THE REALITIES OF PARENTING MORE THAN ONE
|Human climbing frame and bed.|
Babies change everything. Even if you've organised as much as possible for their arrival, nothing can truly prepare you for how your life is forced to reset once they're actually here. All of a sudden you are no longer in control of your time, your sleep, your personal space. Even if you try and resist it and keep your lives as "normal" as possible, there's not much you can do to prevent your life from suddenly and irrevocably revolving around your tiny human who depends on you for absolutely everything.
But then, that tiny human isn't so tiny anymore. They start to be able to do things for themselves, and while they're still dependent on you, they're not wholly dependent on you. You start to carve out a bit of time for yourself. You can leave them in a room unattended and get on with something else. You get some personal space back.
You start spending more quality time with your friends, your wider family and your partner again. And, maybe, as your evenings gradually emerge from the milky depths of sleep regressions, night terrors and toilet training (ongoing...), you might finally manage to have a conversation with each other which doesn't resemble a verbal to-do list. And perhaps you start to talk about the possibility of adding another tiny human into the mix. After all, your lives have already changed now, surely another baby wouldn't actually make that much difference to your lives anymore?
Reader, they would.
Getting pregnant with our second baby wasn't straightforward (although, compared to many others' conception journeys, it wasn't difficult). We lost a baby one Christmas, and the next Christmas we thought we'd come close to losing another. But she clung on. And, this August, Maisie arrived.
She arrived in a way that couldn't have been further from the truly terrifying way that Elliott made his appearance nearly four years ago. One day I'll write about Maisie's wonderful birth - it's been on my to-do list for months now - but I simply haven't had the time to sit down and express all of my powerful emotions about her birth in a way that does justice to the experience, the many people who helped me through it and my pride in myself for doing so. And this is why I'm writing this blog post today instead, as the year draws to a close and I reflect back on it. Because what I want to talk about at this moment in time is, well, time itself.
Because I - we - have no time at the moment. I am only able to write this because Maisie is having a rare long nap in her cot, Elliott is watching a(nother) film which involves animated animals and my wonderful husband is preparing dinner while he's off work for the festive period. Yes, he's spending his 'time off' doing housework so I can sit down for an hour. I love him. But I digress.
A lot's been said and written about this 'Twixtmas' period between Christmas and the new year so I won't bang on about it, but it's always been such a precious time of year for me. As an introvert - albeit a confident one (yes, it's complicated) - I depend on having time to myself to rest my mind and re-calibrate. So this time of year has got me written all over it. I don't leave the house much, I like to potter and tidy, I might do a spot of decluttering and I try and reflect as much as possible before the chaos of January kicks in. But, this year, it's been nearly impossible to do any of these things.
Having two children is Hard Work. It is also joyful and lovely and wonderful, but I can put my hand on my heart and say with complete honesty that I have never been so busy in my life.
The days are full and chaotic from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed.
Transitioning from a child-free life to life as a parent was life-changing (here's a beautiful piece of writing about it). But transitioning from a mum of one to a mum of two has utterly floored me. Yes, my life had already changed, but now it's full to the brim. The soup of parenting a young baby and a preschooler is thick with their constant, competing needs which don't overlap in any way. My own needs barely get a look-in, which is why I'm constantly dehydrated and feel like a husk.
To feed Maisie is all-consuming, but on top of that I have to cook something vaguely nutritious for Elliott as well as trying to feed myself. I currently eat my dinner (fish fingers and chicken nuggets on rotation) at 4.30pm with Elliott because if I don't eat then I don't eat full stop.
The laundry is never-ending by its very nature. But my attempt to reset our washing routine so that we simply do one load every other day was curtailed by my baby's sudden penchant for vomiting.
The cooking, the laundry, the nursery run, feeding Maisie, changing Maisie, household admin, the cooking, the laundry, the nursery run, feeding Maisie, entertaining Elliott. Constant, repetitive and demanding.
Andy comes home at 7.30pm from a busy day in the office and spends the next two hours trying to coax Elliott to flick his switch from on to off. Eventually, but always after 9pm, he eats. Then he passes out on the sofa. The same sofa I've been pinned to since he returned from work because Maisie won't be put down until she's had at least a couple of hours of fitful kip on her beloved mummy bed.
We don't talk to each other because that would wake Maisie up. We can't take her upstairs because that would wake Elliott up. And that would wake Maisie up. And so we exist, every evening, together but apart, in a hastily-choreographed routine of busy silence as that's the only way any of us can get anything near to the amount of sleep we need to do it all over again the following day.
Those with more than one child will be reading this and possibly thinking 'duh, what did you think it was going to be like?' But maybe they'll also be thinking 'thank God she finally understands and I can talk to her about it'. Please talk to me about it. Those with no children will be reading this and possibly thinking 'I just don't see how being at home all day can be busy.' And this is how I used to feel, too.
I remember being at work one day a number of years ago. A colleague had just returned from her second maternity leave to her busy, stressful, high-profile job. She was bouncing around the office with joy and I just couldn't understand why she was so happy to be back. "It's like being on a holiday!" she told me when I asked her how she felt about her return. I smiled and nodded but deep down I just didn't get it.
Now I do. Because I'd genuinely thought that, on maternity leave, you just got to sit around at home all day watching telly and going out for nice lunches with your baby. How going to work preferable to that?! But parenting is work. And babies aren't babies forever. It's a physical, draining, thankless slog with barely any gaps for (hot) coffee or lunch breaks or pleasant, quiet time sitting to yourself to think and create and listen to podcasts on your commute.
And, of course, this is what it's been like for (mainly) mothers since the dawn of time (with the exception of podcasts), so this entire piece of writing is just me stating the obvious. But until you've lived it, you don't know it. And this is me saying, finally: I know it. I understand it. Bloody hell. And I want to document this moment, because of how hard I'm finding it.
After a couple of difficult Christmases we decided to have a slow one this year. No overnight guests, no elaborate decorating or activities, just Christmas stripped back to its simple, meaningful bones with our newly-expanded family unit. We really needed it, but it wasn't without its sacrifices. We've not been able to do nearly as much, or see nearly as many people, as we would have liked. Sometimes it's hard to express to those we love and care about why we are currently less available than we usually are. It's because we are trying our best to survive, day by day. The children's needs fill up every available gap of time. We are constantly exhausted. This is our current reality. It won't last forever but right now we're in the thick of it.
As the new year approaches and the next term of preschool and its endless nursery runs to and fro, to and fro loom on the horizon, I can feel my blood pressure rising and the dread creeping in at the prospect of doing everything single-handedly again. So writing this is my way of telling myself to STOP. Stop with the dread, Hayley. Stop with the pressure, the worry of what others think of you, the constant fear of something awful happening. Because, right now, everything is lovely. Your daughter is sunshine, your son is astounding and your husband looks after you all in a way that makes your heart sing. Never forget that he needs looking after, too.
And, Hayley, you know all too well that some people will be reading this and wanting you to realise just how amazing your life looks to them.
Yes, life is busy, but it is so imperfectly beautiful. You'll look back on this time in years to come and weep, because you'll long to live it all over again.
I'm so lucky, and so thankful.
Here's to 2019.