“I will absolutely, 100% not be one of those parents who goes overboard on birthday parties. A bit of cake and a few games at home is more than enough.” – Me, 2012.
At our first son’s first birthday we had the obligatory gathering of family, friends and people we barely knew who happened to live close and also have babies, but after that we reverted to the low key celebrations I always knew we would – a trip to the park and a slice of cake with a few close friends.
Pre-parenthood I had no idea that birthday parties had become such big business.
In the last year and a half we’ve been to pool parties, park parties, soft play parties, house parties (no, sadly, not those house parties). We’ve seen a host of invitations from ones grabbed from the counter at Clinton’s to personalised lanyards which make it look like you’re a VIP at Glastonbury. The party bags and sweets my son has come home with have often put the actual birthday gift he took to shame and I remain amazed at the array of talented drama students and wannabe comedians paying their dues as party entertainers.
I can only be thankful that my son is shy and has only a handful of good friends, or I imagine my every weekend would be spent feeling exhausted, overawed and inadequate (of course, that’s most weekends anyway when you’re a mum).
I have fond memories of childhood birthdays. Being summer born has the advantage that all that was needed for a good party was a sunny day, a barbeque and a speaker pointed out of a window. Our organised entertainment rarely stretched beyond a game of pass the parcel or musical statues, always carefully rigged by my mum in favour of whichever child she deemed had the fewest friends.
Yet as much as I vowed I would maintain this level of simplicity, I can’t help but bow to the pressure. What was going to be a party with 4 or 5 guests, has already spread to 15+. What was supposed to be a simple invite quickly became a labour of love. I’ve spent the last hour scouring eBay and Amazon for themed party treats and have continued party planning long after both my sons have lost interest.
I am saved in only one way. Having carefully spent many years passing on my love of books – particularly the genius of Roald Dahl – in just over a weeks’ time I will be opening the doors to bemused parents dressed as Miss Trunchbull, serving Mrs Twit’s wormy spaghetti and sugaring the kids up with Wonka’s finest fizzy lifting drinks.
Plus, if there was ever an excuse for shoving a ‘Frobscottle’ label over a bottle of prosecco and drinking during the day, surely this is it!
Yesterday I had one of those major landmark parenting moments. It wasn’t a birth, the start of school or a graduation. It wasn’t one you’d take pictures of and boast about on Facebook.
But it was a landmark. The kind of thing I think every parent has to go through.
Yesterday I had to stand in the supermarket aisle and shout at my wayward children who had just nearly rammed the trolley into an innocent bystander. The kind of shouting where everyone looks at you, embarrassed for you. Shameful.
The whole trip was ill fated. The kids were tired and bored. I was tired and bored. We had loads to buy and, thanks to a recent reorganisation, I spent a lot of time wandering around passive-aggressively muttering things like ‘stupid bloody supermarket, cheese is dairy, why the hell isn’t it in the dairy aisle? Would that make too much bloody sense?!’
After numerous warnings, one full on shouting fit and subsequent extravagant efforts to show the world what a great parent I was by making the rest of the trip one fun game, we finally left.
‘Never again. Back to online shopping!’ I mumbled as we reached the car.
But as we drove off, I got to thinking. When I was 4 my mum was a single mum of 3 children under the age of 9. She worked, didn’t drive and there was no such thing as online shopping (even now she wouldn’t dare use it after she once accidentally completed a whole online shop only to realise she’d only actually managed to order one block of cheese…!) How the hell did she do it every week? I don’t remember tantrums in the aisles or moaning on the walk home, but we must have gone to the shops because we definitely always had food!
Thinking it through made me realise that it isn’t the big things we do as parents that matter, it’s the little everyday things – just muddling through, making sure the kids are okay and keeping things ticking over.
I always thought my mum was amazing, but I never appreciated how hard she must have worked just to raise us. All the little things I have no recollection of which must have been so difficult – like dragging 3 kids round the supermarket! I’m just embarrassed it’s taken me so long to realise.
