My children are now both in school and I finally feel like I am beginning to rediscover the real me - not the person I was before having kids - she’s long gone - but the me I am now, who has interests and activities that are not sublimated to the needs of my kids. Looking back down the road I can see certain signposts and markers of how this process happened:
1. Going for a walk on my own
It felt like flying, I genuinely felt lighter than air because I wasn’t carrying other people’s shit around. When I was no longer laden down by the preposterous amount of toiletries and other gubbins a small human requires when they first enter the world, I felt twitchy and odd but I soon found my old rhythm, walking at the speed I wanted, stopping when I wanted to inspect something and I really enjoyed it. I felt emotionally lighter as well. I was no longer subsumed in thoughts of someone else’s well being. I could take time for me; time to stop and smell the flowers… or make a beeline for the nearest pub and get utterly mangled. I chose option B.
2. Dyeing my hair
This was a huge first step for reclaiming my own body; once I dyed my hair I no longer felt like a mobile food dispenser, I felt like a person who could make milk. Much more positive.
3. Full depilation (shaving every part of my body, not just the ‘priority’ bits)
I’m sure there are some people raising a perfectly shaped eyebrow at the fact this comes after hair dye but honestly I’m all good with being hairy. I usually just shave the bits that will be on show; pits or legs - rarely both. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Nevertheless, I must admit to a surfeit of joy when I did finally apply the bushwhacker and removed every last hair from the neck down in one glorious go. Felt like a dolphin. Loved it.
4. Ditching the nappy bag
This genuinely feels like an unshackling. Without a bag for the kids you can run free, you can leap like a salmon and spin like a top. Dance, dance in the glory of weightlessness, in the joy of only carrying what you need for today, not what you might need in case the apocalypse (or a late lunchtime) happens. If my kids want me to go on the climbing frame with them I can. I won’t, but I potentially can. My bag now contains my stuff and possibly a couple of cereal bars, oh and of course three pebbles.
5. Reading a prize winning novel
I’ve always used reading to help me maintain my sanity and that didn’t change even after the kids came along, but i did find myself reading differently. (Personally, I think short stories are the way to go when you’ve got very small kids as the combination of sleep deprivation and unformed anxiety makes remembering anything as complex as a narrative arc very difficult.) My firstborn was five before I read anything truly challenging, he was six by the time I finally picked up The Luminaries and finished it 2 months later. I’m still damn proud of myself for that. That thing is the size of a breeze block, contains multiple time frames, different overlapping and contradictory narratives and requires a superhuman level of interest in the New Zealand gold rush. I kissed my guns and did a victory lap when I’d finished that mo’fo’. (Also, I highly recommend it, it’s an excellent read).
6. Bringing a book to the park
This looks like an add on to the previous point but it really isn’t - this signifies something different. Taking book to the park isn’t about getting my brain back, it’s about hope. It’s about believing that even on a family outing I may be able to carve out some time for myself, that I can trust my kids to behave well enough and sensibly enough that I don’t need to watch their every move, thatI am allowed to focus on something other than my kids even when they are on my watch. It’s not always perfect, obviously they do need help sometimes but just bringing a book with me means I am packing hope as well as cereal bars.
7. Remaining seated for an entire meal in a restaurant
Even more exciting than being able to read myself is watching my children learn to read, to draw, to self-occupy effectively. We can go to a restaurant now and 75% of us can go to the toilet unattended and luckily the one who still needs some help in that area has the bladder of a camel so she rarely needs assistance. This means that we can now share a meal, we can chat and eat without any drama. No one has to wander the restaurant endlessly in the wake of a grumpy toddler who refuses to sit for more than one course, no one has to go and stand grimly in a pub garden in November whilst five children squabble over a manky see saw and a slide that looks like its giving out free tetanus on every bolt. We can stay inside, sitting down, warm and happy and engaged. It’s fantastic.
8. Both children are dressed and I didn’t do a thing
This first happened about 3 months ago and I’m still reeling to be honest. Big kid asked his sister to get dressed ‘to make mummy happy’ and she did it. She actually did it. I got out of the shower and they were both standing there, dressed and beaming. I shrieked out such a sound of joy my husband thought I’d just discovered the cast of Hamilton practising in our bedroom. I know some people are proud to win awards for their work but MY KIDS GOT DRESSED BY THEMSELVES *instantly dissolves into Gwyneth Paltrow-style tears and sobs and smugness*. Obviously the kids got wise to the power of this act so it usually only happens about once a month or so, but my god, what a glorious day that is.
9. A child completes a homework assignment without the use of tears or shouting or hair pulling
I know this one is temporary, only existing whilst we are still in the halcyon days of primary school where homework doesn’t really matter. I am sure there will be a lot more tears and hair pulling once real exams roll around. But for now, there are pieces of work my son can do whilst I’m making a cup of tea. He can sit at the kitchen table and complete about 50% of each term’s homework tasks (he has one a week) without any direct involvement from me other than a ‘Well done, I’m proud of you.’ which doesn’t cost me much effort to be honest, especially as I am pretty proud of him and his sister.
There is so much to miss from those early days of care and chaos, not least the knowledge that no-one will love or need you so much, ever again. There is joy in watching your child achieve those milestones, the walking and talking and growing and learning and there is joy in the fact you are there every step of the way for it. There is a lot to miss and to mourn but I want to celebrate my milestones too because, after all, I am still learning how to be human, just like my kids.