This is a true story

It’s been a long time since I talked about this. For so long, my recollection of these events has felt like someone else’s life. But the truth is that for about a year between the ages of 16 and 18, I was in an abusive relationship. I was pushed into walls, door frames and, once, the side of a bus. I was held so tightly by my wrists that they were bruised. I was thrown to the floor in the middle of screaming arguments. And one August morning, I was shoved so hard against my bedroom wall that my left collarbone snapped clean in two.

Still, I didn’t see it for what it was until one night when he pushed me in front of a room full of people. Only when I saw the looks on their faces as he was dragged away from me did I realise what was really going on here. Only on that night, when I felt so ashamed of those looks, did I have the guts and conviction to finally walk away.

11 years later, my memories are blurred. Perhaps with subconscious intent. I’ll ask myself some days, “Did it really happen?” Yes. Yes, it really happened. I have the badly healed bone to prove it. But the point is that I have recovered and I have forgiven. I have accepted that sometimes people just bring out the worst in each other. I am not making excuses for him – he and I both know very well what he did. But I cannot be angry about it anymore. I cannot say that I am still a victim, or that I have let those experiences colour my perceptions of men in general.

What do I hope for him now, so many years later? I hope that he has healed from the experiences that led him to be that person in the first place. I hope that he has grabbed hold of the good inside him and made himself out of that. I hope that he is well.

I will not lie to you; it has taken me a long, long time to feel that way. But I have healed. I have forgotten that I was ever afraid, that I ever had a reason to be scared of hearing the front door slam.

N is much bigger than I am. Much stronger too. Easily capable of hurting me if he wanted to. But have I ever for one moment been afraid of him? No. Not for a second. I know who he is. For me to look at him with the same eyes I once looked at that other man would do him a gross injustice. No matter what I say or do – and I can be a long way from innocent myself – I know with absolute certainty that I never, ever have to be afraid of my husband.

There have been times in my life when I have been afraid of men as a whole. When I have had to remind myself that there are only a few bad apples on the tree. But that’s the point; I have trained my brain to self-correct. I refuse to live my life under the misapprehension that all men are bastards.

I don’t know if I will tell my sons about my experiences when they are older. I don’t know if I want them to think of me that way. I do know that I don’t ever want them to feel sorry for me, even retrospectively.

What I will do is raise them to respect other people. To understand the notion of consent. To never, ever intentionally harm another person. And to always speak up if they find themselves in the position of being abused.

It’s not our job as parents to teach our children to be afraid of each other; it’s our job to teach them how to look after one another.

This is what I will teach my children. And I hope that they never, ever find themselves in the same position that I once did.

I need to take a break

If you follow me on twitter or Instagram, you probably already know what this post is about. You’ve probably seen me agonising over making the “right” choice, wondering aloud if I should take a step back. Turn my back on this for a while. Regroup and maybe come back when I am stronger.

There are a lot of reasons why I’ve enjoyed blogging over the last two years, the most notable of which being the connections I’ve made along the way. The moments when someone has reached out and said, “me too”. And I don’t set out to make anyone cry when I write, but when you tell me that one of my posts choked you up, well… that’s a powerful thing.

Those things have made my blogging journey worthwhile.

But blogging has a murky underbelly, and I’ve seen that too.

I’d like to tell you that I haven’t kept half an eye on my stats, but that would be a lie. At times, I have been unhealthily obsessed with them, and when they’ve fallen below a certain daily number I have felt something close to bereft. Which is stupid, because who gives a shit? I didn’t start doing this for anybody other than myself.

I did this for me.

But my inner critic is a dickhead, and she doesn’t think I should be here anymore. She’s seen other bloggers amass a huge following in a matter of months. She’s watched those other bloggers win awards and accolades and she feels… irrelevant.

Which is to say that I feel irrelevant.

Then there’s this:

Whatever mettle I’m made of is probably more of a kittens and rainbows composition than it is rhinos and sass. I’d like to pretend that your words don’t hurt me, but the truth is that sometimes they do and I can’t control that. When you tell me to pull myself together and stop being so negative, it stings. Because here I am, baring my soul, trusting strangers with my words and having it thrown back in my face.

Here I am being told that my feelings on any particular subject are not legitimate. They don’t matter; I just need to stop whining about it.

I don’t want to care about this. I don’t want to lie awake, wondering how I could have phrased things differently to avoid this reaction. I don’t want to be angry with myself for giving anything approaching a flying fuck about what anyone else thinks.

