This motherhood #5 A decade of parenthood: so what have I learned so far?
Almost eleven years since I became a mother for the first time, I'm finding myself thinking about this motherhood journey more than ever. I've been wondering - as a woman in my late 30's - what parenthood has taught me so far. Because that's how I see it - as the ultimate life lesson - whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.
Motherhood is a learning curve, a crooked path, an uphill climb with countless falls and incredible experiences along the way. And the biggest thing I've learned so far is that is that the whole of life is a series of beginnings and endings. From conception, pregnancy and birth, to all their learnings, their learning to eat with a spoon, to write their name, to run, to swim, to wait their turn, their learning to consider other people's feelings, to honour their own emotions and develop a conscience. Some things, practical skills like walking and talking are etched on your child's timeline - they're a box ticked. But other, more subtle developments, like emotional intelligence, are trickier and ever evolving. Like the constant learning on my part to be a kinder, more present, more patient mother. And I've learned that every day is a new beginning. The energy of life - whether you think of it as an atom, a ball of fire or the earth spinning on its axis - or even the cycle of human life - birth and death, birth and death. The energy of life is never ending. Mutable, with changeability and growth at it's heart.
So when did the growing begin - the growing into this motherhood? The change started - in a very real sense - with me at the age of 28. I wanted to change - but I wanted to stay the same. So many paradoxes: I wasn't ready for motherhood, yet I longed for it. I was just starting out in my career as a journalist. I was wrapped up in my own development, my own ambitions. But I longed - as I always had done - in my hopes, in my dreams - for a child to nurture, to fill with love. And I decided that I'd never be ready to let go of my own development or ambitions. So I decided that now was as good a time as any.
I took a gigantic leap of faith - and it paid off. But it was hard. Giving birth was the crossing of a new threshold, the bringing forth of a new life not just to my baby daughter, but for me too. So, yes, I changed. That's not to say that I shed the old me - more that I grew into myself, gradually. I learned about myself. I learned so many new things. Mostly I learned about my determination - to watch and listen, to nurture another soul, to take deep pleasure in kindness. To keep loving, keep listening, but also keep writing and working - when I could - for me. I learned to compromise. And I learned about what it feels like to be a child again.
The newborn days were a mess of beauty and raggedness. After the birth I told my mum that I felt like I'd been hit by a car. But my pride was immeasurable - I shone with it. Although I was lost in a loop of transient days with the same tasks being repeated over and over without physical trace, I took pleasure in the newness of it all. The hours flowed calmly and seamlessly into each other. It's as though I lost myself - in a good way. I didn't know that I could love so fearlessly. But layer upon layer of memories guided me. Delicate impressions that came from who knows where? My own babyhood perhaps. I remember in the very early days feeling like I was in a dream, where I couldn't distinguish my baby's feelings from my own. It was as though I'd activated memories from my deep unconscious and lived in a visceral place where every whimper, every touch, was intensely familiar.
The third birth was the easiest - it did get easier for me as my expectations changed, lowered, my body learned what to do. Each birth was uniquely different from the others - like the child it delivered. And each has changed me, shaped me into a different version of myself. Fresh angles and unexpected contours have been revealed, gradually. My capacity - for love, for multitasking, has grown. But nothing stays the same. The only thing I can be sure of is that there will always be stops and starts. Frequently there are weeks and months where I feel like everything is on fast forward. I've had periods, as a mother, of intense creativity where my work has been a steady flow and family life has fitted around that. And there have also been stages - with hindsight I'd even call them crisis points - where everything outside of family life has has to stop. My focus has had to shift. And this has been challenging but essential.
Amidst all of this transience, I can see the foundations being built. They lead to the soul and run to the very core of my children. Of love forming long-lasting impressions, forming new memories and building lives. Lives that will always be interwoven.
Because parenthood, like life, is fleeting. I know that the days when I can lie in bed with my toddler's silky cheek pressed next to mine, breathing in her sweet smell, reading silly, funny, Julia Donaldson books, are numbered. But I also know that at the end of the full stop is a new line. I know how crazily wonderful it is to have a beautiful almost-eleven-year-old daughter who now reads aloud to me. I hear the echoes of my own voice. And I know now that when the line comes to an end, a new one is always just about to begin.