Last night I reread something I wrote a few years ago, when my third born P was a newborn baby. You can download it here for free, if you feel like it. The story was called Firsts and it was published by The Kindred Collective, an online magazine started by Caitlin Dyer (and perhaps a friend, from memory, apologies if I have missed someone!). I’m not sure why it didn’t continue as it was such a sweet collection of stories. In Firsts I describe giving birth, long days and nights mothering tiny little people, and daily cold cups of tea. As I read I remembered that part of myself: the mother who typed notes ferociously into her phone in the thick hours of the night, with a baby attached to her breast, the soft glow of the phone lighting up her face. I remembered those elongated days moving from activity to activity with babies and small children and the yearning I felt for adult conversation. Endless cups of tea and coffee being made, and cooled; rarely consumed.
In the story I wondered about those “capital M mothers” who launched children in and out of cars, who marched kids around and barrelled through life, parenting confidently with chins held high. I suppose now I am in the phase of motherhood that I imagined back then would come with this elusive capital M status. But I know now that such a thing does not exist.
In some ways, I look back and see myself as more of a mother then than I do now*. Now real life has begun to slip back in, to creep around the edges. I am no longer cocooned by my small babies. When you have babies, you can’t do anything else. You’re utterly consumed by it, and rightly so. At times in those days I felt a sense of desperation, of wildly clinging to ‘myself’, of feeling these small beings were stealing, wrenching me away. I would cry in the middle of the day, bury my head in my hands as a baby screamed for me. I would stomp my feet and tug back, demand to keep certain parts of myself for fear of losing me forever to these little creatures. At other times I would lay with a sleeping baby on the couch for hours on end, marvelling at her soft downy skin, her feathery breath forever linking with my own. The softness and contrasting brutality of days alone with babies and small children is something I will never forget. This is all part of the path and now that it is slipping away I long for it deeply. And forgive me for being slightly daft but it has only just begun dawning on me that that phase of parenting is virtually over for me. P is three and a half and while her moods can be murderous and I (still) very rarely get the chance to sit down when on duty, that physicality, the intensity that comes with being responsible for a baby has slowly faded away without me actively realising.
I held my four month old niece on the weekend and my body remembered. Afterwards, my own babies felt like giants in my arms.
As I move into this next chapter of motherhood my life is opening up in front of me again. I have been back at work for two days a week for over a year and when I’m there, I walk to get a coffee and eat lunch with my colleagues. I occasionally go out for dinner with friends and I don’t have to worry about expressing milk or getting a baby to sleep before I leave.
But this concept of firsts is still following me around (I hear more seasoned parents laughing, laughing). I might be better at hurling the kids in the car and getting-shit-done, but I still flail around constantly, deliberating over countless things: how to discuss reality and disappointment with an eight year old asking difficult questions, how to explain to a six year old that I’m only a human despite her biggest hopes, how to carve out time for a three year old who has spent a lot of her life trailing around after her big sisters’ school routines. I think and worry about the future – phones and high school and broken hearts and rebellion. Now I know just how fleeting their babyhood was, I try not to cling to these younger years, to just relax and enjoy and not worry about the next chapter ending.
Tomorrow I’ll be at home all day with my eldest and my youngest who are both fighting colds and sore throats. We will take the middle to school and come home and make ourselves cosy. I will deliver drinks of water and tasty plates. I will read books and decide what we’re having for dinner. I’ll put a wash on and spend the rest of the day telling myself I should hang it out.
And then I will make myself a hot cup of coffee, and I’ll sit down and drink it, in remembrance of my first chapter.
*Which I realise is completely ridiculous.