It’s time for me to admit; I think I might be one of those overly sentimental mums. I can try and fight it, deny it, pretend I’m well ‘ard and tough, but frankly, it’s just not true.
I have the hugest of crushes on the amazing mum bloggers out there, who have nailed the art of calling out the really bloody exhausting and nerve-jangling aspects of parenthood and being honest and funny at the same time. My particular faves are Brummy Mummy of 2 and Hurrah for Gin, who seem to be able to pinpoint and say not only what we are all thinking and experiencing, but do it hilariously and touchingly but never cheesily. And this is where I often think ‘Oh I can’t possibly write this or that down, what if everyone thinks ‘Blyurrrgh! Pass the bucket! This one’s far too sensitive for her own good.’
But then again, we are all different, and that’s just fine. I read a comment on a post recently where a mum said something like ‘Now I was never a mushy mum . . .’ and I thought ‘Oh but that’s me.’ I am the one crying my eyes out along the street after a particularly tearful nursery drop-off. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed with love for my boy I just start crying. And yes this has happened out in public, when obviously he was being insanely cute and not going mental because he doesn’t LIKE the sun. But still. Sometimes it makes me feel just a bit silly. Because we all love our kids to pieces, and it’s not the British way to be too sentimental about these things, what what.
I think there’s a very good reason for it though, and it’s this. I feel, every single day, very lucky. Oh I’m welling up just writing that down. Argh! I feel lucky to be married to my husband when in my early twenties I never thought I would ever meet anyone like him, let alone marry him and have a beautiful son together. Yes he can drive me crazy, because he literally cannot find ANYTHING and cannot see things even when they are RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM. I spend my life telling him where things are (‘It’s right in front of you, see?’), but that’s no big deal.
And when it comes to our little boy, every day I feel lucky that he is here. I have never taken for granted or just assumed I could have children. But he is here and all the things that add up to him are right. From his big curly hair to his ten small toes, everything that makes him him is a part of me and I feel this overwhelming, sometimes crushing weight of love for him that is impossible to articulate. So maybe that’s why I cry. I have also read far too many horror novels, and seen too many terrible stories in the news, to not panic every time he runs that little bit too fast away from me or I lose sight of him for a moment in the park. We all do that.
He turned three nearly three weeks ago and I’ve been wanting to write it all down but so far I haven’t, and I don’t know why. Time is going so quickly, and every now and again I catch a glimpse of him and he looks so grown up, and I just want time to stop. I was quite proud of myself this year because I only cried once when wrapping his presents, instead of the sob fest of the previous two years in preparation for his big day. Maybe I am toughening up!
Oh, who am I kidding? He flung his arms around me the other day and said ‘Mummy I love you so much!’ before rushing off to tend to Thomas, Gordon and friends, leaving me with tears rolling down my cheeks whilst thinking ‘I won’t cry I won’t cry . . . oh go on then. Just a little bit.’
Most of us will have seen by now The Motherhood Challenge on Facebook, in which some will have taken part, others will have chosen not to. I like seeing my friends’ pictures, but I’m the latter; I write about motherhood plenty as it is. I’m so self-conscious about trying not to be too in anyone’s face with it, that I didn’t feel the need to add more photos into the mix. I’m a copywriter, I love to write – when I went on maternity leave and stopped writing every day, it drove me nuts, so I began blogging as a way to get it all down and keep a record for Zach. So many of us write about motherhood as a way to offload, share and remember we’re all in the same boat.
But we’re not, are we? Most of us will have also seen by now, comedian Ellie Taylor’s Non-Motherhood Challenge photos, which went viral. It’s her napping and with a bottle of red wine in one shot for a pillow. I saw it and laughed aloud, and thought if that had been me, I’d have thrown a bottle of gin, a cinema schedule and a giant cup of hot steaming tea in there too. Later on, when it popped up in my FB feed more and more, I saw some of the comments, and sighed.
In amongst the hundreds of people applauding her and finding it funny were those commenting on how upsetting it might be for non-mothers to see. Then there were those blasting so-called smug mums. As someone commented in response, there always has to be one, doesn’t there? But as someone else replied, no matter what you write or do, someone, somewhere will take offence.
