If ever there was a convincing argument against evolution, it’s babies.
For years now, the majority of us have gladly accepted the genius of Charles Darwin’s theories, merrily accepting the idea of survival of the fittest and gradual adaptation of each species to their environment. We consider ourselves, humans, the most successful of all, with only the Creationists and a few other mad conspiracy theorists daring to contradict the father of evolution.
Yet, all anyone needed to do to undermine Darwin’s genius was shove him in a room with a baby for a few months. He, presumably, was too busy conducting actual scientific research to deal with nappies and weaning, but had he had the time, surely he would have realised his theories had no basis in reality.
For a start, let’s take sleep. If ever there is a time in the human life cycle where sleep is crucial, it is in those first few years; years of huge physical, emotional and mental development, all requiring large amounts of sleep. If evolution was true, surely human infants would have evolved to be able to…well…sleep! How can a species which has the capacity to build cities, create the internet, produce Shakespeare, not evolve in a way which allows a baby who needs to sleep to go the **** to sleep?! Did Darwin ever spend endless hours in the midst of the night, pacing back and forth, bleary-eyed whispering ‘it’s ok, I’m here, go to sleep, please go to sleep, pleeeeeeeease go to sleep!!!’, or arguing with a toddler who screams ‘but I’m NOT tiiiiired’, while sprawled across the floor, yawning and rubbing their eyes so much you think they may actually rub them out? I think not, or surely it would have blown a substantial hole in his theory that animals adapt to meet their own basic needs.
Unconvinced? Let’s consider teething. When all the other bones and vital organs have developed in the womb, teeth are left to the outside world. Perhaps this is deliberate? It allows for easier suckling in the early days (Ha! We’ll come to that later). Yet how can a system of development which causes infinite amounts of pain to a child be a result of millions of years of careful natural development? Aside from the total bewilderment of a poor, miserable child who cannot possibly comprehend what is happening to them, it once again brings us back to sleep, or rather the lack thereof. Screaming baby = no sleep for anyone = bad backs and grumpiness for the parents = miserable family = very poor design.
Finally, let’s look at movement. Ever watched a nature documentary where a baby giraffe is born? We might coo and aww, giggling slightly as it tries to stand and inevitably stumbles over its newborn, gangly and cumbersome limbs. ‘Aww bless, it can’t stand up’. Erm, yes it can! It might be wobbly, but 2 minutes out of the womb and it’s already on the move. Give it a few days and it’ll be walking miles to find food and water. Our lazy offspring laze around, crying for attention, and half of them can’t even eat properly when a nipple full of milk is shoved right into their open gobs. How is that the result of years of careful natural selection? Is that really the best we can do? If humans have truly evolved to be so successful over the years, surely they should be born, jump onto their feet and head straight to the fruit bowl to help themselves to a banana before coming over to snuggle up with a calm, contented and rested parent.
Sorry Darwin, I’ve always believed you, but I can’t ignore the evidence of my own experience. If babies were designed, the poor designer who presented them to the boss would be promptly kicked out of the board room: “Come back when you’ve figured out how to stop it defecating everywhere, and, for God’s Sake, surely the sound department can come up with something that doesn’t grate quite so much on the ears!”.
I have reached the age where half my Facebook feed is pictures of other people’s children: babies smearing their faces with mashed banana, toddlers taking their first steps, kids in their school uniforms proudly holding trophies and certificates. I’m used to it. At times I really enjoy it; a chance to see the children of loved ones I don’t get to see as much as I’d like. (FYI: The other half of my FB is childless friends posting pics of themselves in bars, at gigs or cheerfully toasting a cocktail on a far away beach. Me? Jealous? Never!)
Last week, more kiddy pictures than usual seemed to appear as friends joined in the Facebook Motherhood Challenge. Women basically post photos which make them ‘proud to be a mother’ then nominate some other ‘amazing mums’ to do the same.
Reactions to this social media phenomenon have been mixed. Many have loved it, eagerly joining in. Some have inevitably hated it, griping and moaning that they have to see yet more pictures of other people’s children. Others have, quite rightly, questioned the name. A challenge? Posting some pictures? Not exactly climbing Everest.
