January is never a good time to reflect on life in general. It is therefore also a really bad time to reflect on life changes, like “becoming a mother”. I’m not sure why I “become” something else, while my husband gets given a son. I am somehow changed, and he gets added to. Anyway. So I wasn’t planning to reflect on anything in particular, and decided not to make any new year’s resolutions, on the basis that last year’s were a little too successful. My boyfriend at the time resolved to “stop stressing about fitting in life events”. We’re now married, with a 3-month old baby and a mortgage, so we’ve fitted it all in just fine.
Mostly, my new life is quite nice. My time is my own, even if it is limited to what I can do around the house, or at the nearby shopping centre. I don’t walk much, mainly because I’m a bit worried about getting the buggy stuck on a muddy path, or coming across stairs, and because I have got lazy. I get to watch repeats of Star Trek at 10 am, and make cake in the afternoons, which were both things I hankered after when I was working. I should really be doing the ironing right now, and obviously I also have to feed, clean and entertain my child, but he is very cute. I don’t really mind having no one else to talk to, although sometimes when I’m chatting to him about stuff that frustrates me (in a kind of singsong smily way that he always laughs at) I can get a little sad. Even when I was living in the middle of London, I didn’t often see people during the day, and I’ve had the nine months since my job finished to get used to it. In any case, whenever I talk to other mothers I invariably seem to say the wrong thing. A friend came over to swap stories on breastfeeding, as her daughter also has tongue tie. She was obviously upset about it, and I felt terrible for her, but didn’t really have any practical suggestions apart from taking ibuprofen regularly to help with the pain. It’s not as if our baby has ever struggled to obtain enough milk, which is obviously the main worry. It’s just that tongue tied babies are more likely to use their gums than their tongue, which was initially rather like having chilli rubbed on raw skin. Fortunately he’s got much better. Halfway through the afternoon, I promptly forgot that her baby is right at the bottom of the weight charts, and happily took pictures of my incredibly fat baby to stick on Facebook, exclaiming quite tactlessly, “ooh he fits into his 6-month clothes!”. I obviously need to work on the empathy a little.
People kept telling me I should join baby groups, which I dislike the idea of because I want to talk to people about something other than babies, but obviously if I have one attached to me at all times, it’s rather hard to go and join the local running club. I thought baby swimming would be fun, as my baby also learns a useful skill, and maybe the kind of people who take their baby swimming won’t be overly cautious or anxious mothers. In the first session, the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves and say why we’d joined. Every single person said they wanted their baby to be safe in the water. From talking to them afterwards it emerged they are poor swimmers themselves, and want to give their kids a better start. In a rare moment of rare tact I kept my mouth shut about my own success at school swimming competitions in Australia. So far, baby swimming is great fun. Conrad is so completely unfazed by it that I do sometimes wonder if he’s actually got some sort of infant catatonia. The instructor said she’d never had such a “chilled” baby. She’s always taking him for demos, as he’s the only one who comes up gurgling happily when she dunks him underwater. The rest of them just scream a lot.
I’ve once again failed to make any friends though. They probably don’t think I have anything in common with them because my baby is so apparently easy.
Our whole society now expects motherhood to be hard, and therefore if you’re not finding it that hard, you must be doing it wrong and neglecting your baby. Ironically, I do find it hard, but not really because of the baby, whose needs are straightforward. I do get very frightened of things going wrong, like dropping him on the stairs or on the stone floors, and that only gets worse the more he becomes a real person whom I know. I look at the blind cords all over our house and think of the family whose child was strangled last year – they had left the room for a moment. There was also a really depressing story online about a 7 month old who was suffocated by a nappy bag. There really are any number of ways that toddlers can come to harm, but it’s rather futile thinking about it too much, which I obviously do right now. I guess it’s a bit like when you first pass your driving test and think you’ll die every time you get in the car. It passes (unless you do, obviously).
In a recent Times article Esther Walker wrote about motherhood; the boredom and the exhaustion that make it impossible to focus. The thing I find so hard is that your life before babies might as well never have happened. I can’t imagine ever caring about climbing the way I did for a while; or having the balls to do any trad leading (where you slot little bits of metal into the rock in the hope of not hitting the ground if you fall off). My job was always a patchwork of the B-S I could convince someone I’d understood, until I actually did understand it, and again, I’m not sure I have the nerve or the mental acuity any more to come up with a coherent project plan within 40 minutes. I’ve worked out that driving was a huge part of my sense of independence and freedom, and having had a baby, I finally understand the purpose of the “baby on board” stickers: it’s not “don’t crash into me”, it’s “I know I drive really badly. I didn’t used to, but I’m sleep deprived and the kid is screaming in the back, so now I drive like an indecisive pensioner with occasional anger management issues”. It’s disappointing, being a crap driver.
I used to really love the cinema, but now the whole experience is frankly irritating. Why would I waste babysitting credits on going to sit next to some fat stranger who’s hogged my drinks holder, and spend a fortune on a tiny bag of popcorn, to watch a movie that turns out to be crap? Our recent excursion to see American Hustle was a case in point. Only time my mum babysits in six weeks, and we go see some people mooching around in terrible 70s clothes, indulging in some really juvenile love triangle and very incidentally setting up a very transparent con. We get back home all disappointed, and spend all night up with a baby who obviously didn’t tolerate his second-ever bottle of formula.
The real irony is that on the worst day in the last three months (for which there was no real reason except the sleep issues), my mother said it was great to see me so happy and relaxed. Yeah, I look relaxed because I lack the energy to actually adopt any kind of facial expression. And of course I should just be grateful to have a healthy family. Yes, I know. I am. I just wish I wanted what I wanted before.
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