Life as a parent can be very repetitive. There are always nappies to change, meals to prepare, and clothes to wash. It’s never ending. By the time Ebony is washed and dressed after a messy breakfast, it’s lunchtime and we have to do it all over again. As soon as she is dressed head to toe in a matching outfit, she will cover herself in mud/wee/strawberry/all of the above and I’ll have to quickly change her so as not to be late and she’ll end up in some awful mismatching outfit that she grew out of months ago.
The baby groups are repetitive. They all seem to feature ‘parachute time’ which is tedious at best, soul destroying at worst. The same nursery songs are over-enthusiastically sung by various group leaders throughout the week. The same handful of ideas are spewed out time and time again in a desperate attempt to be a baby group with a USP. The course leaders, I can only assume, drugged up to their eyeballs to achieve what appears to be genuine amazement at chiffon scarves, keep the Mums coming back each week. Because, and I say this from personal experience, it’s worth the extortionate price just for someone else to be the idiot playing peek-a-boo with a teddy bear, even if just for a short hour.
The same conversations with other Mums can be had time and time again. Sleep, development, eating... it’s all discussed week in, week out. You may see some of these women only once a week at baby group, so each week you pick up where you left off: “Has his sleep improved?” and you only half listen to the answer because you are so tired yourself. But at least the other Mums are in the same boat.
You’re all aboard the good ship exhaustion, dangerously heading towards a waterfall of burn out. You can see the impending trouble ahead, but it’s foggy and you can’t see straight. You feel nauseous because you didn’t have any breakfast, choosing instead to have an extra ten minutes in bed, which you spent being slapped in the face by an eight month old torture master. But the other Mums can sympathise, they look at the bags under your eyes and recognise themselves. They empathise with you, if they’re not struggling with sleep right now, they probably were last week. These repetitive conversations I can cope with, because sometimes it helps to hear that other people are tired too; that other babies have dropped their previously gift-like sleep routine in favour of teething pains. The conversations I hate are the ones with strangers, or little known family members, or friends of friends. The ones that always, always start with one question: “Is she a good baby?”
I was recently asked this question no fewer than eight times in one day. So I replied with the following answer:
“Uh. I really hate that question, mostly because it implies there is such a thing as a bad baby. I don’t believe that a baby who relies mostly on instinct can be capable of treachery. I assume you’re asking whether she sleeps well. I’m not sure how to answer that. She sleeps. Does she sleep well? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
“A couple of months ago she was sleeping from 11pm until 7:30am without interruption. But then came the teeth, and with the teeth came sleepless nights. Now she will wake frequently through the night, to nurse or cuddle, or just to know that I’m still there. But does does that mean she is a bad baby? Would a good baby be born with teeth so as not to inconvenience the parents, is that what forms an ideal child in modern times?
“Would a well behaved baby be seemingly unbothered by the growing teeth? Would they continue to sleep through the night even as that first jagged tooth cut through their gums? Do good babies have higher pain thresholds, or do they feel pain but not voice it so as not to burden their mothers?
“When Ebony wakes me up at 3am, crying and pulling down on her gums, I never look at her and think about what a terribly behaved baby she is. I don’t pull the covers back while sighing loudly and wondering what I did wrong to deserve such an awful child. I don’t wish for a quieter, more obedient daughter. The only thing I feel in those moments is a desperate need to ease her discomfort. I don’t blame her for rudely disrupting my so desperately needed eight hours of sleep.
“But your questions implies that, as an outsider, you feel I have been unlucky enough to end up with one of the bad ones. Do you see me as unlucky, or do you take it a step further and assume it is something I have done wrong? Have I turned her into a bad baby, by cuddling her when she cries? Should I have ignored her until she learnt not to cry anymore? Is your question in fact asking whether I am a bad mother?
“I understand that it is not you personally who invented the idea of a good baby, but why do you repeat it? Can you not imagine, or perhaps remember from experience, how awful that question makes parents feel? Can’t you find another way to ask whether I am getting much sleep, because that’s what your question really wants as an answer, isn’t it? How much sleep am I getting as a new parent, that’s what you’re interested in. So in the future, ask that, don’t imply that my baby has already failed at life by waking too frequently in the night.”
Obviously I didn’t actually say any of that. I smiled politely and told them that if they gave out ASBOs for antisocial sleeping habits, Ebony would have an ankle tag by now. Which is true.