Bimpe Archer: Don't worry, Lynette – parenting's like driving a bus to Bangor. Ish...
Six hour-long antenatal classes and society put me in charge of a human being? It's like being put in a car – after six hours learning about cars in a lecture theatre – and told to drive it. On a road. With other cars
I’M LOOKING after her column for lovely Lynette for the first week of her well-earned break as she embarks on her latest adventure, motherhood.
The timing feels propitious as six years ago I was doing exactly the same – in fact, as you read this I will be blowing up balloons at a leisure centre soft play.
Every part of my first born’s party has been carefully curated by the birthday boy – and let me tell you, there is nothing more humbling than being ordered around by a tiny tyrant who barely reaches your waist.
Then again I should be used to that by now.
It began, as autumn 2013 faded into winter, with the endless grim march up and down that hall of our flat which was the only time our little colicky scrap of humanity would stop screaming.
And let’s face it, neither of us have sat down since.
Lynette wrote eloquently last week about the “life-changing” nature of becoming a parent. It can feel more like a white knuckle ride where life flashes past you while you hang on for grim death.
I still remember my amazement when we were sent home from hospital and expected to look after a baby on our own. A real live baby, that we had to keep that way. Why would anyone trust us to do that?
I spent 14 years in formal education, a further three doing a degree, a year of post-graduate training and around a year writing short briefs as a freelance before anyone trusted me enough to give me a job in a newspaper. And even then they certainly weren’t telling me to run amok with the front page.
Yet six hour-long antenatal classes and society put me in charge of a human being? It was baffling in a way that I couldn’t have understood it was going to be before he was handed to me.
“It’s your baby,” the midwife said as I looked at him blankly.
“Hmmm…” I thought.
My friend – whose daughter also didn’t sleep at all for the first six months – has a theory that babies have to break you down in order to rebuild you into what they need you to be. And in fairness a city-break-loving, brandy-sipping, gourmand with a mild online clothes-shopping addiction wasn’t much use to a newborn.
The thing is, though, it’s not a one-time thing – like training to be a journalist, or an electrician, or a doctor, or a chef – because what they need you to be keeps changing. And changing at a stupefying rate.
Six years in and it continues to bewilder me. No sooner have you got to grips with one stage than it ends and you’re suddenly in the middle of another.
It’s like being put in a car – after six hours learning about cars in a lecture theatre – and told to drive it. On a road. With other cars.
And then, after stalling a lot and managing not to run into too many other cars or cause any terrible injuries, someone comes and take it away, gives you a bus instead and says, “You have 20 minutes to drive this bus to Bangor.”
If you make it there (and it’s a big 'if’), before you have time to get a cup of tea to restore your nerves, someone hands you a tractor and tells you to plough a field.
Then (if you have another child) you find out you have to get on this motorcycle and drive that car in different directions at the same time. And so on. And on. And on.
Obviously you wouldn’t climb into a car that you don’t know how to drive and nothing would persuade me to drive a bus to Bangor without weeks of lessons and the appropriate licence.
Parenthood is exactly like those scenarios, but at its essence completely different. You do it without the training and/or coercion because it isn’t tyranny at all. It’s love.
The love which can sustain miles and miles of pacing that never see you leave one small patch of floor is what forces you to push past boundaries you believed impregnable.
How else would a city-break-loving, brandy-sipping gourmand with a mild online clothes-shopping addiction ever find strength despite her weakness and within that very weakness?
Certainly no other route would involve decorating cardboard boxes and learning to make Rice Krispies squares for a Numberblocks-themed party.
You’ve got this, Lynette.