Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Sighing, I prepare to text yet another friend to tell her that I can't make a night out.
"Sorry" I say, "but I've got no childcare."
Sound familiar? It didn't used to.

God, how I used to grit my teeth as those apologetic, hurried texts from friends with children came pinging in, delaying brunches, days out, nights out, lunches, because the kids were ill, or they couldn't get a sitter, or the sitter had let them down. It all sounded rather dull. Well, now it's my turn.

Just as dull, it turns out, as it can be to sit on your own after a day with a toddler whose new favourite word is "no" with only Coronation Street and an M&S ready meal to look forward to.

Because one thing I am finding out in this still relatively new world of child rearing, is that one way (or, indeed, the only way) to get a night out is for you and your husband/partner/whatever to take it in turns, like hurried harried people in a weather house. One in, one out.

Gone are the hours of feeling giddy in the lead up to a big night out, scouring town for something new to wear, making hair and nail appointments and having hours to look and feel like the belle of the ball. There's a ticking time bomb toddler sitting in the pram, and time is allocated into chunks. Their boredom threshold is as low as your blood pressure is high as you hurry hurry hurry, and try to beat the clock.

I can now get ready in well under an hour: quick shower, grab a dress, accessorise with an enormous pair of internal-organ crushing pants, pull dress over head, and I'm ready. I was surprised to discover at the last night out I went on (after Middle East style negotiations over calendars) that I don't even think to bother with make-up any more; not that anyone's going to be looking at the 37 year old with hair badly in need of a cut and colour in a sea of taut-skinned, Lipsy dress wearing twenty-somethings.

The realisation is dawning: like my hair, I just don't cut it any more on a night out. I feel slightly invisible,much the way I sometimes do as I push my buggy, avoiding people and obstacles, pattering through town in flat shoes and a sensible coat, brandishing muslin cloths, snacks and drinks like weapons. Some days, despite my love of brightly coloured clothes and shoes , I feel like the world has passed me by. I've dissolved like a tissue in the rain, edged blurred, fraying.

"Sorry" I say to people barging through the front doors of shops which I have a perfect right to go through as well. I've even apologized to racks of clothes. Possibly even mirrors.

Don't get me wrong, I don't feel sorry for myself. What I am writing about is a feeling, an experience, a tiny bite of regret (like the taste of a bitter lemon) that my old life has slipped away. It went quietly, it left the room without me noticing, like a dress slipping from a hanger that is crowded between others in my wardrobe. Sometimes, it still whispers to me, beckoning in my mind like a glamorous ghost.

So, I wear it, this new cloak, of motherhood, and I still feel some days, like I am trying it for size.
I don't have a better life, I have a different life. I have a love I have never known for my daughter, so large it could fill a reservoir, so powerful I feel it's force could send whole armies into battle. A strength of which I am proud. I feel the same but different. If I'd read this blog before I was a parent I'd have rolled my eyes and laughed. Stupid cow, writing about the fact she feels a bit left out.

Milestones now are not mine. Heady nights out and spontaneous meetings with friends are few and far between.

There are new ones though. New words, new skills. Laughter and wonder as for the first time my daughter discovers sand, soil, friends, water, toys, puzzles, bath times, people and me. "Kiss my owie better, mummy" she says, holding aloft a plump finger nipped by a clothes peg. She doesn't want anyone else for that.

And then it makes makes sense, because to her I am complete, I am whole, and it is enough. In fact, it is everything.

I think my cloak just got a little bit more comfortable. But sometimes, the old outfits still need a night out.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Great Expectation of fitting it all in

"Rab Rab" says my daughter. "Rab Rab."

I rack my brains in silent desperation, wondering what has happened to the bug eyed, dirty plush toy with the weird expression. We're late, of course. And Rab Rab is missing.

Where is it? Under the cot? In the washing machine? Drowning in the loo? Hibernating in the coal scuttle? Lost forever in the wilderness of town? I hope not, because if it's option six, we're realLy in trouble.

The enquiry from my frowning daughter has now become a menacing growl. "Raaaab Raaaaab" hisses baby J, now, I suppose, toddler J really. 

Never mind the whereabouts of Rab Rab, (or Adi, which is actually Hello Kitty, another firm favourite) i don't know where the time's gone, let alone anything else. Between watching the clock and racking my brains about what to cook for dinner, I am breathless with wonder at my daughter. There are milestones which make you smile. The mashed potato, pushed into a hungry mouth with pudgy fingers, eyes twinkling as she masters cutlery. The words which have become mangled, so that mamp is milk, an orange is an apple and an apple....just is. The world is wonderful, the smile trusting, arms and heart open wide.

