You woke up early today my daughter. I had only just gotten back to sleep after being awake since 3am through no fault of yours. I cringed when I heard you cry. A definite cry, not a ‘ I’m just fucking about and may go back to sleep’ kind of cry. The ‘I’m awake and there is nothing you can do about it’ cry. Fuck I thought, now the rest of my day’s plans are ruined. You will be overtired and not go down for your nap, you will throw a tantrum for the receptionist who will look after you while I have my physio appointment. I will eventually lose my temper due to exhaustion and you testing my patience and yell at you and damage your psyche irreparably. This will be a bad day.
Throughout the morning it seemed more and more evidence mounted to prove my theory correct of this day being a write off. You were fussy, I couldn’t put you down without you crying. Teething sucks. Nurofen alone didn’t take the edge off. When I tried to give you Panadol you spat it all out. I desperately tried to catch the medicine in my hands and scoop it up back into your mouth. You wouldn’t stay still while I changed your nappy and ended up with poo smeared all over your legs. Not today, I thought. Some other day you can get shit all over us when I have time for us to both get cleaned up in the shower, but just not today. I have somewhere to be. I struggled to stay calm, but raised my voice to tell you to stop moving when you were trying to roll around in your own shit and off the change table. STAY STILL FOR MUMMA I bark. You looked at me like you were surprised, maybe scared. But it worked, you stopped rolling in your own shit and I felt relief. Relief for a moment until the guilt took over. Was that fear in your eyes I saw, or am I being paranoid? I dropped the F bomb while you were in ear shot more times than I’d like to admit today. Not at you, but around you. I feel like a shit mum. I push on anyway.
I piled us both in the car to go to my appointment and by this time I felt like crying. Getting out the door with a baby is hard on a good day. The whole drive there I kept saying over and over in my head ‘do not cry, do not cry’. The receptionist had promised to look after you when I booked my appointment. No problems she says. I get there and it is a different receptionist. She has to leave for an appointment and can’t look after you. Somehow I manage to not cry when she tells me that, even though I feel like I collapse in a heap on the inside.
So now you are coming into the appointment with me. The appointment where I need to be still for half an hour face down on a table and you have to stay in your pram. You hate being still. I want to cry, but instead continue on in my upbeat chatting to you whilst mentally visiting a place where I am lighting a cigarette and the stress is melting away with each inhalation. I pick up a cardboard handout on display and wave it in front of you to try and entertain you. You cry until I hand it to you. I hesitate as I worry you will poke your eye with the corner of it. You scream some more, so I cave and give it to you. You poke yourself in the eye with the sharp corner almost instantly. The physio appears to take me into her office in that moment before I have had time to comfort you. Your poor eye looks red and sore, and my mind races off on tangents with trips to the emergency room and you losing the eye to infection and ending up blind. All because of me. I feel like I’m doing it all wrong. My heart hurts as I think to myself ‘I’m sorry I’m so bad at this’.
The appointment begins and I am mentally preparing to have to leave early having forfeited my $60 out of pocket fee due to the massive tantrum that I am so sure is brewing. But then something strange happens. You’re quiet and still (mostly) and happy for the whole half an hour. Sure I have to get the physio to hand you apple sticks and sandwiches, and I have to burst into a few Old MacDonald songs to keep you happy but it works. You remain in your pram happily for the duration of the appointment. The physio even comments on how well behaved you were.
You surprised me. When I was expecting and worrying about the worst from you, you turned on the charm. Then I stop to think, about all the guilt and anxiety and worry I feel about how I parent you. A hundred times a day the thought ‘Am I stuffing this up’ runs through my head in various incarnations. Usually the answer is yes, or probably, or maybe not right now but I surely will in the future.
You know what, I am constantly surprising myself in the same way you surprised me today. Coming out better than I expected, when it feels like the heavens are raining shit down upon me. Screwing you up less than I had feared. Keeping my cool longer than I thought I could. Doing all the crap my psychologists have taught me to do over the years to calm down. Deep breaths, grounding, taking a minute to compose myself. Showing patience beyond what I have ever had for myself or anyone else. Apologising to you when I feel I have reacted with frustration rather than patience. Singing Heads and Shoulders, Old Macdonald and Round and Round The Garden hundreds of times a day because it makes you smile. Acting just as surprised each time you jump up from behind something when playing peek-a-boo for the 300th time that day. Do you know how much energy it takes to pretend lose your shit with excitement 300 times a day? A lot of energy, especially when you’ve been awake since 3am. But I persist, every time, despite the new smile lines and eye wrinkles it gives me and the fact that my throat is sore and hoarse from all the delighted squeals.
Every day I wake up and I endeavour to be the best mum to you I can be. The voice I have in my head tells me that every decision I make has the potential to harm you. I know it’s anxiety talking, but it still feels real to me. Today, I tried. Today I didn’t do as bad as I feared. Most days are like that. I guess I should spend some of my time giving myself half as many pats on the back as I give you when you’re having a shit day and by some miracle seem to compose yourself.
Perhaps I’m not fucking it up as much as I think.