It seemed to quickly turn into a Mothers vs Non-Mothers challenge, with comments abounding about smug mums who can only talk about their wonderful kids, non-mums talking about how refreshing it is to see a non-mum posting about enjoying life without kids, mums who found it hilarious and recalling their own days as non-mums, and mums and non-mums who were upset on behalf of non-mums because it’s insensitive to those who would love to be mums.
Bloody hell, it’s exhausting isn’t it? When did it become such a minefield, to talk about your life and to share your experiences, ideas and thoughts? What happened to being kind, sensitive and supportive of other women and supporting each other’s lifestyles and opinions? They say you should write about what you know. I write about motherhood in its various guises, because otherwise I’d find myself wandering about and talking to myself, as I continued a constant conversation aloud about lack of sleep or toddler tantrums or potty training, and I assume other mum bloggers do the same. I guess the difference between blogging and this challenge is it’s a choice as to whether or not you read the posts. What’s also divisive about the challenge is it’s not your choice to be nominated; then there’s the question of to take part or not?
Speaking of minefields, when it comes to writing about motherhood, it’s quite hard to put stuff out there, in the hope people may identify with it, empathise, maybe laugh and hopefully enjoy it. Thinking constantly about how it may upset one person but make another laugh, and how you may be judged is exhausting too. It gives me the horrors to think I may seem smug, or worse, as one commenter put it, smug and self-congratulatory. To that person I would say please choose never to read my blog, if that’s what you think this is all about.
When it comes down to it, we’re all adults, doing the best we can, and it shouldn’t be a competition, should it? Alternatively, you could just say sod it to the whole thing and not give a toss what anyone thinks, but I reckon that’s easier said than done. At least for this mum.
It started with that little coat hook.
That first little coat hook at your first nursery. It wasn’t even your first day there. It was a pre-visit. They had to bring me hot sweet tea. They were so kind to me, this weeping mess of a mum who had been derailed by a little coat hook, with your nametag on it.
The worst bit was always the drop-off, when you screamed, though I knew you were fine five minutes later. After about the third morning, they advised me to just wait a few moments and watch you calm down. It didn’t stop me crying as I walked to work though, not for that first week anyway.
I thought it would get easier.
In a way, it did, and it didn’t.
When you started your new nursery after we moved, I was so relieved I no longer had to commute into central London and back with you in a sling; I forgot to be the sobbing mum on the doorstep. I possibly cried on the walk to the station though. I’ve got previous.
Then it was time for you to move from Baby Room into Toddler Room last January. There is a corridor between the rooms. You can see across from one room into the other. It’s not even a whole skip across a hallway, that’s how close they are.
Yet on that morning, I surprised myself and alarmed one of the lovely staff by bursting into tears as I handed you over, and hung your coat and bag on your new little hook. I didn’t even know I was upset about this next stage until it was happening. I bumbled my way out of there, apologising and yes, crying on the way home, with H on the phone reassuring me it was all okay. More hot sweet tea helped.
And as for this January? The tears started back in November, when we received the letter about your visits to the nursery’s pre-school room. ‘OH COME ON!’ I thought to myself, as the tears rolled down my cheeks. ‘Really? Still crying?’ I can’t help it. Although the additional news that the costs would be lowering was delightful, it seems that each big new stage reduces me to tears. Apart from the potty training that is – once that had proved a success, there were only tears of JOY.
I steeled myself for yesterday’s drop-off as pre-school began. I wore no mascara. I only blubbed twice as we got ready. On the walk there, we sang ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ and ‘Jingle Bells’ and I took some deep breaths.
Oh but they couldn’t have made it any easier for us. There were your lovely key carers, waiting, and all smiles as I took the obligatory doorstep snaps. There were your friends waiting for you in the Toddler Room, just like before. I had to take your coat and bag upstairs and hang them on your new little hook, but this time I didn’t lose it. It’s only taken two years, at last!
