Tag Archives: Motherhood

Let it grow

This week, a surprise: my rose plant bloomed. Three, four, five pink rose heads, heavy and scented on spindly stems, unfurled themselves within a couple of days. It’s ‘my’ rose plant because I bought it and planted it last year, but that’s about where my involvement ended. We haven’t even trimmed it, let alone fed it or done any of the mysterious rituals people talk about on Gardeners’ Question Time. It has sprawled over the grass, unsupported, in odd directions. Its main claim to fame in the last six months was popping Teddy’s balloon last week when he turned his back on it. (Hilarious.) Honestly, I thought it was dead.

But no, roses. Amazing how life conserves itself under the soil, waiting for just the right season. Our house is pretty chaotic at the moment, but the flowery scent floats in regardless, past the crusty porridge bowls, through the open patio door.

Imogen is two-and-a-half months. She had a cold and her first set of injections a couple of weeks ago, and the two things combined meant that she cried all week. So I held her all week, or put her down for two-minute intervals and then scarpered back when she realised I was gone. She has a very loud cry, like Teddy did, but unlike Teddy she uses it for any and all occasions, not just the dire emergencies. You sprint back, thinking she’s dying, and find her only a bit bored. But you can’t not respond to a cry of that magnitude. You’re hard-wired to sprint, so you do.

She doesn’t realise she’s activating every one of your evolutionary alarm bells whenever she raises her voice. It’s just her voice, and she’s using it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, given that she lives in a world where a girl speaking up loudly is met with hysterical Twitter threats more often than applause.

(I wrote this before she started with reflux this week, so now I sprint faster and put her down hardly at all.)

She smiles a lot too. It pops up suddenly and takes over her whole face, like a huge wave surprising you from behind. I laugh, delightedly, without being able to help it. That feels evolutionary too, like she’s giving you a mental high five.

There was an evening during the first Crying Week, when I had given up on the idea of a proper dinner and was trying to persuade some leftover pizza into the boys’ bellies. They didn’t like the pizza – decided after they’d picked it to pieces – so I cut them big slabs of bread and cheese and jam, jiggling Imogen under one arm and fretting. Nothing was done, nothing was clean, and they still had a day left of school before the holidays. Suddenly I thought ‘I cannot do another day of this. I cannot wake up tomorrow and do this again’. There was something about the flat hopelessness of it that was terrifying. I wondered whether my parenting was broken. By the time Tim got home, fifteen minutes later, I was crying too. (He found me a Dr Pepper, made me a fat cheese toastie, put me in front of some Brooklyn Nine-Nine and scheduled the rest of our evening into tickable hour-long chunks, because he knows exactly what I need and is a hero among men.)

Then came the May half-term holiday, which is the one I like the best. It’s just long enough to stuff full of exciting things, and the weather’s warmer than February. I took them out on day trips all week, all three of them, after plotting carefully what we needed to take with us and how much they could handle. Released from school schedules and spelling lists, we caught buses and trains, pottered around museums, stuffed ourselves in ice cream cafes, spilled popcorn at the cinema. They had a wonderful time. Rather to my surprise, so did I. ‘Halloooooo’, my last-year self called from across the New Baby ravine. ‘This is what you used to be good at. Remember?’ I’d forgotten, actually.

When I was pregnant I used to think about what it would be like once the baby was here. I thought I would get myself back, like I could map the version of me with two older children directly onto my life with three children, and I would be the same, just with more to do. I don’t know how I thought I could get through the soul-stretching work of pregnancy and a newborn and come out the other side unmarked.

You can’t, you can’t. I couldn’t. And I miss my old self something dreadful, but I thought to myself after that half-term holiday that maybe the best of me was still hibernating under the soil.

There are roses in me yet, and I think the season is coming.

 

It’s all coming back to me now

11pm. I’m sat in bed next to a baby I will need to wake up soon, eating a boat-sized slice of buttered toast. I don’t know of any diet that recommends toast after 10pm, but I am trying to look after myself. And sometimes that looks like going to bed at 8.30, so I get a couple more hours’ sleep before Imogen’s middle-of-the-night feed. And sometimes it looks like cutting yourself an inch-thick slice of toast and sitting in fresh pyjamas far too late, to do the things you desperately wanted to do this evening before the baby’s bout of trapped wind said ‘mmm, actually no’.

