympathetic-because-that-tooth-did-look-painful, sleep-deprived-all-over-again, but-still-grateful-for-the-extra-cuddles, 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+.