So the next time my own monsters whinge about wanting chocolate cheerios (no chocolate at breakfast is the one battle I’m still winning!) I’ll try to remember that in 30 years time they’ll hopefully be faced with their own screamingg little brat and will finally be grateful for what I’m doing.
Thanks mum – and sorry I didn’t say it sooner.
Sometimes I wonder whether, if people actually took the time to read all the stories printed about being a parent in the media, anyone would ever be motivated to procreate again.
If you judge parenthood on the excitable and overhyped stories which creep up on my Facebook feed, it is a constant stream of judgemental Janes, sneering mums and unhelpful shop assistants.
This week my social media accounts have been overwhelmed by stories, blogs and comments about the poor lady who was asked to leave John Lewis because they had received a complaint about her tantrumming toddler. There is no doubt that whoever made that complaint was a thoughtless moron, and the staff member who acted upon it by asking them to leave was naïve and insensitive to say the least. I can guarantee you that no one in that store felt more uncomfortable and put out by that child’s tantrum than the mum, and to be asked to leave in such a way must have been pure humiliation.
Yet we love these stories, because we love to be outraged. We share them with our friends, perpetuating an idea that large swathes of the world are against us mothers, determined to be mean and spiteful just because we have children.
Angry tales about how badly breastfeeding mothers are treated abound. Again, this treatment is completely out of order, but the prevalence of these angry responses paints a skewed view of a world where strangers are lurking in corners just waiting to jump out and shout at anyone who dares to feed their baby anywhere but their own house or the privacy of a dank public toilet.
And if you think the stories paint a bleak picture, just take a look at a parenting forum.
Lonely, exhausted and stressed over my difficulties to feed my son during my first maternity leave, I discovered the horrors of these forums first hand. Desperate for advice on how to feed, I turned to the internet for support and solace but found the exact opposite: page after page of desperate stories and judgemental comments, with only a spattering of kindness to break the misery.
Thankfully, I came to my senses and went out into the real world, only to discover that actually…people are lovely! Random strangers would stop me in the street to talk to me about my baby, passers-by would go out of their way to open doors for me or help me down stairs with the buggy. Having lived for years in London and never managed to exchange more than a few words with a stranger, suddenly I became an actual member of my local community. I’ve breastfed two children and never had more than a handful of funny looks (at least that I’ve noticed!). I’ve dealt with hideous toddler meltdowns in public and only once wanted to punch someone in the face for their unprompted attempts to intervene.
Sadly, there will always be some people who are thoughtless and unhelpful when you are trying to deal with children, and the sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood will inevitably make those moments feel a hundred times worse. But for anyone who begins to feel that the world is against you and your children, let me leave you with this story…
I was having a crap day today. Stressed, sleep deprived, soaking wet, with a whingy baby and having earlier left my son’s beloved scooter on the bus, I boarded the number 73 grumpy and dreading the journey home. When my son suggested singing ‘This old man…’ to cheer me up, I forced myself to join in, hoping the rest of the passengers wouldn’t mind. Then, as we reached ‘he played three’, a jolly old toothless lady on the next seat joined in. Then the lady behind. Then the lady next to her. Before I knew it, half the bottom deck of this busy bus were engaged in a spontaneous flash mob style singsong, before each smiled or told me what a lovely boy I had as they disembarked. It was one of the loveliest moments I have ever experienced.
You see, some people are gits. But most people are lovely.
While in many ways, motherhood has completely taken over my life, easily the biggest and most important part of my day, I am deeply aware that I am still in the relatively early days of this parenting malarkey. I still have lots to learn.
However, I am going to risk saying something stupid. Only 3 years and 2 children in, I reckon I’ve cracked it. I’ve found the ever illusive secret to enjoying parenthood and living a happy and relatively stress free family life (if there could ever be such a thing!)
Have low expectations.
Very low expectations.
Bottom of the ocean, as deep as you can go, barely visible they are so hidden in the depths, low expectations.
How many of you parents reading this went into it expecting it to be all smiles and loveliness? Come on, be honest. No matter how much people warned you about sleepless nights and explosive poos, you never really appreciated it did you? You knew you’d get woken up but you thought you’d be like the mums in the soft focus ads, gazing adoringly at your darling child as they smiled up at you, not stumbling into their room, bleary eyed and swearing as they scream so loudly you think your eardrums might explode. You never thought you’d be scraping poo from within a baby’s neck folds at 3am while choking back your gag reflex. But it happened.