I wanted to write this, and to pack away her newborn clothes (she has grown out of her newborn clothes already) (sob), and I was hungry, so here I am.

I am in that baby phase where just getting from 7am to 9am every day feels like this:

but already she’s seven weeks old and her cheeks alone have their own address on Google Maps, and her teeny tiny newborn photos look like someone else. I love her, I love her, I am completely obsessed – and Tim is totally her favourite. I’m like a needy super-fan whose celebrity crush doesn’t know she exists. I mean, not quite, of course, I exaggerate, she thinks I’m alright; but she adores her Daddy. It’s gorgeous to watch and also sort of annoying, like MY BODY ATE ITSELF TO BIRTH YOU, CHILD: LOVE ME BEST.

After paternity leave, and then my mum’s two-week visit – both blooming marvellous – I’m now getting used to doing things solo. Mostly I’d forgotten how much extra time things take. Getting out of the car with bags AND a baby. Making dinner AND soothing a baby. I keep coming across new things and thinking ‘Right, so, how to…because I’ve got this baby here? And how can I…? Should I put her…? Um?’ It’s coming back to me, in bits and pieces.

I do tend to find it very difficult, getting lost in intensely practical, menial routines. Patting out need fires from morning till night, and not doing much else. I tend to slip into resentment easily, brooding over the unattainable luxury of being able to leave for a quiet office in the morning, and not coming back till your day’s tasks are done. I miss writing, thinking, reading. Feeling vaguely competent. Sleeping in blocks longer than four hours, day or night.

But then, oh, my dear, there are moments of such transcendence. I do mean that, actually – I’m not being melodramatic. Yesterday I’d been for a run – one of the wonderful side effects of that gestational diabetes fiasco is that I now associate exercise with anxiety relief – then came back and dressed in my yellow jumper, which fits again. My yellow jumper! We had twenty minutes before the school runs, so I sat on the bed under a blanket, Imogen on my lap, and watched Netflix. I took hilarious photos, and laughed so much she twisted her head right around to look at me accusingly, then gradually my body heat lulled her to sleep. Oh gosh, I was happy. I was so happy.

Tonight we drove home singing along to the Moana soundtrack – H and T’s current all-consuming obsession. I watched H in the rear-view mirror, as he forgot his perpetual self-consciousness for once, for once, and sang his heart out. ‘I am Moanaaaaaaaa!’ I thought I’d give anything at all to capture the expression on his face, and knew I’d never convince him to do it on video. So I tried to fix it hard and deliberately in my memory, like pressing a diamond into its setting. The sun was low and warm over the sheep in the fields, and there was a big ghost moon hanging in the sky.

I have a few little flashes like that, like tiny jewels – the white-hot stab of happiness when I coaxed a first smile out of Imogen; the serious expression on toddler Teddy’s face as we twirled to Starman in the kitchen; H singing with closed eyes in the rear-view mirror, the evening sun touching his face.

Midnight again. Midnight, my old friend. It’s feeding time. And then it’s time for bed.

Another Birthday

All throughout this pregnancy, I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When you want a final baby – and you conceive one – and you want a girl so deeply and painfully that you compulsively make light of it whenever anyone asks – and you get one – it starts to feel like too much of a good thing. I’ve been peering ahead for the universe to foul it up ever since.

In the end, the complications that arrived – anaemia, gestational diabetes, that restrictive carb-free diet that surely counts as cruel and unusual punishment for a pregnant woman – all sounded scarier than they were. I gave up sugar reluctantly and toast with a cry of rage, and survived the next few weeks on oatcakes and cheese. Then one of my extra scans showed a too-large measurement, and the next one was too small. And she was still stubbornly, unobligingly in the wrong position. We cut our anniversary trip short when I started having contractions, speeding from London to our local hospital at two in the morning, but after five hours bouncing hopefully on a ball in Delivery Suite, they vanished. My finger-ends were running out of needle room. So when the diabetes nurse told me they’d rather induce labour early, I almost gave her a high-five.

