Or should it be ‘Being A Present Mother Whilst Trying To Build A Career’? I’m not sure. I know which one has to come first, of course, but it doesn’t make putting your dreams on hold while you raise a family any easier.
It’s 2.05pm and for me, being a present mother means that for the first half hour of Braxton’s nap, I get into bed and shut my eyes. He wakes at 5am every morning (this morning it was 4.50. Thanks, dude), and usually once or twice in the night, too. So come nap-time, I’m beat.
In my mind I’m shouting at myself, ‘Get into your office and just sit down and write, woman! Be a trooper!’ but most days, I just can’t. Because after getting up at 5am, doing all the washing, preparing breakfast and pre-preparing dinner then clearing up the kitchen, all before I actually have to give him lunch, and having done some sort of activity in the morning to keep him ‘stimulated’, I’m just knackered and genuinely look forward to that moment when he goes down for his nap and I can shut my curtains and just lie there in silence with my eyes closed, even if I don’t fall asleep. After the half hour, I try and get up to work for the time I have left.
But as I lie there, I berate myself for not being stronger, for not being able to deal with the tiredness better and just soldier on like the mums who actually have to go out the house to a ‘real job’ do (absolute troopers). I’m so obsessed with getting my writing career to where I want it to be, that I spend a large portion of each day stressing myself, pressuring myself to ‘get it done’. And no one else is pressuring me. My husband gets up at 5am too, and he goes to work for the whole day and never complains, like, literally never. And still he encourages me to sleep when Brax does and take the pressure off myself. Then he comes home and ‘gets’ how hard my day has been, even though his has been equally hard.
You see, there’s a real paradox when you are a mother. You know full well that raising an entire human being (or more) is WORK. It’s satisfying and exhausting and empowering and draining and rewarding all at once, and even if you’re covered in sick and counting down the hours until bedtime, they do something that no one else would find funny or cute but you’re there, all stinking of vomit and totally unattractive, just laughing at them and kissing them all over because they’re the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen in your life. You have brought life into this world and are moulding that little life into a human being, hopefully one who will do good in this crazy, twisted world of ours and be happy and healthy. That’s some achievement.
But even though you know that, you are craving something for yourself, something that is just yours, something other than your child that makes you look forward to getting up in the morning, that makes you excited for Monday to come around. And that’s where the difficulty lies. Because in order to do this, you need to be dedicated to seeing it through, to putting the hours in.
In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. But how am I supposed to spend even 10 hours, let alone 10,000, on anything when my child is totally dependent on me and I actually want to be there for him also?
Being a present mother means being there at breakfast time instead of having someone watch him while I go to the gym (which I’d love to do, by the way); it means taking him out somewhere or doing some sort of activity with him every day, for his development; it means making fresh, nutritious food to help his immune system even though I’d love to just whack a couple of fish fingers in the oven and be done with it; it means chasing him round the kitchen island for twenty minutes even though I was bored after two, because it makes him so very happy, and that giggle is one I wish I could bottle up and keep forever; it means sitting and reading books to him when I wish I was reading a gripping novel of my own choosing; it means being there for bedtime, even though, once again, I’d like to be at the gym; and it means sleeping when he sleeps even though I’d love nothing more than to do what it is that makes ME happy, because I know that if I don’t, I won’t be able to be the present mother I’m trying so hard to be.
Although I’ve been battling with this since Brax was born, I’m trying my hardest to accept and embrace our now. We fought to have him. It’s a miracle that he is even here so how dare I try to find moments to spend away from him when I wanted him so badly. But I am allowed to feel that sometimes, and I need to be kinder to myself.
I need to accept that it’s actually okay to want something for myself, that it doesn’t mean I love him any less. And that my novel might take a little (a lot) longer to finish, but these early years pass so quickly and I need to be present and make the most of them before they are just a distant memory that I wish I could get back.
The paradox is always there, but perhaps taking the pressure off both of my life’s most important challenges, is the only way forward for now.