But I’ll tell you this for nothing: more than once I have opened a notification from WordPress or Twitter and I have read the words of a stranger with a pounding heart and shaking hands. I have felt diminished. I have cried over words written by people I’ll never meet, who don’t know me and don’t give a shit about how those words have made me feel.

And the inconvenient truth is that I’m just not strong enough for that right now. I’m not brave enough to read those words and face seeing myself through those eyes.

Certainly I was naive to believe that I could put my thoughts and feelings up for public scrutiny and get away with it, but I just wanted to write.

And write I will.

Just not on this platform for a while.

For my sons 

Dear O and F,

Lately I’ve realised that I didn’t bring you into the world that I thought I had. I had so much hope when you were both born, but then things seemed to change. Or maybe the changes were already happening and I hadn’t noticed. Either way, I want you to know that I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that there is so much hatred and division in the world. I’m sorry that most of the stories you see glimpses of on the news are stories of war and misery. I’m sorry that the sea levels are rising and the ice caps are melting. Most of all, I’m sorry that the burden of fixing our broken society – and planet – is going to fall upon the shoulders of your generation.

But there is still a little glimmer of hope alive inside me, and that is because of you. Because I am going to do the very best I can to raise you to be tolerant and inclusive and brave. You are both surrounded by people of different colours and faiths and that is a wonderful thing. You are already learning that those people have exactly the same value as you do in the world, without even being taught. And why should you need to be taught? The only thing you need to know is this: That under our clothes and beneath our skin, no matter which god we answer to – or don’t – we are all the same inside.

Gandhi said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world, but as your mother I have a unique opportunity to go beyond that. I have the opportunity to raise you to also be that change. To teach you to challenge inequality and discrimination. To show you how to make better choices for our planet. To help you to find your voices and use them to speak up for those who have no voice of their own.

I look at you, I see your innocence and your joy and I feel afraid for you. And more than that, I feel guilt. Because there will come a day when I can no longer protect you from the storm happening around you, when I will have to let you see the extent of the damage. I don’t know what the world will look like when you are grown up, but as it stands there is a man in the White House who doesn’t believe in climate change and our own country is on the brink of leaving the European Union. Neither of these facts makes me feel encouraged about the shape of things to come.

But when I look at you, I also see how strong you are. I see how fiercely you love your family and your friends – and, perhaps most importantly, each other -, and I know that you have so much to give to the world. Being with you is exhausting, but it is also healing and rejuvenating. And I know that’s not just because you are children and you are predisposed to be wonderful; it is because of who you are. It’s because you’re funny and smart and kind, and you make me feel hopeful about the future.

So I’m sorry that the world you will inherit is a bit of a mess, but I know that it will be safe in your hands and I’m not going to stop trying to tidy it up in the meantime.

You already are and are going to be amazing.

I love you,

Mum

There he goes

Yesterday was a huge day for me. A day I’ve been dreading and worrying about for months.

Yesterday F started playgroup.
From now on, every Friday morning I will drop him off there after I’ve taken O to school and I will pick him back up after lunch.

And for the four hours in between I will do… what? Clean, I guess. Do the laundry. Run errands.

Miss him.

I didn’t think it would be this hard. But I should have known, because the thing about F is that he and I are together all the time. I go to work two days out of the week, and the other five days we are together.

And it’s not just that.

I didn’t bond with F when he was a baby. At all. Because he was so unsettled all the time, and because I couldn’t cope, maybe I thought he wasn’t for keeps. I didn’t feel like I was good enough for the job of being his mother. I thought that somebody else could do it better. And then everything started to spiral out of control and it was only on the night when I thought there was real chance that he might actually be taken away from me that I started to realise how much I didn’t want that to happen.

Maybe I’ve overcompensated for those first few months. Maybe I’ve babied him more than I should have done. Maybe I’ve allowed him to be a little more dependent on me than he otherwise would have been.

The simple fact is that I adore him. Which is not to say that I don’t feel exactly the same way about his brother, but the thing about O is that he has always treated me as more of a satellite in his life. He wants to know that I’m there if he needs me, and he has no doubt that I love him, but he also wants to be independent.

O and F are different children. Very different. O sees me all the time, but he rarely gets to spend time with his daddy since he started school. So if he’s given the choice between being with me and being with daddy, he will choose to be with daddy.