I came downstairs to see you playing and laughing with your friends and MoreGuin, you didn’t even notice as I left – just how it should be. And I remained calm on the way home. In fact, I saved the tears for earlier today, when researching your schools admission process made me cry and reinforced my belief I’ll need some sedatives for September 2017. Until then, denial, denial, denial. Sometimes when it all gets too emotional, denial is key. For all the other times, there’s tea. And wine. Obviously.
Over the last few months, spending time with various family and friends and their young kids, I’ve noticed a few behavioural patterns. There have been tantrums galore; screaming, crying, shouts of ‘GO AWAY!’ and ‘No that’s MINE!’ and ‘I will NOT share!’. Toys have been thrown, fuses have blown and little fists have pounded the floor.
In the midst of all this, you’ll find me, breathing a sigh of relief and thinking thank goodness.
I’m so glad it’s not just my toddler who does this. I’m so relieved it’s not a reflection of how we’ve been bringing him up; that sometimes he’s shrieking and cross and bad-tempered. Because every single one of these kids, who’ve mastered the art of the fake cry or the stamping feet, have awesome parents. Parents who are mindful of their kids’ manners, mortified when they will not stop screaming and are as keen as we are for their kids to be kind, caring and sharing.
But oh what a pain it must be, to be two or three and constantly told to share this, pass that, give that over here. It’s a daily battle and one we’re all trying to strike a balance with. It is pretty unfair to be told to hand over your favourite car or crayons or play-doh pot, because some other kid has set their heart on it. It’s also hard to witness your child snatching things back, screaming ‘It’s MINE!’ and glowering with their fists clenched. It’s embarrassing. But we’re all in the same boat. And these kids who make us want to hide away until the shouting’s stopped, are the same kids who give us giant bear hugs and fall asleep in our arms. They are funny and sweet and mischievous and endearing.They ask questions like ‘Mummy, if we go too high in the sky will we bang our heads?’ and make us burst out laughing in the supermarket by exclaiming ‘LOOK at that giant apple!’ whilst pointing at a roast chicken. They leave our hearts fit to bursting twenty times a day with the things they say, watching them play (when they’re playing nicely) and the sound of their laughter. Actually, just by being here.
Last week started with Zach shouting from his room ‘Go AWAY Mummy, I don’t like you want Daddy!’ and ended on Friday with him declaring, as we waited for a train, ‘Mummy I don’t LIKE the sun (?), I love you as big as the sky.’ My heart burst a little bit and I grinned like a fool. We then went to a cafe where he screamed the place down for the sake of a toy car. Oh well. You win some, you lose some. I totally won that day with declarations of love from my boy. Even if I did lose the car present battle and let him open it before we got home. Anything for a coffee in peace – though at that point I wished it was gin.
We have just celebrated Zee’s third Halloween. Before having a child, my interest in Halloween was minimal. However, I am very keen on fancy dress and happily, Adam is too. Our greatest* fancy dress achievement to date is the time we went to our friend’s 30th birthday weekend, and the fancy dress theme was ‘white’. We spent a while pondering what to wear and suddenly I had a brainwave. ‘Knights in White Satin!’ I exclaimed, Adam agreed, and we duly ordered highly flammable white polyester ‘satin’ shirts and plastic knights’ helmets off the internet. We wore our costumes proudly, amongst the Mummies, tennis players and Roman gods at the all-white event.
A few years later, we realised the song is not, in fact, ‘Knights in White Satin’. It is ‘Nights in White Satin’ and we will never live it down. Not that we mind, at least we were in it together and both got it wrong. Unlike that time when I walked to the Lido wearing a wetsuit, but that’s a different matter.
So anyway, becoming a parent brought a whole new meaning to Halloween, because having a small person to dress up is The Best. To this day, one of my greatest personal achievements is Zee’s first ever Halloween costume. There must always be a concept, and my concept was for my little pumpkin to transform into the lead anchor for KVWN’s Channel 4 News Team, Ron Burgundy.