‘How, um, soon should I start eating normally again?’ I asked her, hoping I sounded casual.

She told me I’d be fine within a couple of days, probably. I tried to look like someone who was enjoying their twelfth oatcake of the day, and not like someone planning to dive headfirst into the nearest Krispy Kreme.

We set the date for four days’ time, the day after my birthday. Just time enough to finish all our baby errands, for Tim to spend 24 hours in Manchester for business meetings, for me to schedule a haircut and eat a birthday breakfast with some friends. Which promptly all went to pot when I woke up on my birthday with horrible, incapacitating vertigo, and had to SOS-call my mother-in-law to take me to the doctor, in yesterday’s clothes, for an anti-sickness injection IN THE BACKSIDE.

I mean, universe, there’s such a thing as overkill. A birthday backside injection? It felt personal.

Luckily, the next day I woke up still dizzy, but not ill. Tim was back. The boys were happy with their grandparents. And the Delivery Suite called us in late morning to get things rolling. Before I could say ‘pass me an oatcake’, my waters had been broken, and my perfectly wonderful midwife had put me on the hormone drip. Then we waited. And waited. I did some lunges in my sexy compression stockings, watched some Gilmore Girls, and laid down quickly when the vertigo popped back in to check on things. I was informed that I was no longer allowed to eat anything, even oatcakes. I was not sorry. I lunged some more.

Finally, at 4.30pm the contractions started up properly, and we were really in business. I knelt on the bed on hands and knees, trying to remember all the hypnobirthing mantras about surging and relaxation, but very quickly all I could do was hang onto Tim’s hand and count the eight breaths it took till each one was over. It felt so long, kneeling there. The only real things in the world were the pain and his hand and the pillow I buried my face in when the pain went away. After an hour and a half I asked for some gas and air, but since it only makes you pleasantly dizzy and I already had that covered, all it did was make me sound like I was playing a kazoo when I exhaled. This is jauntier than you really want in late-stage labour, I can tell you, but I kept doing it. It passed the time.

At last, at last (actually fifteen minutes later), I started wanting to push. My herculean midwife, who all this time had been encouraging and counting with me and generally being marvellous, told me when to push and when to stop, and I did the best I could to follow her, sobbing in the spaces between.

‘She’s coming!’ I remember her saying in the middle of it. ‘She’s already trying to cry!’

In the end, head out and shoulders refusing to follow, the midwife pulled her out during the next contraction. It was the only time I screamed, the sound torn out of the heart of me, and I heard at the same time another outraged, shivering cry. A new one. The last first newborn howl, and I gathered it and her to me on the bed, both of them to keep.

She had a head of black hair, like Teddy. She frowned up at me, her bottom lip quivering indignantly.

‘I waited so long for you’, I told her quietly. Or perhaps I just said it in my head. I wanted her to hear.

Sometimes, the universe really comes through.

Now take a deep breath

Teddy disappears as soon as we’re through the doctor’s door. I keep half an eye on his white-blonde head, bobbing around the pharmacy shelves, while I sign the form and pick up my latest flavour of tablets (this week: iron! For extra energy and black poo!). They’ll go on the shelf with the daily aspirin, and the multivitamins, and the lucozade from the glucose tolerance test I took yesterday, though the tolerance it tested most of all was my ability to go without food for half a day without Actual Murder happening.

He has settled himself at the toy table by the time I turn around. ‘Ted’, I call across the waiting room, ‘Ted, we’re not staying today’. He looks mildly peeved, but drags himself over to me.

‘I wish we could stay at the doctor’s every day’, he tells me as we leave, little hot hand in mine.

‘Why?’ I ask, amused.

‘Because they have Star Wars plasters, and those toys’.

‘I bought you the Star Wars plasters’, I remind him. ‘You can look at them in the downstairs loo any time you like’.

