When I was first pregnant and worried about the mother I’d be, I asked one of my best friends ‘What is the one piece of advice you can give me about being a good Mum?’ Her response has stayed with me, and often governs my response to my children when I’m sick, tired and frustrated. Basically, whenever I can feel my maternal control slipping…or that it has already slipped into cranky chaos, her reply helps bring my anger back under control, or later sincerely apologise for it and give an explanation why.
Her reply was ‘Remember they are Little People. They are just little versions of big people.’ It was a Mummy lightbulb moment.
The ‘remember they are Little People’ mantra governed me during the first few months after my daughter’s birth, when my daughter would scream after each feed. It took me a while to silence the ‘You are a bad mother and can’t even keep your own baby happy’ voice in my head. But eventually my husband and I started to learn what her screams meant. When I saw her incredibly distended stomach…I remembered my own when I drank any dairy. She was switched to soy formula, and we had a new baby. Once I looked at the situation as her being a ‘Little Person’ who couldn’t tell me what was wrong, I looked at other physical indicators which could be causing her discomfort. And we all slept better as a result.
I remembered the ‘Little People’ mantra when we bought my little prem son home from hospital. He wouldn’t sleep in a quiet, darkened room. We were warned this may happen by one of the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurses. But it only really hit home for me when I remembered coming home from my own long hospital stays. You get used to the endless noise and light, they become a source of comfort. And there is always movement in the NICU. Always. Silence is so rare it’s actually alarming. And it’s the only life, the only environment, your little fighter has ever known. So we moved my son into the hallway, with light, movement and laughter. He slept…well, like a baby should. The move to our bedroom…and then to his, was gradual. In the same way you’d try to manage change for an adult under the best circumstances.
Now I’m not going to give you that guilt tinged ‘appreciate your children now, they grow so fast!’ crap. ‘Gee, Thank you-I never noticed that piece of ‘wisdom’ as I was buying new clothes for my son every 6-8 weeks.’ FFS.
But I think once you start thinking of your children as ‘Little People’ – you find their unique beauty in the smallest things, small gestures, small actions. You appreciate them for who they are now, and look forward to watching who they will grow into.
So, here is my list of the 5 things I love about my Little People. These are the things that, no matter what is happening or how I feel, make me smile. Always. They aren’t particularly surprising. Or original. And I could write so many more than five.
My daughter (4 years)
1. Her morning stretch. From the day she was born, my daughter has stretched exactly the same as her Dad does in the morning. When both of them do it, it’s a reminder how lucky I am to have both of them in my life.
2. Her imagination. Acted out on her terms, of course. This morning I woke to a soft landscape of pillows, doona, a sleeping bag all strategically placed around the lounge room. I was told it was her ‘Frozen Land’, and to tread carefully. But there was no Queen Elsa and Princess Anna here. The Ninja turtles (my son and daughter) were in full ninja flight and fight. Poor Daddy (aka Shredder) looked quite worn, but happy.
3. Her empathy. My daughter seems to know instinctively when someone is sad, even if they are pretending not to be. After catching up with friends, she’ll say to me “Your friend is very sad, isn’t she Mummy?” Even if nothing has been said. When I’ve been unwell, I’ve often woken to have a new drawing on my bedside table, all her ‘blankies’ and favourite soft toys there to keep me company. Once I even had her nightlight to stave away the darkness.
4. Her ability to forgive. Not just me when I get cranky, but other children when they’ve bullied her, or don’t want to play. She pouts once, then moves on. I concede I have much to learn from her on this one.
5. Her energy. She can run and play for hours. Often it is only the boys who can keep up with her physically, which I love because she and her brother will continue to play well together. She won’t be a princess to be rescued, she will be a Ninja Turtle or Batman doing the rescuing. But she can also channel that energy, sit quietly and colour or read a book with a cuddle. And she’s always watching and learning.
My son (14 months, 12 corrected.)
1. His smile. Maternal bias, I know. But his smile really does light up a room. People smile when he does. He smiles exactly like my Dad, his Gramps, and I’m reminded of him every time I see my son’s toothy grin.
2. His fighting spirit. He’s had a rough time medically for his first 14 months. And he’s always had a smile throughout, sometimes to the point medical professionals don’t know how sick he is until I put my foot down and demand his chest be listened to, his ears looked at. But he reminds you that no matter how bad you feel, you can always muster a smile.
3. His blond curls. They are soft and white blond and have a way of springing back whenever I run my fingers through them. When his hair is wet they become tight curls. I know he will need a hair cut soon, but I just can’t bring myself to make it happen…
4. How he throws food. Ridiculous I know. It just makes yet another mess his Daddy or I have to clean up. But when you’ve had a prem baby who has had to be tube fed multiple times, you never taking their eating for granted. And I just love his definitive way of saying he doesn’t like it, or he’s not in the mood, so won’t eat it. It’s one of the world’s rare black and whites. His big blue eyes meet my own, his blond hair bouncing and swaying in the air conditioning, looking positively cherubic. Then he’ll reach his hand over the high chair and drop our carefully prepared meal on the mat below. ‘Take that’ his steely gaze says. God help me.
5. How his bum wiggles when he crawls. It’s just so cute. I know he should be walking really…but he moves so quick…and with such purpose, he has no real reason to walk yet. Especially when his sister will fetch everything for him, why would you? (See her point 3).
The irony is, when we are sick, tired or frustrated, we actually behave like grumpy Little People. We yell. We may slam the odd door. We may even cry. And (this is my Mummy mantra) – that’s ok. But next time, when you are feeling guilty afterwards, consider writing a list of the five things that you love about your child. If you smile when you are writing them, you’ve picked the right ones. Then put the list somewhere prominent. Or post them here so you can share them with the world like I have. Or stick them somewhere that no matter what sort of day you are having, you can see it, read it and smile.
Because ultimately, what makes Little People into happy and balanced adults is knowing they are, and will always be, loved by their Big People. And you’ll always have more than five reasons to give them, to show them, just how much they are loved and are the centre of your life.