Me, myself and I are the mummy inside

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This week is maternal mental health week. I’ll be quite honest I didn’t even know this existed until I just spotted something on my Instagram feed a few moments ago. But I am ready to jump on board and educate myself and maybe others out there too because maternal mental health is so incredibly important and so often overlooked.

Things are getting better, no doubt. There is general awareness of post-partum depression and an understanding that baby blues can be a normal introduction to motherhood for many but that’s about it. There isn’t a whole lot of awareness of maternal mental health beyond the initial crash course in ultimate responsibility for another person that occurs in those first months or so after birth. But, being a parent is relentless and so are the emotions that rotate around that. How I feel about motherhood can be as complicated as the little beings I have brought into this world. It can be joyous, satisfying, entertaining and so much more but it can also be lonely, frustrating, repetitive and downright miserable.

I had a not great moment earlier this week when I snapped at the toddler, who was hovering around my feet in my microscopic kitchen as I was trying to serve up dinner, which involved balancing plates on the microwave, the fish-tank belonging to the fish we are looking after for our nursery during lockdown, trying to get hot things out of the oven while carefully pirouetting around the planets we painted earlier as part of an ongoing solar system project we are working on.

I told her to go away. It’ s a thought that often pops up but one I’ve never expressed, at least not audibly, before. Her response was to collapse on the floor sobbing. This did not help me complete dinner preparations but did ramp up my guilt-o-meter another thousand per cent! Kids are amazing at knowing exactly which buttons to push. After some cuddles, an apology on my part, pretty sure the niblet had forgotten what I said within ten minutes but the scars of that encounter are still uncomfortably itching all over me.

I can’t say I didn’t mean it, I absolutely did, at that moment I wanted nothing more than for her to go away. What a terrible thing to say to your child and what a terrible mother I must be for not only thinking that but actually expressing it. I shamefully shared this episode with a friend whose response was so brilliant I’m going to quote verbatim:

‘Imagine how awful it would be to have perfect parents, there’d be no validation of uncomfortable feelings or modelling how to feel shitty and get through it. But yeah, it’s tough on us when we swerve out of the ‘parent I want to be’ lane and into the ‘I’m still a human fucking being let me breathe’ lane.’

As soon as I read her message the truth of her words rang out like a bell. Of course I am not perfect and of course I am not going to always behave as a perfect mother but that doesn’t make me any less of a mother, if anything it makes me more of one. Letting my kid have a glimpse of the turmoil inside from time to time isn’t going to break her, or destroy our relationship, it’s laying the groundwork for a future connection that goes beyond the ‘she’s my mother so I love her’ and will hopefully one day translate into a solid understanding and acceptance of the she that is me including, but also beyond, being ‘mummy’.

Looking at the episode through a lens other than I’m a failure of a mother, I could tell you that my child was ignoring me as I asked her to give me some space, I snapped in a way that was emotionally hurtful, I recognised my mistake and the upset I had caused and apologised for that while reassuring my child that my love for her remained unshaken and unconditional. That’s not so bad.

My mother used to jokingly say to me and my brothers

‘If I can’t be a shining example let me be a horrible warning’.

I would laugh but never really thought much about it until, well, now really, but I realise that like all good comedy there is a marked vein of seriousness in it (essay title from school in relation to twelfth night, feel free to discuss in depth in the comments) and that there is a value in demonstrating a very human wide range of behaviours veering from the exemplary to the ‘don’t try this at home’.

My daughter has started telling me multiple times a day, and now I think about there is a clear correlation with the commencement of lockdown, ‘don’t worry mummy!’ At first I laughed, wondering where she was getting this from and then I started to become a bit anxious about why she was saying this so often, was it just because I usually reacted in a good humoured way, did she sense that I was constantly worrying about something or other, was I failing as a guardian supposed to shield her from negativity at all times. She also constantly seeks to reassure the cats who clearly are very worried every time she approaches, especially when they are on the bed and she is bouncing her way towards them, ‘don’t worry cat’.

Recently she has added to her repertoire ‘are you okay mummy,’ and there is no mistaking this, she genuinely seems very concerned whenever she asks that. When she asks doesn’t seem to correlate to any particular stresses, take this evening when I left the table to cut up her kiwi fruit and she’s calling through to me in the kitchen, but she probably is picking up on the fact that I am more stressed and anxious than usual.

We are in an intensely stressful situation, there are other concerns on top of the pandemic, and I am with my children all the time so I cannot keep my shield up at all times. But now I am thinking I should stop trying to. Yes, I want to be able to reassure my children, I want to protect them as much as possible from the drama unfurling outside but cocooning them from negativity won’t do anybody any good. Inevitably it will seep through the cracks that are increasingly becoming apparent so surely it’s better to occasionally address some of these issues rather than getting out the emotional gaffa tape and bubble wrap and hoping for the best.