In this article, The Guardian suggests that it is an exercise in smugness, thoughtlessly ignoring those women who don’t have children and offending people by creating a smug clique. I’m not sure what has made the writer quite so angry, but perhaps there are some valid points. It must be hard to see these images if you are trying to have children, or have lost children, and perhaps we should think about that a little more. But to imply that people joining in this largely harmless activity are cruel and offensive seems a little over the top.
The Pool wrote a similar but less aggressive article, suggesting that seeing these images of happy smiling mums and their children divides us, making many others feel bad about themselves because they, at that moment, are not particularly happy and smiling.
At first, I tended to agree with these articles. I’d enjoyed seeing pictures of my friends’ children, but wasn’t this a bit much?
Then, on my way home from nursery this morning, I began to think differently. Trundling along in the drizzle, exhausted, snotty, straining from a bad back and with a snoring baby strapped to my chest, I missed the green man. I sighed and, faced with all of two minutes before I could cross, I reached for my phone. As I pressed the on button, it dawned on me how this has become my go to action in moments of inaction. What was I hoping to achieve? I had no messages, no one to contact and would only faff around for 30 seconds on Facebook before putting it away again and crossing. And I do this all the time! Why?
Because, at the moment, I’m a stay at home mum. There are times I can go for hours, even whole days, without having a conversation with an actual adult. I adore my sons, but when 90% of your day’s conversation revolves around someone else’s food choices, toileting needs and identifying different types of tiny plastic dinosaurs, sometimes you need a way to reach out to someone else. And isn’t that what social media was made for? If you looked at my Facebook activity, it would most certainly spike when I’m on maternity leave, and especially on days when my husband works late.
Maybe these women aren’t smug. Maybe they’re lonely. Maybe they’re a bit bored. Maybe they’ve spent the morning cleaning urine off the floor, tackling a mound of washing which towers over their head, trying to get work done while Peppa Pig blares in the background, all while perpetually yawning because they were up 5 times in the night.
If spending 5 minutes scrolling through photos which remind you of why you love being a mum (or dad – surely there should be a fatherhood challenge out there somewhere?) cheers you up when a baby has just thrown up all over you, and getting comments allows you to have a brief virtual chat with friends, where’s the harm?
If we don’t like it, we don’t have to look. Maybe we should just get off Facebook for a while and get some perspective. That’s what I’m going to do. Right after I post a link to this blog post…
“Why did we have another one? Why did we think we needed two? It was going so well with one!”
Such are the desperate cries in our household at moments when the children have decided to tag team their night time neediness.
It’s a good question. We were set with one. We had it covered. We outnumbered him. We could tag team parent, each of us got at least one lie in on a weekend and it was fairly easy to find a babysitter for just one child, especially one who you could just read a story and send to bed with no crying.
Now most tasks are twice as difficult. Bedtime is an organised chaos of synchronised reading and feeding, there is always at least one point in the day when one child is being ignored almost to the point of neglect and our nightly conversation is now a bet as to who will wake up first/most/in the most confusing and annoying manner.
Put it like that, why would anyone have a second?
Well, we’ve got two now and I kind of love them both so, time to focus on the positives.
1. You’ve got a built in play mate.
“Can you just keep brother company for 5 minutes while I do this?” Such a handy and surprisingly effective phrase! Voila. Both children entertained with no input from me. Only for a maximum of five minutes and I’m sure the novelty of this won’t last for the older one, but still, works for now! Plus, one day in the future there’ll be two of them to go on the swing and that will save both my dignity and a whole load of knee and thigh pain.
2. Practice makes perfect.
I remember once asking my mum for money for a night out when I was a teenager. She said no. I pointed out that she had given my older brother money for nights out. It wasn’t fair! “That’s because he was my first. I made all my mistakes on him. I know better now.” How wise you are mum! The joy of having a second baby is I can now do, panic free, all the things I was crap at the first time round (feeding, changing, pushing the buggy, knowing all the words to wind the bobbin up). And if I can’t do them, I at least care less.
