Lost and found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Trio of Travellers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: 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?

The baby diaries: tears before bedtime

Standard

Babies cry. Quite a lot as it turns out. Sometimes it almost seems that they do nothing but cry. This isn’t true of course but time distorts when you are pacing around your living quarters with an infant emitting ear-splitting wails directly into your auditory brain channel!

Babies can’t really help the crying, they don’t have a lot of options when it comes to communicating so screaming is often all they’ve got. This has to suffice to communicate a whole lot of things which as a parent is your job to try to interpret, it could almost be considered a fun game, a sort of twenty guesses of the baby’s needs type affair, except that you hardwired to do two things when your baby cries, one is to respond and the other is to feel like a terrible specimen of humanity.

Sometimes babies just cry and once we’ve gone through the standard list (is she hungry, gassy, does she need a change, is she tired, running a temperature, bored?) we use the paediatrician recommended method of assessing if there is anything specifically wrong, which is to roll her over our arm and carry her face down. Usually this will temporarily stop the grizzling, which apparently is a sign there’s nothing actually wrong, so if the wailing commences again after that we can be reassured that we aren’t missing anything serious.

However, knowing that sometimes babies just cry (fab book a friend lent me ‘Your baby week by week’ gives an indication of how often and for what reasons or lack of reasons) doesn’t stop you from feeling like a failure every time they do. Especially when you are that joyous combination of over hormonal and sleep-deprived.

During my pregnancy, I received a lot of helpful advice (and some not so helpful advice) from a lot of parents. One piece of guidance in particular has been really helpful, when our daughter is screaming her lungs out and we are trying to assess how bad on a scale of dismal-to-barbaric this makes us as parents, which came from a friend at work we’ll call The Italian (and italicise because of the obvious link between Italy and italics – I assume Italians invented the slanting style and don’t want to hear any evidence to the contrary).

The Italian told me and the beard, on more than one occasion, that it’s alright to cry. I’ll admit that failed to really register at the pre-baby hypothetical time but I can’t repeat enough now that we are in the solid-albeit-squidgy-reality of parenthood. The Italian’s advice was meant for us more than our daughter although it applies to her too. This counsel has come in pretty handy as I think I’ve been more tearful in the several weeks of our daughter’s existence than in the previous several years.

I burst into tears when my daughter was first laid on my chest straight after birth. That definitely counts as good crying.

The next tearful incident was one particularly fractious night around the two or three-week mark when she seemed to be constantly demanding food but then would take a mouthful before screaming on my breast, nipple still in mouth, milk going everywhere. Unsure where I was going wrong (as already mentioned blaming yourself is instinctive), frustrated and tired, the beard sensibly whipped her away for a pace around the flat before I started to join her in the wailing!

On another disturbed night with unexplained crying dragging out minutes into years the girl’s tantrum must have been contagious as I neared breaking point and could only save myself from full on nuclear meltdown by hurling a pack of nappies across the room. Which, in my defence, seems a fairly reasonable response as I could have hurled the baby or thrown nappies (perhaps with a baby inside) at the beard instead and that probably would have been a bit harder to fix than a measured tidy up the following day.

When the little one got a bit better at sleeping, going for three or four-hour stints at a time, we started to recover from the prolonged period of sleep-deprivation we’d been subject to. I mistakenly started to think maybe I’d got the hang of this parenting thing and wasn’t as bad at as I’d initially thought.

This brings me to the next time I properly cried: the day I hurt my child. Before anyone starts calling the French equivalent of social services on me, I hasten to add that it was accidental and not at all serious but that didn’t stop me from feeling like the worst human being in existence, having just injured the best human being in existence (it’s possible I may be biased but the beard and both sets of grandparents would definitely agree with me, so that seems fairly conclusive to me).

I was putting her down on the playmat, she slipped slightly (from a height of probably no more than five centimetres), and bopped her head, she landed on the edge of the playmat but it’s a very hard tile floor underneath and it did cause two quick sharp wails before she was swept up and the tears stopped. We checked her for damage but pretty sure the only result was the initial shock of a slight bump to the head. The beard was relaxed enough about the incident later to try and joke about it over the changing table, I was not quite so sanguine about what had happened and promptly burst into tears.

