I had no idea that time would take on a totally different complexion after I had children. No-one told me that my time would no longer be my own. No-one told me that my fanciful notions of “being busy” pre-kids were just that. Fanciful and self-indulgent. “Oh boo hoo, us parents have it sooooooo hard”. Yes, yes, I know how utterly precious that sounds but I truly had no idea just how much my every waking moment would come to be defined by my children.
It started just hours after I gave birth for the first time. 40 weeks of pregnancy had come to it’s messy, visceral end and it felt like I had just completed a marathon. My baby was in my arms, we were finally over the finish line and I was battered, bruised and broken. A physical and emotional wreck. I needed to sleep. I needed time to rest.
I needed time to rest….
But my baby needed to feed every three hours, and I was the one who had to do it. And so came the core-shattering realisation that my time was no longer my own, the shock of realising that pregnancy was just the warm-up event and now the real thing had just begun, that all my time from now on was going to be dictated by this squalling little pink fleshy ball of endless need.
Babies and toddlers are time-suckers. I knew that a lot of my time was going to be absorbed in the menial tasks of child-rearing and domestic duties. I knew that nappies would need to be changed, children dressed, meals prepared, laundry washed and endless other chores would need to be performed.
What I never realised was that incredibly basic tasks can take a really long time to do when you have kids. A change of outfit which should take two minutes ends up taking ten, or fifteen or thirty as you wrestle with a wriggling baby on a change table, chase a mischievous toddler around the house or argue at great length with an indignant preschooler about why they can’t wear a Spiderman t-shirt with a pair of shorts and gumboots in the middle of winter. Getting a kid to eat their dinner, to put their socks on, to brush their teeth, to walk at the shops. Time-suckers, all.
I also seriously underestimated the sheer volume of tasks and requests that were going to consume my day, failing to realise that I was going to be the sole person at the epicentre of hundreds of incessant demands across the entire spectrum, from the simple and trivial through to the utterly unreasonable and downright ridiculous. I was surprised by the endless number of things I was going to have to supervise, attend to, oversee; and by the continuous nature of it all.
The curious toddler you have to save from himself because wants to stick things in powerpoints, stick tiny little choking hazards in his mouth, stick a red crayon up the dog’s bum.
The eternally questioning preschooler asking who made the rainbow in the sky, what your tampons are, why Mummy doesn’t have a penis, where his Spiderman t-shirt is. Always with that damn Spiderman t-shirt.
The pre-verbal toddler who is always pointing to a bottle of water he needs to drink or a bowl of oranges he wants to eat from or a book he wants you to read or an object he needs you to name.
The affectionate preschooler who needs a cuddle “RIGHT NOW!” when you are on the phone to his brother’s speech therapist, who tells you he loves you for the tenth time that day while you are on the toilet, who tells you that he is your BEST FRIEND at regular intervals, usually when you are in the middle of something that doesn’t involve him.
The constant questions, demands, requests for a drink of water, for more toast, for Octonauts on You Tube, for craft activities, for bike rides, for more cuddles, for his red hat (NOT the blue one), for the socks with the petrol pump on them, for his vitamin, for help putting his undies on when he is perfectly capable of doing it himself.
It sounds exhausting because it is. It is unrelenting. It begins upon waking at 5am in the morning and only ends at 6:30pm when they are both in bed. This is the part of parenthood I never anticipated. Despite the fact that I have 13 long hours at home every day, my time is not my own, and the time I do have is not arable. It is stolen in tiny little moments when I can check Facebook, or flick through some of the news online or sneak off to make a cup of tea until my three year old finds me and whines “You said you were going to plaaaaaaay with meeeeeee!”
The other thing I failed to realise was that you can never truly “switch off” when you have little ones to care for, so every minute of the day you are in a constant, heightened state of attention. You can’t really afford to daydream, to let your thoughts wander; to lose yourself in a piece of music, or a good book, or a riveting documentary. To pee in peace. To shower at your own leisure. No-one told me that you can only truly relax when they are in bed. Or in the care of someone else. And sometimes not even then. It’s exhausting.
I had no idea how much you have to be “on” all the time with small children. That you can never truly relax your attention for any significant length of time because if you do, you might discover them minutes later climbing a precariously makeshift tower comprised of a baby Eames chair, an IKEA table and a wicker basket stacked on top of each other as he grabs for the door handle to try and get outside. He has his hearing aid in his mouth, a steak knife in his hand and a big cheesy grin on his face as you race across the room to stop him from falling face first onto the floor or from stabbing himself in the eye or from choking on the hearing aid transmitter, whichever comes first.
This stuff can happen within seconds, no matter how well you think your house is baby-proofed, no matter how vigilant you are.
I never anticipated that “me time” would take on a totally different character. I never knew that some of the most exquisite “me time” I’d have post-kids would be spent in the dentist’s chair with needles and hooks and drills being shoved unceremoniously into my mouth. I got to lie down in quiet stillness for one whole hour; no one was nagging me for anything, no one was asking me to be their best friend for the twenty-first time that day, no one was calling out for me to wipe their pooey bum, no one was expecting me to do a single damn thing except keep my mouth open and not choke on my own saliva. It was heaven.
I never knew that sticking both boys in the double pram and going for a run to try and shift the “mum tum” was going to constitute “me time”. That cleaning the bathroom and getting dinner prepped while one was napping and the other one was at preschool was going to constitute “me time”. That being able to sit on the toilet without being interrupted was going to constitute “me time”. That going grocery shopping without the kids was going to constitute “me time”. I simply never anticipated that the quality of time I was going to get – when I finally got it to myself – was going to be so very, very poor. I really wish I hadn’t taken it for granted so much when I actually had it.
The stuff I never knew before I had kids.