I am not ashamed to say I dedicated pretty much a whole day on maternity leave to this little Halloween photo shoot. I took it upon myself to dye an old wig dark brown, because how could he be Ron Burgundy without a head of luxurious hair (which he possesses now, but did not then)? I located one of H’s white shirts, his burgundy jumper and a tie. I took two of my prized possessions; my Anchorman DVD and my hand-stitched, embroidered, framed Ron Burgundy, made by my very talented friend, and placed them ‘on set’. I found Ron’s ‘news desk’ – Z’s Bumbo – and filled a glass with scotch (apple juice). I dressed Zee, popped him in the Bumbo and affixed his ‘tache. He was DELIGHTED (he was not delighted). I attempted to place the wig on his little bald head, but this was an absolute no-no, so I cast it aside and snapped as many pics as I could in the 30 second window before he had an entire sense of humour failure. It was one of the happiest and most productive days on maternity leave I ever had, what larks.
Last year, what with leaving work and going freelance, I could not dedicate quite as much time to my concept. However, there was still a storyline and it was in fact based on one of Zee’s (and ours) favourite picture books, Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants by Giles Andreae and Korky Paul. My little Halloween spider transformed into the brave knight (yes he is an actual knight) Sir Scallywag, and I located a host of props to complete the look. His toy tent became the castle, his ride-a-long lion the horse and a plastic cutlass his lance (his lance of COURSE). Once again, it was all about the timing before Zee totally lost interest (and hurray, my knight’s helmet came in handy again).
This year, my husband set his heart on a haunted house Halloween party for his family at ours, which also coincided with his birthday. Having been informed of this idea in July, I’d had a while to plan our costumes, but only really engaged with it a few weeks ago. A moment of inspiration; for Adam’s birthday, the three of us could be The Adam’s Family. But I did not want to be Morticia. I would be Cousin It, Adam could be Uncle Fester and Zee? Gomez Addams, of course. Pugsley is just in shorts and a stripey T-shirt – too easy. For his ‘look’, eyeliner would be key. Brilliant! For about five seconds I toyed with dyeing his blonde locks black, but the prospect of the mess and fuss (and the glares from my mother when I proposed it), put me right off. We started seeding the fancy dress idea with him last Monday, so by Saturday his cries of ‘Don’t WANT to wear a costume, no, no, NO!’ were met with ‘Can I wear my costume mummy?’ Result. Speaking of results, we had a great time dressing up, though hosting a party for over 20 people dressed as Cousin It was a bit of a challenge, what with getting hair caught everywhere and not being able to see. So that’s Halloween done for another year. Time to start planning those festive outfits. Tra lalalala, la la la la.
- I CAN’T GET NO SLEEP
The Faithless song repeats the line ‘I can’t get no sleep’ a lot, which pretty much sums up life with a new baby. A hungry or thirsty baby. A poorly baby. A teething baby. A baby having bad dreams. Then an older baby, who has been sleeping but suddenly decides They Don’t Want to Anymore. Or a toddler who just knows when you’ve been out, and likes to wake up crying just as your tipsy head hits the pillow, and so on, and so on . . . There is a particular quality to newborn baby sleep deprivation. It’s like you’re operating in a fog, wading through treacle, with aching bones and struggling not to give death stares to anyone who suggests they too, are ‘quite tired.’ It becomes a competition with your partner as to who needs more sleep or a lie-in. ME ME ME! I Can’t Get No Sleep – the theme song for new parents, everywhere.
- WHAT’S GOING ON?
Not the soulful Marvin Gaye song, more like Four Non-Blondes. I’m thinking back to those first few days at home, when the hospital (following the forceps and episiotomy) merrily sent me off with some paracetamol and ibuprofen, oh and a tiny, helpless baby. ‘Just take these together if you’re in any pain!’ Not helpful, medical people. Paracetamol sometimes barely touches the sides of a bad hangover, let alone the aforementioned Things I Don’t Care to Mention. On our second night home, around 3am, there was me howling in the bathroom in agony, Zee howling in the bedroom and I wanted to scream from the top of my lungs What’s Going On?! Thank goodness for my lovely midwife, who arranged for the doctor to prescribe Volterol the next day. Even now when I see Volterol in Boots, I can’t help but gaze lovingly at it. Paracetamol? Meh.
