Today is Mother’s Day, and it is a good one. I love being Frida’s mama. It feels like coming home.
The wave she gives me when she opens her eyes in the morning. The joyful laughter that escapes from her morning, noon, and night. The playful games. The energy as she crawls around; the determination as she reaches something she shouldn’t really have. The cuddling at night, the demands for “boo”, the blue eyes looking up at me as she breastfeeds. The constant requests for books to be read. The pointing at what she wants. The fury if I dare to attempt to eat an apple without sharing. The wild sweaty hair after a nap. The shrieks of glee as I push her high on the swings. Her obsession with bananas (“ahnana!). The warmth of her little body lying on mine. The waving at everyone, wherever we are. Her toothy grin; her soft skin; her still-milky smell mingled with strawberry, garlic, grass.
Mothering is all-consuming. It is not, I think, for the faint hearted. It has sharply refocused what I want to do with my life, prompting some big life changes and lots of soul searching. It brings perspective; watching a tiny newborn turn into an active, babbling infant in front of your eyes serves as a stark reminder that life is precious and short, and that your baby’s days as a small dependent child are numbered. My daughter is nearly eleven months. It seems hardly possible.
I do my best to mother her with patience and love, gently, led by her. I try hard to play, to be silly, to make her laugh, to go outside as much as possible even when it’s rainy and I have a cold, to read story after story, to sing songs badly. Being a mother has encouraged me to ignore what other people think and do what is best for the small girl who relies on me.
I often ponder how different my mothering experience would be if I didn’t have the support that I do. My husband is a true partner in parenting; someone who will read parenting books and discuss them with me even though he works long hours and is tired and never gets time alone. He shares the nappies as well as the games, and is our daughter’s best buddy. Each evening when she hears his key in the lock she shouts “dada”, drops whatever she’s doing, and crawls away from me towards the front door. He gives me space to have a bit of time alone, enough to refill my cup so that I can parent energetically and mindfully, and is my biggest cheerleader when I am feeling stretched and filled with self-doubt and that enemy of mothers, guilt.
I also have two mighty mothers in my life. My mama is a constant source of love, joy, and inspiration, and it’s so comforting knowing she is always at the end of the phone – and that she believes in me. My mother-in-law is a badass role model in being at the top of your game career wise and still finding the energy and love to put your family first and I so hope I can be a bit like her when I grow up. They are truly wonderful women who offer patience, guidance and kindness, and Frida is so lucky to have them to look up to.
I also have met the most brilliant “mum friends” both online and off, who have held my hand and provided me with advice, made me laugh, listened to me, and ensured that my long days at home with a child have never been lonely. Women are told that we cannot get on, that we must bicker and compete and be bitchy and judgemental. Utter nonsense. The other mothers I know are kind and fierce and I know they have my back.
Still, even surrounded by love and support, there are also bits to mothering which are hard, oh so hard. I find the lack of space and time to myself very challenging. Frida sleeps with me, feeds from me, naps on me, is carried by me when we go outside, and stays close to me when she plays. I am no longer master of my time – I’m not even master of when I can shower, or if I can have a hot cup of tea. I also miss having long stretches of time alone with my husband, without her. But this period won’t last forever, and as the string between us stretches out and gets longer, I know I will miss these days. One day she will never again fall asleep on me, a sentence which breaks my heart a little bit. I am trying to embrace the fierce intensity of this parenting season without wishing it away, because once it’s gone, it’s gone.
I also struggle at times with the practicalities of being at home with a baby all day. The playing, the outings, the meal times, the snuggles; all of these things are amazing. But the constant loads of laundry, the thrice-daily wiping of the highchair and the table and clearing the dishes, the tidying and keeping the house clean and orderly; these things can be skull-crushingly tedious. I do try and find joy in them, remember that they are important tasks to make our family life run smoothly, to keep my daughter’s environment pleasant, but it’s not always easy.
Mothering is the toughest job I have ever done. As the cliche goes there are no sick days or holiday days and the pay is awful and the overtime is non-negotiable. But it is definitely the most rewarding job I have ever had and I’m very, very lucky to have it.