Ah, how the last five years have taken my idea of ‘how it is going to be’, delivered a massive reality check (i.e. kick up the arse) and left me laughing at the beautiful naivety of my childless self. So here, three babies later, are my gems of wisdom. Or at least the thoughts of a weary mama as penned at 4am.
The first baby brought the usual obsession about sleep. I now realise obsessing is pointless and a waste of scarce energy. What’s more I know it’s possible to doze upright while both feeding a baby and answering questions about why Curious George doesn’t wear clothes. Naps are sorted so.
Expectations of young babies ‘sleeping through’ are crazy. If there was one thing I’d tell new parents, it’s relax. Babies will sleep longer stretches in time as and when they’re ready. Even in the post-baby years most (honest) parents will say that their children frequently wake and need a reassuring snuggle or chat to send them off to nod again. This is normal, healthy and should be expected.
In the midst of that sleepless haze it’s hard to remember but the day will come when you’ll pull the quilt off a grumpy teenager to chase them out of their bed. So be sensible, smart and most of all be kind. And if your friends are telling you their bubbas are ‘sleeping through’ at two weeks you can (a) take it with a large pinch of salt, (b) hope their next kid is Damien, or (c) get new friends.
(Note to my own kids: in about 20 years time fully expect me to rock up to your houses about 3am, slightly tipsy, to have a good shout at you from the driveway. Particularly you Yoda. You have it coming.)
2. Rocky routines are the norm
Routines are great but the minute you think one is established a snotty nose, vaccine or night of heavy rain can set you back to the start. Don’t waste time obsessing about why yesterday didn’t go like today. These little humans have super-powers and an uncanny ability to sense that you intended to sleep / shop / get your hair done, in that 2 hour window when they napped in the last few days. Strangely they also seem to have unrestricted access to an espresso machine to make sure that nap doesn’t happen just when you need it.
Go easy. Be realistic and it’ll all come right.
3. Bodily fluids. They dry in.
My attitude to bodily fluids – mine and theirs, is reflective of an overall loss of dignity and reduction in standards.
Speaking for myself, my post-partum style seems to be based on those tell-tale damp circles on my top, misplaced breastpads which could actually appear anywhere (especially the sticky ones) and fairly routine exposure of at least one boob when a child stops feeding but I fail to notice. I was at least forewarned by a good friend about the post-natal sweatiness and would like to think that I’ve managed myself fairly well in that department. Likely, I haven’t but it’s a kindness not to point it out.
With Spiderman, a generous power-hosing with baby wee meant wholesale changing of clothes (mine and his). These days, with a repeat offender on my hands, the baby’s wet bits get changed but I find myself really quite ok with a dried-in-baby-wee-top and a smaller washing pile.
Baby poo is admittedly harder to disguise, but also evoking less of a ‘shock-horror’ reaction these days. Poo squirts are an occupational hazard but I’m hopeful it just looks like I love Dijon mustard and am a messy eater. A clean top tomorrow seems like a reasonable compromise as far as poo goes.
On puke I’m more vague. Not because I have any sort of higher standard but because I could count on one hand the number of times my greedy guzzlers have wasted their precious food stuff by bringing it back up. I’m pretty sure that if this was a feature of my day my usual low standard of presentation would win out.
4. About the house: less is more
These days clothes are shaken. Strategic dusting is done while on Facebook, and if it is a bum, wall, table, kitchen counter that you can’t use a wipe on, then I’m not interested. Dinners are made to measure too. I’m not making the rookie mistake of hoovering before serving up a chilli dinner only to see three paddy fields of sticky rice all around the house.
5. Befriend a feeder
Oh my food delivering hero friends have outshone themselves in the last few weeks. They are absolute necessity for any new parents. But hands off, get your own!
P.S. to my little clutch of feeding folk: Your tupperware is on the counter – and if you’re really good we’ll operate an exchange system: 2 empties for 1 full! The dinners have been fabulously received. Good job! And, as my Granny used to say to each of us when she thought no other grandchildren were listening,…’YOU are my favourite’!
6. Snacks save lives. Sometimes even your own.
Just as I try to get out the door, having fooled myself that everyone is ready-to-roll, someone needs grub. Often the toddlers, very often the baby and sometimes even a grown up. We are in a permanent state of munching. My latest healthy eating trick is reaching the bottom of the stash of jellies hidden in the car and not replacing them. Thank you. I am quite proud of myself.
Pack snacks. That is all.
7. Bring out the bare necessities. Bin the rest
The amount of baby related nonsense that is pedaled is ridiculous but this is best seen with the benefit of hindsight by someone who had to pay the wheelie bin charges to get rid of it all.
