I used to blog a lot about language and grammar. I haven’t had much chance recently, but I am making time today for a one-off linguistic musing. Before one has kids, words mean different things from after.
I have been tired before. I worked hard as a lawyer, with a long commute that meant I was out of the house at 7.15am and not home to even start preparing dinner until 7.30pm, even if I left work on time. At university, I got 5 hours’ sleep at most, swam every morning before lectures and put in a long shift of backstage theatre in the afternoon and evening, as well as research and essays and a fair bit of socialising. When I had the pulmonary embolisms, my body was exhausted by pain, drugs and lack of oxygen; in the early days I could hardly walk downstairs without stopping to rest. But there is no tiredness like the exhaustion of night after night of broken sleep with the baby interspersed by day after day of hard parenting with the preschooler. There is no feeling like standing up to put the baby down and stumbling, because your foot has gone to sleep, and the world is spinning, because the rest of you hasn’t.
I’ve been frustrated before. I’ve missed out on things I thought I deserved and been crapped on when I thought I needed a break, but there is nothing so relentless as parenting. Just trying to get a toddler / preschooler to sleep, when he is old enough to avoid it but not old enough not to want to is worth a lifetime of other frustrations. I want not to mind. I want to believe ‘it doesn’t matter’ if he doesn’t sleep, because there’s very little I can do to make him. But then he misses a nap and is cranky and annoying and so stressed and I just want to stop him and have him understand when I say “You would feel so much better if you would just sleep at naptime”. I want to wrap him in a hug and chuck him out of the window all at once and I know that neither is the ‘right’ thing to do, but I don’t know what is the ‘right’ thing to do either.
I used to know what parenting was. I knew I hadn’t a clue how to go about it, but I could nevertheless have probably given you a description of it that wasn’t “The constant battle to stop the world hurting them or them hurting the world” or “Never knowing the right thing to do”. I’m not a worrier by nature, but I am a mother and whilst it may be evolutionarily advantageous to be able to envisage every possible danger they could come upon in our “child-proofed” living room, it’s not good for the sanity.
But most of all, I knew about love. I ‘loved’ my parents, my family, my friends and of course my husband. I was utterly besotted by (and completely paranoid about) my two cats. A dear friend said to me once, “Before you have a baby, [the cat] is your baby; after you have children, [the cat] is just [a cat].”
There are two boys upstairs (let’s not discuss whether either of them is asleep) who have taught me more about the meaning of words than 30 years and many English teachers managed before they came along. Just the sound of one of them breathing, or rolling over in bed, is enough to make me smile or bring tears to my eyes (sometimes they are tears of frustration because it means little Mr Nap Resister is not asleep, and yes, they are probably closer to the surface because I’m tired) or to make my heart beat a little faster and more warmly.
And what’s truly magical is that, yes, the cats are now just cats (except when my husband leaves the door open and they wander out into the snow), but love isn’t finite. Dominic’s arrival hasn’t reduced the feelings I have for Sebastian; loving them through a mother’s eyes has enhanced the way I feel about my own mother and about all the other mothers I know and love; co-parenting has changed my relationship with my husband, but sharing him and my attention hasn’t diluted the emotional connection between us. I love these two little boys more than I have ever loved anyone before, but the love I have ‘left over’ is more than I had before too.
Motherhood changes everything. I knew that. But I never realised ‘everything’ included the dictionary.