Being a parent is a shock to the system. It hits you like a freight train, then drags you along for the ride. No matter how many warnings you get, you’ll never know what to expect when you have a baby.
Until you’ve had one.
The advantage of being a second time mum is you know all the perils.
When will the baby sleep through the night? Not for bloody ages! Sod Gina Ford. Don’t even bother. First time round I grumbled any time I was woken up. Second time round, if I get 3 hours in a row I feel bloody invincible!
First time round, feeding the baby felt like an endless, exhausting task. Now, I know to appreciate it for what it is: an excuse to sit down. Never try to plan around how long it will take. Assume it will take ages and enjoy the rest while you can.
Trips out should be seen as a success if everyone returns alive and unharmed
The house will never be clean. As long as no one is going to contract some kind of disease, that’s good enough!
Cooking? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating only food that can be bunged in the oven or pinged in a microwave. And cherry tomatoes thrown onto a plate definitely count as enough vegetables!
As for anything else, if all you mange in an entire day is to ram some washing in the machine, you’re doing grand.
It’s not pessimistic. It’s realistic. It’s going easy on yourself. If I could go back to myself in those first days of motherhood and give myself some advice, it would be this:
Calm down, lower your expectations and enjoy the little things. Your house will be a tip and you’ll never complete your to do list, no matter how small. Aim for a nothing and anything you achieve will feel amazing. You’ll be so much happier for it, and that’s all that really matters!
9am. So far I’ve been thrown up on, dealt with a toddler weeing on the floor, and cleaned up a disgusting leaking newborn nappy, only to have said newborn wee all over me and himself the minute his nappy was removed.
If being a mum lacks glamour, being a mum of two can be downright undignified. When I said I’d been thrown up on, I meant I’d been thrown up on. Not my clothes. Me! The boy didn’t even finish swallowing or move his head away before he spewed his breakfast back up all over my boob. What a charmer!
If the end of my pregnancy was marked by the constant refrain, ‘Sorry darling, mummy’s too tired/sore/big to do that’, my new motto seems to be ‘Just a minute love. Let me finish dealing with your brother’. Doesn’t matter which brother, and to be honest I call them by each other’s names half the time already! Looking after two small children certainly does keep you very busy.
With no work until the summer, this messy, disorganised existence is my life for the next nine months.
But, without sounding too soppy and sickening, I’ve never been happier.
There may be twice the poo, twice the wee and twice the crying, but there’s twice the love and ten times the cuteness!
I haven’t the time or brain power to even try to write a cleverly structured or witty blog post right now (I’m writing this on my phone as I feed the baby and watch yet another dinosaur film with his brother!), but this may be my favourite blog yet.
Because it’s my first as a mum of two. A scruffy, sick-covered, surrounded by mess, undignified mum of two.
And I bloody love it!
Dear little man,
At this moment, you are tucked up in bed. You are almost certainly not asleep. Partly because you’re a stubborn little so-and-so, partly because when I left you had grabbed yourself yet another book to read (which both infuriates me and makes me a little proud!), and partly because it’s nearly an hour before your normal bedtime. Sorry about that. I made the stupid decision to skip naptime today. You were probably fine, but I was not. That’s what being 38 weeks pregnant does to you.
I guess you’ve had to put up with a lot of this sort of thing since I got pregnant. I try my hardest to continue being a fun, lively, energetic mum, but I know I’m failing. When I was at work, I put so much of my energy into trying to stay professional during the day, by the time I got home I tended to crash on the sofa in a heap of emotional exhaustion. You got fed and cleaned, but for a few weeks that was about it. Now I’m no longer at work, we can go back to having fun. Except I’m huge now, and that hardly makes for the world’s greatest playmate. We have fun days out, but they’re regularly punctuated by ‘Sorry darling, mummy can’t really run at the moment’, and ‘Sorry sweetheart, mummy can’t fit down the slide anymore’. Try as I might, I can’t stop pregnancy getting in the way.
