Friday, August 04, 2006

Learning to Walk

Stop press!!!!!! My baby can walk!!!!!!

Yes, he is officially walking. For some time now, he has been "cruising" - stepping along, holding onto things. Then he was able to push his trolley across the floor. For the last week or so, he has been taking small, independent steps between objects - letting go of one object and half-stepping, half-collapsing onto another. But now, he is definitely walking. He just gets up from where he is, rising in quite a controlled way, and decides to take a stroll across the room.

Of course, he is just a beginner. He still falls over. But his record now is 9 steps across the room without falling over. He is only 10 months old, but he is on his way.

It makes him seem more like a toddler than a baby. And despite my pleasure in watching him go, my delight in his development, there is a pang in my heart about how soon he won't be my little baby any more.

You know, motherhood has not been what I expected at all. I think I had two main ideas about motherhood. One was them was that it would be difficult, tedious work that was unappreciated and unrewarded - I read a lot of feminist tomes on the subject. The other idea was probably got mainly from advertisements and baby books. That it would be magical. That I would just adore my baby. That I would pretty much sail through any difficulties, buoyed by an endless supply of maternal love.

The big surprise to me is that mothering is not all that different to any other kind of relationship. Sometimes I feel so in love with my baby, so delighted with him. Sometimes I feel so bored and fed up and frustrated with him. And most of all, it is like any other kind of skill. It doesn't come easily and naturally. It is something that I have had to learn.

I am not one of those uber-mummies who is naturally good at it. I didn't get that initial rush of love and motherly bonding when I first saw my baby that other people talk about. After the long childbirth, what I felt in my first moments was mainly relief. I wasn't overcome by joy in my baby so much as overcome by joy and relief that the pain was over.

And I was so exhausted, so disoriented, that when they first put him on my tummy, my first impression was that there was some kind of strange wet frog on my stomach. I didn't connect the little frog with the baby that had been inside me, so I didn't reach out to hold him, and he started to slide down my side and nearly fell onto the table.

Then there were all the days of yelling, the breastfeeding drama, and the vague feeling of nightmare that comes with chronic lack of sleep. Breastfeeding hurt, and sometimes I semi-hallucinated that there was a little rat constantly nibbling away at my nipple. And I was horrified by what had happened to my body. I won't share the details, but it was at least three months before I could sit down comfortably.

I seriously wondered, at times, whether I had made a mistake in having a baby. Apparently, I wasn't very good at being a mother. Also, I wasn't sure if he liked me very much. Nothing I did seemed to make a lot of difference. His crying or not crying, his sleeping or not sleeping, seemed to have only a tenuous connection with anything I actually did. Sometimes he actually seemed happier being held by my partner - possibly because my partner wasn't always in tears, peering at him anxiously and trying to put him on a breast that didn't have very much food there.

I think what I found hardest was that the early days of motherhood are about anxious servitude rather than about a relationship. A new baby takes a few weeks to be really aware of you. He wants to eat, he wants to sleep, he wants to be held, but he's happy for pretty much anyone to help him with all that. And for the new mother - well, she is working harder than she ever has in her entire life, and there is no gratitude. There isn't even a look of recognition for what seems like a long time. I remember waking up one morning, absolutely leaden with tiredness, and realizing that I had to do it all again. Every day. There would be no let-up. And I felt utterly dismayed. I really doubted that I was up to the job.

And I looked at other mothers who didn't seem to have these difficulties. Why wasn't I more like them?

But, you know, I got better at it. He calmed down. I calmed down. I learned how to spend more time just hanging out with my baby, getting to know him, rather than constantly trying to do things for him and to him. I relaxed more. I got the hang of it.

For me, learning how to be a mother has been a bit like learning to walk. I remember clinging to the edge. I remember moving forward tentatively. Then I remember suddenly realizing that I was walking, and had been for some time without really noticing.

And I realize now that expecting to be able to do it straight away was just unrealistic. Just like my baby had to build up his muscles and learn to hold up his head, to roll, to sit, to stand, to crawl before he could walk, I had to build up to motherhood.

Somes mothers and babies seem like an instant love match. They have an instant infatuation and seem naturally attuned to each other. My baby and me were more like an arranged marriage. We seemed to have been chosen for each other by someone else. We accepted it, a bit puzzled by the whole thing as we didn't seem to have much in common. We got used to each other. I got to like him. He got to like me. One day, I realized that I truly loved him. And I could see a light in his eyes that told me he felt the same. And we've been like that ever since.

And in a way, I think both of those accounts of motherhood that I read are true, even though they also missed something crucial. I'm glad I read those feminist tomes, because they were pretty realistic. There is an incredible amount of tedium and sheer, unremitting hard work in mothering. Also, our society seems to be oblivious to children and the people who raise them. Our society mostly acts as if parenting is a private hobby in which society has no particular interest. From the lack of basics like paid maternity leave and flexible work practices (wow, parents need to be able to look after their children AND earn something to bring them up with - who knew??), you'd never guess that its actually about the future of the human race.

Also, a lot of mothering goes against what I have learned elsewhere in my life. I spent 34 years learning to be independent, to be efficient, to make progress every day. And now my life is kind of like a ship that is adrift. There is a different sense of time. Its hard to move forward. Its hard to accomplish anything beyond the basics. The days sort of run together. There is an element of chaos that has been hard to get used to. There always seem to be unpaid bills - not just because we are broke, but because its hard to stay organised.

But there is also an incredible amount of joy and pleasure in mothering. Pleasures like watching my baby learn to walk.

And pleasures like realising that I, too, can walk. Of course, I am just a beginner. I still fall over. But I am on my way.


Blogger Dewdrop said...'s a brilliant feeling to see your child/baby taking his/her steps as I know from experience. Lovely to read about it.

12:20 AM  
Blogger C-Marie said...

Great post! It took me to those sweet memories of my own children doing all those "firsts". I miss it more than anything.

3:56 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

"And despite my pleasure in watching him go, my delight in his development, there is a pang in my heart about how soon he won't be my little baby any more."

So true Emily. Before you know it, he'll be calling out to you:
"Mommmm! Can I please borrow the keys to your car?" (evil grin)

Been there, done that. Tempus fugit...

4:27 AM  
Blogger Rosie said...

This was beautifully written, so very descriptive.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Summer Rose said...

{{hugs}} know exactly were your coming from. No matter how old he will get,he's always going to be your baby.

11:30 AM  
Blogger loz said...

how cool... your baby's first steps on his own! brilliant.

you write so well Emily, brought me back to the early days with my sons. I was very fortunate that we had no problems getting into breastfeeding, so I'm sure that made a huge difference to everything else going smoother, as well.

by the way, my first son started walking at 10 mo. too. I figured I'd get a break with my second, but HE started walking at 9 mo. scary, hehe.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Thanks all! My boy is so beautiful at every stage, and yet I still seem to mourn the end of each stage as it passes... I guess this is partly why people end up having more than one!

Loz- I was secretly hoping he would leave off walking a bit longer as we live in a tiny flat and can't move just yet, but thems the breaks. I guess they all do it in their own time and their own way. A friend of mine at work said her child started walking at 6 months - but had to see an early intervention specialist to get help with fine motor skills.

2:45 AM  

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