At adoption prep, they spoke to us about how important it was to lay down the hopes and dreams we may have carried for our future children and to accept the reality of the children we would be getting. My own social worker questioned me about my own educational background and how I would feel if my child struggled academically, for instance.
I don't know whether it's because I never married, or because I never tried to have a biological child, or because I had given up on the idea of having my own children so long ago, but I can truly say that I didn't really have an image or ideal of my future child. I didn't even have a name picked out. Over the years I have had multiple names but, one by one, they have all been used by other friends and dropped off the list until the list was empty. Ironically, some of those children are now so old that I could probably re-appropriate their names, but these days I'm not really bothered.
And yes, despite this, I still find myself re-framing my expectations. Not my expectations of my child, but my expectations of myself as a parent. You see, although I never had a clear picture of what my child would be like - I never even really thought about whether I'd like a girl or a boy - I definitely had a clear picture of what sort of parent I would be.
This image was formed through years of thinking about being a parent, being around parents, teaching the children of various parents. As with most people, it was a pretty idealistic image. I knew I really wanted to be a stay-at-home-mum. I knew I wanted to do cooking and baking with my shadowy future child. I knew I wanted to fill our days with crafts, nature stuff, healthy outdoor life, games, fun, travel.
What was I thinking?!
Let's be realistic here. I'm not outdoorsy and never have been. Yes I played out with my friends as a child - we were blessed with a home on the edge of the countryside and safer times to wander through - but that dwindled as I hit my teens and, really, I think I spent most of my childhood reading. I can't cook. I'm not good at coming up with craft activities. When I have done youth work, the 'devise a craft activity' part was almost my most dreaded planning moment. Although I've spent all my working life around children, I always encountered them in groups. I found one-to-one teaching (piano lessons!) unstimulating in the extreme. I don't know anything about nature. Seriously, I had to have someone teach me which trees the conkers came from so I could take OB to look for some.
The truth is that, despite knowing all these things about myself, I apparently imagined that parenthood would cause a switch in my brain to be flicked and I would instantly become wonder-mum with all kinds of exciting and magical doings at my fingertips.
That didn't happen.
In reality, a couple of spots of rain are enough to put me off any planned outdoor activity, I rely on OB's Playgroup teachers to supply all the craft activities, I could cry with boredom when required by OB to sit on the floor and 'play' and, despite teaching myself to bake so that I could fulfil at least one of my parenting ambitions, it turns out that OB doesn't really like cake. In short, I am not the parent I hoped I would be.
|This is the kind of bedroom my son doesn't have.|
|This is the kind of craft activity that would never occur to me.|
|This is the kind of thing we don't have in our garden.|
And then I saw this article: I'm Done Making My Kid's Childhood Magical at HuffPost Parents, and while I don't agree entirely with the author's sentiments (I personally don't have a problem with parents who do crafts every day or who do Elf on the Shelf - if you love doing that then absolutely go for it!), I did feel suddenly a ton lighter after I read it. Her point is basically that childhood is inherently magical and we don't need to add anything to it to create the magic. Now I know that this is a problematic thought for those of us whose children have experienced periods in their lives that were anything but magical, and who are still living out the after effects of that, but I think the point still stands.
Because in amongst the tears and the tantrums and the meltdowns and the "Get in the car!!", we do still experience those simple 'magical' moments that have cost nothing and taken little effort to create. The empty cardboard box, the bedtime cuddle routine, the in joke, the fun you can have with a big stick.
I have been thinking ever since about what I actually remember from my own pre-school childhood with my stay-at-home mum. I can't remember any of my games or toys (sorry Mum!) except for three dolls, one of which had yukky matted hair on one side for some reason. But I do remember that my Mum had a spin dryer with a rubber mat that went in to hold the clothes down, and I had the special job of taking that little mat out at the end of the spin. I remember that near our house was a huge (to me) raised footbridge over a busy road and every time we walked anywhere near it I would be desperate to actually go over it and would be so excited if we actually did. At the new house, I remember having a jam butty and a cup of milk on a little table in front of the TV when the children's programmes came on in the afternoon. I remember that my Granddad used to make me a bacon butty in the morning if I stayed there over night (with warm water to drink as apparently drinking cold water with it would be injurious to health!). I remember that Nanna used to bake the most wonderful scones and give them to me with 'best butter' on them. And I remember that my Mum used to bake a lot, and I would be able to help and then, best of all, lick the spoon and bowl afterwards. Maybe that's why I was so determined to learn to bake.
I need to re-frame my expectations for my own parenting. I need to remember that in years to come, it will probably be the little things - the routines, traditions, tender moments - that OB will remember rather than the activities, trips, crafts and toys. I need to stop comparing myself to other parents who have different skills (and different children!), and to walk away from guilt and pressure. I need to remind myself that, in the long term, what will matter more will be who I was with OB, and not necessarily what I did. In the meantime I'm going to stop worrying about creating magic moments. We'll take them where we find them.