A Diary of Motherhood: Week Forty-Four

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 wrote the following words on Wednesday morning this week, just after getting home from dropping you off at daycare. I wrote it because I needed to get some things off my chest and hoped that doing so would help soothe my wobbly mood. Maybe, when you're older and you feel angry or sad or a little lost, you can try writing things down. It may help you too.

I have some days, like today, when parenting feels like an endless journey of heartbreaks. This morning you woke just after six and considering I'd spent a few hours in the night lying awake unable to go back to sleep after feeding you, I got up grumpy and fatigued. But the way your cries switched to smiles as soon as you saw me, and the way you nestled in to me for your first feed of the day, soon made me shake off most of my bad mood.

A few hours later we arrived at your daycare and it was the first time in the five months that you've been going there that I felt we had interrupted a truly chaotic scene. There was a toddler in the bath crying - "She's teething so she has a very sore bottom from the poop!" came the half-Dutch, half-English explanation from the smiling carer washing her down and soothing her - there were two little girls at the top of some stairs trying to unhook the gate that blocked their way down, there were two babies in chairs, softly mumbling to themselves in a way that only a mother knows will soon descend into cries, I heard muffled screams coming from the baby monitor connected to the bedroom were the infants take their naps, and three of the older boys in the group were running around shouting, each holding a superhero figure in their hands. Another carer greeted me with a cheery "Good morning!" and said she'd be right back after she'd dealt with the two girls at the top of the stairs and the screaming little one in the bedroom. I told her not to rush. I am lucky that I don't have a boss expecting me to clock in by a certain hour so I can take my time saying goodbye to you. I tried putting you down on the soft mat and I surrounded you with toys you might be interested in crawling to, but you just made your way back to me and tried to climb up my legs. I looked down at you and you held your arms out, your eyes widening with need. I gave in, sat down and held you.

As I sat with you in my lap I gently rocked the chair next to me that another, younger baby was sat in. A chubby-cheeked boy with a coy smile and barley-there hair, physically he reminded me a lot of the baby you were at his age, four months. The way he kicked his legs, scrunched up his fists and fixed his eyes on something, pouting with determination, reminded me of you so vividly. As you sat in my lap and watched those bigger boys run around with Spiderman, Superman and Ironman, I stroked the little baby's feet, just like I used to do with you. 

"You used to be this small," I whispered in your hair.

And then I squeezed you a little closer to me because like a wave capable of taking my feet from under me, I realised that your time as a baby - a real, helpless, immobile baby - is truly running out, and so many versions of you - newborn you, first-smiles you, tummy-time you, first-laughs you, rolling-over you - are already gone. I tickled the little baby's legs and tried to smile down the lump of pure emotion that had lodged itself in my throat. 

Ten minutes later, I left you crying in the arms of one the kind carer who greeted us. You don't hold back when you really want to cry; your face turns red, your eyes scrunch up squeezing out little tears, your bottom lip protrudes (always has, always will, I suspect) and your mouth opens wide and empty.

I knew I had to walk away, because staying would only delay the inevitable. And you have to get used to me not always being by your side. I need to get used to it too. That said, I still waited outside the door to the room I'd left you in, and sure enough you'd stopped crying before the lock in the door had clicked shut again. But still, as I went down the stairs, I fought a strong desire to cry myself. Minutes later, strolling down the street on my way home, I still felt the need to cry. Now, over an hour later, as I sit at my desk, I'm still struggling not to give in to the tears.

Some days are like this. Some days I feel like I'm doing everything wrong; you're too young for daycare, you're changing so fast and I'm going to miss everything because I'm not with you all the time. And it goes on... I shouldn't be so selfish as to want time on my own, I shouldn't be so self-obsessed to spend time not only doing work I enjoy (and don't need to do for our financial wellbeing) but to also use your daycare days to get my hair or nails done and to go to exercise classes, and I definitely don't know how lucky I am that I spend one or two of these days on my biggest indulgence: writing books that make me very little money. Today I feel like I'm being a bad mother by actively choosing to spend time away from you. And because I feel down about that I'm struggling to find the focus or energy to do other things so I'm automatically a bad writer, a bad partner, a bad person. And it goes on... So quickly it descends into a vicious circle of negativity, and it shocks me. Aside from the lack of sleep, I honestly don't know why I feel like this today. Especially because yesterday I felt so different....

Yesterday, I felt the opposite. I was a good mother for leaving you at a daycare you love where you sing songs, do arts and crafts, try new foods and play with other little ones who are fast becoming your friends. I was a good mother for spending my morning learning Dutch as that is the language you will hopefully speak just as good as English. I was a good partner for then making your dad take a long lunch and I was a good friend for inviting a woman we know who stays at home with her baby to join us. I was a good writer because I worked on the second draft of the novella I hope to publish later this year. I was a good freelance writer because I emailed some clients about ongoing work and sent off a proposal for a new job. I was a good, balanced person because I also took time to go for a run and to read my book.

Yesterday, when I went to pick you up from daycare and I saw the same little baby whose feet I was stroking this morning, and yes, I saw the similarities between him and younger you but for some reason I didn't dwell on them like I did this morning. Instead, I remembered how when you were that age, I was a mess. I wasn't sleeping, I wasn't eating well, I wasn't taking time to exercise or relax, I wasn't pursuing my creative goals, and I wasn't working. Yes, I was doing the incredibly important job of looking after you, but I felt a mess. I felt stretched and sad and uncomfortable in my own skin. But now, I thought to myself yesterday, now I'm in control. Now, I'm more happy than I'm sad. Now - even though I spend less hours a week with you - I really feel like I'm a much better mother.

There's no rhyme or reason for explaining why one day is so drastically different to the next - though nostalgia, hormones, a poor night's sleep and yes, that heart-breaking all-consuming cry of yours were all contributing factors today - and of course good days and bad days happen to us all regardless of whether we are parents or not. What's different, however, is that before I was a mother I found no comfort in knowing this fact. If anything it frustrated me and I actively strove for good days, every day, only to be disappointed, of course. But now, as a mother who is still wildly aware of how new I am to this role, I find great comfort in knowing that bad days are going to happen, and that this is a fact I can't change no matter what I do. It helps me let go of them, or at least to try to, which I will be making a big effort to do today.

As I type this out I feel some of the emotional haze in my mind clear. I also recall why I used to stroke your feet as a baby. It was because you used to rotate your ankles when you were in my arms, feeding or simply being cuddled. Your feet twirling was one of the first habits I noticed you develop, and it's still there. You still do this when you're in my arms. In fact, it's one of the very things that snapped me out of my bad mood this morning as I nursed you. 

You may not be a tiny baby anymore, but you're still you. You're still my boy. I hope remembering this helps me get over the many more storms of nostalgia that are no doubt heading my way as you grow and change more and more and more.

And now, as this diary entry comes to a close, I already feel my mood has shifted. I feel I know now that parenting isn't an endless journey of heartbreaks. Should all be well and frankly, should I be lucky enough, parenting will be a series of good and bad days randomly mixed together. Sometimes the bad days will take over, and sometimes the good will lift me up high enough to see that the mess I felt I was when days were bad, was actually me still making great leaps of progress, and letting love flow even if nothing else would.

I hope tomorrow is a good day, but if it's not, that's okay because I will still be there to stroke your feet and watch you twirl them back at me.

Your admittedly-baby-feet-obsessed, partially-impressed-with-how-diva-esque-your-cyring-fits-are-becoming, looking-forward-to-picking-you-up-from-daycare-already, 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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