A bit of a self-indulgent rant, this. Please go spend some time somewhere else (I recommend Offbeat Mama or Analytical Armadillo or Parenting: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures or Joel Stein’s column on Babble, for starters), if you’d rather skip that sort of thing!
So in the coffee mornings, playgroups, buggy walks and online gathering places that collectively comprise the hallowed halls of modern mummyhood, there is a lot of talk about mummies doing what they must to stay sane. It’s one of our mantras.
I totally subscribe to ‘happy mum, happy baby’: as I’ve said before, the reason I put Miss Bee to bed so early, even though it often involves a struggle, is that I relish those evening hours Mr A and I thereby get to ourselves.
I also relish my working hours, in which I can completely escape toast crumbs and banana stains and the like. And I relish caffeine, the odd wine and rather a lot of sugary treats, even though I don’t like the thought that that shit is travelling through my milk to Miss Bee’s little system.
I’ve recently been thinking about the proportions: my comfort/my health in proportion to hers. How much am I willing to sacrifice? How much am I supposed to sacrifice? How badly does (and should) seeing to her needs detract from my own happiness and wellbeing?
The reason I’ve been thinking about it is this chaos that’s entered our lives again. For three months we’ll be here in New Zealand, but we won’t be settling anywhere; we’ll be moving around as guests of various people until we head back.
I can see that it’s unsettling Miss Bee a bit: she’s clingy, and she’s not eating with such gusto, and all the aunties that I tell her are old friends freak her out a little, especially en masse.
The thing is, the reason that we’re here is my sanity: I ‘needed’ this trip home. I am SO happy to be here – it’s what I’ve been imagining for a long time. So effectively, I’m putting her through it for my sake; she’s doing me a (compulsory) favour.
I do actually believe that in this case it was necessary enough for me to come home that Miss Bee will reap the benefits of my soul being a little at rest, my heart being a little lighter.
I’ve been hanging out with friends a lot who I haven’t seen since the spring, and I’m enjoying myself immensely. Hanging out with old friends over coffee or wine or chocolate cake (thanks Clare!) has long been one of my very favourite things.
But as I said, it’s not the ideal environment for Miss Bee. In taking her along to these occasions, I’m asking big things of her, I feel, so in turn I need to make some sacrifices for her sake. When I see that she’s unnerved, I take myself out of that glorious, hilarious, comforting environment.
And I do it willingly – just to be with her, and to tell her that I love her very much, and to remind her that the most important thing is that the three of us are together, as we’ve always been and always will be. Some milk, some singing, some cuddles; my best efforts to recreate the sleepytime routine in all sorts of places.
It does feel like a sacrifice – but at the same time, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. I guess that paradox is simply what motherhood is when it’s working best: it’s when ‘happy mum, happy baby’ means ‘mum is happy coz she’s made baby happy’, rather than ‘mum is happy coz she managed to sneak in a wine just after the breastfeed, so it won’t affect the milk too much when she next needs one’. When the question of who’s making sacrifices for whom – or more positively, who is making who happy – gets confused and stops mattering.
I guess I’m postulating two types of happiness: happiness by my pre-baby standards, and happiness by this strange, still-to-be-explored mummy standard, which I think embodies a true altruism: it’s almost spiritual in its capacity to satisfy; it generates endorphins as it imparts them.
I quite like it.