That’s fair and it seems perfectly logical.

F also sees me all the time, but he also sees a lot more his daddy than O does. And the fact that I’m around a lot means that F always gravitates towards me because I guess he finds me reassuring.

He needs me so much more than his big brother does.

Or so I thought.

But yesterday surprised me. Because I was terrified about how hard it was going to be to walk away and leave him. I was afraid that he would cry and refuse to settle. I was worried that I would get a call asking me to go back and pick him up.

I needn’t have fretted.

F kissed me goodbye and, aside from calling out to me once as I left, he went seamlessly from constantly orbiting me to stepping out on his own without me.

And yes, I cried in my car after I left him. I couldn’t believe that I had walked away from him.

I felt like I’d abandoned him.

But he had a wonderful morning. He didn’t cry, he didn’t once look for or ask for me. He involved himself in new things with new children and he did fine. Better than fine. The play workers showed us photos they’d taken of him playing and he has a big, beaming smile in every single one of them.


When I picked him up, he was happy to see me. But I could also tell that he’d been just fine without me, that his happiness wasn’t dependent on my physical presence. Once again, he amazed me with how strong and brave he really is.

He also proved to me what I have always been unsure of; that he knows I love him and that he is secure in that fact. I’ve always wondered if he knew, or if the fact that I was a terrible mother at the start would somehow ruin his chances of ever
feeling safe and loved.

It’s a relief to know that I haven’t fundamentally damaged him. That everything I’ve done since those dark days has been enough for him to know.

My baby is growing up, and while that wrenches at something inside of me that I can’t quite put a name to, I am so endlessly proud of him.

I am so privileged to be his mother.

Standing there alone

Dear dads in the playground,

I see you standing there and I know by your body language that you feel a bit awkward and out of place. Like you don’t really belong, because all around you is a sea of mums. We’ve had some kind of progress over the last ten years, but you’re still a minority here.

Don’t stand there on your own, though. Come and talk to me. Because you might feel like an outsider, but I feel like an imposter.

Sure, I’m the same gender as most of the other parents here, but I don’t think of myself as one of them. We have the same credentials on paper, which is to say that we are mothers and we are here to collect our children. But I look at these other women and I don’t feel like I’m part of the clan.

It’s hard to explain why that is, really. I could say it’s because I’m a “young mum”, but I’m not far off turning 30 now and I don’t really think that applies anymore. Maybe it’s because I perceive these other women to be more successful than I am, both as mothers and in their working lives. It could even simply be the fact that they look like they’ve got their shit together and I don’t feel like I ever will.

Or it might just be the difference between their expensive Ugg boots and my battered Converse.

But the thing is, you dads make me feel at ease. I don’t struggle to make conversation with you. When you’re having a shit time and you’re tired and running out of patience, you don’t grit your teeth and pretend everything’s fine. You own it. You’re not in competition with anybody, but I feel like us mums always are. We are always trying to be better than the mum next to us.

I mean, that’s not the case once you’ve scratched the surface and cultivated a proper friendship with a fellow mum. Then the warts-and-all of motherhood comes out and I feel like it’s okay to admit that some days I struggle. But when you’re just chatting in the playground, you laugh off the fact that your toddler has scribbled all over your linoleum floor, even though you feel like you’re dying a little bit inside every time you look at it. You don’t admit that you’ve ever lost your shit and shouted, or wondered for just a fleeting second if it was such a good idea to have children after all.

But you dads do, and I admire you so much for that. Here are three recent conversations I’ve had with dads:

Dad 1: “I’m so tired I feel like my eyelids are turning inside out. When is he ever going to just sleep through the night?!”

Dad 2: “How was your summer? Ours was looooooonnnngggg.”

Dad 3: “I know all of the parenting books tell you that you shouldn’t do it and it doesn’t work and it’s the worst parenting fail ever… but the only time he listens to me is when I shout at him!”

I’ve never heard any of the mums in the playground say any of those things to each other. And it’s not that I don’t think they ever do, it’s just that they do it in the evening over dinner with their partners or during a rare outing for drinks with their trusted mum confidantes. But I’m not like them; I’m more like you. I don’t see the point in pretending, because I don’t understand why we perpetuate this competitive culture.

So come and talk to me. Tell me you’re tired and struggling and your kids drove you to despair last night when they flatly refused to get out of the bath and go to bed. I won’t judge you; I’ll empathise completely. I love my children. I love them so much that when they hug me, I never want to let them go. I look forward to seeing their faces and hearing their little voices every single morning when I wake up.

