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!”.
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.
My husband has never done Valentine’s gifts or cards. In 7 years together he has stayed ever true to his convictions that it’s all a consumerist, capitalist mugs-game and that if you really love someone you’ll show it when you want to, not when you’re told to. Although I may, on occasion, have been slightly jealous when people posted of surprises they’d received on Facebook, I have always respected his determination to avoid this ‘holiday’ – if only because it means I also don’t have to bother. There has been only one exception.
Last year I asked my Cupid-hating husband for a present on Valentine’s Day – an afternoon home alone. One day, whilst whiling away the hours of my maternity leave singing about the wild adventures of some worthy farm animal and his ever-cheerful friends, it occurred to me that I had never had so much as an hour alone in our house. We had moved in one week after our son had been born and since that moment, whenever I’d been home so had he. I’d had occasional moments away from him – evening classes, book group, nights out, trips to visit friends – but I’d never so much as sat on the sofa or been to the loo in my own home without company.
As it required no involvement in the commercial aspect of Valentine’s Day, my husband agreed and headed off for an afternoon of father-son bonding.
Home alone for the first time in nearly a year, and the first time ever in that house, I revelled in the silence. I lazed on the sofa and read, uninterrupted, for hours. Though at times I missed the burbling and ramblings I’d gotten used to (the baby’s, not my husband’s), it was a chance to be ‘me’ again, the me I’d been before I’d become a mum and lost the right to waste hours of my life on whatever indulgence took my fancy at that moment – be it reading Dostoevsky, watching The OC or simply doing nothing at all! When it came time to go and meet my family, I felt rested, rejuvenated and eager to resume my role as wife and mother, glad of my time in an empty house.
Fast forward over a year and I can barely remember the last time I was home alone. Returning to work largely gave me back that pre-baby identity I’d worried about losing and now that the days of breastfeeding and newborn clinginess are over I can head out to be the ‘old me’ fairly regularly (to be fair to my husband, he holds up his aim to show he cares all year round fairly well by doing more than his fair share of solo evening parenting with barely a grumble). Still, when he suggested taking the boy with him to visit a friend this afternoon, leaving me unexpectedly by myself, a small part of me lit up with selfish glee. I could get ahead with schoolwork, do the ironing that’s been clogging the sofa for two weeks and watch a whole film without worrying about burning or neglecting a child, or sack it all off completely and spend the whole afternoon buried in a book with a constant stream of coffee and biscuits at my side. Bliss!
Except…I can’t quite get used to it. I’ve read, I’ve napped, I’ve watched some trashy TV, but somehow I feel lost.
Maybe it’s because my new glasses haven’t arrived and reading is more tiring than it should be. Maybe it’s because I finished watching Gossip Girl last week and haven’t found a suitably crap America teen drama replacement (suggestions?). Maybe it’s because it’s still a little too cold to sit on the balcony and watch the world go by.
Or maybe it’s because there isn’t an ‘old me’ anymore. And there isn’t a new me. Somewhere along the way the boundaries have blurred and I can’t quite define the mum in me as separate to the non-mum me. Somewhere in the last year I’ve figured it out without ever realising it: returning to work, getting a social life and embracing motherhood have combined without me spotting it.
So I look back to the image of my lazy self, whiling away the hours watching Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice for the fifteenth consecutive time and wonder how the hell I could stand doing so little? And all the time with no one I hitting me in the face with jigsaw pieces or inexplicably piling apples from the fruit bowl in my lap and giggling? How long ago did I buy that ‘Improve your French’ book on which the spine is still unbroken? Probably because I was too hungover to bother opening it most weekends. I think back to those days not with pity, nor regret, nor envy, nor nostalgia, because they’re never coming back, and they’ve never really gone. Like my identity, they’ve subtly woven in with family life. The French book remains untouched; I still wake up hungover on occasions, but these days I get over it pretty bloody quickly or else I’d end up vomiting while changing nappies; and I still have that Pride and Prejudice box set. And, come to think of it, another hour before the boys come back…
Stressed mums cook up to 10 meals a day
So screamed a headline in the Daily Mirror this week. This ‘fact’ was taken from the dubiously entitled ‘Modern Mum Report’ to which, for the record, I can find no other reference from my research (which, ahem, involved typing it into Google).
According to the Mirror, most mums admit to feeling stressed at least five times. Mealtimes are a key cause of this stress as “fusspot tots” dictate the need to prepare a different dish for every family member.
‘What a load of old nonsense!’ I thought smugly. ‘I’m never doing that. Kids should eat what they’re given and be grateful. That’s going to be my strategy.’
Indeed, it already has been. I remember clearly getting dubious looks from my other half when our little one decided he was going to start refusing food at around 9 months.
‘Shouldn’t you give him something else? He’s only a baby’ my husband uttered, typical new-parent concern rife in his voice.
