Every day she needs me less and less

Standard

Everyday she needs me less and less
It’s clear to me she’s becoming self-possessed
I watch developments with mixed feelings of success
Because everyday she needs me less and less

The first time we gave the baby actual food (puréed carrot if you want to know) her face contorted through the visible emotions of shock (this isn’t boob!), disgust (this isn’t boob!) and outright horror (oh my god, this isn’t boob!). Yet she let us attempt a second mouthful (this isn’t boob?) and a third and a fourth until we finished the small pot of mushed up vegetable we’d prepared.

She took to the new addition to her diet (she was still predominantly on milk at this point) pretty well, and since that point we gradually started introducing her to more and more tastes and textures. Up until about a year old she would still pull that initial face of disgust with the first mouthful of whatever we gave her even if she’d than happily settle in for a good chomp of mouthfuls two and beyond.

She’s happily eaten most of the different foodstuffs and flavours we’ve introduced her to. The things she has not been so keen on have generally also been things neither of us would eat. There was a lentil stew I added a strange tasting bouillon cube too that didn’t go down to well. She loves my very gingery and garlicy daal and is a big fan of the beard’s red curry. Although nothing tops a yoghurt or a freshly baked sugar free (although now she’s one we add a little honey) chocolate banana muffin with raspberry. In fairness those muffins are good, so when we back a batch we have to instantly put half in the freezer to prevent the beard and I from devouring our child’s snacks.

We are definitely going to be the kind of parents that spend a day helping their children search for the chocolate that we know we ate the night before.

We’ve been giving her certain things she can eat by herself: baby biscuits, homemade snacks, bits of toast, etc., but everything else we were spoon-feeding her.

Just to note here that the term ‘spoon-feeding’ when used in a derogatory sense to imply that someone is passively eating up the information they are given without any effort, is clearly used negatively by people that have never actually tried to spoon-feed anyone. All those adorable pictures of babies covered in different kinds of edible gloop are not so numerous because they are all cleverly staged click-bait (although I don’t doubt that some of them are, but that’s for another post), it’s because the allegedly simple process of transferring food from a container to a baby via a spoon is nowhere near as easy as ‘spoon-feeders’ may have us believe.

Recently, however, the little one has decided she’s got this and our help is no longer required. If she can navigate a banana with her sticky paws she can manage a simple bowl of porridge/scrambled eggs/risotto.

Ha!

I’m not renowned for my patience. I very decidedly did not want the wedding favourite ‘love is patient, love is kind…’ at our wedding because that did not resonate with me in any way, patience is not a virtue of mine. I was worried about this before having a baby, yet I was presently surprised when little Tinko was born at how patient I can be with her, even if that patience fails to extend to anyone else around me (sorry cats, beard, colleagues, traffic lights, the list goes on). I may have been lulled into a false sense of security as this new dining routine is really testing me.

Mealtimes used to take about 15 minutes, I’d feed her in the mornings or evenings (the beard took the lunch and snack shifts while I’m at work) and we’d have time for a play before I went off to work or she went down to bed.

Now, she wants to do it herself but is still learning how, as she finely tunes her developing motor skills, dinner time his tripled in! Additional time to be spent on more fun activities has been reduced significantly as the little one limps through her linguine. It can be really frustrating as you watch her for the umpteenth time fail to put the spoon far enough in the pot to pick up the grub or to get some small morsel of food on the utensil only for it all to drop off into her lap as she turns the item of cutlery round to get a better grip, having no concept of how gravity works against her in such circumstances.

It is really hard to resist the urge to wrestle the eating implement out of her grasp and just do it for her. But if you try she’ll just scream at you until you give it back, or will try to eat the food with her fingers (pasta with your fingers is one thing, soup is another).

So far I’m doing pretty well at keeping my cool, even if on a couple of occasions I’ve had to ask the bearded one to step in as I struggle to stay in neutral as the babe is crying because she can’t get the food to stay on the spoon but won’t let you help.

Now she’s really getting the hang of it and I’m very proud of her but I realise that with every new skill she learns she also needs us that little bit less and that also makes me a bit sad.

I think this is one of the biggest challenges at the heart of parenting. As a parent you love your child so much, you want to do everything for them, to protect them from any harm, but your objective is to raise an independent person who is capable of navigating the challenges, hurts and also triumphs that lie in store for them by themselves. As they get older they will need you less and less and move further away from you as they and the relationship you have with them evolves. This is absolutely the name of the game but it’s also kind of tough.

