I started writing a few years ago. I had a newborn and a toddler. I wrote during naptime and at the kitchen table. My life had become very small. And I wrote.
I remember the earliest days of motherhood – sitting in that green chair in the half-light nursing Liv through the night. I remember thinking: a few weeks ago I was writing planners and teaching lessons and now, here I am, my life’s work to sit in a chair and feed one tiny baby, over and over and over again.
The smallness is weird and hard and beautiful and lots of people are writing about it, thank goodness. Yes there are the Mommy Wars and the unsolicited advice of strangers or great-aunts… but there are funny writers and honest voices and balanced opinions. There is so much good stuff out there and there are plenty of voices cheering us on. Even the annoying ones are, usually, trying to cheer us on. We see you, we get it, we’ve been there. It’s worth it. It’s supposed to feel like this. She’s thriving. She’s amazing. You’re amazing. Here’s dinner.
Nobody suggests that looking after your baby is too much for you or that there are better options for her care. You are allowed your limitations. Nobody suggests you throw the baby out with the bath water. People help.
For a few years I navigated the smallness of life as a new mum with unlikely companions: my mum and grandpa. My mum’s life had suddenly become smaller too as she became a carer for her parents, and then just her dad.
Her life, too, became more centered on her home, on mealtimes and naptimes, on the careful care of one precious soul.
For a few years mum and I often cared for Liv and Grandpa side by side: washing, feeding, changing, going outside, hanging out. We would curl up in the front room with a cup of tea once they were both napping and talk about their quirks and their needs and the things we were noticing. I’m sure you can tell, I cherish that time. It was small and it was beautiful and it was hard: one person growing and another diminishing.
As Liv became a toddler she and Grandpa became sweet companions, side by side with their sippy cups. His Lewy Body Dementia hadn’t taken away his hallmark humour or his natural way with kids. He interacted with her with ease, even when he wasn’t sure exactly who she was. She was Spud. She was the young ‘un. She was some craic.
Mum read something, once, about how being a carer was so similar to caring for a baby except without the smell of baby powder. This is so true. Babies and toddlers have those innate things that make us love and protect them and get out of bed over and over again- the look of them, the smell of them, their smile, those little feet. We use nice ointments and dress them up in cute clothes and snuggle their necks. We get to hang out with other mums and babies. There is a lot of heart-warming stuff, and as I said before, there is a lot of solidarity.
I don’t think as many people cheer the carers on. Their smallness is already much harder because their person is going backwards, not forwards. They are losing their speech and mobility and their witty, razor-sharp mind. Their person is not as cute.
I think you can tell, I cherish that time we cared side by side. The insights it gave me to the hidden, faithful work of carers has influenced me deeply (I have written about it a little here and here). It seems to me to be a lonelier path than that of motherhood – more misunderstood, less engaged with.
I wonder if people are wary of adding to the burden of carers? They equate encouraging them with expecting them to continue doing hard things. People respect and admire from a distance but their concern about the ‘small’ life the carer has chosen leaves the carer alone in the trenches.
Carers don’t need anyone on the sidelines declaring what they are doing to be “too much”. They are allowed their limitations. They need to take stock and make changes and figure out the next step with their parnter and their siblings and people in the same boat. People who will FIRST of all say: “We see you, we get it, it’s worth it, it’s supposed to feel like this, you’re amazing, here’s dinner”, and who will THEN help them figure out if they are doing too much.
Our girls are 2 and 4 now, we are making a few adjustments to our work-life-arrangements, again. We are often tweaking and changing things to accommodate our family’s needs. I’m glad I get to do that. I’m glad my husband doesn’t think it’s too much for me when I want to do things differently. I’m glad I can chat it through with my mum-friends, even though none of us are parenting quite the same way.
My life is small right now, but it has something to offer and there is something changing in me, mundane day after mundane day. And people understand my choice.
My mum’s life is small but what it offers is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed, although people don’t always understand the choice.
When your world is small you need to be creative with the room around the edges, which is why I find myself at the kitchen table sometimes, writing. My mum has also needed to live creatively and I am hoping she will write for this series about some of the small things and practices that have helped her as a carer, mundane day after mundane day.
[Read series so far here]