‘No!’ I said confidently, using my practiced teacher-knows-best voice to hide my own fears that I might accidentally starve the baby to death in the course of one mealtime. ‘If he’s really hungry, he’ll eat. He barely even understands the concept that he is a person in his own right. I’m not going to accept that a child who can’t put a spoon in his own mouth is going to dictate that he won’t eat broccoli and will instead survive on a diet of only cheese, toast and apple flavour rice cakes.’ (Seriously, they taste like cardboard. Why do babies love them so much?)
And so I laid down the rules. No ‘fusspot tots’ in my house. I will never be cooking 9 different meals a day like those soft, foolish, namby-pamby mums. I’m in charge here.
There’s only one problem, and it’s the one my mum will be shouting at the screen right now as she reads this…
I was one of those ‘fusspots’. Not as a toddler, but as a pre-teen. Won over by a book on saving the planet somebody had absent-mindedly passed my way, I decided to become vegetarian. So did my brother, but for different reasons and with his own particular set of rules about what he would and wouldn’t eat. Meanwhile my other brother hated vegetables and would only eat meals consisting primarily of chicken.
My poor mother, who loved food of all varieties but had inadvertently given birth to an incredibly stubborn and willful brood when it came to culinary choices, was reduced to two options:
- We would all survive on a diet of only cheese and toast until we finally flew the nest (I don’t think apple flavoured rice cakes had been invented then)
- Accept that we had all thoroughly made our minds up – whether through well-intentioned moral choices or sheer fussiness – and make separate meals.
Fast forward about 20 years and I finally realise what an absolute pain in the backside my decision to become vegetarian must have been.
In my defence, it was not a whim – I am still vegetarian. However, this in many ways is how I now know what a pain it is.
During our ‘courtship’, my other half made it very clear that he loved me unconditionally and wouldn’t change anything about me, except my vegetarianism. For some reason, when he stayed at mine he didn’t think a vegetarian risotto/pasta/chilli/other-form-of-entirely-vegetable-based-meal with a half-burned sausage plonked unceremoniously on the side was the true ideal of the carnivore. I never understood why.
Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for me, once we were married, eating all our meals together and preparing for the arrival of a baby, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps this wasn’t actually the most fair and nutritious of meal plans.
It was at this point in my life that I widened my cookery skills to include the following delights:
– Frying lumps of chicken in a pan and dumping them unceremoniously on top of an otherwise entirely vegetable based meal
– Chopping up bits of chorizo and dumping them unceremoniously on top of an otherwise entirely vegetable based meal
– Frying and chopping up bits of bacon and dumping them unceremoniously on top of an otherwise entirely vegetable based meal
– Stuffing a chicken breast with cream cheese, wrapping it in bacon and putting it in the oven. I consider this a particular treat so it really only comes out when we have visitors, and I am always disappointed when they point out I stole the idea from a Philadelphia advert.
In my eyes, I’m bloody Delia Smith! Except less well put together. Maybe Keith Floyd would be a better comparison – slightly messier and with more wine.
Either way, I consider this a huge step forward, but I’m already dreading the future. At some point, I’ll have to stop relying on the childminder as my son’s main source of iron and protein, and once he’s learned to talk he may even request specific meals. God forbid! It’s not that I’m ‘stressed’, I just can’t be bothered. During pregnancy I genuinely considered abandoning 20 years of vegetarianism just so I could avoid the hassle of cooking different meals once the baby popped out.
In the ‘Modern Mum Report’ I guess they’d class me as an anomaly – causing myself far more culinary hassle than anyone else in the family. Still, just to make things clear, I’d like to finish by passing on a few messages:
- To all the ‘stressed mums’ cooking 9 meals a day: Stop it. Just stop it! It’s ridiculous. Life’s too short. They’ll get hungry eventually. If not, they’re bound to re-commission Supernanny soon.
- To my mum: I’m sorry for being such a pain, but you only have yourself to blame. If you’d just let me grow up to be selfish and with no moral compass, you’d never have had this problem in this first place.
- To my son: Don’t you even think about it!
I am tired. Worn out. Shattered. Eyes drooping, squinting at the TV as if I was drunk, fighting the urge to go to bed at 8.30pm, unable to conduct a sensible conversation exhausted.
Sadly, it’s not the result of a wild night out partying which ended in an ill-advised round of Jaegerbombs, nor is it the product of jet lag from an exciting long haul flight from an exotic holiday.
I’m propped up on the sofa, intermittently nodding off like Tory back-bencher during a debate on human rights because I’m back at work.
Towards the end of maternity leave I realised that I was one of very few women who made an active choice to go back to work full time. Some mothers arrange to return part time or on flexi-time arrangements, others don’t return at all. Then there are those who desperately try to figure out how to avoid it, but simply have to go back full time.
Not me, I chose to.
I’ve now officially been a full-time working mum for one week and two days, and so I feel this makes me an expert and officially able to comment on what it’s like.
It’s true that I am completely exhausted.
