Twenty five percent of something
I’m feeding L on the couch, J passes me a piece of toast smeared with peanut butter. Neither of us managed to have lunch and toast on the run is the order of the day. I gratefully accept and bite into a corner of the grain-studded slice. My infant, who has until this point been completely oblivious of anything beyond his immediate consumption, stops dead. Detaches. Turns. Looks at me. Stares. Open mouthed, his expression reads as a mix of shock and distain. I try to reattach him, before taking another bite. L rears back and glares at the toast. The imposition of the toast into his space is not to be countenanced.
In fact, L has developed a habit of considering any interference with his food as a personal affront. And by interference with his food I really mean, action by me (his food source) outside solely nourishing him. First, the impertinence I display in talking to others while feeding him or using my phone instead of staring into his eyes. And now the toast. It is simply too far. L refuses to feed until I’ve finished rudely feeding myself.
I have to conclude that my baby has serious control issues. It’s bad, I know, but it also makes me giggle. You see, L looks so much like my partner – who is the very personification of vaguely misanthropic calm - that it is funny to see dashes of my own ‘controversial’ personality sparking from his bright blue eyes.
The past few weeks have been a blur. We’ve had back-to-back visits from relatives, exams, assessments and an ongoing tussle with Centrelink (which is such a horrid and humiliating process that I can’t imagine you’d subject yourself to it unless absolutely necessary). This week has however marked the quarter-way mark. J and I are one semester down, three to go. By the end of 2019 we should both be finished our current degrees, J will hopefully be training to be a teacher and I will… well I will be something. As well as a mother. Something that hopefully pays a living wage as being a mother most certainly doesn’t.
This semester has undoubtedly been the hardest to date. Which should come as absolutely no surprise given that it’s the first where I’ve had a small needy friend for whom I am the sole food source attached at the, hmm, breast. A lot of people expressed surprise at my decision to go back to university this semester. Yet, while I am prone to ill-thought-through decisions (particularly those pertaining to overcommitting), I must say that continuing to study has proven to be one of my better decisions.
Each week I would drive in and hand over the baby when J finished his class at one. He’d take parental responsibility and the car and I’d have class till six when he’d bring L back for a feed before heading home. Those hours away from the house, the baby, the realities of this new parenthood gig, kept me sane and made me miss the baby. Missing someone is crucial to loving them I think. Or at least, crucial to realising you love them. Wednesday’s I got to feel how I imagine fathers feel, returning home, full of socialisation and mindfood from the day, keen to return to the embrace of the family nest and excited to see the baby chick and lavish attention on it. A far cry from my usual thought after a solo twelve-hour shift of whether L could be safely left by himself while I went to the pub.
Class also gave me an external focus, which inhibited the shrinking of my world to the needle-eye that an infant offspring represents. It is so easy, to let everything else slip away, to focus solely on the tiny baby and – in doing so – to let its needs take primacy over all else. As an approach this ‘baby first and foremost’ notion is extolled in a wide range of parenting blogs and books as being required to create responsive and engaged citizens. Hence you end up with women (and it does always seem to be the mother, regardless of the rise in father involvement) who used to run boards or businesses or balance the demands of a rich and varied life, whose sole focus has shrunk to whether their tiny offspring is eating enough or too much or rolling too little or too much.
Probably every new mother should be made to get a (temporary) tattoo reading ‘close enough is good enough’ or ‘nothing beyond the basics matters’.
The weekly class pulled me out of the sinkhole of stressing about why L wasn’t rolling (he can but declines to so I’ve decided he must just find it distasteful), why some days he would eat ravenously and other days not at all (like a normal human with human appetites) and whether my decorating his nursery in co-ordinated colours would make him a happier baby (obviously not). My online mothers group is seemingly filled with mothers who obsess over these things (maybe not the last, mostly that seems to have been done before the baby arrived) and in the whirlpool of worry spend excessive amounts of money trying to assuage their fears, their guilt and their boredom.
This last was particularly important to avoid for us because, as two students with a baby, we live a, let’s say, cash-lite lifestyle. Indeed one of our largest regular expenses (other than lattes because, well, we are millennials and everyone needs a little luxury) is disposable nappies. Our use of these godsends does occasionally flood me with guilt and shame at adding to the piles of non-biodegradable rubbish that will float about and fill the world our infant son will hopefully inherit from us but, and this is a big but, baby poo is a huge trap.
It starts off innocuously. Mustard coloured and the consistency of thickened cream, it doesn’t really smell of anything much and anyway there’s not much of it. So even if you, like me, approach the whole matter of excrement with a great deal of trepidation, your apprehensions are assuaged by the inoffensiveness of proceedings and it seems for a while like the biggest challenge is keeping them from putting their own feet in it (baby feet are magnetised towards baby poo). You grow confident. You can almost change them one handed. They grow fat. You start feeding them solids. The whole game changes. The introduction of pureed pumpkin and pear somehow triggers the ‘adult output’ switch and almost overnight you are confronted (and confounded by) real, proper poo.
It dawns on you that, from the comfort-level you feel discussing the myriad variances in waste matter (J and I now often have full conversations about poo which my pre-baby self would have considered absolutely not on) and the realisation that no matter how foul you would still clean it up, that you are now and forever beyond all doubt a parent – such is the level of love you have been trapped into feeling for your small beast.