Village People

It’s become something of a cliché to talk about a parent’s need for a village to raise their children but, as I lie in my bed failing to sleep off a debilitating bout of infective mastitis and I hear my wonderful nanny taking care of the children downstairs, it feels like an omission not to talk about it.

I live far from my parents in Scotland, and quite far from my husband’s parents in the south of England. I didn’t go to school or university in London. Many of my friends from law school or work have since moved to the sticks to raise their kids: escaping terrifying stabbings on the doorstep, choking pollution and exorbitant house prices in search of charming village greens, enormous back gardens and (it would seem) a fucking hideous commute.

My sister moved to south London a couple of years ago; though it’s not really *that* far, it involves a day trip, organised in advance, rather than popping in to see each other. (My other sister moved to Mexico, so it’s a good job she’s so lovely or I’m not sure we’d be on speaking terms.)

So to where/whom do I turn, when my left boob turns a blazing red, I have a dizzying temperature and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck?

My husband, luckily. He is supportive and amazing and I’m very very glad he’s mine. But he works tremendously hard (largely so that I can focus on looking after the kids) and I can’t call upon him every time that I wish I could: he has meetings, deadlines, responsibilities that can be passed on only in fairly dire circumstances.

My best friend, thank god. I’m not sure exactly how we managed it, but 17 years after meeting at university, we live literally around the corner from each other. She also has two kids, one of whom is just a few weeks younger than my son. There have been times when our circumstances haven’t allowed for anything more than toiling through life’s mundanities with our heads down (and will she ever forgive the betrayal of me moving to New York shortly after our sons were born instead of staying here to enjoy our maternity leave together?!) but more recently we have increasingly found ways to help each other: sometimes we take care of the other’s kids so we can get some work done or go to an unavoidable appointment; some blissful days we hang out all together and we drink tea and (increasingly often) take it in turns to offer mediation services for toddler squabbles; sometimes we all have supper together (although always at her house – did you see my previous post?!). I am so grateful that my best girl is so close.

Finally, I have the world’s most incredible nanny. She started working for us when I started working part-time when my son was around 16 months and she continues to improve my life in every possible way (not just when I’m too sick to get out of bed).

This triumvirate of THANK GOD are my saviours.

But three makes a pretty small village! And sometimes my husband is stuck at work and my best friend is doing the school run and my nanny is looking after her other charges or (god forbid) on holiday and I find myself thinking that I need more support!

I often find refuge online: I chat to fellow parents, some of whom kept me sane and made me laugh (usually to the point of waking a sleeping baby with a snort) during endless spells of cluster feeding, worries about allergies and reflux, problems with breastfeeding and weaning, and wondering if dungarees make me look like a children’s TV presenter and, indeed, if that is actually a problem… I’m not sure I can overstate how important some of these friends were to my confidence as a parent and to my mental health when I moved to New York and my village of three was a tiny village of one.

I have also noticed, since writing this blog in particular, that Facebook and Instagram hosts friends from school with whom I’ve not spoken in years and family friends and friends from my former work and friends of friends and some complete strangers, who are parents now or hope to be and who want to talk about parenting, who are going through many of the same things as me and who are helpful and kind. The best bit about posting a new blog article is, without doubt, the conversation that often ensues; it makes me feel a part of something, and maybe sometimes like I’m helping a bit too.

So I am growing an online village too, which makes me feel happy, mostly. But it also leaves me wanting more sometimes. In part because I think the internet can bring a sense of false intimacy, a feeling of closeness that might be a bit less profound than you realise. The second is that I can’t leave my kids with a virtual babysitter (obviously the TV has its place, but it isn’t very good at feeding them or changing nappies). So when the shit hits the fan and I am struggling to cope, my online village is generally too distant, literally and sometimes figuratively, to be able to help.

And I don’t just want a village for emergencies! When a long day looking after two kids stretches before me, with the only prospect of adult conversation the Amazon delivery driver or the woman who makes my takeaway coffee in our local cafe, it would help (definitely a little but sometimes a lot) to meet up with a friend in the playground or have them pop over for a cup of tea (or wine, depending on how long the day in question has been thus far).

But… (and I feel like a teenager writing her diary as I type) making new friends is so hard! I’ve often chatted to fellow mums in a cafe, at a baby music class or even in the GP’s waiting room, but I’ve never been brave enough to bridge the gulf of unfamiliarity and vulnerability to ask them for a coffee.

I’ve also seen lots of meet-ups for mums on Instagram but I’ve only been brave enough to go to one so far (an “OLA Mama mum meet” about photography, which was fantastic but I arrived late, perhaps missing the mingling, and I didn’t feel like I’d overcome my nerves by the time I left again!). Tomorrow afternoon, if I can shake this wretched mastitis, I’m going to Victoria Park in East London for a picnic/chinwag/couple-of-hours-of-preventing-my-son-climbing-into-the-lake-like-the-last-time-we-went-there organised by a lovely local mama with whom I share a love of leopard print and the Dalston Curve Garden, which I’m pretty sure means we are bound to be lifelong friends. Maybe one day I’ll FINALLY go along to Forest Kids Hackney, as inspired by that same local mama (though I will perhaps hold off until my son’s favourite thing to do in public isn’t to run away from me and hide), or try out one of the many new apps that launched in the last six months or so for making mama friends, like Peanut or Mush (I *think* they’re a bit like Tinder but with (I assume) much less shagging).