3. Who needs sleep?
I remember having a new baby to be the most horrendously traumatic experience. It was like my body shut down. I just could not live on so little sleep. 3 years later and it appears my body has learned to cope. 4 whole hours uninterrupted sleep? I could rule the bloody world on that!
4. It’s all relative
3 years ago a whole day in the house by myself with the baby was a true test of wills. Likely by 3pm I’d be calling my husband desperate for conversation, and by 5pm I’d be literally pacing the floor, counting the seconds until he got home to relieve me.
These days, a whole day with only one child is like a spa treatment! You mean I can sit on the sofa, have a cuddle and watch something that isn’t CBeebies? Result!!! I might even get round to washing up.
5. It’s just so bloody cute.
Look at them. How could you ever regret that?
There’s an unwritten rule that no one can slag off your home town except yourself. It is fine for you to gripe and moan about where you come from, but as soon as someone else has a go, you become staunchly proud of your roots and demand that your hometown is the best place in the world!
I should know. Coming from Bradford, I have more reason to invoke this than most. My hometown has been host to race riots, the area I grew up in once elected a BNP councillor (imagine me shuddering with horror as I admit this) and the majority of the town centre was nothing but a giant hole and a pile of rubble for the best part of the last ten years as a failing economy stalled the only major development to grace Bradford in decades.
These are among the many reasons I left fifteen years ago. Since then, I have only returned for brief stopovers between jobs and travels or to visit my family and friends.
But try to slag it off yourself and see how proudly I’ll defend its diversity and cultural heritage, despite not living there for over a decade. It’s my right. There’s plenty I dislike about it, but it’s my home and I love it.
As I settle into my second stint of maternity leave, I’m wondering if there’s a similar rule for being a mum.
Yesterday, I found myself at a rare loose end – my eldest was at nursery, my youngest was asleep in the pram and I didn’t have time to go home before I was due at baby massage. I snuck into a cosy café and settled myself for an indulgent half hour with a good book (not a bad life!).
Unfortunately, I had pitched up next to two more mums killing time. Let’s face it, that’s all that cafes are full of during the day: mums and lots of ‘creative-types’, tapping away at their fancy laptops as they stretch out one drink for two hours to avoid paying for any actual office space.
I tried to concentrate on my book, but was endlessly distracted by nosy toddlers peering at my baby and their mums’ inane chatter. I began to pay more attention to them and less to my book, and a sad realisation dawned on me. Mums are boring. Really boring! In the time I sat next to them they had long conversations debating the merits of carrot sticks over rice cakes as a snack, and telling each other their children’s sleep patterns in intricate detail. I don’t mean to be rude, but even they looked bored. Bored by their own thoughts; in desperate need of some adult conversation, but unable to come up with any substance for it.
I’m being horrible. I know I am, and I knew it then, but I have a get out clause. I can moan about boring mums, because I am one! At times I can hold interesting conversations: debate the merits and perils of bombing Syria; discuss which Booker Prize winner is my favourite; discuss whether or not Luther is the true masterpiece of TV drama (erm, yes it is and it’s on again in a few weeks! Yey!!!). Yet much of the time I find myself rambling on about how well my eldest son can write the letter ‘A’ or explaining how I’ve been won over by cloth nappies over disposables. It’s important to me, but I know it’s dull as dishwater to the vast majority of the population, me included. Sadly, that doesn’t stop me.
The truth is, a lot of the time, I am boring. Because mums are boring. But it’s ok. I’m allowed to say it, because I am one, and I bloody love it!
One of the many struggles you encounter as a parent in the early days is finding things to do. Figuring out how the hell to fill your days when you don’t have to go to work. Hour upon hour stretches out in front of you with nothing to fill it except 45 minutes of singing ‘Wind the Bobbin Up’ in a rundown old community centre, led by a man who looks as if he’s walked straight out of a Little Britain sketch. Not exactly an action packed day.
Yet somehow, despite these hours of nothingness and your desperation to fill them, you can find yourself sitting at the end of the day worrying about all the things you should have done, but didn’t have the time.
