I have been struggling for the last two weeks to try and get Roz to sleep longer during the night (she sleeps a maximum of four hours at a stretch, and that rarely), to take longer naps during the day (if you need something to cook for thirty minutes, put it on the cooker when Roz nods off and ping! It’s ready when she wakes up in exactly thirty minutes) and to get her started on her solid food adventures.
There is this enormous pressure on mothers to be perfect. A pressure that I never realized existed to such an extent as I do now. Everyone has a comment to give, a judgement to pass, unsolicited (usually bloody obvious!) advice to give you, and they get so upset when you want to do it your way.
My aunt was staying with me last week and at one stage, I just had nothing to say because I was being compared to this one that had her baby two years ago, and that one who’s baby slept so many hours from the time they were so old; I was feeding Roz very strangely – read wrongly – and would I not consider trying this or that (which, thanks very much, I’d tried last week!); did I have enough milk? If I did, she’d sleep through the night for sure because this cousin had tons of milk and all her babies were so fat and slept all night….
I love my aunt but dear god! And she’s the non-judgemental person in the family, I thought!
When I was pregnant last year – and yes, you will be hearing that phrase a lot! – I had it all mapped out. I would get a routine sorted out for Roz. She’d sleep at such a time, wake up at such a time, and definitely be sleeping through the night by six weeks. The books I bought guaranteed it. Guaranteed it I tells ya! A friend of mine who is a single mom to twins swore by a certain book that shall remain unnamed. Her babies were sleeping from seven to seven by the time they were eight weeks old. Ai seen it wi’ me own eyes as the pirates would say. So why wouldn’t my little bundle of joy do the same? After all, I’m nothing if not patient, organized and stubborn, right? Wrong!!
Let me give you a bit of background here, an intentional digression for once. My parents belonged very firmly in ‘the children should be seen, not heard’ school of parenting. From a very young age, my two sisters and I were taught not to speak at the dinner table. Not to speak when adults were speaking; not to talk back to your elders (regardless of what crap they might say); no speaking when the news was on; no speaking when soccer was on, no…Hell, you get the gist right?
I specifically say only my two sisters and I because for my third sister and my brother, life was a completely different ballgame. It’s almost like they were raised by different parents! The things and the way my sister talks to my mom, wow, my mouth just drops in shock! I’d have gotten knocked upside the head if I dared to be so familiar.
But now I digress within my digression. Sheesh!
My dad was a real Nazi when it came to being on time. He had a rule that he would wait for anyone, for exactly five minutes, then leave. Didn’t matter what would delay you, if you weren’t ready to leave, or ready to be picked up within that time frame, that was your problem. He was gone. I used to have mild anxiety attacks when he had to pick me up from school or college, wondering if my watch had stopped or was running slow. When I was eight years old, he once left me at school till six o’clock at night because I got carried away playing on the swings and didn’t see the car. I remember the nuns taking me to the convent and giving me tea while I waited, before sending me back into the dark to wait for him. Heartless wenches! My dad eventually showed up, ushered a teary eyed me into the car and I was given no explanation, apology or even asked how I was. Yeah, no apologies to your kids ever! Cue rolling eyes skywards. To this day, I don’t like being late for things. I sweat a lot, my heart beats unhealthily fast, and I generally feel unwell if I am not where I’m supposed to be, at least five minutes before the appointed time. Poor little me.
Because of other parenting skills imparted to me by my parents, I am very organised…or at least I’m constantly being told I am. It’s strange because I don’t see myself as a naturally organised person. But surely, how people perceive you is more important than how you perceive yourself? If, according to Jacques Lacan, we only identify ourselves by others telling us who and what we are, then should I accept that this is who I now am?
As a quick aside, the mirror stage in Lacan’s theory works as follows. When a baby looks into the mirror, she smiles right? Then she looks at the person holding her and the person says,
“Yes baby, that’s you! Say hello to baby”
And the baby smiles and looks back at herself. Very, very basically, this is how we know who we are. This is how we look and think,
“Oh. This person is telling me that that’s me, so it must be me.”
Our image of ourselves is dictated to us by other people. Humans don’t naturally look and recognize themselves immediately. And this happens throughout our lives emotionally and sometimes physically. We are constantly defined by other people, until we recognize ourselves and define to some extent who we are. If we keep looking to other people to tell us who we are, then we’re in trouble. If people are constantly telling you you’re being a baby, or you’re not being nice, or you’re being stupid, from a very young age, you keep this image of yourself alive. You nurture it and before you know it, there you are at work, you’ve made a mistake and you bang your hand against your forehead and say,
“I’m so stupid! How could I do that?!” and really believe it, and look back in your past to prove how stupid you are.
Well, that’s my take on it anyway.