Curiously, when it comes to their wellbeing I am much less cautious with my children physically than I am emotionally, not reckless abandonment style but I am happy letting the kids explore, run around, climb about and anticipate the occasional scrape and bruise as part of the learning process.  So why is it then I can’t think the same way about their emotional development? Sure there may be the odd stumble and fall but it’ll help equip them with the ability to make their own decisions in the future about how best to safeguard their wellbeing.

I realise now I had meant to write about my own wellbeing and have wandered into that of my children but I am starting to see that the two are interlinked and that this isn’t as dangerous as I had feared. So much of who I am gets caught up in how they are doing, relaxing a bit on this front will benefit them and give me the headspace I need to concentrate on myself from time to time without the constant nagging guilt that so often accompanies that.

I love my kids, I also love me, that should work out well for all of us.

If you can’t stand the heat, don’t bring your kids into the kitchen!

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When I was little I loved baking with my mother and I have fond memories of pressing the flapjack  mixture into the tins and of course licking out the bowl. I don’t really remember much of what we baked, aside from the flapjacks, there were a lot of cakes which I remember because the raw batter tasted better than the raw oat mixture. This, I suspect, is because I have now learnt that baking with children isn’t always about the idyllic child parenting bonding experience I had anticipated. If I were to characterise it as anything I’d say it’s closer to an extreme sport.

That sounds like an exaggeration, maybe its more like American ninja were all your physical and mental abilities are put to the test in a gruelling challenge against time. That’s really not far off the mark.

We begin with setting up the ingredients. My kitchen is the size of a postage stamp so communal cooking has to be done in the living room instead. My child cannot be left alone with a single item because she will instantly start eating it. Sugar I can kind of understand, just sticking your fingers in the butter and licking them clean, well… I guess, maybe, on a really bad day I could resort to that but eating flour straight from the bag, seriously? What kind of monster being is it that sprung from my loins because I am sure that is not human.

Getting from the kitchen to the living room isn’t a long distance, my entire flat is the size of an A4 envelope, but there is no direct line of sight so to ensure that nothing gets lost among the way I have two choices: too fully prep when she is asleep or mentally gorging herself on endless Shaun the Sheep episodes or to incorporate her into the prepping process. One, I’m not that organised but, two, I figure the more involvement the better, particularly as the whole point of the baking is as a pleasant way to pass the time and instil in her her own fond bowl-licking memories. Well, that is, aside from the whole baking to satisfy my daily chocolate cravings which I think probably shouldn’t be the only essential I go to the shops and breach self-isolation for.  I am currently eating mouthfuls of cake in between writing sentences.

So, I want to keep the minion engaged but I can’t leave her alone with any ingredients for even a moment. I go for the let’s ride on mummy’s shoulders to transfer the ingredients from the baking shelf to the table. First physical challenge is carting around 12kg of non stable, wriggling weight mass on my shoulders, trying to duck through two door frames each way.

First mental challenge engaged, this is lockdown, and I am entrusting my child with carrying things like a bag of flour and sugar. If she drops these we are doomed. Even if I could just pop out to the shops gone are the days where I could simply pick up the items I need. No, nowadays you go to the shops come home with 10 kgs of bananas that went off yesterday, a spatula, two packets of bagels and a spare inner tube for your bike tyre and count that as a win.

It takes a few legs to transport everything successfully and by the time we have everything on the table I am profusely sweating and my neck feels as though it has extended several inches and started the kind of theatrical droop cut Tulips will do for you.

I’m not a masochist so I get the bib ready for the child, she points out mummy needs her bib. Drat. Bib, or apron rather, is in the kitchen. I am physically incapable of hoisting her on my shoulders again and what’s more the bib is at a level that will cripple me for an eternity if I have to contort myself down for her to be able to pick up while still atop of my shoulders. I look nervously at the child and the contents of the table but decide to chance it. ‘Don’t touch anything’ I tell my progeny. Quick as a flash I whip to the kitchen grab the apron, try not to curse as the strings get tangled in some utensils, and run back to the table. I can’t have been gone more than a minute.

Where are the eggs. I know we brought them I remember the blind panic of getting them out of their container, putting them in the mixing bowl and nervously handing up to niblet to hold. The mixing bowl is there, the eggs are not. ‘Where are the eggs, baby girl? And please stop leave the butter alone’. I am met with silence. I am terrified but I nervously look to the floor. I spot one egg, miraculously intact and start to utter a small prayer of thanks under my breath. I then spot the other egg, not intact and leaving its oozing entrails in a sticky path across the floor up to the edge of the rug which is stoically soaking up the yolk.

