by Irina Slav
Okay, when I say “always” I may be exaggerating, but it is, I think, a universal truth that we are rarely, if ever, fully prepared for something we have never experienced, and that’s especially true when it comes to motherhood. I have a long history of being realistic with a tendency towards pessimism and yet, in spite of the heaps of advice I got while I was pregnant, I found myself unprepared. I thought I was, believe me. I thought I could bear 24 hours of crying and no sleep, I thought I was ready for the absolute worst. Not so but still, some preparation is better than none at all. So, what I’m going to do here is share my personal experience plus some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other mothers concerning the ten most common phenomena that make us appreciate even more every smile, every laugh and every time the kid actually listens to us. Be afraid.
Forget it. I can do with six hours of sleep and feel perfectly fine which is why I more or less brushed aside any advice that said “Get all the sleep you can now, once the baby comes you’ll suffer.” Wise words because as I very soon found out, six hours is fine if they’re uninterrupted. When she was a newborn, my daughter invariably managed to start crying at precisely the moment I started drifting off. Not before, not after I’ve slept for a couple of minutes but exactly as I was starting to relax. It’s unbelievable how frustrating this can be. I know some mums solve the problem by just taking the baby in their bed but I was afraid to do it, so tough luck.
As the baby grew older, luckily she started sleeping through the night and that was heaven. However, she woke up at dawn and so did I, plus I had somehow developed a habit of waking up at least once in the middle of the night just to check that she’s breathing, you know how it is. Most lately (she’ll be three in a month) she’s been waking up a couple of times almost every night just to come to our bedroom and tell me she wants to sleep more. She doesn’t want the potty, she doesn’t want water, she just comes in and says ‘Wanna sleep more,” then leads me back to her room and lets me tuck her in. Infuriating at first, now it’s got funny. What can I say, humour is the only thing that can protect your sanity at a certain point.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, apart from having lived with a small baby for at least one month, that can prepare you for this form of audio terror. I’ll be the first to admit that irritating sounds are one of the worst things I can imagine being subjected to. Yet I’ve survived several months of heavy repairs on the floor above the office I worked in at the time. I’ve survived car alarms blaring all night long and this has helped me explore some hidden depths of my personality such as a definitely homicidal streak I wasn’t previously aware I had. But none of these things could prepare me for my baby’s crying bouts.
There is something especially horrible about a crying baby and it is not just that they can go on crying for unbelievably long periods of time, it’s the fact that this crying doesn’t just invoke annoyance, it invokes a mix of emotions, with a predominance of fear (Is she hurting? Is she hurting?!?) and empathy for the baby’s apparent suffering. Sure, they don’t cry because they suffer most of the time while they’re very small, but still, it’s worrying. And then of course there’s the guilt that you find yourself getting annoyed with your child’s crying. But don’t fret, this is just one section along the giant emotional roller coaster that’s motherhood.
3. The pain.
Physical pain this time, in the couple of months before lactation regulates and you start producing just as much milk as the baby needs. Until that time it bloody hurts but, you know, that pain gives you the chance to see your baby from a completely new angle: the pain reliever. I used to loudly express my deepest gratitude to my daughter every time I nursed her because it was so great to stop feeling like I had a pair of grapefruits on my chest. That’s not really a big thing but if you’re pain sensitive it could be, so be prepared. Oh, and I think that nursing pads are among humanity’s greatest inventions.
4. The anger.
Ah, those little ones, they grow up so fast… And they start trying to do things and when these things fail to happen according to expectations there is much, and I mean much, screaming and crying. My daughter’s greatest nemesis a couple of years ago was this snail. She was so determined to make the stars go through the triangular hole that every time she failed she threw a screaming, crying fit, no doubt rehearsing for the full-blown tantrums a bit later. No, we didn’t get her the snail out of some parental ambition, it was a gift. The snail has now lost its mystery but the attitude remains — she continues to try putting various equivalents of square pegs in the respective equivalents of round holes and after failing to do it she terrorises the area with angry wails. I started suspecting that she’s unusually stupid — being realistic, you remember — but she’s perfectly fine in all other respects, so I finally put it down to simple stubbornness. It’s not like we haven’t shown her the right way, you know.
5. The tantrums.
An all-time favourite of parents everywhere, I suspect. Fortunately, I’ve had it relatively easy, compared to the stories I’ve heard about kids throwing themselves on the ground in the middle of a crowded street or some other public place. The tantrums I’ve witnessed have all taken place in the house but they have been spectacular nevertheless. In fact, aside from the noise that accompanies them, I’m willing to see these fits as funny and fascinating — it really is remarkable how a small child can go from a completely peaceful state to rolling on the floor screaming in rage in a matter of seconds. I admit I have laughed at the sight, which, I hear, is a healthy reaction, but I have also shouted at her to stop already, please, I can’t take it any more!, which, I also hear, is not so healthy. Well, we’re only human and no child has grown up totally untraumatised, that’s just impossible.
