On growing up

Yesterday marked a pivotal moment in my adult life. Yesterday I had to admit that I am getting older. Not old, because I’m not even 30 yet and it would be ridiculous for me to consider myself “old”, but there’s no denying the fact that I’m not exactly “young” anymore either.

This moment happened in the car on the way to buy wallpaper for O’s room. Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve came on my iPod and the following exchange took place between O and me:

O: I don’t like this song.
Me: What?! This is one of the greatest songs ever made!
O: Is it old?
[Pause]
Me: Yeah, I guess it kinda is.

When I was a teenager listening to Limp Bizkit at an obnoxious volume in my bedroom, I wondered what the songs I loved would sound like to my children someday. Would they find them dated? Would they hear them and wonder what I ever loved so much about them? Would they beg me to put something “cooler” on? And I feel like now I know.

Sometimes I notice the changing times myself when I watch a movie I once loved and realise how jumpy and unrealistic the special effects are. Or I’ll catch myself wondering if the picture was always that fuzzy. But there was a time when it would have seemed perfectly normal to me. When the green screen broomstick flight in the first Harry Potter movie would have been seamless to my eyes.

I don’t like to think about how long it’s been since I left school. Sometimes I’ll be driving somewhere and wonder how I ever got to be old enough to drive a car. There are days when I think about all of my responsibilities – a mortgage, a job, bills, getting new shoes for the kids – and suddenly it’ll feel like there’s a little less air in the room. And it’s only now that I’m beginning to realise that being an adult isn’t something you just know how to do; it’s something you learn and relearn every day.

It’s the same with parenting; what worked yesterday isn’t working today. So you try something else. Your kids suddenly hate their favourite food and you’ve got shitloads of it in the fridge. So you resign yourself to the fact that you’re going to have to eat it, whether you like it or not. That tantrum-taming trick that worked a treat yesterday isn’t even touching the epic meltdown happening in front of you right now. So you sigh, scream silently in your head and wrack your brains for another way – any other way – to diffuse the child bomb before everything within reach becomes collateral damage. It’s 1000 degrees in the house and no one has slept for weeks. So you desperately search the Internet for “ways to cool down hot bedroom” and reserve an industrial-sized fan at Argos.

This is life. This is growing up. This is motherhood.

The truth is that I always saw myself as a young mum. I wanted to have children while I was full of energy and the vitality of youth. I didn’t realise that those things would be quickly quashed by continuous months of sleep deprivation. I just thought for sure I’d have my shit together enough by 25 to make some sort of decent mother. Hell, 25 was OLD to me back when I was 15 and first started wondering if marriage and babies might be in my future one day. Being 25 meant being a real, live ADULT.

Turns out that I’m just getting older, my musical tastes somehow and inexplicably dated, and I still don’t feel any wiser than I did the first time I looked into O’s angry, purple face and thought to myself “what the fuck am I supposed to do now?”

Turns out that sometimes, when I’m feeling really lost and confused, I still find myself looking around for an adultier adult, because I figure there’ll always be somebody who has a better idea of what they’re doing than I do.

Turns out that I’ll probably still be blundering my way through adulthood when I’m old and grey.

image

“I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing…”

 

An open letter

An open letter to anyone who has ever thought they could do better,

When O was born, I had very definite ideas about what kind of mother I wanted to be. I went to all the classes and read all the books and I was determined that I was going to be brilliant. I would sail through the experience like a magnificent ship on a calm and beatific sea.

Of course, life – and especially motherhood – doesn’t often go to plan, and I don’t expect you to always agree with the way I parent my children.

