I have been musing over the last few months about a particular aspect of my parenting journey. Namely, how difficult it is to spend the day interacting with an adorable, yet volatile toddler who is prone to be a danger to himself and others right at the moment when I am trying to take the pasta off the stove or use the bathroom. My dad told me that this age, around one and a half to two is “kid heaven” and that they never get cuter. I am inclined to agree. Watching my son stomp around the house, declaiming profoundly in his 15-or-so word vocabulary and pulling me over to a chair to nurse is basically adorable.
However, on the other side, I am exhausted and the constant vigilance his care demands (especially now that he has learned to climb!!!) wears me down. It has suddenly hit me that mothering my son at this age is a LOT harder than it ever has been, even when he was a newborn.
I think part of the difficulty has been adjusting my expectations of what it’s possible to do with my son in tow.
A baby, after all , when they are nursed on demand, carried in a baby carrier and nursed in a baby carrier is basically portable. I took my son to university with me throughout the last year of my masters from when he was three weeks old to when he was 9 months or so. It was pretty tricky but mostly because of the long bus rides to get there. Nonetheless, we always had everything he needed (basically just nappies and me and a nursing-friendly top) and if he started disrupting the class I could usually just nurse him. I ended up getting a baby sitter to watch him while I was in class during the second semester, and so long as she pushed him around in the stroller and showed him interesting things and called me to duck out of class whenever he wanted to nurse he was A-OK.
I got used to doing everything with him and I learned to do an amazing number of things with him latched on: cooking dinner, negotiating with the bank, having interviews with potential thesis supervisors, listening to online classes…. and that’s just what I remember.
But now things are different. My little boy has a will of his own and it includes things beyond me. Whilst it’s clear that I am still in a lot of ways the centre of his universe and if possible he’d like to do everything with me close by, he has started needing a lot of time outside and he needs to walk around and explore freely, so going to a shop and expecting him to sit still in the stroller or the carrier isn’t as simple. We need to bring food and water because nursing alone isn’t going to satisfy his hunger these days. He loves playing with little friends (and their stuff!) so we have to find them and go to park days and friends houses. Sitting inside playing with toys or whatever of our household goods I have to hand just wont do it for him anymore.
In short, caring for him has become something that demands a lot more of my creativity and effort than it did previously. He wants things I can’t give him (like huge sharp knives) and those situations need to be defused with cunning political skill. He wants to be involved in what I am doing and I have do devise safe but satisfactory ways for him to do that. He wants to sing Old MacDonald for ten minutes straight and I have to wrack my brain for whatever sound a goose makes – which, for the record, I think is HONK.
It’s fun but it’s tiring and I am beginning to find my previous arrangement as a work at home mum doesn’t seem to be working out. I feel constantly behind on my thesis, even despite my writing productivity boost. I am having a hard time keeping up with my research job. I feel constantly behind and it feeds a gnawing pit of anxiety that makes it hard to be really present with my son.
The reason I thought this was so interesting is that I think that popularly, children are portrayed as beginning life completely dependent and then gradually becoming more and more independent. Whilst a newborn does have intense dependencies, I found them easier to work with. Firstly, I was expecting it and gave myself a long and well planned do-nothing period following my birth. Secondly, the needs of a newborn were in my experience simple. So long as I nursed when he wanted it and carried him around everywhere he seemed completely contented.
I think it’s popular to say, and my experience has taught me that life has seasons, the semester is over in another six weeks and I will have both the opportunity to take a breather and also devote some good thinking and strategising to the question of how I can keep making this work as my little boy needs more and more of me.