It’s also true that the house has fallen into complete disarray: as I type, I am wedged between a Bermuda triangle of half-dried clothes, a basket of clean but un-ironed clothes and an ironing board which is staring at me as if to say ‘stop putting me up in the living room and pretending that means you’ve done something when you haven’t actually ironed anything for over a week!’
Mornings are an emotional mousetrap. If I creep around slowly, I can get ready and out of the house without the boy seeing me, meaning I can leave on time, but with no morning cuddle and feeling like I’ve attached part of my heart to a bungee rope and had to stretch it the entire length of Hackney to reach work before it flings me back across East London at the end of a long, busy day. The alternative is to get the baby up, which is lovely! But I’m not sure how much my husband enjoys being woken up by me shoving an 11 month old child into his arms then running out of the door, hoping he doesn’t cry (the baby, I think my husband’s a little old for that).
Yet for all the downsides (and there are more than I mentioned) being back at work is wonderful.
For one, I’ve remembered that I have a brain. After a year in which roughly 90% of my daytime conversations revolved around some form of feeding (breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, when to stop night feeds, when to introduce solids, purees vs. baby led weaning, is it ok to feed babies citrus fruits, 3 meals a day vs. little and often, what snacks does the baby eat, is it ok to eat chocolate in front of a baby or will they know and turn into some kind of massively obese social outcast just from having once seen a Cadbury’s crème egg, at what point do you just go ‘oh sod it!’ and take them out to McDonalds?!) I can spend my days discussing issues which have nothing to do with babies but everything to do with the things I loved for so many years before I became a mum.
It’s like switching on a light in the cupboard you’d forgotten was there. It might flicker and stutter a bit at first, but once it’s working you remember just how bright the bulb is and just how bloody, wonderfully useful that under stairs cupboard is and why the hell you ever stopped using it in the first place!
For nearly 30 years prior to becoming a mum I lived a happy and fulfilled life, yet for a year I turned my back on some of the things which had previously been my reason for getting up in a morning.
One of the wonderful things about being a parent is that it totally refocuses your priorities. For example, it no longer feels so important to colour-code the entire of my work diary that I need to stay in my classroom until 7 o’clock at night to do it. I’m also ever so slightly less OCD about ensuring every piece of paper is in exactly the right place on my desk before I leave at the end of the day – what does it matter when anything you take home will inevitably end up covered in Weetabix anyway?
Still, it’s nice to remember that there are other things in my life which are priorities. Like the joy of finishing a full day of work and feeling I’ve really achieved something. Like sitting down to dinner and saying “I had a really interesting conversation with so-and-so at work today” or “I’ve had this brilliant idea about how to teach creative writing by looking at online blogs” (wonder where that idea came from…) rather than “Well, I did two loads of washing today and we sang that song about the monkeys and the crocodile at playgroup”. It seems to me it’s much easier to keep a marriage on an equal footing when you both have something interesting to contribute, rather than one person sitting as the sounding board for their partner who’s been out in the ‘real world’ before getting a cursory pat on the head as congratulations for mopping the floor, like a dog desperately looking for praise after successfully fetching a stick while it’s owner spent the time it was gone looking for a cure for cancer.
And it’s not just our marriage which has benefited. It’s the whole of family life. Rather than spending breakfast time manically searching for playgroups to fill the day and thinking of ways to fill the two long hours between afternoon snack and Daddy coming home for tea-time, now I cherish every second at home. There is no brighter moment in my life than the twenty minutes between tea and bath-time when the three of us crawl under the duvet to read ‘That’s Not My Monkey’ or some other literary masterpiece.
I’m not saying being a working mum is for everyone. If you enjoy being at home all day and find it fulfilling then good for you. It’s just not for me.
Oh, and one final point. By some miracle of bodily timings, I haven’t had to change a poo-filled nappy all week. That’s right, not one in a whole week.
Working mum 1 – Stay at home mum 0
As my last blog post was all about the things I hate, I thought I should redress the balance and show that I have discovered people I love since becoming a mum. (Sorry if that means it’s a bit soppy and boring. I’ll get back to being angry and cynical next time, I promise!)
1. Our Cockney Neighbours
I love London: the lifestyle, the parks, the museums, the markets, the culture, the transport (yes, the transport – I can’t drive so a sprawling tube and bus network really appeals to me, no matter how hot and sweaty), but most of all the diversity. I love that despite being too lazy and disorganised to have actually gone travelling, I have still managed to meet and befriend people from all over the world.
Still, it was always a bit disappointing to move to the East End of London and never meet anyone remotely like the people in Eastenders. Why isn’t there a podgy ginger man selling fruit and veg at the end of my road? Where is the local pub run by Shane Richie and a busty woman in a too-small leopard print corset? And despite all the shouting outside my house throughout the day and night (seriously, shut up occasionally!), why have I never heard anyone scream ‘Rickaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay?!
It’s very disappointing.
Thankfully, our short-sightedness meant we decided that one week after having a baby would be a really good time to move to a new place. On the second floor. With no lift.
