I’m nervous about my return to work. Wobbly, even. Not least because the logistics of childcare remain a mystery to me even as my return date creeps ever closer. I can’t quite work out how it will work, and can’t find many other women with experience of working full time without a nanny or a partner working part time. But I’m sure I will, find more similar voices that is, and also suspect we, my husband and I along with our robust and adaptable lovely boys, will find a way to muddle on through.
Aside from the fear of the new phase, though, I got talking to some other parents about children, parenting, the loves and joys and fears and frustrations. Several parents of now adult children declared this was the very best bit. The most exhausting and tough but the most enjoyable and exhilarating too. I certainly believe it. I’ve mentioned before the strange sensation that envelops me when I realise these might be the best days of my life. But is life what I thought it was?
Parenting is so strange, and I can feel there is heartbreak around the corner. I type this as my youngest ‘settles in’. I partly hanker for him to hanker after me, but mostly want him to find his way even if he is so small in the baby room that I could weep for an eternity at how much I am missing even in these first few hours apart. I know that separation anxiety is a child development phrase, but fuck me I am sure I will never be used to how much I miss my babies when they aren’t in the room.
Being a mother is rife with instant nostalgia. I am a sap so very prone to this. I am always chasing, always falling behind, as they storm on growing and learning and laughing and lurching, pulling away from my ankles and heading off for new adventures. It seems to me in this oft declared ‘flying by time’ I am almost bereft in the moment my children hit their milestones because my mind clicks back to what feels like seconds ago, their arrival and birth.
There’s something astonishing about the cutting of the cord. It is so easily imbued with symbolic meaning – a child cut free, released, unleashed. And it is easy to read parenting as a never ending series of cord slashes as they tear away from us bit by bit becoming themselves. I was aware of the simple, everyday miraculous poetry of this well before I had children. But it never occurred to me that the moment, the cutting of the cord is powerful for other reasons.
I felt quite profoundly that the slice through the blue rendered me somehow irrelevant. Not completely surplus to requirements yet, but clear that I’d been given a sound reminder that my children, any child born, is themselves first and foremost. Unutterably and uncontrollably them from the start, even if they feel part of you for their first few months. It is both a slap in the face and an oddly reassuring release, to realise that you are half way gone, already the template for a memory mother, a person with the incredible fortune to have an imprint of yourself to hopefully tread the earth when you are no longer there to do it for yourself.
One friend I spoke to asked how on earth I could find space for two children to love. How the love for one can be separated and shared. I don’t have an easy answer. I open my mouth and flex my fingers and little which makes sense comes out: the most profound of questions expose my lack of skill in explaining. The best I could come up with is this – the first time a child was delivered to me, for all the fear and loathing and my sense that we both may die, for all the blood on the walls and panic, all the looming instruments and torn flesh, he changed the room.
That old magic trick of being born. Another person alive and kicking, another person there, so definitely there, and the solidity of that fact, his physical presence in and of itself, so real and palpable changed the world. Mostly, of course, for us. But actually, for everyone. Way to go newborn babies. Your very first squawk creates history.
You don’t even have to have seen them as they animated all waxy and wrinkly and small and big at the same time – I know mums and dads who for whatever reason didn’t witness this. But they, the baby, are enough evidence of this incredible moment for the world even in those circumstances. The symbolism exists: this is their moment.
I love Roberta Flack (or Johnny Cash) singing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. It reminds me of my scans, those tricks of the ultrasound light, all shadows and illumination which kid you into a narrative about the child you’ve created. Falsely suggesting they, this baby on a screen with your name on, are all yours. You have to feel like that when you have a baby inside you, it would be too terrifying and too alien to remember they are essentially both you and absolutely nothing to do with you at the same time. So you forget their themselvesness and imagine a world where you are in control of them and they are part of your story. And then bam, they are born, and over those early mind-numbing, cow-like, sleep deprived weeks it hits you. They have their own fish to fry, they are not you, not you at all, even the ones which look just like you.
The second time, the same unbelievable naked true Earth change happens too and you, more experienced as a parent, having been there before have the temerity again to forget the truth and imagine that this person, will be like the first one you made, and is following a narrative of others.
It is hard to avoid this, but you are a wiser parent than me if you weren’t hoodwinked all over again just the same, into forgetting that another child will be just as much themselves. The good news is this doesn’t mean sharing or duplicating or finding space in you to offer them love. Just as they fill the world with themselves as they take breaths unattached to you, so too you see a whole new world with them in it and are guided into that world to love them.