Brace yourself friends, I’ve got some news.
On Sunday, I left the house.
I actually got out of my yoga pants, blow-dried my hair all nice, and drove somewhere.
Even though driving with Ella is the fastest way to develop high blood pressure and heart palpitations I know about so far.
Even though it was pouring with rain.
Even though I have a child who is a little touchy.
Even though public outings evoke a code red on my baby radar.
My little family and I went out.
Now, just to clarify, it’s not like I spend all day in a dark room, clutching onto my baby for dear life, scared and paranoid about the Outside World. I’m scared and paranoid, friends, but the room’s not that dark. I do let sunshine in. I’m a good mum, you guys.
We go for walks every day. We play in the garden. We have lots of friends and family visit. But we don’t often do public outings. The kind where we’re amongst strangers in enclosed spaces. The kind where we might have to be civilized. The kind where we have to drive too far. Because, friends, we have under our care a little girl who gets a teensy bit stroppy. Especially when she’s tired, which is precisely every two hours. When things don’t go her way, she cries and she dummy spits and causes the most dramatic of scenes.
Honestly, I don’t know where she gets it from.
On Sunday, we made it to the markets in one piece, and since Joel was there for extra man-power, we could manage things relatively well. One of us had Ella if she ‘turned’, while the other could plaster a smile across their face as if to say, everything’s under control folks, nothing to see here, as they quickly order the coffees, buy the fruit and veggies, and navigate the crowds.
Joel was on buying duty and it was pouring with rain so I was under some shelter feeding Ella. It appeared to be community feeding time because I was amongst the many other mothers seeking out a place to plonk their weary backsides and open their tops, babies eagerly cooing in anticipation.
We all sat under the tin roof and politely smiled at one another. As we all looked on, it felt somewhat comforting. Like a club. Like a private understanding.
But, like always, when you have a baby swaddled in your arms, there seems to be an invisible sign plastered to your forehead which reads: ATTENTION: ADVICE WANTED, and although you can be sitting there minding your own business, baby-conversations inevitably begin. And, like always, the advice in these conversations comes free and plenty. I’ve concluded that my facial expression must permanently appear perplexed and lost, because even when I don’t ask parenting questions, or even talk that much, help and advice seems to be flung at me from all directions.
All you need is love. Love and patience. But mostly love. And then when they get older, just listen to them. Love and listening. Although you’ll still need a lot of patience too.
It’s important to get them into a routine. Have you read any books on this?
Love, throw every baby book away and just do it.
I followed the attachment parenting rules very closely and my child is now very calm – I’d definitely recommend looking into it.
You think you’ve got it hard now? Wait til you have two. You simply have to be organised.
And so on.
Honestly, you get a group of mothers together and the talk is a little heavy-handed on the advice-giving, in my opinion.
And I never know what to say in these situations because I find it awkward giving advice back, since I don’t know your baby so what the hell do I know what works for them. I mostly smile and say Oh really? Oh, you think? Of course, that makes sense, and other passive, fumbly responses. And all the while I sit there thinking in my head, I wonder who this woman is on the inside.
I wonder if she, like the majority of us, started off highly insecure about her job as a mother. I wonder if she sobbed and fumbled and doubted if her child loved her, if she was doing it right, if she could be more patient, more flexible, more intuitive, more giving, more practical. I wonder if, when she started figuring it all out, she felt so proud it was like she conquered mount Everest itself, and I wonder if all the consequent advice-administering was a way for her to say to herself, I know. I’ve figured out this whole parenting thing and I’m just so chuffed with myself that this news needs to be SHARED, people.
I usually get annoyed at advice-administers when they get on their soap boxes, especially when they haven’t been asked for it and especially when they are strangers, but when I try to think about who they are on the inside, it makes me kind of soften. Because the truth is, it’s such a life-changing experience, the business of raising children, and we’re all just hoping we’re doing it okay. The options and approaches can make you giddy with decisions, and as a result, everyone has their two cents worth to share.
So I try to be kind. I try to just sit back and soak it up, all this advice. Not necessarily because I’ll take it on board, but because it’s a nice thing to do. Because I’m allowing another parent to tell their story, to publicly announce the things they’ve learned and how proud of themselves they feel for learning them. Because it can get a little dark and a little lonely at times, and also because people can become very nostalgic about their babies who have since grown up. They want an audience and they want recognition. So I let them talk. I let them speak because I know that when my babies are grown up, or when they’ve reached certain milestones, I’d want someone to sit there just the same and listen to my story. The triumphs, the secrets, the tricks and the discoveries. It’s an awfully hard job and sometimes you just want that to be acknowledged and appreciated.
When I was sitting under that tin roof at the markets with Ella grizzling and whinging in my arms, another mum looked at me and said, “Look at all that drool! She’s not teething is she?” And I thought Sweet Mother of God, maybe I don’t have a stroppy child! Maybe I don’t have to count down the months in a panicked sweat until she hits the terrible twos after all. MAYBE SHE’S JUST TEETHING. Oh please let that be it.