Sunday 25 June 2017

Doing it for the Kids

You never really know what you're doing as a mother but often just doing it is enough

Sarah Caden
Sarah Caden

Sarah Caden

When my elder daughter was born, she resembled Steptoe Snr. She was a few weeks early and hadn't laid down the fat that babies gain in the last stretch. Or so they told me. I didn't know that in advance. I knew nothing in advance.

There was never a baby at home when I was growing up. On my elder daughter's first day, the patrician Cork paediatrician came in, stripped the child, dangled and stretched her, and then told me to dress her again. I didn't know what to do.

"Have you never dressed a baby?" he asked, incredulous that I had got well past 30 without achieving this. Until that moment, this hadn't occurred to me. I'd never changed a nappy, never dressed a baby, never had much to do with babies at all. It occurred to me, all of a sudden - while the paediatrician dressed the baby, much to the amusement of the midwives - that I couldn't do this.

But, then, there was no choice. The choice bit was past, and it was all more seat-of-your-pants, more frightening, more satisfying, more frustrating and more life-affirming than anything I might have imagined. But, still, coloured with more moments of, "Oh, no, I can't do this", particularly when the second daughter was born with Down syndrome.

Then, in the minutes after they told me, in the minutes after her birth, I might well have been screaming out loud, "I definitely can't do this!"

All that matters, maybe, is that while you never really fully grasp what you're doing in motherhood, or whether it's right, or where it's going, you just do it. And you keep doing it. And just doing it, as opposed to trying to work out how it's done, is what makes up a life. Your life, as it ticks away too fast in the years of your children's lives. And your children's lives pass as they compose your endless efforts into an inevitably imperfect snapshot of their childhood.

And, as you go along, you realise that parenthood is an endless process of rug-pulling. You get a handle on something, such as nailing a daytime nap, or getting three mushed-up meals into their gummy mouths, or getting them to stay in their beds, and then the rug is pulled out from under you.

Because suddenly they don't need the nap anymore, or they suddenly don't like the papaya or the fish pie that you were so smug about, or they won't get up for school. And they never warn you in advance, they just change. That's their job and your job is to adapt. Even if you're thinking: "Oh no, I never signed up for this. I can't do this." Because you can. And you will. And because this is it.

And then there comes a day when you hear yourself telling this to some new mother with that tell-tale tone in her voice. She has reassured you that it's all going great, and the baby is a joy, but the self-doubt is there.

It's there when new mothers say the baby's not responding to a desired feeding schedule, or a sleeping regime or a don't-go-like-a-surfboard-when-I-try-to-put-you-in-the-pram plan. These new mothers ask you because your children don't seem to too damaged by your mothering efforts, and you realise that you have only one important bit of advice.

You tell them that this will pass - much too fast, this will pass. It will pass so fast that they'll wish that their child still needed a bedtime story read to them, or watched TV on their lap with a stinky teddy in their face, or couldn't let go of their hand at the classroom door. And you tell them that they can do it, because they are doing it.

The best advice is that just throwing yourself into doing it - that's all you can do. It won't be right and you won't be perfect, and your child won't be perfect either. But you'll have done it. Together. They'll forget a lot of it, because that's their job, but you won't.

I got the hang of getting the babygros on and off Steptoe Snr by the end of her second day in the world. One of those babygros is on a baby doll now. It looks so small, and the seven-year-old looks so grown up. We did it, I suppose. So far, so good.

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