Parents will tell you they love their children selflessly and I do not doubt the strength of that desire to put your child’s needs above your own will override everything else, but there is also that selfish part of you that loves being quite so loved. We all want to feel like we have an essential role to play, whether as parents, friends, in our careers or other areas that are important to us. Whilst we may be irreplaceable in some of these aspects in others, if we are doing them right, then we are creating the structures and support that enables our children, friends, colleagues and others to keep on trucking whether we are there or not.

For now I’m trying to fete the mastery of my minion’s spoon control and focus on how awesome this is for her but also for us as it means we can eat together without the beard and I having to gobble up our grub in shifts as the other one assists little miss.

Advertisements

Catpain’s Log August 2017

Standard

Catpain’s Log August 1

Ate a nice baby bird today, prepared severed remains for grown ones but I was shooed away with my offering so delivered it to kindly neighbour next door instead.

Grown female leaked outside of normal litter tray, clearly broken, grown male took her away and returned alone three good snoozes later. Grown male seemed emotional and electronic square bipped a lot throughout the evening.

Catpain’s Log August 2

Grown male left out limitless biscuits, must be going on holiday again so will have to share litter with incompetent incontinent sister. On the plus side I can eat body weight in biscuits.

Catpain’s Log August 3

Surprisingly grown male returned again last night but biscuit tower of infinity remained in place, must be mistake, will eat as much as possible before he realises error. Sister hissed at me when I tried to eat some even though there is clearly enough food to last nine lives. Voiced disapproval at 2am, grown male seemed to register complaint.

Still no sign of grown female, fear grown male may have eaten her, should have accepted offerings provided for useless non-hunters earlier in the year.

Catpain’s Log August 4

Was having a good day, much eating, long snoozing, pulled some of my sister’s hair out and creatively dispersed it around house in Feng Shui manner, energy was flowing well.

But then!!!! Hard to get words out!!!! Too angry to express myself properly.

Bah!

Grown male brought grown female back, so not eaten after all, or maybe just eaten part of her, seems less fat than before, but also brought back unwelcome micro being. This was not approved. This was not what I signed on for.

Bah! Will make lives hell for foreseeable future until problem is rectified and micro one returned to wherever it came from.

Catpain’s Log August 7

Severed a bird, spread body parts around the house, hope the grown ones step in them! Have indicated intense disapproval of new situation but monstrosity remains. Tried to punish grown ones with night time yowls and dispatching sister to play song of our people on wardrobe doors but to no avail! They are up every few hours poking micro one, forcing it to eat, seems much more capable of looking after micro one than selves, will be no more delivery of tasty animals for them, from now on they only get beaks and feet.

Catpain’s Log August 12

Micro one persists, waking me from frequent naps, so upset I only ate twice my normal amount of biscuits today. Thank heavens at least biscuit of dreams remains in place, still take it in turns with sister to yowl around 6am to demand grown ones decant some biscuits from tower into bowls immediately adjacent. Obviously we could just take themselves ourselves from the tower but that is besides the point.

Grown female clearly fed up so left Grown male and micro attention thief alone, returned five minutes sobbing and covered in blood. Grown ones are incapable, what were they thinking in trying to look after micro one?

Catpain’s Log August 14

Grown reinforcements have arrived, the more grown female and more grown male. I miaowed and presented my bumhole for inspection upon their arrival but they seemed to only be interested in macro-one – unbelievable!

Our grown ones seem to have gone to sleep whilst more grown ones attend to macro one, not surprised that thing has them up at all hours. Hopefully more grown ones will take it away when they leave

Catpain’s Log August 17

More grown female and more grown male left without taking small one with them. Other more grown ones arrived today, keeping claws crossed they’ll take the unformed one away.

Catpain’s Log August 18

Licked all the sauce off mine and my sister’s dinner, ignored rest, ate some more biscuits instead.

Wanted to ask friends for advice on how to survive tiny fledglings but remembered I am cat and have no friends.

Catpain’s Log August 21

Grown male relative female arrived. Showed her my bumhole. Again, astonishing lack of interest! Did at least take some phots as sister and I artfully posed on outdoor furniture.

Grown male relative female spent much time with micro one, after recent visits refuse to get hopes up that this one will take it away. Not that I can blame grown male relative female, no-one in right mind would want to lumber themselves with tiny squawking device.

Catpain’s Log August 24

Artfully prepared dead bird for grown male’s yearly celebration, seemed uninterested. Grown female made cake and set it alight. Alas, micro one not sacrificed in flames.

