Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bye Bye Baby

BECOMING A mother has much the same impact on your emotions as an induction to the gym has on your body.

You leave the delivery room feeling things you have never felt before and experience a strange mixture of excitement and absolute terror about what you have signed up for.
Only, unlike a gym membership, you can't just cancel the Direct Debit after six months and go back to your slovenly ways. A child is for life, not just for maternity leave.
There are no dress rehearsals with parenthood- no try before you buy, no guarantee that if you are not happy with the results Lever Brothers will give you your money back. Once you are there, feeling as if, both physically and emotionally, a ten tonne truck has run over you, you are there for keeps.
Yesterday was my son's second birthday and as well as celebrating the limitless joy he has brought to our lives, I will be raising a glass of wine to myself in honour of the achievement that is surviving the baby years with my sanity relatively intact.
The thing is, you see, being a mammy to a baby is damn hard work- Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or supping vodka out of a secret hipflask in work to cope with the strain.
That's not to say it isn't wonderful. I would not for the life of me change my child. I love the bones of him- from his oddly dimpled shoulders to his pudgy hands- his curly topped head to his squidgy be-nappied bum.
I love how he can spot the trail of an aeroplane in the sky from any distance, how he pulls his highchair out to the middle of the room and shouts for "passtttaaaa" in the evenings and how he can sing any theme tune in the world and somehow end up in a 'Bob the Builder' medley.
But life has changed irrevocably from what it was before. I only ever thought I was tired before I became a parent- just as I only ever thought I was fat before pregnancy ravaged my body, and I only ever thought what it was like to be scared until I saw my own child lying in a hospital bed being nebulised.
Himself and I planned our foray into parenthood with meticulous precision. We made a decision to wait until we were married, with a mortgage and established in our careers before we decided to start our family.
When I found out I was pregnant- on the fifth anniversary of my first date with himself- we were overjoyed and set about preparing ourselves and our home for our new arrival.
The walls of the spare room were painted a creamy yellow and accessorized with borders proclaiming our new child would be "My Little Star". We went pram shopping, crib shopping, clothes shopping, nappy shopping- the works- and turned our house in a mini version of Mothercare.
We read enough to know what to expect- or so we thought- because, you see, no amount of nappy buying, or reading, or surfing t'internet can prepare you for what it is really like.

I still remember with a certain degree of hysteria the night we brought our little one home from the hospital. My friend came to visit and helped me prepare the mountain of bottles i would need to get me through the night ahead and when she left I went to bed. I put my 6lb 90z baby in a cotbed which was ridiculously huge for his tiny frame and then I stayed awake most of the night listening for his breathing, waiting for his hungry whimpers, checking he was really there and it wasn't all a surreal dream.
By the next morning the eyes were standing out of my head with exhaustion and it dawned me this was a bigger commitment than we had ever really contemplated.
In the months that followed we found our feet but the thing with babies is that the wee monsters are always growing and changing and throwing a spanner in the works. First we had the trauma of returning to full time work and leaving my child with my aunt (who is wonderful, I hasten to add), then we had to cope with weaning, bum-shuffling, cruising, crawling, walking, talking and at the moment the latest test of our spirit comes with the introduction of the Naughty Step and a now very active toddler insisting on clambering in and out of his big boy bed at 4 in the morning.
But probably the hardest thing I have to deal with as a mammy, is realising that my baby is not a baby anymore. He is now a toddler- an independent minded little person who knows exactly what he wants, when he wants it and how he is going to get it.
As a mammy it's both rewarding and heart-breaking to see your child grow up. It's rewarding because the sense of pride is immense at seeing the person that little baby becomes, but heart-breaking because you feel in some ways you are losing that special bond that started the minute you got the positive result on a pregnancy test.
Of course, I know he will need me for some time. There are bums to be wiped, shoes to be tied, bruises to be kissed better and stories to be read.
And I sincerely hope the happiness continues to outweigh the stress- because I really don't think my editor would take too kindly to me drinking on the job.

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