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Recently, I found a few lines scribbled in a notebook, dated from when my baby was just two months old and my days were spent on the sofa, box of snacks to hand and baby (sleepy, feeding, or for a few minutes, alert and gazing at me) on lap.
Feeding my baby, at one and the same time I look down at him and feel overwhelmed by his presence and how adorable he is, that I could gaze at him forever; and a desperate urge to grab for my phone, to read my email, to check Twitter, to escape from this eternal moment. I want desperately to be able to stand up and leave this sofa on my own. By the end of the day I am counting the minutes until my partner walks through the door and I can put the baby into his arms and have my body to myself, just for a moment. Then I find myself feeding him again, and cuddling him close as his eyelids drift closed, and I want to hold him tight against me, snuggle him in and kiss him and stay here with him for ever.
Nine months, three whole seasons later, it still resonates. I still find myself with two parallel and simultaneous mental tracks. On the one hand, I sit on the floor and watch Leon taking corks out of a pot and putting them into a bottle, and I am fascinated by the frown of concentration on his little face, by his two hands carefully guiding the cork into the right orientation, by the dedication he brings to this moment. I feel privileged and happy to be here, to share this moment with him.
On the other hand, I am absolutely desperate to do something, to produce something, to run my brain, to reach for my phone and see what’s going on in the world outside, to write, to have just a few moments all to myself. I have spent my entire adult life, nearly a decade and a half, teaching myself to tackle a list of tasks, to think analytically, to achieve. To achieve the sort of thing that our society values. This work, this invisible work that I am engaged in when I sit next to my baby on the floor, waiting for him to turn to me to show me something or to climb into my lap for a moment, this is not socially valued.
I reread “What Mothers Do” on a regular basis, reminding myself that I am doing something here, I am. I am simply doing something not obvious to the eye, which is looking for tasks achieved and physical things done. Moment by moment, day by day, I am supporting a human being in their creation of self. This is valuable work. It is, even, fulfilling work; but it doesn’t fulfill all of me. And that too is okay. I can need something else as well without failing as a parent.
I practice mindfulness. I breathe slowly and stay in the moment. I watch my baby and revel in this short time that is now, before the short time that is next, and all the times after that. I remind myself of the very real work that I am doing, and I remind myself too that the lack of value ascribed by society to this “woman’s work” does not mean that it is not, in fact, valuable. There are, after all, a great many other ways in which I reject societally-provided values.
And then, slowly, I build in time and space to do the other things that support me, to allow my brain to stretch once again in the ways that I’ve taught it to over the years. I seek balance in this as in everything else, and I do my best to move towards being present in every moment, and allowing myself to be (as we all can be) my own many-faceted self.
Photo credit: Juliet Kemp