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.

Pretending not to be a parent

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I wasn’t sure if I was going to write a blog post tonight but as the baby has been a bit of a monster for the last two hours I thought I could do with an excuse so that I can legitimately hide out in the living room while the beard tries to settle her. I am playing the game of pretending the screaming child is not mine. These are not the elements of parenthood that most people ‘fess up to and I admit I am not particularly proud of myself right now but sometimes for the good of your sanity you just have to give yourself a little break every now and again.

I feel like this week has been particularly challenging. I am not sure why.

I was coming back from some child activity this week that I’d been to on my own and I landed child number one in front of the tv and left child number two screaming indignantly from her cot whilst I struggled to unpack and fold up the pram outside so I  could put it away in the cupboard under the stairs. Having condensed ourselves from roomy French flat to what I believe would be described in real estate terms as a ‘cosy’ London apartment there is no longer room to leave prams set up in corridors.

Our front door is a bit enthusiastic about not wasting energy or allowing strangers in so has a tendency to swing to and shut you out on a regular basis, we learnt the hard way that you need to keep your keys to hand until securely across the threshold. Anyway, as I was contending with the pram and all its accoutrements and the door swung to once again behind me I eagerly drunk in the silence. Our flat is at least of a solid enough construction so that the noise of a screaming infant does not travel through a closed front door. And I’ll admit, I briefly contemplated ‘accidentally’ leaving my keys inside on the next buggy emptying run so that I would end up being locked out.

Sure, wanting to be locked away from your children isn’t the most motherhood promoting of thoughts but in my defence the hubby wasn’t far away and it would only have been for ten minutes or so of shivering on the doorstep outwardly bemoaning my bad luck, inwardly warmed by the thought of ten blissful minutes abdicating all responsibility. You’ll be please to know, and can put down the phone to child services, that I did not give into temptation and carried out the operation of getting in the house with two small children, a buggy that has bred all sorts of stuff in the underbelly of its storage unit in the hour or so you’ve been outside, and bags of shopping hanging off the pram hooks. Getting back into the house is marginally easier than getting out of the house which requires a more detailed consideration of planning and preparation to make sure you don’t leave behind one of the essentials such as the snacks/nappies/wipes/children.

Recently I was asked how I enjoyed motherhood. I wasn’t sure how serious a question it was and how detailed an answer was required, I suspected that the stock ‘it’s amazing’ answer was the one I was supposed to trot out and indeed I did, although I added the disclaimer that it did have its challenges from time to time. Challenges being akin to when a teacher would tell you your answer at school was interesting, interesting meaning wrong, challenging meaning it could be really bloody difficult.

Don’t get me wrong I love my girls more than I could ever have thought humanly possible, I would crawl over broken glass and eat my own arm for them if required. It’s just that sometimes I’d just like a little time off and I’m not very good at making that happen or taking advantage of opportunities when presented.

For example, this afternoon the beard took out the senior and generally more demanding monster for the afternoon and he asked me how I was going to enjoy my downtime with just the teeny one (note that even my downtime still involves a level of parenting) and I didn’t know how to answer or what to do. Just chilling at home didn’t really seem an option so I harnessed her up, bagged a brolly (has been a miserable rainy day today) and tootled off to vote again (there having been a mix-up preventing me from doing so in the morning, not because I have been committing voter fraud) before trudging around the shopping area on the trawl for Christmas presents. Quiet time equals time to get stuff done, not time to just be.

I really suck at relaxing. The evenings, once both minions have finally settled (or at least until the littlest one wakes up again), are my best opportunity for having a bit of me time and sometimes I like to just squander that on a bit of Netflix. Other times I find myself wasting a good chunk of time debating whether it’s better to just go to bed and sleep while I can or to stay up and watch another episode/ read another chapter or have a bath.

Most of the time I ultimately just end up wasting about two hours casually browsing through social media and the BBC news app whilst I try to figure out what to do with myself.  When you get to the alleged news stories about being single at Christmas that’s generally a good time to move ont tom something else. Why is this even in the news? Is it purely to break up the tedium of Brexit or misery of stabbing stories that otherwise dominate?