There are so many opportunities to meet people if you want to, but so often I find that I’m too anxious or too shy or too preoccupied with life (does anyone else spend most of their free time (“free” in the loosest sense of the term) doing laundry, ordering groceries and packing up clothes to return to online shops?!) to make the effort. I’m inherently lazy; I want the benefit of friends without having to put in the work! Clearly the answer to that is to sort out my priorities, but ugh: speaking to new people is so hard!

It’s time for another antibiotic and hopefully some sleep now, so I’m going to press post and check in the morning if writing with a fever is as productive qualitatively as well as quantitively. I suspect not, but hopefully in the meantime you can let me know if you have made new mum friends and, if so, how! (And can I come along next time?)

Where is everyone? 

Beans on toast

I have a confession: I absolutely loathe cooking.

I love to eat – I really, really love to eat. But at the moment, my love of eating is falling second to my hatred of getting food onto my plate.

Before I had kids, this laziness was disguised by a job that kept me in the office for long hours, enabling me to justify the purchase of breakfast, lunch and often dinner five days a week, and a husband who loves to cook, enthusiastically picking up the baton at the weekends without even realising he was doing me a favour.

Now I’m at home and there’s nowhere to hide. And I am primarily responsible for ensuring the nourishment of my children (though fortunately my daughter still finds much of her sustenance from my boob). I do an ok job of making sure my son is offered a balance and range of mostly-healthy foods and he eats pretty well. Don’t get me wrong, he is apt to eat only watermelon for supper one day and declare the same watermelon “yucky” the next: he is a toddler. But generally, he eats vegetables, fruit, nuts, some white fish, meat in the form of “Daddy’s Special Bolognese” (a marketing triumph, if I do say so myself) and carbs as long as they are pasta, bread, cereal or, um, pizza. (He’s allergic to dairy, soya, eggs and peanuts so they aren’t on the menu.)

But I don’t think he is presented with a healthy picture of adult eating habits, when he spends his day with me. Often I skip lunch, or just eat his leftover veg and humous, supplemented with a million sugary snacks and cups of tea to keep me going. (My sugary snacks are generally fancy organic chocolate because I can’t eat dairy but I know I also kid myself that it would be worse, somehow, to be eating a Mars bar every day and so give myself some sort of relative kudos for my sugary snacks not being as “bad” as they could be. What a snob.) He seldom sees me eat supper: officially, because he eats at 4.30pm and it’s too early for me, unofficially because god knows what I’m going to cook and it might well be beans on toast or something from Deliveroo and it certainly isn’t going to be the same as him in the model of family eating that I actually would like him to see and absorb.

I posted recently about breastfeeding both of my children and how it suits us all at the moment. I didn’t confess a benefit of breastfeeding that I find a bit shameful and hard to admit, namely that one of the reasons I love it is that it makes me feel like I am useful. Because at times I feel like I’m pretty terrible at everything else. And nothing makes me feel more like a shit mum than my hatred of cooking. [Edited to add: I wondered about taking this paragraph out, as I think I must have been feeling a bit blue when I wrote it and, actually, I think I am a pretty good mum, most of the time. Ok, there are some definite areas for improvement. Cooking is one. Using my phone too much is another. Muttering swearwords under my breath is a third. I mean, my swearing is top notch, but my muttering needs work. I know this because my son spent the other evening before bed running madly around his bedroom, completely naked and transferring bright yellow nappy cream onto the carpet and the chair, shouting “FUCK’S SAKE! FUCK’S SAKE!” at the top of his voice. Oops. Anyway, I’ve kept this paragraph in, because I am trying to write honestly about motherhood and I don’t think I’d be doing that if I edited out all the miserable bits on a sunny day when I find myself alone in a cafe without kids, feeling fairly cheerful!]

Every now and then my guilt around the issue galvanises me into action. I read some cookbooks and blogs, I make a meal plan, I do a big online grocery shop… and sometimes I even stick with it for a week or two. But I never seem to manage to keep it up.

People often suggest easy meals that I could prepare quickly, and I appreciate the help, I do, but I’m not sure I have ever really successfully conveyed the extreme lethargy that consumes me when I stand in front of the fridge and think about having to prepare anything. I detest chopping onions, unwrapping raw meat, draining pasta, washing a lettuce, picking some fucking coriander… I hate it all. It is a visceral loathing that completely drains me of energy and initiative. And sometimes I can overcome it, my conscience stepping in and refusing to allow fresh fish to be wasted or an unexpected visitor to be fed takeaway, but it is exhausting to fight in this way and I don’t have the capacity to do it every night.

Can anyone relate to this? I feel quite ashamed to write it but I also really want to be a better example for my family and I’m not sure where to start, again. I don’t feel like guilt is the right motivation for radical change but that, to be honest, is my prevailing emotion when I think about food and cooking. Help! Is there a way to frame this more positively?