Catpain’s Log August 26

Shredded last remains of sofa arm cover today, finally exposed foam lining, reconditioned, raw materials are so in right now.

Grown female sad at not being able to leave small one to return to land of origin for party of other grown ones where a grown female wears white and there is an excess of cake and paper covered nonsense. Perhaps will realise gravity of additional human presence and find way to undo error?

Catpain’s Log August 28

Grown ones haven’t returned or given away small mistake yet, losing hope and begin to fear micro one is now a permanent fixture. Can only hope its lifespan is as long as your average stupid sparrow in mating season.

Catpain’s Log August 31

Undeveloped one remains, learning to tolerate it.

It doesn’t move much but does continue to disturb important moments. Woke me up from three of my twelve naps! Took my revenge by ‘affectionately’ digging claws into grown female when she tried to sleep after feeding small one. Got sprayed in face with water pistol but worth it.

A Trio of Travellers

Standard

At first, when I was pregnant, I thought that having a baby would mean an end to my wandering days, that I wouldn’t be able to book flights to a random destination just because they were cheap and have the kinds of mini adventures I’d enjoyed previously.

Like many expecting parents we planned a baby-moon or two to make the most of our carefree coupledom before the baby ball and chain would tether us to the ground.

At some point a friend who’d already had a baby and was much more enlightened than us pointed out that actually travelling with a child was possible, not even that difficult, you just had to factor in a couple of extra details  in your planning, don’t book a room on the fifth floor of a hotel without a lift.

Being a migrant, with all our family and many of our friends based in a different country, a degree of travel has, at any rate, been essential to introduced loved ones to our loveliest one. Flying from Geneva to the UK is also not the most arduous of journeys (unlike some of our baby parents friends who’ve travelled to Canada and Australia to introduce their newborns to family).

Our munchkin was due at the start of August and we had been invited to a wedding in the UK at the start of October, we didn’t know if the babe would arrive according to schedule and weren’t sure how long it’d take to process her application, but we hoped we’d be able to sort her a passport in time and optimistically booked flights on basis that it was better to book early and not pay crazy extortionate last minute prices but potentially risk not being able to go. I think we booked flights around July and it was during the booking process that we first spelled out her name, I found the whole thing too strange so made Tom type in the characters that enabled easyjet became the first to see our baby’s name in print.

As it turned out, the little turnip arrived a few days early, the passport was processed by the end of August (sadly not quite in time to make it for another dear friend’s wedding) and we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves for our first family flight to the UK.

A neighbour recommend the use of Muellin oil to help prevent popping ears and I’d already read that breastfeeding on the plane or giving the baby a dummy or something else to suck on was supposed to help.

As it was our first UK trip and I was on maternity leave we planned to stay in the UK for a little over a week to take in as many friends and family as possible, outside of those chums we’d see at the wedding. So as it was a prolonged stay and babies necessitate so much stuff we packed a suitcase in addition to the cabin bags, baby bag and pram with removable car seat.

Navigating the airport via luggage drop-off, security and passport control was manageable if a bit of an exercise in juggling as we traversed through the terminal shifting bags and baby and accoutrements between us.

The flight itself was not terrible and aside from a bit of crying on departure the teeny one was fine, snoozing through most of the flight.

Our biggest mistake was in not realising that although you drop your buggy off at the plane you don’t get it back until you get to baggage reclaim and as the first airport we flew to was Gatwick this meant a 10/15 minute walk having to carry baby bag, two cabin bags and a bag of duty free in addition to the baby. So the Beard lugged the luggage and I managed the mini one and we vowed to pack the harness and to make the most of the pushchairs both sets of grandparents had picked up from charity shops, for future trips.

Since then we’ve travelled a lot, probably more than we did BC (Before Child) as within a year we’ve been back to the UK on six separate occasions as well as travelling to Sorrento and Split. I think our child has flown more in the first twelve months of her life than I did in the first twenty-one years of mine.

‘Tato-tots will not fondly recall the first time she flew on a plane, whereas I will always remember the first time I flew (with my parents to the Algarve when I was about 12), because by the time she’s old enough to form those kinds of lasting memories she’ll probably have already flown a distance equivalent to the circumference of the globe.

It is becoming more challenging flying with her as she has grown and become more alert and interested in what’s going on around her. We can no longer expect to have an easy flight with a child contentedly snoozing in our laps and the Beard and I have to mentally brace ourselves for what is starting to become a fairly exhausting mission (considering no flight so far has been more than 90 minutes), trying to keep a lively little one entertained in confined spaces as we move from one line to another to coop ourselves up in set seats and then repeat the line shuffling before strapping her into a car seat and making the journey back to whichever grandparents’ house is base of operations for the visit.

