Small Expectations

january-blues

It is the end of January, and I can’t help but take a sigh of relief. There is something about the weeks after Christmas and New Year, when winter really starts to set in and the days are short, wet and cold, that get me all in a muddle. And I think this year, I was hit with a double-whammy… The January Blues happened to coincide with my baby blues.

For some reason, every time I hit around the 4-5 month stage, I find myself feeling a little blue. Quite tired, stressed, a bit down and overwhelmed by it all. And I think, now that I seem to have come through the other side (some things you only see with the benefit of hindsight), I have finally realised why.

You see, the first 3 months of your baby are full of the newness, excitement, awe and wonder of it all…call it the honeymoon phase. Every day you marvel at this perfect little being that has come into your life, and the euphoria spills over into all other areas of life. Tantrums by older siblings fail to frustrate, because the idea that you get to be the one to shape and mould these little lives explodes your brain all over again. Cleaning, cooking and chores are re-infused with meaning, because you are providing clothing and shelter for these divine creatures.

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But, even more importantly, your expectations are SMALL. “Yay, we got out of the house, all clothed and fed (for the most part).” “Yay, we made it to the shops and back without anyone getting lost or fatally hurt.” “Yay, I managed to make lunch, breastfeed and get a load of laundry in.” “Yay, for five minutes everyone has been QUIET.”

Then, as you slowly get the hang of things, adjusting to the new family size, different routines and figuring out what time you need to get up in the mornings to have five minutes in the shower, you get braver and bolder, and your expectations increase. No longer is it enough to just get everyone fed and clothed and then to bask in the joy of your little brood. NO, now you need to get the floor swept as well, and all the breakfast dishes in the sink BEFORE leaving the house.

No longer is it enough to enjoy the fact that everyone is busying themselves quietly with books or puzzles or toys for five minutes. NO, now you need to make sure that you get an interesting art project in at least once a week, and good heavens but Evie needs more tights and Isaac really could do with a haircut.

Stress mounts imperceptibly, and before I know it my to-do lists are running off the page. Also, with the better sleep and longer evenings comes the feeling that I really ought to be taking on more responsibilities outside of my little home. I itch for something different, something bigger…something more ‘impactful’, I feel.

So I take on more mentoring roles at church, I become more involved in the school PTA, I volunteer to bake, I volunteer to help decorate Santa’s Grotto (side rant – is there anything more lame than Santa’s Grottos?? Even the one at Westfield failed to impress). I go crazy with the calendar, inviting all sorts of people round for tea, for dinner, for lunch. I cut myself less slack around the house; one healthy meal a day is no longer enough, dust on the coffee table seems to indicate personal weakness of character and organisation.

Before I know it, I am too busy, tired and stressed. I end up feeling incredibly frustrated with Judah for needing to be fed right at the moment I am trying to make a call. I end up barking at Isaac and Evie to hurry up and get their coats on because we’re running late because I felt I absolutely must make the beds before we leave. The penny drops, and I realise I have it all backwards.

It reminds me of Dickens’ devastating book Great Expectations, where a young boy called Pip is ruined of enjoying his life as a humble forge apprentice by the promise of a great increase in his fortunes, and the tantalising lure of a life and a love far above his current expectations. He is set up for a crushing disappointment by the cruel and haunted (and slightly insane) Miss Havisham, who intends him to feel the pain of her own heartbreak and disillusionment by not delivering all she has promised, and marrying off her beautiful daughter to another man. All is resolved in the end, but the lesson is clear: be happy and grateful for what you have – you can never have it back once it’s gone.

So now, having taken a few steps back, (and realising that I still have a very little baby for crying out loud – 6 months today, actually!) I am committed to smaller expectations. Smaller expectations that make sure the important things of life are what really matter. Time to exclaim at pretty reflections in the puddles on the way to school. Time for smooches and wrestle-cuddles, no matter how busy and hectic the day is. Time for impromptu tea-parties. Yes, it is lovely to be able to invite more friends over for dinner, and yes, I do like having all the washing done at the end of the day. But not at the expense of enjoying my little brood.

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The things that are seen are temporary;
The things that are unseen are eternal.

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Thank you, Mr Postman

As my late Grandpa Boo used to say, “Too much of a good thing is….Wonderful!” That’s sort of what post-Christmas excess feels like. We have eaten too much, watched too much TV, slept too much (although as a parent of young kids that is almost impossible) and definitely got too many toys!

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What excitement there has been each time there is a sound at the front door! Evie drops whatever she is doing, screams, “Post!” and runs to see if there is anything shoved through the letterbox or lying on the floor. Most days it’s just bills or leaflets, but this month all sorts of interesting parcels, cards and packages have been arriving. I have had a hard time convincing them that there is “probably nothing interesting inside” and that “we should wait until Christmas” before opening them.

What amazing spoiling went on this Christmas – Lego and treehouses and puzzles and all sorts of games and books. What the Grandparents missed out on in face-time this year they definitely made up for in toys. I’m sure the Amazon.co.uk employees were cursing inwardly, frantically scrambling through their gigantic warehouses to find items as Isaac and Evie’s grandparents happily clicked away on the other side of the world.

I do feel sorry for those luckless Christmas elves working at online retailers, or Royal Mail employees for that matter. They have their work cut out for them to wrap, post, carry and deliver countless parcels and Christmas cards while we sit at home on our computers and sigh, “Ah, Christmas shopping is so much easier this way,” and reach for another chocolate, feeling rather clever.

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But I guess Christmas is about sitting back and letting somebody else do the work, (as I am all too painfully aware of as a parent of young kids who are reaching the age of “Christmas awareness”). I had no idea of the amount of cooking, planning, wrapping and preparation involved to make a happy and exciting Christmas for everyone! As I look back on countless Christmases and holidays through my childhood I marvel at the supreme sense of entitlement I had – Of Course there would be lots of food, Of Course there would be lots of presents, of course there would be lots of swimming in the pool and playing with cousins outside (I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere), and of course all of this would just “magically” happen.

That is one of the glories of childhood; a blissful unawareness of responsibility, and I’m not suggesting that that should change. But I do find myself so grateful for the hard work that my own mother must have put in in the past, and even indeed for the people who do some of my unpleasant work in the present. I noticed this morning, as we were having Simon’s fabulous scrambled eggs and bacon, that the rubbish men were out, collecting all the bin bags and recycling. For a moment I wanted to rush out and offer them hot chocolate and mince pies, saying thank you for their tireless service while we laze about in pyjamas. But, the moment passed, and my senses returned (Thankfully, I thought, as I poured myself another cup of tea).

But the sentiment has remained, and I am so grateful for the many people who work hard to make our lives and special holidays what they are – the patient shop assistants, deliverymen, online retailers, street sweepers, rubbish collectors, postmen, and yes, mothers. I do hope that they know how valuable they are, and what a gift they give us, even if we don’t always show our appreciation. Maybe in the New Year I’ll have some hot chocolate and mince pies ready for the next postman who knocks on our door…. Maybe.

Postman Pat