Thursday, 9 March 2017

A letter to my one-year-old

Happy first birthday to my wonderful daughter.  It’s been an emotional week thinking back a year and reflecting on how life has changed, how you have grown and how we have all developed as people.  This time last year it was all about me.  Today, it’s all about you.  For now you have become a person in your own right and I’m so proud to see you learning about the world for yourself and enjoying life with your family and friends.

When I was pregnant with you, and in your early days, I never stopped to imagine life with one-year-old you; it seemed so far off.  The practicalities of the here and now were keeping me busy and I was wrapped up in preparing for and learning how to juggle each day with the sudden addition of a baby.  What equipment did we need, were you a boy or girl, stocking up on essentials, how would it feel giving up work for a year… followed by how do I get you to sleep, when do you need feeding, how will we cope with sleepless nights, how do I know what you need when.  Reading Gina Ford and the Baby Whisperer eagerly to try and learn the ropes and get things right (my bibles in the early days, but it turned out some days a routine just wasn’t going to work, so the books went out the window after a few months of stress and tears and we went more with the flow).

If I had tried to think as far ahead as this day, what I would have imagined would have lacked the colour and depth of life now.  I might have imagined a small human able to crawl, empty cupboards, clap, make some sounds, bang objects together.  But having watched you grow and develop in such amazing ways over the last year you are so much more than a checklist of baby skills.  You are a wriggly, funny little chatterbox with your own personality and little quirks.  You love climbing the stairs and being chased, parading up and down relentlessly with Dexter the push along dog; you put your head to one side to make us laugh and get attention; you hate having your arms touched or being fed.  You love to be independent.  But most of all I could never possibly have imagined quite how much you mean to me.  The thought of you being hurt literally brings tears to my eyes.  I look at you and can’t believe we created you, such a perfect little human.  I feel sorry for the pre-mum me at my oblivion to what I was missing.    

Life before you was all about me, or me and your dad.  Us, and what we wanted to do.  We spent our weekends and holidays exploring the world, sailing, walking, running, off in Aggie the campervan.  It was a happy, exciting, and adventurous time.  Occasionally I miss our carefree life.  Tiring and relentless as it sometimes felt, it was nothing to the 24/7 nature of having a young baby.  There have been times over the past year when I have craved being just me again, rather than the feeding and nappy changing machine who’s life revolves around someone else and has no control over their day.  That has been one of the hardest things to adjust to.  Days are made or broken by naps, and are essentially unpredictable.  When there are chores to do, there is nothing more wearing than a disrupted night followed by a demanding, tired baby who can’t get to sleep, won’t smile and cries whenever you try to do anything for them or with them.  The chores don’t get done, and you feel like a hopeless being that after a whole day at home you still haven’t managed to hoover or go and get some milk.  But these times are fleeting; negative thoughts soften with the little moments of love that are scattered throughout the day.  A little face peeping round the corner to see where I’ve gone, an unexpected smile, a quiet cuddle, a tickle together that holds your attention on the changing mat.

I feel so proud to be your mum when I look at you today.  So proud of the person you are developing into, at how far you have come in the last year.  It’s been a privilege to have a year off work to spend with you, and I couldn’t imagine a happier way to spend my time.  Sorry for all the mistakes I have made, for I know I’ve not been perfect - maybe that’s the downside to being the first child, but we have muddled through together and come up smiling at the end of the blur.  We have been on a steep learning curve together.

Wishing you lots of fun and happy times over the next year, and with lots of love (more than you’ll ever understand - perhaps until you have your own children one day),

Mummy xxx


In which we reflect a little amidst the chaos

It seems to have been one of those particularly eventful weeks in the world of baby mishaps.  The kind that is marked by regular low level events that are just enough to have the adrenaline pumping and cause a little flutter of panic but turn out to not necessitate any further action.  The standard for the week was set with the ingestion of artificial coal from the fireplace and subsequent black face, dungerees and carpet, a finger sweep around the mouth that inevitably led to a full volume expression of significant displeasure from the Little One, and a swift google search of ‘is it dangerous to eat artificial coal?’ (NB, essentially the answer is ‘no’: breathe a sigh of relief and confine said coals to a plastic bag in a cupboard for the foreseeable future). 

Between scrubbing black handprints off the carpets, dealing with projectile poo (the down the leg and up to the shoulder blade variety, a whole new level of messiness in a wriggly crawler compared to what now seems like the manageable stranded turtle position of a newborn), and removing wheetabix from its concreted position on the white walls where the Little One has been practising her newfound skill at throwing, there’s been little chance for reflection.  But indulging in a little reflection is a prerequisite this week, for it marks a year since I started my mat leave.  And somehow that feels like a pretty big landmark.

My first diary entry on mat leave oozes an overwhelming sense of excitement, hopes and aspirations for the year ahead, but I was slightly disappointed to read my acknowledgement that I had no idea of what was coming.  It would have been good for a laugh.  I also did a sarcastic snort when I read that I was finding it difficult to enjoy some days to myself, having vented to my friend only this morning that I NEVER GET TIME TO MYSELF. 

