My life has changed completely, but not changed at all. Apart from never sleeping, everything is pretty much the same. I see everything through that milky late-afternoon stayed-up-all-night haze that I dimly recall from my student days.
Every day consists of a series of tasks to be done, which I find quite enjoyable. But there’s a reason behind it. You’re there to construct the everything that another human being sees and feels and experiences, and everything you do contributes to that, from your tone of voice to the way you wipe the kitchen surfaces. Everything has a purpose. I have a purpose. I can’t remember when I felt I had a purpose. It’s rather nice.
I have something to do during the long summer holiday apart from think about work. (Work! I don’t think about work at all, which is wonderful, though part of me longs for a class of 32 bogey-flicking Year 6s) I can just do. We don’t enjoy doing enough, I think. There’s a pleasure to be had in just doing something, and doing it as well as you can. You can be quite zen about it all. Make this time the time you clean the feeding bottle in the best way you can possibly do it. Make this the best nappy change ever. Do everything well, because you must, not because you should.
I have no idea whether we’re doing things right or not. I’ve had impostor syndrome in my professional life many times, often because it was entirely justified, but here I literally don’t know. Am I doing it right? Are we okay? Are we getting everything spectacularly wrong? Would someone else do it differently? You agonise and worry and wonder. And then there comes a point where you’re so crushingly, massively tired that you realise you don’t have enough energy to do the stuff you’re doing and worry about it at the same time, so you jettison your worry like George Clooney floating away from that space station in Gravity, and it gradually recedes into the distance and gets quieter, and that’s quite comforting. All your worry doesn’t change anything. It’s a symptom that you’re probably doing things in the right spirit. And that’s all the evidence you’ve got, so go with it.
I have never felt this tired, this worried, this demanded upon… and yet, I don’t find it stressful at all. Stress comes from the things you have no control over, the things where you have to prove yourself to other people, where you have to wonder about that chasm between what you say you can do and what you’re actually capable of doing. I have no stress. Being a parent of a tiny living human being who relies on you to stay ,alive and be happy, and create neural connections that create its entire future ability to relate to other people, isn’t stressful. Because for better or worse, you’re in charge. You don’t have someone to refer to. You are in charge and you have to get on with it. Every decision you make is the final decision, and therefore the right decision. There is no pressure. There is no stress.
Finally I’m left overwhelmingly in awe of all those parents who came before me, the ones I know and the ones I don’t know. I think back to my mother and father, who looked after me and raised me, and I look back to their parents too, bringing their babies up in the aftermath of the second world war. Particularly I think of my mum’s mum, who brought her up as a single parent in the wreckage of the Blitz. You grow a new appreciation of people, of parents, of women in particular. All the things they have given and done and brought to make us all here.
You see glimpses of the past – your own past – and the future you hope might happen for your own child. All those fears and hopes you have sit neatly, calmly together, in a small piece of flesh and bones, whose eyes look to you like you are the whole world, because for those few seconds, and for all the time they have ever know, you are and you were. Tiredness doesn’t seem to matter, compared to that. Not a lot does. See you at 4am, woken by the crying I know so well, the sound that roars through the air and pushes your eardrums back, the crying that calls out for help, help, help right now, the crying which is love.