I did, too. This boy has accompanied me to most of my appointments this pregnancy, and they’ve piled on more in the last few weeks. He has sat in a wide variety of waiting room chairs, swinging his legs, eating cereal bars or watching the iPad. He knows that sometimes they take away some of my blood with a pin, that we mustn’t forget either his snacks or my bottle of pee, and the whoomph-whoomph-whoomph of his almost-sister’s heartbeat. He’s never complained, but I still felt guilty enough to buy the Star Wars plasters the last time we visited. He has been actively hoping for an open wound ever since.

***

When we get home I know I’ll need to lie down sharpish, so I ask him whether he minds watching some CBeebies this morning. Of course he doesn’t. I ask him because it’s me who minds. On go the Twirlywoos, and I settle him under a blanket and open the little box of iron supplements. They’re supposed to give you terrible constipation. After some consideration, I pop an iron pill into my mouth with one hand, and a dried prune with the other. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, right?

***

She moves, and moves, and moves. I’m amazed she still has room, but I get the most astonishing(ly painful) triangular lumps poking out of my belly day and night. I am reading baby books again, listening to hypnobirthing tracks, buying sleepsuits, and have generally skipped forward mentally to the point where she’s a baby, not a five-pointed uterus star. So I sometimes wake up surprised to still be pregnant. Ted thinks – after he asked where the baby would come out and I gestured too vaguely – that she’s going to squeeze out of my feet. I haven’t corrected him. (Would that be better, or worse?)

***

In the playground, and everywhere else, all anyone asks me now is how I’m feeling, and when my due date is. Which I don’t mind, because it’s mostly all I can think about too. After one of these conversations – one of the school mums running in one direction, Henry and I hurrying back to the car in the other – he asks ‘What does the 29th March mean?’

‘Oh’, I say, ‘that’s when the baby is supposed to be born’.

‘On the 29th March?’

‘Well, thereabouts’.

He thinks. Then he says, with an air of dawning wonder, ‘So…so that means, after the 29th March, you won’t have a belly anymore, and you’ll be able to bend down, and ride your bike again?’

He’s known that the baby will come out eventually, I realise, but not that I won’t be like this forever. He thought this puffing, exhausted, snappy version of his mother was all he’d get. I think about myself a year ago, manhandling a pushchair over tree roots in a yellow jumper. I think about getting that back. I think about never having this again, this holy thing where I carry a child blindly, not knowing what they will look like or the precise pin-sharp contours of their personality, only that they have a decent set of elbows and are about to break my heart open, all over again.

I think I want to cry a little, for at least two reasons.

‘That’s right’, I tell him, firmly. ‘I’ll be able to do all that again. Just like before. Only there’ll be a baby, so it’ll be even better. Put your seatbelt on, please’.

I just catch his answering beam in the rear-view mirror, as I switch on the engine and drive off.

Here Comes The Big Third

Here we go then, little love: the third trimester. The final stretch.

I do wish it weren’t my beachball face doing so much of the stretching. It’s almost impossible now to take a selfie where my extra chins aren’t hogging the attention. But I am trying hard to let the weight irritation go, this time around. It’s mostly worked, which is sort of astonishing to me. I haven’t weighed myself since June, and I don’t care. I take my clothes off to get into the shower in the morning, look at this giant curve of belly in the mirror, and think it looks rather lovely, actually. I mean, I really think that. I can’t say enough how foreign that is to me.

I can still walk, as long as I waddle straight into the embrace of a groinular hot water bottle afterwards (2sexy2handle). I am mostly remembering to take my medication. At night I groan and hurt and throw Gaviscon tablets into my mouth with desperate abandon, and she kicks a lot. So I don’t sleep much, but HA, sucker, that ain’t getting better any time soon.

I am anxious, though. Not about labour, newborns or having enough love to go around – we’ve done all that before, and odds are that it’ll be alright again. I just lie awake at night, for hours, imagining catastrophes. In the first trimester I once found myself (in a secret and ashamed way) wishing I were feeling horrible for someone more tangible – you’d go through just about anything for your children, wouldn’t you? The ones you can see and touch, the ones you love so much it hurts? It’s not so easy to suffer for someone who’s only just managed to move from blastocyst to embryo. I don’t know if that makes sense at all. These are the things you find yourself thinking when you’ve narrowly avoided a deep-dive vomit into your handbag in a public place.