It’s upsetting but it’s okay, it’s not my last egg but it will warrant a rethink of dining plans for the following day. I sprint to the kitchen for another and return in record time.

Now the baking can begin and, here, distraction is key. My multitasking skills kick into overdrive as I try to measure ingredients, supervising her adding items to the mixture, stepping in to complete tasks as she gets bored of them and trying to prevent her from licking everything. If high hygiene standards are a concern of yours never accept edible produce from people with children.

Somehow, I get to that critical stage of transferring batter from the mixing bowl to the cupcake cases. Having her put the cases into the baking pan buys me enough time to get batter into one and a half of the cupcake cases. Only ten and a half to go and now she want to take the spoon and fill the paper holders except she also wants to sample as she goes. It’s okay, there are only 3 of us in the flat who are going to eat these so it doesn’t matter if we don’t make all twelve cakes but I also want to avoid the scenario of my child eating three cake-full’s worth of batter at this afternoon’s activity, a mere three hours before she is due for bed.

I have a genius idea and distract her with the baby’s spoon I hadn’t cleared from lunch, and quickly clean by licking it. It is much smaller and slows her down enough for me to move fast enough to fill up the other cases.

As she proudly carries the full cupcake tray back to the kitchen I hover like a deranged moth but also cannot help but relish the moment of my beautiful girl with flour in her hair, butter on her cheek and the entire lower portion of her fact just a mushy mess of batter, carefully concentrating as she navigates the short route to the oven.

I cheat with the icing and just stat making that when she’s immersed in the antics of those naughty pigs (which is how she refers to Shaun the Sheep), her episode ends as I’m finishing up but with enough time for her to ‘assist’ in icing the last cake and once again clean the bowl.

By the time we are finished I am emotionally and physically exhausted and all my sweetooth cravings have been effectively squashed for at least a week. But as the Beard finishes up work and we all stop for an afternoon tea break and she proudly tells daddy how she helped make the cakes I get a warm fuzzy feeling that I know will surpass my back pain and anxiety and lead to more baking activities in the future.

I love my kids, but..

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…bloody hell, it’s hard to be around them and only them all the bloody time!

You’ll have to excuse the language but stressful situations make me swear like a sailor and I think a global pandemic that had turned our entire social order head-over-heels definitely counts as a stressful situation, not to mention the whole hundreds off thousands of people dying aspect.

The Beard and I often joke (joking/not joking) that we must start at least one statement every day with the disclaimer ‘I love my children, but…’.

Generally anyone who starts a sentence with an explanation that what they are about to say isn’t really how it sounds is not to be trusted. I mean, can you think of a single example of anyone who has ever said, ‘I’m not a racist, but…’ or ‘I don’t hate gingers, but…’ and then hasn’t followed that up with something that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are in fact the very ginger-hating racists they deny they are?

You’d like to think that whatever we say it would be fairly obvious we love our children, but I think we mostly just put in that little pre-negative statement caveat in case neighbours or the Chinese government overhear us. We wouldn’t want these people who don’t really know us to think we are truly the terrible parents we are about to sound like once the thought we’ve been wanting to share about why kids aren’t always the best has finally been vented.

Exactly how bad we sound varies on levels of frustration experienced during the day, but if you are wondering I’ll give you some real life (or real life as it was pre Armageddon societal lockdown hells we are all currently stuck in).

So it can range from the lesser ‘I love my children, but I’d quite like to be able to pee with the door closed’ to the more extreme ‘I love the girls, but the thought occurred to me today it would be nice to be divorced so that I didn’t have to deal with them everyday.’ A more recent example would be ‘I love the children, but I think I would actually enjoy this pandemic a whole lot more if I didn’t have kids.’

I know the global nature of this whole shebang is that it is affecting everyone and although the impacts will be much more severe for some people than others, that doesn’t mean we can’t all grieve for or vent about our own individual losses and issues.

In many ways I feel how lucky I am. Our flat, although not ginormous, is also not microscopic and we do have garden space. We both currently have work so no immediate financial concerns. Our friends and family, though distant, are all safe and well. We have the essential items we need to get through this, including toilet roll, pasta, a Netflix subscription and gin. And I am self-isolating with people I love to the moon and back. But… it’s still blooming tough (ah the therapeutic effect of blogging has my ‘bloodies’ tempering down to ‘blooming’ and I’ll be back to ‘whoops-a-daisying’ before we know it).

Like many others we find ourselves now single-handedly trying to manage all the childcare and work without the support services and networks we could rely on. I’m only working part time so trying to shoehorn work around full-time childcare (the Beard has just started a new job so needs to be doing the 9-5) is manageable but it’s exhausting and I don’t know how sustainable it is if this situation continues for a prolonged period.