You would probably feed them different things. Maybe organic recipes, cooked from scratch. But you’re probably a better cook than I am. You can try and make me feel bad about this if you like, but I might as well tell you now that I’ve felt bad enough over the last few years that I’ve finally reached the point of “Don’t Give A Shit”. My children are healthy and happy. Some days they eat well and other days it’s all I can do to persuade them to eat half a decent meal and a biscuit.

tea time snack

I was actually really proud of this meal

That whole “boys should look like boys” rhetoric – what does it even mean? I get this all the time because F’s hair is quite long and he wears leggings a lot. The suggestion has even been made that I “dress him like a girl” because I wish I had a daughter. I can’t even describe to you how angry this makes me. Firstly, no, I do not dress him like a girl – whatever the hell is even meant by that. Secondly, no, I don’t wish he was a girl, nor would I trade him for one if I could. Why is his hair long? Because he’s not keen on having much done with it, and on the few occasions when I have allowed it to be cut, he’s just ended up with a mullet. And why does he wear leggings? Why does anybody wear them? They’re comfortable and unrestrictive. It’s as simple as that. Don’t you have anything better to worry about?

long hair, don't care

Long hair, don’t care

So tired am I of the suggestion that I don’t do enough with my children that I have now started taking them out most days. Of course, this means I don’t get anything done in my house – which I’m sure you’d also love to berate me for -, but fuck it; the kids are getting out and having fun. That being said, because of the judgement cast on all mothers who “don’t do enough” with their children – by the way, who gets to decide what is enough? – I’ve started to embark on outings which can only be described as suicide missions. Solo beach trips. Taking them out for lunch on my own. Attempting to turn a trip to B&Q into an educational experience with the promise of a park or feeding the ducks afterwards. The endings of these outings were, respectively, THAT lost bag disaster incident. Food on the floor, in my hair, all over the children but not, at any point, in anyone’s mouth. Also; TUTTING. And, lastly, F attempting to get me arrested by hastily making for the exit whilst clutching a fistful of pilfered goods. On Sunday when I explained to my mother that I would be taking the boys up into the woods for a ramble while N was at work, I finally accepted the offer of an extra pair of hands. But I didn’t half feel ashamed for not tackling it by myself, which is all your fault for being so bloody judgy in the first place.

woodland walk

If I’d gone on my own, I wouldn’t have this awesome photo!

No, actually, I don’t have enough “mummy friends”. You’re absolutely right. But how does one procure “mummy friends” if one’s existing friends do not have children? You have to go out and try and make them, don’t you? And that is, to be blunt, absolutely fucking terrifying. The whole thing can be so Mean Girls sometimes that I can’t even bear to try. I’m sort of friendly with a mum who is also friends with a lot of other mums who were absolutely petrifying when I was at school with them. And they might be really nice now – who knows? – but I don’t want to find out, to be honest. I have recently made friends with the very lovely mum of one of O’s playgroup buddies and we took our boys out to the park together yesterday, but it’s taken me FOUR YEARS to pluck up the courage to suggest “we should meet up with the boys and go do something” to someone I haven’t previously known. Who knows how long it could take for me to find that courage again? So I probably won’t be making another mummy friend for a while, but I’m actually okay with that and I don’t get why anybody else even cares who my friends are anyway.

If I can be completely serious for a moment, I can’t post this without mentioning that it wasn’t anybody else who saved us when F started to get sick. Nobody came charging in with advice or empathy or love. It was me who fought that battle. Every breakthrough happened and continues to happen because I have pushed so damned hard to get him the help he needed and to bring our family through to the other side of what his illness did to all of us. I know that I could have done better in the beginning, but I was out of my depth, lost, had no idea what was happening and didn’t seem to be able to make anyone understand that we needed HELP. So if I could have done better then maybe you could too.

So if you ever happen to watch me with my kids and think to yourself “she’s making such a shit job of raising those boys”, first of all, realise that somebody else is probably thinking the exact same thing about you and that doesn’t feel very nice, does it? Second of all, understand that there are some days when I really do agree with you.

Finally:

Know with absolute certainty that no one could love them more or better or harder than I do.

And that they like me best of all anyway.

motherhood love

What love looks like

Sincerely,

Motherhood IRL

The “advice” nobody wants

Do you know what I hate the most about parenting? More than Judgy Mummy and her Perfect Darlings. More than realising that the last two slices of bread are mouldy when I’m rushing to make O’s pack-up. More, even, than a shit in the bath that I have to fish out with my bare hands.

