Especially with our first babies, we parents are obsessed with milestones. I remember poring over the books when Peanut, now four, was in her first year. I fretted that she wasn’t rolling over when she should and I felt ludicrously proud to see she was a very early pointer. With T-Bone, now two, I occasionally checked. And little Plum, some months into gestation, will probably barely make it to the baby nurse. But lately I’ve been thinking that there are another set of milestones that go largely unrecorded. The Mama Milestones. Those points in time that mark the profound transformation from the person you were before kids into a softer-of-tummy and messier-of-wardrobe creature renamed Mummy who cries watching the news and smells more Eau de Vom Bomb than Diorissimo.
First public breastfeed
Before children, the idea of getting your knockers out at a coffee shop, in front of your father or at a smart dinner party is not something most of us entertain. (Except if you live in one of those neighborhoods where the dinner parties take a certain turn after the cheese platter. No judgment.) Generally, once you have a baby (unless you plan on staying home permanently) there will be times when you need to breastfeed while out and about. In the early days, you may fiddle with wraps and covers and bosom-burquas in the safety of the stinky shopping-centre Parents Room. But after a while, most mamas get so proficient at the Unclip Bra/ Locate Baby’s Face/ Clamp and Attach/Do Not Meet a Senior Citizens Eye routine that we forget all those previous taboos against the boob flash and merrily feed the baby anywhere, anytime.
The first day-care drop-off
How can another person know the language, the idiosyncrasies, the little noises and symbols that mean your little person is hungry/thirsty/tired/bored? Will the teachers love your child? Will your child be bullied? How will you know what is really happening all day? Early day-care days are torturous, but two months in, that solo latte after drop-off is a like a heady cocktail of freedom.
First time your toddler drops their day sleep
Oh, the humanity.
First Public Humiliation.
Small children who possess language but have not yet added the civilizing aspect of tact are like a loaded social gun. Their random shots can take many forms, from ‘Mummy, why does that lady smell like poo-bum?’ to ‘Look, it’s that man from across the road that Daddy called a filfy alco-mo-holic.’ You can do nothing to prevent these verbal grenades.
First time you realize you can’t be a perfect parent
When Peanut was three, she said ‘Oh dear, my back is really sore. I haffa lie down,’ and my heart sank. She was imitating her mother, and I knew that meant that having a Mum with a ‘bad back’ was going to be part of her life story. I cried. I wanted to be perfect for her, and I knew then that I never would be.
The making of a mother, I‘ve been thinking, is a lifetime job, made up of a thousand little Mama Milestones like these; some sweet, some humiliating, and some tough to take. As my little people grow up and transform, so do I. If I’m lucky, there are many more milestones ahead for this Mama, and only a small number of them will involve neighborly disputes, supermarket shaming or public breast-baring.