Since my return to work in February (which,,of course was fine, and I got to drink a whole cup of tea while it was still hot), despite the occasional longing to leave work just to smell Baby J's head, I seem to spend a lot of time running to stay still, as every mum, on the treadmill on the road to nowhere knows. I used to listen to colleagues who were mums wondering how they did it. Now I know. They're juggling. Spinning plates. 

Lunchtimes are spent speed walking through town, buying nappies and food. There is a permanent list of to do items on my iPhone notepad. The car (a sensible estate with the buggy clattering in the boot) always seems to need diesel. It is full of crisp packets, my staple diet some days. 

And the clock ticks on. Ticking so fast in fact, that I have not blogged for nearly a year. I lunge from home to work to home. From mum to colleague to mum. The transition is daily, this multiple shedding of skins, but nearly 12 months in, I'm not used to it yet. You know how it is. You love them, you adore them,,you can't explain the depth of your feelings for're juggling all the time, and it's hard. Some days, it's just hard. I want more time. But like everyone who does this, I find a way to fit it all in. I just juggle. And smile. 

Will I ever get used to this duality? I don't know. After nearly a year at work, I'm still amazed that I can get to work looking human, while, all the time, mind racing ahead to the lunch time tasks, the next deadline, the traffic, the pick up, the expectation. The transition, always the transition. I daren't stop for long. 

But the golden moments, like pure drops of water on a hot day, are enough to refresh the most tired of souls. Those come when my beautiful daughter, so precious in sleep, stirs as I sneak in to watch over her.

"Mama?" Says the voice from the cot, claiming my heart, and thoughts of tomorrow's deadlines fade away.

 "Mama here." I reply. "Mama always here."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The treadmill with no gym - back to work and the ticking clock

I'm surprised all mums aren't size zero, competing for the last pair of skinny leg tapered trousers in the Benetton sale. I mean, it's not like you have any time to sit down, is it?

This was my thought as I smashed an Easter egg to pieces on the passenger seat of my car (late lunch) as I made my daily commute to pick up my daughter. Just for reference , you can change gear quite easily holding a piece of Easter egg as it is nice and curved.

So, here's the thing. I haven't been to the gym for months, so why am I on a treadmill? Sure, it's one filled with oodles of love for that sumptuous baby, but boy, at items it feels uphill.

I just need more time. I live in a world of bulging Boots shopping bags, Ella's Kitchen pouches, stained Muslins, damp washing, Calpol and ticking clocks. Mysterious objects collect in my car. Lunch hours pass in a blur as I trot through town in flat shoes, trying to remember what is on The List. My mind races to keep up with my feet. Time has become my enemy; there's just not enough of it. It drips through my hands, hides behind my back, runs ahead of me and sneaks sideways.

The to do list (alongside all that love, and trying to snatch memories of that babyhood slowly slipping away as Baby J wobbles against furniture) is my new elephant in the room. It's replaced the back to work elephant, which disappeared as soon as I logged onto my computer and sat down at my desk. Work, ladies, if you're dreading going back, is something of a release and a blessing. You get to talk to people and have a hot cup of tea. You can write whole communication plans without a chubby hand pulling at your leg. You do not trip over Lego, straighten toys, fold washing, push a pram or change sheets.

And yet, every so often, as I suspected before The Return To Work, I feel a pang so deep that my immediate wish -  no - desire - is to breathe in the scent of my daughter's head, wrap her squishy body in my arms and sing her my nonsense song about her being the mango mango baby, which makes her smile. I want to make her laugh. The moment I see her face at the end of the working day is like the purest gift.

And that is the real Return. The return home.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The tango with the mango and the elephant in the room

Just when I thought I'd never have anything to blog about ever again, three things happened to herald the start to 2014: (I mean apart from resolve to go to the gym, eat better and spend less). Dull.

In no particular order, they are:

1. Baby J rolled off the bed (bad, but according to the GP who listened to my rant about how I'd only turned my back to grab a pair of tights, this does actually happen to other people,  and babies are quite tough)
2. Baby J's teeth appeared (this made her mad)
3. I looked at the calendar and realised I only have weeks left until I go back to work (this made me sad)

All three events made me realise that, as time goes by, bits of babyhood are slipping away as fast as others approach. I can't catch them. I want to breathe them in, store them up and bottle them. But I can't. I can only enjoy them for a while. They are, like bubbles, delicate and fleeting. If they had a taste, it would be short, sweet sharp bursts, moreish and good.