It’s marginally easier when we’re at home, but my heart broke a little last week when you said you’d rather do jigsaws with Daddy because ‘Mummy can’t sit on the floor anymore’.
I’ve recognised my limits and asked other relatives to take you out for the fun-filled days I can no longer manage. I should welcome you back from these days fully rested and refreshed, ready to play with all the vigour you deserve. But all too often I’m overcome by my nesting urge, trying to make everything in the house as perfect as I can before our lovely family existence is interrupted by a new recruit. By the time you come home I’m more physically exhausted and useless than I was before you left.
Thankfully, you’ve made it easy. You’ve moaned only once: that ‘the baby has been in your tummy for aaaaages!’ Your only frustration is your impatience to meet them.
You have accepted becoming the ‘big boy’ of the house with a grace and excitement I could only have wished for. Of course, this is largely because we bribed you with a brand new dinosaur themed bedroom, but thanks for being so easily manipulated!
Little do you realise how much this baby will turn your world upside down. Not only will it have nicked your old room and toys and books, it will get in the way of all your favourite games; destroying every train set you build up and banishing your marble run to the top shelf, to be used only when baby is asleep and well out of the way. No, you have no idea. You are actually excited, and have even decided that we should name the baby ‘Lovely’.
Therein lies the problem. If, in years to come, you ever look back and find yourself resentful of the playtime you lost with mummy when she was too big to run around or too busy feeding the baby to play Froggy Frenzy, remember: it’s your fault. If you hadn’t been so amazing in the first place, we probably wouldn’t have wanted to have another.
All my love,
Potty training is a pain in the arse. Everyone knows that. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I take particular umbrage with it. But the good news is, we’ve finally cracked it and emerged through the other side relatively unscathed. Having struggled before I found my feet, I thought it only fair to pass on the wisdom of my experience. I’m not going to tell you all that practical ‘when to start, where to place your potty, how to praise your child’ stuff. There’s already far too much of that about. No. This is about YOU and how YOU survive one of the shittiest parts of being a parent (literally!)
Unless you’re willing to get on your hands and knees in public to clear up out urine from the deepest recesses of the soft play, you’re going to be stuck indoors for a good few days (or weeks!). You need some stuff to do. Stock up on paper, glue and glitter and make sure you have a really good internet connection to get some ideas. I’m no Neil Buchanan, but it’s amazing what you can achieve when cabin fever sets in.
2. Embrace technology.
You may be a bit of a control freak with the remote, determined to limit ‘screen time’ for your kids, but if you’re going to survive a whole week indoors you need to chill out and embrace the screen! Regular CBeebies breaks may well be the only way you get any ‘me time’, so learn to love Mr Tumble for the sake of your sanity.
3. Get a good book.
Wee and poo will quickly become your world, but no matter how proud you are of the day’s achievements, no one else gives a s**t. Even your partner will only feign interest as you describe each success and accident in detail. Sneak off with a good book, newspaper or podcast during those CBeebies breaks. You need some intellectual stimulation so you have something to talk when you finally regain contact with the adult world.
Not for the kid. Surely being able to live without defecating in your own clothes is enough of a reward in itself?! You’re the one putting in the hard work, you deserve the treats. Stock up on wine, sweets and chocolate and reward yourself for a solid day’s hard work as soon as the critter is in bed (or during the day if you can sneak away from prying eyes!).
5. Plan and prepare all you want; know that the kid is always The Boss!
You’ll be tempted to read up on potty training and gather advice (you’re reading this blog after all!), but little good ever comes of listening to other people – it generally only serves to panic you or make you feel you’re doing a crap job. If only I had stuck to my own parenting mantra (never read parenting advice: trust only the NHS and my mum) perhaps I wouldn’t have found myself nearly in tears on the floor of a public park toilet all those months ago, convinced I was failing where everyone else had succeeded. Fate intervened and I was forced to ignore the ‘NEVER go back to nappies once you’ve introduced pants, especially with boys’ rule (can’t remember where I read this but, like most things on the internet, it’s RUBBISH!) and give up on potty training completely. Forced to wait until much later, I discovered that there is only one potty training expert in our lives – the boy himself. As soon as he wanted to and he could be bothered, he started using the potty. No fuss, no bother and no crying on the toilet floor.
