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!

Every day she needs me less and less

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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.

Ten things I’ve learnt from my daughter

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1. Be present.

It’s really boring watching someone play on a smart phone when you want to engage with them. I was trying to be careful not to use my phone around her too much. At meal times phones are banned for everyone but it’s too easy to pick it up for a quick check of messages, flick through twitter, instragram updates etc. and I’ve got increasingly worse at this recently. Or I did until I was sat next to my daughter in her playpen she reached up and grabbed my phone and then spent 20 minutes playing with it. I tried to engage her in activities we could both do but it was too late she was lost to the machine. Well played, baby, well played.

2. Ability to adjust to new sleep patterns

Lack of sleep was one of the things I feared before my daughter was born. I focused on this because there were other things I feared that I couldn’t possibly know how they would work out, I did, however, already know that I can be a bit of a grouch when I’m tired. It’s certainly not been a piece of cake adapting and I do have a new found love of caffeine, but it’s also not been so terrible. Now we are at a point when the little one (mostly) sleeps through the night and I’m grateful for that, all the more so when the blooming cats don’t decide I should wake up at 5am and feed them!

I’m starting to miss those before child (BC) lie-ins less and less, I quite like being up and about, having already done a trip to the park or market or whatever, and ready for lunch before I’d even have gotten up in my child-free days.

3. Enjoy the gifts you are given

Mostly playing with my daughter is an exercise in she wants everything at once, so if I pick up a toy she wants it, if I pick up another one she wants that too until before I know it she is resembling Smaug sitting a top a hoard of treasure that no-one else can touch. Recently though there has become an element of shared interaction in her play, so it may be that I will shake the egg shaker, she will take it to shake and then will give it back to me.

With food we are fortunate that so far our baby is a pretty enthusiastic eater, she happily and readily eats most stuff we give her. In the last few weeks she has decided that it is quite entertaining to occasionally try to feed us and it is genuinely delightful to eat half-chewed up apricot because my daughter wants to share it with me even if she sometimes changes her mind and then tries to pluck said apricot from my mouth.

4. You can always be wiped down and change later

The only way to eat watermelon is to squish it in your hands, let the juice run down your elbows and mush it into your face, you can always be wiped down and, if needs be, changed later. Sometimes life just needs to be grabbed in both hands with big squidgy fistfuls and crammed in to maximize enjoyment. Sure you might get a bit messy along the way but don’t let a bit of potential stickiness put you off from really just giving into the good stuff from time-to-time.

5. Take time to stop and stare

Seeing my child stare in wonder at the everyday things I used to take for granted has caused me to take time to stop and stare too.

Wriggling your fingers is fascinating. How do they work? What makes them do that? How is it I think to move them and they move?

Recently I was showing the teeny one rain during a storm, telling her how it comes down from the sky and why it is important to make the plants grow. We were in the dry from our covered balcony area and I stretched out my hand to try and catch a rain drop, then my little girl unfurled her hand and as she felt a drop of water looked at me in surprise. There is a lot to be amazed at in the every day and her wonderment is contagious.

6. Holidays can be a time to relax

BC I saw holidays as an opportunity to cram in as much stuff as humanly possible to make the most of visiting a place I assumed I’d never return to because when there is so much world to see why waste time returning to places you’ve been before? When I got preggers we did a couple of trips when I had to start to slow down because rushing about just wasn’t possible. We’ve travelled quite a lot with the little one and, although a lot of that entails somewhat manic dashes around the UK trying to absorb as much time with friends and family as possible, we have also managed a couple of actual holidays too.

My approach to these has changed racially, now I think that managing to do a couple of things that I couldn’t do at home and spending the rest of time relaxing in nice surroundings is pretty great. A gently foray here and there is more than enough and returning to places in the future doesn’t seem like such a terrible idea. Consequently holidays are now much more relaxing and rejuvenating.

7. Sources of amusement are all around

Mummy jumping is entertaining. Daddy moving you in and out of view of your reflection in the mirror is worth a throaty chuckle. Cats standing up to take treats are hilarious. Life doesn’t need to be taken seriously all the time and there’s a lot to laugh about.

8. Communication is more than words

I sat eating some toast and the little one came up to me at the edge of her playpen, pointed at my toast and then at her mouth. No need for words there, the message was pretty clear. I didn’t share with her my toast but did give her some watermelon so we could snack together.

There are so many ways to communicate without language but not being able to rely on words really brings this home. Most importantly I can communicate that I love my girl without her needing a grasp of words to understand this.

9. If at first you don’t succeed…

My daughter’s patience and willingness to try to learn and master new things like trying to form words, eat without help and stand up and walk is really inspiring. Even though she gets tongue tied, covered in gloop and falls down over and over again, and sometimes there may be a bopped head and tears involved, she doesn’t allow her failures to put her off. Her patience and willingness to keep practicing is really inspiring so I’m trying not to use my frustrations with language to prevent my from practicing and improving my French, if she can do it so can I.

10. My capacity to love is limitless

For a long time before my daughter arrived, long before she was even a remote possibility, I had worried I may be too selfish to be a mother, to really be able to put someone else’s needs before my own on a constant and consistent basis. I’m not a selfish monster, I’m quite capable of putting others first from time to time but the idea of putting my needs as secondary to someone else’s on a systematic basis just sounded implausible. Sure I could quite happily sit several hours longer than planned to if my cat sat on my lap and didn’t want to be moved, but I could also shoot that same cat in the face with a water pistol when they decide to bang on my wardrobe doors for the umpteenth time in the early hours of the morning.

When my child was born those fears disappeared and I learnt that love doesn’t come in limited quantities that you have to balance against competing needs and priorities. I can still love myself, my husband, cats, friends and family and love my baby without any of those losing out in the equation. And my capacity to love grows every days as I love my child more and more deeply the more time I spend with her and better I get to know her.

 

 

 

Supermum to superbum so superrun

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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

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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.