I found this a few months ago; I had written it at Christmas time last year, not long after Eleanor was born. It’s the most painful thing I’ve ever written, so I don’t want to share it without a little backstory…
When I wrote this I had not long come out of postnatal depression. It had been 2.5 years. I knew I needed to get things back on track, but after that long I felt so totally overwhelmed that I didn’t know where to start. Sam was a different child when I emerged from my depression.
When I was depressed I was in a sort of cycle where I was depressed and at the same time parenting Sam was becoming increasingly challenging, and the two things were feeding each other. I was depressed, so I felt to blame for his challenges – and then Sam’s challenges isolated us, which increased the depression… Things felt impossible a lot of the time.
Writing that moment down somehow pushed things forward. Something happened when I wrote this. I found some more energy. Not immediately, but it happened. I made a really simple change in our life (limiting screentime until after 4pm). The new energy felt like an answer to prayer, the letter was the prayer. Things aren’t perfect now by any means, but they are different, they are improved. Sometimes things still feel like this, but less often than this time last year.
Social media has this strange ability to whitewash parenting, to make it look somehow easily manageable. So many “how to” articles go around – “change your child’s behaviour with this one easy step!” “Become the parent you always dreamed through these three simple ways of connecting with your baby!” You get the gist. I often feel that I’m the only one who doesn’t manage these things.
I’ve found I’m the best parent I can be when I accept my limitations (and my child’s) and relax about them, letting go of that perfect parent and child image that is everywhere. I wanted to share my most vulnerable experience in the aims of being a bit more relaxed and honest about being a human, really.
I have a long way to go still, in understanding myself and understanding my children, in loving myself and loving them. When I read this I remember how worth doing it is. I remember how important my job is. What I am aiming for.
When I read this – written at a time when I felt responsible for so much – I’m amazed to see how the burden has shifted since. How many people have come alongside us. I still feel that burden of responsibility and care, of course, but it feels lighter. Like something I can use to make things more beautiful.
So, I share it out of honesty and also hope.
Oh my beautiful boy.
I think back to when you were tiny, sleeping on my chest after a feed, so cosy and tight, and I wonder, how did you become something that we aim to manage?
How did our days become about achieving the least resistance possible – stickers, special treats, and getting you out of the door for preschool on time? About stopping you scaring your baby sister with your over zealous love; always, always living in a battleground between your needs and mine. (And your dad’s, and the baby’s, and that dog’s, and the rest…)
You deserve so very much more. I remember when I brought you home from the hospital, and I cried everyday for the wonder of you. You deserve a mama and a daddy who wake up everyday, delighted for another day with you. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry you don’t have that, I’m sorry this mama and daddy find you too much.
You, my boy, you make the moon in the sky and the stars that shine. When you say to me, mummy, you’re a superstar, my heart skips a beat. When you kick me, I wonder how I could be failing. When we sit under a blanket together, that’s life.
The heavens opened when you arrived. The boy I shouldn’t have had – promised by God – here you were. I lived on a cloud, nothing could touch me now. I remember so carefully sitting up in bed to feed you every time, because I was too scared to fall asleep beside you. I remember how you woke every 2 hours and it didn’t occur to me to try to fix it, you were just you and I was so grateful for everything that was.
When did that change?
When did it become that everything you do is wrong, that you carry yourself shyly at times and apologise for existing? How did that happen to you? How did it become that I fear you, that I don’t take you places in case you lose it and embarrass me? That every time I look at you, all I see is our failings, etched over your countenance?
I look at your sister and think, we’ll do it better this time, because we’re less anxious. You carry everything, you carry all our focus, all our corrections, all our hopes and fears. Everything you do feels scrutinised to me. I can’t count the times I’ve thought, I hope your sister isn’t like you, I can’t do that again.
How did it come to that?
How did we come to live in a world that little active boys are a problem, that there’s no room for play fights and working out aggression? No room for running around wild and free? A world so dangerous and not built for you that we have to keep you locked up with a screen.
I’m so sorry. I wish i could do it all again. I wish i could go back and care less about the aggression, and celebrate the person you are. I wish I could go back and feel less overwhelmed, I wish i could go back and enjoy those moments instead of sitting around in a dark world waiting for ISIS or Ebola or climate change to get us. Two years, two years we lost. Two years. Two years of fighting every day, fighting my guilt for bringing a child into this world, fighting the desire to check out, two years of worrying whether my God exists and imagining dark deaths every time I close my eyes. Two years of learning to say, I can’t protect my baby and that’s enough. I don’t know who God is and that’s enough. Two years of learning to say, this moment is it, I can’t control the future and that’s OK. Two years of asking God to send me somewhere else or remake my decisions, two years of asking him to keep you safe, two years of being so afraid of death that I forgot to live.
I’ll never get those years back, my love. We’ll never get those years back. I can’t go back and remake myself into a better mum, a mum who sleeps and bakes and limits your screen time. What we had is what we had, just you, me, my demons and that bloody screen every day. And it’s not going to happen any more. You will feel like the special little boy I brought home that time. Not because I say it, but because I make you know it.
You will feel like all that you are.
I’m so sorry. I wish you had had the mum you deserve, but something I know is that you made my world, you made my world when you came home that day, and you make my world every. single. day. You are it.
You make the moon in the sky and the stars that shine.