No new parent is immune. There’s a corner of the attic that is full of ‘essential’ items I convinced myself were necessary to raise a normal and functioning first child. I ‘may’ have found many of these things slightly late for Yoda. There is a (substantial) chance she may not have fully benefited from the ‘tummy time’ mat I dusted down for her at 9 months old. So far she seems quite unaffected but please don’t tell her as it’ll only add to her existing sense of martyrdom. Woodie will inherit these things as he leaves home at 34.
Beg, borrow, inherit and – as a last resort, buy.
8. Getting dressed is over-rated
Spiderman and Yoda adore spending the day in their pyjamas. I’m coming around to their way of thinking. Having spent far too much time in their early days squishing little arms and legs into ‘proper outfits’, I’m learning the error of my ways. Woodie is happily spending his days in babygros and I’m embarrassed it took me three babies to realise the folly of my ways. Yes, there’ll be a pile of newborn clothes that will never see the light of day but one less (useless) job for me.
For now, I myself will stick with this tired routine of day-time night-time clothing. But I reserve the right to change my position.
9. Do the necessary early, the maybe do nothing
I learnt early when juggling toddler Spiderman and newborn Yoda that the only way to guarantee a dinner on the table was to have it made by about 10am leaving only the last minute stuff which has to be capable of being finished with just one arm and while feeding a baby! That way even if all plans for naps and snacks, go to shite, there is at food at the other end.
These days, Spiderman and Yoda’s conflicts increase from minor squabbles to all-out-war during the course of the day so at least with dinner sorted I can use my ‘spare’ arm and attention for court-marshalling the most vicious offender.
10. Pick your fights
Sometimes there’s a line that can’t be crossed but more often than not high-level negotiating skills and a strong sense of defeatism serve me well in picking my arguments.
Three days out of seven, and in fact nights too, Yoda insists on wearing her favourite t-shirt. On day 4, a change is negotiated but she watches the laundry rack eagle-eyed til it’s ready for action once more. Ditto on dinners. We eat well but, of course, there are daily protests about something – whether it’s the intolerable use of purple cutlery for Yoda (it’s hard to get the help isn’t it?), or ‘yellow’ cheddar for Spiderman (an affront to his basic human rights).
These battles fall into the ‘life’s too short’ category. This may be my new mantra.
11. Work the crowd
Spiderman hates change and has to be handled expertly. With the right words he’ll do anything but handled badly he’s as stubborn as a mule. I’ve learnt that if I jazz something up as an adventure we’re onto a winner. The lastest example is the muslin bundles of porridge and lavender I’ve been putting in his baths for his chicken pox. He was having a melt-down at the mere idea of these until I called them ‘pox bombs’ at which point they became a new favourite. Two baths a day later, its Mama 1 – Spiderman 0.
Yoda takes the biscuit. The smarts of this little woman – who isn’t even three, are scary. She tells me she can’t tidy up her toys because she’s pregnant and has a sore back. Getting around her is tricky but do-able – and generally involves pretending everything is a race. Christ, what lies ahead!
Then there’s my husband. That poor fella firmly believes me when I tell him a nice stash of designer wool costs ‘about’ 10 euro. That I really do leave the house on time but that traffic was pants. And that I’ve had that top for ages. Another young innocent protected from the harsh realities of life!
12. Idiots should be ignored
The arrogance or confidence of experience means you can spot an idiot at fifty paces. My most repeated answers on the topic of how I raise my children are:
No. The baby is not sleeping through the night.
Yes. I am still breastfeeding.
Yes. The baby is still in our room.
No. I won’t ignore a crying baby.
No. He / she isn’t overfed.
No. He / she isn’t underfed.
Generally the people that ask the questions that go with these answers have a bit to say about raising my children. They aren’t really asking to hear the answer but to pose their own solution. And they should at all costs be ignored.
13. Stop and enjoy it. It goes so fast
It’s the cliché, but it’s so very true. We spend our first time as parents wishing on the next stage to start. Sitting. Crawling. Solids. Words. Steps. And so on. But as each stage starts, another ends and it won’t come back – for good and bad.
The real wisdom that has come with three kids is knowing this and trying to hold back the clock just a little so you can take it all in. It’s enjoying the days when you can walk the house with that baby on your shoulder propped up with one hand under their wee bum. It’s deciding the groceries can wait til tomorrow because it’s way more important you convert the couch to a blanket fort where you can all sit in your jammies eating peanut butter bagels.
I reckon that’s my only real wisdom but maybe the only one that really matters.