I was I think, a bad person in the first year of Mae’s life. I would seethe as a mate’s kid started sleeping through the night whilst mine was a foghorn from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. I was so tired I couldn’t see the judgemental wood from the friendly trees. I remember the moment things got really bad when I started ‘tutting’. Like I’d tut at someone clogging up the pavement so I couldn’t wheel Mae past in the manner of a sizzled stag-do attendee on a go-kart track.
Each baby sensory class I attended made the internal ‘tuts’ louder. I went with mate-whose-child-was-sleeping-through-the-night to this class every Tuesday at 9.15am. Mae was three months at this point and I was still fairly sure she wasn’t cognitively all there- some people’s babies seemed to be smiling and chirping in response to their doting Mums, while Mae just looked angry and quizzical. But I pressed on because everyone else seemed to be doing the right thing. sitting in community hall that smelt of feet, but probably secretly willing the tambourine to stop.
The day I cracked was when the lady running the class got up in my grill and started singing, ‘Say hello t the sun, shining over me, you are the sun and you bring light to me.’ She accompanied this ditty with flailing arm movements and a slice-of-watermelon smile, while singling me out and offering up a panto-worhy performance. I think I was actually suffering from mild postnatal depression and the one thing someone in a dark fun doesn’t require is enforced jazz hands. The internal tutting burst out into absolutely nothing, because I am British. But I never returned, because I needed to find sunshine on my own- starting with a ray here and there, building up to the full flood of light. But sans tambourine.
While I loved mate-whose-child-was-sleeping-through-the-night, I also realised I needed some other folks around to sit in a hole with for a bit. When it comes to finding your maternal mates, it does not matter if you’re breast-feeding, bottle-feeding or Instagram-feeding, as long as you can look someone in the twitching peepers and feel less alone in the parenting minefield.
My biggest breakthrough in finding kindred maternal spirits was, in part, sparked by my Dad’s advice. He was a big advocate of class tunnel-vision. He said, ‘Don’t look up to people and don’t look down on people- create the Queen as you would the bin man.’ After a particularly rough day exchanging Pog cards at school, he also chirped up with, ‘However close you are to someone, don’t call them your ‘best friend’- it isolates others’; and ‘Try and talk about things, not people.’ I obviously ignored everything because I was a self-indulgent teenager at the time and believed in my own ways. Those ways were generally influenced by the one-hit-wonder Hanson.
The eagle only landed when words like ‘squad’ and ‘gang’ started edging into my subconscious. What is this squad? Should I be in one? Does one require this athleisure clothing I’ve been hearing good things about? After a mild run-in – I was 100 metres away from the entrance of Poundland- with an actual gang in Northampton in 1996, I didn’t want to really be in one of those. I still occasionally hold my keys between my index and middle finger as a weapon in the hope that I can poke someone into submission if trouble descends.
Either way, squad or gang, I realised within that first year of Mae’s life that I had neither. I was a floater. I had a bunch of people I knew who definitely didn’t want me to die.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking others have this elusive squad-gang-thang down because there’s a photo of them with a few other mothers on the internet. The internet can make you feel like the loneliest, most mammary-leaking mama on the planet, but it’s really just one massive mosh pit of knackered souls holding on to the nearest gurning person.
My core team in the early days comprised of a bunch of people I met everywhere from park benches to playgroups. I was in many ways a maternal vagrant. But this random bunch soon became a WhatsApp group that was the key to unlocking the sunshine in my mind.
An extract from ‘Parenting the Sh*t Out of Life.’ by Mother Pukka and Papa Pukka
Buy a copy here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Parenting-Sh-Out-Life-bestseller/dp/1473665760/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1505841228&sr=8-1&keywords=parenting+the+shit+out+of+life