Continuing our laissez-faire attitude to organisation, it took us a further two months to discover we actually owned an out-house/shed in which we could leave the pram without having to bump it up the stairs everyday like a scene from the tenements in Call the Midwife.
Now my daily trip down to get the buggy also means a daily catch up with our downstairs neighbours who, you guessed it, are bona fide cockneys! They seem to spend their retirement standing in the garden smoking, waiting for me to come and collect the pram so they can shout “Oooh, ‘ello li-ool Jowjeeee. Ain’t you growwwn?! Jooowje! Joowjiiiie! Aaaaaaah”
They constantly tell me how cute he is, they always take the time to stop and chat, often emerging from their houses as soon as they hear the key in the shed lock far quicker than their walking sticks suggest they should be able to. They buy us chocolate and other completely impractical but lovely presents for a baby and, most importantly, while they don’t get through quite as many fags as Dot Cotton, they are at least real East-enders.
2. The cast of ‘Cold Feet’
Every modern parent knows that a good box set is the key to sanity in the early days: regular Saturday nights down the pub are a thing of the past and prime time reality TV is well past its best.
When our son was born we invested in a huge number of box sets.
We quickly decided that, while brilliant, Breaking Bad is not good, relaxing viewing after a long hard day with a baby. So instead we moved to that 90s classic ‘Cold Feet’. I remembered really enjoying it the first time round: a group of fun, trendy, slightly sarcastic 20-30 somethings muddling through life. It was like a calmer, less canned-laughter based, British version of Friends, right?
Unfortunately, while it’s still great, on second watching you realise it’s actually quite depressing and now a little too close to home. Pete and Jenny going slightly mad from lack of sleep when they have a baby? Yep, that was us. Adam and Rachel arguing about the baby sleeping in their bed? Been there, done that. When Karen moans about spending her afternoons with a bunch of Stepford Mums discussing boobs and breastpumps? I am with you Karen, all the way, I am with you.
Over the months I have come to love the cast of Cold Feet as if they were my own friends. We’ve been through the same dramas and felt the same pain. The only place we differ is on the infidelity front, thankfully.
Unfortunately, where Breaking Bad led to ridiculous, far-fetched dreams about running away from murderers and accidentally finding myself dealing drugs from my classroom, Cold Feet has led to more than one “you dream-cheated on me!” conversation over breakfast.
3. Caitlin Moran
I love Caitlin Moran. Seriously, I love her.
‘How to be a Woman’ is one of the best books I have ever read and it 100% saved my sanity this year.
Have you read it? No? Then stop reading this now and go read that instead. Seriously, it’s much better.
4. The NHS
It’s very fashionable to hate the NHS, and even more fashionable to say how much you love the NHS, and then list everything that is wrong with it.
I however love the NHS. No ifs, no buts. I think it’s brilliant.
When politicians come to power – once they’ve had long meetings with their PR advisors on how to hide their skeletons so far at the back of the closet they’re practically in Narnia – they start to think about how to make their mark. It’s always the same: education and health. These are the two things everyone has a stake in, so these are inevitably the two things they start meddling in.
The problem is, before you can start ‘fixing’ things, you have to figure out what’s broken, and point it out in great depth. So our politicians, supported by the media, have set about persuading us that the NHS is a great big mess!
Waiting times, unreasonable targets, missed targets, infections, infection control, staff shortages, rude and unhelpful staff, not to mention the hundreds of pointless ‘back office’ staff who are clearly paid to do literally nothing but sit around moving sheets of paper back and forth across a desk.
I realise all these things are probably real issues (except the ‘back office’ thing – I have no problem with that, in fact I’d rather have some admin assistants than have someone who spent 10+ years training as a surgeon spending valuable time screaming at a laptop when he can’t quite sort out the mail merge to tell everyone the office address has changed!) but seriously, stop moaning! We have free health care! FREE!
As parents, we should be especially grateful: free scans during pregnancy (including a free photo with which you can annoy all your friends!), regular midwife checkups, free ante-natal classes so you know what to expect, a choice of where to give birth, a choice of how to give birth, a choice of pain relief. Sometimes the worst happens and all these choices are taken out of your hands – as they were for us, but from the moment it was clear things weren’t working out to the moment when my baby boy was placed safely in my arms was less than 30 minutes. 30 minutes when at least 9 different professionals (that’s what I counted in my drug induced haze) provided the best of modern medicine to get that baby out safe. And they did.
You can’t really say fairer than that.
5. My son
I’ve realised I’ve not included my husband in this and, as he generally proof reads my blogs, I should at least give him a mention! There’s a great episode in series 5 of ‘Cold Feet’ (yes, I really am a bit obsessed) where Adam starts to feel he’s been replaced by the baby: it gets all the attention, sleeps in their bed, is always the first one to get a kiss in the morning and gets praise simply for existing. I imagine all partners feel like this at times, and I’ve definitely been guilty of neglect. So just in case he does read this, I should make it clear that I haven’t included my husband because I haven’t learned to love him, I’ve always loved him, and now we’re parents it’s that little bit easier to remember why.