P. S. This is not a tantrum, she’s sleeping. I don’t have any tantrum photos. Lucky me, eh?
6. The silence.
I mean that suspicious silence that after a while any parent learns to recognise and that means “I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing and I know it, therefore I’m being as quiet as possible in order to be able to delay punishment as much as possible.” Eating hand cream and body lotion, peeling off pieces of wallpaper, scattering flour and trying to eat it are among my daughter’s biggest achievement. Punishment usually takes the form of sharply indrawn breath and a shocked expression, followed by washing/taping the torn wallpaper. But the biggest to date was what looked like an attempt to sip the concentrate of my hair colour. Now, I want to make one thing clear — no matter how hard I try, there is always some potentially dangerous stuff within reach and that’s because her reach widens faster than I can make it safe. In this case, I had plain forgotten that I’d left the box with the stuff in the kitchen. It was on a high shelf, okay? She could not have reached it without using a chair, which is exactly what she did. What’s worse, guilt-wise, is that she was within my sight, though in the periphery. I heard a cry, turned and saw her holding the bottle. Open. Fingers down the throat, once, twice, freaking out wondering if that’s not the wrong thing to do, waking up her dad, examining her for the first signs of poisoning… And then seeing the stain on the counter and getting enough sense back to check how much of the bottle is missing. Also noticing that there are no stains on her mouth. We did go to the hospital, of course, and the doctor confirmed she hadn’t drank any but it’s joyful moments like this that add a few extra years to your age every now and again. And, naturally, then came the guilt that I’ve made her throw up without need. Plus I forgot to ask the doctor if I’d done the right thing. She didn’t say I shouldn’t have, so I guess that’s all right. No more leaving boxes of hair colour around, this I can promise.
7. The repetition.
Oh, she’s so grown up now, she can speak and her words actually make sense! How wonderful! And how not wonderful when you’re forced to hear a hundred times that shewantstoputthisinthetrash! Thetrashthetrashthetrashthetrashthetrash. It’s exhausting because you find yourself compelled to respond with Not now. Not now. Not now. Not now. Until you realise there’s no point in wasting your breath. Why, you ask, she can’t put whatever it is in the trash? Well, because the whatever-it-is is a spoon, for example. Or a cup.
No less annoying are the I-wants that she can’t get. A biscuit before lunch? Forget it, I tried and I didn’t like having to throw away a perfectly good meal because she’s full of biscuits. More than once. I then tried leaving her to lunch entirely on biscuits a couple of times. That helped, combined with detailed explanations, of course.
8. Play deaf.
Oh, yes, she understands almost everything you tell her but she chooses to pretend she’s deaf. If there was a scale of parental despair, I’d give this game 10/10 because it makes me shout and be nasty to her. Yet you must agree that after repeating ten times “Leave the cat alone, stop squeezing him!” raising the volume every time, not leaving any doubt as to the seriousness of what you’re saying, there are few options left. In my case a couple: shout and/or tear the cat from her hands because there are still a few good years left in the poor tortured animal. I’m open to suggestions, though, I don’t like shouting at the kid. The same goes for going to bed when she’s just found a toy she hadn’t played with for a while. It’s interesting how she always finds these toys when it’s bedtime. Also, she refuses to go to bed without her assortment of marbles, especially The White One, which is actually a ping pong ball. Guess how many hiding places there can be for a white ping pong ball in an average room that also contains heaps of other toys plus furniture.
9. The contradictions.
This one’s actually funny and it only gets annoying when you’re out of patience which, I think, is not a rare occurrence around a small child, unless you have steel nerves, that is. Here’s an example:
Me: Do you want your red tights with the kittens?
C: Nonononono! No red tights with kittens!
Me: Fine, you want the blue ones?
C: The red! The red!
Me: So, are you going to finish that rice?
C: no reaction, she’s too deep into Pocoyo.
Me: Okay then, I’ll throw it away and wash your plate.
C: No! Rice! Rice!
Fun, right? Unless it’s time to take her to daycare because I really, really have work to do.
10. The fear.
That’s the worst. It has nothing to do with the child, it’s all in your mind. I was reluctant to procreate for quite some time mainly because I was afraid I’d turn into a bundle of nerves, seeing pictures of pain and destruction in my mind all the time and ending up raising a person full of phobias. Well, it’s not there all the time but it is there. I thought I knew what fear was before. I was wrong. She came back from daycare one day with a couple of large, bright red marks on her back. Shock and awe, consult the book on baby care, press a glass against the marks, good God, they don’t fade, but it CAN’T be meningitis! Straight to the hospital, heart sinking while the doctor checks her neck for stiffness, another five extra years gained in the seconds while she consults another doctor, and finally the verdict: insect bite, allergic reaction. Five extra years lifted, there’s no relief like the relief of hearing there’s nothing wrong with your child. But the fear lurks.
The rest is smiles, giggles and fun and it makes up for everything, I promise. It really does.