We celebrated Arthur’s second birthday last October. He is the littlest of our tribe of three. And I marvel at how quickly time has travelled, the milestones we have reached and tantrums endured. How my dimpled-sweet babe slithers and writhes, booms and clangs. How I was his everything and now fire, pancakes and a little-green-digger fill his heart. How baby days are fleeting.
But as my belly swells with our fourth child I remember baby days. Regurgitated milk down my bra and honey poo-explosions Swaying hips and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. My body bedraggled with exhaustion. Days directed by the rhythms of another. Cuddles pure and intoxicating. The wonder of new life.
And I remember when we had three children under three. When we were out-numbered and out-of-control. Chasing little-feet helter-skelter through chaos and pandemonium. A toddler unravelling toilet paper, another tunnelling underneath a mountain-of-washing. While the baby is finally asleep. Evenings thick with tears – some my own, and bed-time tricks. A relentless flow of washing and cooking. Days messy, beautiful and tender.
At school drop-off, I whisper to a friend that I am thirty-weeks pregnant. She beams and wishes me good luck for the ‘baby countdown’. I shiver with trepidation, baby days are just-around-the-corner. And suddenly it feels like my time is running out. And I want to shout, “Hold on, I’m not ready”. There are baby-clothes to unpack, renovations to finish, scrapbooks to paste, garden-beds to plant, books to read, time to spend with my children, birthdays to organise.
That evening I lie in bed waiting for sleep to come. My body cocooned in a nest of pillows. My mind smothered by lists of things to-do and those forgotten: pelvic-floor-exercises and the knitting project I started two-years-ago. Pregnancy feels squishy fourth-time around. I wonder how much longer I can do it all.
I pick up the book on my bedside table, Wild Words by Nicole Gulotta. On the third page I discover a little piece of wisdom: ‘A woman’s life is lived in seasons’. I pause, rearrange my medley of cushions, and allow this new perspective to settle within. There is something comforting about a life lived in seasons. Perhaps it is the knowledge that seasons change. That the winter of one’s life eventually gives birth to spring. And the season of raising young children is not forever. Or perhaps it is the knowledge that each season brings challenges, opportunities and rewards. Winter’s dark moods are a time for snuggles and stories by the fire. And the challenges of raising young children are fractured by moments of magic and tenderness.
Thinking about a life lived in seasons whisks me away to my Grandfather’s funeral two winters ago and the beautiful prose of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. This was the poem I read to my family with a toddler tugging at my skirt and a baby crying in the chilly air. It begins:
To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
And I’ll add: A time to nurture, a time to give selflessly. A season for raising young children, the season I am living.
On Saturday, I finally relax. All-five-of-us wear our pyjamas until lunch-time, harvest tomatoes from our patch, and build pirate ships with chairs and blankets. I relish our freedom. Our bubble of family goodness and unconditional love, insulated from the world beyond. Restaurants, politicians and social-media ‘apps’ come and go while we dance to The Lion King soundtrack and eat cornflakes for afternoon-tea. Nothing seems to matter. Perhaps the underground of baby days won’t be too different to life with three young children.
A week later, we drive our van to the most southerly point of Tasmania accessible by road, Cockle Creek, for a family holiday and to celebrate Sidney’s fourth birthday. Perhaps our last holiday as a family-of-five before baby days are upon us. It’s peaceful here, nestled within the folds of Recherché Bay. The water laps gently on the beach, the grand mountains of the Southern Ranges rise up in the distance and the wild Southern Ocean frolics just-around the corner.
The children scamper nude along the beach. Lottie carries a bucket full of cockle shells, the boys carry apples. An elderly woman counts, “One, two, three”, as they race past. Her eyes scan the arc of my belly. “You’re a busy lady”, she gestures. “Braver than me, I only had two”, she adds. I give her a friendly smile. But wonder if she might be right. Friends advise that three is a crowd and four children become pairs of harmony. Time will tell. Fortunately we have always dreamed of a big family. And I hope four children will make us complete.
The next day the sky is grey and moody. The clouds huddle like a thick woollen blanket. We walk along the coast to Fishermans Point. The children search for starfish and hat-shells while Anders snorkels for abalone amongst the bull-kelp. I keep one eye on him and one on the children while I stretch my legs in front of me. My right leg aches. A compression stocking hides knotted-veins and a blood-blue ankle. The sacrifices of growing, carrying and nurturing new life. But despite the challenges, pregnancy feels like a wondrous adventure. And a baby is the sweetest reward.
As we rock-hop back to Cockle Creek, our backpacks laden with soggy wet-suits and salty treasures, I feel grateful for my good health and mobility. Many pregnant women are not as fortunate. And I remember the advice of my pilates instructor four-months ago: “No walking on soft sand, standing on one-leg or vacuum cleaning”. I giggle at her ridiculous prescription. I could do without the vacuuming perhaps, but uneven-ground is everywhere in nature. And right now I want to enjoy playing with my family in the wild. My aching back and swollen legs will have to wait until tomorrow. Besides, the discomforts of late-pregnancy are almost upon me. And it feels like a last chance to be adventurous before I sink into the cushions of the couch and waddle around in slip-on shoes.
We stop for a rest at Adams Point where I am glad to let go of my backpack. I round up the children for a family photo. Anders holds the shutter on his iPhone and then they are gone, racing with the breeze, clambering over rocks and climbing fallen trees. For a few moments I am alone, looking out across the bay. My thoughts return to the life within my belly and to motherhood fourth-time around. Will I feel more confident, I wonder. I know I have learnt much in my six-years of parenting. A trial of worry, despair, and mistakes has birthed a ‘go with the flow’ parenting style. An approach I wish I had discovered as a first-time mum.
I have experienced the magic of the first two-years. The early smiles, steps all-by-themselves, and first words. Heart-melting achievements that come from loving human bonds. That arrive after a storm of crying, irritability and sleeplessness. I have learnt the importance of date-nights and adventure escapes with my husband. Of nurturing a relationship separate from parenting and washing-up. And of setting aside a little time each week just-for-me. Adventure, writing and drinking tea have been my saviours. And I know parents need a ‘village of support’, especially in those first gruelling months and stretches of sleepless insanity. Baby days are easier together. Though I admit it wasn’t until after my third baby was born that I learnt to ask for help.
We celebrate Sidney’s fourth birthday at Cockle Creek. We eat pancakes drenched in maple syrup for breakfast and hunt for treasure behind the beach. Later we explore a cave, collect cockle-shells in the rain, and devour a double-layer chocolate cake. Birthdays are so much fun. Days for making precious memories. And for remembering baby days long past.
Back at home, the children and I snuggle up for a bedtime story. My eyes grow heavy. I am so tired. Sidney brings me a cup of milk for ‘the baby in my tummy’, Lottie covers me with a blanket, and Arthur pats my hair. And in this tender moment, before pillows crash and milk spills, everything is wonderful.
Baby days are exhausting and extraordinary, perhaps a little terrifying. But they remind us to laugh openly, love generously, and to play wildly. To see the magic and beauty around us.