What do you mean, none of these are appropriate first foods? 

A love story 

During the day, with the chaos of a toddler dominating, I sometimes forget she’s there. Momentarily, rather than, you know, leaving her on the bus. But at night, when my son is asleep, I feed her in complete peace. I relax, no longer having to wonder how long we have before my son comes to distract her. She feeds and, for a while, I think only of her.

I feel her soft, feathery hair on my arm and I find myself wondering what her hair will look like as she grows, if it will be the same colour as mine, if she’ll wear it long or short, if she’ll be one of those self-assured teenagers I see on the bus with amazing YouTube-inspired blowdries or if she’ll endure what I had assumed was an eternal rite of passage of terrible haircuts until at least one’s twenties.

I feel the weight of her head and hope her little ear isn’t squashed beneath her.

I think about her size, I wonder if she is growing enough, and what we might try feeding her next (she likes broccoli and coconut yoghurt the best at the moment; together if you like, she doesn’t mind).

She distracts me from my thoughts by grabbing my face and neck sometimes; today she managed to get her fingers in my mouth and actually pull my bottom lip down to my chin. I laughed and woke her a little.

I think about her personality: she is developing every day. She is so cheerful, she smiles almost all the time. She doesn’t save her smiles for me, she is generous (sometimes I feel a bit jealous). She laughs and laughs, especially with her brother. But she also has a fury that I don’t remember my son ever exhibiting. If she has her eye on one of his toys but can’t get to it, or, even worse, if something needs to be taken from her, my god, she becomes incandescent. The worst offence you can commit is probably to try to wipe her nose. Or maybe to take her out of the bath, even if she has started to wrinkle and the water is getting cold. I always wonder if she loves it so much because she was born in the water (and maybe a bit extra because I let her float there for a couple of seconds when she was born, as I was completely paralysed by the enormity of what had just happened and couldn’t quite make my arms move to catch her, despite the exhortations of my midwives).

She falls asleep having milk and then sort of violently detaches, lying prone on the supporting pillow, completely drunk. I suspect I’ll have to come up with a better way of ending these evening feeds once she grows more teeth.

I always think she is completely wonderful, but at this moment she is somehow even more perfect. She is so small still and so beautiful. She doesn’t seem real. At this time in the evening, when the room is dusky and grey, I can see her, but only in a gentle fog, and I can’t fathom where she came from or how we could be so lucky that she has joined us.

My heart swells and I feel almost queasy that I adore her so much. How can I live with this love, when I feel it for her brother too? It is such a privilege and also such a burden, because it hurts and scares me more than anything I have ever known before.

What to do with these immense feelings? I let them wash over me for a while. And then I pick up my phone and indulge in a more tolerable way of contemplating my love for her by posting photos on Instagram instead.

Motherhood, 2.0

I recently started to write about my experience of becoming a mother: the alien sensations of being pregnant for the first time (when ligaments stretched and gas got trapped and sometimes I bled for no reason and everything was unprecedented and felt seismic and completely unfathomable); the frantic consumption of facts and advice in books and online about pregnancy and birth (but, perhaps somewhat naively, absolutely nothing about actual parenting); the gruelling and brutal labour (a post for another day perhaps); the overwhelming torrent of love and fear and complete exhaustion of new motherhood… And then I stopped. Because it all felt so far away, too distant to describe really. I look at my son now, a vibrant, energetic, stubborn whirlwind of almost three, and I can only hazily remember the newborn days filled with vomit (him), sleeplessness (me) and crying (both of us). Without me noticing, the oppression of new motherhood eased into something bearable. Something agonising still, in its intensity, but a weight I could live with and enjoy.

And then everything changed again, when my daughter arrived.

I am quite frequently asked, when pushing the double buggy around my neighbourhood, how I am finding it with two kids. I usually just smile, often a touch wearily, and say it is fantastic but a little tiring sometimes – and I hope that the three years of sleep deprivation carved on my face excuse me from responding more articulately. I’m not sure how (and let’s be honest, the man in the bakery probably isn’t actually expecting me) to explain that I feel utterly joyful on the one hand and sometimes a bit sad on the other. I suppose that is the very definition of bittersweet, though I’ve never knowingly used one word when many many more will do. But also, I wonder if I’m treading a fine line between insufferably smug and insufferably ungrateful and I’m never sure into which side I might accidentally tip. Because the happiness I have enjoyed since having my daughter is completely unrivalled in my life so far, largely unfettered as it has been by the fear and anxiety that I felt when my son was born. But I also feel some sadness and guilt that my son’s life has been impacted so drastically, in a way that he neither requested nor expected, and that our previous life together is… well… at the risk of sounding slightly melodramatic… over.

