Every woman tells the story of her labour, just like old men regale youngsters with their exploits in the war. It’s our mothers’ privilege. So here’s mine. I know you’re not interested, but tough. Here goes.
I was just a kid and scared witless. I made out I wasn’t, but I was. My mother warned it wouldn’t be pleasant. And it wasn’t. I laboured with you for twenty two hours; my contractions were five minutes apart from the first two hours, and then four minutes apart for nearly fifteen, then three minutes for what seemed like forever. I didn’t think it would ever end.
And you know what? It didn’t really, because after I FINALLY delivered you (with the cord around your neck no less – freaking us all out on top of that!), I then only got to sleep in ten to sixty minute increments for the next THREE MONTHS solid. I thought I would die. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so young, I might have, so swings and roundabouts.
You were cute. There’s no denying that. But I do remember thinking I must have the worst baby in all Christendom, ‘cos all you did was cry. When you weren’t crying, you were grizzling. During the day, you slept those ten minute catnaps. Ten minutes! Then you cried yourself yourself to sleep non-stop for three hours every night, between 9pm and midnight like clockwork. After that, you’d wake every hour after that until 7AM. Then the vicious cycle would begin again.
The doctors said you had colic, but I figured you were acting out because I was a teen mum. If I were older (I reasoned), less stupid, more experienced (!), I would surely know what to do with you?? Nope. The reality was, even my own mother didn’t know what to do with you … and she’d had five children, not one of them when she was a teenager.
Once, you stayed awake and crying, for NINETEEN hours. Nothing would pacify you. We tried everything. I thought I would go insane. My mother thought she would go insane. By the end of that episode both of us and my eight year old sister were gibbering wrecks and your eyes were bright red, like a baby vampire. I thought you were here to suck the life out of me.
Then you got to twelve weeks old and you were suddenly completely different.
I guess the colic was gone, or maybe you decided you might as well make the best of things, after we got off to a bad start. You were no longer this grizzling, mewling babe of Satan, but the sweetest, smiling little angel. It was a literal overnight change, it was incredible. It was like a creature of the night had taken pity on me and snuck in and swapped you, taking the evil one back to Hades. That was fine by me. The previous version of you hated my guts. This new you LOVED ME TOTALLY. It felt good.
And it continued to be good after that, for a really long time. Sure we had our moments – we’ve always argued, possibly because we’re so similar – but you were one of those little kids that’s always chatty; always interesting; and totally hilarious. You were a bit naughty and man, could you backchat … But overall, you were what is commonly known as “a great kid”. I knew this because everyone would say how great you were, like it was this huge surprise a kid like me could have a kid like you.
And you’re STILL great. There’s so many brilliant things about you, I can’t even list them all. You’re clever, funny, handsome, interesting. But every mother thinks that, right? But in *my* case I speak the truth.
So, parenting is harder than anyone thinks. Ironically, I have grown to realise this more and more as I’ve got older, which means you have ended up my “experimental child”, though perhaps every eldest child is to some degree. I have made mistakes it’s true, but I take responsibility for them and I always apologise. I will no doubt make more mistakes … and I will apologise. Again. I will always apologise if I do you wrong.
But you’re sixteen now and I see that grizzling, mewling Satan babe in you again … I have done for some time. That’s okay ‘cos being a teenager IS a bit like having colic for about five years, instead of three months. I was a teen Mum remember; I can recall what it’s like and won’t tell you simply to grow up, whilst treating you like a child, like some of those OLD parents.
What’s more, I no longer have to stay awake with you all night, so I can afford to be charitable (though I do wish you’d go to bed earlier, you look washed out, boyo). But anyway. Want a quiet life? Here’s how to get me off your case:
1) Appreciate relationships need repairs and maintenance, just like cars.
Ignore them and they rust or worse, break down. It really is as simple as that. So don’t just tolerate your loved ones; consider them. Cherish them. Make sure they KNOW you cherish them.
2) When it comes to relationships, it doesn’t matter what YOU think, if the other person does not.
This is why the repairs and maintenance is important and why NOTHING should go left unsaid, especially when it comes to expressions of love, appreciation or consideration.
So, here’s a tip: when a loved one says “Why are you doing this?” the answer is NOT “I’m not, you’re crazy”. Instead, if you are confused, think instead “WHY would she think that? What am I doing – or not doing – that makes her react in this way?”
3) Relationships are a TWO way street.
Ask yourself honestly if you give your loved ones get what they need from you, spiritually. Words are cheap: what actionable steps can you take?
4) Dodging, ignoring and making people wait when they are upset or angry is wrong.
When others reach out to you and actually ask for your help in resolving an issue, to dodge or make them wait is a slap in the face. It makes them feel like you don’t care about them. Yes, other people can overreact and yes, sometimes the problem is theirs, NOT yours. But never withdraw, never ignore. You’re better than that.
5) Relationships are ultimately about give and take.
If you take something, then it’s only right to give something back in return. People who give too much become doormats, but equally those who take too much will find themselves all alone, as they are marked by society as “selfish”. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle, but during various times of our lives we will lean towards one end or the other. But overall, it’s best to try and maintain balance because that is healthiest not only for other people, but you as well.
I am your mother. There is NOTHING you can do or say that will make me abandon you, but this may not extend to other people or partners in your life. So instead of thinking, “Why does she ALWAYS GO ON at me”, think instead, “Is there something she knows that I don’t – and could doing what she asks actually HELP ME in the long run?”
Because believe me kiddo, I’d rather being having another G&T and watching ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK on DVD than putting your behaviour under the microscope *again*, y’know?
Lucy V Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via Bang2write. “Like” the Facebook page for Lucy’s Decision Books, a novel series for teens and young people which confronts a female protagonist with ALL the potential outcomes of a single dilemma. You can also follow on Twitter: @DecisionSeries.