I got a lovely email from my brother at the weekend. He’d been in a cafe in Edinburgh and it reminded him of taking me and a then five-month-old Eliza there for ‘afternoon tea’ – a glittering four-tier stack of delicate cakes, pastries and dainty cucumber sandwich fingers. He was laughing remembering how I’d gobbled speedily through the bevy of strawberry tarts, chocolate brownies and Victoria sponge while knocking back cups of tea with one hand, breastfeeding Eliza with the other and all with my beady eye firmly rooted on my watch to ensure we got back in time for her nap. Ah - the epitome of a relaxing afternoon! Oh how I laughed remembering it too, those early months when I was slave to the routine, planning my days in two and a half hour increments so Eliza could be crib-bound on time – until I realised, that, errr, nothing has changed. I'm as neurotic now as I was then....
Okay, so the routine has altered a little as now I’m dealing with a 17 month old with a penchant for only one long afternoon nap in her cot. But I’m still as much a slave to it now as I was then.
How do you do it Relaxed mamas? I regard your genre with deep envy and awe. My eyes widen as Relaxed mama friends explain that after this play date, they’re off to the supermarket and then on to get the car serviced, pick up the dry cleaning followed by some swimming before heading home. This is so incredibly off the radar for me to contemplate, I suffer palpitations just thinking about it. I of course smile sweetly but truth is, I just want to scream: ‘WHEN DOES THE BABY SLEEP? WHAT ABOUT THE ROUTINE!’
You see, I’m from the other genre of mama (or more likely, in an oddball field entirely of my own) who can only plan one event per day with my toddler in tow because, there’s a nap to consider and the rules (my rules) state she must be in her cot by no later than 1400 hours, Blankie, Bunny and Lambie must all be present and correct, the diaper change drill must’ve already been performed and finally the bedroom blinds must be closed.
I think I can act the Relaxed mama pretty well – I can do napping nonchalance and that other one, milestone-making indifference with good poise and grace. It’s possibly why I have so many Relaxed mama friends. It’s either that or they just feel sorry for me. Regardless, I figure if I rub up against these women often enough, some of that relaxed vibe might rub off on me too....
The trouble is, as much as I’m ruled by it, I like routine. I always have. Creating a routine gives me a safety-net, something to rely on when other things might be chaotic and unpredictable. Running my own features business at home, for example, I can’t control whether editors buy my stories but can control the hours I work. I haven’t a boss watching me, but I’ll clock on at the same time every day and ensure I'm out of my pyjamas. If I’m putting the hours in and it’s a difficult week with sales, I’ll continue to plough away confident in the knowledge that it will come good – providing I stick to what I can control.
I genuinely believe routine is good for babies too. They however come with a kind of chaos all of their own and trying to keep control of that is tough. By the time they’re toddlers it’s a whole new level of pandemonium but the stuff you’ve learnt while on the journey to toddlerhood somehow equips you with the goods to deal with it. What else are you going to do right? Last I checked, being a mother didn’t come with a parachute and/or eject button...
And so, I stick to what I know best and somehow it’s worked. Eliza is a dream sleeper and that’s in no small part due to having a nap dictator for a mother. But it’s just because she’s so good at it that I’m terrified of doing anything to change it.
So what on earth will happen when Number Two arrives? Should I just embrace the chaos and hope that after 21 months of rubbing up against Relaxed mamas, I’ll magically morph into one? Hmmm - unlikely methinks. I’m beginning to realise that I’m genetically predisposed to be this way. I’d have thought that after a year of child-rearing I’d have become some super capable, chillaxed being. Are these not the qualifications necessary to make the Mum-of-Two grade? If so, I’m screwed.
But then - after a deep breath - I think of women I consider friends in that Mum-of-Two genre. They are just as hotch-potch a bunch as us Mums-of-Ones. Some of them are relaxed, others seem wired to the moon – all of them are infinitely loveable, seem wonderful at mothering and most impressively, cope. I guess it goes back to all that stuff we learnt guiding our first babies from newborn to whatever stage they’re at now. There is no fast-track programme. Get on with it whichever way works best for you. Phew! I can do that!
Sticking to a routine for two little people will be nigh on impossible as each has different demands, needs and wants. Much as it pains me to say it being the regime stickler I am, something will have to give and maybe that will be a good thing in the end. After all, even dictators need a day or two off to enjoy a leisurely afternoon tea.