The weaning has landed. I spend much of my time doing a tango with a mango around the high chair. Everything seems to be attracted to the mango magnet which are the pudgy hands and smiling face of Baby J and is stained bright yellow.

If I'm not locked in battle with carrot batons and purée, I'm kneeling at the altar of the Calpol fairy, or shaking teething powders onto a spoon. But that's fine, because both of these milestones help to squash down that enormous elephant in the room which had landed with a giant thump, which just won't disappear; the return to work in four weeks.

If I think about it too much, I start shallow breathing and my stomach feels like it did I knew I was going into my History A level exam. It's the only time in my life I knew, for sure, I was going to fail. Sure enough, after three fruitless hours of panic, worry and hollowness, I came out with a D. But, how I felt, frowning, as my pen froze above questions about The Reformation of Britain and Europe 1450 - 1600, will, I fear, lag leagues behind the tumult of emotions which I am trying to squash down as mid February approaches.

So, in a bid to be positive, I made a mental list about the benefits of paid employment. I know the following to be true:

I will have conversations with people who talk back (important)
My brain might work again (this would be welcome)
I will earn money (fairly important)
I can buy things with the money (very important)
I will get to drink a hot cup of tea (crucial)
I will get to wear high heels and dress like a member of the human race (More important than you might think)
I will not need to plan my days round a trip to the supermarket
My mum and my mother in law can't wait to look after her. For this I am truly grateful.

I will miss my baby
I will miss my baby
I will miss my baby
I will miss my baby
I will miss my baby
I will have a Blackberry
I will miss my baby

I am reminded of a time when my friend came to my hen party when her daughter was only a few precious weeks old. She had a tiny, soft, white pair of baby socks in her handbag, and as she lifted them out and held them up, an emotion flickered across her face which I can only now identify with. How a love can be both fragile, but strong.

So, I tell myself this. My lists are both true, both valid, both important. But I know that there will be moments when in the longest meeting, or on the shortest phone call, I will, for a few moments, leave the room in my mind and think about how I inhale my daughter's sweet scent when I hold her, and how I will have to resist the urge to drive to her, to hold her, and never let her go.

At least now I've written about the elephant. And I will adapt to this change as I have adapted to all the others. It'll just take some time.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What's that thing? Tell me, is it the ring......of guilt?

What could be that thing?
Tell me, is it the ring .....of guilt?

Guilt is a funny emotion isn't it? I mean, what worries us and what we spend most of our waking hours feeling guilty about.

This post is actually inspired by my two cats, who, after a mammoth meal prepared for them by their loving human slaves, and a short turn round the garden to ensure that their territory still exists, slink inside and enjoy nothing more than a good sleep. Sometimes, it's literally a cat nap. And at other times, it's a luxuriant few hours. There's no timetable, no pressure, no fuss. They live in the moment, or, rather, sleep in the moment, and then wake, stretch happily and go about what's left of their day.

But what about us? Why can't we do that? Have you ever noticed how, if at the weekend, you have a lie in you feel guilty for wasting the day? Or, if you wake up early, feel that you have to cram a few jobs in? Then you get stressed about doing too much. Yet if you tell yourself to relax and watch TV, or read a book, I bet you feel guilty for not growing eight arms and texting, cleaning, sorting and making a list at the same time. Or you might buy something nice for yourself and then spend ages defending many times have you said "well, I deserve a treat" or you eat something "naughty" and then feel guilty. By the way, as an aside, anyone who makes you feel guilty about food should be held down and force fed an entire bucket of KFC barbecue beans.

And, when it comes to guilt, no one does it better than a woman. If it was an Olympic sport we'd all be lugging gold medals around (but then we'd have to clean the bastards....another job to add to the never ending effing list) And, as I'm fast discovering, being a mum brings with it a nice big shiny new bag to pack some more nice toxic, guilt into. That's not your baby's changing bag, you bleary eyed sleep deprived fool! That's your bag of guilt to heave around. (But, as a time saver, you can have it as a changing bag, because then you'll take it with you everywhere). Hey, there's no escaping the guilt when it's all strapped to that pram!