Life before my daughter was, with hindsight, blissfully straightforward, because I was able to focus only on my son. I still miss our time at home together, just the two of us, though already I am starting to forget what precisely made it so joyful. I suppose it was the sum of things that alone were hardly noticeable, let alone remarkable. I would be witness to his glee when he saw an aeroplane or a bee or he stepped on an extra crunchy leaf, because he alone had my attention. We could read twenty stories on the sofa on a rainy afternoon, without the interruption of a baby grabbing the books or needing milk or a new nappy. We could go on an adventure for the day without it taking two hours to coordinate everyone to leave the house (I’m exaggerating, but not as much as I wish)… Most of all, when he felt sad or tired or overwhelmed, I was always there, absolutely, to comfort him and cuddle him.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to call this grief. Grief for something that is gone and will not come back. And I believe that is also what my son has felt, as he has come to terms with having a little sister. He actually seems to be coping well, for the most part. He ignores her quite a lot and sometimes shouts in her face to see her jump but he also loves to make her laugh and to give her kisses and cuddles and to bring her toys. I think his grief comes when he is exhausted or upset or when he wakes in the night and only “mama mama mama” can help. Perhaps I am projecting, but it feels as though his desperate cries come from a new place since she was born, somewhere deeper and less conscious. I try to honour them whenever I can; I’m sure that it is part of his process of acceptance. I also want to do everything I can to help him because, ultimately, this is a situation of my doing, not his, and I do feel guilty for it.

I also know that we have been lucky enough to be able to give him a wonderful gift. I have two sisters, my husband two brothers, and we both count them among our best of friends. I can already see the relationship between my son and daughter grow and I am so grateful that they will have each other in the future. I feel consoled with the thought that the pain of no longer being our only child will be soothed and diminished by the delight and comfort of having a sibling.

For me, although my relationship with my son has been permanently altered with the arrival of my daughter, we are still as close as ever. I can’t always give him what he wants, which I can cope with, or what he needs, which is harder for me, but he seems to be coming to terms with that in his own way. And for me too, my feelings of sadness and guilt are allayed as I see their relationship develop.

Being a mother of two is like being torn in two. Quite often, both children need you and you have to prioritise the one who is the most desperate. It is almost always the toddler. Except for when it is the baby. Bedtimes are the worst, often the scene of a crying toddler and a crying baby and then, on the really bad days, a crying mama too.

But some days, the stars align. Your toddler plays independently whilst your baby needs milk, and your baby is napping whilst you hare around the playground with your toddler, and your baby plays happily whilst your toddler has supper, and then they both have a great time splashing in the bath and then you all cuddle into the chair for bedtime stories before your toddler goes to sleep content and then your baby does too. You drink a glass of wine and congratulate yourself on the brilliant idea to have two children. (Sometimes your mind even wanders to a third, but not for long to be honest because one of them invariably wakes up and you remember why toddlers and babies are nature’s most effective contraceptive).

And it was a brilliant idea, to have two. I don’t regret it for a second. And the answer to the problem of being torn in two, incidentally, is to try to get as much help as possible. It doesn’t solve the problem when only mama will do (which is often a milk-related issue in our house) but my god it helps.

And so. Motherhood 2.0. What to do with those feelings of being a mama of two?

Guilt: be gone.

Sadness: I am making my peace with you.

Happiness: I am grateful for you.

And my children? I adore you.

The Mutual Adoration Club 

Breastfeeding: not just for babies

Sorry, I made myself laugh with my click-bait-y title. Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about breastfeeding my husband, or a family pet.

But I do breastfeed half of my family: my baby daughter, who is seven months old, and my toddler son, who will be three in August.

My baby feeds “on demand”* but actually is fairly undemanding. She can go for quite long stretches in the day without feeding and she seems efficient in terms of feeding for hunger rather than comfort. In fact, she has been so determined to breastfeed on her terms that she decided at two months that she would feed from one boob only (it took my son a year to come to the same conclusion that my left boob is somehow deficient), giving me that not-at-all-coveted One Massive Tit, One Tiny Tit look that I’d finally gotten over during her pregnancy (when both tits became unfeasibly large despite not producing much milk at all). But lopsided boobs (and a few rounds of mastitis in the neglected left boob) aside, it’s going well: she’s relaxed, I’m relaxed, it doesn’t often hurt, all is good.

I’m still finding her relative indifference to breastfeeding quite unexpected, because it is such a departure from my son! He feeds in the morning when he wakes and at bedtime, but I’m fairly sure he would happily partake in his favourite drink throughout the day and night if I hadn’t placed some limits on it for my own sanity during pregnancy (when my milk pretty much dried up and nursing became painful).

I hadn’t anticipated that I would breastfeed him for so long. I presumed, if I gave it any thought at all, that I would try to breastfeed from birth and then when he was around one he would start drinking ‘normal’ milk and we would stop breastfeeding. Ha. Just like that.

I learnt pretty quickly, however, that, as with most things baby-related, it wouldn’t be that simple.

To begin with, I found breastfeeding to be quite brutal. From tongue ties to reflux to allergies to damaged nipples to recurrent mastitis (all or any of which I can discuss at length if anyone else is suffering or interested for any reason)… it was harder and more painful than anything else I’d ever experienced. But then it got easier and then it got much easier (and then, to be honest, it got much harder again – feeding during pregnancy wasn’t much fun) and then it got much, much easier. And when I occasionally wonder why we have kept on going (usually because someone has asked me about it), I pretty instinctively answer, why not? He is happy, I am happy, it’s good for both of us** and it comforts and nourishes him if he’s poorly. Why would we stop?

