Material Girl

I realised recently that I had slipped into a bit of a rut, in terms of my appearance, and that perhaps it was reflective of a sense of exhaustion and maybe even futility about life currently. Not in a dramatic way; just in a kids-tag-teaming-through-the-night-and-I’m-completely-knackered sort of way. And I realised that my lack of effort in terms of my appearance was not only reflecting my ennui but also feeding it. So this week I have been taking a bit more care: drying my hair rather than scraping it into a ponytail, wearing shoes other than my trusty Nikes, putting on some lipstick… and it feels good. I’ve felt more confident, eager to face the world, and that makes me happier. 

I don’t want to overthink it, as I am clearly prone to do. I’ve been mulling over a post  on self-esteem, body image, and being a good role model for my children (my daughter in particular), but the soul-searching is proving a bit… bleak. So, I’m actually going to let myself enjoy the process of making an effort for a while, instead of lamenting my inability to separate my appearance and my sense of self-worth! And instead of fighting our image-obsessed, patriarchal society (I’ll do that soon though, I promise), I thought I’d share some of the things that have been improving my mood this week:

  • glittery brogues from Taschka (I don’t think I need to explain why these are life-enhancing!)

  • this dress from Hush (look, it can be styled in lots of different ways, thereby enabling an extremely low cost-per-wear assessment! #abbottonomics)

  • Living Proof No Frizz shampoo and conditioner: compensating for an increasing number of greys by making the gingers shiny! (currently on sale at Blow via the link)

  • Aftershokz Treks Air bone-conducting headphones (I have hardly been able to run in the last four years and I am seriously excited to get going again. And with these awesome headphones, I can run! I can hear my music! I can hear the traffic/ general harassment from unpleasant men! It’s (mostly) good to be back!) 

None of these things will change your life in a big way, but one of them might cheer you up a little bit. And sometimes it’s the little things that keep you going when the big things are too tedious or immovable or difficult to do anything about.

Be happy, lovely readers!

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I don’t want an early night

I have been tired for a long time. I thought I was tired before I had children but it turns out I wasn’t. But now I am. My son was three in August, so I suppose that makes me just over three years’ tired.

I know this is nothing on those of you with older kids. And I’m not even sure that it goes away when they turn 18 or leave home or find a life partner or have children or do anything else that makes them unarguably grown-up. My mum still seems pretty tired. Sorry, Mum.

So, I am tired. You are tired. So it is and will be, now and forever.

Bugger.

Sometimes I fight this inevitability. I come up with plans to tackle the tiredness: banning my phone before bed, listening to calming meditations before sleep (these two are incompatible of course, but consistency eludes me: perhaps it is the preserve of the Not Tired); sometimes I try things to help my children sleep more (bedtime routines and blackout blinds, rather than whisky or sleeping pills) even though I know this is ultimately futile (as discussed previously: Why some babies sleep and some babies torture you instead); sometimes I try to give up caffeine, although usually I end up drinking more…

But, there is one thing I won’t do. There is one thing that apparently seems SO OBVIOUS to everyone else (judging by the frequency with which it is suggested) but that I am absolutely not prepared to do.

I am not going to go to bed earlier.

I realise I might sound petulant, stupid, unwilling to help myself, but I just can’t go to bed earlier. Yeah sure, as a one-off, when the tiredness becomes completely debilitating, I will put on my PJs and brush my teeth whilst my children are in the bath and then pass out as soon as they are asleep. But I’m not prepared to sacrifice my evenings on a regular basis.

Because when the kids are in bed, and I’ve tidied up dishes and toys, and I have eaten my supper, that is my time. A time when I can finally stop… and think. Sometimes I’m too knackered to do much beyond scrolling mindlessly through Instagram whilst watching TV, but sometimes I’ll read a book, or do some trustee work, or just find a way through some of the things cluttered in my head, because at last I have the mental space that the day is too hectic to allow.

I never realised how much I valued this sort of alone time, until I didn’t have it. The bus to work, the lunchtime walk to grab a sandwich, a coffee in the afternoon between calls: when I worked in an office, the day was full of these moments of peace. And they didn’t feel peaceful, usually. But everything is relative, and those moments are now fondly remembered as a privilege. No, I never thought I’d pine for rush hour on the 76 bus either, but hey, parenthood changes us!

And as a parent, you find your peace where and when you can. And if you look after kids full-time, those moments are almost exclusively when those precious kids are asleep.

I can function when I’m tired, more or less. I’m glad I don’t have to perform brain surgery or operate heavy machinery, but I can do it. But I can’t function without space. Without time to contemplate, without time to just… be, I start to suffocate.

I’m sure it is tedious to listen when I complain about being tired. It must be even more annoying if I admit I didn’t go to sleep until midnight. But when your response is to suggest an early night, it feels really shit. Because you’re basically telling me that I should give up my alone time, my mental space.

It feels like you’re telling me to give up on myself.

So please, stop telling me to get an early night. I’ve chosen to look after myself in another way. And it requires me to be awake.

Team naps are lovely but I’m going to leave them to it

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?