Everything non-essential has slipped by the wayside. So priorities are all the child maintenance aspects, meeting work expectations and trying to ensure grown-ups are fed and washed on at least a semi-regular basis. Cleaning has slipped below the bare minimum. I know this because yesterday evening when I was clearing the dining table to do some work I had to deal with a whole expedition of ants who had clearly been feasting on all the food junk that is naturally occuring when a toddler, a baby, and two not super-coordinated adults are eating. Especially when you haven’t been thoroughly mopping and sweeping on a daily basis. Which we are now, because I got cleaning shamed by insects! But everything else is just a permanent mess, because one, we don’t have time, and, two, no-one’s going to come over any time soon and see so what’s the point?

It takes so much energy to try and keep the girls, well more the 2 and a bit year old, entertained, especially when trying to protect them as much as possible from the potential upset of all this. Bigger little one is too little to understand what’s going on and although I’ve tried to explain the whole ‘there is a nasty bug, so we must give people their space’ I don’t think she really gets it. That’s good I’m some ways but I don’t want her to notice too much that she is missing friends and playgroups and activities and seeing grandparents and playparks without understanding the reasons for this so I’m going for a whole lot of distraction.

But it is relentless. She doesn’t have friends to play with, so the games we set up we have to participate in, we can’t burn off her energy with a wide variety of different places to go and although the wide range of online activities out there are helpful they don’t hold her attention in the same way that real people would. But we love our kids so we keep on doing the same cosmic yoga kids routine over and over because it’s the only one she likes and we try not to take out our frustrations on her.

I can see why divorce rates may drastically increase after all this. I am an absolute cardboard box to the Beard at times and he has his moments too, but so far we remain confident that we do still love each other. It is hard to be the best version of yourself for your own and everyone else’s sake when you only have so much to give and the end of this nightmy isn’t really in sight anytime soon.

I’ve been making a point in recent weeks, as I tuck big sister up in bed, to ask her about her day and what she has enjoyed doing, (it’s generally dinosaur games) and I share my favourite moments. And then I ask her what she’d like to do tomorrow. Well as this situation drags on I had found myself dreading that final question because asking it served as a brutal reminder that every day is the chuffing same and then we repeat it. I couldn’t tell you if I was coming or going, what time of day it was, let alone day of the week and my nerves were fraying. We started a jokey chalk tally of days in quarantine on our garden fence but that had started to become a bit more poignant. After a particularly awful day where I was cussing in front of kids and then was vile to hubby, brutally haranguing him in front of the minions I figured something needed to change or I would lose myself completely.

I still do not have time, I’m only writing this in a brief work lull before the storm starts up again, so my options are limited, but I figure the first step would be to reclaim a sense of time. I wanted to be able to get to the end of the week and be able to tell you what I had done on different days. We have now implemented a basic daily rota for the week, scheduling different things for different days so that, for example, baking is one day, working on our Papier mache solar system is another. I’m also trying to vary the outdoor excursions so that we aren’t always going to the same two places, and I’m shaking up the little games we play between bigger activities as I don’t want her getting bored of anything I come up with too soon. I mean we probably will go dinosaur hunting everytime we go out but we can play different things in the garden and around the house. I’m sure this is beneficial for the niblet but I think she is far less bothered than I am at constantly repeating the same things, so accept this is more for my own sanity. But that’s okay.

I’m also trying to shore up my sense of self by taking little moments where I can. So when the Beard tags in for childcare after his working day is done, I’m taking 15 minutes to go to the bedroom by myself and put on my headphones and just drown everyone out. That’s okay too.

I love my children, but it’s okay to factor in my own needs. That’s true at any given time but more so than ever in these discombobulating times.

Pokerface over potatoes

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Sitting down to eat dinner together as a family was such a pivotal part of my childhood and so it was something the Beard and I wanted to incorporate into our family life as early as possible. But eating dinner with our two munchkins is something of a game of a chance, we spin that wheel and wonder what kind of dinner we are in store for.

The baby, who only started on solids recently, has taken to dinner time well. Perhaps a little too well. She likes her food. She gets angry if she doesn’t get fed quickly enough and you wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. Actually you probably would, I mean trying to keep up with the angry rage pickle’s irate demands for more chow while simultaneously trying to enjoy your own meal is not without challenges, particularly if the dinning option isn’t something you can easily eat one handed. Yet as she bangs her arms on the Ikea high chair table top and desperately lunges at anything she thinks might be a spoon it is satisfying to watch her enjoy her dinner.