I am pleased that we did manage a couple of actual holidays this year too, with a break in Sorrento with just the three of us in the Spring and a trip to Split with friends at the start of the Summer. I think next year we’ll need to be a little more strategic to maximise the use of my leave, navigate the Beard’s study requirements, manage the friends and family visits and still get some actual recharge-your-battery type holidays in the mix too, all whilst the teeny one becomes less teeny and more of a terror as mobility increases and willingness to sit still decreases.

Still, I can confidently say, travelling with a baby is definitely a possibility it just requires a little more preparation to make sure the route taken and final destination are as baby-friendly as possible. I imagine travelling with a toddler will also be an option but will come with its own set of challenges that we’ll need to figure out.

Supermum to superbum so superrun

Standard

There are lots of things I wasn’t prepared for when our little one made her way into the world. I knew life would change but I couldn’t have any idea how much.

We used to nickname our little potato ‘the life-ruiner’, or more accurately the ‘the life as we knew it ruiner’, and I’m happy to stand by that label. Life BC (before child) is over now and will never be the same again. I can no longer sleep in until midday, indulge in an entire PJ and Netflix weekend or simply go out after work without some serious planning.

But the life we lost is nothing compared to the one we are living now. I am not the same person today that I was before our petite pomme-de-terre entered the world. I’m not a completely different person either, but the difference in me before being a mother and after is massive and can never be undone, it is full of worry and joy and is enriching in ways I could never have imagined.

We are programmed to love and respond to our babies. I remember one mum friend telling me once ‘it’s scary how much you love them’ and that’s it exactly. Although you know that other parents must feel the same way about their children, somehow what you feel for yours is unique and powerful and at times almost scarily overwhelming. Loving your children and particularly feeding/nurturing them releases hormones that make you happy, you experience a natural high that is unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

So, in a way, being with your baby is addictive, it makes you feel good and it makes you want to maximize that feeling. The downside of this is that not being with your baby is not a neutral state but is an absence of that positivity that can equate to a negative black hole ready to suck you in and transport you to a different universe where underlying King-Kong-like tendencies emerge and prepare you for a city-destroying rampage until you get your next baby fix.

When I first returned to work I think I adjusted reasonably well, sure it was hard to go from being with my little one 100% of the time to something like 30% but it was okay. I was good at leaving the office at a reasonable time and would carefully plan for the occasional night out. And I enjoyed being able to focus on my job and engage with adults and make my way through a list of tasks and wear jewellery and all the other many things I never had to consider BC.

However, the last couple of months have been considerably harder, the workload has intensified and the job satisfaction hasn’t always been present, which is intensified when weighed on the scale of being at work versus being with babe. Mostly I am glad to be back at work but maintaining a balance is essential and it is precarious.

Recently I have felt less like super-mum and more super-bummed, struggling with being super-burned-out. I do want to work but I also have to, and at times it is hard not to feel trapped or resentful of having to spend so many hours away from mini-me. I am lucky to work in a place that is full of parents and understands the need for a balance, I am able to work from home one day a week and nobody questions me or others sprinting out the door to get back to our children, but still sometimes meetings run late or work needs to be done that I can’t take home and complete in after baby hours. Staying an extra hour was nothing BC, maybe a later dinner and one less episode of whatever on Netflix, but now it is an hour of not seeing my daughter that cannot be compensated for.

I do not know how people who regularly have to stay late at functions and frequently miss their children’s bedtimes cope with this. I don’t know if it will become easier as time goes by and if it does whether that’s necessarily a good thing.

It isn’t that I am in any worried about her not seeing me, she’s with her daddy, she’s fine, it’s my emotional health I worry about. I need my daily baby fix and if that is interrupted without warning then the consequences are dire; I will become moody, irritable, uncooperative and angry. It is clearly in everyone’s best interests to make sure I can get away on time.

One consequence of struggling to find a work/home equilibrium is that this takes up all my energy. I am more efficient than I have ever been at work because I do not want to be working after hours and I want to prove that nothing is lost in my not doing so, but maintaining this is draining. I then cycle home as fast as my legs can peddle, to have as much focused time with the tiny one as possible before she goes to bed. And after that I am completely exhausted.