Obviously one potential reason would be that some people think it’s weird. In particular, some people seem to have some quite strict (and as far as I can tell fairly arbitrary) rules on when it ceases to be appropriate to breastfeed your child, including:

  • when they turn one (presumably because the needs of a baby who is 365 days old differ so starkly from those of a 366 day old baby?);
  • when they get teeth (according to Dr Miriam Stoppard, the “appearance of teeth” signals that breastfeeding should be “gently suspended”.*** Speaking as a woman who was bitten on the tit a couple of times by a teething nine month old, I can see what may have prompted her to spout such bullshit but I’m going to stick with WHO advice to breastfeed exclusively up to six months and with solids until two or beyond anyway, thanks);
  • when they can tell you that they want milk (although I’m not sure exactly what this means, as I’ve always found it fairly obvious when my babies want milk, however they choose to communicate it. My daughter’s favourite way to show me currently is to lurch suddenly from upright in my arms to horizontal, with her mouth gaping open, which is entirely effective but slightly hair-raising. My son will occasionally stop feeding to tell me that he’s “going to try a different latch”, so I think he is quite far beyond this deadline, whenever it may be).

Fortunately (and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given how susceptible I am usually to the curse of Giving a Fuck What People Think), this is one occasion when I genuinely couldn’t give a shit. I don’t believe that there is anything unnatural about breastfeeding a toddler: my breasts still make milk for our mutual benefit, it’s bloody genius!

And so, for as long as we are both comfortable with it, we will continue. I think that’s my bottom line for feeding generally: do what is right for you and your child (whether that is exclusively breastfeeding or formula only or a mix of the two) for as long as it is right for you and your child. I’m assuming we’ll draw the line at some point before he leaves home. If we don’t, well, perhaps you’ll be able to read about it in the lifestyle pages of the Daily Mail 😂

My main health warning regarding breastfeeding a toddler is that you are quite liable to take a few kicks to the face. I’m not sure it smarts less for being a kick with a delicious, squishy foot enclosed in a cute penguin slipper, if I’m honest… 

*I actually hate the expression “on demand”: it is somehow suggestive of an unreasonable baby and a put-upon mother. I tend to think of it simply as feeding responsively to her needs.

**I’m not going to regurgitate the various health benefits for children and mothers of breastfeeding, although it is perhaps worth noting that some do extend beyond one year and, indeed, from a mother’s perspective some benefits (such as reduced risk of some cancers and osteoporosis) seem to increase the longer she breastfeeds. So yay for that. Here is the NHS page on breastfeeding for a brief summary of some of the benefits if you’re interested: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/benefits-breastfeeding.asp

*** I can’t actually recommend that you read this article but here it is for reference: http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/when-should-you-stop-breast-feeding-1259599

Buy stuff; feel better

I saw a post on Instagram tonight relating to the closure of an online kids’ clothing shop that I have used a couple of times. The ensuing discussion was about the difficulties that small retailers are facing currently, in particular given the prevailing exchange rate. Although I hadn’t often used this particular shop, their closure made me feel surprisingly sad, and weirdly… guilty.

Since they ruined my figure and forced me to wear only clothes that allow the hasty removal of a boob at a moment’s notice, I have re-channelled my shopping compulsion in the direction of my children. I bloody love buying them clothes. In part because they look so cute in everything that it is extremely rewarding; also because they are so pleasingly quick to grow that I get to do it almost continually, which is extremely gratifying for an addict. I generally dress them in fairly gender-neutral clothes (I mean, I don’t care if my daughter wears dresses (as long as she isn’t physically inhibited by them) but I don’t want every t-shirt my son wears to have a fucking tractor on it and, if it does, then I’m happy for it to be handed down to my daughter). I try to dress them in well-made, ethically-sourced clothes. I want them to wear things that are fun to wear and fun to look at. And I don’t feel like it’s very easy to follow this approach using high street brands only.

So, tonight has provided a useful reminder that it is incumbent on me to continue to give my custom to the small shops that I follow on Instagram, who import the clothes I like and from whom I gain inspiration, because if I don’t, THEY WILL CLOSE.

Moreover, although I am a ridiculously avid online shopper, I also think there is a responsibility on me to frequent my local shops and… ACTUALLY BUY FROM THEM TOO … if I want them to stay around. I have an amazing local kids’ shop – Olive Loves Alfie – and they curate a beautiful collection of original and ethical kids’ brands. And yet I know I have been guilty of admiring something in the shop only to buy it at a later date online. (This isn’t because I am waiting for a better price, in my defence – it’s because I online shop in a daze of exhaustion and breastfeeding-induced oxytocin and so quite often justify purchases online that I have ruled out in the cold light of day!)

And, whilst I am confessing my sins, I am particularly bad at relying on Amazon Prime for books and art supplies, when I have a decent local bookshop and several local arts and crafts shops and most of my favourite online shops also stock these things. I do this despite knowing that Amazon have been accused of horrendous working conditions for staff and that the impatient, reckless consumerism that initiatives such as Amazon Prime have promoted props up the gig economy that has left so many people underpaid and burdened by the artifice of self-employment.

