Last Tuesday when my husband should’ve been working and I should’ve been taking advantage of naptime by at least looking at the chaos that is my home, we had a conversation over Facebook chat about my current writers’ block. He had this to say on the matter –
“I’ve noticed that it most cases your blog posts cover a distinct, important idea. Babywearing, PND, breastfeeding… All make for essential reading as well as being really engaging reads, but it’s obviously a limited resource. So maybe you need to just let smaller ideas in. A good day you’ve had, a bad day, stuff about Little T being ill, how he’s developed lately… It might be not what you intend the blog to be, which is fair enough, but I think people would be interested in your take on the everyday life of parenting as well as the big ideas. You have a brilliant take on things, and a great way of engaging with the reader. I guarantee that everyone will love feeling like they know you even better through the regular stuff as well as the exceptional.”
He’s right, but it isn’t so much that I need to say something big or important, it’s more that I often forget the overwhelming significance of the day-to-day, which is easy to do when most days are a blur of scattered Cheerios and episodes of Bing.
Little T is 18 months old now, an age of exploration and blossoming independence. His head is a mess of loose curls, his eyes are blue-brown-green and sparkly, and his laugh effervescent and sincere. He eats grapes by the tonne and waves with both hands when he’s happy. He insists on wearing hair clips and tossing his head from side-to-side like a tiny diva, and every emotion he feels shines unashamedly out of his face, bright and fierce.
He is awesome.
But there are little struggles, and they’re mine not his, things that on good days make me raise a quizzical eyebrow, and on bad can keep me awake at night:
Sleep is still a daily battle, though I’m loath to describe it as such because I’m on his side, not against him. At almost 19 months he is still taking two naps a day, both at least an hour long, usually longer, with neither taking place in a bed. He needs motion to fall asleep, especially during the day, so he still climbs in to his Stage 0 Maxi-Cosi Cabriofix car seat with his milk in his hand, nestles down and expectantly waits for someone to rock him.
We started using the car seat as a way to settle him as a last resort some time last year when he became too heavy for me to rock to sleep in my arms twice a day. Big T was still able to do it at night but I was struggling during the day to get him down for naps which resulted in an overtired baby and a fretful mum severely lacking in confidence. What started as a last resort became routine. The car seat worked and we were both happy. Ish.
The problem is that there’s a whole parenting culture out there telling me it’s wrong, that he should be napping in his own bed, alone, and without a dummy because OMFG his teeth will run rampant in a crazy dental pandemic across his face if he sucks something other than a nipple. He occasionally naps in the pram, even more rarely in a sling, and the trouble is if he misses a nap, THE WORLD ENDS. He is manic, grumpy and tearful, and cannot switch himself off come bedtime. Unfortunately this means that as I don’t drive I’m often confined to the house so I can reliably help him sleep and keep our little family ticking along as calmly as possible. Going out for the morning or afternoon usually means committing to a difficult, tearful bedtime with at least two members of our three person household crying and flinging themselves across the room in despair.
It doesn’t help when people suggest ‘making him’ nap just the once. First of all, I tried and it didn’t work. He was distraught. And second of all I still don’t believe in forcing my child to adapt around my needs. It’s hard work and can be isolating but when I see that the cost of my afternoon Starbucks’ latte and blueberry muffin is his wet and salty tear-streaked face at 11pm I know I’m doing the right thing by him. His sleep won’t always be like this. This too shall pass.
Another issue that’s currently niggling at me is that of food.
Some of you may remember my post last year about our journey with baby-led weaning and how after a slow start it suddenly ‘clicked’ and he was delighting in all kinds of tasty morsels as though he’d been critiquing Michelin quality meals since he left the womb. I was unbelievably thrilled. Being unable to breastfeed or even combination feed when he was tiny had left me feeling like a failure; I couldn’t even meet my child’s most basic need! Successful, happy weaning was essential to me to heal and move on from that early defeat. And I’d done it! He was eating well and enthusiastically. I hadn’t messed up this time! I read all about fussy toddlers who sometimes simply choose not to eat, for no reason other than that they’re toddlers and that’s what they do, and I looked at my 1 year old with his mouth stuffed with tarragon chicken and wild rice and thought, “That won’t happen with T!”
Except of course it did. Because toddlers.
I refuse to say he has ‘good and bad’ days because attaching a moral value to whether or not he eats is damaging (I speak from experience as an overweight woman with a complicated relationship with food), but some days he’ll only touch grapes and possibly cheese. Or fruit custard that he insists I feed to him despite never having been spoon fed before. He also refuses to drink water or any other variation (juice, squash, cooled herbal tea). And of course he’s perfectly fine, but I’m not. I worry. I fret. I’ve read Carlos Gonzalez’s My Child Won’t Eat over and over to try to imprint some sense onto my brain, but I regularly fall prey to the old fashioned motherly need to put food in people.
And finally, the last and perhaps most pressing issue for me at the moment is Little T’s speech.
Now I know there’s nothing wrong and he will get there in his own time, but I’m lucky enough to know some other wonderful little people and it’s so hard not to compare. So far he has seven words – ‘more’, ‘ball’, ‘hiya’, ‘duck’, ‘bath’, ‘apple’, and the ubiquitous ‘cat’, which is his catch-all word for any moving creature, including dogs which has made for some amusing encounters at the park (he also says ‘babbo’ when he’s holding on to his nappy cream but we’re waiting for that one to more obviously reveal itself). And while T is pointing at a neighbourhood pigeon and saying “cat!” it seems like other children I know are already reciting Konstantin Balmont and reading the Telegraph.
It’s fine. More than fine. He clearly understands things, follows instructions well, and likes to take the time to consider things before diving in. I love that about him, so why should talking be any different?
But there is a very selfish reason I want him to talk –
I want to hear his voice.
It sounds daft but every time he says one of his seven recognisable words it makes my heart sing. It’s like a taste of a part of him I’ve never known before, a sneak peak of all the conversations about beetles, clouds and fairies we might have one day. I’m drunk on it, that feeling of being a fraction closer to knowing who he is.
I realise now that my biggest flaw as a parent is that I’m impatient. I’m always desperately grasping for the next stage. But it’s not that I don’t enjoy where I am in the moment, it’s that I’m hungry for more, as though if I don’t experience it all right now then it might be taken from me.
But the truth is these moments are so precious because they’re fleeting. So what if he sleeps a lot during the day? It means I get to watch my beautiful sleeping child, have a cup of coffee and collect my thoughts. Our days are chilled out, there’s no pressure. And one day I’ll remember my son thoughtfully picking up a piece of chicken, frowning, then shoving it in his dad’s mouth and I’ll laugh to myself and wish I’d got to see it just one more time. And when he’s speaking in full sentences about dinosaurs my heart will ache for those one-sided babbling conversations he had with his toys.
The worst thing I can do as a mother is to wish any of this away. My son is perfect just as he is, right here in this moment, and I’m blessed to be able to spend these wonderful, frustrating, MADDENING, magical days with him. (But please remind me of that the next time he throws omelette at me and says, “baaabbbooommamamama!” because in that second I will almost definitely forget.)