Of course it doesn’t help that sleeping 6 hours or more is still a rare occurrence what with a combination of colds and teething or just a baby who still wants to wake up and feed at least once a night, my general inability to get to bed much before 12 most nights, and a cat who invariably wakes me up on those infrequent occasions when I have managed to get to bed early and the baby does sleep through (when I’m feeling generous I pretend the cat is waking me concerned that the baby hasn’t woken up as usual, but as I’m not normally feeling generous at 3.30am in the morning and deep down know she is not a concerned pet so much as a bit of an arse, I mostly contemplate nice places in the countryside we could drive to and just set her free…).

I am trying to mitigate the constant feeling of running on empty by upping my caffeine intake (finally I understand the point of coffee, or magic-bean juice as I now like to refer to it). What also really helps is running itself (strange that expending energy somehow helps me have more energy but there we go). Usually I manage one midweek run that I tie in with my weekly yoga class (as I am already out of the house and in exercise gear its hard to come up with excuses not to). I then aim for a longer run at the weekend and try to time this with baby nap-time so as not to feel too guilty about wanting an hour to myself when carving this out of precious non-work time.

To motivate myself to run, when its so easy to come up with excuses not to, I like to sign up for the occasional competition. Last weekend my brothers joined me in running the Geneva 10k, enough of a challenge to ensure at least weekly runs, but not so insurmountable that a rigid training plan was required.

Despite the obvious fatiguing implications of running 10k the run was somehow revitalizing: the route was beautiful, the endorphins were flowing and the sense of achievement in sprinting across the finish line was on par with the high I get from hanging out with the wee one.

When I’m running I’m wholly immersed in the present, I do not think about anything aside from my immediate surroundings. There are times when I’m thinking this stretch is particularly hard, or this is a good pace, when I focus on my breathing and particularly with the 10k I recall distinctly noting when my breath went from steady pace to steady pant for the last two kilometers. I remember spotting other runners I’d seen earlier, I recalled taking in the beauty of the surroundings and beyond that I don’t remember thinking at all. I certainly wasn’t thinking about the baby, I wasn’t thinking about work, I wasn’t thinking about money stresses or the 1001 other worries that seem to have been dominating my tired little brain of late.

And just as I spend my working days thinking about the next baby high, I am now finding myself thinking about the next running high. I’d better sign up for another challenge quickly and although shoehorning running, working and babytime (and maybe even a teeny slice of socializing) into my essential weekly to-do list may be difficult I don’t think I can afford not to.

 

The baby diaries: My hopes for raising a selfish daughter

Standard

I want to raise a selfish daughter and I think I’m off to a good start, sure she seems to enjoy making us laugh and smile but for the most part she’s pretty self-centred and is pretty happy to let the world revolve around her. We make sure she’s fed and clean and entertained and sleeps, etc., and she lets us.

Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking she is only a baby, in time she’ll be able to do these things for herself and then she can move on from the selfish mini-human she currently is into the kind of socially desirable, self-sacrificing, individuality-sacrificed-for-the-good-of-the-team woman she is supposed to be.

Well, and I’m just going to say it, I don’t want her to. Not that I don’t want her to grow up and learn to do things without us and become self-sufficient. I think my primary job as a parent is to provide her with the tools necessary to take care of herself, although I don’t doubt it’ll be hard to do as she ebbs further away from her need of me towards her need for a whole lot more.

Sure it’d be nice if she can contribute to society and enhance the lives of those around her, giving as much as she receives, yada, yada… but I really really don’t want her to move beyond a fundamental level of self-sufficiency. She should progress away from needing our care to be able to care for herself, she will hopefully want to care for others but that part in the middle, that being able to care for herself should not be a stepping stone to forming relationships, it should be the foundation of who she is.

In my last post I wrote about the importance of needing to be a bit selfish and to find some time for the ‘me’ that goes beyond a definition of myself in relation to others (mother, wife, employee, friend, etc…) and the theme seems to have taken root.

We are taught that selfishness is a bad thing, that is worthy of judgement and condemnation, but we aren’t taught to make the distinction between an inherent selfishness that is simply thinking of one’s self and a destructive egomania that sacrifices the selves of others for its own insatiable gratification. There’s a difference between ‘being selfish’, where you take time to consider your own needs and yes, put these before others at times, and ‘being selfish’ to the point that you would fail to give way to the parent and baby in the parent and baby checkout line because you can’t wait an extra ten minutes to complete your weekly shop, just by way of random example off the top of my head, there are possibly worse ones that you could think of.

I don’t pretend to know what it is like for boys, I’ve never been one, but I think for girls this is particularly problematic. I think girls are more likely to be encouraged to put their needs secondary to the needs of those around them. This is evident in parts of the world where girls are not sent to school, not invested in as individuals and are expected to care for relatives, make children, etc. It is perhaps less obvious but it happens elsewhere too.