I. Must. Do. Better.

I know that I am writing from a place of privilege. I spend more on kids’ clothing than most people do: I appreciate that. And I am not proposing to stop buying things from the high street altogether (my children’s white vests will be M&S until I die, I’d imagine). But I really, really value my favourite online shops and local boutiques. And yet my valuing them is totally meaningless unless I actually give them my money.

I thought I’d share this in case it resonates with you too. And because, even if you don’t take it as a call to arms, at least you can use it as inspiration to buy something guilt-free in the name of supporting a small business?!

In case you are interested, my favourite brands are Mini Rodini, Kid+Kind, Tootsa Macginty, Indikidual, Bobo Choses, Beau Loves, Hugo Loves Tiki, Whistle and Flute and Molo – and The Bright Company and Sleepy Doe (for PJs). And my favourite online shops are Scout and Co, Bon Tot, Junior Edition, Desmond Elephant, Olive Loves Alfie, The Wee Department Store and Scandimini. For books, check out Smallprint Online for an absolutely beautiful collection. 

He often dresses himself and I don’t think it would be nearly so edifying if he didn’t have such excellent basics (including a wide range of animal prints) to choose from! 

Why some babies sleep and some babies torture you instead

I wrote this post a month or so ago and never got round to sharing it. Unfortunately for me (not least because I have never wanted to be able to  use the adjective “scrotal” to describe accurately my under-eye skin), it turns out that mere contemplation of a blog post on the topic of sleep was sufficient to trigger an enormous, calamitous Sleep-Jinx. I should have known better. We are in the midst of the six-month sleep regression/first teeth hell. My poor baby no longer naps for longer than 20 minutes and wakes pretty much every 40 minutes at night. Somewhat ironically, I am too knackered to edit the original draft, let alone write something new, so here it stands. A testament to my enduring naivety and in memory of the last occasion when I had more than two consecutive hours of sleep. 

It is probably waaaay too soon to say it but my daughter seems to be a decent sleeper. [*Laughs hollowly*] I mean, she wakes at least twice in the night for milk and sometimes she can’t settle and some nights she chats away for a couple of hours when I REALLY wish she were sleeping and all I can think is that my son is bound to wake up just after she finally goes to sleep (because this is pretty much a dead cert)… but that all seems eminently sensible for a five month old baby.

My son, bless his heart, was a TERRIBLE sleeper. He has allergies and had reflux and the longest stretch he ever did until he was well over one was about three hours (save for one remarkable night when he slept for about seven hours and my husband and I spent most of it staring at him wondering if he was ok). He slept on one of us every night until he could roll over and lift his head up well, so that we felt comfortable letting him sleep on his tummy, but even then easing him from boob to bed was a complex exercise in stealth and guile (owing much to the “Hug ‘n Roll” technique deployed by Ross in Friends). We bought a super-king sized bed and co-slept until he was around one, at which point he slept in his own room until about midnight and then would come and kick one of us in the head until around 5am, when he would wake up for the day.

I have never know desperation and exhaustion like that caused by my beautiful, restless son. I can barely remember the first year of his life: it passed in a sleep-deprived fog. I spent much of my time reading about infant sleep through bleary eyes; we came up with countless (and ineffectual) plans to improve matters; depending on our frame of mind, we either frantically sought or frustratedly dismissed counsel from our patient friends; in the end, we even had a sleep consultant come to help us for a few days.

My conclusion now? Some babies, like some adults, find it difficult to sleep soundly or for long periods at a time. This almost certainly isn’t anyone’s fault. It isn’t going to be solved by blackout blinds or white noise machines or a lavender-scented bath or a bedroom at the perfect temperature or the right bedtime story (although those things might help a bit). As someone who read pretty much everything the internet had to offer when searching for The Cure, I genuinely am sorry to break the news… but there is no panacea for babies who are shit at sleeping.

Other babies sleep better. They like sleeping on their backs and they can settle themselves if they’re not hungry or wet and they even go down “sleepy but awake” and get themselves to sleep. (Before having my daughter, I simply did not understand this concept; it was hard to think of a more preposterous and enraging suggestion as to how I might go about getting my baby son to sleep). But hey, guess what?! This doesn’t have anything to do with the parents either! So if you have a Sleeper and you’ve been feeling smug about your superior parenting skills, don’t. (Or at least don’t overdo the smugness in the company of anyone who hasn’t been quite so blessed.)

I appreciate my sample size is small so we’ll have to put any claims of scientific rigour to one side. But based on my anecdotal evidence, my conclusions are as follows:

  • If your baby doesn’t sleep well, bad luck, my friend. Seriously, you have my every sympathy. My advice for you is do whatever you have to do to get some sleep during this difficult time and know that it will improve at some point. (I can’t say exactly when, I’m afraid, as my son is two and a half and he still wakes most nights.)
  • If your baby does sleep well, then congratulations! Your job is to commiserate with the unfortunate bugger referred to above and perhaps look after their children whilst they have a nap. You should try to bring them coffee and cake, regularly (because, in the absence of sleep, they probably now subsist exclusively on caffeine and sugar). And, most importantly, you should never (seriously, NEVER) suggest that they “try putting baby down sleepy but awake”.

