Don’t you hate it when people refer to unexpected babies as mistakes? “Was he a mistake?” they say with pity in their eyes. “No!! He most certainly was not. He was a wonderful surprise that took me a while to get my head around.” I suppose the word ‘mistake’ might be better than a comment I had from a women working at a playgroup I visited. “I had three. All grown now, ” she said sadly, “Wish I hadn’t bothered with the last one. He’s nothing but trouble!” Not an overly sensitive thing to say to a women heavily pregnant with her own third child. And actually, by the time No 3 arrived I was immensely grateful for the opportunity to experience those early precious days with an infant again. I’m not saying it was easy. A friend who also had a 3rd baby at the same time and I still talk about the enormous shock to our systems. Goodness, imagine all those poor women who had 8, 10, or more children in years gone by. I have no idea how they coped.
If you thought it was hard finding time to pee after having your first child, just wait until you try to manage three. Also remembering to feed everyone, walk the dog, pay the bills, and talk to grown-ups too. Prior to having children I had a verdant collection of house plants, a super-organised filing system and regularly hosted dinner parties where I impressed my friends with culinary delights. “Wow, Sarah-Jane! It’s like eating in a posh restaurant!” By the time Son No 3 arrived I had lost the ability to keep even a cactus alive, managed to misplace important court documents and am currently the less-than-proud owner of a cardboard box full of bank statements, randomly chucked in, in no particular order. My cooking skills have been reduced to the level of burnt baked beans and undercooked frozen pies. And I’m not pointing fingers or name shaming or anything, but I’m not sure being dumped by the now ex-husband before baby No. 3 reached his first birthday helped any… that aside, having three kids has proved challenging to say the least, and it was only when I started packing up my flat to move a couple of months ago that I started to appreciate just how immensely chaotic the last few years had been.
As I sorted through our belongings I realised that I must have barely unpacked when we’d moved in there two and half years previously. I seemingly just chucked overflowing boxes and bags in corners and cupboards, only took out what we couldn’t do without, and then did the best I could under the circumstances. Which is I think all any of us can hope for. As I packed up this time round, I began finding things that I had forgotten about, thought I’d lost, or never even realised I’d had. I came across all sorts of objects and items, but mostly what I discovered were shattered and disparate parts of me that had long ago been put aside, shoved away, hidden and misplaced, perhaps because being a mum and a wife made me think there was no room for them. I don’t think I’m unusual in this – it seems to be part of the process, and there are undoubtedly several groups of anthropologists dotted about the place looking at changing roles for modern Western women and how they cope with children, marriage, and work. (Especially interesting when you consider that nowadays so many have never even held a baby by the time their first one arrives.) As I packed up my home, I seemed to be unpacking myself. And guess what? I was pretty pleased to see all those parts of me resurface.
The last few weeks have been a bit strange though, as all the separate parts I recognised try find their way back into my existence. Will I ever have an organised filing system again? I’m not sure; I have been slowly trying to sort out the mess that several years of un-filing amount to, but there is always a floor to mop, a bottom to wipe, or a meal to cook that everyone will grumble about for some reason or other. I’ve been bought a beautiful plant as a moving-in present, and I’m very much hoping to keep it alive for longer than a few weeks. And I’ve invited some friends for dinner soon, who I know will be hoping for a little more than burnt baked beans and a pie that’s still frozen in the middle.
I guess the point is that having a family, navigating life, and just getting from one moment to another isn’t always straightforward. Perhaps it’s not easy to accept that in a world where the general consensus seems to be that we should be aiming to have it all NOW!! And be damn good at every aspect. Perfect parents who never shout, with successful happy children and blossoming careers too. I’m pretty sure that’s not how life works all the time though, despite the plethora of articles in women’s magazine telling us otherwise. So let’s recognise the good stuff, work through the difficult and just be a bit more realistic with ourselves. I’ve had some other really good surprises recently; like when I lost my phone and found it still lying in the gutter half an hour later, where it had presumably fallen out of my pocket as I yanked a sullen, sulky child out of the car so we wouldn’t be late. Or the beautiful foggy morning we had yesterday so that I was able to take photographs in some of my favourite weather conditions. Neither of those of course even come close to the best surprise of recent years, my amazingly cute and funny Son No 3 who celebrated his 4th birthday last week. He’s an absolute pain in the arse sometimes but I am so very glad I bothered. And if anyone refers to him as a mistake again I might be compelled to slap them. Hard!
Image (c)SJField 2016