It’s like tonight, I could try to go to bed early(ish) now that the beard seems to have settled her, but I find myself tapping away here instead. The baby hasn’t been sleeping well, ergo I have not been sleeping well and I’ve got a bit of a miserable cold on top, so as much rest as possible makes sense when caffeine can only do so much for me tomorrow but on the flip side blogging means hiding out, pretending I am capable of more than the odd flight of fancy of a carefree childless existence, and a therapeutic spewing of my disorganised thoughts across the computer screen.

At least this is a better outcome than spending multiple hours going over the same old Instagram posts over and over again. Anyway, time to draw to a close, a new dawn, a new day and no doubt new ‘challenges’ but also new opportunities for love, life and laughter await.

Release the Kraken!

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Generally once a week I go to softplay with niblet and the monster and if the beard isn’t DIYing/jobhunting/hiding out from his family sometimes he’ll come with us. For those not in the know softplay is pretty much as it sounds there’s soft stuff to play with that theoretically you can’t hurt yourself on. Theoretically because the place is designed for children so if you are an adult trying to chase your toddler around the obstacle course at speed there is scope for injuries to pride in addition to the aching joints of scrambling through what is essentially a hamster run for small children.

On Monday I went solo. There were a few other kids but they were a bit younger than my eldest and so she wanted me to join in her in the rat run and chase her around. The previous week she managed this by ingeniously stealing my shoes and hiding them in the monkey cage (note that shoes are absolutely forbidden in the softplay sanctuary) so I had no choice but to offload the baby to an adjacent parent and scamper after her.

Sometimes I can stay in the grown up area with the excuse of needing to ensure the teeny one isn’t either stolen by a deranged mother who has suffered one to many blows to the head of the kiddie iron curtain that blocks one of the softplay routes or trampled by someone else’s pint sized person. Yet on Monday the miniest-me gave me no excuse not to join her sister, by sleeping soundly for the duration in the adjoining room. It’s not always a good thing when your kid is a solid sleeper.

Don’t get me wrong softplay is fun, think of it like a mini parcour but where the biggest risk is damaged pride rather than broken bones, the problem is having to keep at it with my Duracell bunny of a child with her limitless supplies of energy. After a couple of laps I want to rest up a bit, but no chance of that.

The other problem Monday was my choice of clothing. I’ve been trialling this new thing recently where I no longer save my best clothes for best, having accepted that life as a mother of two means these sorts of occasions are going to be few and far between and that a skirt has the same likelihood of sticky child survival rating as a go to pair of jeans. Also having moved into a smaller space in London than we had in France with seriously reduced storage options I have had a stern talking to myself that if I don’t wear stuff then I have to throw it out.

I’ve actually really been enjoying taking a bit of time each morning to put on clothes that make me happy and feel like a bit more of a real functioning adult, with the caveat that whatever I wear has to be easily breast accessible so that I can whip out the baps on demand for bubba.

In conclusion, on Monday, I wasn’t really appropriately addressed for softplay in a dress and tights combo as I scampered about the micro maze trying to keep up with the whirlwind that somehow I created (I am yawning as I write this at the ripe time of 10pm).

Yet the skirt and dress was the least of my problems and the real issue was the nursing bra. Honestly boobs and motherhood are a nightmare. Sure, they are a fairly essential piece of kit if you are going down the breastfeeding route but the headaches they cause, not to mention the backache with the engorged pendulums (penduli?) swinging off your front. Maybe its less of an issue if your pre-pregnancy breasts were of the perky pancake variety, in which case you might be pleased as they slightly increase to a more tactile satsuma size. What is not joyful is if you started off well-endowed in the chest department, had one baby and went up a couple of bra sizes and then was horrified to discover that with pregnancy number two they swell yet again so that as you are looking to buy some new maternity bras in Marks and Spencers and you realise that you need the next size up which doesn’t actually exist in store even in the plus-sized section! If I have more children I’m going to have order some kind of boat cover tarpaulins to keep these mammoths in check.