How is it that you had nothing to do, but couldn’t get anything done? Yet somehow, had loads of stuff you should have done, but didn’t? It doesn’t make any sense.
The conundrum increases as time goes on.
As your child grows, you suddenly discover a whole host of things you need to do. Endless doctor’s appointments, health visitors’ visits and baby drop in sessions. It’s a good job you get maternity leave, because how would these things get done otherwise?
Your child continues to grow, and it gets worse. Now you have playgroups and classes to get to, on top of your child’s daily demands to go to the park. Then there are visits to choose childminders, then nurseries, then schools. Once they’re in nursery or school, there are endless meetings, shows, parents’ evenings and all sorts in between. It’s a wonder anyone manages to make it into work when they have children.
All the time, every time you get close to achieving something, someone in your family starts crying, needs feeding or announces they’ve pooed in their pants (hopefully one of the children!) and all your good efforts go right out the window.
And so you enter the great Catch 22 of parenting. You have loads to do, but no time to do it, despite having loads of time to fill with nothing to do. You reach the end of the day and realise you’ve achieved nothing. Then you beat yourself up about it, make a to-do list, fail it the following day, and repeat ad infinitum.
How to deal with this problem? Don’t worry. I’ve created a handy step by step guide to getting stuff done with kids:
- Do anything that HAS to be done, i.e. anything which risks your children ending up in hospital or being taken away if you don’t do it.
- Sod everything else.
- Eat some cake.
There. That’s one thing sorted.
I have been debating for a while writing a post about the joys of having a toddler around, but couldn’t quite find a way to write it. Then today, it literally dropped through my letterbox.
Childless friends and colleagues regularly say things like ‘I just don’t know how you cope being a mum and working full time’. I nod and smile politely, making some kind of self deprecatory remark like ‘well, I’m not sure I do that great a job!’. I don’t tell them the truth, that I sometimes think that work is actually better now I’m a parent. Little things rarely get me down, and when they do I have no option to sit and mope about them all evening with a glass of wine because, quite frankly, my three year old couldn’t give a s*** about my data deadlines. Plus, I never have one of those ‘I ended up staying at work until 8 last night’ moments – it’s just not a possibility!
Plus, while the practicalities may be exhausting, looking after small children has an amazing charm to make you forget all the unimportant crap and focus on the fun life has to offer. A small child’s wonder and curiosity at the world opens you up to all sorts of possibilities you forgot about the moment you started to have responsibilities.
This might be rediscovering the joy of knock-knock jokes, being allowed to run like a mad thing through fountains on a hot day without being drunk/judged, or finding out you secretly love crazy golf. At other times, it’s the simpler everyday things which make you smile, like a bath time conversation about whether shampoo really does have poo in it.
It was just such a silly conversation which led the letter below being drafted…
In a ridiculous moment, we agreed to post it and off it went to Morrisons. We thought little more about it, though it had provided some good laughs, and moved on to ponder the next of life’s great toddler mysteries.
Then this afternoon I arrived home from work (tired and slightly grumpy as always) and began rifling through our boring post: a survey from the NHS, a reminder from the bank to activate my card, and this little gem…
I love to imagine the look on someone’s face as they presumably sorted through piles of letters about ready meals and complaints about bin bags, finding my son’s ramblings about poo and smiling to themselves. I hope they showed it to colleagues and had a little giggle as they composed such a kind reply and put it in the post bag. It certainly brightened my day more than pear cider ever could*.
*Just to clarify, I have 9 weeks until I’m due, then I will definitely be enjoying that pear cider, even if I’ve missed beer garden weather!
People are weirdly fascinated by pregnancy. As soon as you start to show, people you’ve never met will stare wilfully at your stomach and grin at you inanely on the street. Vague acquaintances will feel they’re suddenly your best friend, interrupting you at work to creepily proclaim ‘Ooh, I love a baby bump’ or lean in to your torso shout messages to your unborn child.