And so, one year on, which realities of maternity leave would I definitely not have predicted?  Well, here is my shortlist:

1)      Naps will rule your year.  A good day is simply defined by naps of appropriate lengths at appropriate times with minimal fuss.  A bad day involves short naps, no naps, crying, walking endlessly around the block.  Naps are a total head fuck: you think you’re getting some time to do those jobs?  You’ve got another thing coming!

2)      You are never more than 30 minutes away from either a nap or a feed.  Once weaned, that 30 minutes is filled with mopping the floor.

3)      You will crave sugar for at least 6 months; coffee and cake will become an essential component of the day, no longer considered a treat.

4)      In hindsight, the first year will have flown by.  But at the same time the days that fill it will often feel like the longest days of your life (and may well literally be).

5)      Poo will become a topic of much fascination.  There is more to say about it than you could possibly imagine.  And you won’t be able to resist the lure of a close examination once weaning is underway to identify which undigested fruit skin has re-presented itself to you this time.

6)      Google will become your night-time best friend for all questions relating to sleep and feeding, both of which you will become obsessed with. 

But for now, without further ado, I’m unashamedly off to indulge in a little more ‘this time last year’ nostalgia.  In hindsight, our last weekend, last night, last meal at home before going to hospital have become very fond memories (less so the birth bit; carefully glossing over those hours).  Maybe it’s knowing what a wonderful time lay ahead for us.  Maybe it’s looking back fondly at a pair of enthusiastic and na├»ve new parents.  For it’s been a rollercoaster for sure (cringe, amongst other things, at the memory of telling my husband it was ok for him as he could ‘swan off to work’ each day), but the deep emotional highs, the bond, the little things day-to-day, are all the bits you really and truly can’t imagine and can only understand by experiencing it.  What a wonderful and fulfilling year it has been, and all thanks to the Little One.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

In which the green stuff prevails

So… I’ve failed miserably at my New Year’s Resolution:  to write one blog post per week.  That was it.  A seemingly realistic goal.  And yet it’s now mid-February and this is the first time I’ve contemplated stringing a written sentence together.  Blog page abandoned.  Twitter and Facebook feeds unloved.  And I’d like to be able to offer a justifiable reason.  But I can’t:  just life, now I am mum.  And blog was the first victim.
Since I last scrawled some words, a fairly standard bunch of family events have been grappled with:  a hand, foot and mouth outbreak, vomiting bug, christening, Christmas, two birthdays.  But after emerging from all things snot this week for the first time since November, I prefer to blame the undertone of green stuff for the productivity reality check.  Overnight, getting through became the aim in life. 
Days on end spent changing snot-stained sheets and perfecting the art of pouncing on green slugs as they head slowly south, about to combine deliciously with the yogurt moustache of a baby who will only contemplate self-feeding; or on a chunk of green crust that flutters in the breeze and tantalisingly disappears with each new breath before it can be caught in a tissue.  The satisfaction experienced at catching either without leaving most of it smeared across a cheek as the head abruptly whips away in a lightening move, is only slightly detracted from by the energetic meltdown that results from the sheer indignity of Mr Snot being removed from his rightful place. 
Nights have been broken by episodes of blood-curdling screams, the kind that have you out of bed in a panic wondering what scene of devastation you are about to enter.  Desperately rocking an unsettled baby at 3am after a dose of calpol and a feed, shivering from the cold and aching all over.  My sense of self-pity is usurped by the ever-present mum guilt:  “you should feel sorry for your baby, not you”; “you can’t even comfort her, what a failure”. 
Two weeks with no other baby contact and it’s no coincidence that we have emerged from the snot haze for the first time in months.  A smiling baby, settled sleeps, good feeds, and excited playtimes have been restored.  Normal life has resumed.  Some days being a parent is the most natural and easiest thing in the world; on many others it’s the hardest.  Being quarantined at home for days on end is miserable.  A germ-filled haze of sneezes, snot, coughing and crying presides, grumpiness rules and any semblance of glamour dissipates.  No smiles, no contact with the outside world, 24/7 isolation.  Fair play to everyone out there who manages to blog and be a mum, it’s a great way to share the gritty bits if you can stick to your new year’s resolution.  Take two commencing!

Monday, 21 November 2016

In which travelling with a sling is a lesson in spatial awareness

On first thoughts, a four-hour train journey didn’t seem a big deal.  After all, I’m a fully-fledged adult with much experience of negotiating the British transport system and indeed many foreign ones too, all without drama and with a 100% success rate of getting to where I need to be without hitch.  But there’s something about doing such a journey with a small person in tow that renders you feeling completely incompetent, and results in you spending hours planning the logistics and dreaming up all sorts of potential pitfalls, disasters and worst-case scenarios, rather like you’re embarking on a mission to the moon.  The worried exchange with my parents as I announced that I was coming back on the train to see them only served to further boost my sense of incompetence at getting from A to B without disaster.  It takes you back to the first time you ventured out of home on your own as a child (like, to your friend’s house two doors down), the relief palpable when you arrive back home from a solo trip into the outside world without incident.