This brings me to my other niblet, whose penchant for nibbling on our carefully prepared culinary creations seems to have neither rhyme nor reason. Dinnertimes with her are like taking the same handful of sand and throwing it up in the air and knowing that it will always fall slightly differently. We can prepare a meal for her one day that she cannot get enough of with frequent repetitions of ‘delicious’, ‘this is nice’ or ‘yummmmm’ that a few days later are ‘yuck’, the plate of food angrily pushed away from her and a flat out refusal to even lick the food, let alone put it in her mouth and swallow it.

Feeding your children seems like such a basic fulfilment of their needs that it makes it incredibly difficult when they won’t eat the meal you have prepared.

I may have already mentioned, and if I haven’t should have so that you can marvel at my magnamity, that the Beard generally goes out once a week to meet up with friends leaving me to contend with evenings, mealtimes and bedtimes solo. The first time he did this it was so bad I decided not to reply to a single one of his messages sent throughout the evening as I didn’t want to say anything that might ruin his evening. Until of course he came him and then I unleashed the trauma of that parenting endeavour.

This is probably a good time to point out that up until recently we have both been off work and able to tag team the parenting so that managing them all by myself for prolonged periods required some adjustment. And night times involve a fair amount of juggling as multiple parenting tasks must be ticked off before you can even think about sitting down and chilling out at the end of the evening. Have the children been fed, changed, read a bedtime story, pried out from underneath their baby sister’s jumperoo, arm wrestled into a sleeping bag and begged to stop taking their PJs off? Has the sacred Babbums (also known as a Paddington comforter been located) and are there batteries in the ‘moon star’ light projector? Are they asleep or is one screaming so shrilly the neighbours are looking up the numbers for animal control? And finally you can relax.

The first time was horrendous but after that these evenings got better. I would strategically put on an episode or two of whatever tv show is flavour of the month to give me time to prepare food and make sure I had all the changing gear, PJs and Babbums located before even commencing operation bedtime.

I got into a routine and was starting to feel a bit more relaxed about the whole thing. A week or so ago I made a daal. Something the little one used to love eating but hadn’t had for a while, coinciding with this new phase of whimsically deciding she will or will not eat.

We’d already had a few rocky mealtimes at this point and I had, as all sane people do, resorted to the internet for some advice on smoothing out supper.

One of the ideas we are trialling is letting her choose what she wants and help herself. So I made the daal and rice, toasted some pitta to go with it and laid out everything on the table in separate bowls.

We sat down to eat, I asked her if she wanted some rice, gave her one spoonful and then another as she asked for ‘more peas’ (which I think means more please, because if she actually wanted peas then I really failed her), same with the daal and I had to persuade her to just take a few pieces of pitta rather than the entire bowlful. I was confident this would go down well.

I didn’t want to make a fuss so started eating my food and simultaneously feeding the baby her bowl of mush. It took me a while to notice she wasn’t eating anything. I’d figured I was a shoe-in with the pitta and she would at least try that, but no. She was not feeling the pitta, the rice or the daal.

My cool started to warm up. I cleaned up the baby and found her some toys to play with before attempting to negotiate with the uncompliant child. ‘Just try the pitta’, ‘do you want some rice?’. Cue child kicking at her sister’s jumperoo and setting off the jaunty jungle tunes that come with it.

‘Can you stop that please and just sit down?’ My reserve has now fully melted and is moving towards boiling point.

Uninterested in my wheedling, she decides now is a good time to start grabbing the curtains and standing up and down on her chair (she recently decided she doesn’t want the high chair or booster seat and like suckers we accepted this).

We’ve been at the table for thirty minutes she hasn’t eaten anything and I’m trying not to panic but my cool is now steam that is collecting on the ceiling and I completely lose it. I end up screaming at her to sit down. At first she thinks this is funny but then there is a little lip quiver and she finally complies, repeating ‘sit down’ ‘sit down’ over and over again. I am trying not to bang my head on the table and the baby is trying to eat a spoon she has been left to play with after throwing all her other toys on the floor.

After forty five minutes I give up and get both children ready for an early night because I simply cannot take anymore.

After putting them to bed, venting to the Beard over whatsapp and googling around issues of toddler eating habits I calm down and can collect myself enough to go back into the little one’s bedroom. She’s still awake (she usually happily chats and sings away to herself after we put her to bed) and I calmly apologise to her for losing my temper ant not making dinnertime enjoyable for anyone. She doesn’t say anything but pats me on the head and asks me to sing her a song so I assume all is forgiven.

I know I didn’t handle the situation well so am already feeling guilty about that when a few hours later she throws up everywhere and I add another scoop of guilt to my now overflowing bowl as I realise that she may not have wanted to eat not because she was being difficult but because she wasn’t feeling well.

