January has come to a close, there are those who are smugly planning the extension of Dryanuary and a committed continuation of their new-found healthy lifestyle (guaranteed to last until at least the first weekend in Feb, if not the second); those who are desperate to flip the page on their calendar and crack open a bottle of the first thing that comes to hand; and those who are ruefully contemplating their waistlines as the ship of restraint sets sail for another year without ever having docked in the rambunctious port of their ongoing gluttony.
No such thoughts for me, a breastfeeding mother who has elected to eschew the more bibulous pleasures for fear of inebriating my suckling infant; and whose diet is chiefly (often solely) governed by the quantity and quality of scraps that fall (or are exuberantly thrown) from the high chair of my little one.
But that is not to say that January has not brought with it a specific set of thoughts and prompts for reflection within this, my new and ever-changing existence as a mum. Some say the month was named for Janus, aptly enough the Roman god of beginnings, gateways, transitions, time, passages and endings. Janus is commonly depicted as having two faces: one looking to the future and one to the past. Themes of both reflection and anticipation are common to many people’s experiences of January, and I think that both have featured perhaps more heavily and poignantly than ever before in my own passage through the month as it moves towards Luther’s first birthday right at January’s end.
Time has not proceeded in the usual way these last twelve months. Weeks are not punctuated in the same way by weekends (although a lovely man, who looks a lot like Luther, comes and helps out on Saturdays and Sundays). Even days and nights become confused in the presence of one who knows not adult rhythms (although 2:40am, somehow, remains truly the most painful time to start the day, regardless of how frequently one is required to do so).
Nor has the passage of time been marked in the usual way. Birthdays of friends and family members are (excusably) forgotten in the focused blur of infant care. National days and sporting events appear out of the blue and then disappear, either celebrated or ignored according to the exigencies of the child on the day or days in question (although I salute him for being awake and ready to cheer alongside the weekend help each time that Wales played in the Euros!).
The markers have come, instead, in the form of daily changes and developments, minor and major, that have shaped the ever-growing ever-changing being that grew within me, was abruptly cut from my tummy and to whom I have been devoted, body and soul, ever since. The first time he met my eye, the first time he rolled over, sat up, crawled, said “mah”, reached out his little hand to share his own meal by feeding me…
I observe and learn new things about Luther every day. And I learn new things about myself: from the sheer grit and courage that got me through labour and recovery through to the patience that allows me to read the same book for the twentieth time in a day and change the umpteenth nappy of the night; the resilience that keeps me smiling at my boy though the torture of sleeplessness is dragging my every fibre towards the ground; and the love. The LOVE. The love that would see me fight tooth and nail with rabid wolves to protect my son.
All of these things I reflect on this January; and yet I cannot pretend that the world has not marched on regardless of my own joys and travails. There have been undeniable global milestones that even I, focused as I am on my domestic affairs, have been unable to ignore (although at times, in a state of addled sleeplessness, I have truly wondered whether some of the news had been a product of the more mischievously dark side of my imagination). Brexit will see the collaborative work of years of unprecedented peace jettisoned without so much as a coherent (yet alone safe or secure) plan for any alternative; all while Trump is busy grabbing passers-by, building his wall and dancing a lunatic jig on the world stage. These landmark, world-changing events provide a jarring counterpoint to the innocent bliss of childhood development; and leave me genuinely fearing for the world in which my baby boy will grow up to manhood.
Part of me wishes Luther was being raised in woodland somewhere far away from the terrors and strains of urban society. My own rural childhood was marked by the seasons: the birth of a litter of fox cubs, the pond freezing over or the snowdrops peeking through. Even once school had started in earnest, I still came home and had tea in the paddock with my donkeys and made time to check on my dens.
I pray that Luther will have his own untainted childhood world, wherever that may be, in which his imagination knows no limits and he can run, play and discover, free and joyful. Regardless, at some point I know that my innocent child will be confronted by an ever more uncertain wider world; and in the meantime I must do my best not simply to protect him but to prepare him.
Part of me is excited at the thought of him travelling and exploring new places and sensations. I am already coming to understand that bitter-sweet dilemma that must surely confront all mothers: the overwhelming instinct to protect my baby set against the glorious desire to see him spread his wings and soar. I think my challenges during this first year as a mummy, with its sleepless nights and endless nappies, will be nothing by comparison to what is to come in raising my boy. Yet each year may I think of Janus, his gateways and beginnings. May I look back on a year of positive change, and look forward to a year of promise and discovery.