I do not have great fitting nursing bras, they are not underwired, presumably so that when you have a hormonal surge you aren’t tempted to rip out the wire and jab it in the eye of the next person who asks you whether your baby is ‘good’ (they are a few weeks old, the concept of good and evil is a bit beyond them at this moment, or at least so they’d have us believe). The lack of a wire does help a bit with the comfort levels but does not help with containment.

I think the problem with my boobs is that they have had a taste of freedom and now they want more. They want to roam free and find out who they really are as they go off and do their own thing. This make me and my breasts a little out of sync as what I want is for them to stay in place long enough that people don’t mistake me for a piece of abstract art and so that milk doesn’t leak all over the shop.

So on a normal day I’m regularly adjusting the girls and trying to put them back in their roosts on a fairly frequent basis, on an active softplay day where I am scampering around a three foot high tunnel in my best Quasimodo impression trying to keep up with the tearaway two year old this is the perfect opportunity for the Kraken to try to escape. With no wire to keep them separated and too many clasps and hooks on the other side their best option is to work together and spring from the centre so that I found myself struggling with a very fetching uniboober scenario. As I’m scampering about trying to keep up with the child and keep the beasts of burden under control, hocking them back into place and in doing so accidentally unhooking them every so often so that they can make a dash for freedom from unexpected directions, I realise this is not the life I imagined for myself when I was a little girl daydreaming about my future.

Sure motherhood is full of wonders of life and a love unlike anything you ever thought possible but it’s also full of embarrassing bodily mishaps that no-one prepares you for.

The staff selling softplay admission have security cameras and were therefore able to witness my inner wardrobe wars. I suspect this is the reason why I got half priced entry when I went today.

Taking the long way around

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I was in my Sainsbury’s local this evening where the women on the checkouts were discussing a new queuing system whereby people with prams would have to go around if another buggy user was already there because there would be no way to pass otherwise. One of the women commented that it seemed unfair that people with buggies have to go all the way around and I smiled and told her that parenting was all about taking the long way round.

The first time I realised this was shortly after monster numero uno was born and we went to visit the gardens of Voltaire’s chateau in Ferney-Voltaire where we were living. We’d frequently been pre child and after a somewhat gruelling walk up the top of the hill where the chateau was located (which became more gruelling as the first pregnancy wore on) it had been a simple thing to hop up the steps into the shop that served as gateway to the attraction. Ahh steps. With a pushchair in tow we now had to take the long and windy route up the ramp and seek out someone to allow us special access through the ramped entrance.

At least there was a ramped entrance. With a hefty piece of wheeled kit to take around I developed a new sympathy for the daleks. The inability to mount stairs, enter a narrow doorway or turn around in tight spaces is enough to drive anyone to plan for world domination and creation of a new world order with step-free access for everyone.

And it isn’t just stairs and narrow doorways or tightly packed boutiques that prove challenging, I had honestly never noticed how shockingly bad the pavements were in the town we were living in until I was trying to manoeuvre the potato on wheels on taxing adventures of things like getting to the carrefour marche to stock up on Nutella and eggs. And don’t even get me started on the cardboard boxes of the world who would see pavements as parking spots causing me to unleash the pedestrian rage that was constantly boiling away that could amount to loudly condemning them or on one occasion leaving a banana skin on their windscreen. I’m sure that really showed them.

All this was annoying with a pushchair but at least I could, albeit not without some struggling, wrestle the buggy on and off pavements and around the potholes, etc., how wheelchair users were supposed to live independently and manage those hazards I’ve no idea. The kinds of diversions I had to take with the buggy must have been nothing compared to the constant need for rerouting that someone in a wheelchair must have had to do to get from one side of town to the other.

