Recently I watched my friend L with open admiration as she breastfed her three-month-old baby while simultaneously coaching the three year old at her feet to do a poo in the potty. And I realised how far I’d come from the days of multi-tasking with my tits out.
We found ourselves discussing whether parenting really was “easier” the second time around. Most certainly, we both agreed we felt much more relaxed with #2 (why, with #3 I’m feeling positively catatonic!) but, as L wisely pointed out, no-one – no matter how many children they’ve had – knows what they’re doing during those first six weeks. Babies are newborns for such a short time, you never get a chance to become an expert.
My guess was that the difference with subsequent children was that you know that first six weeks is, well, the first six weeks. But with your first born?
Well, there you are, at the beck and call of this strangely furious creature who has no respect whatsoever for your need to rest while you recover from major stomach surgery or vaginal augmentation. And you trudge from the feeding chair to the cot to the change table and back to the feeding chair, all the while spraying breastmilk on everyone and everything in your wake and wondering if you’ll ever get out of your pyjamas again.
Yep, those first six weeks are all give give give, with very little return. The only thing you do seem to get are those cheerful pastel-coloured “Congratulations on your new arrival!” cards that arrive in the mail and just make you cry because everyone appears so happy for you and confident you can do this mothering gig and right now you’re not sure you’re going to make it through the week and you’d trade a vital organ for an hour of your Old Life.
And just when you resign yourself to the fact that the relentless grind and broken sleep and never-time-to-wash-you-hair for this Angry Little Dictator is what parenting is all about and this is how it is going to be FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER, the game changes.
At about six weeks, the smiles start, then the smiles turn into laughs, and then into the word “Mama!”. And then one day that once-was-baby winds their arms around your neck, hugs you tight and an “I love you!” tumbles from their lips, unprompted.
Rubbing chamomile ointment into razor-blade-slashed nipples turns into watching lovingly-prepared vegetable purees being unceremoniously spat out and then becomes a licked-clean plate punctuated by a “That was the Bestest Meal Ever, Mum!”.
Having a child burst into inconsolable tears when you leave the room and cling fearfully to your legs in Strange Places eventually gives way to them informing you that they don’t need you to walk into the school with them, followed by a discrete half-salute and the briefest but most knowing of smiles before they rush off into a wider world by themselves.
If I’m sounding uncharacteristically sentimental, it’s because my Mr Justice, my first born, turns seven today and I wanted to share a little of our journey so far as Mother and Son.
Only yesterday, Mr Justice announced with great certainty “I know exactly how many flies I’ve killed in my life: Two, Mum! I’ve killed two!”
And I remembered at the same age starting a list of all the films I’d ever seen and how I’ve forever wished I’d kept up with that list and often wondered how long it would be now.
Perhaps I should keep count of the flies for him and one day he’ll thank me for it. I hope there are other things he’ll thank me for, too because I certainly know I’ve got plenty to thank him for.
Happy Birthday, darling boy.