I hate unsolicited “advice”.

Why the quotations marks? Well, because it’s not really advice, is it? When somebody comes at you with an opinion about your parenting, it’s not advice. It’s a loud, wailing siren accompanied by the words “YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG”.

“No, don’t breastfeed like that; you should be doing it like this.”

“No, you shouldn’t be weaning with purees/doing baby-led weaning. Your baby will end up obese and you’ll have to purée everything forever/isn’t getting enough to eat.”

“No, I’ve read really bad reviews about that car seat. You should get this one instead.”

And then there’s today.

“OMG OMG OMG it’s too hot in F’s room! Put him somewhere else!”

No shit. I fucking know it’s hot in his room. Guess where else it’s hot? Every other room in the house. Should I put him in one of those instead, just in case the exact same temperature is somehow cooler somewhere else?

I really don’t know why other people feel the need to tell mothers how to be mothers. Motherhood seems to be the one thing that everyone has an opinion on, but do you know what? Being a mother is actually hard enough, thanks. We don’t need to be told that we are doing everything wrong and making all of the wrong choices.

We can be doubtful and worried and second guess ourselves all by ourselves.
We don’t need someone else to make us feel guilty about what we’re feeding our children; we probably already do. It’s not necessary for you to tell us our car seat isn’t as good as yours; it’s highly likely that we are already worried about it, even though we researched it for hours and it cost more than our monthly mortgage payment. And that guilt trip you want to lay on us about whether or not our kid should still have a dummy at bedtime? Yeah, we’ve read all the same articles you have, cheers.

If you want to give me some advice about something, you could go back in time about two and a half hours and tell me that my makeshift air conditioning unit of a bowl of ice water in front of a fan in F’s room is going to lead to him seeing if he can throw all of his stuffed animals into the bowl. Because you’d think I would have seen that one coming.

But I did not.

And there were no survivors. Even Favourite Bunny got his ears wet.

So maybe I am just as inept as you already assume I am when you come at me with your words of wisdom after all.

homemade air conditioning

Why didn’t I use the humidifier first?!

My yoga journey 

This is a post about my yoga journey so far. Essentially, this isn’t a parenting post. But it kind of is a bit too, because I’ve learnt a lot about myself and my outlook along the way.

I started yoga about two years ago when I was pregnant with F. I really wanted to stay active during my pregnancy because I didn’t have the same freedom for the long walks I had taken during my first pregnancy, and I also felt like I needed something to help me focus on my baby. I noticed – and I’ve heard this from lots of mother mums since – that my second pregnancy was passing a lot faster than my first one, so by the time I was halfway through, I realised that I hadn’t really bonded with my baby as much as I wanted to.

image

After a bit of Internet searching, I found a pregnancy yoga class with a lovely teacher called Rebecca at a Sure Start centre not far from where we live and signed up. Pregnancy yoga is a lot less about moving and a lot more about breathing and visualising than regular yoga, and when it came to actually giving birth I genuinely felt like I had a better understanding of my body and how to handle labour. I laboured with and gave birth to F in an all fours position, and I’m sure this was because I found the position familiar and comforting after spending so much time in it during my classes. I also knew that it would help make the labour shorter and the birth easier.

After F was born, I fully intended to start post natal yoga, but by the time I’d waited the necessary six weeks, his feeding issues were in full swing and we went from regular trips out to the park and for lunch to pretty much being under house arrest while I struggled to get things under control and battled with crippling anxiety and mental illness. So I never made it to those classes.

Instead, I re-enrolled with Rebecca last September and have been attending a regular class ever since. I also do a lot of work at home, practising the poses I’ve been taught in the class and pushing myself to try new ones from online yoga videos. Yoga has taught me how to communicate with my body, how to persuade it to do things I didn’t think it could and how to push myself safely beyond what I thought my limits were.

Yoga has also helped to quiet my mind. Life with young children is hectic and fraught with worry a lot of the time, but half an hour on my mat after the boys have gone to bed gives me an opportunity to focus on something else, find some peace and energise my body. It has also helped me develop the strength I need for carrying my boys around and lifting them up into car seats!