But I am not sailing through this and I can’t be bothered to try and keep up the facade that I am.

You’re all brilliant dads, and I can see that you love your children just as fiercely as I do my own. I can see it in their faces when they are so delighted that daddy is picking them up today, and in your own when you sweep them up into your arms. But your honesty comforts me, and I hate to see you standing there alone.

And if you’re reading this as a fellow mum and you feel like you don’t belong, it’s not just you; I’m right there with you. I’ll be the awkward to your uncomfortable, if you like.

We’re all in this together, aren’t we?

Yours,

Davina

This is real life

I can’t quite believe that it is November already. It doesn’t feel like more than five minutes have passed since we were last here, gearing up for Christmas and hiding the Argos catalogue from our children.

Our year has passed in a blur of breakthroughs and setbacks, from the triumph of watching O settle gradually into school after a rocky start, to the misery of seeing F continue with his food struggles. This is the nature of family life, of parenting children with different personalities and issues. O can suffer from social anxiety. F may well feel the reverberations of his battle with reflux for the rest of his life. But we do the best we can. As parents, I believe we all repeat the same mantra to ourselves at irregular intervals: It will get better. We tell ourselves that nothing can be challenging or worrying or downright shit forever.

When O clung to me, sobbing, as we walked through the school gates at the beginning of his third week, his anxiety and sadness unchanged from the previous two, I told myself: It will get better. And it did. Now he runs to join his friends with barely a backward glance. He’s part of a trio of boys who are all mischievous, buoyant and sharp as tacks. He is learning to read and write, he brings home artwork and stories of the games he has played and new skills he has learnt. He is happy and settled in his new school, and I am content to have become a background character in this chapter of his life.

It got better.

When I finally realised that F was vomiting during mealtimes not because he couldn’t stop himself, but because he didn’t want the food I had put in front of him, I told myself – through my horror that a child would do such a thing to himself – It will get better. And it has. Ish. Mealtimes are still a battleground and my victories are few, but that there are any victories at all is progress itself. Once there was nothing I could do to persuade him that food was not his enemy. Now he will try new things. Last week he finally started eating porridge and I felt elated. At last, a good start to the day! It was such a small thing. It was the biggest thing in the world.

It is getting better.

Life with children is a kaleidoscope; colourful and changeable in equal measure. There are blissful moments, snapshots of our expectations as parents. A Sunday morning cuddle in bed with both kids, both cats and nobody fighting. A walk through the woods, kicking up the Autumn leaves and collecting conkers to be preserved in a jar as a physical reminder of a magical afternoon. A peaceful hour as my children play happily together while I claw back some time to put the house in order or catch up on laundry. In these moments, we could be a family from a photograph in a magazine. In these moments, we are the family I always imagined I would have.

Our autumn adventures

Then there are the other moments, far less blissful and, currently, much more numerous. My kids rolling around on the floor, beating the shit out of each other as my attempts to referee fall on deaf ears. An epic tantrum in the middle of Sainsbury’s over who gets to carry the receipt back to the car. The flooded bathroom floor. Again. These moments often happen all in the same day and leave me exhausted and wondering if I’m really cut out for this whole motherhood thing. But these moments are also totally eclipsed by the love I feel for and joy I find in my children.

The truth is that I probably recite my mantra at least a few times a day, every single day. Sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes as I close their bedroom doors at the end of a long day, I breathe a sigh of relief. Sometimes I just wish they would stop fucking winding each other up all the time.

But they are still so little. Their emotions and ability to handle life’s complications are still developing. For them right now, being given something different for breakfast than what they were expecting is a big deal. For them, it’s not unreasonable to throw a blistering wobbly because they got Rice Crispies when they blatantly asked for Coco Pops.

This is life with young children.

There will be bad days.

It will get – and is getting – better.

In which F turns two

Tomorrow is a big day.

Tomorrow my little one, my baby, turns two.

There are two things about this that I find strange.

The first is directly linked to how very, painfully clearly I remember the first few days and months after we brought him home. I suffered hard with the “baby blues” about three days after he was born. The sleep deprivation was catching up with me and I was just so fucking tired. I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t be just exhausted.

Then the other stuff came. The reflux. The flat refusal to feed at 1am. The vomit-soaked sheets at 3am. The endless crying through the night. By the time F was two months old I was bewilderedly wondering what the fuck I’d done to my life by deciding to have a second child.

