When I was growing up, our Christmas tradition (on Christmas Eve thanks to my Swedish dad) was to sit down with Glogg and cinnamon buns and take it in turns to unwrap our gifts, carefully and with some thought and discussion about each one. Like I said, my dad is Swedish. Last night, in a break from tradition, my rather more hot-blooded children proceeded to rip open their presents, along with quite a few of everyone else’s, in a sweaty, manic frenzy. Once the excitement was over and we had a look to see what was lying discarded amongst the ripped up wrapping paper, I realised that, for the first time ever, I hadn’t received a single book for Christmas.
This is significiant because, as you might guess from the sedate Christmas tradition, we are a family of thinkers. And families of thinkers are also usually readers. Our Christmases usually involved opening presents, eating a rather enviable smorgasbord, and then sitting in virtual silence for the rest of the evening reading. And then spending the next few days doing the same. There are books in every room of our house, and my dad’s all time favourite place is a book trading shop in an old railway station.
Why is this significant? Well, it made me wonder when people stopped thinking of me as a reader. Four years into motherhood, I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve finished. Maybe two hands. No, probably one. Parenting ‘manuals’, blogs, parenting websites and articles on Facebook groups – those I have read in the hundreds. Children’s books, I could probably recite from memory. But real, grown up novels, not so much. I’m not looking for sympathy, I absolutely could find the time (whether I could find the brain cells is another matter….) but reading for enjoyment is one of the many things that fell by the wayside. Along with clutch bags, long phone calls and my waist.
When you become a mother, you lose almost as much as you gain. We can look back on the time before motherhood with wistfulness and sometimes a bit of regret. Some people might throw themselves wholeheartedly into their new ‘life’, and try to ignore the pangs when you turn down another invitation because you don’t have a babysitter (or, aren’t ready for one yet). Some people hold on to what they can, but feel torn with one foot in each world, juggling work, fun and baby in an ever increasing dance of exhaustion.
As mothers too, we have lots of conversations about our ‘old selves’. That pre-child self can feel like another person entirely. When we come out of the fog of new motherhood (which, of course, can be six weeks, six months or six years depending on the person!), part of the transition back to feeling more normal can be to reinstate some of those things, those activities, those feelings we used to have. That might be starting to drink again, getting back to work, going for a run, or a ride, or a rock climb – whatever that might be to get back to being ‘me’.
But whatever happens, you can never really shake that feeling of no longer being a ‘me’, can you? There’s always a part of you that remembers what it felt like to carry another being in your body, that knows you’re always now an ‘us’. And getting back to running, or reading, or whatever it might be; getting ‘me-time’, whatever that means to you – you can’t ever get back to the person you were before.
So maybe there’s no point really in trying to reclaim that person. That person who had less stretch marks, a stronger pelvic floor and a few less grey hairs but who definitely hadn’t experienced the power, relentlessness and passion of motherhood. Instead, maybe the point is to take all that that pre-child self knew, and all that you’ve learned since meeting your child, and find a way to integrate it. And I mean all of it.Because once you’ve stayed up for 36 hours and can’t see straight but somehow you make it through, and once you’ve survived the first night at home, and negotiated a doorway with a buggy and a screaming toddler and a Starbucks and an overflowing changing bag – not to mention the big things, the complete overhaul of your body, your mind, your work, your relationships…..you’ve got a lot of material to work with.
Really, it’s not just the baby that’s born with that birth, however long ago that was. There’s a new ‘you’ that comes along with that. And taking all of that experience, all of that resolve, and power, and strength – ‘me’ can become whoever you want it to.
Happy Christmas all! And here’s to an epic 2016.