I should have remembered: he is always the one in charge, he just lets me think I am.
I have recently discovered the joys of pregnancy yoga. It remained a well hidden secret from me throughout the whole of my first pregnancy, so that I never discovered it was possible to actually feel comfortable and get a good night’s sleep at least once a week.
Let me say up front, I am a total convert. I love it. I look forward to it all day on a Monday and return home feeling refreshed and revitalised.
Attending these classes has reminded me how cynical I am. It has brought back all the feelings that led me to start my Sceptical Mum blog in the first place.
Is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I just accept the strange nuances of modern pregnancy and motherhood? Why is it that while other parents or mums-to-be nod and smile and welcome whatever weird fads come their way, I can’t help but grimace and smirk?
While the stretching is great and the relaxation is amazing (let’s be honest, any excuse to lie down and do nothing without any risk of someone interrupting you is always amazing!), I find my mind wandering and my inner sceptic creeping into my consciousness.
As the rest of the mums-to-be practice their ‘ocean breaths’ (imagine trying really hard to fog up a mirror) with a steadfast determination, I am permanently bewildered. Hasn’t anyone else noticed how much it sounds like Darth Vader? Is no one else picturing a room full of evil villains, storm clouds rolling over the sky ready for some kind of apocalypse? I join in, but half-heartedly, wondering how pretending to be a cartoon ghost is going to help keep me calm during labour.
Then there are the ‘visualisations’. The moment our teacher instructs us to ‘remove all distractions from our mind’, I know I’m in trouble. I can’t do it. Tell me not to think and my mind is suddenly teeming with information. Just as we’re asked to visualise an empty boat in a peaceful lagoon, the music blaring in the bar below seeps into my consciousness and my visualisation is immediately accompanied by the sound track of ‘You’re Gorgeous’. My mind is off… I loved that song! Who sang it? Baby something? I think he was blonde and had a beard. Baby Bird, that’s it! But why can I only picture Kenneth Brannagh?… Five minutes later, I realise that while everyone has gradually pushed their boat across the lake with their conscious breathing, I’m busy cataloguing 90s one hit wonders in a boat captained by Vanilla Ice. Oops.
I have a little more luck in the physical activities. With something practical to do, my mind has less chance to wander. I’m fine, and getting on with it like everyone else, until she utters those three fatal words: pelvic floor exercises.
Clearly these are important, and the first time she mentioned it I thought ‘Good. I’ve never known how to do these, and God knows I’ve never recovered from my first childbirth’. Only seconds later, and I’m biting my lip to keep from guffawing every time she instructs us to ‘focus on our back passage’ and wondering when I regressed to have the sense of humour of a pre-teenage boy. I silently thank God I don’t know anyone else in the class, and that we do these exercises on all fours so no one can see my face.
Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the indignity of trying to lean forward with a giant bump in the way, the hilarious sight of 15 women who look like they’re smuggling bowling balls up their tops balancing and wobbling into squat positions and the constant fear that any time you bend over could release a massive onslaught of trapped wind! No one ever said pregnancy was glamorous.
Finally, and what worries me most, is the fact that no one else sees this side of it. The rest of the class seem to take everything so seriously. Either they’re far more sensible than me, or much better at hiding it. Some are so focussed it makes me feel guilty for even thinking such subversive thoughts, and every week I worry that ‘scary heavy breathing lady’ is going to pass out from treating her relaxation with such intensity. I’d giggle at her cartoonish puffed out cheeks if I didn’t think she might come over and sit on me as punishment!
Three years after giving birth to my son, I had started to feel I’d found my place in motherhood, and perhaps I wasn’t so sceptical after all. But I had clearly forgotten that strange world of the expectant and new parent, where all social norms are abandoned and things which would once have seemed ridiculous are accepted as totally sensible, while I and a few hidden others watch on bemused.