All in all, not a great night.

Dinnertimes have on the whole been better since then and I’m trying to not take it personally if she doesn’t want to eat something, offering her a simple alternative and no longer withholding dessert if she wont eat her mains. I’ve concluded if she misses the odd meal or only goes to bed with a yoghurt in her tummy she’s not going to starve and the less I stress about it the better it will be for everyone, but sometimes its hard to maintain the poker face as the evening slips away while she painfully picks her way around a piece of pizza she helped make.

We’ve also decided that one night a week, we’ll have dinner just the two of us once both girls are in bed so that we can each enjoy our food without the roulette of wondering whether this mealtime will be monstrous or marvellous.

The luxury of being ill

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I had a friend come visit me and the kids (the Beard was out) one evening not long after we’d moved back to the UK and she asked me what things I missed now that I was a parent.

So what is the answer I gave? Is it being able to lie in until midday on a Sunday, lazily arguing who will get out of bed first to get to the boulangerie before it close? Is it the easy ability to get dressed and wear the same outfit all day without being vomited on or attacked with sticky fingers (who am I kidding, I still wear the same outfit, I now just deliberately buy stuff that will look less obvious when I smear the snot trails into the fabric)? Is it the ability to just take off for an impromptu night out without a month of planning and hard bargaining with the other half (no I am going to the dentist’s half an hour early so I can enjoy some alone time in the waiting room, but you got to see an actual person you like for an entire evening the other week so we are even…)? Is it the ability to take off for delightful weekend breaks or adventurous travel plans that aren’t based around pushchair accessibility and potential enjoyment isn’t balanced against potential traumas involved?

Nope. Because all these little things, while undeniably nice, pale in comparison to how blooming great it is to be a mum to two amazing people. I mean, obviously they have their moments, you may have picked up on that if you’ve read a blog or two of mine before, but on balance my children (I can’t speak for everyone else’s, some really do seem like horrible little oiks) make my life so much richer. At least that’s what I tell myself when I tighten the budget once again and consider the possibility of living off porridge for a month to help cover some of the childcare costs.

However, there is one thing that I do miss in my now children filled life. I miss the luxury of being ill. Not properly seriously ill, nothing redeeming about that, but the kind of ill where you could snuggle up in indulgent self-pity. The best kind of ill where you actually feel okay or at least not terrible, so long as you don’t actually move all day, but feel bad as soon as you stand up so that you can justifiably enjoy being curled up on the sofa with a blanket, watching crappy films on tv with a steaming cup of fresh ginger, lemon, honey, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and rum (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, will blow through your sinuses and leave a pleasant aftertaste).

We’ve all had a bit of a cold of late, babes two, and the Beard and I have been taking it in turns to feel awful. That is, taking it in turns around the schedule of a demanding two and a half year old, which means trying to give each other little breaks during the day while the other one distracts the children for as long as possible.

The Beard was sick first, I nobly tried to give him a relaxing day with a bit of a lie-in although this was ruined by the eldest screaming the house done because I brushed her hair, and then later I gave him some downtime when I took both girls out by myself for a couple of hours. Then it way my turn. Obviously my illness was worse than his, because of it being mine, but I staggered on throughout the head-foggy mornings and sinus-clogged days doing my best to think of interesting activities for the child that entailed lowest level energy input for me (soft play out, child charging around the museum in). Yet that evening the Bearded One had the audacity to cough in my presence and ask how I was feeling in the put upon tones of someone who would like to share their woes of physical health. Well I quickly nipped that behaviour in the bud by explaining in no uncertain terms that I still wasn’t well and he’d had his turn at being ill and that he wasn’t allowed to be ill again. Jokingnotjoking.

Seriously though, grown up illness has to be staggered in our household. At least now we are in the UK, it’d be easier to call in some reinforcements if we ever succumb together. Our first Christmas with the potato in France everyone got a stomach bug. Baby first which was good as we had enough energy to make sure she was sorted during her day of orifice projections. Day two we were hit. Fortunately spudlet’s sickness had visibly passed but she was still really drowsy so we could get away with spending most of the day in bed with her between us as we nudged different toys in her direction. That time the Beard definitely had it worse, we were both really sick but as I was demonstrably more sick than he was so he had to be the one to get up and change the babe (and me at one point, now that’s love) and make sure everyone had enough to drink (which involved sometimes just putting the babe on my boob as I babbled hallucinating nonsense) and that sick buckets and sweat absorbing towels were readily cleaned and available.

Thankfully we haven’t experienced a sickness like that since then but I live in dread of hurricane hurl hitting our shores again in the future. That’s not really a sickness you could have enjoyed child or no but at least without the child we could have both just slept our way through it.

