Someone squeezed my one-and-a-half year-old the other day and sighed contentedly. “He’s still squishy,” she said. “I love it when they’re still squishy. Remember this bit.”
She wasn’t so much referring to the rolls of baby fat on my youngest dissolving. It was more about the delicate softness of his muscles. It’s true, it all changes when they realise that running is way better than toddling: Their legs and arms turn ropey with disproportionate strength. My three-year-old can literally lift his own body weight in logs and rocks, and there is no squish left in him.
The unsolicited squishy comment was a nice one, but the others, all those seasoned pearls — the “Oh, they grow so fast”s, the “You must treasure everything”s, and the “I wish mine were that age again”s — really deserve to be shat on like a fresh, clean nappy.
In that rose-tinted room of motherhood, on the other side, a gentle amnesia must occur so that people forget both that running after a screaming toddler while he pulls glass jars off the shelves at the supermarket is not a joyful time and that having other mothers comment on how much you should enjoy it anyway is perhaps as helpful as a waterproof towel.
I will be sad when my babies are no longer babies. I see newborns and get a little pang that mine will never be that small and helpless again. When my eldest son was born, the first months of his life were some of the happiest of mine. My mad-paced life slowed down and I was able to focus all my attention on this tiny bundle of need. I was helpless to do anything but be with him. Love him. Be lost in the bubble of him and me.
With number two, however, number one stole much of that attention and the bubble never reappeared.
Instead, the two of them strode boldly down the supermarket aisles of the world, smashing, grabbing, telling anyone who would listen and anyone who was in the way that the planet was theirs and that I was only there to provide the ride. No, that is not fair, they are soft, gentle souls really, full of sunshine and laughter — oh my goodness, the laughter. That must be why we have children, really, to remind us how easy it is to laugh.
But when helpful strangers tell me how I must treasure everything — even when witnessing the foot stamping that occurs when I break the cheese the wrong way — all this does is compound the mother’s guilt that we/I should be doing more. We are. I am. I am doing All Of The Things. And so are all the other mothers I know.
The veneer between immense joy and intense desolation is so very thin when we are young. All we can do is hope to teeter on the joyful edge more than on the other. And all I can do is laugh as much as possible and hope it helps. It’s good for you either way: Studies have studied it, so it must be true.
When the baby-squish in my babies is gone, it doesn’t mean that I need to move on over to the other side. And every day, I try and remind myself that I will swallow that “helpful” advice should I ever find it rising up in my throat to give to others. Having small children is hard, that’s why they are cute. Anyone who tells you that you must treasure every moment of your simpering, darling small children has forgotten all the poo and the pen murals on the walls of their collective parenting memory.
Extracted from When We Remember to Breathe: Mess, Magic, and Mothering, by Michele Powles and Renee Liang (Magpie Pulp RRP$22.50).