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,
This week I learned a lot.
This week you learned a lot.
This week I learned that even though I'm generally finding it easier and easier - or perhaps less of a struggle - being your mother, when I have a bad day, things get really, really hard, really quick. If I let them.
This week's challenge for me was illness.
It feels like you've had a bad cold since the end of November. I know it's because of daycare and the myriad germs you're exposed to there, and I do feel very tangible pangs of guilt that we have effectively exposed you to them, but I persist, almost as stubbornly as your father, that your immune system will grow stronger for this, and that the benefits of daycare - socialising with other children (and adults), learning Dutch sounds and songs and having a structure to your day - are greater than the inconvenience of having a waterfall of snot leaving your nose all day every day.
However, your father and I caught one of these bugs this week and it seemed to hit us much harder than it did you. Our throats throbbed red and raw, our heads felt full and uncomfortable and at night we took it in turns to wake each other up with an impossible-to-scratch tickly cough. We struggled on despite this until Friday rolled around.
With a slight temperature, very little sleep under my belt and a body aching as much as it did after I ran a half marathon a long time ago, I wasn't sure how I was going to face the day away from the cover of my duvet, let alone try and get through it looking after you. I rolled over and looked at your father and saw the same look of dread and pain. Neither of us were in any position to relieve the other of what we had to do that day. We were in trouble.
A few hours, several paracetamol and a box of tissues later, I was up, you were up and your father was up. Yet, only one of us was dressed and that same person - you - was the only one smiling. Now as well as feeling physically unwell, I began to feel emotionally feeble; I was being a terrible mother, unable to muster up more than a weak smile or a kiss on the forehead to applaud you eating your fruit that morning.
Truth be told, all my energy was going into repeating the same self-pitying thought over and over and over again. "My life sucks. I can't even stay in bed when I'm sick. My life sucks."
The day got worse as your dad and I took our moods out on each other. When he left for his office, we parted on bad terms. I sat down on the sofa with you in my lap and I cried behind your back. The thought got louder and louder in my head. My smiles to you got weaker and weaker.
I cancelled lunch with a friend and after swallowing a bowl of half-cooked pasta - I'm the most impatient patient! - I picked you up and carried you into our bedroom. I lay you on the bed next to me, gave you your favourite soft toy, pushed a dummy into your mouth and I closed my eyes. You'd not long woken from a nap earlier - during which I finally showered - and so I didn't expect you to sleep. Instead I prayed for enough quiet that I could just rest my eyes and my aching body, but I didn't expect you to comply. I fully expected a racket or a riot as you would sing to your toy or decide that you really wanted to roll over away from me.
But happily my eyes stayed closed. My heart rate slowed. My feet got cosy underneath the duvet. And you, my little man, you were completely silent, accept for the swooshing sound you make when you pull on your dummy. Eventually I opened my eyes, wondering if by some miracle you had fallen asleep.
You hadn't. You were just lying there, staring at me. Your big brown eyes that are so like my own were just fixed on my face. Your forehead, so smooth and free of wrinkles, looked almost moon-like in the dim light. Your little nose full of your own quota of snot, sat atop two snail trails heading under your dummy. Your hands gripped your toy, but they were pointed at me.
I closed my eyes again and felt everything I should have felt in such a moment: pure gratitude, intense love, sheer wonder.
A minute or so passed. I opened my eyes again. You were still staring at me.
And again a moment later.
Finally, I moved, grabbing a tissue from the nearly empty box on the bedside table and I wiped my eyes and I wiped your nose. Then I put my arm around your tiny, wonderful body and I stared back at you. I honestly don't remember who closed their eyes first, I suspect you looked away to play with your toy some more, because to say that we both just fell asleep like that would be too perfect. I'd rather have the just slightly less than perfect moment than the completely perfect moment.
But we did sleep together and even if that nap we had together throws your sleep out of whack again and undoes the very small improvements we've experienced recently (you now regularly sleep for 5-6 hours without a feed! Yay!) I don't care. That nap changed everything on that bad day. No, it didn't make me feel better, and no, it didn't mean the rest of the day was even close to easy - I nearly vomited when trying to feed you some mashed up banana - but it shut up that self-indulgent repeating thought and made me think again and again, if not for the whole day (though arguably it should have) that "My life rocks! I can take naps with my favourite person in the world as often as I like! My life rocks!".
So as well as learning that hard days are really, really hard as a parent, I learned that even when they can't say anything or do much, your children have the ability to make them feel completely worth it if only briefly.
Now, what about you...
Well, this week, you found out where your penis is.
And you've pretty much been playing with it ever since. Every time I change you it's like we're cowboys at high noon; you're racing to grab your teeny peeny and I'm racing to stop you doing so in case it's covered in poop, Even when your nappy is on and you are fully clothed, I see you reaching for it in some Michael-Jackson-esque crotch grab. And don't even get me started on what bath time is like; we have to fill your bath with all the toys we can find just to keep you distracted from fishing for it while I try to wash you.
All joking aside, I suppose this is the beginning of one of the most significant relationships in your life. However, my own default settings mean that I can't really understand it so I'm going to have to rely on your father to step in and guide you for the most part. I just hope that in the future it involves less pooey fingers and fewer rubber ducks.
Your still-picturing-your-eyes-looking-at-me, still-far-too-snotty, but-much-much-better, crazy-in-love mother x
Frances M. Thompson
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