They may have good intentions, but I hate it! I like my personal space and (much as blogging about my day to day life may suggest otherwise) I like my privacy.
In many ways, I would like the vast majority of the world – anyone who is not family or a good friend – to ignore my pregnant state and let me get on with it in peace. Yet, as nature is determined not to give me any peace at all, I have also become acutely aware of the need for niceness. A moment of rudeness or thoughtlessness by a passer-by at an inopportune moment can send my day spiralling into disaster, and ultimately, while I don’t need the freaky attempts by strangers to touch my stomach, we pregnant women do need just a little bit of extra kindness.
Here are just a few reasons why:
- We‘ve already had to suffer the worst of it before anyone even knows
It’s a cruelty of nature that, for many, the worst of the pregnancy symptoms come in those first few months when no one even knows you’re expecting. Pregnant women become masters of deceit, making never ending excuses to leave the room so they can throw up/sit down/lean against the wall/attempt to prise their eyes open with matchsticks while they figure out if they can pass their state off as a hangover, even though no one has seen a drop of alcohol pass their lips in weeks. By the time people are excited and desperately offering to help carry anything bigger than a piece of paper, you’ve already been through an ordeal and come out the other side.
- We’re so uncomfortable: constantly, unpredictably, painfully uncomfortable
Heartburn, back ache, indigestion, cramp. Pregnancy is basically one long list of side effects, not helped by the fact that as time goes on, you are gradually being beaten up from the inside. Those first few movements are lovely, but nothing is liable to distract you more form an important work task than someone practicing a karate routine on your ribs, and commuting is made infinitely more unpredictable when the baby could at any moment decide to lodge itself on top of your bladder, turning a normal train ride into a lottery of whether or not you’ll make it off without embarrassing yourself. Oh, and yes, I would like a seat. I know I haven’t for the last five days because it was more hard work getting up than standing, but today I’m knackered, uncomfortable and on the edge. Seriously commuters: get off your bloody phones and notice me – I’m about to fall over and I need a seat!
- We’re already in the throes of sleep deprivation
It’s either nature’s way of preparing us, or its biggest cruelty, that in the last few months before the baby arrives, pregnant bodies get you ready for those sleepless nights by…not letting you sleep. It’s like a dress rehearsal, but with no baby and nothing but crappy breakfast TV to keep you entertained at 5.30am on a weekend.
- The unpredictable whirl of hormones
Never, ever say to a women in the throes of a meltdown, ‘it’s probably just your hormones’, even though it probably is. While one day we can manage: full time work, other children, household chores, unexpected dramas and anything else your throw at us with calm and ease, the next day we’ll drop a piece of cheese on the floor and the whole world will come tumbling down. Seriously, I was going to eat that cheese…and now I can’t…and it doesn’t matter that there’s more cheese in the fridge…I wanted that piece of cheese…but it’s dirty…because the floor is dirty…oh god, I can’t bring a baby into a house with a dirty floor, I need to clean the floor…but I’m tired…and hungry… but I’ve just dropped my cheese!!!!!
- The foolish and unfounded belief that things are about to get better!
In these tougher moments of pregnancy, there is only one thing to do: reassure yourself that you won’t be pregnant for much longer and that you’ll have a lovely baby at the end of it to cuddle and enjoy.
Pity those foolish, optimistic pregnant ladies. Pregnancy is just the warm up. They’ve no idea that the worst is still to come…
If we care about our families, we should care about the migrants desperately crossing the seas to get to Europe.
I remember as a child sometimes looking over at my mum as we watched TV and rolling my eyes as she welled up at a seemingly insignificant family moment in a soap opera or a particularly soppy advert. I remember even a few years ago, on the eve of my wedding, staring bemused as my mum and mum-in-law furiously wiped away tears when Meryl Streep began to brush her daughter’s hair in Mamma Mia. These haphazard, inexplicable and over the top outpourings of emotion baffled me.