The double whammy of sifting through sick days with children is that children multiply the amount of sick days that you have. They are little germ magnets sharing their grubby toys and licking each other’s faces (paw patrol has a lot to answer for). Children literally rub their germs all over you and then pretty much laugh in the face of your idle hopes of a nice sit down so you don’t pass out while attempting the weekly shop.

So yes, here’s my advice to the future parents of the world, if you feel the cold welling up or a dose of man-flu coming on, really lean into that and make the most of it because you will never have the time to give in to that with relentless children that couldn’t give two hoots whether you feel spiffy or not.

Oh and hangovers, avoid hangovers at all cost. Hangovers are of course sickness of your own making which just means you get to feel grotty, your child wont care and you can berate yourself for being the definite cause of your own illness.

 

Preparing for re-entry into the world of work

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I’m likely to be starting back at work soon and that’s been churning up a lot of emotions. I’ll only be working on a part time basis and it’s a temporary contract so who knows what will happen after that, if I’ll find another part time role, whether we can afford for me not to do that or whether I need to consider full time options. Obviously I’m hoping that I’ll win one of the premium bond monthly lottery prizes of a million pounds but in case that doesn’t happen I recognise that we probably do need something of an income to live and I, albeit very reluctantly, accept that I may have to contribute somewhat significantly to that.

Anyhoo, with the countdown to my maternity leave ticking away as my baby transformed from a teeny newborn to a chubba bubba in the blink of an eye, combined with said baby trolling me with sleep patterns that do not always resemble either sleep or patterns I am struggling not to burst into the tears at the thought of a drastic reduction in my time with the girls. I was in a playgroup the other day and trying to guess which of the multitude of grown-ups were parents, grandparents, nannies, childminders and nursery workers when I suddenly felt a sadnesss weighing down on me at the thought that so many of us have children but then have to employ other people to look after them.

Obviously this is a hormonally, sleep-deprived over simplification of the many reasons and responsibilities that cause parents to return to work. And actually, although not without its problems, I found it a lot easier to go back to work after my first child. This time around there has been so much upheaval for me in the last few months, with not only the family expansion but the return to the UK and the readjustment that has entailed, that has meant these months have flown by a lot quicker. However, I also recognise that a benefit of the maternity eave that is necessary to attend to my baby’s essential needs has also allowed me to spend a lot of time with and really start to enjoy the company of my elder child.

There’s a line in one of my favourite books, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that seems pretty apt ‘and she discovered with great delight that one does not love one’s children just because they are one’s children but because of the friendship formed while raising them.’ I remember being reassured by that before my first daughter was born and it has become even more applicable in the recent months when I have been able to devote so much of my time to both my children.

My eldest is of an age where she is changing and developing at a rapid pace. Her vocabulary and powers of communication grow stronger day by day and that is enabling her to exert her personality in ever deeper shades. The truth is I want to be around her and, right now, she wants to be around me. As my last blog touched on I know this isn’t a state that will last forever and the idea of having to give up on time with her at this precious stage is, quite simply, a little bit heart-breaking.

Having said that, I know that she needs space away from us to learn new things and test boundaries and start to find her way in the world. So while I want to be around her as much as possible (aside from when she is driving me potty and I really don’t) but I also know that that isn’t the best option for her in the long run. She’s always been a sociable child and I think benefited greatly from her regular contact with other children via the childminder and frequent play-dates when we were living in France. So with all this in mind we agreed it would be best to start her in nursery, on a part time basis, as soon as possible. She had far more settlement visits than required, even after we argued with the nursery about this, knowing that she’d quickly adapt well to the change and would benefit from a little more structure to her week and some regular play sessions away from her parents and surrounded by other kids.

As anticipated, she has taken to her new schedule really well, aside from a little reluctance to get up early enough to get to nursery, like her parents she isn’t much of a morning person. But it’s definitely been the right call for her and I hope that even if my work doesn’t extend beyond my temporary contract we can find the funds to keep her in nursery. Because, my word, is childcare expensive!

As my current work situation is not long term I’ve been scouting other job options and have come to the conclusion that I need to be earning a serious ton of moolah to have anything left over after forking out for childcare for two children, and this is assuming that the beard will be able to find a job with a salary that can meet all other living costs.

If we had thought about the financial reality of childcare costs in the UK, there is a good possibility that we might have delayed the arrival of baby (and would therefore have had a different baby entirely, now there’s a whirlwind thought) aiming for a three year rather than a two year gap purely so that we could have benefited from the 15 hours of free nursery care that three year olds are entitled to.