Do you know what else it has taught me? A few deep breaths really do help when there’s a tantrum going on in front of me!

For me, yoga has been a wonderful, healthy escape from the everyday stresses of motherhood and I love that I have something that is just “mine” to retreat into at the end of a long day.

Namaste.

Sometimes

Most of the time I look at F and I think that you’d never know he’d ever struggled. You’d never know that there was a time when he spent whole days just screaming in pain. You’d never know that his weight had ever started to nosedive down the centiles. You’d never know that he had to sleep in a swaddling bag for the first year of his life just to feel comforted.

But every now and again, I see glimpses of the things that reflux has left behind.

F has a sensitive gag reflex. So sensitive that he gags on most foods apart from yoghurt. Sometimes he still throws up, especially if he isn’t keen on the taste of the food to begin with.

He also still seeks out the comfort of that swaddling bag sometimes by pulling his arms into his sleepsack, particularly when he’s not feeling well.

F is clearly thriving and, despite a very slight developmental delay caused by his reflux, most of the time he eats well. But mealtimes are when his past battles show their most obvious scars. Most of his meals are still puréed at 21 months old. He will eat finger foods – breadsticks, fruit, rice cakes – quite happily, but offer him baked beans or scrambled egg and he will try it, gag on it and refuse to have anything further to do with it. It means that I am often the subject of judgemental stares and scathing stage whispers when I take my children out for a meal. I’ve learnt to block it out for the most part, but sometimes one of those comments still gets through. Sometimes I still feel those stares.

“Why is he still eating baby food? He must be almost two?”

“Why is she still trying to get her kid to eat? He’s crying. He’s obviously not hungry.”

“How come the other kid is eating normally?”

There are days when I wish the ground would just swallow me up during these outings. But there are other days when I want to get up, walk over to these people and ask them why the fuck they think they have a right to judge my parenting when they don’t know a damned thing about my child.

hungry baby

Here’s the thing: sometimes this is hard for all of us. Sometimes I lie awake and I worry about the future. I wonder if there will ever be such a thing as a “normal” meal for F and I worry. He didn’t start to get teeth until he was over a year old – which was a good thing, because if he had gotten them earlier they would have been ruined by stomach acid -, but people don’t know that. They don’t know that he isn’t the same as his brother. They don’t know how hard some days are for him, and that’s the point: this is hard for him.

Yes, the stares and the whispers are horrible for me. But it’s not myself I feel the hurt and the anger for; I feel it for him. I feel it because I wish that he didn’t have the legacy of this condition to deal with. I feel it because I want to protect him from that judgement. And I feel it because I love my children more than anything on this Earth and I don’t want them to find out how cruel people can be just yet.

The truth is that I don’t really know whether or not these things are permanent, and I wish that there was something I could do to fix it. But I think this is just what we’ve been left with, and it’s okay really. It feels like a long time since I would stagger out of bed at 1AM, 2AM, 3:30AM and so on just to sit in the dark beside his cot and whisper that it would be okay while he struggled to sleep and grizzled through the discomfort.

I know that we’ve come a long way and that F will continue to get better, and I know that we will keep finding our way as we go.

That’s just what we do.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Parental sex & me

Parental sex is something we just don’t talk about, isn’t it? Or is it just me? To be honest, it’s a wonder I’ve ever even had sex considering how utterly impossible I find it to talk or write about it. I can’t even talk to N about sex. I rationalise this by telling myself “sex is something you do; not something you talk about doing”, but I did once have this boyfriend with whom 75% of our relationship consisted of exchanging filthy text messages. The other 25%, however, was made up of not actually doing the vast majority of the things we had been texting about because, frankly, they involved a lot of effort and there was also a pretty marked height disparity between us, which would have rendered some of them impossible anyway. And I’m blushing furiously now, so I’ll leave that there.

