We were having a velcro day. “Daaaarling Bean, light of my world, sweetest of all the peas, please could you perchance consider just the briefest of respites in your self-expression?”*
*This is not what I was thinking. I can’t publish what I was thinking.
It was my tenth attempt to put my jumper on. I had popped her down on the bed. Back arched, breath held, best tomato impression, and 10 seconds later (a budding Pinter fan, it seems) the wail emerged again.
All I wanted was just two minutes to get myself dressed so we could get out of the door to our swimming lesson without risk of arrest for indecent exposure. All she wanted was to be held because today her teeth hurt and she was just a bit overwhelmed with life. We all have days like that.
I felt my heart rate start to rise as I babbled a high-pitched, faux-calm “it’s ok sweetie, just two minutes, Mummy will just be two minutes…”. The cries continued to escalate and I felt like the worst mother in the world. Ever. Volume 2.
Both of us were getting panicked by the situation and it was getting us nowhere. As a baby, Bean has been programmed with a cry specifically targeted to make her mother go instantly mental trying to fix whatever is wrong. As mothers, we are programmed to thrust aside our own needs in that instant, so when we do put our needs first at all, we feel horrendously guilty.
The challenge as I see it is that this programming evolved in the days of cave people when a) being put down could genuinely involve the baby being eaten by a lion, and b) mothers could get away with not wearing much in public except maybe a swathe of hide.
Of course the fight-or-flight instinct itself is an essential part of human nature: babies need to know that they are safe and loved, and mums need to know when they are in danger. But unless you count Molly the cat prowling on the sidelines, still unsure of the latest addition to the family, and some dodgy animal print designs in Topshop at the moment, the context is very different today to cave days. Not a great deal of harm was going to come to Bean, either physically or emotionally, in those couple of minutes. Whereas I, on the other hand, was doing a lot more emotional harm to myself. I was telling myself repeatedly that I was scarring her for life by leaving her to cry, which did nothing except cause me to put my head in the arm hole (twice), and the whole thing took even longer than it needed to.
Then I did something quite helpful. I breathed. I guided my attention on to the air flowing into my nostrils and filling my lungs, and followed it back out again. Then I did it again. Those four seconds gave me just long enough to step back and get some perspective on the situation. In other words, I took myself back to the present moment, and in doing so, found a much calmer place.
Fight-or-flight mode is designed to be the most alert and present human state. It’s nature’s autopilot. Yet nowadays, we spend more time in that state than we need to and so end up reacting instantly to every emotion on autopilot. There isn’t any space between events and our reaction to them. The more we do this, the less present we actually become, and that right there is the little back door for guilt and ‘shoulds’ to creep in and take hold without us realising it. Add a screaming baby into the mix, and you’re a goner.
So as I heard Bean wail, my brain leapt into action to fix the situation and told me I was awful for having put her in that situation in the first place, all to do something for myself. So you see, I wasn’t very present at all. I was way off in the land of shoulds and shouldn’ts. Why? Well, societal pressure doesn’t help these days – you’re a monster if you let your baby cry at all apparently – but to be honest, we have a responsibility to be kinder to ourselves from within too. When you have that sorted, all the other outside stuff doesn’t matter as much at all.
When I took a step back and focused on my breathing for a moment or two, I was able to snap myself out of autopilot. I was able to take my attention back to the present, and simply accept it, even though it wasn’t that fun a place to be (rather noisy, in fact).
Here’s what I learned:
1) The baby was crying. It wasn’t very pleasant to listen to, but she was absolutely fine – she wanted a cuddle, but she was safe and not going to be scarred in a couple of minutes;
2) The neck hole was there all along;
3) I am a good mum and it’s ok that I take two minutes to get dressed.
So next time we have a velcro day, I’m going to be a little bit more mindful of the present, and a lottle bit more kindful to myself.