Today it occurred to me that I might actually suck a bit at being a mum.
I had no idea motherhood would be like this. I didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like, but I definitely didn’t think it would be like this. For starters, I kind of assumed that, as the grown-up, I’d be in charge. Ha. Ha ha ha *cries* At this stage in the game, the toddler is calling 99% of the shots. Strangely, our opinions on just about everything seem to differ quite dramatically. For example, I would really like her to be able to appreciate the finer points of Tesco from the trolley. Quietly. And to not be afraid of anything bigger than a chicken when I’ve just paid £15 for us to have a nice day out looking at animals. And maybe just recognise that getting dressed in the morning isn’t the same as being tortured.
There are lovely moments. Like the time I came home from a dentist appointment when she had just learned to walk and she staggered over to me as soon as I came through the door and gave me a big hug. (I should probably point out here that Granny was babysitting and I hadn’t just left a one-year-old to fend for herself). Or times when I laugh despite myself. Like today, when she repeatedly ignored my very serious requests for her not to climb the stairs on her own and, once she had finished throwing herself around the floor in protest at being removed from half way up the staircase, she looked at me with those dark defiant eyes, said “no” and did a fake sad face, which felt an awful lot like she was mocking my telling off face. I have endless
boring hilarious mum anecdotes which I merrily wheel out at a moment’s notice (sorry, work colleagues), so we must have some good times together.
But sometimes she whinges for 13 hours straight. Sometimes I am angry and stressed for the entire day. Sometimes it seems that I can do nothing right in her eyes. Sometimes she throws her food everywhere on purpose or pulls a plant pot off the windowsill or hits me in the face with a spoon and I shout at her (and then immediately feel like the worst person in the entire world). My house is a tip by 7am every day without fail. I am never on top of the laundry. My entire life revolves around timing the morning nap right. A car journey that takes longer than 20 minutes is pushing my luck. The only time she stays still is when she’s eating. There is literally no way to make her do something that she has decided she doesn’t want to do. The list of things she does want to do is subject to change at any time with no notice or forewarning. If we are in a shop or a cafe or a restaurant the only direction she wants to toddle in is the first door. I cannot have nice things. My hip hurts every time I stand up because 25lbs of toddler insists on being carried as her primary means of getting around when out of the house. I can’t make a phone call unless she’s asleep. I am essentially a slave to her every whim. More than once I have eyed up the bottle of gin at 3pm. And don’t even talk to me about the gardening.
It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting beyond anything you could imagine. It is the most stressful thing in the world when your child is ill or – even worse – “acting a bit off for no obvious reason”. And it can also be depressingly mundane.
I hate the books she loves the most. I don’t want to sing Row Row Row Your Boat 20 times in a row, every single day for a month. Certain CBeebies programmes make me want to smash in the TV screen with a plastic xylophone. Sometimes it’d be nice to be allowed to hold the spoon myself when I’m eating my cereal. And I can’t remember the last time I went to the toilet without an audience, or with the door closed.
I don’t mind admitting that I’m not actively enjoying motherhood a lot of the time, but when everyone around me seems to be enjoying it so much I can’t help feeling that I’m getting it all wrong. I remember talking to another mum at a baby group when I must have been about four months into motherhood, in the midst of a sleep regression where my delightful baby would wake up every single hour of the night without fail. I’ll never forget the way she looked at me when she asked me, so casually, whether I was enjoying it, and I said quite frankly that I wasn’t. It was like she was mentally dialling social services.
This isn’t the mum I thought I’d be. I wanted so badly to be that happy, smiling, lovely mum that takes everything in her stride, managing to combine motherhood with having actual fun with her offspring (as well as looking just generally glamorous). In reality, most often I look forward to going to work just for a break from it all. Adult conversation that I can actually participate in without simultaneously chasing around after/chain-feeding a stroppy child. The opportunity to use my brain? I’d forgotten I had one! A lunch break?! EVERYBODY JUST CALM DOWN. I don’t know if it’s possible to stop giving myself a hard time for not being that perfect mother. I try to remind myself that if we make it to the end of the day and we’re both still alive I must have done something right. But I always feel I should be doing more with her, feeding her better food, teaching her more stuff. She’s so smart – I feel like I’m wasting her intelligence. The weight of being responsible for the well-being of this entire person is terrifying, especially when you don’t have a bloody clue what you’re doing.
I had a bad day today. She was being difficult and I felt like a failure. We clawed our way to the end of the day. And then, as I stood looking at her mutter “piggle piggle” as she watched In The Night Garden before bed and my heart filled up with love, I realised the most important thing: I might have days that end with me lying face down on the bedroom floor in despair and exhaustion as a whingey toddler climbs on me and throws board books at my head, but it doesn’t mean that I adore my precious amazing beautiful little girl any less than those mums that don’t end every trip to Tesco sweating and swearing under their breath. For all my complaining, I know really that I wouldn’t want to live in a world where she wasn’t with me. And that, I think, is the main thing.