The next time I cried was a week or two ago (my ability to remember things like days of the week and accurately marking the passage of the earth around the sun has severely decreased since living with a newborn). I thought we had got into a reasonably settled pattern of just waking once between midnight and 8 am but my daughter had other plans and went through a couple of nights of only sleeping for 60-90 minutes to a time. The shock of the return of this nightmarish sleep schedule just pushed me over the edge. In the witching hours of one such evening, I took her out of the bedroom to nurse her but was faced with one of those confidence-shattering moments when the daughter’s demands for boobs only resulted in shrill screams at my breast.

I just thought I have no idea what to do and I’m too tired to figure this out. I started to sniffle a little bit and then I started to full-on sob. I then started to feel worse about my failure to satisfy the infant thinking that my sobbing was going to upset her, but then I remembered The Italian’s advice ‘it’s alright to cry’. And that finally fully sunk in. It was alright to cry, it was alright to give into my emotions and it’s alright for my child to see me do this. In fact it’s probably more than alright to expose our daughter to this from an early age.

At this point the beard blundered in having been woken by the chorus of our howls to find himself confronted with a bawling child and weeping wife, incoherently thrusting the baby in his face whilst snuffling out something or other about maybe needing to change her.

I have been thinking about this moment quite a lot recently and why it is that I, along with so many other people, are indoctrinated to think of crying as a negative physical reaction, a sign of weakness that is something to be ashamed of.

From an early age crying gets pushed into a gendered dimension, which is why I think it particularly important to note that the advice came from The Italian, who happens to be male. Crying is often portrayed as a feminine trait symptomatic of girls and women’s inherent weakness, it’s okay for girls and women to cry, they can’t help it; but not for boys or men to do so.

As someone who is often fighting to overcome negative gender stereotypes I’m not exempt from this and have inadvertently accepted the narrative that crying is a sign of weakness and have consequently trapped myself into thinking that if I cry I’m giving into feebleness and in doing so undermining the notion that women can be just as strong as men.

The problem is that crying is almost unilaterally portrayed as a bad thing, unless we expressly clarify that someone is crying tears of joy. Crying is often symptomatic of sadness, pain or discomfort but these feelings aren’t a sign of weakness or something to be ashamed of. I think the problem lies in that tears make other people uncomfortable and are something that people feel need to be justified, excused or otherwise explained away as an anomaly, as though it isn’t okay to just admit sometimes we are sad and crying is an expression of that.

As the parent of an often-screaming child, I already feel like I’m failing when our daughter cries when it is just the three of us, but as soon as she cries around other people, whether friends or family or out in public, my feelings that I’m a failure are hitched up into a whole new level of uncomfortableness caused by the assumption that everyone else will also think I am a failure.

This sense that crying is bad is something that is unavoidable from the earliest age. We noticed this with some visitors who kept on asking whether our daughter had been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’.

Given our child is unable to support the weight of her own head, let alone plot for the downfall of humanity, we were given to understand that a good baby was one that was quiet and a bad baby was one that cried. At first we didn’t really notice it but the frequency at which this concept of good or bad was being liberally applied to our child really started to grate on me and although I’d let the comments slide at first, I then found the need to keep correcting our visitors. Yes, she woke up in the night; no, it wasn’t her being naughty or bad in doing so.

Frustrating to have to constantly contradict others, amongst ourselves it has become a source of amusement, so that currently whenever the potato cries the beard and I look at each other and laughingly say ‘bad baby, bad baby’. It’s a habit we’ll have to break before our daughter becomes conscious of the meaning of our words but figure we can get away with for a little longer so long as it is always said in a happy tone.

When she is old enough to understand the concepts of those asking if she has been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we’ll have to make conscious efforts to explain and to demonstrate to her that it’s alright to cry. In the meantime, I’ll work on accepting this more in myself as I expect this family will be dealing with quite a few more tears before bedtime in future.