Because it’s very very late and I really should be sleeping and it’s a school day tomorrow, I decided that the most intelligent thing to do after writing this post would be to spend some more time on it by recording an audio version, just in case anyone would rather listen to it than read it.
For the record, I blame Harry Potter for reminding me that it’s fun to read aloud. Oh, and it’s 5 minutes and 36 seconds, but about 10 seconds of that is just silence because I don’t know how to cut audio.
I’ve already confessed publicly (I should say quasi-publicly, because it was on my not particularly widely read – and now defunct – MBA blog) that I am prone to bouts of organising fever. From time to time, I am seized by a near-religious belief that my life would be perfect if I could just take control of the clutter; shed excess stuff; colour-coordinate the contents of my pantry; find the perfect way to fold underwear (No, I’m not joking. I’ve actually found the perfect way to fold underwear. Changed my life.). Well, this is one of those times, and as per the wise advice of Marie Kondo, I started this year’s edition of the “tidying festival” by going through my wardrobe, taking every item and asking myself: does it spark joy?
It was all going swimmingly until I came across this grey Hello Kitty hoodie. And found no joy. Now, this was disconcerting for a number of reasons: I love grey; I love hoodies; to the despair of at least one very stylish person (you know who you are), I still believe that “the print is cute, and it made me laugh” is the best reason to wear something. Not to mention that this particular hoodie is the softest, cosiest, comfiest, hyggelig-est thing ever, and I’ve had it and loved it for years. Still, there I was, holding it in my arms like she says in the book, and nothing. No joy. Not even, like, a tickle.
Which is when I remembered this photo that my dad took of me in this hoodie in early 2012, when my son was a toddler and my daughter maybe four or five months old. I’m at my parents’ house in the countryside, with my healthy, adorable, delicious baby cuddled up against my chest. I’m wearing the Hello Kitty hoodie and holding her in a beautiful rainbow-coloured baby sling. I look like I haven’t slept in a hundred years. I’m not really holding my daughter, she kind of just hangs in the sling, and I’ve got my hands resting on her in a gesture that is more automatic than actively caring. I’m staring into space, with a vacant expression on my face, as if I’m not really there. I know that look and I know exactly what that look feels like. That look is tired and overwhelmed and fed up and wanting to run away and please, God, can I just be me again for a day, and how on Earth can this still be so hard, I’ve done it before, shouldn’t it get easier? It’s not post-natal depression, even though I sometimes stupidly wished for that, just so that I would feel less guilty about feeling so bad – if it was serious enough to merit a medical diagnosis, then surely it wouldn’t be my fault, right? Surely then I would be an innocent victim of hormone-induced chemical imbalances, instead of an ungrateful, shameful excuse for a mother. In fact, I look so scary in that photo that I can’t help wondering what possessed my dad to stand around taking photos instead of snatching the kid from my arms and carrying her to safety.
I saved the photo and pasted it in a notebook, with a sticker that says “Breathe. You are alive”. I keep it to remind me of a few things: (i) no matter what anyone says, this motherhood stuff is HARD; (ii) things can be hard and amazingly beautiful and precious and unmissable all at the same time; that doesn’t make them any less amazing, but it also doesn’t really make them any less hard; (iii) I need to make sure I’m breathing; otherwise, I’ve got nothing left to give. It’s like those flight safety announcements we should all be paying attention to – you need your own oxygen mask on before you can help others. That photo was me before I remembered to put my own oxygen mask on first. I’d forgotten to breathe. No wonder there was no joy left in that hoodie.
So the hoodie and I prepared to say goodbye (firmly but gratefully, as instructed by our tidying Zen master). But then she walked in, all laughter and dance and sparkly eyes and bouncy hair. My daughter at nearly five – the most intoxicating and infuriating and sweet and unbearable and just perfect thing alive. She snatched the hoodie from my hands, horrified that I was thinking of giving it away. “Do you want it?” I asked. She tried it on – it’s still a good few sizes too big of course, but we’re keeping it. Because the image in my head right now, when I hold it, is of her giant smile as she swims in the soft, grey folds of my favourite hoodie – and there are enough sparks of joy in there to light up the sky.
Cover photo copyright: zoliky / 123RF Stock Photo