Today feels like a significant day: it is our first-born child’s 3rd birthday* and I am 6 months pregnant with our second. Being off work as it’s the summer holidays, I’ve had a bit of time to think about the kind of parent I am, and the kind of parent I want to be. I can also think about the kind of son I’m raising.
In the last year, it almost feels as though I’ve done a lot less parenting. Ben has been in full time nursery, and, due to the demands of my job, Tim has done a lots more with Ben on his own. It’s been brilliant to spend concentrated time with him over the holidays, doing things like craft and imaginative play. During term time, I’m always trying to do housework or some kind of ‘life-admin’ when I’m playing with Ben. I suppose I should really dedicate focused time to those things so that I can dedicate focused time to playing, but that doesn’t always work.
Ben is quite good at playing independently, and this is something I’ve always encouraged. When Ben was about 2, my Mum said to me, “I don’t remember ever playing with you the way you play with Ben.” I know he has got much better at playing independently, and now thatched imaginative play has developed, I love just to watch him narrate the story of trains on the island of Sodor, or pretend to be the crane, or a fireman. I do often find myself called upon to be the Fat Controller – especially when it comes to putting trains on the Step!
Like most children, Ben loves physical play – anything involving running, climbing, jumping. He’s currently running helter-skelter around a soft play area while I write. Despite being fearless when he was smaller, he’s actually quite cautious now, and will seek our the areas where the older children aren’t playing. He can’t work pedals on a bike yet, and likes a parent to go with him on the big slides! But his sense of achievement when he does something on his own for the first time is fantastic.
When we were on holiday, we wanted to do a lot of swimming. There was a gorgeous swimming pool at the complex where we stayed, and Ben used to really enjoy swimming. I had one concern though: I hadn’t taken Ben swimming since last August. That was nearly a year ago.
So one morning two weeks ago, we ventured to the family swim session at the school where I teach. Ben spent the first 10 minutes clinging to me, but then found his confidence again. Buoyed up by armbands and a pool noodle, he swam the length of the pool twice – that’s 50 metres! We managed to go every day while on holiday, and he really loved it. It was reassuring – I haven’t “damaged” him somehow by not taking him. Yes, he isn’t swimming 10 metres independently yet, like some of my friends’ children, but I think those children are in the minority. I had been feeling really guilty about not taking him, and it was something that I could particularly pinpoint that had been affected by me working full time. But in the last fortnight I think he has got his confidence back.
I know his speech and language are good, and he loves reading. I have made an effort to take him to the library every few weeks after picking him up from nursery or on a Saturday morning, and he really enjoys it. I am really trying to practise what I preach with this, as I’m always telling parents how important it is to read with your child!
Some aspects of parenting still surprise me. Potty training, for example, is something I thought would be awful, whereas in reality it was fine. The etiquette of telling off someone else’s children of necessary is tricky each time. Making parent friends is more difficult than I thought it would be, particularly with working full time. There’s a small part of me that wants to run up to every other mum of a small boy that I see and say, “Do you want to be my friend?” But that’s not socially acceptable. I’m concerned that next year my maternity leave could get quite lonely at times! I think Ben does miss out a bit on play dates and things, although we have invited several of his nursery friends to a party on Saturday. Clearly the biggest challenge for me is making some “mum-friends” locally, ideally with similar aged children.
We’ve still got some sleep issues to work on as well. Ben regularly wakes in the night and wants a cup of milk. Now he’s 3, I feel we really must tackle this, so I’ve been watering down the milk for a couple of weeks, and now will only offer water in the night. I know this is partly our own fault – he will happily go straight back to sleep after some milk and sleep until close to 7am. When you’re shattered from work, this is definitely the easiest option. But in 3 months time I will be feeding a newborn through the night and can’t be getting up to deal with the 3 year old 2 or 3 times a week as well. So it’s crunch time for this issue.
Looking forward, the biggest thing to happen in the next year for Ben will be the birth of his baby brother or sister. He seems quite excited about this – we told him when I was about 19 weeks, which was lovely, and then he came to the 20 week scan with us. I wasn’t sure if he’d actually taken it in, because he seemed more interested in running off to play rather than the baby in Mummy’s tummy, but he announced the following day at nursery that he was going to be a big brother. Whether the reality of being a big brother lives up to his current concept remains to be seen.
We have so much preparation still to do for the next few months. Despite having chosen and bought everything for Ben’s new bedroom, it is still an office, now with some more flat-pack furniture waiting to be assembled. This is swiftly moving to the top of my to-do list, as I would really like it done before I go back to work at the beginning of September. Truthfully, I’d like both Ben’s room and the nursery done before I go back, but I don’t honestly think that’s going to happen.
We’ve chosen not to find out the gender of our baby, and in some ways I’m really enjoying not knowing. However, it does make it a bit trickier in terms of planning – I need to go through Ben’s old baby clothes and find out what we’ll need if we have another boy, and what could work if we have a girl. I’ll also need to stock up on some gender-neutral sleepsuits for those first few weeks. I do expect I’ll have another bigger baby (Ben was 9lb), so he or she won’t be in newborn sizes for long.
Either way, I am so looking forward to maternity leave. Last time, I found it a brilliant time for reflection, focus and creativity. I learned so much about myself as well as Ben, and I’m really looking forward to working out how things will work as a mum of 2.
August is a natural time of reflection for me: it’s the long school holidays, as well as the break in the school year. It’s also the month of my birthday, when I often set myself goals. Now it’s the time to reflect on Ben and his year as well. So apologies if this post seems very self-indulgent and reflective – it’s cheaper than therapy. Normal service will be resumed within a few days.
*Disclaimer: I wrote this yesterday, which was Ben’s actual birthday!