Oh well, at least it might provide some good blogging material…
Pregnancy: the second time round
You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in quite some time. You may not.
I haven’t given up and have no intention to – I still have plenty of parent related issues to moan about and critique. The simple reason I haven’t blogged is because I’ve been too tired. No, not tired. Exhausted. Fatigued. Completely, totally and utterly knackered!
Work is crazy, family life is busy and there always seems to be something to do, but that I can just about manage.
The reason I’m so exhausted is that my energy is being slowly but surely drained and stolen by a parasite, sucking the very life out of me.
That’s right – I’m pregnant!
It’s wonderful news. We were lucky enough to get one healthy little baby and now we’ll be blessed with two. I’m grateful, and wouldn’t want to ever take for granted how fortunate we’ve been – loads of people would love to be in our situation and I know we don’t necessarily deserve it.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that because the old wife’s tale – that if you remembered how tough it all was to have a baby, you’d never do it again – turns out to be true. Being pregnant second time round is crap. And here’s why…
- The exhaustion
Before I became a mum, I thought I had a busy life. Then I had a baby and wondered what the hell I’d been moaning about. Then I got pregnant again and wanted to travel back in time and punch my twenty-something childless self in the face. The early months of pregnancy must be some form of natural endurance test to make sure you’re up to motherhood, making you constantly shattered and confused, but adding in the awkward fact that no one understands why. At least when you have a baby you can excuse the giant bags under your eyes with the simple phrase ‘night feeds’ or ‘teething!’, but when you haven’t yet had your scan and are trying to keep it quiet, you just look like you’re falling apart. It’s all bad enough the first time round, but when you have to go through it while working full time and coming home to a toddler demanding that you do jigsaws, play racing games, let him help with the cooking and entertain a small stuffed monkey, all while you continue to run a semi-functional household, it’s all you can do not to fall asleep flat on your face in the middle of the street and allow worried passers-by to carry you to the nearest hospital just for a bit of a rest!
- Everyone knows
While you put all your energy into hiding your sickness, baby-brain and total exhaustion, it’s all a massive waste of time. Turns out since you last popped out a sprog everyone’s been desperately waiting and anticipating the next arrival. While revealing the news that you’re about to be a parent first time round is one of the loveliest and most heart-warming experiences you can have – greeted by surprised shrieks, happy sobs and ecstatic hugs – second time round you’re more likely to be met by smug smiles, knowing shrugs and comments like ‘I had a feeling’, or ‘We wondered when you’d tell us’, or worst of all ‘Oh, we’ve all known for ages!’ as if through some magical prescience your friends and family were able to foretell the arrival of your next child from the very moment of conception. Why you ever bothered putting on a brave face through those early months is now a total mystery.
- Being massive!
Of course hiding your pregnancy is hardly made easier by the fact that your body has already been well and truly ruined by your first child. While first time mums wander around with neat little bumps gradually poking out as the later months approach, your existing sprog has already stretched your muscles to buggery so even though the baby itself is only the size of a pea you’re walking around looking like you’ve shoved a cushion up your jumper from the day after the test showed up positive.
- You hate all your clothes
The problem with getting big so soon is you are quickly faced with the prospect of maternity clothes. If your friends are anything like mine they’ll have offered helpful advice during your first pregnancy like ‘Don’t waste money on maternity clothes you’ll only wear for a couple of months – just buy bigger clothes from Primark and a couple of really cheap maternity dresses’. Great advice, thanks. It was bad enough feeling so frumpy for a few weeks back then, but now I’m faced with months and months (because who knows when you get your figure back after a second when you don’t have the pressure of an OK magazine cover to spur you on!) of looking like I’ve escaped from my shackles at the kitchen sink and crawled through a bargain basement reject clothes sale.
- No wine!
The shining light at the end of the tunnel – apart from the vague recollection that there is a period of pregnancy respite before the horrendous heartburn and permanent discomfort of a giant bump begins – is that all the rubbish is worth it to get the baby at the end. In a feat of what I can only assume is a rare moment of nature’s kindness, my psyche is currently shielding me from remembering how hard that bit is.