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. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

There's no party and I'll cry if I want to: You're at home, baby

BEFORE I had my baby, I imagined that my nine month long maternity leave would break down something like this, as I discovered a flurry of new, improving activities in between feeds. The feeds, of course, would work out at exactly four hour intervals so I could do a bit of light scrapbooking, interspersed with yoga.

1 . One quarter undertaking successful home baking
2.One quarter undertaking breathtakingly fantastic DIY projects and sourcing vintage fabrics, possibly learning a new language with Rosetta Stone
3. One quarter discovering "new stuff" (I mean, I've never had this much free time!)
4. One quarter "looking after the baby"

In short, I thought I'd be swanning round the house in an array of neat little outfits, gaily and effortlessly flitting between jobs, crafts, the sweet waft of home baking and praising smiles from a gurgling infant.

Funny how that changed when the gurgling infant came home.

In reality, the day goes something like this:
  • Baby wakes up
  • I wake up
  • Baby breastfeeds, thrashing head round making task v difficult
  • Baby bottle feeds, sometimes with an eruption which requires the feed to be done again
  • I make sure baby is strapped down somewhere safe, and have a shower. Dash upstairs to make sure baby hasn't pulled a cloth over its face
  • Baby is alive. I bath the baby, holding my breath as I pull her out of the bath. Slippery little so and so.
  • I get dressed, while watching baby (sometimes in old Maternity clothes, but kid myself they look okay with a cardigan. I will not, however, resort to leggings, Ever. Though last week, in error, I went to town with a dress which had baby sick down the back. I hoped people thought it was a pattern.) anyhow.....
  • I dress the baby
  • Despite vowing not to, I turn on the TV and feed the baby again
  • I enter the daily competition on Lorraine/This Morning, typing one handed while holding the bottle up with my chin. Wi fi fails just as my entry is received. Or not received. Who knows? All I know is at I haven't won the Range Rover. Or the cash prize.
  • I envy Holly Willoughby's outfit and think about having an adult conversation with someone. 
  • Google Holly Willoughby's outfit, then realise once I have found it on, I don't have he money to buy it. Not even on lay away.
  • Miss my friends.
  • I find a hairbrush and scrape the last of the Clarins moisturiser out of the pot. Need to use an economy one from now on. There's just no money, honey. Look at the clock. Where's two hours gone?
  • I am seized with the sudden knowledge that millions of women are logging on to EBay to buy Maternity clothes and, in a fit of enthusiasm, take photos of my never worn nursing bras and horrible lime green maternity dress and post them up to make money to buy Holly Willoughby's fab frock.
  • Make cup of tea
  • Feel odd. Remember I have not had breakfast. Have toast and crisps. Feel better.
  • Change baby
  • Change baby again
  • Go to supermarket. Note baby's hungry, puce face. Return home quickly.
  • Feed cat
  • Check Ebay. No bids on my second hand tat.
  • Do washing
  • Check EBay again. Still no bids. Why does no one want it? It might be a lime green dress, but it's Isabella Oliver, for God's sake! £25. Reduce to £20.
  • Take baby out to town. Lug buggy and baby to car, succeed in getting both in after 15 mins. 
  • Get to where we need to be, and the Bugaboo frame sticks. I can't make it come loose. End up thrashing frame wildly against the ground and, eventually, it works. Drop the connectors which connect the Maxi Cosi car seat to the frame. Feel pulse double.
  • Get into town, do jobs. Put buggy and frame back in car.
  • Come home
  • Repeat above tasks
  • Have dinner
  • Check eBay. No bids. 
  • Sleep
Once I'd figured out that my days weren't going to be spent merrily whipping up gingham pinnies to sell at the local Farmers' Market and tempting passers by with hedge verge meanly grown in my window box,  life got a whole lot easier, and for a while I discovered 60 Minute Makeover and The Real Housewives of Orange County. So, inspired by those intellectual programmes, I thought I'd give Journeaux Towers a spruce up. 

That's how I ended up in the mother and child parking space at B and Q, agonizing over paint to give the kitchen a "new look" then forgot I'd bought it. Every time I walked into the hall, I and the Bugaboo gaily tripped over a pot of Dulux Wild Primrose (Endurance) and wondered who the fuck had brought such junk into my house. Luckily, four months after buying the stuff, and moving it around a bit to denote progress to my husband, I completed this project, which was difficult.

I doubt Michelangelo had the distraction of a six month old when he was painting the Sistine Chapel. Maybe he had to flatter the odd patron, but I will wager he never thought: "she's gone quiet. What if, despite the fact she can't walk, she's made it to the grate from the chair she was strapped in to, and
has lit a fire?"

Thus, every 20 minutes I would break off from the painting and go and stare at baby J round the door, paintbrush in hand, to ensure that a campfire was not burning brightly in the grate.

I think I'm over projects now.