They say becoming a parent changes you, and I think that until I became one I didn’t quite believe them. Or, at least, I didn’t fully comprehend what they meant. How could I?
We are currently approaching the five month mark. As small babies do, during the last twenty weeks our son has challenged my wife and I on a daily basis, a nightly basis. For us as a unit, one of the major difficulties so far has been having to quickly establish efficient and successful routines.
Don’t get me wrong, we did already have some efficiency, success and routine. We are actually both quite in need of knowing where we are and what we’re doing for most of the time. So a relatively traditional domestic environment kind of suits us. The security and confidence of home is a great bassline. It pulses underneath your days and helps with who you are. Over our four years of living together we’ve managed to craft a functioning design for life.
This happens at this time. This goes there, that goes here. When it’s time for this to happen this, that and the other are all within easy reach in the expected places. That’s always been like that. This can be moved. On a Wednesday it’s this, on a Friday it’s that. Yada yada, blah-de-blah. And so on and so on. Etc…
That design developed at relatively kind pace, mutating over time to support us. We have not tried to squash ourselves within a one-size-suits-all frame, nor have we ever measured ourselves against one. Ours has had the scope to accommodate our quirks, traditions, needs and values, but there is room on top of it to improvise and enjoy the unexpected. We’re not unconventional, really – but even though we like them who really cares about the Joneses? We have crafted our own way of living, and it is comfortable and happy. Our life is fixed but it is also flexible.
And yet, the need to shoehorn in an ever-shifting series of priorities and urgencies focused exclusively around someone else’s needs has been quite a shock to the system.
Learning to give in a different way, learning to share with someone new, learning to deconstruct our design and rebuild it, sometimes every day, has been very hard indeed. Establishing some sort of workable new order has been loud, furious and blinding. So tiring.
I do my bit but my wife, in all honesty, carries the larger part of the burden. Particularly working out the right ways to do things and establishing these new routines. It hasn’t come easy to her and so she believes that she is “not a natural mother”. I actually disagree with her. And I have come to think that self doubt is probably an essential component in the engine which drives motherhood.
She is remarkable. Despite her general relationship with timekeeping, she is focused. She is practical but loving, with our child at the centre of all of her decisions and behaviour. That has been to her own detriment sometimes, and sometimes to ours. Frustratingly, there is no getting around the fact that our relationship has been affected – but that is for another post on another day.
My wife has an app on her phone into which she has recorded each sleep, each feed and each shit since the day our son was born. His, not hers or mine.
I have wondered whether the insistence on this app and the accumulation of all of this data has ‘crossed over’ and become an OCD rather than a useful thing to do. Though I must admit, the grid of all of these little graphics and icons on her phone does look impressive. Art is useful, right?
She reasons that the app is so she can “work out the patterns” and predict how things are going to go on a certain day, and therefore be prepared for it. But I have yet to hear her speak of a single decipherable pattern to have emerged from this stream of quantities and times – and as the weeks and months have gone on it is clear that each day is different so necessitates improvisation.
And I have wondered whether all of parenting is actually like that.
The new child is a jazz musician and it takes you quite a bit of effort to get your head around the song, even when the melody is pretty or the beat seems familiar. And stop! Wrong time signature! Get on the backbeat! Take a solo! Change the key!
The child alters all of the time, doing different things, or the same things in subtly different ways. Developing and feeling and stretching forwards, sometimes snaking backwards. Tomorrow offers nuances on yesterday.
I have interviewed musician and feminist icon Viv Albertine a few times, who is also a mother. She once told me that in her experience of parenting, the parent is always a step behind the child. Just as you get confident with where they are at you notice that they have already moved on. Even if only a little. And she said that you mourn a bit because of it, each time.
You run to keep up, for the rest of your days.
Perhaps, in the end, I have been wrong about this app. Perhaps, as pointless as I have thought installing it has been, I’ve not been thinking about it from the right angle. Perhaps the actual data on it hasn’t been of that much use – but the process of recording it has been absolutely invaluable.
Perhaps this is how my wife has been able to give herself a bassline, like the one I talked about earlier. Perhaps inputting information on this app has been crucial in both slowing her down for a few moments and in giving her a sense of control. Or, at least, the illusion of it.
And, for anyone facing the profound upheaval that first time parenting brings, a little bit of that feeling wouldn’t go amiss.