I have been a very flawed parent over the years, busy, impatient, a little too wrapped in my own agenda, tired, easily annoyed. Three things have altered that until the current, not too bad model emerged; the endless companionship, support and influence of my husband Max, who is the calm ordered opposite of my flighty self, time and experience ( because you have to be a very inattentive parent indeed not to improve a bit through 6 children) and the support of my friends, whose influence I happened to fall under. That happenchance, a fleetingly moment that sent me down a path, led me to home educating, led me to a yahoo group and eventually to a solid group of friends who are sister-like in many ways, shaped who I am, how I raised my children, how we are as a family, who these girls and this boy will be.
For want of a leaflet, the Internet, a holiday together, my children would have been raised only as I was, as the play group mums did, as I muddled through. I would be a smaller mother without them. My children would have shaped differently.
Once, long ago, I raged at the baby who wouldn't sleep, the toddler who destroyed, the marauding, furious tempest that clattered through our house and took our time and sanity and sleep. I longed for nights pleasing us again, the couple. I tried to sleep train, night train, mould and shape. I reprimanded for destroying and not learning to play, instead of distracting and teaching. I was a very poor mother indeed by my standards of today. A little too young, too selfish, not listening, not seeing. I broke my baby, trying to make her be who I thought she should be. I didn't learn quick enough who she was, what she needed.
But I learned. I learned to look and listen and carry and snuggle. I learned that babies grow fast, that 'this too shall pass' on long nights when nothing will fix. I learned, still too slowly, to revel in the moment, to sit on the floor, to celebrate that rascal and that princess, the girl in trousers and the girl in leotard. I learned to feed all night and that more sleep happens when a baby feels safe. I learned to see them as people, not shapes to be moulded or squashed into boxes. Surrounded by people with different parenting ideas and backgrounds, we figured out a way, imperfectly. With our ups and downs along the way, we figured out being a couple too, listening, forgiving, helping, talking. Most of all, we learned to be a team. I learned that its my job to choose to be positive and determined, Max learned that I can do anything if I'm supported, nurtured, encouraged and he has done that, tirelessly and thoughtfully. Food, drink, love, company, listening. Those are bigger achievements than can be written.
By the time we had Josie, we had parenthood figured out pretty well; by the time Freddie was lost to us, we had nailed being a couple. But it's only with Bene that I feel really confident that I have motherhood sussed out as much as I ever will (which is, in the scheme of things, barely at all 😉 )
The other week, after an evening when a poorly Bene had driven me to tears with biting, screaming, coughing and struggling till I was so tired and had overloaded on sensory input so much that I had lost all sense of humour, a post popped up on Pinterest that put my right back in my place.
“Babies cry for lots of reasons, but none of them are to make you angry”.
We've never done cry it out since it failed so badly with Fran, but that night I had had to put Bene in his cot and walk away, because I had just reached the patience brink where that is a safer thing to do. Even Max, patiently pointing out that I was probably not a failed mother in fact, on account of having all these beautiful children, had not managed to rally me. But that phrase did. It reminded me of all the things I've learned over the years.
He was sad. His nose was snotty, his throat hurt, his willy hurt, he was tired and nothing felt right. He was too hot, too cold, wanted me and didn't want me, wanted milk but it hurt to drink it and the only way he could tell me was to yell and kick me and bite. He wasn't trying to make me angry. He wasn't trying to steal my evening with Max. He didn't want to hurt me, he wanted to communicate with me. He hasn't stopped sleeping in his cot all night to spite me, he's moved back into our bed because humans like sleeping in company and he feels safe and warm and loved there. He doesn't like being on his own because he hasn't yet learned that we will be there in the morning. He likes to be cuddled, he needs to be safe and he only knows he's safe if I am there. And he thinks its funny to thump Max at 4am to see if he will play and it is funny, just only to him. His sense of humour needs some work.
He doesn't know he's been fed with me clenching my teeth on the pain of a bruised nipple all week. He doesn't know the cold will go and he will feel better. He's a very little human who hasn't had much practise yet who likes to be warm, safe, dry, full, happy and in company. That's not so much to ask.
Bene is nearly ten months old now. He's been in my arms, on my breast, in my view, in my bed for nearly every minute of that ten months. It's a bit of a sacrifice, to give up ten months, for Max to sleep on the floor for a lot of that, for my needs, Max's needs, our time together to come second. It's a bit annoying when he's bright eyed and bushy tailed at midnight. But it will pass. He won't always need me to feed him to sleep, he won't always be in our bed, he wont be crying at us to communicate in a years time as his only form of language. And it's been a hard, relentless year in many ways, especially on the back of six years of anger, grief, pain and fear.
But I know how it feels to have my bed empty of a baby when it should be filled and for there to be silence when there should be cries and I know better than to complain or wish it away. So I'll listen to his voice and be glad at how we grew and look forward to wrapping and moulding us around him as he grows up.