Now I have the opposite problem: she feels like a person to me already. We decided to have a third because we felt like there was someone missing – now it feels like there’s a space shaped like her, waiting for her to step into it. I am in, all the way. I am so excited, which means I have lots to lose. My brain likes to remind me of it at 11.30pm.

But I am getting ready. Do you hear me, love? I am trying to be ready: for a last labour, a last first newborn cry, a last whirl through breastfeeding and weaning and sleep schedules. There’s a lot for me to get wrong, but her brothers will be able to tell her plenty about that. Barbara Kingsolver wrote something about last babies that made me sob the first time I read it, long before I had any of my own, and I think about it often now:

‘the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after…

She’s the one you can’t put down’.

It seems like a good plan, and I’m sticking to it.

Don’t worry, mama: the first day of school makes you cry for a reason

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So anyway, that was the first week of school.

H went back on Monday. My social media feeds have been full of kids going to school for the first time (and the accompanying parental meltdowns). It brought back last September for me in a great, vivid wave; I could almost taste it: the fear and the excitement and the pining, almost. I saw a lot of mothers apologising or feeling embarrassed for getting so emotional – as I did too, last year. What is it about starting school that means so much to us? Perhaps it’s the first determined step in a long road that leads away from us? Or maybe it’s because we’re sending them deliberately, and for the first time, into an environment where they have the possibility of being hurt. In a lot of ways, it represents an ending for us as much as a beginning for them. I know I worried that I hadn’t done enough, been enough, tried hard enough, during that time when I’d been everything to him.

It was less, this year, that feeling. But still there: he’s not the baby anymore, and watching him march into the big school building towards proper Maths and Stuff, tearfully clutching PE kit and book bag to his chest, was a bit of a killer. It was a big deal for him, but he did it, all week. I was proud of him, and so were his robots and superheroes (they are too manly and stiff-upper-lip to say so, of course, so they expressed it through the medium of doughnuts).

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I saw someone say online that the first day of school and the first time they learn to ride a bike are the same sort of milestone, the same sauntering off into independence while we hurt and hope behind them. As it happens, he learned how to ride a bike this week, too. GOOD TIMING, BUDDY.

We cycled to and from school for two days. He’s weirdly happy and confident about it – willing to try again when he messes up, improving astonishingly quickly, and asking for extra cycling sessions with Tim after dinner. I was surprised, but I think he’s just stumbled across his freebie: that thing you’re good at without having to try very hard. He’s found his Nimbus Two Thousand, basically. See also: me and eating cake. See not also: me and riding bikes (I crashed more than H did. T is heavy).

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Then T, who had two settling-in sessions at nursery towards the end of the week. I was totally blase about this one – he isn’t afraid of anything except invisible spiders, and definitely not rooms full of toys or new people. He had a blast, and was about as loud as one. And yet I STILL got ambushed by Feelings: if anyone knows how to look at your three-year-old stomping off in his miniature shiny black school shoes and too-large trousers without whimpering audibly, let me know. It didn’t happen here.

So now, a new frontier: T starts properly on Monday, and I’ll be without them both for two hours a day. I’ve been trying to think of useful things to do with that time – my first regular, unbargained- and unpaid-for time alone for some years – and so far all my brain’s come up with is naps.

Anything else, brain?

No?

I guess we’ll start there, then.

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to tell you this: it’s going to get better

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If you are really struggling with tiny ones right now, please know this.

I know you spend all your time wearing your children’s snot and developing weird, Stockholm Syndrome crushes on Andy from CBeebies. I know that going to the supermarket feels like pushing a ticking bomb that will explode the first time you refuse to wheel it down the toy aisle. I know you think about your ‘old self’ with wistful melancholy, the one that met her deadlines and went out for uninterrupted dinners where she only worried about her own table manners, and it feels like watching a lost, beloved friend you can see across a chasm but will never meet again.