Having a child changes your outlook on the world completely. That first moment you hold your little one, you are transformed. You feel you could almost explode with love. It courses through your veins and beams out through every pore like lava oozing from a volcano before a sudden violent eruption (I’m worried that may read more like a horrific metaphor for the physical act of giving birth rather than a lovely warm metaphor for a mother’s love, but it’s nearly 11pm, I’m tired and can’t think of anything else so it’s staying in!).
Sadly, that feeling isn’t quite as all encompassing as it first seems. While my capacity for love has increased incredibly, so has my capacity to hate. Since the day I found out I was pregnant I have discovered whole swathes of people and organizations of whom I was previously unaware but who I would now cheerfully throw down to the bottom of a volcano with barely a second thought.
Here are just a few…
…and anyone else who tried to congratulate me on procreating by giving me ‘free’ stuff. From the moment I stared in disbelief at a stick with some lines on it, organisations were climbing over each other to shower me with gifts. How lovely! Except it isn’t. Excuse me if I sound ungrateful, but I’m not sure a couple of free nappies and a sample of fabric softener really prepared me for the realities of motherhood, and it certainly wasn’t worth the months of being bombarded by emails, mail shots and very persistent cold callers trying to make me change energy suppliers. Nor the rather brazen woman who wandered into my miserably lonely cubicle on the post-natal ward when I was desperately trying to soothe a crying baby and asked if I wanted to sign up for a professional photography session. No I bloody well do not, I’m busy trying to cram a sensitive part of my sore, sewn up, sleep deprived body into the mouth of a tiny, screaming monster. Now bugger off!
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you may find this recent Guardian article interesting: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2013/apr/28/alice-roberts-pregnancy-bounty-nhs
2. People who take lifts when they don’t need to
The Olympics and Paralympics were amazing. They showcased some amazing sporting talents, they inspired ordinary people to try new things and they brought our nation together. On a more selfish note, they also meant that the area near the Olympic Park (where I happen to live) was made much more accessible with lifts everywhere. It was the best legacy it could give me as a new mum: not having to constantly lug a buggy up and down stairs just to get around. Make no mistake though, as soon as my son is walking, we will be back to using the stairs. Lifts are useful, but annoying: slow, clunky and claustrophobic. I will never understand – when I am hanging around waiting for the lift to come down and collect me, while I stare longingly at the stairs and escalators which taunt me with their simple speed and availability, while I watch other people easily run up and jump on the train which I will probably now miss by the narrowest of margins – why there is always someone who insists on taking the lift when they don’t need to. I know you can’t always tell who can and can’t use stairs, but if you can run to the lift, athletically shove out your hand to heave open the closing doors and then squeeze your way in between two buggies, I reckon you could have at least managed to stand on the escalators.
3. People who stand in the wheelchair/buggy area of the bus when there are seats available
Seriously, I would love to sit down. LOVE it! There are loads of seats available so why have you chosen to stand in the only place I can possibly go? And why do you look so annoyed when I ask you to move? Enough said.
4. People who compare your child to their cat
I had far too many variations on the following conversation during the first few months of being a mum.
THEM: So how are you and the little one?
ME: Good thanks (I don’t know. I’m not sure I can remember my own name. Do I know you?)
THEM: That’s good. You’re not too tired?
ME: Well, I am pretty knackered. He’s been waking up every two hours the past couple of nights. Plus I have to rock him back to sleep so my back’s really sore. (I’m so tired and I’m in agony. Please kill me.)
THEM: That must be hard.
ME: Yeah, it’s so tiring, but I’m sure it’s just a phase (Seriously, kill me now. It’s the kindest thing to do)
THEM: Yeah. I know just how you feel. My cat is wearing me out. He woke me up at 5.30 this morning jumping on my bed. I’m so exhausted!
ME: Really? (Actually, maybe I’ll just kill you instead)
5. Strangers who ask if you’re breastfeeding/if baby is sleeping through the night.
One of the best things about becoming a mum was it made me part of a community. For years, as a Northerner in London, I’d been laboring under the common assumption that Southerners were just not that friendly. It was all heads down, power through, never look anyone in the eye and never, ever talk to a stranger on the tube.
All that changes when you have a baby. Suddenly everyone is your friend: the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery knows your name, you get to know half your neighbours through the children’s centres, and complete strangers stop you in the street to tell you how cute your baby is. It’s genuinely lovely.
What’s not lovely is that social norms flip so much that people feel they can ask you incredibly personal questions like “So are you breastfeeding? Is it going well?” – erm, yes strange old man in the street, would you like a rundown of exactly how many times a day I have to get my boobs out? – or “is he sleeping through the night yet?” – no of course he’s bloody not, he’s 8 weeks old, but thanks for making me feel like a completely inadequate parent by implying that he should be and getting my hopes up that maybe he will when in fact I have many more sleep deprived months to go. Seriously, I don’t know you. Mind your own business!
