I am known around the block as that lady who rocks her baby to sleep every time, apparently. The other day, when I was — appropriately — rocking my son in front of my apartment building so I can put him into stroller and finally go for a walk, a man approached me. In a mix of German, English and sign language, he said: “My mom,” he pointed at the window of the building across the road from which an old lady was waving at me, “my mom said that you always do this,” he made a cradle position with his arms and rocked the air.
We laughed. He left, and I wondered how much that lady has seen over the past three months. Has she seen my melt down a couple of weeks ago, for example, when I had to carry my screaming son in one hand and push the stroller with another? I kept my cool for twenty minutes of this exercise in patience, right until I reached my house door and, maybe, sensing the safety of home, maybe, knowing my husband was coming down to help, I put my palms over my face and started bawling.
The tears came so fast, I couldn’t utter a word when my husband saw me. After two minutes of sobbing and a dozen questions about what happened, I finally managed to exhale: “Nothing! I am stressed!” There was only one time in three months. But did she see it?
She has probably seen me come down with a baby, a stroller, a diaper bag, a coat, a purse, and a camera on a daily basis. I drop all of that on the floor, except for the baby, of course, because the baby needs rocking. When he’s asleep, I put him in the stroller, get all of my belongings, and off we go! Easy-peasy. Sometimes, when the rocking doesn’t help, I sit on the steps of my building to breastfeed. Has she seen that?
The steps of my apartment building are not even the weirdest place where I breastfed my baby. I did it on the steps of apartment buildings that aren’t mine. On a bench in a park. In a crowded bus and on a train. In restaurants and coffee shops. In a shopping mall and museum. And my favorite: in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. I am so lucky to live in Germany where everyone is cool with breastfeeding in public. Not once did anyone look at me with reproach.
Maybe I’d breastfeed in public less if I didn’t choose to go out every single day and not use a pacifier. But we aren’t looking for easy ways, are we? Fresh air is a panacea according to both Russian doctors, and grandmas. When my parents came to Germany to help, we went for a walk twice a day. And on those rare days when we didn’t, we’d put a stroller with the baby to the balcony. Gasp! Has my neighbor across the road seen that?
With parents, of course, life was much easier. Three adults for one baby works perfectly. Going out of the house became a routine. My parents get dressed while I put four layers of clothes on my son. My mom takes him down while my dad carries the stroller. My parents rock my son to sleep downstairs while I try to make myself look presentable. It worked like clockwork.
But now it’s me, myself, and I on weekdays. Me dressing myself and my baby at the same time. Me taking him and the stroller down four flights of stairs. Me walking around the town hoping he can connect those sleep cycles by himself. Sometimes I am lucky. On the days when I am not, I take him out of the stroller in the middle of the street and rock him back to sleep. And I have to say, I have never seen German moms do that. Which leads me to conclude that
- German babies are so reasonable they never wake up and cry outside, or
- German moms are so chill they don’t take their babies out of strollers to rock them, or
- German moms and German babies don’t go out every day rain or shine, like some crazy Russian ladies.
If you are a German mama, let me know, please! Just like with breastfeeding, no-one looks at me funny when I rock my baby in the middle of the street. In fact, through the whole three months of motherhood there was only one time when I got a judgmental comment from a stranger who found it outraging that my son was wearing a hat, but no socks. Inside a coffee shop!
Unfortunately, my German vocabulary is too poor to explain that the socks fell off while I was breastfeeding and I would most definitely put them them back on before going outside. Fortunately, there was an understanding girl next to me who told the lady in question to mind her own business.
Apart from that occasion, I’ve been lucky not to get any “helpful tips” from strangers or friends and relatives. One day I had a lengthy conversation about parenting with my mom while drinking countless cups of tea in my tiny kitchen. She said, “Do what you like. You don’t have to listen to anybody, not even me”.
I guess every one of us has how-can-you-do-that-to-your-baby kind of thoughts sometimes, but not everyone is vocal. So think what you want to think, but don’t say it out loud. A mama already has a lot on her metaphorical plate, while on her actual plate is probably an unfinished cold lunch.
Unfinished lunch on the plate. Unfinished cold coffee in the cup. Unfinished book on the table. Unfinished conversation with a friend on Skype. “Unfinished” would make a perfect title for a book about motherhood. Alternatively, it could be called “Drop it and run!”. By “it” I most certainly mean “whatever it is you are doing” and not the baby.
Today I made a beautiful breakfast of eggs, a pretzel with butter and cheese, and coffee. Just when I arranged everything on a plate, my son started showing signs of sleepiness. I longingly looked at the plate, sighed, and went to rock him to sleep, like I do. Thank goodness, my neighbor across the road whose babies, probably, always fell asleep in the crib without making a squeak, can’t see this.
My writing is just another thing on the long list of “unfinished”. I work no more than twenty minutes at a time until duty calls. There are days when I have three or four such twenty-minute intervals a day. There…
Wait where was I? I just had to run to the bedroom because my son woke up. This is not a figure of speech, I swear! It actually happened.
So there are other days when I have only one such twenty-minute interval a day. Sometimes I put my baby to sleep at night and work for two-three hours — unimaginable luxury! Other days he doesn’t let me go after eight o’clock.
The silver lining is that I haven’t been that productive in years! What is procrastination? I don’t have ten minutes to get myself into work mood, I only have fifteen all together! All of these thoughts raise a question: what the hell did I do with my time before I had a baby? I have an even better question, actually: what did I do before I had my baby? As in… how did I even live without him?
This whole post might feel like a lot of whining which I didn’t plan, but it definitely is. And I realize that I am just like other parents who talk about what hurts most: whether it’s the sleepless nights or the lack of time or the social isolation. We don’t talk about it to get advice. We talk to let it out. To make sure someone else knows how damn hard this parenting thing is. Just listen to me, please, and know that it’s hard.
But I wish we talked about the other side, because that’s what really matters. And the other side is love. All. The. Love. So much love that it feels like an avalanche: starting slowly and almost with caution on the first day in the hospital, growing bigger and faster with every passing day until it consumes you and everything around too.
Why did nobody tell me about the love? Or maybe they told, but I didn’t listen. Or maybe I listened, but didn’t quite get it. You love your children? Duh! That’s news! And now I am too a member of the privileged club of people who publicly whine about their babies being little monsters, but secretly smell their sweet heads, and kiss their tiny fingers, and sing stupid songs on repeat just for a promise of a smile.