I know you can only see as far as naptime, and that it feels like you’ll be waiting for naptime for the rest of your damn life.

I just wanted to be another person to tell you the thing you need to hear.

It’s going to get better.

Today I took both of mine on a train, to a museum, to lunch and then to a playground before coming home. By myself, with only a reasonably-sized handbag and no pushchair. And it went fine.

They bounced around the museum, laughing and asking questions. They ate what I bought them for lunch without throwing any of it around. They walked around town, got on and off trains and in and out of toilets without meltdown or disaster.

At the playground they played with each other, and with another boy who was there. I sat down. I read sixteen pages of Little Women. SIXTEEN.

Now we are back at home watching Wall-E, where my only role is to hum along to that gorgeously operatic score, and answer H’s ten thousand questions. (‘How did the people make so much rubbish? Why are there dust storms?’ *tries to explain ecological responsiblity and climate change to a four-year-old*).

Days like this aren’t guaranteed but they are getting more frequent. Yesterday, hemmed in by rain, they worked on jigsaws and played in forts, rushing in only to tell me that ‘a group of baby octopuses are singing outside our front door!’ Then (obviously) they made huge fusses about eating what I’d made for dinner and screeched their way horribly through getting pyjamas on. I mean, it’s not plain sailing. As they get older we come across new hiccups (the bickering, THE BICKERING). But more and more now I check the clock and realise that they’ve been playing peaceably without wanting anything from me for half an hour, and even six months ago that was totally unheard of.

They need me less, now. Our interactions are fun, and funny. They are good company. They walk further. They play more. I get more sleep. It’s not easy, but it’s easier, and it’s getting better all the time.

They will not be this age forever. There might be a chasm between you and your old self, but your new self is making it to higher ground inch by inch. And look at the view from up here, you baby-making, toddler-corralling, warrior-woman self. You made this. You created this gorgeously multicoloured life you lead. Just look at the spectacular view, and know that you’re capable and kind and clever, and that it’s getting better all the time.

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Selfie game is getting stronger too, obviously.

It’s alright, don’t worry: I’m just going through a phase

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I’m here!

(This is me breaking the log-jam that is two weeks without writing a word, by writing anything. Here’s the anything.)

Everyone tells you that children go through phases, and from my vast sample size of two, I can tell you that it’s true. I mean, I don’t know how useful it is to know that. Sometimes repeating ‘it’s a phase’ on loop to myself (refereeing toy squabble no. 374, maintaining death grip on Dairy Milk) has been immensely comforting. Other times I want to say ‘yes, it’s probably a phase, but that has no bearing on the intense crapness of this phase, since we’re living our lives in the middle of it’. You know the phases I mean.

Funny how we never think of the delightful parts – so many, so many – as ‘just a phase’, though they’re as brief as the negative parts in the long run. T is fast approaching three, and the thought that he will not be mispronouncing ‘grumpy pants’ as ‘scrumpy pants’ for very much longer is something I am dealing with…not so well.

I have also found that motherhood goes through phases too. That time when you have a newborn, every sense blunted by lack of sleep and every feeling heightened by hormones and love, as sharp and vivid as bright colour on canvas.

The phase where your first child finds out they can want things. Oh, man. And you eagerly open up your metaphorical book of parenting strategies, and they screw up the book, and you don’t realise that they are still too young to keep a thought in their heads for seven consecutive seconds, so OF COURSE STRATEGY IS BEYOND THEM, JUST DISTRACT THEM UNTIL YOU LOSE YOUR VOICE.

The phase where you’re wedded to routine, because it anchors you both in a sea of hours from sunrise to sunset. The phase where you prefer to take things as they come. The phase where you’re killing it with the housework and the extra-curricular activities and the washed and ready school uniform. The phase where you’re barely holding your crap together, your former competence so much sand trickling through fingers.

That one where you realise your second child is different to your first, so you’re going to have to use a different book, or write your own.

The phase where you are able to say ‘it’s alright. This is only a phase. He’s not finished. He’s not broken. He has further to go than this’. And mean it.