First as girls, and then as women, we are encouraged not to be noisy; not to be bossy; not to challenge societal expectations by having an interest in anything other than princesses; not to hurt others feelings; not to upset our temperamental superviser, who incidentally upsets all the women he supervises but this is somehow our problem to deal with rather than his; not to take it personally when colleagues make misogynistic comments; not to cause a fuss when strangers on public transport touch us inappropriately; not to wear clothing that might attract negative attention; not to breastfeed our babies where the sight of boobs fulfilling their secondary function (primary, clearly, being the entertainment of others) might make others uncomfortable. And my god I could go on forever.

In short, we are encouraged not to put the needs of our selves first. And I do not want this for my daughter.

For the first time in an incredibly long time I feel like not only is the world moving in the right direction in terms of gender equality but it’s starting to move at a pace that suggests that I might actually live to see real change.

The #metoo movement sparked by the Weinstein allegations is moving faster than the boulder at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is absorbing a hundred and one movements that have been highlighting issues of and fighting against gender inequality for so long. And, unlike in Indiana Jones, we aren’t rooting for the heroic gentleman to escape the merciless rock by the skin of his teeth, we are waiting for him to be knocked to the ground and annihilated. In this particular metaphor, Indy is the patriarchy that has for too long confined everyone to narrow gender roles that ultimately disadvantage everyone.

Oops, perhaps this post should have come with an angry feminist warning, oh well, too late now. Let me try and dial it back a notch. We all need a level of selfishness that means people do not take advantage of us. We need a level of selfishness that recognises that to function as a decent human being we need a little self-care that might mean occasionally refusing to help others because we really need a night of binge-watching Netflix in our PJs, eating ice-cream out of the tub.

I was speaking with a friend recently about the guilt she was feeling from not making herself constantly available to someone else, because she needed a bit of time to focus on herself. She had been discussing this with a therapist who told her the following:

Everyone has their own circus with their own monkeys, but sometimes people will try and give you their monkeys or even their entire circus to take care of, but you have to be able to tell them ‘not my monkey, not my circus.’ We can’t be responsible for everyone else’s monkeys and we shouldn’t feel bad for not being able to take care of the monkeys they can’t take care of themselves.

I was recently in a situation where I was offered a great opportunity, all I had to do was reach out and take it but just as I extended my arm to do so someone tried to deter me, they tried to explain that my taking this opportunity would upset other people who might want similar opportunities, that it would be better to wait or take a lesser opportunity. I thought ‘not my monkey’, I even said ‘sometimes you have to be a little selfish’, and then I reached out and took. My monkeys seem quite happy with the outcome.

My mum was saying earlier that she was pleased to see that I seemed to be a bit more aware of my own self-worth and a bit more assertive with that. Mum was right, as she often is although its not good to tell her this too often, but I wouldn’t be enjoying a new-found self-confidence without a new-found appreciation and embracing of a level of selfishness.

So, yes, I want my girl to be selfish, to take care of herself and her needs, to put herself forward for opportunities as and when she can and not to be held back or to doubt herself because it might make others feels uncomfortable. It seems I’m going to be one of those ùpushy mums, pushing for a pushy daughter and if that happens I’m going to be proud of both of us.

 

The baby diaries: Selfishness is essential for survival

Standard

When our daughter first arrived the concept of ‘me’ time was frankly laughable as we moved about in a daze from each feed, poop, change, repeat to the next. I couldn’t remember my own name let alone the need for some time devoted to the vessel that was moving around caring for the baby and looked vaguely familiar, if a little squidgier, blearily eyed yet inexplicably with better hair than before.

Days when the beard and I remembered to get dressed constituted a good day and trying to do anything beyond baby duties aside from the laundry seemed impossible.

Yet in time we started to find a bit of balance, the minion could go a little longer between feeds and at some point we started introducing a bottle so the bearded one could give her the occasional bottle and I could, if not sleep for a little longer (I was after all programmed to wake at her cries), I could at least stay in bed with a pillow pressed over my head and not move for some indulgent moments.

We were lucky in that for the first five months of our daughter’s life we were both there, as I maxed out my maternity leave and remaining holiday and the beard prepared for his current role as primary child care provider. To be honest, when sharing stories with other parents, it felt like we were doing the whole parenting thing on cheat mode. It was still mentally and physically exhausting but our ability to share resources and tag team it up, meant that when one of us flagged the other one could step in.

