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Monthly Archives: January 2012

I’ve won!

I am a naturally competitive person. One of my first major achievements was getting 60 out of 60 in a spelling test at school, which meant I could sit at the back of the classroom and have the satisfaction of looking over the heads of all the other girls in my class. This smug glow was the beginning of wanting to be good at things.

Once you give birth you have a story, the birth story, which takes on its own life as it retold again and again. My births were ‘good’ births. I ‘won’ when I gave birth (twice), as not only did I get two children at the end of my labours, but I did the whole caboodle with only Gas and Air. Ha Haaaa! I didn’t weaken and succumb to namby pamby painkillers, I was hardcore.

Of course, I know this is nonsense, and by hook or crook (or both) if you get a baby at the end, that is the triumph, because of course, sadly, not everyone does. Still, I was lucky enough to have inherited a very good birthing body (Mum popped out five), and my babies had the decency not to turn upside down or look the wrong way at the last minute.

Following the birth, there are then many stages of ‘winning’ among your mothering peers, by having the first child to reach those all-important milestones: their first tooth, first steps, first word and all the other subsequent ‘firsts’ that go in the baby book.

My friend’s baby got his first tooth at three months. This is very early, and not normal, but still, I was very slightly disappointed that my son wasn’t sporting gnashers, until of course, he got them at only 5 months, top and bottom, and then almost nipped my nips off. I wasn’t so thrilled then.

The most messy milestone out of the list is potty training.

When I had my son my grandmother decided to join in with the game by telling me that ‘in her day’, her babies were potty trained from 6 months. Well, that was clearly absolute rot, as firstly, her brain didn’t go back to last Sunday let alone fifty years ago, and secondly, she probably didn’t have anything to do with her babies’ bottoms, as she had a daily maid and a nanny, so they could still have been in nappies at ten for all she knew. However, this did have the desired effect of making me feel like an inadequate mother because my son was still in nappies at 6 months old, good one Grandma.

Then there was the mother who I saw putting her unbelievably tiny child on a travel potty by the side of the road, and I made some casual, congratulatory remark only to be given a resounding lecture on how all her children had NEVER worn nappies because they used some tribal method of staring at their newborns all day long, 24 hours a day until they had identified some barely-visible-to-the-naked-eye twitch, at which point they put them on the potty. This of course made me feel totally inadequate, as I’d used about a thousand nappies at that point, but in hindsight I can see that she just had a very bad case of wanting to ‘win’ at being a mother.

But what does it really mean to win at being a mother? When I had tiny babies, winning was getting to the end of the day without all of us crying simultaneously at some point. When we were all very ill recently, beginning with exquisite timing on Christmas Day itself, winning was getting our children’s temperature to stay lower than 104 degrees.

But I still want to know I’m doing it right, I still want proof that what I’m doing day in, day out, is getting me to the top of the pile. And then the other day, the final verdict came when my children were asked, ‘Who’s in charge in your house?’ and the unequivocal answer came back, ‘Mummy, of course.’

In the words of Lola, ‘I’ve won!’

Both ends of the spectrum of life.

Children grow.

I remember being smaller and how tiresome it was when grown ups exclaimed wide-eyed on ‘how much I’d grown’.  ‘Yes, I’ve grown’ I used to want to say, ‘and so have you’.  Or maybe that’s just in hindsight.

This phenomenal transformation is at its most obvious in the first year of life.  When he was a newborn my son was given a tiny, Tibetan hat by his globe-trotting godmother, which engulfed his grapefruit-size bonce completely.  A mere 8 weeks later and it perched jauntily on the top of his massive, milk-fat head.  Occasionally, after a really good post-prandial nap, I would go and gaze at him and HE WOULD HAVE GROWN.  In two hours.

Breastfeeding is another benchmark of this process.  In those early, primal, urgent days, his valiant efforts at latching on could be compared to me trying to suck on a beachball, his body curled frog-like into the crook of my arm.  Six months later and I am hoisting an enormous child under my top, with teeth (top and bottom), legs dangling off my lap and the appetite of a calf.