Clearly people have different opinion on the optimum age gap between siblings but its pretty tragic really to think that so many people are forced to make these decisions not on what is best for their family in an ideal scenario but what is financially feasible. Perhaps I am just being incredibly naïve about all this, and should accept more readily that with a family comes responsibilities that include ensuring you are in a financially strong enough position to be able to provide for any offspring, it just seems sad that these kind of fundamental decisions can be so restricted by the status of your wealth, or lack thereof.

For me being able to work part time is a good solution to being able to give my children the space they need while being able to maximise the time I have to enjoy being with them and all the benefits that hopefully brings to everyone. Whether this is something I’ll be financially free to continue once my contract is over is another story, but whatever the future holds I will adapt to the situation we live in and make the best of it, because what else is there to do?

As time goes by…

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Parenting belongs in a unique time dimension where minutes can seem like hours yet somehow months pass in moments and years go by in days.

My cousin’s baby has just turned two and we were exchanging messages commenting wistfully on the passage of time. We were noting that they grow so fast and in the blink of an eye your baby has become a toddler. I’m sure in the time it takes me to finish writing this my toddler will have passed her driving test and by tomorrow she’ll be considering suitable retirement home options for her aged parents.

Yet the fifteen minutes of screaming as you march down to the maritime museum, where they have an amazing children’s play area that my eldest adores and even my youngest has now started to engage in, can feel like an eternity and you find yourself just wishing you were at the day’s end.

I find that time distorts even more so when the breakdown happens when you are in a stationary situation surrounded by other people who obviously have nothing better to do than judge your clearly terrible parenting skills and unruly children. You know, the times when the baby strapped to your chest is emitting a scream with a pitch so high that dolphins are starting to swim up the Thames and the toddler is wailing like a banshee, wriggling in your arms as you are forced to carry her like a rugby ball. The times when you think, my god, Durex should be paying me for this incomparable advertising. These are the times when your life is moving at a glacial pace so that you find yourself seriously wondering how long it will be before you die and should you be considering ways to speed up the process?

Then twenty minutes later when the drama is over and the toddler is scarpering about the play area, shoveling coal and building ships without any help required thank you very much (did I mention how great the children’s area at the museum is?) and the baby is trying to pull herself upright chuckling at her sister running amok and somehow it feels like you’ve arrived in an entirely new century.

The heave and swell of life’s moments have never been more apparent to me than since I became a parent. Before children I remember that every so often I would have these moment of perfect balance where I could feel my own insignificance as surely as I could my own uniqueness and it felt soul-quenching. But now I am constantly off-balance both literally, as I struggle to keep up with the niblets, and figuratively, as I struggle to keep up with the niblets. However, I feel like I have developed a super power that means I can manoeuvre through time like a fish in the sea darting his way and that. I have the power to glimpse my child’s life trajectory and my relationship to them throughout that and it can be, well, a little painful.

Right now my baby girl can look at me with such joy and happy recognition and in that moment I am her entire universe. It is such an amazing feeling but even as I am enjoying that moment I know that in time, and much sooner than I would care for, she will look to me less and less. My importance to her will diminish and be replaced by other joys, whether that’s watching Fireman Sam, going out with her friends or otherwise following her passions, whatever they may turn out to be. I will become not inconsequential, well hopefully not, but an offshoot of her life.

It’s disconcerting because this is absolutely what I want for her, and every step in that direction is something I hope I will be able to celebrate along the way, even if every step will be a step further from me. Already I see this with her big sister and she’s only two and a half. Big sister wants her independence, she wants to make her own choices and find her own way, but at the moment she still wants to share her victories with me and she can find her way back to me often enough so that each little moment in itself isn’t hurtful. It is just at those times when I stop to reflect on the entire momentum that it can be a little overwhelming at times.

I think I understand now why some people just want to keep having babies, the pure adoration of a baby is euphoric. I remember a friend once saying to me that being on ecstasy was the best feeling in the world, the happiest you have ever been, and I remember thinking well I definitely don’t want to try that because how hard must it be to return to normality after such a high. I cannot believe that ecstasy is better than the way it feels to be stared at by a baby who loves and trusts you so unquestioningly. But coming down from that high is hard. Knowing that the love your child has for you will change in time as you transition from being their one and only to one of many special people in their lives is hard.

Bittersweet is the term my cousin and I settled on and nothing really sums it up better than that.

But for now I shall employ my superpowers and ability to see the future by revelling in those moments of every day that set my heart on fire. I will stockpile them and store them up to keep me warm for those times ahead when I won’t be by my babies’ sides in the way that I am now. Change is  terrifying but it is also inevitable and I am sure that I will evolve to adapt to the changing relationship that times sets out for me.