I believe the most-ignored piece of advice that every first mother receives is "look after yourself: take naps when the baby naps and accept all offers of help". I ignored it. By the end of the first week of motherhood, I was a walking zombie and the Critic forcibly removed the baby from my arms and pushed me towards the bedroom - to the scandal of his mother, who only saw her son sending his wife to bed without supper. Partly, this is because you are keyed up and excited and living on an adrenaline high. And this is also in part because you still have this secret hope that you will be a Supermom. The one who gets it right and never needs help because she's got it all taped. So you conscientiously try to make sure that each person who sends you a cute baby outfit receives a photo of the cute baby in the cute outfit, you keep up on the blogging and make nice dinners and you congratulate yourself on keepingi it all together...until the day when it all falls apart and you start to realise what motherhood is really about. My favourite book on pregnancy (Best Friend's Guide to Pregnancy) has a very apt culinary metaphor for the concept of motherhood. Motherhood is not a soufflé, says the author Vicki Iovine, which you either get right or wrong on a single attempt: it's a stew, something that simmers for many years on the back burner and you add spices and ingredients as it simmers, tasting as you go and adapting to your whim. To be a Supermom, you just have to emerge at the end of the long race with mother and child both sane and happy. And the best way to do this, is to accept help.
When my good friend Taina wrote me after the birth of our second son to offer to make us a meal, my first reaction was to politely decline. After all, I'd had a quick recovery from the birth and was physically capable of doing everything necessary to feed my family: shopping and cleaning and cooking. Not only that, but the Critic is not working at the moment so I even had his added support. And then, one night when we ordered Domino's for the second time in five days, I suddenly realised I was being very stupid. Looking after a toddler and a newborn, even with the help of Superdad, is very hard work. At the end of the day, sometimes you don't feel like cooking, or blogging or doing anything but collapsing in front of the TV and thanking the Lord for a toddler who sleeps a precious 11 hours each night. And so I wrote Taina and gratefully accepted her offer.
Today, she came to visit and admire the baby and brought with her a veritable feast for us. I think I expected a 1970's style casserole that could simply be reheated in the oven - which was very stupid of me because my friend Taina is the opposite of a 1970's housewife, elegant and hip and anything but old-fashioned. Instead, I watched amazed as she unpacked a salad of Boursin cheese, apple, dried cranberries and toasted almonds, bread (and even a single garlic clove just in case I was out of garlic - which I was) for making bruschetta, pasta and a delicious Amatriciana sauce. And a beautiful bottle of red wine. The Critic brought his mother back from the UK today for a visit and so I unashamedly served Taina's feast. It was such a stress-free evening when I started to assemble the dinner: Big Brother helped me measure out the pasta and put it in a pot and then was put in charge of sprinkling the dried cranberries and toasted almonds on the salad. I added the cheese (messy) and the apple (required cutting). He wanted to drizzle the salad dressing Taina had provided but I decided that would be testing his toddler skills a little too much. We had a delicious dinner and afterwards the kitchen was hardly any messier than it was before we started. And to cap it all, Big Brother - who has eaten next to no solid food for the last four weeks - sat down with us and ate about a quarter cup of Parmesan AND about twenty pieces of pasta. It was the best gift a mother can have. There was a time when I would have minded that he ate someone else's cooking but not mine. And that time is long since gone; all that matters to this mother is that he eats something healthy and a decent amount.
How lucky I am to have such a wonderful friend. When the first baby was born, I received more clothes than a baby can wear before growing into the next size. They were adorable and I oohed and ahhed over each outfit and rejouiced in my beautiful boy. But this time around we have clothes galore and all the kit we need. The luxury of a delicious cooked meal, is a gift beyond measure. As is the gift of a good friend, and I am grateful to say that I have so many of them - including Taina.
Note: I have managed to cook a bit in the last three weeks and will in due time start posting more regularly. In addition to the stress of adapting to a two-child configuration in our family, the blogging has been hampered by serious technical problems. My good friend Daniel In New Zealand is going to magically solve these for us very soon and Barrett and I will be back to our usual chatty selves. Thanks for your patience and do keep visiting us please!