At least the obstacles on pavements is less of an issue in London. There are enough ticket-happy traffic wardens in my area that anyone thinking of parking in inappropriate spaces is certainly going to get rewarded with a hefty fine and the constant fear of being sued means that councils tend to do their best to ensure dangers and blockages amidst public walkways are addressed as quickly as possible with the means available.

Living in Greenwich is great but we have been trying the occasional jaunt outside of the borough and travelling with two little ones means at least one pushchair is usually essential. There are so many things that I took for granted when we lived here previously sans children. Like how easy it was to just get on a bus. You see the bus, you get on the bus, sometimes its full so you have to stand up which was annoying. With a buggy you see the bus, you must check if the pram limit has already been reached before getting your ticket, if it has you have to wait for the next one or the one after that. If you have an appointment to get to you will either need to leave ridiculously early to allow for possibly being refused access to several buses or you walk.

Then if you get on the bus you have to manage parking, ensuring the break is on, settling the bigger niblet, who doesn’t want to stay in the pushchair if the bubba is in the harness, and if the bubba is in the harness finding a secure enough spot that you can sit or stand without risk of endangering the mini one with a sudden brake of the bus, all whilst jolting along from one red light to the next.

Then there’s the tube. I used to just open up the tfl app, or use googlemaps to plot out my route for me. Now I have to consider things like what stations have step free access? What time of the day will I be travelling? Are we going to get crowded out by school kids or commuters? There are certain activities that are just off limits if they necessitate the taking of transport between 4-7pm.

We went to the Olympic Park one morning this week and headed back a bit later than planned so that by the time the bus dropped us at the nearest stop to home we were well into the bigger minion’s naptime. After an active morning charging around the park she had fallen asleep on the bus and so the beard decided that rather than waking her to get her into the pram he’d carry her home.  The quickest route home involves an overpass over a busy road. Carrying a 14kg package nestled over one shoulder the beard decided to take the quicker route of the stairs and so I duly trundled off with the babe strapped to my chest pushing the surplus pram via the very long and windy ramp.

Even when we don’t take out the buggy, life with children continues to require taking the long way round. Googlemaps estimation of how long it takes to walk somewhere should include an obstinate toddler mode whereby you factor in the route takes twice as long, requires constant doubling back and accounts for the time spent stopping to stare at a particularly interesting bit of stick we have found along the way. Even if the bigger one decides she wants to run somewhere and you think this is great we are moving at an almost normal pace then you still need to account for time spent dealing with the aftermath of at least one tripping over and the cleaning up and comforting that that entails.

I am not the most patient of people. My now husband, then boyfriend, used to laugh at me for how I’d race along to reach my destination regardless of whether we actually needed to be anywhere in a hurry or not. So adjusting to the meandering needs of children on wheels or who want to stop to take in the view has not been without its challenges. However, it also isn’t without its merits. For me being forced to stop to take in the view or to really think about why this leaf is quite so fascinating is probably quite beneficial for the soul. Or at least it would be if not at a time when I need to get to our destination to placate the screaming baby or happens to be that the exciting plastic bag worthy of prolonged inspection is directly in front of the religious fundamentalists who if they aren’t put off by the insane glint in my eye may actually want to have a conversation!

Lost and found

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Moving house is stressful at the best of times. More so when it also involves returning to the UK from France where I’ve been living as a frontalier working in Switzerland and therefore entailed dealing with administrative matters in two different languages and three different countries. Even more so with a toddler and a newborn, dealing with the physical and emotional repercussions of that on a diet of too much caffeine to overcompensate for the sleepless nights and exhausting days.

Now that we are relatively settled back into our UK flat in a way its nice to have gotten all the drama (or most of it, still dealing with French admin matters and unsympathetic landlords holding our deposit hostage) out the way at once. Having said that, if someone told me I’d have to do this all over again, I think I’d rather peel off my own eyelids and eat them.

When we first decided on a return to the motherland we had thought sorting everything during maternity leave made a lot of sense as at least we wouldn’t have to juggle two kids, the move and do it all over a weekend before resuming duties on the Monday.