I have always prided myself on not being one of those miserable moany mums. The ones who whine at their kids. The ones who loudly and ineffectually warn their children about ‘consequences’ when they clearly don’t have a clue what they’ll do if their kids don’t heed their warnings. The ones who let the petty difficulties of day to day parenting grind them down until they’re reduced to a frustrated groaning mess, crouched on the floor surrounded by wet wipes and swearing about rice cakes. The kind you walk past on a lovely sunny day out in the park and secretly pity for how hard they seem to be finding their day to day duties, as they let out a guttural sigh and desperately try to drag their offspring back from wherever they have run to.
You probably think I sound mean and unsympathetic, but you know the ones I mean. You’ve seen them too and given a half-hearted awkward smile, before swiftly averting your gaze and being secretly smug that your own day seems to be going so much better.
While I accept that parenting is hard work, since I first sat miserably in a group of new mums on maternity leave listening to them gripe and grumble about what they simultaneously claimed was the best thing that ever happened to them, I have always tried hard to look on the positive side of being a mum. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty I dislike about parenting (hence the blog!) but I try really hard to always enjoy being a parent and look on the positive side.
Then we started potty training…
It’s bloody awful! Never has something which is such hard work been so unfulfilling! Months ago I blogged that if something isn’t hard work, it’s not worth doing. By that logic, potty training should be the most rewarding thing you ever do in your life, but so far it’s just a been a roller coaster, except one that only ever goes down and largely makes you feel sick.
It’s not helped by other smug parents who are just desperate to regale you with stories of how well potty training went for them. I reassure myself they must have unconsciously readjusted their memories as they tell me that “it only took a day for us”, that “on the second day in pants we had to wait half an hour in a queue for a coffee and she didn’t mind at all” and that “we only ever had one accident and that was it”. Really? How bloody wonderful for you!
Last week, I was ready to join them. After months of flirtation with the potty, I gave up two whole days of my precious holiday from work to devote to ‘wearing big boy pants’. After one day of no accidents, he’d begun asking to go himself and I thought we’d cracked it. Two days later we had a two hour train journey and, sod Supernanny and all those experts, I did put him back in a nappy – I don’t fancy explaining to the East Anglia staff where that suspicious smell around our seats is coming from. Yet despite breaking the golden rule of toilet training, we returned to the potty and it all went well. It was bloody hard work – constantly running up and down the stairs, never ending wiping, trying to enjoy a nice day out while carrying a ruddy great child toilet seat with you because he’s scared otherwise he’ll fall down the big loo and get flushed away – but it seemed to be working.
Then, complacent with our success, we enjoyed a lovely Easter dinner at the in-laws where, while I finally relaxed with a cuppa and a creme egg, my son promptly urinated all over their floor. We cleared up and, confident his tiny bladder could hold no more, we sat down to read a story. Two minutes later he stood up to reveal a giant wet patch all over their beautiful sofa. All clothes and pants now soaked in wee, we regressed to wearing a nappy and me running every twenty minutes with him to the downstairs loo just in case. So much for a relaxing bank holiday weekend!
Then, just as we were getting back on track, a simple trip to the park ruined me and all my positive intentions. As my son screamed blue murder and refused to sit on the potty (I’d decided not to drag his toilet seat out with us that day), I found myself crouched uncomfortably on my knees, desperately trying not to think about what was seeping into my jeans from the floor. I scrambled around trying to sort him out, hampered by my ever growing pregnancy bump. Not that he cared, as he gleefully pulled all the tissue across the floor and giggled as he began to unlock the toilet door when I finally got round relieving myself.
Grumpy, frustrated and exhausted, I snapped. I turned into that miserable parent, whining at their child about toilet roll on a beautiful Spring day. I had been worn down and he had won – momentarily he, and his potty training antics, turned me into the parent I never wanted to be,
I opened the door and sheepishly shuffled out past a queue of twenty something hipsters, all looking awkward and averting their eyes.
I hate potty training.
Please tell me it will be over soon?
Watching a child grow up can be the most wonderful, exciting and fascinating thing. At each milestone, you stand amazed at whatever new feat they have achieved. Each time they succeed at something new, you feel the love in your heart burn a little stronger and think that nothing can beat this…until, of course, the next time they do something new.