On Tuesday night my husband and I decorated our house for Christmas, and as I walked around and around the tree getting my feet tangled up in the power cord for the lights and occasionally muttering “for fucksake” under my breath, he reminded me of how unpleasant this activity was last year. He remembered how I swore and shouted at him for not helping, then completely exploded when he finally got up, picked up a bead chain and started doing it all wrong. Because last year, decorating the house for Christmas was like a metaphor for my entire life in that I just couldn’t fucking cope with it. I couldn’t figure out how to get the lights onto the tree without getting them into a vast and unsolvable knot. I didn’t have enough bead chain, so I started being less liberal with it and then I had far too much. My colour scheme wasn’t working. The ornaments looked all jumbled and wrong. It took me hours, I wouldn’t let anybody else help and I hated every minute of it. And when I was finally done, I announced loudly, “Christmas can FUCK OFF!” and stormed upstairs to bed in a very un-festive strop.
This is the part where I have to be brutally honest and hope that it’s less uncomfortable for you than it probably will be for me... Last Christmas was fucking awful. Awful. I have this really clear memory of sitting on the stairs at my parents-in-law's house on Christmas Eve, nervously feeding Baby Taylor a bottle while thinking, “Well, at least he’s drinking it and not screaming and making me look like the worst mother in the world for once.” That one snapshot pretty much sums up the whole festive period for me. Every minute of it pivoted around whether Baby Taylor was feeding (sometimes) or sleeping (NOPE). On Christmas Day itself, he didn’t do much of either. When my husband and I went to bed at the end of that day, we turned to each other and said, “Next year will be better.” We had to think like that, that what we were going through right at that moment wasn’t terminal. But at the same time, I think that was the moment when we really knew that something wasn’t right and that somehow it had to change.
Fast forward almost 12 months: Baby Taylor eats and sleeps in a manner fairly typical of a child his age. It’s easy for me to pretend that all the stuff in the middle didn’t happen. It would be really convenient for me to forget how hard I found it to bond with him and how desperately I wanted to run away from him sometimes, but the truth is that it wasn’t until I had to spend time away from him while he was in the hospital that I finally started to feel an emotional connection with him. I remember going to see him on the ward one evening after I’d been home to spend a little time with Toddler Taylor and eat some dinner. He’d been asleep when I left, but by the time I got back he was awake and sitting in a pushchair out on the main ward with the nurses. The huge smile he gave me when he saw me walking up the corridor squeezed my heart, and I knew right then that everything was going to be okay.
Baby Taylor rushes to see me when I get home from work and climbs all over me for cuddles, just like his big brother. He cries at the front door when I leave, even when he’s just waved me off. Those dark days in the first few months of his life feel very far away from the place we find ourselves in now, but it wouldn’t seem right to allow this Christmas to pass without acknowledging their existence. They will always be a part of our history, but I’m finally starting to feel hopeful that they won’t have anything to do with our future. The truth is that this time last year, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t imagine a time when I would be able to feed Baby Taylor without feeling anxious, or a night when I wouldn’t have to get up 12 times to settle him. That’s just how it was; that was our normal.
Now our “normal” finally feels actually normal. This year I am looking forward to Christmas with my family. Whatever challenges we have to face over the next 12 months, we will be alright. We had a difficult start to the year, as documented here, but I feel very different to the way I felt back then. For example, I used to dread my husband going to work and leaving me to battle with the children on my own. I would hope and pray that a family member would text and offer me some help bathing the kids and getting them to bed, just so I could have contact with another adult and share the burden with someone else. I felt so much more able to cope when there was someone else around – at least until I stopped coping entirely – and I constantly questioned my ability as a mother. Now I don’t think twice about juggling my kids as I get them both ready for bed. In comparison to how things used to be, it’s easy. It’s just another part of normal family life. There’s that word again; Normal. I’ve never really had much of an affection for normality as a concept, but when you apply it to the routines of life with children it suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. When you compare it to what used to be normal for us, it is all I ever wanted.
So... I think that just for once, I get to sit here at my computer and type one small sentence that couldn't have felt further from the truth this time last year: It’s going to be alright.