However, the fear inducing Halloween Brexit that never was motivated us to move a lot quicker than planned for fear that if a no-deal Brexit did happen the logistics of relocating would move from a shiver inducing tremor to a full on nightmare of epic proportions. Would we be able to move our stuff across the EU border? Would we need a visa to get home? Would the cats have to go through quarantine?

Pretty sure the straw headed buffoon that currently bumbles about as leader of our country didn’t have my cats on his mind when he made his bold promises of an EU exit by 31 October come hell or high-water. Ultimately it turned out the wannabe Trump forgot to account for a little thing called democracy and yet another extension was put in place, an election was summoned and we could have had a few more months to move in perhaps a more leisurely manner. However, I expect the relocate would have been pretty traumatic at any point and at least it is done now and my stress dreams about the whole shebang have diminished somewhat if not completely disappeared.

The plus side is we lived to tell the tale, our marriage is intact, hopefully the kids aren’t too traumatised by the whole affair and now we are here and have found we are able to enjoy my maternity leave back near friends and family, in a part of London we know and love.

It was amazing living on the French/Swiss border and being able to walk for five minutes from our apartment into beautiful countryside surrounded by imposing snow-capped mountains was pretty epic. Geneva centric living had a lot of pros and it was an amazing place to feel alive with the sound of music. Provided of course that the weather worked in your favour. The downside of where we were based was that there was almost nothing to do with young kids when it rained, at least not without a car and the small fortune required to attend the odd toddler class. Not so in London.

On our doorstep there are some really good open spaces, children’s parks and riverside walks for when the weather is clement, but there are also some good museums, cafes, etc. for when it isn’t. Which is handy because we returned to the UK at the end of October when the gloom sets in early and the tendency to rain is strong.

One rainy afternoon we decided to go to the local visitor centre that I remembered being kid friendly and pretty open plan so I thought it’d be a good space for the terrible two year old to run amok without annoying staff too much or causing us to have to chase after her constantly.

It seemed a good plan, we got there and the little monster pretty much ignored all the actual museum activities and literally just started running around the centre floor looping around the staircase, which wasn’t too concerning as that led to an enclosed gallery so even if she tried to nip up there she wouldn’t get far. She was happy, we were happy, the beard wandered off with the babe strapped to his chest to actually look at some of the exhibits and I slowly pottered after the toddler.

Actually at this point I think I should reassess the term toddler, that implies a slightly wobbly child unsure on its feet whereas my two year old knows how to work those pistons we call legs and can go from 0-60 in a flash of a moment.

So the child was careering about looping around the exhibits. Often the mini miss gets fixated on a particular game and will happily repeat for a bore-inducingly long time so I was feeling quite secure that she’d continue to repeat her route and I could just gently track her without needing to keep up with her exactly.

The problem was that staircase. Not that she went up it and came tumbling down but that it created the only real blind spot in the gallery. She was looping, I was pottering and as I pottered to the staircase I realised she had deviated from the route she’d been following in the five seconds or so she was in the blind spot. Where the stairs were placed there were at least three possible directions she could have gone in, including outside and towards the road via the automatic door which had recently been activated by some newly arrived visitors.

One moment my child was there, the next she wasn’t. I yelled at the beard that I didn’t have eyes on her and as he started sprinting across the room towards us I took a split second to decide which way to run screaming my girl’s name. In reality I thought it least likely she would have gone towards the road but as that was the worst possible option I went that way first.

I was barely out the door with the second holler of her name dying on my lips when I heard her crying and doubled back into the centre to find her emerging from the corridor towards the toilets, where either my panicked shriek or more likely someone using the hand-dryers had upset her enough to make her wail out so that we could find her.

I’m sure it won’t be the last time I lose her in a public place, certainly not if she’s anything like me who used to actively enjoy getting lost in public spaces (sorry mum and dad), and the whole incident must have been over in about 20 seconds, yet, even now, a couple of weeks after the event in question, my heart is racing and I feel the horror unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

I had thought a no-deal Brexit and UK crashing out of the EU without contingency plans for sufficient toilet roll to meet the nation’s needs was the most ghastly thing that could happen. I was wrong.

