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.

 

 

 

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Love is a rich tapestry

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For my daughter who turns one today. For my husband who has been the most excellent of father’s for a whole year. And for myself, past, present and future, who continues to evolve and whose life is infinitely better because of you:

Love is a rich tapestry

Flesh of my flesh,
I nourished you at my breast
And watched you grow.
I thought I would be your guide,
But confess I was surprised,
At how much I still needed to know.

I watch you learn,
But learn from you in my turn.
To take simple delight in the purity,
Of everyday marvellous things,
Like the technical mastery of fingers,
And of what it is to just be.

To amuse you I jump,
You clap your hands as again I leap up,
And I feel the wonder actively,
That, as you laugh in delight,
And I jump up to take flight,
I’m free, for a few moments, of even gravity.

Fruit of my loin,
You have filled my life with joy.
I’ve taken pleasure in being your nurse,
But this world I brought you into
Belongs not to me but to you.
You are master of this new universe.

Miracle in the making,
This world is your’s for the taking.
People ask what hopes I have for you?
But that answer is not mine to give.
Your life is your’s alone to live,
To others be kind, to yourself be true.

You are like me but uniquely other,
And I cannot wait to discover
Your likes, dislikes, dreams and ambitions.
These things that give your personality shape,
That will help you choose your own way,
To find your future of your own volition.

Blood of my blood,
Go forth with my love
And with this understanding:
Whatever it is that makes you happy,
Whoever you decide you want to be,
I will always be your champion.

Love is a rich tapestry
That exceeds biology, history and geography.
It is the greatest gift I can bestow.
Let it support you when days seem tough,
Let it revive you when you’ve had enough.
You will have it with you where you go.

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.

(Return of the blog) The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 1 – Discovering I’m Pregnant

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About a year ago I decided to abandon this blog. I thought I would take the time saved from the blog commitment and apply this to other projects, but instead I got sucked into the mire of Netflix, Twitter and other time-wasting distractions and I still haven’t gotten around to channeling my liberated time into something more productive.

Alas, the best laid plans of wombat and women and all that…

In short, I’m back to the blog. I’m also about 4 months pregnant so I decided to marry the two and start the pregnancy diaries. Although I reserve the right to right about anything else as the hormonal whims (or should that be winds) take me!


The Pregnancy Diaries: Discovering I’m pregnant

I should start with the disclaimer that the pregnancy was planned and was theoretically something that was hoped for and desired. However, in spite all of this it took me by surprise in a way that I really hadn’t counted on. For the record, I am also very aware of how incredibly fortunate we are not to have encountered any difficulties in becoming pregnant and I wish it could be as simple for others as it has been for us.


It seems that the bearded man and I know more couples that have had difficulties in conceiving than we know couples that have easily (or so it seems) had kids. To be totally honest it never occurred to me that we might have serious problems, although I suppose it probably doesn’t occur to most couples until they find themselves in that situation. However, I had thought that it would take us a good few months of trying and being disappointed every time my period arrived before what I imagined would be that euphoric moment when we finally took the pregnancy test and realised I was pregnant.

This is not what happened.

I came off the Pill I’d been taking for the last 15 years, I had my period the following month but was neither surprised nor particularly disappointed by this as that month I’d been travelling a fair amount and otherwise busy with work. I also assumed it might take a while for my body to readjust to a non regulated routine.

The following month, I was fairly sure my period was on its way. I’d had an over-flow of emotions that I horrifically thought was what it must be like to have a normal period without the drug dependency (trying not burst into tears when my colleague asked me a simple question) and fully expected the monthly joy to kick in that weekend.

Then I realised that I’d miscounted. It wasn’t 4 weeks since my last period, it was 5. I still wasn’t convinced this meant anything of note, I wasn’t sure what my regular pattern was supposed to be since I’d stopped regulating with the daily chemicals I’d been taking for the previous 5,500 days or so. But it at least meant buying a pregnancy test was a sensible option.

Buying the test I found myself subject to the same sense of shame I’d imagined would have enshrouded me had I needed to buy a test when a teenager and clearly not expecting or wanting to be mother material.

Why this was so I’ve no idea, but nonetheless I found myself furtively in the line at the pharmacy trying to surreptitiously had the packet behind a handful of other random items I’d picked up as cover (you know, I’ll have a packet of chewing gum, some shampoo, a multipack of chapsticks and…adoublepackofpregnancytests…and some moisturiser, and some paracetamol…).

I got the tests home and decided to get it over with straight away, I glanced at the instructions got the gist drank two big glasses of water to fuel my bladder and toddled off to the toilet, test in hand.

I waited the two minutes; the bearded man anxiously looking at me waiting for me to flip the stick and view the results. There was a straight line instead of the cross. Not pregnant. Oh well.

Then I noticed there was some other part of the test that hadn’t done anything, the control window next to the results window. Nothing in that either. I reread the instructions which clearly stated that if no line appears in the control window then the test has failed. Alright the control line didn’t show up but the original result still said not pregnant so presumably that was more likely to be the real result?

However, I’d bought a double pack and had the spare test but rather than fuelling the bladder and going again immediately I thought it would be better to wait until the following morning and do the whole thing properly. I decided to get back to the rest of the afternoon and evening. Have some dinner, watch some Netflix, go to bed.

The following morning I found myself more awake than usual on a Sunday (can’t imagine why) so when the cats wake me just before 7, rather than doing what I usually do which is to shake the bearded one awake and demand he feed them, I got my lazy bottom up to to distribute the morning biscuits myself and then headed to the bathroom.

I took the test properly, held the stick at the right angle for the precise amount of time. I waited the two minutes and looked to see a very strong cross in the results window and a line in the control window appear. No mistaking this result: I’m pregnant.

I thought I don’t really want to deal with this right now so I’ll just go back to sleep and pretend this isn’t really happening. Safely ensconced back under the duvet, bearded man responding to my re-entry into bed by rolling over and throwing an arm around me, I lay wide-eyed in the dark staring at nothing.

After a few moments of realising sleep was not forthcoming I thought this probably isn’t something I should keep to myself so I sort of angrily muttered ‘Well, I’m pregnant’ to the half dreaming man beside me. ‘What?’ he murmurs back at me. ‘I took the test and I’m pregnant’. He’s fully alert now. ‘We’re having a baby?’ ‘Yup’ I respond. Neither of us says anything. I suspect both of us are now wide-eyed in the dark and staring.

Waiting for the euphoria to kick in.

To be continued…