Everyone told me it would, but of course I didn’t believe them. How could I? The space inside a minute with a newborn seems so very long, because you’re awake nearly all the minutes there are. And there are some images from the brand-new days of my babies that I can still see with pin-sharp, painful clarity.
The particular softness of miniature fingers curling around one of mine. Long, spindly fingers. Papery nails. Knuckles marked precisely with tiny lines.
The toe-curling agony of latching, the way I would hold my breath and tense every muscle and let out a noise like a cow going into labour.
The look of focussed concentration on two-day-old Henry’s face as he tried to make both his eyes look the same way, at me. Realising I was the voice and the food and the smell that made everything better for him, and feeling shaken and profoundly moved by it at the same time.
Teddy. Teddy wrapped up in a bloody towel on our bedroom floor, Teddy’s black Wolverine hair soft underneath my chin, Teddy quietening himself down to ‘Moon River’, no matter how badly I sang it. The wide-open sense of wonder that possessed me every time I looked at him: I can love you too, you are a person as well, this is all going to be fine.
The ragged sobbing and heavy despair, about five nights in, when I realised that there was no end to this tiredness, no point at which someone would say to me ‘alright, my love, you’ve done well, now you can sleep’. Because I would be woken up every two hours, day and night, for the rest of my natural life, which would not be long. (I had this minor breakdown both times.)
See? I can close my eyes and be back there with no space in between. The ache and the heaviness, the ravenous midnight hunger, the intense needles of brand-new painful love, like shafts of bright sunlight on my face. The fear. The bottle steriliser. The babies. I can feel them, lighter than a sack of sugar in one arm, as I sprint up the stairs. There’s a sheepskin rug under my feet as I bend over the crib to put my hand on their rising and falling chest.
And then I open my eyes again to find two bright-haired boys, big and solid in Captain America t-shirts, scrapping over toys.
‘You can’t HAVE Ferdinand, Teddy, he’s MINE and belongs to ME.’
‘Tetty TURN. MUMMY. HERRY TRAIN. TURN.’
For a second I honestly can’t work out how we got from there to here.
I’ve been thinking about this today because we went to meet up with a lovely blogging friend and her little boy. The last time we saw them both was two years ago. I brought two-year-old Henry and no pushchair, and was a little ambitious in anticipating how far he’d walk and how interested he’d be.
He kicked off, obviously. He was two; I had never had a two-year-old before; I had a tendency to expect more of him than he was able to give. It was lovely to see my friend and her gorgeous boy, but it was definitely one of those parenting days you keep locked in a vault. (Then I wrote about it for What to Expect, and made it all immeasurably worse.)
Today I brought Henry and Teddy to see them, and all three of the boys are much taller. I have come through two years of toddler-plus-baby, continually multitasking between them both, battle-hardened and -softened simultaneously. I am stricter about some things now (OF COURSE YOU ALWAYS BRING A PUSHCHAIR) and laxer about others (of course you can have another sausage roll!).
Henry, my heart, walked by the pushchair, asked before he went off somewhere, and sat long-legged and patient on the kerb waiting for the bus.
Teddy ran off as many times as Henry did at his age, but hey, two-year-olds. They’re good at lots of things, but walking in a straight line isn’t one of them. That’s why you bring a pushchair. We had a wonderful day.
I have a lot of compassion, and some impatience, for the mother I was when I started. I hope I’m compassionate in the future about this version of me, too. Expecting more of an almost-four-year-old than he’s able to give. Still bending over their beds at night to put a hand on their chests and smooth down their hair.
Time passes, and I’m sorry, and I’m grateful. I didn’t believe them when they told me it would, but oh, I do now.