So, here's what we, as women, collectively, heave around in that bag:  in no particular order. See how many you recognise:

Compared to the women in (insert name of crap celebrity magazine here) I'm not slim enough/pretty enough/successful enough
I should exercise more and lose weight
I don't see my husband/partner enough
I don't see my friends enough
I should only give my baby/child organic food
I should eat better
I should have time for an improving hobby
I should spend less
I have to go back to work and I feel guilty OR I don't have to work and I feel guilty Or I feel guilty because I enjoy work now I've had my baby because it's nice to talk to someone who talks back
My child is in a nursery and I feel guilty even though it's a good one
The house should be cleaner/tidier. In fact, it should resemble Ideal Homes
I should wear nice clothes all the time
I should be super organised all the time, and never forget a birthday
I should read an improving book
I should cook/bake regularly
I compare myself to other people
I should give more to charity (this last point is inspired by the fact is now can't watch a Save The Children or Great Ormond Street Hospital advert without bursting into tears)

In short....we end up with this: ..I feel like I'm failing, every day, a day at a time. I can't win.

God, what a state we're in. And it's mostly brought on ourselves. And, in my view, by people only putting the best of the shop window of their lives on the social media we're all obsessed by, and the magazines we buy, even though they're bad for us if we try to do everything in them.  I'm not saying don't buy them, just bear in mind that as you hand over your fiver, they're aspirational, and full of adverts and carefully crafted photo shoots where a team of designers have spent hours tweaking a model/table/castle/outdoor location so that we sigh at what seems like an effortlessly achieved look. A bit like too much chocolate, it's wonderful, but leaves you feeling slightly out of sorts after. Come on - do you ever cartwheel across the sand on holiday on a beach occupied only by you and your perfect specimen of a boyfriend, you wearing a designer bikini with perfectly painted toenails and an even, all over tan? Or have time to create a winter wonderland in your home at Christmas? Or laugh at the wonder of life as you walk through the country lanes of your second home, trug in hand? Or create detox salads? Or craft a table runner?

Of course not. Because you, my dear woman, have a life. A real, imperfect, life. And do you know what? Baby or no baby, job or no job, partner or no partner, you're doing okay :)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

It's too manic to do organic and other time savers

There's always one isn't there? The woman lurking on the online forum who has an answer to everything, designed to make you feel the size of a nappy pin with a few deft clicks of her keyboard, as she waxes lyrical about her on the dot four hour feeds, amazing breast feeding capabilities, and thinks that formula milk is second only to rat poison in something you'd put down your baby's throat.

Her child only has organic, home made meals. Her child only wears organic cotton baby grows. She only bathes her baby's skin with organic body wash, while you let yours play recklessly in synthetic bubbles. Her baby picked up signing at the drop of a muslin. Hypnobirthing worked for her. She has the latest pram. And she was back in her skinny jeans a day after that baby popped effortlessly out, as whale music played and her husband ran through the relaxing script they'd prepared. I bet she's the kind of woman who always has a store cupboard full of stuff to throw together an "easy supper for friends" at the drop of a hat, in her tidy house. I am deeply distrustful of anyone this organised. Or maybe just a bit envious. Because I'm not. As far as weaning goes (and so far we're two days in) all the signs are that I am just too manic to be completely organic.

Though I am waiting on my gold medal after pureeing an apple for my daughter today, which she seemed to mildly enjoy, though not as much as hurling the spoon to the ground every five seconds and watching me grubbing round on the floor for it. As time goes by I look forward to her hoiking up some of my hastily prepared creations all down my clothes. It's always fun to fit another pile of laundry in to add to the general giddiness of the day, isn't it?

Weaning aside, I've made a pretty good job of carving more hours into my day by doing next to nothing organised. Basically, if it has the word "baby" in front of it, or starts before 11 am, or is perkily billed as 'a great chance to meet other mums' my rule is generally. not to do it. I've got my NCT buddies, they're all the mums I need, and they're fab. So, so far, Baby J has not experienced the following, which some mums fret about getting to, and are made to feel like they're compulsory. If you enjoy them, fab. If you don't, don't go. My list of non-attendance so far includes:

  • Baby yoga (but she grabs her toes)
  • Baby sensory (but I took her to the supermarket and she stared at the food and the lights)
  • Baby massage (but there's a lavender bag in my car which smells quite nice)

I'm even a bit hesitant about playgroups, only because one of the few I have sampled was nothing more than a comparison session, where worried mums tried to look cheerful on 2 hours sleep, before a talk on car seats. "Now" boomed the playgroup leader. "Let's go round the group and see what your baby's achieved this week. This is your chance to boast about what your baby's been up to." Luckily I was at the end of the row, and had time to think of a story to thrill everyone with, which was the fact that Baby J had just got back from holiday, and, along with mummy and daddy, had  survived the flight between Jersey and Guernsey, and got to stay overnight at Stansted at the Holiday Inn Express. Big news eh? I think they were after something more developmental, but I was out of ideas after 12 people had talked about sleep patterns. This was followed by all the babies in the group rolling and grabbing toys, while Baby J drank some milk, sighed happily and promptly fell asleep without rattling a single rattle, or drumming a single mini drum.

