Tag Archives: Acceptance

My children are more than a high school movie

Buffy, season 1. Where miniskirts ruled the world.

Buffy, season 1. Where miniskirts ruled the world, and the vice-presidents were sass and eye shadow.

I thought the other day that Henry and Teds had the potential to be superstars in the high school movie genre. If there’s a higher pinnacle of ambition for your children, I’d like to hear about it. And why? They’d be dead easy to cast.

Henry, loveable nerd.

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Long, stringy frame in a button-down shirt and jersey. Slightly highly-strung, with a headful of obscure details gleaned from the books he reads obsessively. He likes to perch. He prefers to explain things in twenty words when two-and-a-half would do.

Teddy, easy-going slacker.

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Blonde-haired, blue eyed, wrestler’s physique. When he blows, he really blows – but most of the time you’ll find him eating large meals, laughing at someone else’s jokes, accidentally standing on people, keeping his heart of gold resolutely on display.

I’ve spent a lot of time, since the boys were born, making note of their characters. I love their differences: Henry has always been fierce and funny, Teddy sweet and observant. It’s amazing how much personality babies cram into their tiny bodies, isn’t it? They come out bellowing with it.

And it’s fine to notice, because I believe we don’t make or mould our babies, but discover them, and help them to discover themselves: gently amplifying their strengths, taking compassionate stock of their weaknesses. Who knows them better than me, after all? I’ve hovered over their cribs, supervised their mealtimes, gathered them up into my lap after a fall. We go way back to the clammy-soft skin and desperate heaving of tiny ribs as they were passed to me for the first time: bawling, enraged, blazing with life. Everything I know about them is logged away, and I am desperately organising it into some magnificent mental database that will tell me exactly what to do at all times.

The problem is that no sooner do I triumphantly find and label a characteristic, they change it. It gets me into trouble. ‘Oh, Henry is great with people’, I say. ‘He’s not shy’. Except sometimes he is. He’ll stick his head under the sofa rather than look directly at someone new – if he hasn’t seen them before, or for a while, or if he feels like it. So basically, he’s shy except when he’s not, and he’s brave except when he’s not, and Teddy is quiet except when he’s shouting his head off, which is, hello, a lot of the time.

My instinct is to pin them down, and theirs is to reinvent. They are shy and loud and headstrong and watchful and fearless and terrified and thoughtfully kind and thoughtlessly mean. What do I know about them? Only what’s true in this minute.

One more thing. I come from a family where we knew, and often talked about, what our defining quality was. Four siblings, respectively The Brains, The Sporting Genius, The Funny One and The Looker. We mostly decided this for ourselves, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pinpointing what you’re good at. But over time it became set in stone. The fear of being Not Clever Enough is still the ugly root of a lot of my anxieties.

I don’t want that for them. There’s a lot of good to be done in this world, and I’d like them to get on with it without worrying about whether they’re allowed. I am breathless with possibility for them. Their horizon is just about anything they can imagine for themselves, and I am ready – and hoping – to be surprised.

In short, dear boys: sometimes you’re the nerd, and sometimes you’re the vampire slayer. But most of the time – brilliantly, heartbreakingly, and all at once – you’re every marvellous thing in between.

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This one goes out to all the breastfeeding losers

breastfeeding losers

Do you know, the day my body gave up its milk, four days after deciding to stop breastfeeding Teddy, I felt cleansed.

I didn’t say that to anyone, except Tim. I was ashamed of it. It’s not how you’re supposed to feel. But I did.

Without my inadequate little supply of milk, I was free. Free from the guilt that he needed food I couldn’t give him.

Free from the two-hourly feeling that my body was a failure.

Free from the excruciating pain of his constant latching-on, and the frustration of both of us when he wasn’t satisfied.

Free from the nagging sadness that I wasn’t good enough for this baby I’d grown and given birth to. Our bodies were supposed to be compatible. I was supposed to feed him. I’d had his latch checked, eaten all the right things, gathered him to me every ninety minutes, night and day, for weeks. It didn’t work. I didn’t work. I sat on the sofa, getting angry with everything, Henry climbing up the walls, Teddy arching his back and screeching, stuff everywhere. It was awful.

So I let it go. I started topping him up with formula at four weeks, and it took another three months after that to accept that the little breastmilk he was getting was doing me more harm than good. Me, and therefore him. It was a huge mental leap, accepting that sometimes, the thing you believe in wholeheartedly just isn’t the right thing for you. With Henry, he chose to stop breastfeeding and I just went along with it. With Teddy, I made that decision for both of us, and it was so much harder.

Once he fed from a bottle, everything changed. I was giddy with the freedom of it. I had more energy, more optimism, more peace of mind. I stopped worrying about his weight and his milestones, and started pulling us all into a routine where we enjoyed each other’s company. He is the happiest, chubbiest, healthiest baby you can imagine. He sleeps well, eats well, and is a huge mama’s boy (unlike Henry, who subscribes more to the school of thought where sunshine beams out of Daddy’s every orifice). I’ve never regretted making that decision, even if I’ve regretted the fact that things weren’t different in the first place.

I still feel sad when I read articles about the joys of breastfeeding. I still believe that breastfeeding is the best possible thing for your baby. But I can’t get away from the truth of it, for me, which is: once I stopped breastfeeding Teds, I was free to be his mother.

Sometimes that’s just the way it works out.

 

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