When a friend asked me one day, if I could sense what my child will be like, if I was prepared to raise an unknown, I sighed. We were both pregnant, I was almost due, tired and sitting on a ledge at a bus stop on Oxford street, watching the mammoth crowd of tourists and shoppers, and feeling dizzy from their wave of back and forth motion, long red London buses stilling the moment for me each time one parked right before us.
“How do you think this child in your belly will be?” She had asked, and I remember trying really hard to imagine her – at birth, at 5, at 10, at 21, if she would be a picky eater like me, her character, if she would come out with no hair, if she would like red, if she would be strong willed, if she would agree to learn ballet at 2, if she was another Einsten, if she would marry a Singaporean, and so on. I couldn’t.
The truth is, no matter how many mothers you have to teach you, or how many books you read, nothing prepares you for your child, for motherhood. Absolutely nothing. It is such a one way per child, learn on the job as you go experience, it is actually partly ridiculous.
Not one single book hinted me that my precious child will be an extremely light sleeper, afterall, people/books usually compare a good night sleep to sleeping like a baby. My own woke at the sound of my exhale. At four months, all you had to do was try to change the temperature of the air conditioning. The peep peep sound was enough to wake her. And by wake her, I mean wake her ALERT and ready to play. So if I had an early morning, I slid out of bed so that it made no squeaky noise, and tip toed, like a robber, making criss-cross moves and stopping suddenly in my tracks to cringe if the bathroom door creaked or if my phone started buzzing. Remind me to delete myself from those whatsapp groups that don’t sleep.
The first time I knew what mother’s instinct was, my baby was less than 3months old. The incident that occurred on that day reminded me of something else that happened short of 2months before then. I had gone for my 6th week checkup with the doctor. And on the way back I decided to buy some toiletries for myself, especially hair products. Plus baby items and other random stuff. Read random stuff as malteesers. I LOVE MALTEESERS. Just putting this out there. And it doesn’t help that these stores leave chocolate mistakingly on the till so it’s the last thing you see just before paying.
I hadn’t been nice to my hair in the few weeks leading up to my due date, so I was desperate to begin care again. For some weird reason my card refused to work when I tried to pay. The gentle man at the till smiled a frustrating smile at me when I told him to try again the 3rd time.
Anyway I later told him to put my stuff aside, “I’ll go and get cash and return” I said.
I went to the cash machine but came back to the till with neither cash nor card. The NatWest machine in all its iroko tree glory swallowed my card and refused to vomit it. I had already been upset that I had to stand on my tiptoe to reach the key pads of the machine, then it had the audacity to swallow my card.
I looked at all my items as I walked close to the till, then I opened my wallet. There was 10 pounds and some loose coins. I spoke softly to the man. “Please can you tell me the price of these ones” I said as I separated only the packs of baby items from the entire bunch. “I’m sorry I may have to return the items. Sorry.”
“Not a problem” he said. He didn’t ask me what happened to my card, I didn’t tell him. I wondered if he profiled me in his mind; black girl trying to escape paying. My heavy duty kinky afro obviously not helping the situation. “That would be 9 pounds 35 ma’am” he said, interrupting my thoughts. I opened my wallet again and paid cash, giving my malteesers and hair products one last look. As I walked out towards the bus station, I thought to myself; Me, Tope, I used my last money to buy baby stuff and left my malteesers and conditioner? Incredible. Is this what they meant when they said mothers sacrifice for their children? Naaaah. Take the baby ooooo. I WANT MY MALTEESERS.
It occurred to me that this was the beginning of many sacrifices to come, besides the fact that I hadn’t had proper sleep in weeks. The beginning of cleaning messes I didn’t make. Of playing peek a boo games when all I wanted to do was sleep and of coming up with rhymes in the bath.
So back to my mother’s instinct story. It is such a tangible phenomenon to me now. And it’s interesting because one year ago, I didn’t have it.
I put baby to sleep, in the same manner I had always done and went downstairs. I did not put the baby monitor on because
1)I was going to be back sleeping too in maximum 1hour.
2)It was night time sleep, if there was no disturbance she usually didn’t wake till it was time for food.
3)Again it was night time, I was certain that if she cried, I would hear her.
But was I wrong. At the time, we lived in a 3floor apartment with our room being at the top floor. Meaning if you forgot your phone downstairs, or wanted water in the middle of the night, Jesus had to be a physical help in that time of trouble. So I went downstairs and was chatting the Mr up, all the regulars; did you bring back my bowl ?…please buy water tomorrow… I need a new phone sef… did you record scandal?…did you delete my How to get away with murder?…so who did?…you are the one feeding baby today.
And somewhere in between 20 to 30 minutes later, I heard crying. The only problem was that the crying was in my head. I didn’t hear it in my ears. We paused to listen carefully, nothing, no sound. So we continued, for what was another 7 or so minutes. I was terribly uncomfortable in those minutes so I decided to go upstairs. I got there to find a wailing, already-turned-red baby who had obviously been crying for nothing less than 10 minutes, because it took another 10 minutes or more to calm her. It was frustrating for her because she hadn’t learnt to roll over then. So imagine lying in a spot, drowning in your own tears, uncomfortable and not able to change positions.
Since then, if something felt wrong in my head about her, I was usually correct. It was the same feeling in my head the day she fell off the bed. (Please don’t judge me. Statistics show that 8 in 10 babies fall off the bed in their first year.) LOL. Ok no statistics, but babies fall every time biko.
So there’s just a knowing. And it pops up all the time and you just go with it, like removing her blanket and trusting my instinct that the AC is not too cold for her, or knowing that grabbing her ear may mean she’s sleepy today but mean she’s hungry tomorrow. There’s a lot of guessing involved and a lot of figuring out too.
Today, one year after, I’m still trying to imagine what she’ll be like. Some things become obvious per time, for instance she likes gadgets (rest in peace daddy’s iPad), buying her soft toys are a bloody waste of money. She hates aeroplane toilets (who doesn’t?), milk in her food disgusts her. But for many other things, I still do not know. I guess all I can do is have high hopes, and continue to trust my instincts for her and have nothing but absolute love for her. I watch her throw her toys from upstairs to downstairs and expect that the toy magically flies back up to her. She yells and of course expects me to go and bring them. Everyday I say to her: sisi, I’m not your mate in this house o, I can’t be picking your toys. But everyday, every time, as I make my fake threats, LOVE carries my feet one after the other, down the stairs and I pick them up.
I am one year into this motherhood business and I’m proud of all my guess work and upside down experiment. My baby is an absolute delight who will eat one food today and squeeze her face at it tomorrow. Today, we are trying a new meal of homemade veggie pancake and banana ice cream. As per birthday. It is my hope that she likes it, otherwise, it’s back to drawing board.
HAPPY 1st Mommy Year to me, and Happy 1st BIRTHDAY to MY SUNSHINE!!!
Love from Mama and Dada.