Growing up

They say children grow up while you’re looking the other way. Endless days and nights, short, short years. So close -literally and emotionally – as we mothers are, the constant subtle, tiny changes are almost invisible until you take a step back and see your tiny newborn has gone way past the fourth trimester, out of babyhood and lurching unsteadily towards toddlerdom.

The smaller you are, the more you change – the more there is to develop. There is everything to learn, everything to grow. Babies change and develop at a phenomenal rate, comparatively. New and amazing things are learned all the time, some that we see, some which are going on inside that tiny pressure cooker unbeknownst to the outside world. And yet with all this awe-inspiring development going on, it is is easy to get bogged down in trying to keep your baby from putting their hands in yet another pooey nappy, in the daily drudge of feed/sleep/change/soothe/clean.

I am as guilty of this as the next person. Perhaps more so, having thrown the dice and drawn a baby who sleeps fitfully, wakes regularly and makes a thousand demands on my time when all my body cries out for is sleep. So it is worth, every now and then, standing back and trying to see beyond the hazy fug of here and now and every day to the bigger, bolder picture.

In the last two weeks, my baby has changed. A lot. It seems she has almost grown up over night. She was a toothless wonder. Now her first two teeth have broken down. She was happily immobile, preferring to sit and endlessly examine things than work on getting from A to B. Now she has developed a graceless but highly effective split leg crawl, half way between a bum shuffle and a normal crawl. Nothing is beyond her reach. She used to communicate largely by high-pitched pterodactyl noises interspersed with Walking Dead style growling, with the occasional tired and tearful mumumu. Now she is babbling away making recognisable sounds.

No doubt her brain has been working on all these things for some time, but they appeared almost unannounced. Maybe they were the cause of a few wakeful, restless and fretful nights, the explanation of at the time inexplicable sadness. I will never know. There is too much going on in that developing brain for me to ever be able to say x was caused by y. That’s okay, though, I don’t need an explanation. I do, however, need to let myself sit back and enjoy this (while obviously running around removing all the new hazards which mobility brings) because quick as a flash and it will be something new. The wonder of her first unsteady shuffle across the room will be forgotten, the memory replaced by a new skill, a new challenge. I will try and seal it inside me, that feeling, the pride, the shock, the swell of emotion. But that daily grind will erode my ability to pause and admire that glorious, ever-changing picture.

This new phase was all initiated by my daughter. At the same time, I have forced a new order upon her. This week she has started at nursery. She has spent her first full day apart from me, fallen asleep in someone else’s arms for the first time, taken food from a stranger and milk from a bottle. She has done remarkably well. I too seem to have coped, so far. But the timing fascinates me. Just as she has given me so many new things to deal with, in turn I have given her a whole new routine. As she grows up, constantly and irreversibly, I too need to grow strong enough to see through changes in our way of life, our daily routines, our time together. I may not cry and whinge and fuss all night long in readiness for the change. But these changes will affect me in no less a way. I hope that we may grow together and thrive and flourish.

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End of an era

Yesterday I officially returned to work after over nine months of maternity leave. It was the end of an exhausting, busy, fleeting, yet endless time of frustration, joy, tea, cake, sleep deprivation and laughter. As it is Easter holidays I am not actually back at work but it seemed a good moment to reflect on what I have and have not achieved.

Lots of mums see maternity leave as a challenge – or possibly a void of days empty of adult company to be filled with something, anything. Or they want to make something meaningful of their time, which is obviously a laudable aim. I’m not sure I set myself any particular targets, but just for fun here is a list of things I did NOT manage to do during maternity leave:

Write a book
Learn a new language
Take my daughter to a regular, educational group involving more than tea and biscuits for myself
Put make up on before leaving the house
Shower and wash hair every day
Carefully coach my baby to learn new skills such as clapping, waving, crawling and meaningful babble
Visit museums, historic buildings and places of interest so my daughter could absorb culture by osmosis
Plan an activity to take us out of the house every day
Teach my elder daughter to ride a bike
Dress myself and both children in tasteful outfits which complement each other
Leave the television switched off except for specific occasions
Keep the house clean and tidy and the clothes beautifully ironed and pressed
Sort through and selectively dispose of the thousands of pieces of ‘artwork’ my daughter has created

But on the plus side, here are a few things I DID do during maternity leave:

Feed both children, myself and my husband every day
Get the children up, dressed and to school during term time
Get the children up and dressed the rest of the time
Experiment with new breakfasts – thank you eggy bread for coming into my life
Manage a possible reflux/ dairy intolerance
Hold it together while my husband was suffering from a serious mental illness
Wash, dry and put away everyone’s clothes
Use reusable nappies
Read with my elder daughter every day
Venture to new places to meet new people
Make dozens of virtual friends who have become very real
Hold a million beautiful babies
Hold my beautiful babies
Help my daughter sleep through the night (which is the subject of another post)
See my elder daughter grow into a proper schoolgirl while attending parents’ evenings, literacy and numeracy workshops culminating in her shock win at the Easter bonnet competition
See my baby grow from a tiny newborn to a person in her own right with her own unique personality
Soothe a thousand tantrums, wipe away a river of tears, kiss away pain that I cannot see or understand and rock and cuddle sadness into oblivion

I think I can find meaning enough in there. Maternity leave is not housework leave. Most of us will not have time to start anything new or complete any big projects or fulfil any ambitious goals. The mothering part of maternity leave is pretty full on and full time. And it won’t stop with my return to work, although I can thankfully relinquish some of those tasks to others.

It has been a blast. Filled with cuddles and kisses, laughter and tears from all of us, minor and major crises both averted and confronted. I won’t ever have this time back again and I don’t regret any of it. The next phase will have new difficulties, frustrations, excitements and rewards. I hope I am up to the challenge.