If cleanliness really is next to Godliness, my family are stuck permanently in purgatory.
While we are a long way from the horrors of student days – when my husband tells me a girl was once sent screaming from his flat after noticing a distinct rustling in the pile of takeaway boxes which had become a permanent fixture next to their kitchen bin – I’m hardly a domestic goddess. If you were to turn up at my house uninvited, or even invited, you’re far more likely to be greeted by a mound of un-ironed shirts and half-read newspapers than a freshly brewed pot of tea and a slice of homemade cake.
I am not a domesticated person. I eat cake, I don’t bake it. I buy clothes, I don’t iron them. I can cope with cooking up and – more importantly – eating a family meal, but don’t expect me to wash up as well. That’s just ridiculous.
I hate housework; I hate it.
Housework is a necessary but mind-numbingly boring evil. A task approached with begrudging acceptance and minimal satisfaction on completion.
Sadly, housework when you have a baby moves from an occasional inconvenience to an eternal occupation: cleaning and sterilising bottles; washing dirty clothes; picking up half-eaten food from the floor; scrubbing baby sick off the sofa; picking up half-eaten food off the floor; washing more dirty clothes; drenching every surface with anti-bacterial spray when someone who visited turns out to have a stomach bug; picking more half-eaten food off the floor; putting away toys; hanging out washing; ironing; picking up yet more half-eaten food off the floor then sweeping and mopping it before collapsing, exhausted and miserable in front of ‘Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, ‘The Great British Bake Off’, ‘Great British Sewing Bee’ or some other prime time reality show designed to highlight how crap you are as a homemaker compared to these inane, grinning buffoons, who periodically fawn over a particularly well-constructed cross-stitch or sobb over a rogue macaroon which isn’t quite the same shape and size as the rest. Oh for God’s sake, grow up and get a real life!
I hate housework and homemaking; I hate it!
King Sisyphus angered the gods through his trickery and deceit, and so was condemned to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a hill, only to see it fall straight back down and have to start again. In the first few years of our courtship, I lied continuously and pretended to be interested in my husband’s crappy football team. Perhaps that deceit is why I seem to have been sentenced to a lifetime of mopping the kitchen floor, only to slip on a sludgy piece of brown banana ten minutes after I finish and start all over again.
I really hate housework; I HATE IT!
Throughout my pregnancy, there was a constant stream of doomsayers, desperate to tell me how shit my life would be once I became a mum. Gems such as “Ooh, enjoy sleep while you can. You won’t get much once the baby arrives!” or young single people gloating “We won’t see you down the pub again soon” or women who already have a brood of children taking pleasure in telling me, in detail, all the ways in which my body would fall apart and begin to resemble that of an ogre after the ‘joys of childbirth’. But no one told me that I’d be perpetually chained to the kitchen sink and essentially have to superglue marigolds to my hands just to get through the day.
My biggest concern when going off on maternity leave was that I’d be bored away from work. “Oh you won’t have time to be bored” chimed the doomsayers. Well, they were half right. I don’t have time, but forgive me if I don’t find dusting that stimulating.
I hate housework; I REALLY HATE IT!
Like most people, as a child I went through numerous phases of wanting to be all sorts of things: a lawyer, an actress, an astronomer, a singer, a fashion journalist – once in middle school I even did an art project about wanting to be a dentist! I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, but I always wanted to work and, to quote the great feminist thinker Beyonce, I wanted to be an ‘independent woman’.
I have always worked, ever since I got a part time job at the age of 15. For most of the time my husband and I have been together, I have been the greater earner (not by much, but still!). The idea of being at home and being reliant on someone else, of having to go cap in hand to ask for cash to go shopping whilst on maternity leave was galling. It’s something I’ve never gotten used to. Many people would say I’m doing a valuable job by staying at home to raise our son, and I’m sure that’s true. But when raising him on some days consists of going to some cutesy named playgroup to sing nursery rhymes, then round to a friend’s for lunch and a coffee, I do feel a bit guilty. So I feel it’s only fair that I take on the lion’s share of the housework. The problem being, just in case you’ve missed it, I HATE HOUSEWORK. I HATE IT!
So, in two weeks, I’m heading back to work. Full time. I thought this was the norm but chatting at the local children’s centre tells me this often isn’t so. Everyone else is sorting out flexible working arrangements, cutting down their hours or giving up altogether. It’ll definitely be hard to leave the little one, but, oh to engage my brain again! To talk about something other than nappies and weaning. But most of all, to escape the housework: the wiping, the mopping, the sweeping. What’s that you say? It’ll still be there to do when I get home? No it won’t. I’m getting a cleaner! Yes, sod the expense – I’ll dye my hair at home and we’ll eat more beans on toast. Sod the middle class guilt – I’ll get over it when I see how shiny the sink is. Sod what other people think – it’s money well spent if I can pick the baby up from the childminder and head down to the park rather than picking up the duster and heading to the living room furniture.