And so it was that the Big Train Journey was meticulously planned; the trending topic in our house for weeks on end.  I opted for the sling, packed exceptionally light (I mean like no spare shoes, a move so drastic and unprecedented that pre-baby I would have laughed in the face of such a ludicrous suggestion), and then proceeded to fill the rest of the suitcase to bulging with the usual baby paraphernalia plus some to cover all said eventualities.  A separate day rucksack avoided the potential for an eruption of pants, nursing pads and nappies over unsuspecting passengers as I opened the pressurised container of an overfull suitcase one-handed to retrieve a clean babygrow after the inevitable poo explosion. 

We set off optimistically to take on the might of the London Underground, the general public at large and negotiate two changes of train.  I was pretty happy to be pushchair free on the underground and able to hop on an escalator rather than stare around blankly for hidden lifts in the middle of a busy concourse, watching everyone else course with ease towards daylight.  All was going swimmingly (apart from the revelation that even the ‘quietest’ baby toys sound hideously loud in a relatively quiet pendolino carriage.  Huge apologies to the lady in front who was escaping from her baby for her first adult weekend away). 

However, it turns out so-called baby-wearing isn’t without its flaws:  rather like when you drive a car twice the size of your usual one, having a baby strapped to your front leads to some significant misjudgements of space.  I appreciated my extra width, for example, a little too late for the man I squeezed in next to on the (stupidly narrow) tube seats, who thought he was being pickpocketed by the incessantly wriggling baby legs kicking him in the thigh.  Similarly, an adjusted centre of gravity and baby legs protruding at right angles make a journey down a train isle to the toilet a full-blown obstacle course, and in my case resulted in a rather too close encounter with a suit trying to do some work on his laptop.  But the biggest challenge comes on arrival at the toilet.  I’m not talking about the big toilets where the door open/closed/locked buttons are at a nerve-inducing distance from where you sit in your most compromised position, but the standard size toilets.  You inevitably end up in far closer quarters with the toilet than ever desired as you squeeze down next to it to enable yourself to shut the concertina door, risk bashing the baby’s head on the sink as you bend to sit down/stand up, and simultaneously bang your elbows on either wall as you attempt to get your trousers back up under the sling and 20lb of sagging baby.  Given these logistics and the inability to see your feet, the pool of water in front of the toilet which would usually be avoided at all costs, just in case it’s the wrong kind of leak, is sadly inescapable.  Lesson learned: coffee consumption can only be on a needs must basis.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Saturday, 5 November 2016

In which Halloween half happens

Growing up, Halloween was a miserable affair.  The front door was locked and the doorbell unanswered.  Halloween was banned: witchcraft was not to be celebrated.  So while friends got hyperactive on the spoils of trick or treating, we sat at home sulking. 

And so you might imagine in my own home I would have a supply of sweets ready for the stream of children pursuing an autumn sugar rush.  Not so.  I confess I have never bought sweets for trick or treaters.  I am whole-heartedly the Boring Adult:  I turn the lights off and pretend not to be in.  I tut at parents who let their children out on the streets to terrorise neighbours and demand sweets from strangers.  (Have they all forgotten the stranger danger campaign?)  

But this year I have sensed change as I transition to the parenting era.  My hard line is softening.  For the first time I got Boring Adult guilt:  with no hiding options available, I resorted to my Emergency Biscuit Supply to avoid facing up to the harsh reality of having nothing for the little witch boy who trick or treated me on my drive.  In reality, I wouldn’t yet go so far as to say this softening is for the sake of the fun of the nation’s children (transition clearly not yet complete), but more in pursuit of my own sugar needs.  As cake currently has the standing of dietary requirement in my life, a maternity leave addiction, there is little I won’t do in the name of cake.  (I am a firm believer that if the day comes that I no longer feel the need for a daily dose, then it’s time to go back to work).  And so for the sake of not missing out on a cake opportunity, I readily abandoned my anti-witchcraft principles for a Halloween afternoon tea party. 

For the very first time I joined in the Halloween fun.  I abused my position of trust and wrestled the Little One into an amusing £6 pumpkin babygrow from Sainsbury’s before duly attending various Halloween-themed baby groups and afternoon tea parties.  In case you’re wondering the cake was great.  And with the precedent for the next 10 years set, you have my word that in the name of not being totally hypocritical I will stock up the cupboards full of sweets for next year’s tribe of trick or treaters.    

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Friday, 28 October 2016

In which Weaning Day arrives and the Little One has other ideas

We carefully sit the Little One in her brand new high chair as the momentous day finally arrives. 
NHS weaning session attended. 
Annabel Cartmel book well-thumbed. 
Baby-led weaning researched. 
Carrot pureed. 
Munchkin spoons washed. 
Vegetable sticks steamed. 
Highchair constructed.
Bib on. 
Baby wipes at the ready.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

In which the little moments count

“How old is she?” (If I had a £1 for every time I’ve been asked that…)

“Seven months now!” (Said with usual tone of exclamation, as if the passing of time is normally an impossibility).

It was a fairly standard opener to any conversation these days. And then dad to one-year-old Millie simply replied “I don’t remember Millie being that age. I suppose I won’t remember her being at this stage soon either.” Nothing like a bit of matter-of-factness. I was reminded of this conversation on