I don’t know about anyone else, but sex isn’t something that happens very often for us these days. I suppose I should have known that this would happen, given that it took me 10 weeks to get back on the horse after O was born. When you’ve spent weeks grimacing every time you sit down, you really don’t want anybody poking around down there once things finally start to feel better. Eventually, I realised I’d just have to woman up and get it over with or risk developing such an aversion that we’d never actually have sex again. Now it’s not fear of discomfort getting in the way. It’s not even lack of libido. It’s the fact that I’m just so fucking TIRED.

The thing is, once we’re in a position where sex might be a possibility i.e. in a quiet house with children either sleeping or not present, I start to think about how late it is or how the kids could wake up any second and wouldn’t it be awful if we were in the middle of something if they did? So I tend to grunt something approaching a negative, N sort of sighs like “ah, this neurotic shit again” and goes to sleep and then I’m lying there in the dark, awake anyway because I’m fed up and frustrated because this just feels a little endless sometimes.

Go figure.

I have this “quality not quantity” approach to sex as a general rule. Like it’s better to have one really mind-blowing encounter every couple of weeks than sex that is just a little bit meh every few days. So I’ll pull this one out for N every now and again and he’ll nod and then say, somewhat sadly (possibly for effect), “That’s true, but I don’t bloody remember anymore because it’s been five fucking weeks.”

Well. At least no one’s counting.

When you’ve been married for a while, people must assume that this kind of thing happens because they’ll start telling you how important it is not to “let that stuff go”. Which actually makes me really uncomfortable, to be honest, as if I must look like a person who hasn’t gotten laid for a while. But, infuriatingly, these over-familiar individuals are not wrong; sex is an important tool for keeping couples close. I’ve noticed that N and I get much more easily aggravated with each other when it’s been a while, and I don’t think it has much to do with anything as basic as “sexual frustration” or whatever; I think it’s because it can feel sometimes like our connection has come loose. Like we are just roommates who happen to have shared custody of small humans. And sometimes it’s been so long that I actually don’t know how to get things started up again, which often strikes me as incredibly weird because… well, because it shouldn’t be that difficult.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that when N and I first met, a lot of our interaction was physical. Of course there were times when we would just sit on the sofa together and talk, but we would always be physically connected somehow. My feet in his lap, his hand on my thigh, my head on his shoulder. We made an unconscious effort to be close to each other because it felt natural to us then. But now it’s different. Now there are nights when I will go to bed and realise that we haven’t hugged or kissed all day. Now he sits at one end of the sofa and I sit at the other. We don’t cuddle in bed because ugh! I’ve had kids climbing all over me all day and I just want my personal space back so can you just Go. The fuck. Away. Please.

I don’t say this to him. It’s an internal monologue, but he generally gets the point when I wriggle away and create a duvet buffer in the middle of the bed.

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Before the “duvet buffer” days.

The thing is, it’s not that I don’t want to have sex with him. It’s really not. It’s just that… It’s a lot of effort, isn’t it? Clothing to remove, some kind of prelude, the thing itself and then that godforsaken clean-up operation (speaking of which, if you haven’t read this thread about the “penis beaker”, you really should). Maybe you don’t mind falling asleep in the wet patch, but I absolutely refuse to. Eurgh. NO.

I’ve actually heard about parents who schedule sex one or two nights a week, and I don’t mean to be dismissive because hey! If that works for you then that’s awesome, but doesn’t scheduling nookie kinda take the fun out of it a little bit? I can just imagine how that would go in our house:

N: “It’s sex night.”
Me: “I know, but I’m tired and I don’t really feel like it.”
N: “But it’s sex night. It says so ON THE CALENDAR.”
Me: “We need to get a new fucking calendar.”

Nope.

I think that this is just going to be how it is for a while. A relationship counsellor would probably start talking about “making time for each other” and “nurturing your relationship” – GAG -, but we’ve been on the brink of divorce before and I genuinely don’t believe we’d let that happen again. It’s fine to not have sex for a few weeks at a time if we can still remember to appreciate each other. It’s completely unnecessary to get my knickers in a twist over this.

It’s just.

My knickers haven’t seen a whole lot of action other than twisting lately.

R is for Hoppit