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.

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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.

 

The baby diaries: Selfishness is essential for survival

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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

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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.

The Baby Diaries: Time passing or how the hell is it almost Christmas?

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I’ve always had a bit of a problem living in the moment, with a tendency to zoom ahead into future imaginings and plans.

I have spent large swathes of my life wishing it away. On a yearly basis I longed for the next birthday, the end of term, the upcoming holiday, etc. On a lifely basis I longed for when I would be an official adult, when I’d finally figure out what I should be doing with my life, when I’d have a family of my own, when I’d get to retire and so on.

Sometimes it felt like time moved so slowly! That has changed as I’ve gotten older which makes sense because as a five year old being told the next world cup won’t be for four years, is actually a lifetime away, whereas now four years is a mere eighth of my existence so its really not such a big deal and won’t be long before I can start the next unrewarding fantasy that this will be the competition England finally wins!

But consciousness of time passing you by as you age is nothing compared to a consciousness of time being a fleeting thing slipping through your fingers at an alarming rate as you inch closer and closer to your own oblivion that develops with parenthood! If I made that sound a little dramatic then I have failed to convey the concept properly. It isn’t a little dramatic it is a terrifyingly accurate representation of a gnawing sensation that I’m struggling to fight on a daily basis.

For example, today I got really grumpy at the beard for being pulled over by a dog, twisting his ankle and consequently not being able to drive Clara and I to the swimming pool (which is only heated up to appropriate baby temperature once a week). I realised I was being unreasonable and did apologise but ended up bursting into tears as I explained it was just that not being able to go today meant we wouldn’t be able to go for another week and then the following week we’d be in the UK and then we’d be back and it would be almost Christmas and then I’d be back at work…and… cue dizzying time distorted depression whilst desperately scrabbling to cling to every minute and hold back time.

And breathe.

It doesn’t help that every Tom, Dick and Harry, not to mention Tammy, Daisy and Harriet pointing out to you how important it is to enjoy these moments as they won’t be small forever. Seriously, people don’t need to tell me this, I’m already sickeningly aware of that fact as I witness the speed at which she grows.

It’s funny because I find myself stuck in this conundrum where I’m really enjoying seeing our daughter develop and loving watching her engage more with us and the world around her. It’s great to see her grow and learn and if my days are currently devoted to doing whatever I can to elicit a smile from our petite pomme-de-terre then it’s a good day (screw the laundry, dishes and attempting to keep the flat clean – I mean seriously, screw them, child or no, there’s always something better to do!).

On the other side the speed at which the days tumble by and the months have swept past clearly scares the beejasus out of me!

Before child, and my life can now be split into BC and AC, as a friend recently pointed out, the five months I’d be taking off as maternity and annual leave sounded like a lot of time. Three months in and an annoying amount of people now counting down to Christmas, I realise how wrong I was! For all you Christmas lovers out there, I’m not a grinch, I used to be a Christmas countdowner myself it’s just that Christmas this year is not just a fun holiday but also the real precursor to the end of my timeless days hanging out with the kid.

The problem is that the potato is just too damn awesome, and I’m sure all parents feel the same, or at least I really hope they do, so that hanging out with her everyday seems like the best way to spend any day. I’m trying not to be totally child obsessed and to have a bit of balance in my life and to keep a separate sense of my ‘self’, which I’m achieving but to be totally honest it is a bit of an effort to do.

BC, I knew that I couldn’t really know how I’d feel about being a mother until it actually happened. My own mother tried to prepare me by telling me that I wouldn’t love my cats as much when the spud arrived, I don’ think she was being cruel she was just trying to give me a point of reference.  But she was wrong, I still love the cats just as much as I did before it’s just that the love I have for my baby is so much more than I could possibly comprehend and it transcends anything I’ve ever felt before. Even saying that doesn’t really do the sentiment justice.

AC, another friend told me that she loves watching me with the babe as she said I seem to be tenderer than I used to be. She tried to reassure me that didn’t mean I seemed particularly hard before but that somehow I seemed softer now. At first I wasn’t too sure how to take that, but on reflection I feel like she’s right and that being a mother has unlocked all these capacities I didn’t know I had before.

I am so much more demonstrative of my feelings because I don’t want to leave our daughter in any doubt of how much I love her, I will gladly make fart noises at her whilst waiting in line at the checkout because it makes her smile without caring about the funny looks I might get from other customers, I will even dive into and brave bureaucratic challenges (and in French no less) where these are on her behalf.

When I met the beard he made me feel like I could do and achieve anything but there were still some challenges I didn’t want to do that I would back away from, things like singing in public or self-promotion at work. When I met the baby I felt like there are no humanly possible barriers that could stop me from doing anything for her.

What I need help with is breaking the non-humanly possible barriers. Anyone know how I can get time to just slow down or maybe just standstill for a little bit, whilst letting me enjoy everything going forward? I’m not asking for much just a life remote control where I can pause, rewind and replay episodes at will.

I feel like my return to work is now just looming around the corner, like an enthusiastic telesales person I know will just call back every day until I eventually cave and have an actual discussion with them. It’s not that I don’t want to go back to work, I’m looking forward to the intellectual challenge that’ll present and am optimistic that working with the new boss is going to be a rewarding experience, it’s just that I also don’t want to miss out on time with the minion. I basically want to have my cake and eat it (which is a very odd expression when you think about it because why would you want to have cake and not eat it)?

I suppose it’s just that for the first time since I don’t know when, I’m really enjoying being in the moment (well most moments, maybe not the screamingly wide awake in the middle of the night moments). It’s just that I never realised before how quickly each moment passes even if they are quickly passing into new and equally rewarding different moments.

Still at least I can give thanks for smartphones that make it very easy to capture a thousand and one moments a day so that its easy to flick back to pictures and videos to help me recapture some of the moments gone by. Now how do I juggle the desire to record all these incidents without giving the child a narcistic selfie-taking complex before she can walk?