3 I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
Friends and family, couldn’t do it without them. Shout out to the NCT ladies; we went through the exact same experience at the exact same time and there’s something pretty special about that. It’s great to know that everything you’re dealing with for the first time, they are too. The first time Zee ever fell off the bed sent me into a total panic, terrified I’d broken my baby. After making sure he was okay I immediately turned to our Facebook page, they were there to reassure me, and it had happened to a couple of them too. Phew. They are a group of kind, strong, funny, smart women and I wish I could see them more but, you know, geography. We do still get together though, and I love it when we do.
- YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE
Without a doubt, you’ll never know, my dear boy, how much I love you. I can’t begin to adequately express it, usually not without welling up. I am often overwhelmed with love for you. You make me laugh until I cry (sometimes you wind me up until I cry). You endlessly fascinate, surprise and delight me. I often want time to stop, because you are little (despite your assurance ‘I a big boy mummy!’) and you won’t be little for very long. You are absolutely my sunshine, and we are lucky to have you.
- YOU CAN’T TOUCH THIS
Knives, hot drinks, vases – You Can’t Touch This. Glasses, cutlery, china – You Can’t Touch This. Shoe polish, my make-up, ovens – You Can’t Touch This. From the moment they’re on the move and those chubby little hands can reach for every possible danger in sight, you find yourself repeating ‘Don’t touch!’, ‘No!’, ‘Leave that alone!’, ‘Not for you!’ and ‘Arrrrrgggghhh!’ There becomes an in-built radar everywhere you go – specifically other people’s houses and restaurants – for Potentially Hazardous Objects My Child Will Grab. That beautiful vase, a family heirloom? He could smash it. Those scissors? He could – nope, don’t even want to think about that. That salt shaker? Salt everywhere. And so on, and so on . . . MC Hammer’s ‘You Can’t Touch This’ – the theme song of parents with young children, everywhere.
Earlier I cried a little bit on the way home from nursery because I really shouted at Zee this morning and then felt bad.
I feel bad because the house is a mess and the washing’s piled up. I feel bad because I only have one kid and what must it be like for families with 2+ kids and single parents and families with both parents working full time and . . . enough.
I shouted at Zee this morning because he would not let me dress him and wriggled and screamed and made it impossibly hard, like every morning. For nearly four weeks now, he has woken 2-3 times a night, crying, shouting for mummy, wanting milk or ice cream (?) or MoreGuin (who is right next to him) or his hairbrush (?). This morning I’d just had enough. I suspect he is having bad dreams and is unsettled because of potty training. Sometimes there are cycles like these and broken sleep coupled with working stacks up and it’s not fun. So then I get the guilts for shouting at my little man and also for feeling this way, because all I can think of are those who are even more tired or busy or ready to bang their head against a brick wall when the tantrums begin.
That’s not right though, is it? It isn’t a competition. Sometimes it’s just tough. It’s different for us all and comparing doesn’t help. Instead of dwelling on all the things I’m not doing well at the moment, it’d be nice to think about the things that I am, though I don’t know what they are because my brain is so foggy from the broken sleep.
So for every mum today who might be feeling a bit like this, this is what I’d like to share:
It’s a GinBunnyPrints.com card, which I saw on the brilliant Hurrah for Gin’s blog the other week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Because motherhood, for all its magic and wonder and joy, is bloody tough sometimes. No matter what our situation is, sometimes it’s good to remember we are all doing our best and that’s all we can do. And that a glass of something icy cold and alcoholic should always be kept in reach.
Praise be to Gina and that little book of potty training wisdom, for on Sunday Zee had a major toileting triumph (and that’s all I will say on the matter, no one but us needs to know the, erm, finer details). ANYWAY, he achieved what Gina had promised he’d achieve, in seven days, his little face was so filled with glee, and my heart was so filled with pride. Somehow whilst thinking about all of this, I kept finding myself wondering how all these rugby players’ mums must be feeling during the World Cup.
This is a strange link but bear with me.
Now I am a mother, it seems there are a few things I can no longer think about, see or do as I did before . . .
You see an epic try; I wonder ‘Did his mother cry?’