Anyway after the initial whirlwind parenting 101 introduction to our new life had subsided somewhat it was occasionally possible to have a bit of me time. Particularly as the littley slept so much. As we were breastfeeding or pumping for a bottle my boobs were still on demand every few hours but there were pockets between boob action when I could rest up a bit.

Except I wasn’t very good at that. I expect I wasn’t the only new mum who struggles to ask for help or to admit when I’m pooped and need a break. I don’t think it’s a pride thing so much as genetic wiring that tells us we must protect and provide for our little squalling bundles above everything else.

At points I’d get mad at the beard as he managed to reach a place of equilibrium so much sooner than I did. We’d have gone out for a walk or to the shops or something and would come home, he’d announce he was going to have a break, put on his headphones and descend into a digitally remastered game of some sort or another and I’d literally be left holding the baby. I remember thinking ‘well bully for you, just being able to take a break like that’.

Bear in mind I was still sleep addled, with hormones all over the place and my internal organs trying to rearrange themselves back into their original location, I may not have been at my most reasonable. So like any rational being I’d let my irritation fester until I’d release some passive aggressive darts in the bearded one’s direction, finally snap and barricade myself in the bathroom for as long a soak as my fat unfriendly tub would allow (it’s shaped like an eight so curves in exactly where my hips wanted to go if I tried to lie down).

I’ve never been good at asking for help, it just doesn’t come naturally to me, so as I’d have one of my tantrums, the beard would get miffed and once again want to know why I didn’t just tell him I wanted a bit of P&Q (peace and quiet) time before I got to critical meltdown stage?

The problem was that I didn’t know what I needed to be able to articulate this to him. I genuinely loved spending time with the wee one, whether that was feeding, changing nappies or endless singing ‘dream a little dream’ in a wishful attempt to lull her to sleep. Apparently I wasn’t as bad as some people are but I was definitely a touch possessive. So it wasn’t that I didn’t want to look after titchy it was that I didn’t want to waste time looking after me.

Before the teeny one was born I worried that I was too selfish to be a mother but as soon as little miss turned up the ego I feared not only failed to raise it’s ugly head but I think it might have been taken out back and shot by that new part of me that the minion’s mum.

I was in full blown sacrificial mum mode, probably for the first three months. And then my vagina trainer (might not have been her official title, but sums it up pretty well) told me I could start running again. I had been fantasizing about running for about 6 months at this point.

The last three months of pregnancy I could barely waddle and the one time I did run (sprinting for the bus) nearly ended up in me giving birth on public transport. Then the three months after babe arrived I was under strict instructions not to run, which of course made me want to do it all the more. I do remember walking with the pram at one point, fantasising about running and then questioning whether I’d have the same desire to run again when I was actually allowed to, or if it was more fun to wallow in the idea of something that I knew to be impossible.

Anyway, I got the all clear and that same day I handed off our petite pomme-de-terre to her daddy, wriggled into my joggers, put on the runners and took myself outside.

I should point out I’m probably not your traditional notion of a runner, I don’t look like one and I don’t run particularly quickly, but what I’ve always loved about running is that it’s not about anyone else. I like going at my own pace, however fast or not that might be, concentrating on my breathing, listening to some tunes and letting all my cares and worries gradually slip away. My first run I was probably only gone for about 15 minutes and I was only moving marginally faster than my normal walking pace, but the difference it made was phenomenal.

I had done something just for me, I hadn’t thought about the little one constantly and I hadn’t even felt bad about that. I guess it was the shock to the system needed to wake up my ego (which turned out not to have been fatally wounded but merely lying in a coma for some time) and remember that I was ‘me’ worthy of a bit of occasional self-indulgence.

I could even justify the whole process as being good for the babe as I realised I could look after her better if I took a little time every now and again to look after me. Upping the exercise has obvious health (mental and physical) benefits that could be invested into a more energised mother/daughter relationship. I got better at that point at letting the beard take baby duty as I enjoyed the blissful combo of book and bath or having a lie in or whatever mini luxury I chose to afford myself.

Contrary to the dictates of society, selfishness, so long as it’s not taken to extremes, isn’t actually a bad thing. The selfishness in myself I’d feared would make me a bad mother is actually an essential component of making ‘me’ the best mum I can be.

Baby diaries: Reconciling life as a working mum

Standard

Before child (BC) I knew that my life was going to change but I had no concept at all about what that change would be. The only thing I knew was that I had no idea at all.

