On the First Year of Parenthood

On one year of motherhood

I've never been that interested in babies. I found it pleasant enough to cuddle them for a few minutes before handing them on to the next person, but they always struck me as kind of boring. Give me a chatty, inquisitive, adventurous two year old any day.

So I wasn't sure I was actually going to enjoy the early days of parenthood.

And, frankly, babies can be boring. They sleep and drink and blink at things with stunned expressions on their faces and cry and poop and that's about it; new parents spend a lot of time sitting on sofas, cradling a sleeping baby with one arm, wielding a book/remote control/phone with the other and regretting filling their bladder with tea. I often felt overwhelmed by the monotony and the fear of getting it all wrong, but I loved much more of this phase than I had expected to. I loved Matilda from the moment our eyes met and I loved the shape and size and feel of her cuddled against me (I sometimes physically miss it, still) and I loved the quiet hours curled around each other.

In my head, I suppose I thought the tiny baby stage lasted longer than it does. I could picture babies and I could picture little kids but the bit in between was a bit of a mystery. I was surprised by how fast she grew and developed and learned, by how soon she stopped seeming like a baby and started seeming like a wannabe toddler.

By a few months old, she was properly interactive and I've loved the vast majority of our time since then. Sure, the ongoing lack of sleep is hard and the weeks when she was screeching with effort because she couldn't quite move were frustrating and, ohhhhhhhh, the mess of weaning doesn't bear thinking about. But she is fun. And all the time she is becoming more fun as she masters more skills and understands more games and discovers that she likes to make people laugh.

Spending my life was a less-than-one year old has been so much more enjoyable than I ever would have imagined it could be.

It's taught me a lot about myself, too.

I do believe I'm a good parent. I do. I believe I'm good at reading Matilda's body language and recognising her noises and understanding what she's trying so hard to say; I believe I've been good at noticing when her needs changed and I believe I do a pretty good job of balancing stimulation with quiet times, new challenges with familiar patterns, group activities with time at home.

I've discovered that I'm more patient than I had given myself credit for but that certain parts of parenting require a lot more patience than I would ever have expected. There are phases when bedtime goes on and on and on because Matilda's learning so much that she struggles to switch off her brain - the first twenty minutes are fine; the next twenty minutes are endured by play acting patience; if it goes on past that there are quite often tears.

I've always liked to think of myself as laidback and this year has confirmed it for me. I've never been scared to leave her with people I would trust at any other time; it's pretty gross to see her chewing on the same toys other snotty babies were chewing on moments beforehand, but I'm not the mum with a packet of wipes in hand; I don't see the point in shouting at a ten month old to share. Parenting's much more fun when you relax.

It's also made me braver. When Steve first went back to work, I was terrified of taking Matilda out of the house - it took all my nerve to pack a changing bag (what if I forgot something?!), bundle her up (was she wearing the right amount of clothes?!), pop her in the pram (what if I can't steer it on and off the bus?!) and get to a familiar friend's house for a very, very loosely agreed time. Now, I can get us ready and out the door in a matter of minutes; I can get us to unfamiliar parts of town on time; I can take her to baby groups where I won't know a single person; I can chat to other parents and even make the occasional proper friend.

This year has taught me how to make small talk. A disappointing amount of it has been telling people that she's a girl even though she's wearing green/yellow/orange/red/purple/blue/black/white/grey/anything-other-than-pink but it's quite nice that we can't leave the house without random strangers grinning at us and wanting to chat about her shoes.

I've said it before, but the first year of parenthood has made Steve's and my relationship stronger, too. Yes, we have both been ratty with each other from time to time, but there is no doubt that we are in this together; we support one another and we talk about better ways to balance our lives and we laugh and laugh and laugh about Matilda's crazy antics. We are a unit.

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