It’s safe to say I am not the ideal person to watch a rugby match with. I like the idea of it all; I’m very patriotic, love to belt out the national anthem and really appreciate a good sense of occasion. But during England’s first match against Fiji, it took me 20 minutes to realise they were playing in red and I asked Adam ‘What is a scrum, exactly?’ I was still keen to watch the match against Wales on Saturday though. But whilst all those around me were losing their heads, I was sipping gin and pondering how overwhelmed with pride those players’ parents must be and that I never, ever want my baby boy to play rugby, ever. Not ever. Not my choice, I know, but still. Ow!
Broadchurch? I can’t even.
Earlier this year, with all the hype around the new Broadchurch, we thought we’d have a look at the first series. Better late than never? No, just never. We lasted about five minutes, until the harrowing scene when the mum realises her son isn’t at sports day and that was it. We looked at each other aghast, said ‘No way’ and switched it off. Not these days.
That horror novel? Can’t go there either.
I used to be all about the horror novel or film – the scarier/gorier the better. Maybe it was an antidote to all the children’s books I worked on, trading a Magic Kitten or Pigs in Planes by day for a Karin Slaughter or Paranormal Activity by night. Just last week I realised the new book, by a writer whose debut I’d enjoyed last year, was publishing soon. ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘I’ll be adding that to my list’. It’s not a horror so it’s fine.Then at Charing Cross, I saw the tube poster for it, with the book image and the single strapline ‘The cot was empty.’ Simple, brilliant, powerful – but not for this mum whose young son sleeps in a cot.
So over hangovers
Ooh I still love a glass of something bubbly or an ice-cold Hendricks in one of those big fun fishbowl glasses, but these days the very thought of a hangover gives me the dreads. Zee seems to have developed some kind of a radar so he just knows when I’ve gone out Out, and subsequently wakes, screaming ‘Mummy, MUMMY!’ just as I drop off after a rare night gallivanting. Water and paracetamol have never been more important than when faced with a toddler after a shandy or two. Peppa and the iPad are very much my friends in these situations as well.
The idea of a long lazy pub lunch with a few drinks is SO NICE, but the reality is so awful. It’s just a colossal waste of time, with a toddler who doesn’t want to sit still for longer than the five minutes it takes to messily eat what’s in front of him. I don’t want to spend the whole time worrying and shrieking ‘No!’ as he shrieks ‘BOING MUMMY LOOK BOING BOING ON THE LADY’S HEAD!’ with the balloon from the trying-to-be-helpful staff. Sigh.
Obviously, the sole reason for all of the above brings me more delight than any book, TV series or roast in the pub ever could. Those gory novels or shows filled with murder and all things awful I may well be done with, but as for the pub lunches, we’ll most definitely be back.
Our conversations with Zach just get better, as he learns more words and surprises us every day with new observations, comments and thoughts.
One of my current favourites is:
‘You’re so lovely/funny/cheeky/wriggly (insert appropriate adjective here) Zach!’
‘No I’m NOT, I’m Zachary!’
‘Yes you are!’
‘No I’m not, I’m a big boy!’
‘Yes, a cheeky big boy!’
‘NO! I not!’
‘Yes, you’re the best!’
‘No I NOT! You the best mummy!’
‘I’ll take that.’
I was thinking about this a bit more when I was feeling absolutely not my best; very tired after a fun night out. Those days of going out three to four times a week at uni, followed by getting up and going to lectures the next day, are so long gone. Though they probably didn’t start till 2pm and lasted two hours. Looking after a toddler + working + a late night are not the same.
I know when he says this to me it’s a game. But I am, after all, the one who dresses him, feeds him, cleans up his mess, makes sure he’s warm, not hungry or thirsty, I find his toys and shoes and MoreGuin ten times a day. I deal with his mad tantrums (‘No don’t WANT that t-shirt mummy want my pyjamas nooooo nooo not THAT one want that t-shirt mummy noooooooo!’) and I now ask him quite a lot if he needs a wee and have no objections to cleaning up his wee or worse (although yesterday I was delighted not to). So actually yes, mummy IS the best (daddy too).
Yeaahhhhh! I’m going to remember this now and not feel bad that we’re lazing in our pjs as I write this and he watches Peppa on my phone. Because he just rested his head on my shoulders for a few minutes whilst giggling at Peppa and that was the best.