An open letter to the woman who made me love motherhood

Penny Flanagan

Dear Baby Buddy,

When I look back on the baby and toddler years, the most constant thing in my life was you. You were there when I cried because my kid wouldn’t sleep, you were there when I cried because my kid wouldn’t use the potty and you were there when I cried for no reason other than I felt worn down by the constant demands of motherhood.

I didn’t know it then, but those were the golden years of motherhood; a disconcertingly shapeless place where days and nights blended into each other from dusk to dawn to daylight on repeat. Sleep was better than sex and all I needed was someone to sit with so that I could say all the things I dared not say to my own husband.

We were so close that we didn’t need to ‘catch up’ every time we caught up. We knew everything about each others’ lives and so when I walked in your door at 10am every Thursday, the conversation just picked up where it had left off the week before. Our conversations started in the middle, we didn’t have to go through the small talk to get to the good stuff.

You were six months ahead of me in the motherhood game (a lifetime it seemed back then) and so you were my sounding board, my go-to, my oracle. There was never any judgement or motherly competitiveness from you, only unconditional, wholehearted support. Your child was never ‘so advanced’ or sleeping through when mine wasn’t. Your child was as recalcitrant, dopey and pesky as mine. It went without saying, that we still loved them, but we could bitch with impunity. Ah the unfettered bitching about motherhood, it was my oxygen.

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You knew everything six months before I did: that toilet training never went to plan, that sex was a commodity to be traded for sleep and that antibiotics are a bitch to administer to an 18-month-old. Nil by mouth, indeed.

Pretty soon, our two firstborns became an inseparable and terrible twosome. It was sweet and terrifying to see them grow together. While we gossiped (there always seemed so much to say) they pushed each other from one end of the house to the other in a comically small dolly stroller, flooded the back room with the garden hose, emptied the contents of a pot plant into the toilet or carpeted the living room floor with popcorn.

What did we care? We were being heard and so nothing else mattered.

 

Penny Flanagan

Sometimes, for variety we went to the park. There we would lament the existence of swing sets because it meant that one of us would be stuck pushing a kid on the swing while we tried to get through all our topics for that morning. There always seemed so much to say. Never an awkward lull. Never a grasping around for what we might talk about next, just an endless list of things we needed to say to each other.

In fact, our mornings together were in some way a version of Freud’s ‘talking cure.’ We talked and talked and talked. And as we talked it was all gone from us: the frustration, the teary choking tiredness, the feeling that we had somehow lost our hard-won feminist autonomy in one fell swoop of reproduction.  

And amongst all this, you had the foresight to take a photo of our children every six months or so; every time the photo is taken in the same spot and every time they are a little more grown. There they are perched with little legs dangling from the garden bench, their squishy faces smiling at the camera, the cupcakes I always brought as a sugary offering to keep them quiet are clutched like precious gifts in their tiny little hands.

These photos, taken of my firstborn in your garden every Thursday are my most precious motherhood keepsakes now. A progressive snapshot portal into a past that I can now see was golden.

Thursday mornings with you were my refuge. My refuge from the isolation of motherhood, my refuge from sleeplessness so intense I thought I my skull would cave in and my refuge from the relentless numbing Groundhog Day of domesticity. In fact, Thursdays with you made me love motherhood.

You kept nothing from me and I kept nothing from you: our sex lives (or lack there-of), the sharp pinch of family finances on parent-limited incomes, the aberrant moments of bladder leak that came without warning. Details about these and other intimate things were all disseminated freely and without fear. In some ways, you knew me better than my own husband did.

I guess what I want to say is, thank you. Thank you for being my confidant, my oracle, my sounding board, my witness.

Thank you for making those years so golden.

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