I remember chatting with a friend towards the end of my pregnancy about this impending identity crisis (and it is a crisis not knowing what your identity is going to look like in a few months time) and she laughingly told me, ‘you’re going to be a mum, get used to it’.

On the one hand, she was absolutely right, since giving birth I am most definitely a mother; my daughter and my relationship to her is such a massively overwhelming thing that has seeped into all other aspects of my life that I cannot, nor would I want to, deny the truth of what she told me. On the other hand, when you’ve no concept of what being a mum is and you are already panicking about potentially losing yourself in a role that is rapidly about to be thrust upon you, this is perhaps one of the single most unhelpful things you can say to a prospective parent. Seriously.

Knowing you are about to become a mum is like being told you are about to conduct an intergalactic opera in a gala event taking place on the space palace of ultrawegglytron and you realise that a whole lot of pressure is being put upon you to fulfil a role that not even a single element of which makes sense to you.

Anyhoo, as I was gearing up to go on maternity leave I was in full on panic mode. I had spent so long trying to move my career forward to create interesting work opportunities and prospects for myself and here I was about to take, what turned out to be, almost six months off. Clearly, I had no idea what being a mum was going to be like but I also had no idea what kind of work landscape I was going to come back to upon my return.

I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to put in the long nights and weekend work, which is fairly standard practice in NGOs – horrific on so many levels as that is. But I had already started working towards this when I found out I was pregnant by trying what initially seemed to be a very alien concept of just working the hours I was contracted for. To my great surprise I found that sticking to my hours increased my efficiency within those hours so much that I could achieve just as much working my 40 contracted hours as I could trying to work 60 hours. Actually I probably achieved more because I wasn’t permanently running on fumes and perpetually burnt out. Work environments that applaud the staff who sit at their desks longest or send the emails earliest in the morning or latest at night are, frankly, ridiculous.

Anyway, in addition to trying to improve my time management capabilities I also tried to prepare myself for the impending work absence by soliciting the advice and support of various colleagues to basically make sure I wasn’t forgotten about. I knew the world of work, I knew the kind of career goals I had already achieved and those that I was continuing to work towards. I had no idea what motherhood would do to that.

I had planned to keep an eye on work emails and stay in touch with office trends during my maternity leave. But then I had a baby and, as I expected, but was still wholly unprepared for, everything changed. It was like when you are at the opticians and they ask ‘is it better with lens one or two?’, but rather than there being a minor difference you have to almost guess at it was the difference between seeing in black and white and seeing in colour. My entire focus just shifted.

It wasn’t that I no longer cared about work, it was more that I realised that work was just one element in my life and it was no longer the most important. I also discovered hidden superpowers within and all the uncertainty that plagued me BC I seemed to just be able to shrug off. For perhaps the first time in my working life I recognised, without any sense of guilt or shame, that actually I’m awesome at what I do and if the people around me can’t see that then I can always find other people who will.

So I didn’t check work emails, I enjoyed the time off I had with my baby and barely thought about the return to work until the thought of being away from my baby started giving me panic attacks in the weeks prior to my return.

I was lucky in being able to return to work at a traditionally very quiet time of year and in having a supportive boss who enabled me to work from home a couple of days a week so that on those days I can have extra time with my daughter by saving the commute and having lunch/feed breaks with her during the day.

I returned to work and I enjoyed it. In many ways it was a pleasure to return to the office whose values I’m passionately committed to and to once again feel that I am doing my part in contributing to the work I care about. It was also a pleasure to be able to have grown up conversations and to set myself a task list I could actually complete, not to mention the joys of being able to drink a cup of tea while its still hot and to wear dangly earrings.

I love my daughter and I do want to spend all my time with her but I do also want to have a life of my own and a job I enjoy and time to see friends and write and hang out with the beard watching endless episodes of Star Trek. I realise that is contradictory, but parenthood is inherently contradictory. I will always be a mum, and love being one, but being a mum will never be all that I am. And that’s okay.

BC I used to tell people that I wore many different hats at work as my role had expanded into many different areas. This remains true for work but I also wear many different hats in other aspects of my life. I am a mum. I am also a worker, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a reader, a runner, a wife, a writer, a cat lover and three thousand other elements that make up the contradictory whole that is me. Juggling different aspects of your life isn’t a situation unique to parents, I’m just currently super conscious of it since my return to work. Sometimes this is a circus act and I can keep all the plates happily spinning at once, other times I’ll let a few plates slip as some areas require more attention than others. Mais c’est la vie.

I can’t always do it all, but nor should I or anyone else expect me to.