This week a fellow mother of many, while telling how proud she was, described her first born as her practice baby. A touching sentiment that rang true to my ears. An effective analogy to the difficult learning curve in a first-time mother’s life. A time that no mother will ever forget. The tears and exhaustion being the most prominent in my memory. The hours spent with a baby at my breast hoping and praying that he may just fall asleep after this feed. In the hope that I may clear the destruction around me and even get to close my eyes for 10 minutes.
With my practice baby long behind me, I have become a mother of many. To string out a cliché, it really does get better. The next time you just don’t care quite so much. If you need to co-sleep its ok. Just so you get to sleep. If you need to go with baby lead weaning, not because it’s the latest thing, but because you don’t have time to make baby pulp. Then so be it. I baby lead my last three. That’s just life. A mother’s life. A stressed and exhausted mother’s life.
Lots of people ask me, how do you ever cope with five children. Well, sometimes I do wonder myself. I don’t have a trick or a fancy strategy. I just wing it. Day by day. Take one step at a time. I don’t have a routine. A farmer’s wife can’t have a routine. There is always some pressing task hidden around the next turn. But even as a mother. I don’t have a strict bedtime followed to the minute. I don’t have bath and bed strategy. My kids fall asleep in the car. They fall asleep on the floor. My littlest can pretty much fall asleep anywhere. Those of you who know him will laugh now in agreement. Your Grandmother is correct, they will sleep when they are tired.
I tried desperately to follow the rules with my first-born. I tried to make him eat and sleep at desired intervals. He wouldn’t do what the books told me he should do. There was always some super mum who would tell you her baby slept all night and was completely breast fed. She wears cloth nappies and has already planned weaning and potty training. Let’s get this straight, that mother lies. She may well have convinced herself that the imaginary life she leads in her own head is true. Don’t burst her bubble. Just smile and say that’s nice. No new mothers life is bed of roses. That bed of roses is riddled with many a thorn. You feel like you are alone. But really, you never alone. There are millions of other women, alone in the place as you are now. It is true. I know it doesn’t help. It won’t make you feel any better. But it is true.
I do say it gets better, and yes it does. The next baby isn’t nearly as difficult. But its will always be hard. My practice baby became my practice toddler. Then my practice pre-schooler, practice school boy and now my practice know it all, pre-teen. The practice bit doesn’t change. It is still new at the next stage. There is always a practice stage, no matter what. The second one round is just a little bit easier. But the last one is just dragged along for the ride. You calmly deal with the tantrum without blinking or caring what the disapproving bystander is thinking. You don’t care if they eat earth or sleep on the floor. You just carry on regardless. I may look chilled now but when this was happening 10 years ago I was holding back the tears.
I have a vine growing on my window ledge. It’s a very vigorous vine. It grows quickly. It drinks lots of water and needs lots of light. If I care for it correctly it will grow beautiful flowers and bear fruit. I think of this vine as like my life and my family. Its growing. Very quickly it gets out of control, attaching its tendrils to the blinds. That’s me, losing control of my vine. But I take a step forward and rein her back in. Carefully I twist and weave the new growth back into the framework. That’s me taking control. The new growth is vigorous and easy to care for. But the older framework of the vine is harder to keep. The leaves fall easier. They struggle for light and try to compete against the new growth. But they are there together. Their tendrils hanging on to one another. Supporting and carrying the new leaves to light. Thriving. The vine is a passion flower. It has never yet blessed me with a flower never mind a fruit. But I’m still in practice. One day I will get it right. But right now, I’m still reining in the chaos.