So take that Sisyphus. If only you’d thought to hire help and sneak off back to work, perhaps eternity wouldn’t have seemed so torturous.
Sometimes, I’m a bad mum.
Sometimes, when I’m really tired and just can’t face singing any more songs about farmyard animals or cleaning the kitchen floor for the fifth time today, I sit my son in a washing basket with a few toys, make myself a coffee and watch TV. Aaah TV, the monster in our living rooms: ruining our children’s eyesight with increasingly large screens; destroying our collective imaginations with mind-numbingly stupid programmes; and turning the next generation into a mass of unthinking consumer robots. I love it!
In a letter to the Telegraph last week, the organisation ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ pleaded with the government to introduce greater restrictions on advertising aimed at young aged children, warning that we are in danger of turning out “young consumers rather than young citizens”. They claim that advertisers target children specifically so that they use “pester power” to get their parents to buy them things.
Of course advertisers target children. They are impressionable, they like what they’re told to like and they’re desperate to fit in. They haven’t yet got the strength to see the difference between what they want and what is good for them. Just like when they turn their noses up at a nutritious dinner of chicken and broccoli pasta and instead decide they want to eat nothing but custard creams. But you don’t smile and hold out the biscuit tin (and if you do, call Supernanny now!) because you know it’s not good for them.
Just as we, the parents, are in charge of making sure they don’t overdose on sugar before they reach their third birthday, it is our responsibility to stand up to the little brats and say no when they throw a tantrum and demand the latest little Bratz doll (a terrifying anti-feminist nightmare of a toy which I can only assume has been inspired by a toy-maker’s personal love of drag queens). Sure they might scream and cry and throw all their other toys out of the pram, but we’re strong enough to cope with that.
Oh wait, no, apparently we’re not. Because, wherever you go, you see screaming children getting exactly what they want, and then demanding more as a result. And it’s our fault. We’re the ones turning them into “little-consumers”, because from the moment they’re born we teach them that people show love by buying you things.
After reading the letter in the Telegraph, I got to thinking about the things children “pester” us to buy. I headed off to the toy store to do some research, intending to write about how ridiculous children’s toys are, how extortionate the price tags and how stupid parents are to give in.
As I wandered around, I marvelled at the idea that any parent would even consider spending £35 on this nightmare-inducing giant bee…
I winced at the thought of a well-meaning relative spending £33 on a ‘Sophie la Giraffe’ gift case, which essentially contained a blanket and a squeaky dog toy presented a fancy cardboard box (and yes, I am a hypocrite because we do have a ‘Sophie’ and it is well used, but I still maintain that it really belongs in a pet shop)…
And I recoiled when I noticed how much my son seemed to like these hideous, googly-eyed monsters, which I wouldn’t dare take home for fear of spilling water on them or accidentally leaving the biscuit packet out after midnight…
I walked around the store characteristically sceptical, sneering at the ridiculous way in which we desperately try to prove our love by turning the simplest of pleasures into a consumerist activity.
Instead of happily talking through the old family album with your kids, record a message on Tomy’s ‘Forget Me Not Photo Album’ and you’ll save yourself the trouble of ever having to talk to your children about their Nan again.
Rather than expend the hugely difficult effort of breathing on a small plastic stick costing 50p to create bubbles, you could invest in the “Bubbleator”, currently on sale at only £25 for 2!
Yes, I sneered at this nonsense, and then berated myself for falling for it all. For as I walked around the store, my son challenged my scepticism by loving all the things I hated. He actually cried when I took away the evil gremlin toy. Cried! But then he stopped crying ten seconds later when I waved something else in his face, then cried when I took that away. This pattern repeated itself as we mooched around the store for over an hour, clearly proving that he didn’t really love these toys, he just got excited by anything new.
Yet it took all my mental and emotional strength to walk out of that store without spending any money.
At the moment, my son loves nothing more than to hit a spoon on the tray of his highchair. Literally hours of entertainment. It’s prompted at least 3 people to say, “Ooh, shall I get him a drum kit for his birthday?” to which I respond, “Why?” He doesn’t need a drum kit. He’s made his own, which will never get boring like the toys in the shop did, because as soon as it does, I can just give him a different spoon or tray. The possibilities are endless! Why waste your money on buying him something which he can imagine and create himself?
Still, I know that on his next birthday we’ll be bombarded by drum kits, electronic gismos and all sorts of other lovely but inevitably short-lived presents. Because that’s what you do. Even when the children are too young to ‘pester’ us for what they want, the consumer culture is so ingrained in adults we can’t help but go out and buy loads of stuff for them anyway.
