On Bank Holiday Monday we went to Ikea. We really know how to live, I know. Of course, they did not have what we went for so in our efforts to feel like it wasn’t a wasted journey, we left with an enormous blue bag of stuff we didn’t need. Not the most successful trip then, but I did come away having overheard a conversation that has inspired this post.

In the Kids section, the “husband” spent some time negotiating The Eldest down from buying a 2 foot tall rabbit to a 6 inch long piglet, an exchange that was being observed by a young pregnant couple. As they walked away, the male half of the couple commented, “Yeah, give him some keys and a bag of pasta and he won’t even need toys.” Well, safe to say it got me thinking about the things I never knew either before I actually had children.

I never knew that I would eat half-chewed food. Before parenting entered my life, I used to balk at “double-dipping” (for the uninitiated, this is when a nacho or breadstick is dipped, then bitten, then dipped again. Ew). I thought that the potential for sharing saliva presented by this was the height of grossness. I now know better. Since the small people arrived there have been more occasions than I can shake a baby wipe at when I have accepted actual half-chewed food from the out-stretched paw of The Eldest, or even directly from her mouth, into the palm of my hand. When outdoors, this is no biggy – I just throw it on the floor muttering “I’m sure the foxes will eat it…” – but there are times when I’m inside and already spending a significant amount of time scratching cheese out of the carpet. In these circumstances I can’t bring myself to casually discard food onto the floor so I have to look for alternative avenues. The problem is that large chunks of my time are spent playing The Eldest’s current favourite game of “You be the baby, and I’ll be the mummy” with one eye, while the other one swivels around on an antennae that I’ve evolved to keep the BSCB from, well, dying. Seriously, how the human race has survived thus far without us evolving to have eyes in our arse is beyond me. Anyway, for this reason I often feel like I’m stretching my average abilities to their absolute limit so when The Eldest presents me with a “gift” I often can’t reach anything to wipe the offending article on. The only thing to do is to eat it. Fast. Like a Z-list celebrity eating a seven-inch Kangeroo schlong on I’m A Celebrity, don’t think about it, just chew and swallow…

I never knew I would enjoy baby groups (<ducks for cover> deeply uncool I know). I clearly remember, when I was in my twenties, having a conversation with a friend who had recently had a baby. I had seen an item on the news where they had featured some footage of mums sitting in a circle, with babes on laps, singing nursery rhymes. I scoffed and cringed while my friend just shrugged her shoulders and adopted a facial expression that I now know meant “You’ll see”. These days my position on these groups is that, while there is often a price to pay, I occasionally meet a kindred spirit and enjoy a good natter. To further strengthen my case, sometimes there is even an opportunity for a cup of tea and a biscuit and, importantly, as someone else is now the source of entertainment, you might even get to drink it.

I never knew I would be inclined to catch vomit. Like a ninja wearing a catcher’s mitt, the average parent discovers they possess Superman-esque super-speed when the contents of their child’s stomach start streaming out of their mouth. Not any old random child’s mouth, of course – unlike Superman’s concern for the entire human race, this superpower is reserved only for direct descendants. For their own children all parents will sacrifice their hair, skin, and clothes when the stomach bugs strike, if only to keep the clean-up to a minimum. The car sear nor the carpet will fit in the shower or the washing machine therefore cupping your hands into a bowl to receive the partly-digested contents of your child’s stomach will become second nature. Your dedication to avoiding soiling the rug will know no bounds. I once used my hood.

I never knew I would read baby forums. Those things are for sad loners without the friends, right? Well, kind of, because what I quickly learned was that even with the friends motherhood can still be a sad and lonely experience so reaching out to an online community can actually be of some comfort. I even once posted a question on a Baby-Led Weaning site in desperation at The Eldest’s refusal to eat actual food. Baby wipes and board books were her nutrition of choice and she completely refused to eat anything off a spoon.  In her eyes this intriguing utensil was just a more effective way of flirting food around the room. I was desperate. The responses I received were, let’s say, “evangelical” therefore it was not somewhere I went back to, but even so I did find some reassurance that my baby wouldn’t starve before they chased me off.

I never knew I would sniff my fingers, his fingers, her fingers or unidentifiable stains, with quite such regularity. Or that the questions “What is that?… Where is that smell coming from?” would be the most challenging to answer every day.

I never knew I would co-sleep. Now, like the Baby-Led Weaning, this is less a question of a parenting philosophy or style, and more a question of survival. With The Eldest we were militant about where she slept. She slept in her cot, and only in her cot. Even on the nights when she would keep us up for several hours because she was teething/ ill/ partying we would stay with her in her room until she went to sleep. This lasted for precisely 2 years, 2 months and 27 days. Until her little brother was born. With the arrival of the BSCB we quickly realised that where everyone was sleeping was way less important than actually sleeping. This. Shit. Got. Real. For a few weeks in the beginning, when the BSCB was feeding every two hours, and The Eldest was psychotically jealous, I slept in bed with both children. I reached the limits of my patience soon enough however, and declared that I needed “to not see them sometimes”. The “husband” obligingly took The Eldest into the spare bed with him which lasted until she got sick of his snoring and begged to sleep back in her own room. These days The Eldest and the BSCB share a room so, whenever one of them is ill/ teething/ partying (mainly the BSCB on all counts), to prevent one waking the other, it is not unusual for the BSCB to sleep with his foot in my mouth, while the “husband” gets told off by The Eldest for snoring in the spare room.

I never knew I would find my “tribe”. Since becoming a mother, I have met some incredible, funny, thoughtful and supportive women who manage the daily chaos of their lives with a healthy dose of humour. At the same time they offer an open forum to discuss worries and concerns without anyone feeling the need to “make light” of anything. In my previous life as an Actual Person with an actual name, I had some awesome friends but nevertheless I would never have discussed the most intimate parts of my life and body with anyone. In contrast I now feel like I am a fully-fledged member of the best club there is and as such my borders, like my pelvic floor muscles, have relaxed. In fact I am now so shameless that when in non-mothering company I sometimes forget to dial back the detail. I make embarrassing errors like telling a story about how I wet myself at my first and only Boxercise class (skipping, way too much skipping). On this particular over-sharing occasion I continued in excruciating detail about how I find it annoying that the instructor probably thinks I am a wimp, when actually my failure to return is down to my desire to not stink of piss. I wittered on, oblivious to the nervous giggles and avoidance of eye-contact, until I remembered that I was not amongst “my tribe”. Hastily I backtracked and apologised for offering Too Much Mothering Information but the damage had been done – in their eyes I am now that woman who has to pad her pants with supersize sanitary towels.

But that is part of who I am now (the over-sharing that is, not the supersize sanitary towels). In some ways I am exactly who I thought I would be as a mother but in others I have surprised myself. Before I became a mother I didn’t realise how it was possible to be both strong and weak, vulnerable and fierce, all at the same time. I’m so glad and so grateful that I know these things now, and despite the soggy food, sleep-debt and substandard under-carriage, I wouldn’t have it any other way.