A Diary of Motherhood: Year One, Week 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,

This week we went on a little adventure. We took a train and visited Utrecht, partly at the invitation of a fellow mum who I'd met online, and partly because it's a place I'd long wanted to go and see. It's embarrassing that we've lived in Amsterdam for over three years but have seen very little of the rest of the country, including a city that is less than thirty minutes away by train. 

It was a lovely day. The sun shone, my internet friend proved to be the kind of person I hoped would become a real life friend, and what I saw of Utrecht, I really, really liked. With a daughter just a few months younger than you, there were long conversations about the highs and lows of pregnancy and motherhood as we pushed our buggies/babies along the Oudegracht canal. We stopped for lunch and as her little girl gobbled up healthy avocado spread on bread and figs, you turned your nose up at almost everything I offered you from the salad I hoped to share with you, until I succumbed and gave you a couple of supermarkt-bought pouches, which you barely ate. Instead you wanted to be on the floor, exploring and crawling around which was a lot like cat and mouse for you and me... until eventually you found a bit of bread dropped by your new friend and I just let you eat it because you never normally eat avocado like that and it wasn't that dirty.

Later, as your nap time came and went, you became increasingly annoyed, fidgetty and unhappy, but you didn't "kick off". You just grumbled and wriggled around so although I tried a few different things from feeding you to putting you in the carrier to simply ignoring you and pushing the stroller on, I didn't feel too stressed out by your determination to avoid sleeping, so I focused on enjoying my day as much as I could. Ever stubborn, you continued to resist sleep as we had a coffee in the pretty gardens of the University museum, all the while I expected your meltdown to begin. I was therefore amazed when you stopped writhing and grumbling and just sat there playing with toy, mumbling to yourself, not completely unhappily. In fact, you calmly fought sleep until we were just five minutes away from the station on our way home. Despite myself I smiled at your commitment to not sleeping, and this little nod at just how stubborn and persistent you can be.

At one point my new friend turned to me and said, "He's quite a handful isn't he?"

I chuckled, and replied. "That's funny because I was just thinking how easy and calm he's been today."

It's really hard to say what makes a difficult baby and what makes an easy baby. As a first-time mother it's almost impossible to compare. Yes, I can say that you were more active, busy, mobile, moany and frustrated than the baby we spent the day with in Utrecht, but compared to other days you were only mildly irritable, you were easily entertained by a new toy or new scenery and throughout our adventure you were actually very predictable (I know how hard you find it to be in your stroller for long periods of time, and one of the consequences of the sleep training we did is that you do now find it even harder to go to sleep anywhere other than your cot). Of course, I am also more adept at understanding your needs and catering to them, something I am very grateful for because there was a time - maybe only a few months ago - when I was Googling "high needs baby" because I felt constantly drained by your ever-changing moods, your loud, stubborn reluctance to sleep and your very real impatience with so many things.

In the past - and occasionally in the present - I have asked myself, your father and others closest to me if my anxiety and stress has influenced your moods. Is it my fault that you're not naturally a relaxed baby? Is it because I was so wound up during the first months of your life that you are not always easy-going? Was it something you picked up from me? I did my best to hold back the tears in front of you, but they still came sometimes, occasionally landing on your chubby limbs as I changed you or dripping into your hair when I held you from behind. I know with almost complete certainty that I hardly ever shouted or raised my voice in front of you, but I definitely clenched my jaw, pulled the muscles of forehead together and couldn't stop my shoulders from being fixed at ear height for months and months on end. So many times I've heard people tell me that babies can pick up on your mood and they will reflect it. And after I've suppressed the urge to punch them, I have to admit that my gut tells me they're right.

But I don't think it's "my fault", because those times were some time ago and I know I've been mostly "relaxed" now for longer than I wasn't. And I don't think you're a high needs baby. The way you have adapted to sleeping better goes someway to prove that, and I also think the highly-trained eyes that watch you at daycare would have picked up on this, and as it happens we recently had a meeting with them to mark your reaching one year's old, and they had nothing but encouraging things to say about you. Yes, you have your moments but it's all part of growing up. Despite crawling incredibly early, you're in no rush to walk and most likely because of the two languages filling your brain, you're not yet ready to speak words which we will understand.

"He's following his own path" was how they put it, and I couldn't agree more. You like knowing what you want, you like expressing it, and you don't always like it when that desire isn't fully satisfied. In other words, you sound exactly like your father and me... and probably a considerable chunk of the human race.

And when it boils down to it, although I do often wish you were calmer, quieter, happier to sleep anywhere, ready to eat anything and everything, but if all of these things meant that you would then not be you, I wouldn't want them, not for a second. Also it would mean you're a "unicorn baby" because from what little I do know is that no baby does everything well or have a problem-free. And I'm fascinated watching you grow and become the person you are and while I know I will influence this, I hope I'm raising you in a way that lets your true colours, character and craziness shine through, even if that means you're naturally a highly-strung, high maintenance, impatient wotsit. 

All joking aside, when I read and write books, again and again I am reminded that it is the people with the strongest characters and the quirks that make stories come to life. And there is absolutely no doubt in my mind how full of life you are. So I'm glad you're the way you are. I'm exhausted, but oh so glad.

Your planning-our-next-train-adventure, will-take-more-snacks, for-both-of-us, 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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