So maybe ‘Leave Our Kids Alone’ is right. Maybe we should be fighting harder against the insidious influence of the advertising industry. Maybe we should be exercising more control over what our kids are exposed to. And maybe, occasionally, we should just leave our kids alone – preferably with a wooden spoon, a biscuit tin lid and sitting in a washing basket…
by A.A. Milne
John had a
John had a
Baby clothes, in my opinion, should conform to two key principles:
- Keep the baby warm and dry
- Be easy to get off and clean when they inevitably end up covered in a substance seemingly more adhesive than superglue and so foul-smelling David Bowie should confine it to the Bog of Eternal Stench (That’s a Labyrinth reference. If you didn’t get it, you clearly didn’t grow up in the 80s)
However we all know that children’s clothes, like adult clothes, can often be more to us than simply functional items. They are an outward message to the world: ‘This is who I am’. They can tell you more about a person than a thousand Facebook updates.
And while babies can’t access social media, their clothes too can be more than just a simple cover up. They can be fun; they give the people who choose them endless joy; and while babies can only show limited aspects of their personality, what they wear can tell us endless amounts about their parents.
So what on earth am I to conclude about parents who choose to dress their child in this monstrosity…
Where Facebook has failed, Mylene Klass and Mothercare have stepped in, at last allowing babies to truly express themselves by making a “fashion statement!”
On a run-of-the mill shopping trip in Mothercare this week I happened upon this dress, so brash I would only have expected it to appear on Bette Lynch in Coronation Street circa 1988; a full leopard print party dress with frills and a ‘heart cut out back’ available for girls as young as 6 months. Well, while the style may not exactly be practical for a baby learning to crawl, the garish pattern may well help to disguise the results of a leaking nappy!
If the dress alone is not enough for you, you can accessorise (yes, apparently babies should accessorise) with matching leopard print socks and headband! I immediately snapped a picture and sent it to a friend who was in hospital having just given birth to a baby girl.
“Do you want me to pick this up for the new arrival?” I offered.
“Only if it comes with matching stilettos” she swiftly responded.
Sadly, Baby K at Mothercare hasn’t quite reached that stage yet. No imagination that place. Though if they ever get sight of this post, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found them as a new addition on my next shopping trip. I’ll take a cut of the profits – but for god’s sake don’t put my name on it.
Why are people so desperate for their children to grow up? Why dress them like mini-adults rather than just accepting that babies are babies. Even if we are going to a party – which Mothercare assures us this dress is “perfect” for and “sure to turn heads” – does anyone there really expect the babies to abandon practicality the way we do in order to look stylish? And do we really expect toddlers to make a “fashion statement”?
Dressing babies like mini-adults is nonsensical for so many reasons.
Firstly, the cost.
Last year, Marks and Spencer released the results of a survey (albeit one designed to support and promote their ‘Shwopping’ scheme, but it’s in a good cause so we’ll let them off) which revealed that the average under one year old owned 56 different outfits, totalling an average of £327. Now, unless you are willing to spend your life chained to the washing machine, you do need a significant amount of clothes as by the end of the day at least one set will be ruined by dribble/milk/sick/food/urine/poo or a mixture of all these things. But, for these same reasons, only a moron would invest in loads of clothes, or expensive ones.
A quick internet search for ‘designer baby clothes’ (a ridiculous phrase in itself), reveals some outrageously unsuitable options:
– If you feel three matching leopard print items just isn’t enough, you could always invest in some matching Ugg Boots. That’s right, for the bargain price of £45 you could equip your not-yet-walking child with boots which restrict her ankles and render her unable to move, making it much easier for you to sit on the computer searching for yet more inappropriate baby clothes.
– You could invest in beautiful striped Tommy Hilfiger babygrow for roughly the same price. If your little one is going to ruin an outfit with explosions from his backside which could rival Vesuvius for their force, let them at least do it in style!
– Or if you’re looking to splash out that little bit more, how about £101 for a fruity themed dress. Let’s skip past the frankly ludicrous cost and worry instead about the idea of labelling your young child “fresh and juicy”
Which brings me to my other point: if we do insist on dressing up little girls (there are a few mini-adult boys outfits, but nowhere near as many), must we force them into stereotypical, almost sexualised outfits? Mention leopard print to most people today and the majority will think of Kat Moon, the busty bawdy barmaid from EastEnders – hardly the ideal role model for a child so young they wouldn’t even recognise Ian Beale if he delivered fish and chips to their house in person. I don’t particularly want a brassy, saucy toddler – and I certainly don’t want Shane Richie for a son-in-law.
I guess I can’t totally rail against the idea of dressing up babies like dolls. On the same shopping trip I discovered the animal print nightmare, I bought this…
Ok, I’ll justify it. As is so beautifully illustrated by AA Milne’s ‘Happiness’, a child’s clothes should be first practical and second allow them to enjoy the fact that they are actually a child. The bumblebee outfit is very soft and comfortable and I challenge you to find me any child who isn’t unfeasibly amused by an adult blowing raspberries and whispering “BUZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ” into their ears.
And anyway, he’s my bloody son and I’ll dress him how I want. Who the hell do you think you are to tell me otherwise?