Sometimes people ask me (out of curiosity, not in a disparaging way, although how much sleep I have had the night before determines how well I take these questions) what I do all day. And I remember I used to wonder: what is it actually like to have kids?
It looks a bit like this:
You wipe noses and bottoms. You scrub shampoo into hair and brush little teeth and rub suncream into soft, pale skin. You clip toenails and fingernails and use your entire body to do it (ever tried cutting the miniscule toenails of an extremely ticklish toddler? It's a challenge). You make meals and snacks and more meals and more snacks that may or may not be eaten. You clean up sick. You clean up poo. You clean up dribbly leftover yogurt. You clean the floors. Again and again and again. You wash clothes and dry them and immediately have to wash them again.
You ask your health visitor things like 'when will the umbilical cord stump drop off?' and then get squeamish when it actually happens. You eat one-handed. You drink lukewarm drinks for approximately six months to a year (maybe even longer). You Google 'six week old projectile vomiting' and you call your Mum to ask how to get the sick smell out of your sofa. You add safety latches to all your doors and you inspect toys for small parts and you start eyeing the toilets and the plug sockets in a new, suspicious way. You sometimes go hours and hours without eating or drinking by accident.
You temporarily do not recognise your own body. You panic when your hair falls out in clumps in the shower. You wonder how you will find clothes that don't look weird on you anymore (this bit is kind of Mum-specific).
You have toilet trips and showers observed by small, bossy people. You learn that no subject is off limits for discussion. You clean up cuts and grazes and kiss bumped heads and bruised knees.
You explain every concept under the sun, from where birds live to how plants grow to the fact that limbs will, no matter how hard you bumped them, not just randomly drop off when you hurt them, to whether or not monsters actually exist.
You buy clothes for them and not for yourself.
You run baths and get splashed so much that you may as well have jumped in anyway.
You think of them constantly. Ideas for birthdays and Christmas presents; activities they would enjoy; books they would like, what school they will end up in. You worry and dream and plan for every aspect of their future.
You survive on three hours of broken sleep night after night.
You steer them through things they don't want to do. Vaccinations, sending them to childcare ... you absorb all their fears and sadness and more because you wish you could do it for them instead. But you can't. So you live with all the feelings because it's your job to do this stuff and you hide how scared you are in the doctors' waiting room and you say 'you're so brave!' and smile even though you want to burst into tears.
You shush babies and pat bottoms and sway them to sleep. You snuggle them close to your skin, let them feel your heart beat. You reassure and cuddle and try to kiss away their fears.
You count to three a lot. You ignore a lot of tantrums. You praise the littlest things. You use the phrase 'well done!' as well as 'that's not nice'. A lot.
You swallow whatever stress you're feeling so they won't feel it. And when you're upset, you think of a child-friendly way to explain it so they don't have to be worried about you.
Sometimes, the constant demands on every aspect of your being will make you so stressed you want to drink an entire bottle of wine. Or eat a whole bag of Kettle chips. Or go on holiday for a while. By yourself.
You show them the world. You observe trees and insects and creatures. You pack a huge bag of supplies for every day trip because the one thing you forget is the one thing you'll definitely need. You deal with all sorts of obscure requests ('Please you draw a dragon?' 'Make up a story about lions.') and you name all the dollies in the shop because they want to know the name of each and every one. You make up silly songs and you do crazy dancing and you sing loudly on the way to the supermarket.
You make trips to doctors offices and dental surgeries and, very occasionally, hospital visits (incidentally these will be the most terrifying times of your life). You might even end up trying to persuade a hyperventilating toddler to use their inhaler and you talk them through it like people did to you when you were in labour. Deep breaths, deep breaths. In and out.
Sometimes you put them to bed and wonder where you'll muster up the energy to wash the bottles/get the washing in/mop the floors/have a shower/clean up the kitchen/empty the bins. But you find it and do it.
Then you give time to your equally frazzled husband/wife/partner because they need you and you need them back.
Then you answer messages and phone calls because other people need you too.
Then you go to bed and you're not sure you will actually get much sleep.
And then ...
Then, your child wakes in the night, upset about something. They fall asleep next to you. And you are totally taken aback by joy and wonder at the sight of them. You know that taking a picture will be pointless, because no picture could ever capture the gorgeousness of that perfect little pout, those long dark eyelashes, that milky skin, that hair damp from tossing and turning in their beds. So you just soak them in. The love that overcomes you is totally overwhelming and unlike anything else in the world. Watching them safely sleeping is like stepping into a bath after a long day but also a bit terrifying because of the force of how much you love them and how vulnerable they are.
And then you wake up the next day and you make a very large coffee and you do it all again.
And, just when you get the hang of it, they grow up a bit more and you realise you have no idea how to deal with what's coming next.
That's what its like.
But you still don't really know until it happens.
So if you're reading this and about to have your first: it is scary and precious and wonderful and awesome and sometimes you'll despair but mostly you'll love it.
And if like me you are about to embark upon having your second, or third, or fourth, and about to realise you'll probably have to re-learn a whole load of stuff again (are you crazy?): good luck!
I've been on a blogging hiatus. But I'm back.
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