Final thoughts from today: maybe it is my fault after all! I no longer have a sleeping child in my sample group. The only reasonable advice I can actually give based on the evidence before me is: SLEEP WHENEVER YOU CAN BECAUSE YOUR BABY MIGHT STOP ANY DAY NOW SAVE YOURSELF DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU

My son’s approach to sleeping in his cot

My daughter’s approach to sleeping in her cot (until she hit 5 and a half months – PRAY FOR ME)

Me for the last two and a half years 

No offence intended, but…

You may have noticed a bit of a gap since my last post. I started blogging full of enthusiasm and feeling as though I had something I really wanted to share. And I was surprised by the kind response and the extent of engagement, from friends, acquaintances and some complete strangers. But then, if I’m honest, I felt tired, and worried about writing anything more. I found myself stuck on the question of why it is so hard to address the different ways in which we reconcile motherhood and life beyond. In particular, I thought it would make sense for my next post to discuss why I am currently a stay at home parent, but I felt apprehensive about broaching the topic. And then, in fairly time-honoured tradition, I allowed my anxiety to spiral, wondering if I could continue to talk about any of my personal experiences of motherhood – breastfeeding my toddler, co-sleeping with my baby, possibly delaying the school start of my August-born son until he is five, etc – without inadvertently offending someone or instigating a stressful debate.

Objectively, I know that my opinion on the best childcare option for my children has absolutely no bearing on the merits of someone else’s decision regarding the care of their own children, and vice versa. And this is also true for the multitude of other decisions I make about the raising of my children: some agonised over for weeks or months with my husband; some instinctive or obvious or not even needing discussion, but all specific to our personal circumstances and beliefs and therefore largely irrelevant to anyone else. But even knowing this, some recent discussions I have had, and my failure to articulate my view without upsetting some other parents, has been bothering me.

When does attempting to be objective turn into “no offence intended, but…”? Nobody wants to be the “no offence intended, but…” person (ranking second only to the “I’m not a racist, but…” person on the Katie Hopkins Scale of Odium). But (ha!), when it comes to our children, it seems very difficult to talk about our opinions, why we have made the decisions we’ve made, without that being heard as a judgment or a criticism by (and of) others. Why is it so hard to step back and consider things impartially? Why are so many of us on the defensive? Against whom, or what, are we defending ourselves?

And is it even worthwhile raising these questions, if what is at stake is either so personal so as to be inapplicable to anyone else or so difficult to discuss, or inflammatory, that people become upset or angered?

I don’t know the answers to these questions (although it feels like one of those situations where “The Patriarchy” and/or “The Daily Mail” would be a reasonable response to at least one of them). I don’t think that just because a topic is hard, or contentious, that it should be avoided, but, at the same time, I don’t currently feel sufficiently robust, or informed, or articulate, to take on all that divides us!

It might be a bit cowardly but, for now, contemplating my personal experience, asking some (probably rhetorical) questions and perhaps prompting a gentle discussion on Facebook or Instagram is all I can muster.*

Bear with me if you can.**

Processed with VSCO with a8 preset

You said WHAAAAT to a group of working mothers? Oh Christ. 


*I’m currently reading “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck” so perhaps will feel more comfortable courting controversy in due course 😂

 

** I just realised I’ve asked you to bear with me for two of my three posts so far. I am extremely demanding of your patience. Thanks if you’ve managed.

Balance

I hesitated for a considerable time before sharing my first post. I wondered if it made me seem miserable. I wasn’t sure if my honesty might be misinterpreted as unhappiness. I was also concerned that I might be crossing a line in terms of the sanctity of our family life. I share a lot on social media, Instagram in particular, but I have always been very mindful not to post anything that I think could upset or humiliate my children later. I asked myself: what would they think if they read this? 

Would they worry that they weren’t enough? 

As I said in my first post, these reflections on my life, and my confusion as to my identity presently, don’t stem from feelings of sadness or regret. So why the need to (over)share them now? 

I think my current wistfulness comes from a couple of places.  

The first is my belief that, as a society, we do not value the role of a stay at home parent (or, in fact, the act of caring for anyone, whether as part of a family relationship or professionally). Even the terminology* feels derisive: as though a person who chooses to be the primary caregiver for their child has failed to maintain a meaningful contribution to modern society. They have ‘stayed at home’; checked out. Few people seem to recognise any worth in what I am doing. And I’m not looking for a medal, incidentally, or my name in lights. Just an acknowledgement that caring for children all day, every day, is hard work, as well as a privilege. I haven’t become a “lady who lunches” (that particular gem was, quite genuinely, said to me by one of the male partners when I went into the office to resign in person at the end of my maternity leave). I do not believe that I am “Helping Kill Feminism and Mak[ing] the War on Women Possible” (thanks for the solidarity, Elizabeth Wurtzel**). I do not accept the suggestion that I have let myself, or anyone else, down by making this choice. I know I shouldn’t let these stereotypes bother me and, on a good day, they don’t. But I’m unfortunately not quite so robust so as to manage perpetual indifference as to what others think of me. I’m working on it.