Levelling up on parenting

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And so I find myself once again, slowly writing late at night trying not to jog the half slumbering babe resting on my right shoulder.

I’m a mother of two now and it feels like I’ve just levelled up in this game of life. Suddenly the same tasks that I could complete without much challenge on the easier mode have become inexplicably more taxing. Things like having a shower, getting out of the house in clothing that hasn’t been put on back to front and isn’t covered in some sort of child goop (snot, vomit and sticky fingers being the common culprits), being able to have a civilised conversation with my husband without resenting the fact he had 30 minutes all to himself earlier in the day, etc.

My girls are almost exactly two years apart, and this was the plan, thinking being close in age will be nice as they grow up. Although we made the plan when infant number one was a comparatively easy going twelve month old and hadn’t foreseen that a newborn and a wilful toddler might pose certain challenges.

Probably ninety per cent of the time everything goes fairly smoothly and I take genuine delight in parenting these two little beings. It’s in that other ten per cent though where I half jokingly talk of walking out the door and just keeping going for a few years until everything calms down a bit. It’s in that ten per cent where I question whether the whole parenting thing was such a good idea after all.

It’s in that ten per cent where everything snaps and I feel the worst version of myself, being short tempered with the two year old and getting frustrated at the two month old. It’s that ten per cent where they take it in turns to see who can scream the loudest (definitely the two year old) and the longest (usually the two month old). Sometimes they don’t take it in turns.

What I had worried about during pregnancy with number two was how I’d handle the sleep deprivation this time around with a two year old who wouldn’t give two hoots whether or not I’d been up umpteen times a night with their sibling. I’m sure the sleep deprivation doesn’t help with my almost permanently exhausted tiny thread of patience but it hasn’t actually been as bad as I’d expected, certainly a lot easier to adjust to than the first time around. Baby number two hasn’t been a terrible sleeper and it turns out I can function pretty well on a couple of chunks of three hours of sleep.

What I really wasn’t prepared for was the overwhelming feelings of guilt that pervade most of my waking day. I feel guilty that the baby doesn’t get a fraction of the attention her sister got. She won’t get to go to all the baby sensory, baby massage, baby music and baby critiques of 17th century French literature classes that her sister went to because I can’t take her sister to these things. At best she can half listen to the odd tune at toddler rhyme time at the local library whilst I spend the session chasing her sister around the library trying to prevent her either escaping or running wild in the quiet section banging the rattles that have been handed out against the metal shelves.

And then I feel guilty that the toddler doesn’t get my undivided attention any more. That I can’t always just put the baby in her bouncy chair and leave her to get on with it. That I can’t easily scoop her up on demand if baby is strapped to me in the harness. I dread the thought that she feels less special or loved by us now that her sibling is here.

I know these feelings are my burden rather than theirs. I realise that baby will just grow up being used to us dividing our time and attention between her and her sister and I know that the toddler is unlikely to remember the time before the baby arrived. However knowing things and feeling things are very different kettles of fish. It’s like when I’m trapped in the ten percent and I know that in ten, thirty, sixty minutes or so I’ll be back in the ninety per cent, but it can feel like there is no way out of the interminable horror I’m currently battling as I fight to get the toddler back into her pushchair and the baby screams at me because we are already past the time she wanted to be fed, or I struggle to get the screaming baby changed on the park bench while the toddler howls at me because I won’t let her eat the rice cracker she’s dropped into a particularly muddy puddle.

That ninety per cent is pretty amazing though. That’s when big sister is stroking little sisters head and cooing ‘aww baby’ at her, or when I’m managing to enjoy active playtime in the park chasing the bigger one around while the little one sleeps contentedly against my chest in the harness and I know that both are getting exactly what they need from me at that moment.