“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley”
It’s a quote that everyone – at least everyone in the English speaking world – knows. If they don’t, they’ll know the paraphrased “the best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.” The two lines from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse, Upon turning up in the nest with her plough”, were the inspiration for John Steinbeck’s novel, Of Mice and Men, and are, I believe, probably the inspiration behind life with a baby or toddler.
To digress for a second; on the point of toddlers and babies, Harry is now certainly a toddler – he should actually have his own category, runnerer, because he moves far quicker than a toddle! But toddler boys rock doesn’t have the same ring to it and he’s still my baby, so, at least for now, the blog name is remaining.
Back to Of Mice and Men. Now, I wouldn’t say our life parodies the novel; there are certainly far fewer accidental or deliberate deaths. Though both Jonathan and I have been known to shout “easy Lenny!” to Harry multiple times, as he dives on the dog for a cuddle or lays on top of the rabbit to show him that he loves him. But I would say that the quote could be our tag line and, having a small child, that is just something you must come to accept: even the best laid plans will often go awry.
Perhaps it is unfair to entirely blame the addition of a child for the number of times your plans will change / go amiss. See, with a child you make more plans; your day to day life consists of plans that were never previously there: plans for nap time, plans for meals for tiny mouths, for park trips. Perhaps there is simply a natural correlation between the increase in plans and the increase in changed plans. Regardless of causation, you will find yourself changing plans as often as you’re changing nappies and sometimes, the more water tight your plan feels, the more likely it will be upended.
A lot of these changes in plans fall around the dreaded ‘nap time’, at least for us. Some babies, should they miss a nap, will become very groggy, sleepy and even, just fall asleep as they play or eat. My niece is particularly adorable with this and, never one to miss a meal, will push food into her mouth from her open palm, eyes firmly shut, head bobbing from side to side. Harry doesn’t do this. He has never once fallen asleep in his high chair. Never once have I turned to see him taking a nap where he was, a few minutes ago, playing. He just gets angrier, and angrier and angrier. He shouts, he throws things, he lays his head on the ground in despair only to lift it seconds later – usually with a scream – annoyed that his body even dared to feel tiredness. So, when those nap plans go amiss, we all feel the angst! I am sure most parents could agree that nap times are when you want those plans to work. I love my son more than life itself, but when you’ve spent three hours following around a 23lb tornado as he crashes, climbs, swings, shouts and generally wreaks havoc, I am not going to lie, that hour or so of peace when he is asleep is bliss. But all parents discover that babies work on their own schedule, loosely based around Sod’s law. You can guarantee that on a day where you’re home all day they will wake at their usual time, nap at the usual times for the usual duration and wake up jolly little angels. On the days where you dare to plan something based around their naps, they’ll wake early, refuse to nap, then turn into Chucky whilst you’re out because – through no ones fault but their own – they haven’t slept in hours and are now mentally unstable because of it!
There are of course the baby groups you planned to attend but then your child does a turd the size of New Delhi and it takes you so long to change it, whilst wrestling with their 723 wriggly limbs in an attempt to stop said turd becoming your new rug, that you end up not even going. There are the early morning coffees you don’t attend because your child, who normally sleeps through, decided to get up 7 times in as many hours and, although coffee is exactly what you need right now, you’re pretty certain that sunlight and forcing a conversation may cause what is left of your brain to disintergrate and flick you off the mortal coil.
In all fairness, we should all have been more prepared for this. Much like in Of Mice and Men where Lenny squashes the mouse (and subsequent creatures), your life of changing your plans was foreshadowed in pregnancy when your midwife, likely chuckling away to herself on the inside, asked you to make a birth plan. A birth plan. Plan something that you have never done before which you have very little control over. To give you an insight, my birth plan said that I would like to have a water birth in The Spires (the midwife led unit at the top of the John Radcliffe women’s centre) with only gas and air, if I needed it. If more pain relief was required I would consider an epidural but under absolutely no circumstances did I want pethedine or diamorphine, and preferably would avoid all drugs. Well, after 30 hours of my ten and a half pound back-to-back baby trying to push my bowels out through my rectum with not only no room for me on the Spires, but no bed in the entire maternity unit, I welcomed my first epidural. I say first, cause the bloody thing didn’t work. So four hours later I had another put in. Then they gave me an induction drip to speed things along which, between that and the two epidurals, left me all shaky from an unfavourable (or highly favourable depending on your stance on drugs!) drug-blood level. Unsatisfied with having tried to do maximum damage to my backside from the inside, when it was finally time to make his way into the world, Harry chose to keep his head sideways, so he could come out widest way first for ultimate damage. This meant I now had to go to theatre so a doctor could grab and turn his head as I pushed, for which I was told I would need a spinal block as there was a risk of haemorrhage which would mean an emergency caesarean would need to be done immediately with no time for anaesthetising me. So yeah, the best laid plans, eh?
But in all that, Harry was here safely, I neither haemorrhaged nor needed a section and, in all honesty, I couldn’t have given less of shit about my birth plan. I was just glad that he had arrived safely into the world and that I could finally hold my baby in my arms. I had never been more in love and less preoccupied with plans in my entire life. And that has continued. It is the same for the baby groups and the coffees; would I like to be there? Of course. Is it a huge issue if I miss one or two? As long as Harry is happy and well, absolutely not. Because he now comes first, before any arrangements, any plans, anything at all, he is my priority. Plus, sometimes a day snuggling and playing at home is far better than any group.
He was our plan, and we were very fortunate that that was one which did not go awry. From here on in, nothing else is really that important.
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Which is why, when I did not get the funding to do my breastfeeding counselling and antenatal practitioner training, I was not too upset. A bit disappointed, of course, but ultimately I realised how fortunate I am to get this time at home with my boy and, though it would only have been two days apart from him maximum, it is time that I cherish. So, I’m making the most of it. Making the most of the time he and I spend together and making the most of his nap times to concentrate on my writing – after clearing up a bomb site usually!