I spent a lot of time in the first year of my daughter’s life, with her in the sling, dancing up and down, trying to settle her. I’ve heard people who play music they listened to a lot in pregnancy, certain that their baby can remember it from the womb, and that it always works to calm them down. I’ve heard every musical genre from dance music, heavy metal, classical. It seems every baby has their own preference.
After all my planning of a birth play list I had given no thought to what music to play my newborn. I had the radio on a lot, usually 6music, or put my enormous back catalogue on my iPod on shuffle.
I am still surprised by what emerged as the soundtrack to my first year of motherhood. Graceland by Paul Simon, is an album featuring musicians and singers from South Africa, recorded in the eighties during apartheid. It was a big hit when I was a child, and was one of a very small collection of cassette tapes that we heard on loop in the car for year after year as I grew up (along with Queen and Dire Straits). Hearing it took me straight back to my own childhood, a time with no responsibilities, where I could always rely on someone else to look after me.
It has a wonderful joy and bounce to it. I found it hard to hear it and not start to dance. I rationalise that it was the perfect bounce frequency to sooth my fractious baby.
I think it was far more profound than that. I think the crucial thing that album did in those terribly difficult early days was to make me feel safe, feel a little lighter, more joyful. It gave me that extra bit of strength, that extra bit of energy, to keep on dancing that little bit longer whilst my daughter calmed herself. It was an important lesson for me to learn as a parent, that the vast majority of the time I needed to spend less time worrying about what I needed to do to help my child, but how I could help myself, give myself that little extra bit of strength to keep trying and keep going.
So often our bad days at parenting are when me and my husband are tired and burnt out, when we have no reserves left, and then the smallest difficulty with the children feels like the end of the world. When we’re rested and positive we wouldn’t have even registered that same behaviour as a problem. When I am feeling ok, however my children feel I can support them through it. I am not a fan of the saying ‘happy mum, happy baby.’ I think it is rolled out far too easily to account for doing anything you want often with no real thought for the best interest of the child, but there is definitely a need to nurture yourself so that you are able to nurture others.
One of the lines that always stuck with me, from the first song on the album: “These are the days of miracles and wonder.” However hard those early days were, that still summed them up perfectly for me. I could stare at my baby’s sleeping face for hours on end and just be astounded at the sheer miracle that created her. There was nothing more wonderful than her smile. The entire universe was there, in the touch of her tiny fingers and the feel of her breath on my skin. As hard as those days were, as soul destroying and exhausting and challenging, as much as they made me question everything I thought I knew about the world, and myself, I will always remember them as days of Miracle and Wonder.