The second is more significant and also much simpler: although I am confident in the decision to stay at home with my children for this stage of their lives, it has involved a sacrifice in terms of my identity and my career (perhaps in part because the former was so wrapped up in the latter). It would be too easy if I saw motherhood as my vocation; if there was nothing else I wanted. That isn’t realistic. I will not do myself or my family the disservice of pretending that I am one-dimensional. When my children grow up, I want to be able to show them how much I adore them but also how important it is to find a balance. 

When my son was born, I was completely overwhelmed by the gravity of my love for him. It was all-consuming and disorienting. It left almost nothing in its wake. Combined with his fairly poor health and a temporary move when he was just eight weeks old, far from family and friends, I was submerged by motherhood, completely. It took quite a long time to recover and, by the time I was beginning to raise my head above the parapet once more, I was pregnant again! 

Although I currently find myself thoroughly engrossed by life with two children, the arrival of my daughter hasn’t subsumed me in the same way. I have felt much better equipped to cope. I think that’s why the time feels right to explore and enjoy something beyond motherhood. I know that it won’t be the same something as before. Life has changed, irrevocably, and I have changed with it. 

And so, the question of whether my children are or should be “enough” just isn’t the right one. They shouldn’t have to be “enough”. 

They are so much more than that! 

They are my everything. 

But at the same time, they can’t be my only.  

Trying to find a balance 


*I do use the term “stay at home mum/parent” for convenience but suggestions of any good alternatives would be welcomed! 

** I appreciate that I haven’t managed a very timely rejection of this piece but reject it I certainly do https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/06/1-wives-are-helping-kill-feminism-and-make-the-war-on-women-possible/258431/

Post-natal baldie heid

My hair is falling out. Again. Right on cue: it started four and a half months post-natally, just as with my son.

The first clue: my ankles swimming in water during the shower. Turns out my twice-monthly rummage in the drain was no longer sufficient to stop the repulsive build-up. Bleurgh. 

The second: an increasing sense of parental negligence as I untangle yet another rogue hair from the tiny grasp of my baby and wonder if I will ultimately be responsible for the loss of a digit due to prolonged lack of circulation.

The third (and a bit more obvious): clumps of hair coming out in my hands when I wash. (What do you do when you have hairy hands mid-wash? I always stick the hairs on the shower wall and then scoop them all up at the end and put them in the bin. Except when I forget. When I first went on holiday with my now-husband, then-boyfriend, we stayed in a shitty room on an island in Thailand, where the shower was about a metre from the bed. I caught him one day, looking perplexed and disgusted in equal measure as he watched me washing my hair. It was not the look of love/lust I was hoping the holiday would elicit. After the shower, he asked somewhat tentatively, “why do you pull out your hair and stick it to the wall?” Ha. He was so fucking relieved when I told him the hair had fallen out and I wasn’t some sort of budding Emin, using my own bodily products to daub offensive art on the walls of hotel rooms.)

The fourth (and ultimate insult): my Dracula-style recession. Ugh. This bit is the worst. My fringe hides it a bit from the front so I can delude myself that I look ok but every now and then I catch sight of my profile in a mirror or shop window and realise I have an expanse of forehead between my increasingly-sparse fringe and the rest of my hair. I’m not even sure it’s strictly forehead if it is that close to your ears. Sidehead? Anyway, I am not confident enough for this shit. My hair is usually the one thing I can console myself with when I look in the mirror. But not now. It looks and feels awful.

Still to come: flaky scalp. FFS. I actually had to ask my best friend the other day if she could please be on the look out for dandruff in case I should be too tired/in denial to spot it. Last time it was horrendous (but I was able to mask it mostly by wearing grey knitwear and being perpetually covered in baby vomit). I bought a Philip Kingsley scalp tonic that helped a bit (maybe) so I have that waiting just in case the same thing happens again.

As well as looking totally shit, my post-natal hair feels crap too. The products that I usually use seem too thick and heavy; my hair is lank and dull. I had been using a free sample of an Oribe styling cream that made even my brittle mop feel like spun silk, so I investigated, only to find it costs FORTY FIVE ENGLISH POUNDS. Man alive. To make matters worse, it’s so good that it’s got me wondering if maybe the accompanying shampoo and conditioner would CURE my sad hair. Just what I need: the world’s most preposterously expensive hair regime.

I am going to take some vitamins too. I eat a fairly restricted diet because of my kids’ allergies (another story) and I’ve been promising myself and my husband I’ll take some supplements for a while. I’ve ordered Biocare’s Femforte capsules and a Vitamin D spray from Victoria Health (along with a few things to try from The Ordinary 🙊). Perhaps I should also try some fish oils or something.

Help me, internet friends. Is there anything else I can try? Could you perhaps shame me like Cersai walking the streets naked in Game of Thrones if I am disgusting enough to spend that much on hair products? We wouldn’t hardly even need to hack much of my hair off for an authentic GoT walk of atonement.

61707273-0688-4844-ace0-2e980e530288Count Draculabbott