It was inevitable, this post. What it’s like now. How it feels.
There is a scene that plays out in our home every day.
Joel has been away for a long time – either at work, or at the other house, renovating. I am up to my ears in kids and mess and beauty and dirty nappies and paint mummy and food spills and love-sick staring. Joel comes home. He says, “How was your day?”. I stare back. He looks worried.
What a ridiculous question, I think. But I don’t say that.
Because it’s like this.
At 10:32 am, I am gazing at my children. I am soaked in love. Absolutely drenched. I want ten kids. Twelve perhaps, all stacked in bunk beds in every nook of our home. Nothing beats this, I think. This is everything, right here. I text Joel a cute photo of them. I instagram some happy moment.
At 10:39 am, I am clench-jawed and sweating. Literally, the sweat is pouring off me. Because it’s so freaking hot and I’ve been breastfeeding a sauna for the past 15 minutes, knowing full-well I’ll be stuck here for another 30. I’m trapped to the couch with a don’t-stop-feeding-me-and-certainly-don’t-think-about-putting-me-down-or-I’ll-scream newborn. Meanwhile, my other child wants water, wants paint, wants Peppa Pig, wants an apple, wants her nappy changed, wants me to cuddle her, and in the end, wants her daddy.
And I start to resent this baby, just a little, for taking me away from her – from how it was. When it wasn’t all, not now Ella and don’t do that and just hang on one minute and gentle Ella and no, Ella and stop, Ella. I want to paint her toenails and read stories in bed and play dress ups and take long bubble baths and give her a massage afterwards.
And then, with every tantrum she hits me with – and I’ve been hit hard lately – I start to resent her, just a little. For taking me away from him. From the staring and the smelling and the getting to know him and the outlining every feature of his with my mind, etching him deep into my memory.
I’m like a yo-yo as I fling between the two of them, and I realize that though they fill my day so entirely, I’m rarely actually ever with them.
And that doesn’t feel good to me.
And sometimes, by the end of the day, my senses have been so thoroughly ASSAULTED that I don’t actually want to be with either of them.
And that especially doesn’t feel good to me.
I realize now I need to be diligent with my choices, like I never had to before.
The challenges I now face, the questions now which hit hard are not why is she crying? or what the hell am I supposed to be doing? or what exactly just happened to my life? There is an ease to mothering now I find absolutely empowering. I feel so capable in reading my babies, in knowing what they need, in sacrificing so much of myself in order to love them the way I like to, realizing this extra-needy newborn phase is just that – a phase, which I will look back upon with longing, nostalgic for the very days I am in. I feel ferocious in my mothering now, more free to appreciate the beauty of a newborn, since my hands are no longer tied to wringing themselves with anxiety. The challenges I face now having nothing to do self-doubt or role adjustments. The challenges now are: how do I make moments count in the time-poor days I have? How do I feel connected to each of my children when my focus is continually split?
Some days are effortless. Some days everything comes so naturally, it’s like breathing. We all rest at the same time, entwined in each other like I spent months dreaming about. We find balance, and with balance comes those moments you stop and say to yourself, oh my god, look at my life. Inside, I feel driven to my knees in gratitude, making wild promises to stay down there for days.
But, like anything worthwhile, there is a whole lot of hard which underpins these moments of euphoria. Some days are not effortless. And those moments, mornings, days, or weeks, we need to make conscious decisions about how we shape our choices within them. In a time-poor, focus-spread agenda, we need – more than ever – to make our choices count.
I can choose to notice the dirty handprints on the mirror, or the little girl reflected within it.
I can choose to shout at her for dropping her lunch all over the floor, for making more work for me in my already-maxed-out life, or I can choose to remember she is a little girl trying.
I can choose to grow frustrated at the neediness of a newborn, or I can choose to remember he will be big and gone before I know it and I – like I do now with Ella – will nostalgically miss the way he fits into the crook of my neck, into the bend of my arm, across the warmth of my chest.
I can choose to give Ella a massage – like I promised – instead of filling the last hours of the day with cleaning, tidying and sorting, sending her to bed without one.
I can choose to spend hours of an evening pacing a dark room, trying to get my baby to drift off to sleep, or I can choose to go outside, to rock him under the moon, to walk with him through our neighbourhood, making special moments out of an otherwise tedious exercise.
I can choose to embed myself in their every moment, to keep flinging myself between them day in day out, or I can choose to have dates with each of them separately. To take my daughter to the beach, just us, looking for hermit crabs and collecting shells, me paying attention to the way she bravely runs into the waves at the shoreline now, no longer the little girl I knew. To lie with my son for an uninterrupted length of time, drinking him in like a big, thirsty sponge.
I can choose to ignore my daughter and vacuum the floors, do the washing, make the bed, or I can choose to jump on it with her, watching her eyes light up as she looks at me like, “Really?? We can do this??”
I can choose to put her in front of a television show, or I can choose to spend time painting with her, letting her loose with paintbrushes and – just for good measure – a whole heap of bubbles.
I can choose to spend the afternoon cleaning the house, or I can choose to jump in the car with my family, pick up some fish and chips, and spend the evening by the water.
There are so many balls to juggle. There are. And some balls – I realize now – just have to drop. They just have to. The biggest question I face now is: which ones?
And, like a good writing session always blesses me with, it’s clear now which balls I want in my hands and which balls I want on the floor.
I choose my children.
I choose my family.
And, if there is any room left, I choose this tent.
I choose to write and photograph and store memories and express thoughts, because it always, always makes me love bigger and see wider.
And that’s why I can’t answer the how was your day question. Because, my day? It was heaven and hell. It was high as the sky and it was deep, deep trenches. It was all and it was everything. And/both.
Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.
Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.