There are some platitudes that annoyed me as a new mother more than others, though I think it often depended on who the platitude-giver was and how little sleep I’d had the night before.
My personal blood-pressure-raising one was “sleep when baby sleeps”. I wanted to cry every time I heard it, and ask how that would help when she only ever slept for twenty minutes and who was going to make the lunch and stick on a wash if I was sleeping when baby sleeps.
One that I didn’t mind so much was “this too shall pass”. Possibly because it doesn’t try to pretend there’s a solution – it acknowledges that sometimes there’s no fix – sometimes you just have to wait it out.
Or maybe it’s because it doesn’t try to trivialize the problem. That person who starts every sentence with “well if it’s any consolation…” then tells you their child slept for even fewer hours than yours last night? It’s the opposite of that. There’s no diminishing of the problem, but rather an empathetic acceptance that it is here now, and eventually it will be gone.
Maybe I liked it because it gave me hope. Nothing is forever – not the good stuff, not the bad stuff, not the sleepless nights, not the lonely days.
And it turns out, the people who told me it would pass were right. Things are passing all the time, and I never notice until they’re gone.
The sleepless nights have passed. There was the first baby, who woke four times a night every night until we moved her to her own room, where she has slept through the night ever since. There was another baby who didn’t bat an eyelid when we moved her to her own room and continued to wake four times a night for months afterwards, but eventually, she slept too. Then there was the last baby, who took two and a half years to sleep through, and broke my heart and my mind and my sanity and my spirit so often in that time, but eventually he got there. Eventually.
The micro-managed mealtimes have passed. Nobody needs a high chair. Nobody needs baby mush. Nobody upturns bowls of pasta on the floor just for fun. Well, mostly.
The nap-trap has passed. We’re no longer restricted by daytime sleep routines, and we no longer worry that someone will fall asleep on the way home and not go down that night.
The middle-of-the-night-mornings have passed. 5am wake-ups that went on for what felt like forever have finally evolved into much more civilised 7am starts. Not always, but often enough to feel like a win.
“This too shall pass” isn’t just applicable to parenting and kids. It also works with horrible bosses who are eventually moved to other departments, or the long drawn out system migration that finally goes live, or the building work outside the house that starts at 7am on Saturday mornings but then, one day, it doesn’t.
And in the last four weeks, we have a new one. The buggy is heading for retirement. Back in September, I decided that school-runs had to be done on foot, because three-and-a-half is well old enough for the ten minute walk from parking spot to school.
My three-and-a-half-year-old however thought differently. Every morning and every afternoon, I pulled and propelled and pleaded with him to keep going, and every morning and every afternoon, he stopped in the middle of the path about halfway there and said his legs were tired. The tiredness was presumably linked to the running ahead and running away and running back to the car that he’d just done, but this logic got me nothing more than a blank look when I tried to reason with him.
So I carried him the rest of the way, every day, for fifteen school-runs a week and gave myself PGP. He won – the buggy was back, Lazarus-like, from the boot.
But now he’s four. And he’s going to start school in September. So after Christmas, I decided we had to try again. I shuddered at the thought of coaxing him up the road and arguing over carrying, and we left early on the first day back, to make sure we’d have time.
I was going to be steadfast when he asked to be carried – he’d have to walk. But the request never came. He walked along with us as if it was the most normal thing in the world. It is of course the most normal thing in the world – from what I see of many other kids his age – but this was a big first for us.
And now every day, while there’s still cajoling when he stops to look at sticks on the ground, and there’s still calling when he runs too far ahead, there’s no carrying. And sometimes – my favourite bit – he even holds my hand.
The thing about “this too shall pass” is that it’s true for the good times too, and I know there’ll come a time when he won’t hold my hand at all anymore. So on the days when I feel those little fingers reach for mine, I take them gladly. And I take stock, I breathe in the moment, I imprint it in my mind, ready for the day when this too shall pass.