Becky Leila and Asher

 Name: Becky

Leila (6) and Asher (3)

Location: Manchester

Previous blog entry:

Life since the last blog post: When the last photographs were taken, I was on maternity leave with Asher, our second child. I was at home five days a week with a pre-schooler and a baby, and running on minimal sleep and maximum cake. Looking back, I can see that it was the hardest I have ever worked, but it was also a much simpler time. It was the time before either of them went out into the world, and I was barely in it either. My world revolved in a very small orbit around the two of them. It was a strange, sweet bubble.

Now Asher is three and Leila is six, and life is much more ‘normal’. I go to work, my partner goes to work, Leila goes to school (which apparently makes me an actual grown-up, I realise with a jolt every time I sit on a tiny plastic chair at parents evening, or pair up little white school socks), and Asher is deeply in love with his fantastic childminder. The week is a finely-balanced house of cards which, with one vomiting bug, one last-minute work trip or one forgotten school dress-up day, could collapse around us. The magazines call it juggling. I think of it as juggling jellies on a treadmill. 

But somehow there is more room in my life for other things now, too. For friends, and going to bars after dark occasionally, and exercising, and doing the things I enjoy that don’t involve the children.

The thing is, I love being a mum, and I love going to work, and I love having more of a life of my own- but still, by the end of most days, the combination of it all leaves me wanting to stand in the kitchen shovelling pasta into my face straight from the pan, before falling asleep on the floor.

Motherhood since last being on the blog: Watch me tempt fate recklessly, as I tell you that it is easier now (it’s still hard. But it’s easier). They sleep! They eat normal food! They take themselves to the toilet! Going away for the weekend doesn’t require a Winnebago of specialist equipment! The prospect of spending a whole day or weekend alone with the children isn’t laced with a slight, guilty sense of dread. Instead, I look forward to hanging out with them, having conversations, rejoicing in watching the friendship between them grow (and trying to ignore the bickering), and seeing how long they will let me smell their hair on the sofa before they make me play a game where I am a dog with an American accent.

The way motherhood has changed and is changing surprises me daily, as do their unfolding personalities. They are mine, but they are not mine- they are wholly themselves. So somehow I have ended up with a daughter who protested during the ‘stranger talk’ that she LIKES talking to grown-ups she doesn’t know and meeting new people (I birthed her, so I know she is mine, but we are so very different); and a son who loves to put on a sparkly dress and charge around muttering dramatically ‘I’m Queen Elsa’. And while it’s our job to teach them how to eat with cutlery, be kind, tie their shoelaces, whistle, click and ten million other things (seriously, so many things!), we can’t teach them who to be. They are just themselves.

There is much more disciplining of children involved in motherhood now- as well as the terrible pressure (internal, societal, and from the Internet At Large) to get discipline right. There’s no parenting fail that stings as badly as a discipline fail. Like those times when I start off talking in a calm, firm tone like Mary Poppins, but when I have repeated the same sentence nine or ten times, the flame inside ignites and my voice SUDDENLY RISES TO A VERY LOUD SHOUT; or the time when one of us, I won’t say which (it was him) told the children that they would never watch Frozen, ever again. There’s no guilt like wondering if you have accidentally screwed your child up for life by mishandling those times when they act like an arse, when the next moment you see the way the sides of their mouth have fallen and their fat little cheeks have sagged at your reprimand, and you remember that they are only just starting to learn how to be human, and you know for a fact you are not just the worst parent in the world, you’re the worst person ever.

Has motherhood changed you? I’m poorer, and happier. I’m calmer, and frazzled probably 70% of the time. More motivated to follow my dreams, and lacking in time to do that. Less sociable, but less shy. I’m braver, and terrified to the core of my being. Stronger, and made fragile- because if they break, so do I.

I cry more often and more easily- Asher’s elbow can bring me to tears, for God’s sake, with its dimples and its silky skin and the way it is so defenceless and small; but I’m less frequently sad. 

I have many more grey hairs, and my formerly-toned abs are now…not so. I see more than ever how stupid it is to care about these things, but I care about them much more than I thought I would. 

Hardest parts of being a mother: This is where I should say something about being tired, or the constant demands, or the endless post-apocalyptic sprawl of Lego that covers the floor; the kind of complaints, shared with an eye-roll and a smile, that all parents can relate to (apart from the smug gits, who can just keep quiet).

And those things are hard. The pre-7am starts, day after day, are hard. . I’m constantly amazed at how explosions of mess can erupt in my wake even as I tidy up. And I’d rather not take multi-tasking to the extreme of doing anything else when on the loo, including breaking up an argument, playing noughts and crosses, or pretending to be a dog with an American accent.

But for me, that’s just surface stuff. The hardest part is how much it all matters. Parenting looks like the most pedestrian of worlds: a rolling parade of crumbs and kisses, nits and packed lunches and school plays, wiping faces and bums, and carrying toddlers screaming out of crowded places with a fixed smile on your face. But all of these mundane things are, invisibly, absolutely fraught with feeling.

Even taking my daughter to her swimming lesson is an extreme sport for the emotions. The desperate internal struggle not to be Snappy Mum as I hustle her, late again, through the sweaty, pube-strewn hell of the changing rooms, and battle to wrestle a swimming hat onto her reluctant head. The physical ache that I can’t describe, at the sight of her tiny, spindly shoulder blades rising out of the water; the pride that roars through me when she picks up her feet and kicks once, twice at the surface. The sheer frustration when she drifts away from the group to sing to herself and gnaw on a rubber float instead of doing as she has been asked- and, consequently, that familiar plummet of guilt that we are Doing It Wrong, because our child doesn’t listen to her swimming teacher. And then, afterwards, with a wet hand in mine and a small gap-toothed smile, she asks ‘did you see me?’ and I could melt, almost literally melt into the over-chlorinated swill of the shower room floor.

All of it turns me just completely inside out. I’m going through life with my heart hanging out, pouring joy and pain out all over the place- and stone cold fear, too, because now my heart is out there, I can’t put it back in again, and it is in great danger, because I can’t keep my children safe and well all the time. And love. There is love, everywhere. Frankly, it’s a bloody mess, and I wouldn’t change any of it.

Best parts of being a mother: The best parts are simply, and always: them.

What you wish you’d known before having children: There is very little I wish I’d known. People are forever trying to tell expectant parents how it’s going to be, and what they should do, and how they are never going to sleep again. It’s annoying, and it doesn’t make any difference. All the lessons I have learned as a parent, I have learned for myself- and I don’t think there is any other way. Trying to prepare someone for parenthood is like trying to teach them to play the violin without ever placing an instrument in their hand. It’s no good, until they are holding the bow and they are making a terrible, screeching racket which, hopefully, eventually, becomes a half decent melody.

Any more advice for mums and expectant mums: See above. I’m far from convinced that I know what I’m doing, even now, and I’m certainly not in a position to tell others how to do it. But, since you’re asking, this is about as much practical help as I can offer:
When your child starts school, buy more school uniform cardigans than you could ever believe you will use. Buy as many as you can afford. Because those cardigans, they will disappear, and you will have no idea where to, and they won’t be on the lost property table. They will simply have gone forever.
Something else that will be gone forever is your heart. It will always be outside your body now, beating wildly where you have no control over it. And you can’t buy any spares.
Twitter: @beckygarrod

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