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,
At around three months into your little life I wrote an entry describing what our daily routine was like. As I feel were on the cusp of switching this up again prompted by your tentative and admittedly still very nonchalant interest in solid food and possible extra day a week at daycare I wanted to take a little time to make a note of what life is like for us right now.
Every morning seems to start at a different time for us. You don't seem to have a specific wake-up time, though I have noticed you're definitely in a better mood when you wake me up after seven compared to the times you're calling from your cot around 6ish, and no I'm not just saying that because it benefits me. I think a lot of your irregular wake-up times are related to the fact that you're still not sleeping all the way through the night, or even with any kind of repeating pattern (and yes, son, I know I sound like a broken record) but I kind of like that you haven't committed to a crazy early time to wake up because it means every now and again my alarm (you!) goes off after 7:30 which as every parent will know is incredibly generous!
Now that you're rolling over on both sides and seem very reluctant to stay on your back, or to stay very still, your morning playtime first thing in the morning isn't as long as it used to be. Invariably you start to get a bit crabby fifteen minutes in which is normally just about the time I am sitting down to eat my breakfast. A bowl of soggy branflakes later and we're sat on the sofa playing together or reading books. I love watching how your relationship with possibly my favourite material things in the world is deepening. You now search out that pile of books by your toys and after we finish one story you like to hold the book in your hand while we flick through the pages of the next.
Your first nap of the day, or what I more often call our first battle of the day, happens around two hours after you woke up. It's not always a struggle. There have been a few blissful times when I've laid you down to sleep and you've happily gurgled to yourself while stroking the soft toy that you're fast becoming attached to, until you fall asleep. More often than not, however, you protest at the audacity I have at thinking you need a nap after you've spent a few minutes yawning and rubbing your eyes. Sometimes this battle lasts only five minutes, sometimes it takes over the thirty minutes you normally sleep for. Needless to say, I'm grateful when it doesn't go like this as this nap time is when I try to squeeze in getting showered and dressed.
Around 9:30 - because this is the time it happens at daycare and I try to stick to their routine as much as I can without driving myself crazy - I sit you in your chair at the dining table and I try you with some "solids", which of course is a joke because all this mashed up fruit and vegetables is anything but solid. I first started this latest adventure with you on Christmas Day when I painstakingly (ish) steamed some carrots and mashed them into a pulp adding a little breastmilk for flavour. You then ignored the orange mush I paraded in front of your very closed mouth so vehemently it was almost as if you literally couldn't see the spoon in front of you. Six weeks later and you were still turning your nose up, or rather, moving your mouth away, from anything I presented to you on a spoon. You did take to baby biscuits a little better, enjoying the sensation of gnawing on them with your two new teeth, but swallowing was still a problem so I was forever finding crusty bits of chewed up biscuit in between your fingers or under your top long after I thought I'd washed you up properly. However, last week, only hours after I messaged a friend of mine who has a ten month old daughter debating whether I should giving you a break from the solids, you happily swallowed down five spoonfuls of apple at daycare. That afternoon at home, you keenly gobbled up a decent-sized portion of pear. So maybe I won't still be breastfeeding you at the age of 13.
Depending on what day it is and the unpredictable winter weather here in Amsterdam, at around 10 or 11 we head out for a long walk or we go to a mother and baby yoga or exercise class. These classes have been my saving grace over the last four months. Just looking at other mothers with their babies and seeing other little humans like you putting their mums through their paces, makes me feel less alone, more human, and like I'm doing okay. You love looking around at all the other babies and you always seem to smile and laugh the most when I'm doing a particularly low lunge or a squat I'm not sure I can get up from.
During our walk or on the way home you'll hopefully have another half an hour of sleep and then we go home to have lunch with your father. This is one of the things that will change soon as we've recently signed a contract for a private office in a co-working space a few kilometres away. This is so that your dad can have a better distinction between work and home life (so he can focus on each separately rather than blurring the two all day, every day. It was a hard decision to come to as it inevitably means more time away from you but our aim is that we appreciate the time we are with you and with each other more. Having a young baby is a real test for a relationship but maybe I'll tell you about that another time. At nearly seven months it's a real joy to have you sitting with us at our table, as opposed to one of us balancing you on our lap while trying to eat. Before that we just used to resemble a couple of speed-eating competitors as we'd shovel mouthful after mouthful of food down our necks expecting you to wake from your nap at any moment.
For the rest of the day we hang out together at home, playing, reading or maybe taking a nap together. Alternatively we'll go to the supermarket or the nearby market and get some supplies for dinner that night which all being well with you, I'll sometimes get a chance to start preparing.
At around 5 o'clock I'll try you again with some solids or give you a baby biscuit while I try to check my emails and do a little work before the day is done. Once you're cleaned up you then have what is your favourite time of the day: Playtime with Daddy! I can already see how much better at playing with you your father is. Even as an author of fiction, I struggle to pull from my imagination the things your dad can create with just a couple of blocks and a soft toy. The way you watch him as he introduces new noises, new objects, new movements to you is a definite highlight of my day. I make sure I take plenty of time to look up from my laptop as you play. Probably not often enough, but sometimes I lie on the floor next to you and try to become part of it, though in a weird way it's better to watch.
Depending on when your last nap was we start bedtime around ten or twenty past six. It's pretty much the same routine we had for you at thirteen weeks; bath, massage, pyjamas on, feed, songs and bed. However, in recent weeks we've noticed how your love of bathtime has gone from "utter joy" to "pure ecstasy" which means when we lift you out of it and wrap you up in a towel, you begin experiencing a serious comedown. You whimper, or cry, or scream. Either way it does not make for an easy transition to a massage that you're also becoming too wriggly for. With our nights being our biggest challenge at the moment (you see, Baby Bird, I didn't say problem or nightmare or issue) it's definitely made us consider changing your bedtime.
The nights, well, what happens at night happens and we get through it.
So there you go. A lot has changed and a lot is changing. Just this afternoon you sat unassisted for over ten minutes, a wall of cushions around you lay untouched. A few weeks ago, that seemed unimaginable. The biggest change, however, when I compare the last daytime routine I wrote out, is that I feel a lot more in control. Yes, I'm still at the mercy of you when it comes to sleep and naps and if you'll spit out most of the pureed strawberries I made, but I now feel I decide what happens as the day progresses, not you. This may sound a little controlling or bossy or overbearing, but as someone who's struggled to really identify as a mother, this is important. It's not much fun, or very healthy, to feel utterly beholden to a newborn baby, so to feel in control of what happens to a six month old is a lot more satisfying and fulfilling, not too mention better for my mental health.
All that said, I honestly miss the way you would only fall asleep on me. I found it so frustrating at the time, but now I find myself often yearning for it. I suppose in months to come I'll miss how you stubbornly refused solids and lapped up my breastmilk like it was drying out. And most bizarrely of all I truly believe that in a few years time I'll look back on all the many, many night-wakings we have behind us and most likely have ahead of us and I will miss those too. At least that's what I'm going to tell myself at 1am, and 3am, and 4.30am tonight.
Your sleep-deprived but love-satisfied, covered-in-baby-biscuit-too, crazy-in-love mother x
Frances M. Thompson
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