This is the last month that, when asked how old my little one is, I can respond in months – without making everyone around me cringe, that is. He feeds himself his own breakfast and is an expert in washing his hands. He remembers little stories from his life and could spend hours throwing stones into the sea. Just this morning, he told me he was ‘sad’ because I had taken something away from him (#emotionalliteracy) and he is using new words every day – this morning, he was working on ‘milk, please’ and having a full-on conversation with the postman about his ‘buggy’ – and as he adventures in the world each day I can tell his grip of my hand is a little looser. Okayyy Gemma – stop before your tears cloud your vision so much you can’t write the rest of this!
I remember being worried, when he was tiny, that I wouldn’t love any stage as much as the first; but I needn’t have worried. Each stage has achieved the impossible and been better than the last. New mums, take note: you don’t need to worry, I promise.
Motherhood, and the one who made me a mother, have become two of my life’s greatest teachers. These first two years have stretched me, changed me, moved me in so many different ways. I wanted to jot down the five biggest lessons I have learned while they are still fresh, as I have a feeling there are many more to come!
Particularly in the early days, we just lived from hour to hour – sometimes minute to minute! – responding to Baby B’s needs, taking in his ever-changing face and cooing at his clever tricks. And there is nothing like a baby to teach you about immediacy! If he needs attention, or comfort, or food – he needs it pretty urgently.
As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about the future, it has been so good for me to just take in these moments with my babe. Our best days together are when we can be present together without worrying about things that have gone a little skew-whiff or to-do lists for later.
And he grows so quickly: it’s as though if I blink, he grows a little taller or works out how to do something new! Every moment, every stage, has beauty to be discovered within it, without the shadow of the past or pull of the future to encumber it.
I believe that the greatest gift we can give our children is connection. It is what allows them to thrive. And we can’t fully connect if our minds are elsewhere.
Done is better than perfect
I have yet to make it to church on a Sunday morning looking entirely put-together (it’s my vital and very precious lie-in morning!) My house-keeping rules are poison no one and starve no one. Although Baby B’s little set of socks which includes one pair for each day of the week is pretty darling, he’s lucky if both feet match, never mind coincide with the right day.
I used to torture myself by writing to-do lists on my phone, secretly competing with myself to get them done…while learning to nurse a newborn, or help a tiny toddler learn to walk, or, y’know, function on no sleep. I now know that if the essentials are done and we reach the end of each day in one piece, my job is done. For a recovering perfectionist, this has been a pretty major lesson.
Let it go
‘Maybe tonight, he will sleep longer than 45 minutes’. BAHAHAHAHA. Oh, dear one. CS Lewis is quoted as having said that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, but I would argue that expectation is. Trying to anticipate a baby’s next move is like trying to catch water in a sieve; and trying to live up to your/other people’s expectations of you is a race you will never win. When you let go of them, you are free: you are suddenly released from wishing and worrying, into an acceptance – and maybe even enjoyment! – of the way things are now.
I am capable
I feared my body was letting me down when I was sick during pregnancy. I worried having a c-section meant somehow I wasn’t capable of giving birth ‘the normal way’. I worried I didn’t have enough milk, couldn’t function on little sleep, wouldn’t know how to teach my little one how to be a good human. Let me tell you something: mums are AMAZING. We are capable of so much more than we think. We are doing this.
With almost-brushed hair, meal plans and shopping lists on our phones, babies on our hips, careers on the go, 3 hours of sleep in the tank, childcare organised, healing wounds, friendships and family relationships cared for, bills paid, original art displayed on our fridges, little ones sleeping on our chests, dozens of books read each day, baby massage techniques memorised, teary cheeks dried, votes cast, dentist appointments made, kids (mostly) kept on the shore…
You’ve got this, mama. You really have.
Life itself is grace
I’ve never been more aware of the fragility of life. Becoming a mum has taught me not to take it for granted. From hoping with everything in me that there would be a heartbeat to listen to, to signing my name beneath the risk factors of a c-section, to birthing a tiny baby in the middle of winter with all the bugs going around, to studying the rise and fall of his chest those first nights, to watching him take his first steps and comforting him after his first fall, to teaching him about how to stay safe in the world: I have learned that every breath is a gift from God.
‘In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.’