I've got pans at home. She can bang those, and watch This Morning at the same time while I sort the washing. Does feeling a clean pair of socks count as baby sensory? Discuss.

Bugger the Bugaboo: some thoughts on pramwars

The first time I took my daughter out in her pram, she was 3 weeks old. It took me two hours to get out of the house, and I steered her through town like she was the most precious cargo in the world, in a ship made of glass. Which, of course, she was.

I was acutely aware of being out in public with a pram. How could people not know I'd never done this before? I felt so unversed in pavement etiquette, looking for flat kerbs, avoiding dog mess, making way for people in wheelchairs, and most hair raising of all confronting shop doorways, and keeping a keen eye open for lifts.

But before you can worry about all of that, of course, you have to buy the bloody thing. So. Many moons ago, back in the mists of time when BaBy J was only a 14 week old mini bump, we decided to go for broke and buy a buggy. Or, more specifically, a Bugaboo. Even more specifically, a second hand, much used and preloved Bugaboo. And, unwittingly, in doing so, I started Pram Wars.

I didn't know pram snobbery, or even pram rivalry, existed until I innocently made the purchase, but £400 later (including second hand maxi cosi car seat) I was beginning to feel puzzled, annoyed and a little bit beaten up online. As an aside: Who is that irritating woman on Facebook anyway? Why am I friends with her? I'm not anymore.

In my past life, £400 would have cheerfully been spent on a weekend in London, perhaps a couple of new dresses, a day at a spa, or many memorable meals in yummy restaurants. So, to hand over hundreds of pounds for something I'd be pushing around wasn't a very exciting prospect. But, nevertheless it had to be done, and clueless in the world of pram purchasing, And buggy buying, I seized the first one I saw, on a local website, based only on the fact that:

1. My friend had one
2. She said it was good
3. She seemed to be able to take a wheel off it without crying

This, and no other factors, saw us taking the pram home, after a thorough demonstration from the owner which my husband watched with a hangover, and I watched in utter awe. It looked quite high tech and scary. I was assured it couldn't be broken, and armed with this multi purpose terrifying item, complete with a toddler board (what?) and uv filter canopy (who made this shit up?) we trundled off. As the boot of the car was at that time full of crap, I didn't even bother to measure it to see if it fitted the boot. We got it home, and promptly hid it under the spare room bed. The cat immediately took a liking to the cosy toes fleece lining. The lining was blue as the previous owner had boys. Poor Baby J doesn't even get a pink one.

So, disbelieving of  the fact we'd just bought a Bugaboo (Jesus, I'd be selling jam loaded in a trug at the local Farmer's Market next) I updated my Facebook status with that fact, and promptly lived to regret it. First to weigh in with a nice passive aggressive comment about me being some kind of brand obsessed whore was the woman who has now been de friended. She wrote: "Wow. Congrats on your bump. But seriously, a Bugaboo? I wouldn't have thought it was worth the money." (Subtext: you flashy cow, lashing out cash on a fucking pram.) That's the whole point! They're not with the money! That's why my child gets carted round in a second hand one. I'm not spending a grand for an "infant transport system" when my current car is worth less than a pair of designer shoes.

But suddenly prams were everywhere. Bugaboo, Graco, Mothercare, Mamas and Papas, Silvercross, Stokke, I candy, Oyster, you name it, I saw it. And wondered if I'd bought the "right" one, which, of course, is what the marketing is all about. Subtext: If you really, really cared about your child, you'd bankrupt yourself for the right ride. I've tried hard not to develop buggy envy, but I did nearly lean out of my moving car once to kidnap a Bugaboo which puts your shopping next to the kid (coz it's nice to have all your important stuff side by side, isn't it?) and I did have to ask one woman what brand hers was on a recent outing, simply because it kind of offered up her sleeping child on a sheepskin, as if he was modern Jesus floating not on a manger, but on a mini space ship. The pram in question sported wheels so wide, the upper middle class tat of the shop we were both in was about to hit the floor with a genteel sigh. In case you're wondering, it was a Silver Cross.

Don't get blubby about the buggy. Beg it, borrow it, buy it if you have to. But don't stress about it, or the matching changing bag. Life's too short.