A Diary of Motherhood: Second Chapter - Week Five
This is my motherhood diary, documenting what life is like as I adjust to becoming a mum of two. I wrote my first motherhood diary in the year following my first son's first year of life. I call him Baby Bird on this blog. He became a big brother to my second son, Baby JJ, in November 2018 and so I have returned to writing weekly updates about what life is like becoming a mother to two young boys. (I wrote about my first son's birth here). You can find all of the first year's diary entries here, and you can start at the beginning of year one here, and year two here.
Earlier in December I shared on my Facebook page how Home Alone was my favourite Christmas film. Little did I know that on the Saturday before Christmas I was going to feel like I was actually in that movie. No, I didn't leave my three-year-old at home while the rest of us jetted off somewhere more exciting, but rather my entire family came to Amsterdam to stay, and after meeting them at the airport we experienced a very chaotic return journey to their rental apartments. There was luggage, four children aged five and under with one in a pram and two needing constant hand-holding, there were six adults and two trains to get on and off. We all needed tickets to check in and out of each journey, then we had to navigate our way down a number of Amsterdam streets, and as it was the Saturday before Christmas everywhere was very busy. So while in my head meeting my family was like the opening scenes of Love Actually, and it was because we did it as a surprise - my parents meeting their fourth grandchild for the first time in the process - but it very quickly turned into the early scenes of Home Alone when the army that is the McCallister family are racing to get to their flight on time, all the while forgetting Kevin. We realised this quite early on and so in doing headcounts we would all shout out "Have we got Kevin?".
This somewhat set up the tone for the week that followed. It was busy, and a little chaotic at times, but it was also wonderful, and filled with laughter, and a real Christmas hit. I will remember this festive season so vividly despite being only five weeks post-partum and therefore sorely sleep-deprived, very hormonal, and still adjusting to life with two children. But the presence of his cousins made my eldest son's year. Each morning this week before getting together he has talked about them incessantly and when they are finally all in the same place they play brilliantly together as his age places him in the gap between my nephew, who took him under his wing effortlessly, and my niece who held her own with these two older boys.
On Christmas Day itself we descended on a hotel in Amsterdam city centre for a Christmas brunch, which rolled into lunch and afternoon tea. Baby JJ fell asleep on the walk there and as we sat down to eat we rolled his pram under one of the drinks tables where he slept soundly for more than a few hours. I was able to sit at the round table we were at and play with my son, talk to my sister-in-law, and smile at my parents from across the table. Maybe it was the Champagne, maybe it was the delicious food, maybe it was having my family there, maybe it was the jazz music playing in the background but I felt such pure joy on that day and I know it's a Christmas I'll never forget, my first Christmas as a mother of two.
Of course, this week hasn't been all tinsel and boozy brunches. It's been tiring and demanding in a way that my post-partum body isn't quite ready for yet. I always forget how much hard work goes into a happy family Christmas and never is that more true than when you have young children. In the run up to my family arriving and the gift giving, I did a lot, too much possibly, getting things ready and more than likely over-doing the number of presents my eldest son received, due in no small part to the guilt and worry I have been feeling about how he would have to adjust to becoming a big brother.
It was hard balancing the desire to get so many things ready and in order - presents for everyone, wrapped and ready and Christmas cards sent on time (along with birth cards for our youngest boy) - while also knowing just how I was still in need of rest, both physically and emotionally. This was emphasised by the fact my eldest son decided to have a terrible week of sleep and he has tried to get into my bed next to me most nights. Knowing that allowing it to happen is effectively the same as guaranteeing it happens again and again for all subsequent nights, I did my best to gently take him back into his own room, tucking him under his covers, but some nights this resulted in him crying loudly and me crying quietly as I crawled back into bed beside his brother. If I could sleep next to both of them, I would, but I can't. The thought of being squashed between a toddler who wriggles and kicks in his sleep and a newborn baby that cries out for milk every few hours is just too much for me to contemplate let alone make a reality.
The one thing that helps me in these moments is telling myself that it's a phase, and because I have already got three years of motherhood under my belt I know that these phases do eventually end. This is the brilliant hindsight that I lacked and so desperately needed back when I was a mother for the first time and I thought the difficult times would last forever, and perhaps sadder still, I believed that so many beautiful moments would be mine for ever more, like how he would always stay small enough for me to carry without getting out of breath or how he would be instantly soothed from just my holding him. No, now I know that all these phases pass. And so I know that soon my eldest son will adjust and no longer feel the need to crawl into bed next to me during the night. One day in the future my youngest son won't need to feed every two or three hours so I will sleep longer. And eventually the time will come when neither of them want to lie next to me at night ever again, and when that time comes I will probably long for these nights when they do. Indeed, I look at my parents now, surrounded by their three grown-up children and four lively, fun-loving grandchildren, and I wonder if they feel nostalgic for the days when we were young and needy and sucking up all of their time. Do they miss those days? Does part of them long to be back in a place where they were surrounded by young children, putting those little peoples' needs in front of their own? Does my mother even remember what it was like to be holding one child while another physically pulls on them for attention? Does she remember how she managed that? (If you do Mum, please let me know how!)
I've talked to my mum enough over the last three years to know that she remembers some of the bad and a lot of the good, and that she has also forgotten some of the bad and maybe some of the good too. This sounds about right. I can't imagine not remembering how hard I find the broken sleep, the crushing feeling of defeat I feel when climbing out of bed to put my eldest back in his room only to be woken thirty minutes later to feed my newborn baby, It feels so all-consuming now but I suspect (and hope!) I will be quicker to remember other things, like what it feels like when I am sandwiched between both boys in my bed - the Big Bed as my eldest calls it - during the afternoon naps and quiet time we have grown accustomed to take together. I hope I will forget how tired I made myself staying up late three nights in a row to wrap up the too many presents I bought my son, and instead I'll remember how chaotic and comical we were as one large family heading home on Amsterdam's public transport from Schiphol Airport. I can't imagine forgetting how tired I've felt this week, and how hard it felt getting everything organised in time while still adjusting to life as a family of four because that's what's surprised me most and made the week feel like a challenge, but I would put money on me easily letting go of that and in years to come I will remember only my son's face when he got a ukelele, the black lorry he asked for (it had to be black!), and the Robin (from Lego Batman) clock he got which he spent the morning dancing around with. Likewise I will forget the nerves I had about my family being with us in Amsterdam and instead I will remember - probably for always - the brunch-lunch-tea we had together in the hotel.
It is telling that I am wondering what it will be like to be out of this phase - this newborn plus toddler phase - and that I am also already suspecting that one day I will possibly miss it.. This tells me that as hard as it is right now with the bad nights and the putting my small children's needs before my own, that I still don't want it to be completely over. I don't want to wish it all away.. I am still happy that this is where we're at, right now, no matter how tired I am and how hard I find some of the things we have to navigate. I'm not in a rush for these weeks to pass, and that is the best Christmas present I could ever expect to receive.
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+.