My eldest turned 10 today. Ten. A whole decade. It seems like yesterday that he was born, but it also feels literally like a lifetime ago. So much has happened since that day that it warrants a decade just to fit everything in. I have been saying a lot recently that the logistics of having four children is getting so much easier. No more buggies. No more changing bags. No more spare pants in the handbag (at least not for the children). We’re still always armed with snacks, but I can handle that. What I am noticing on a daily basis is that as Kai gets older, the whole parenting thing – as in trying to teach him how to be a good person with a decent moral compass and a set of values to make himself proud – is definitely ramping up a gear.
I’ll be honest. My head is so filled with this, that and the other that I usually don’t think much at all. I’m on a kind of autopilot and life speeds from a to b and most days I don’t even remember where I’m heading, let alone the journey. Days merge into weeks and we are largely happy to plod along with whatever life brings.
I say plod, but it’s normally somewhere on the spectrum between hurtling and dragging.
As my boy flosses into double digits, I’ve noticed that my dealings with him are requiring more thought and consideration than ever before: I’m having to exercise a bit of mindful parenting for the mindless parent.
Rewind ten years and I was still in the throes of daily forceful vomiting with the invariably accompanying delights of incontinence. I was eager to get the baby out and hadn’t really thought much beyond the birth itself. The Captain and I were naïve (as you are before the reality of having kids hits you across the face like a concrete girder). We were thrilled, but essentially naïve. We were unaware of the complexities of parenthood – especially if it’s something you take seriously – but entered the whole thing with an open mind and a sense of playing it all by ear. This became apparent the moment my waters broke at 1am on a balmy June night. I had spent months reading Mother and Baby magazines, but having not attended ante-natal classes, we soon realised that neither of my birthing partners (The Captain and my sister) nor I had any idea what we were supposed to do. Should we head to hospital? Was this actual labour? What now? They stood and laughed at me as I involuntarily twerked with every contraction. I swore at them. We panicked a little bit. I shouted at them. We laughed a bit. I swore a bit more.
And in those moments, the format for our new life was set out. The three of us were most definitely winging it.
Less than three hours and a few hefty pushes later, Kai was born looking like a perfect, 9lb 4oz Russian shot-putter. Having pushed him out with only a bit of gas and air (which highlighted my lack of antenatal knowledge as I attempted to smoke it like a less legal from of pain relief), I was dead chuffed with myself. This was a baby well laid. Unfortunately, my placenta had other ideas and decided to stay well and truly attached. I was advised to drink pints of water and wee on the bed as this might help things along. Ironically, after 9 months of pissy pants, I got total stage fright and couldn’t pee on demand. In one of my parenting publications I had read that a retained placenta could lead to bleeding, infection and possible death. As none of these were at the top of my to-do list, the placenta would need to be manually removed. In my finest hours of naivety/winging it, I said I could do without the spinal block. Mum and Dad, who were still living in London at the time, were already half way up the M4 and I just didn’t have time to stay in hospital. The consultant asked if I was sure, I said I was and then a couple of lugs of gas later……JEEEEEEESSSSUSSSS!!!!. It’s safe to say that being fisted by a stranger at any time, let alone after pushing out a basketball, isn’t an experience I’m keen to repeat. I know we moved to the country, but this was way closer to anything James Herriot-like than I ever wanted to get. I almost needed additional help to remove my eyeballs from the back of my head.
As a reward for my stupidity/bravery (I’m not sure which), I was left with a third degree tear that required surgery. With a spinal block. FFS. And here, in the quest to pluck positives from most situations, the best outcome was that I was stitched to within an inch of, let’s say my life, that you’d never know I’d just had a baby. Apart from the feeling that my nethers had been kicked at force by the Incredible Hulk. This wasn’t the calm and zen waterbirth I would have chosen, but that’s what happened. It wasn’t ideal, but I was happy enough to still be alive and holding our perfect creation.
Keeping my baby sufficiently fed and clean whilst monitoring his sleep patterns (or lack of) was just the tip of the terrifying iceberg. The early years were spent trusting and questioning my natural instincts in equal measure. My baby took his first steps. Said his first word. Then his first words. “One car”. A rather unfortunate (and embarrassing) phrase when bellowed quickly and loudly at passing traffic.
Then came the toddler years . Don’t put that in your mouth. Eat up. Put that down. Pick that up. Hold my hand. Stay in the buggy. Get out of the buggy. Get in your car seat. Stay in your car seat. LEAVE YOUR BABY SISTER’S EYES ALONE. It’s your favourite fish fingers for tea. What do you mean you hate fish fingers? Do you need a wee? Do you need a wee? Do you need a wee? Have you done a wee? Bloody brilliant. And so on and repeat for a few years, almost always through gritted teeth..
The next few years after that were rather hazy, punctuated by pregnancies, births and breastfeeding (I spent an alarming 7 years alternating these without a single day’s break). Kai happily started school. He went on his first playdate. He survived his first sleepover. I survived his first sleepover. He learnt to swim. He learnt to ride a bike. We had some lovely holidays. He started Beavers, then moved up to Cubs. I discovered the fine line between wanting to smother him with kisses and actually smothering him. The moments of intense frustration and despair were evened out with those of immense pride and deep love.
Kai recently confided that he feels I treat him like a baby. It stopped me in my tracks and I have to admit that he has a point. There is an element of disadvantage for him being the eldest of a relatively large tribe. He’ll always be the child we “use” to road-test our parenting while we work out our boundaries and beliefs. I struggle to let him cross the road alone for fear of my youngest darting after him, straight into the path of an oncoming car. Or bus. Or tractor. My occasional dark thoughts definitely don’t help his cause either. It’s probably time that I gave him some more independence. He’ll be starting secondary school next year and there will be even more influences and situations that will be increasingly harder to control. I look at my lovely boy with all his friends and they’re on the cusp of the next exciting chapter of life. What I’ve learnt about parenthood is that it is the best exercise for stretching your emotions to their limits in both directions. It’s fun, it’s scary, it’s joyful, it’s frustrating, it’s irritating, it’s glorious, it’s exhausting, it’s everything. Parenthood is the biggest rollercoaster in life. I’m just glad that a decade on we’re still enjoying the ride.
Happy 10th birthday Kai. Thanks for helping us lay the track.