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Why the baby years aren’t always the best years

Like a lot of mothers, Juliet Speedy was often told that the baby years would be the best years of her life. She’s not convinced.

There’s this spot at our small, local mall that I used to frequent. It was a bench seat opposite the supermarket and outside that supermarket is a climb-on Bob the Builder toy. A little yellow truck you can put coins in so it rocks back and forth a bit. The kids climb all over it, pick up the latest round of vomit bugs off the steering wheel and have a whale of a time.

I started going there in the winter. At the time I had two preschoolers and a newborn. My eldest, then three, was at kindergarten six hours a week but otherwise I had lot of hours in the day to entertain three small children; frankly, a lot of hours to kill. If they’d been open overnight, I might have gone then too. This spot was perfect because I could rock my newborn in his capsule for a sleep, my two toddlers could run amok on Bob the Builder and around the mall, and I could pick up a few supplies while we were there (nappies, wine, you get it..)

I wore my tracksuit bottoms a lot in those days. A LOT. I remember herding the children down the aisles of the mall looking at the mannequins in the designer clothing-store windows wondering if I’d ever wear a dress ever again. At that time, it was milk stained feeding t-shirts and banana smeared cardigans. Really, it was anything comfortable.

Often I would sit in this mall, on the black vinyl long seat, shattered from the night feeds, lonely, longing for an adult conversation and think to myself – what has my life become? I’m hanging out at a shopping mall bench beside a rubbish bin to pass the time.

And over time, in my hangouts at this mall, a pattern started developing. It involved mothers and grandmothers who’d gone before me, now of an older generation. They’d first walk by with a lovely warm smile on their face and the knowing look: ‘I’ve been there, I remember those days.’ You could actually see the pangs of emotion in these women’s faces, reminiscing about having small babies. Often thy would come up to me and say it – sometimes it’s the only thing they would say. “Best days of your life, these…” “What gorgeous children, these are the best years of your life.” “Oh, I remember these years so well – my favourite.” A lovely thing to say and I would smile warmly, mutter something back and think to myself, please God, no.

If I’d said something more I’d have said: “I’m sorry if this offends you but this is not the best year of my life. I am exhausted, flat out busy but somehow bored and have absolutely no balance in my life. I adore my children more than I thought possible and I have chosen to be at home with them bringing them up but I am in the midst of a tough few months – my husband is away a lot for work, my kids are too many and too small for me to work at all or quite frankly do anything much else, I am up half the night and it’s a cold dark winter so even finding places outside the house to entertain them is hard” (try going to a café with three under 3; actually going anywhere much is a calculated risk).

If I kept going I’d also have said: “I can’t remember the woman I used to be, I find it hard to make conversation with anyone that doesn’t involve sleep, nappy brands and what a pain in the ass it is to get dinner on the table every night. I can’t read a page of my book without nodding off; reality TV has an uncomfortably large presence in my life. I slide between feeling eternally grateful for the life I’m living or terribly sorry for myself for the domestic life I’m now confined to.”

But I never did. I smiled warmly, made the right noises, wrapped the kids back up again and headed home.

I felt pressure never to admit how tough it was. I felt pressure to always be grateful. I felt pressure to be a perfect mum and to suck up all the hard parts. I felt pressure to adore this stage in my life and think of it as the best years ever. This pressure came from no one, really, but me.

It’s three years on  and my newborn is now a sprightly, rambunctious preschooler who rules our house. My eldest is a busy six year old school boy and my middle child joins him at school in a few short months. Life is still madly busy and chaotic but far less lonely and actually a lot of the time, pretty awesome. Some days are long but the years now seem to be flying by. My kids are growing faster than mushrooms and I can now see what those mall-grannies meant. Life gets easier and more manageable, for me, the older my kids get. I can now do the odd shift at my old job, go for a daily jog, even escape for a night away with the girls without a suitcase full of guilt and a breast pump. I’m so much happier. It’s all about balance for me and that certainly makes me a better mum.

Juliet’s now not so little ones

I hope I’ll remember this when I’m a grandmother and when I see a new mum rocking her baby and herding her toddlers, I’ll go up to her and say: “Bloody tough years these but enjoy the magic moments, take some time out for yourself and remember life will get easier.”

And I bet she’ll be gritting her tired teeth at me too.

Juliet Speedy is a Christchurch based journalist and writer who juggles her time between newsrooms, supermarkets, kindy, the library and the laundry. She has three small kids who were born closer together than she can remember. Since becoming a Mum she now wonders how she ever got her university degrees, these tired days she finds it hard to do her six year old’s homework.

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