Parenting: What I (un)learned in the first two years

me and orla uk lifestyle

She is two; fiesty, messy haired, hilarious. She is a changling and a hurricane, a swirl of snot and sugar and soft, sticky kisses. She hears owls in almost everything – a squeaking tap, a squeal of breaks, a pigeon on the roof. “Wowl singing, mummy!”, & I never have the heart to set her straight.

Below is a list of what I unlearned in the last 24 months. I could have listed what I learned instead, but somehow I find that untangling the lies of a lifetime is the bigger challenge for me.
& so, ten things I unlearned in the first two years:

  1. A new baby is a blank canvas. Orla came out strong, determined, desperate to be independent, & obsessed with my breasts. Not much has changed! Which leads me to…
  2. Mothers who breastfeed toddlers are ‘doing it for themselves’. Hah! Believe me, if I was doing what I wanted, I’d have stopped a looonng time ago now. She’s rough. She’s bossy. It’s entirely about what Orla wants and needs, and often demands!
  3. All of the obvious baby things – cots, moses baskets, dummies, endless crying, sleepless nights, spoon-feeding, rocking, mobiles, bottles, playpens, talc, baby toys… None of these things turned out to be a significant part of our journey! I’m blaming a childhood of dolls and their assorted pink plastic paraphernalia for having me totally convinced that this is what parenting a baby would look like. Orla taught me otherwise!
  4. Toddler groups are a great way to meet other parents. This is probably true if you’re outgoing and sunny, but I am socially awkward & was pretty depressed for the first year or so. I’d drag myself along to groups and hate every awkward second, saying stupid, distracted things. I wanted to go out & be around people, but only to have a cup of tea in a quiet corner while Orla was mildly distracted. Later I would discover that this is called a cafe, & everything improved after that.
  5. Having a baby means you will always be sleep deprived. Now let me preface this by saying, I know this is a reality for a LOT of new parents, & I in no way mean to dismiss their experiences. Early on in my pregnancy I was advised by my perinatal psych that sleep was incredibly important for my mental health, & to do whatever I could to ensure I got enough once Baby arrived. So, we co-slept from day one, fought hard to establish breastfeeding, & I took additional daytime snoozes whenever I got chance (& still do! 😉 ). Not having to get out of bed in the night was a godsend, & being able to settle Orla before she fully awoke meant we both got back to sleep again a lot quicker. While I understand that combo isn’t for everyone, it does work – or, at least it did for us. Your baby might need something different entirely, & I might just have been stupidly lucky, but I like to think that sleep deprivation does not have to be an inevitability.
  6. Snot, poop & vomit make me retch. Nope! By some magical maternal power, my own child’s bodily fluids are entirely neutral to me. I actually quite enjoyed picking the green gloop out of her poorly eye, today. Bananas!
  7. Babies like to be put down. I don’t actually remember ever thinking this, but assume I must have done, based on the amount of things I bought to put my baby down in: bath supports, bouncy chairs, swings, bouncers, walkers, bumbos… Turns out, babies have a natural mammalian instinct to want to be held, & most are fairly unhappy when you plonk them in some, admittedly adorable, contraption.
  8. Playing is fun! Rory suggested I include this, & it’s a really good point; I would despair sometimes of parents I met through work who never played with their children – how hard is it to have fun? Turns out, when you’re tired, overworked, sick, distracted or just plain bored, playing can be the hardest thing in the world. I hereby apologise to all those parents I secretly snarked at.
  9. My child won’t watch (much) TV. Ho ho ho! Guess what she’s doing RIGHT NOW? Yeah.
  10. Two years is a long time. Two years is a heartbeat, a flash, the lifetime of a butterfly. I’ve had packets of biscuits that lasted longer than these last two years seem to have done, & that’s really saying something.

So that’s it for now – feel free to tell me what I’ve missed out or messed up in the comments. No doubt someday I’ll have a second & come and laugh at all of these afresh, me & my single-child-naivete, but it feels true enough for now.

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& to Orla, my teacher of all the above and so much more – happy happy birthday. Here’s to the next two, and the two million years after that – because we’re going to live forever on a robot-super-planet. Obvs.