Seven years go by, almost instantly and at the same time, very, very slowly.

He is now in Year 2, he chats on the loo, his latest lego creation is an alien spaceship with detachable, laser blasters.  The upward trajectory of his body has been charted, inch by inch, on the back of the ‘cupboard-under-the-stairs’ door, along with his younger sister’s, and every now and then I get a nerdy desire to plot a graph, but have never had the time.

The practical result of all this ridiculous growing is that my children have gone through a vast amount of clothes, which once grown out of, went up into the loft.  Unfortunately, our loft has the climate of a rainforest and has the habit of dripping all over whatever’s up there, so eventually the time came for all the bags to come back down again before the contents grew legs and cllimbed down themselves.

I knelt on the floor of the spare room and reverently took out the contents.  Innumerable white vests with brown, circular stains round the neck, 300 pairs of sureally small socks, a white frilly top, skirt and nappy-knickers the size of a handkerchief and worn once.  The Winnie-the-Pooh hoodie, with pink, yellow and orange stripes that I put Daniel in because it had a hood with ears.  And with each item came an aching sensation of loss, because the babies that had fitted (however briefly) into these clothes were gone forever, recorded only on thousands of photos that clog up our hard drive.

'My son'

 

Being the eldest of 5 children I thought that motherhood would come naturally.  I had done my time as a ‘mini-mother’, pacing the floor, jiggling my youngest brother in the small hours when my mother had just had enough.  I had seen nappies being changed, food being wiped, until the whole process seemed boringly easy.

But then, before exactly planned, I became a mother myself.  Like all first time mothers I prepared for the birth like an exam; swotted, revised, and pretty much stuck to the birth plan.  The baby’s arrival into the world was meant to be like the graduation certificate, the guaranteed ‘A’ grade, the afterthought to the main event.

But it wasn’t.  Nobody had warned me that it’s only the teensiest, weeniest, first step of many – probably less physically painful, but equally hard.

Some of it was natural, such as my body’s aptly-timed release of endorphins post-birth, effectively giving me rose-tinted spectacles which fell over my eyes whenever I looked at my son, hence the shock, looking at photos a few years down the line, when he had morphed  from ‘cutely tubby’ to ‘slug-like onion-head’.

And there was the tigress-like protective instinct – overwhelmingly powerful and with no ‘off button’, which in the first weeks after coming home caused me to force ANY visitors to remove their shoes and wash their hands before entering the premises.

But a lot of it was learnt.  There was a steep learning-curve in the first few months, the parental equivalent of a freshers week, when I learnt the true meaning of ‘sleep-deprived’.  I learnt how to dress a tiny, windmilling arm, strap on a bewilderingly complicated sling, learnt which cry meant tired, hungry, frustrated, or sometimes, all three.  At the same time I learnt how to work as a team with my husband, how to make new and necessary friendships, how to smile when all I wanted to do was cry.

Pre-birth I was determined that I would not channel all my creative energy into ‘just’ being a mother, so in the first 6 months of my son’s life I started a book club, joined a choir and hand-embroidered a cushion cover.  I was also determined that I would not change as a person, but when the time came for me to think about going back to work after the maternity allowance ran out, I found that I just couldn’t imagine giving anyone else the privilege of watching him wake up from his lunchtime sleep with his rosy, fat cheeks and little smiles of recognition and love.  So, despite the financial implications (not good), I stayed at home.

Now I have two children, who are 6 and 4 and both at school while I’m still at home, although I’m very rarely in it, because ‘just’ being a mother is now the central role around which many others revolve.  I am Co-Chair, Editor, Committee member, Singer.  I am wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister and friend. Being at home for my children has expanded from the obvious day-to-day routines to fulfill all my physical, creative and emotional energy.

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