It’s officially begun.
With the emergence of a defined baby bump – one stuck on the front of a woman already holding the hand of a little – the invisible sign on my forehead has suddenly appeared which reads Advice. Quick. Give It To Me.
“Get a special box of toys for Ella,” I was advised on the weekend by a woman I’d just met. “Full of all her favourite things. Every time you nurse, she is allowed to play with the things in it. This will keep her occupied and out of your hair. As soon as you finish nursing, put the box away. It’s the special nursing box only.”
I smiled at this woman because I liked her tip, but mostly because I knew the second round of unsolicited parenting advice was about to hit.
Two years in, I have perfected the art of receiving advice about the raising of my children. I know how to listen openly to all sorts of unsolicited input, especially in places I never expected to find it. I know how to pay attention to parents whose style I like, and I know how to ask them questions about things I might be struggling with. I know how to deflect advice I don’t agree with – sometimes with humour, sometimes with assertiveness, sometimes with a nod of my head and a compassionate smile. I don’t get worked up about the flood of advice-giving anymore. If you are a parent, you are public property. That’s just the way it is. And people mean well. People aren’t trying to say you’re a crap mum. Sometimes, people who have trodden this path before us are simply wanting to re-live their early parenting days. And sometimes, they are just trying to say it’s a hard gig, ain’t it? One helluva ride. Here’s what I learnt along the way. It might help.
In preparing for baby number two, I’m open to advice — everyone’s best tried and tested top tips on juggling the logistics of caring for two very small people. In fact, if you are a multiple-child veteran, let me know what you found most useful. I’d love to hear what you’ve learnt. At the very heart of it though, my attitude is less about planning and prepping and panicking myself and more about the wise words of Nike’ – just do it, baby.
When I was pregnant with Ella, I read enough parenting books to stock a city library. I asked a lot of questions and I talked to a lot of people. I planned and prepped to every inch of possible parenting pitfalls, mostly because I was excited but mostly mostly because I was scared shitless and full of insecurity. In the end, all the things I planned for and worried the most about never eventuated, and things I never even thought of nor prepared for eventually became the things I found most challenging about the new role I found myself in.
Before Ella was born, my biggest worry was losing my identity. I had been working as a natural therapist for five years. I was good at what I did. I was booked out. I was making good money. Finally, in early 2011, I had gathered enough courage to tip toe out on a limb and start my own business. It took off so rapidly I was both shocked and immensely proud of myself. Underneath the stress and exhaustion lay a deep satisfaction. I was a successful businesswoman. I was doing it. I dreamed of where it could take me. The health centres I’d open. The retreats I’d run.
Four months later, I found out I was pregnant. It was a shock, to say the least, and although with time, I would sit in her all made-up room dreaming of the day I could finally meet her, weeping because I’d never been happier, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my doubts. What would happen to the life I’d built for myself?What will my life become? Four walls and a crying baby? What if I didn’t like being a mum? What if I resented her? Look at all these things I’ve given up. What if I don’t love her? What if she doesn’t love me? What if I don’t have what it takes? What if I want out? What will I do? Looking back now, I laugh at these thoughts I had. Legitimate, sure. A perfectly normal reaction for first time mothers transitioning from the life they have to a life they know nothing about. Still, those thoughts couldn’t be any more opposite to what actually happened when I became a mother. The point is, I had anticipated none of it. None of my feelings. None of the pleasure, security and identity I’d find myself immersed in once that baby was in my arms.
In the end, the most challenging things I experienced in new motherhood where those which took me by complete surprise. What I hadn’t accounted for was the frenzy of arms and hands that wanted my baby, and how I was supposed to navigate the dynamic of family members and grandparents wanting their slice of the pie, and advising me on how to eat mine. Through months of tears and hard conversations, we learnt to establish boundaries which gave us space to figure our baby out, fall in love and find our feet. Just the three of us. This is the greatest thing we could have done, because for every book I read and piece of advice I wrote down, I see now that while a little bit of parenting is learning from others who have forged ahead of you on this path, the great majority of it is learning your own baby and following your own instincts. And nobody knows a baby better than her own parents. It was a tough time. Grandparents learning how to be grandparents. Parents learning how to be parents. Babies learning how to be alive all on their own. The point is, I had anticipated none of it. None of my feelings. None of the ways in which this baby would change not only me but the people in my life.
Just the other week, I was sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s surgery. Ella was on my lap, baby doll in her hand. Without speaking a word, she was telling me that she wanted to take her doll into one of the unused doctor’s room, put dolly on the bed and put her to sleep. I told her that we couldn’t take dolly into another room because we were about to see the doctor, but perhaps dolly would like a sleep in my handbag instead? Suddenly, the woman sitting next to me caught my eye. She smiled, in that warm, crinkly eyed kind of way and she said, “You forget about the unspoken language you have with your kids when they grow up. I had no idea what she was saying just then, and yet you understood everything. But then again, you are her mum.”
I got all choked up, there in that waiting room because suddenly I realised that that there- what she just said – is the thing I love the most about this whole mothering gig. That we talk without words, my baby and me. That I know what she’s thinking. That we are two separate people and yet we operate as one. And for the love of all things holy, I was the mother of this beautiful girl. I was the one who was lucky enough to be sitting there in that doctor’s surgery knowing that she just wanted her dolly to have a sleep.
Time, love and instincts are the only factors which lead to this kind of bond – and I know that baby number two will be no different. So, I’m just going to do it, thank you very much Nike’. I’m not going to think about it too much. I’m not going to plan and prep and worry and organize. Chances are, the things I anticipate will be void anyway. I’m just going to love like it’s my job and I’m just going to figure it out as I go along. And when love and instincts aren’t quite cutting it – and Lord have mercy, they certainly won’t some days – there is always, always pizza. Home-delivered by the lovely folk at Crust and washed down with an icy cold beer.
So you see? Everything’s going to be fine.
Leave me your best tip though, just to be sure.