There you go, quick psychoanalysis lesson.
Anyhoo, I’ve always thought of myself as very earthy, scatterbrained and artistic. Yet turns out I have a very organized mind and a brilliant memory to boot. People at work are always amazed by the things I can remember and how I plan ahead. A workmate teased me when I was about to start maternity leave by saying,
“If that baby’s like you and Krys, she’ll be ticking off a list on what she needs to do to be born on time”
And I thought, fuck! That’s how they see me here? And I was actually upset. (Didn’t show it, but I wasn’t raised to show my emotions in public either!)
But then again, Krys says the same thing sometimes, and then laughs his head off at how scatty I am, how messy my workspace is at home, and how he has to pick up after me every day as I leave a mess behind me everywhere I go.
However, where Roz is concerned, I wanted to do everything right. Which is crazy because with a baby, there is no wrong or right way. There’s just the best way for that particular baby.
Am I just very organized in my life, or am I a bit of a control freak?
The thought of being a control freak sent shivers down my spine. That path would only lead to me turning out to be Just Like My Mother. And nothing terrifies me, nor makes me re-evaluate my life more than the horror of turning out to be Just Like My Mother.
I had some serious thinking to do.
Yes, I am very organised. If you want something done and I want to do it, then I’m your girl. If you want a responsible person to leave in charge, then I’m your girl. This I know because I was nurtured to be that way. However, people I meet informally have often told me I have an open face, that I seem very laid back and relaxed, that I put them at ease and that I seem very earthy. (Hey, I don’t know if they’ve actually looked at me properly either, but there you have it.) If this is what they see, could they be right? They couldn’t be entirely wrong either could they? Hell, when I was fired from my last job, my line manager said the one thing about me he really liked was my ability to put people at ease and that I remain unfazed by things. He said I was a real ‘people person’. And I was thinking, me? you sure? I thought I was a selfish and cold hearted person like my parents always led me to believe.
But now I’m thinking, do I have to be one thing and one thing only? Why do I put so much pressure on myself to be one-dimensional in my approach to life? And why am I still living on a definition of myself that is completely outdated and irrelevant to whom I am now. Yes, I’m known to be very organised by people in work, bordering on control freak at times, but that’s what’s required of me there. I wouldn’t be any good at my job if I wasn’t bordering on obsessive about things. My sister says when I die, she will personally insist that the works “couldn’t be arsed” take centre stage on my gravestone because she just believes I cannot be bothered with so many things. She’s more of a mother hen to me, making sure I do things, and take care of myself better, even when I really couldn’t be arsed. Why can’t these two facets of my personality reside side by side?
So why was I letting a tiny little baby, whom I love with all my heart, make me feel so bad about myself and make me feel I was being a shit mother and a lousy human being.
It’s the bloody books, isn’t it? Here I was, throwing good money after bad buying all these things when the answer is inside me all along. Krys always tells me never to try and solve a problem by throwing money at it. All my books on weaning and routines and improving my child’s sleep…that was just money wasted when there is a big free resource of information right at my fingertips and inside me.
I started reading up on attachment parenting, which-hello! Is free on the internet – and doing what every single mum on my favourite forum was telling me. To go with my instinct and follow my baby.
And this last week has just been a breeze. I don’t fret about Roz not sleeping through the night anymore. I just catch up on my sleep by taking a nap with her in the afternoon, and because I’m next to her, she naps much longer.
I don’t watch the clock to feed her. As adults, we only eat when we’re hungry, so why not let her tell me when she’s hungry? As a result, she eats much more, and we have fun with it too, and she takes as long as she wants, hell, do I have anything better to do? And to be honest, I have felt myself relaxing. I am enjoying watching my daughter eat, sleep, seeing her smile all the time and play with her food at meal times (my dad’s probably rolling in his grave at that!) instead of crying because I’m trying to cajole/trick her into eating.
She’ll only be this young once. She may be the only child I have, and I have to enjoy it now. Because this ain’t the dress rehearsal, this is real and I won’t get to do it again.
But most importantly, it’s made me look at myself and what I reflect to me. Who am I to me? How do I want others to see me, and who cares how others see me, if I can’t see myself? I won’t always be the same person throughout my life. The Muuka Gwaba I knew at six and twenty five is not the Muuka Gwaba that’s here now. Perhaps the core still remains, but we are ever changing, ever morphing as humans, and I shouldn’t limit myself for fear of being judged when my severest critic is always going to be me.
Lacan said (and I’m putting this entirely in my own words here), when you are the person you are, who do you think is watching you?
The truth is, I only want me watching, me being the critic, and not rely on some big Other judging me and deciding who I should be.
Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet,
“To thine own self be true,
and it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
I would like to add that,
If any other man don’t like it, he’ll just have to suck it up!