It felt like it would never, ever end.

You know the story. We got help. We got it via A&E on a dismal Sunday afternoon and we left without our son in the early hours of the following morning, but we got help. Things got better, slowly at first and then with gathering momentum. The cute, heart-melting moments gradually began to outstrip the moments of panic and strangulating fear.

By F’s first birthday, I was more in love with him than I could ever have imagined in those early, awful months.

That love has only grown as I’ve watched him change and develop. He has a cheeky wit and a fierce stubbornness that both amuses and infuriates me in equal measure. I love him. I love the life out of him, the very bones of him, every little thing that makes him who he is.

But a part of me also feels sad tonight, which brings me to the other strange thing:

The fact that my youngest child is now two.

By this milestone in his brother’s life, I was halfway through my second pregnancy. And I know that I’m not going to have any more babies. Which means that all of the cute things that F is doing now, all of the first times, the hilariously mispronounced words, the post-nap snuggles… all of those things are gradually going to stop. And then I’ll have to navigate life with older boys, who don’t want to cuddle me so much, who don’t need me to reassure them when they go someplace new, and who won’t tell me, “I yoooooooove yoooooo!” with reckless abandon.

And I know I can’t stop them from growing up. I don’t want to stop them; I want them to go ahead and become whoever it is that they’re going to be, because they will be brilliant no matter what.

But…

Can we just stop? Just for a tiny, little while? Can we keep these moments for just a little longer?

My mom used to tell me, “I wish that I could pickle these cuddles and keep them in a jar.” I always thought she was so weird when she said that.

Now I know exactly what she meant.

Happy birthday, F. You wonderful, brave, strong and very special little boy, you.

The monster under the bed

I want to talk about phobias today, so I want to warn you that this post could be triggering for those of you who are battling one – or more – of your own. If that applies to you, please proceed with caution.

Phobias are life-limiting. On the darkest of days, if you let them, they can consume you. I know this because I have a phobia that I battle with every single day of my life. Sometimes this phobia makes crazy thoughts appear in my head. The only reason, I believe, that it hasn’t yet taken over my life is that I know that allowing it to do so would actually be crazy. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t tried more than once. And, if I am completely honest, it does stop me from living a strictly normal life. It does mean that many of my days are tinged with an undertone of worry.

I am emetophobic.

For anyone who doesn’t know, that means I have a fear of vomiting. For me, it is specifically a fear of vomiting myself. For others, it covers anything and everything to do with the subject. So I suppose, in a warped kind of way, I should consider myself lucky in the grand scheme of things.

There’s a backstory here, of course. Phobias, I have learnt, don’t just come out of nowhere. Something triggers them.

Last May O had an asthma attack serious enough to land him in hospital. For most of the day I sat with him and he talked to me through an oxygen mask. After nine hours of this, N came to take over for the night and I went home to look after F. When I left there was talk of intravenous steroids and I walked out of the hospital feeling tight-chested and haunted.

In the very early hours of the following morning I started throwing up. Looking back, I think it was the shock. It only lasted a couple of hours, but at some point I got something lodged in my windpipe and started to choke. I very clearly remember thinking, “So this is how I’m going to die; on my bathroom floor covered in puke”. In those few seconds, I just kept coming back to how ridiculous it was that this would happen on the one night when there was no one there to help me. I was desperate and terrified and I guess my survival instinct just took over. I used the very last of the air in my lungs to cough hard, knowing that it was over if that didn’t work. When you truly and honestly think you’re going to die, it’s amazing how strong your will to live becomes.

Obviously the coughing worked and I am still here. But even now, I can’t think about that night too much without feeling the fear of what could have been. Of the fact that F could have woken up later that morning and had no idea why his cries went unanswered. Of what N and O could have found when they came home. It sounds dramatic, even as I type the words. The whole thing sounds like the kind of story that makes you want to roll your eyes a little bit. To be honest with you, sometimes I wonder if it truly was as desperate as I thought it was. But all I really know is that I was so, so scared that night.

So now I’m afraid of it happening again. And, as any parent knows, kids pick up a lot of bugs. If my boys come home with snotty noses, aside from the fact that I hate to see them suffer, I am not in the least bit bothered. I will let them wipe their little snouts all over me and not give a damn when I inevitably get a scratchy throat a few days later. But if either one of them throws up and I know there’s no possible explanation other than a stomach bug, I am immediately almost paralysed with fear. I will clean them up with a pounding heart and shaking hands while crazy thoughts of surgical masks and latex gloves spiral through my head. And it’s not the vomit itself that bothers me; it’s the fact that I know I might be next.

This also means that soft play centres are a horror story waiting to happen for me. When O was about 18 months old he caught norovirus from a soft play centre, which N and I also came down with a few days later. So I know that they are breeding grounds for the dreaded stomach bugs and I find myself feeling panicky every time we go to one, which usually results in me avoiding food for a few days afterwards while I wait to see if anyone has picked up a virus. If I could avoid the wretched places, I would. But one thing I am utterly determined about is that this phobia is not going to rule my children’s lives the same way that it tries to rule mine. It is not going to stop me from being the mother they deserve, no matter how scared I am.

The thing is, whenever I’ve tried to explain this phobia to anyone, they’ve pretty much looked at me like I’m crazy and said, “Nobody likes being sick!” which is, to be blunt, just about the worst possible thing you can say to an emetophobe. Because it’s not that I “don’t like” being sick. It’s not even that I absolutely detest being sick, in fact. It’s that I am utterly petrified of it. And sometimes I wonder, when fears of spiders and flying and the dark are perfectly legitimate phobias… How come my fear – a fear with a very solid foundation – is somehow less believable or “normal” than any other, more common phobia? Because every time I think about what could have happened last year, I get this horrible falling sensation and I know that what I am feeling is not just fear; it is terror itself.

So… That’s me. That’s my daily struggle. Thanks for sticking with me.

Come September

Dear O,

I don’t write about you as much as I should, but the truth is that you’ve never given me a whole lot of trouble. You were a textbook baby and now you’re a wilful, determined and joyful four-year-old. Sometimes I wonder if your tantrums and your pickiness about food are normal or if I’m actually a really terrible mother, but most of the time I know that you’re doing okay.

Only… now you’re starting school. And I’ve watched the kids from up the street heading off to school with their parents and siblings a thousand times from our kitchen window, but I never really thought about the day when you would join them.

When we moved here, you were less than two months old. I scrubbed and painted this house with you growing and kicking inside me. Those children seemed lightyears away from the tiny baby I rocked and bathed and tickled and loved in our little cocoon. That you should be on the cusp of becoming one of them is unfathomable to me.

Sometimes I look at you and I watch you playing and I listen to the stories you make up as you play and I think… How did we get here? How do you know those words? Where did that wild imagination come from? And when did you get to be so big?

People tell you that the years go fast, but they don’t tell you how fast. They don’t tell you that one day you’ll be grimacing your way through another poonami and the next you’ll be saying goodbye at the school gates for the first time. They don’t tell you that your children will be a tiny bit different every single day and you won’t even notice until you look back at the old photos and videos.

They also didn’t tell me how choked up I would get when I think about you starting school. Because I want so much for you to grow and learn and discover new things and have wonderful adventures, but my heart feels just a little bit too full sometimes when I picture the boy you already are and the man you will one day become.

I remember your first proper day at playgroup and how hard I found it to leave you that morning. You were only two and looked so tiny compared to the other children. You found a tractor and sat yourself at a table with it, holding it out to show me. My heart felt strangled by the confused look on your face when I told you it was time for me to go and that I would see you at lunchtime. In fact, just thinking about that moment makes me tearful. As I walked out to the gate with your daddy, I turned to him and said “I can’t believe I left him” with tears streaming down my face. I’d never trusted anyone except family to look after you, and I knew you didn’t understand why I wasn’t staying with you. It broke my heart, but it was a moment that all parents have to go through as they help their children to navigate the world.

I wish I could tell you that I won’t cry when I leave you at your classroom for the first time in September. You won’t know, of course, whether or not I do because I will not let you see. I will not let you see how hard it is sometimes to know that you are growing up. That you are not mine anymore in the same way that you used to be. That you have only ever been on loan to me, when all is said and done.

I hope that you will love your school. I hope that you will find good friends and delight in learning new things. I hope that you will come home and tell me breathless, emphatic stories about your day.

I love you, O. More than I could ever tell you. Enough to stand aside and allow you grow up. Enough to let you go.

If I can just have you back for the odd cuddle every now and again, of course.

Mummy

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From baby to big boy, I don’t know how we got here.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

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.

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