Mother phases are different to child phases though, because unlike them I seem to revisit mine over and over. One minute T is at a stage I remember from his brother, so I’m able to ease our way through it without worrying. The next minute they’re doing something new, and I feel like I don’t know anything. This is to say, if you’re feeling out of your depth, don’t worry – there are better days ahead. And if you think you’ve got everything sorted forever and ever, well, LOL, this is a grace period, and grace only lasts precisely as long as you absolutely need it.

H has really struggled in school lately, and I have fretted myself silly at home after dropping him off. I couldn’t say ‘this is only a phase’ and mean it – not here, not about this beloved vulnerable boy. I have worried and worried for weeks, and it colours everything else I do.

Now he’s doing better, and I’ve got past some big deadlines, so I’m feeling quite zen about everything. Like I can work hard and without guilt, and even, like, look with benevolence on that awful Transformers cartoon they’re obsessed with, even though my eyeballs melt in protest every time I watch it. I can see the boys and appreciate them for what they are right now, not just what they will be. I can feel lucky. I do feel lucky.

This is my favourite phase. But I wouldn’t get rid of the worry phases either. They feel like the hard, hands-dirty, bloody-minded work that motherhood is made of.

Anyway, I blame this onrush of good feeling for me rashly deciding to potty-train T this week. I was going to wait till after his birthday, but saw a packet of REALLY snazzy Thomas pants in Tesco yesterday morning and just was overcome with optimism. Am I zen enough to avoid eating all of his bribery sweets when he’s not looking? Jury’s out.

Photos from Grey’s Court this weekend, which felt like just the right spot for some appreciation. 

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Let’s kick our inner smug mums to the kerb this summer

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Some rambly first-draft thoughts I have been mulling over. Let me know what you think. 

Let’s talk about Utah. Let’s talk about Utah and mothers being real.

Not that the two are connected, particularly – or perhaps they are, but I’m not someone qualified to talk about it. I mean that, while we spent a week in Utah, I had a couple of moments where I met people who only really know me, and our kids, from this blog. I absolutely love it when that happens, seriously – I hug it to myself for weeks afterwards – but we were on holiday, we were so far from routine our routine was hitchhiking its way to another state, and the boys were not always on their best behaviour, nor was I always the best version of myself when being with them. I wondered then and I wonder generally: when people see me out and yelling, full-voiced, at my two-year-old to come back (he has a sacred personal rule that he does not come back), does it make the heartfelt and happy-go-lucky stuff I write here seem false?

I’m sure no one we met out there actually thought that. But it did make me think.

Sure, I talk a lot about mothers being real. It’s important that we be real, here on the internet, and that we talk about the bad days. ‘Me too’ is a gift, in this bewildering, relentless and often lonely journey into motherhood. I want to hear ‘me too’ myself, and I want to give the gift of ‘me too’ to others. The antithesis of ‘me too’ is any version of ‘I don’t have this problem because I do things SO RIGHT’, and you know how I feel about that.

But do I really give other mothers enough emotional space to be…less? When I see someone yelling at their child or pulling them away by the arm with a face like a gathering storm – do I honestly make room to remember that they adore that child, and that they’ve just this second been pushed beyond their limits? Do I remember that HELLO, THIS WILL BE ME IN FIVE MINUTES?

Do I allow them to simultaneously be a good mother and have a bad day?

I have this little idea that we can throw smug-mummery (smummery?) in the bin. Starting with the smug-mummery you get from other people, because that’s easier: let anyone who talks to you with a subtext of ‘do it more like me’ slide right off your back as you power on, loving your babies in exactly your own way. A random someone seeing your vulnerable moments will not be around long enough to see your strengths in abundance, so what do they know? Those children were made for you. You were made for them. You’re doing it right.

But also – oh, much harder – let’s kick out the smug mum in ourselves. You know, deep down I feel that my parenting philosophies are the best ones, objectively and forever (whether or not I succeed). Maybe we all do, underneath. But every minute of being a mother has only taught me that that’s not true. When H was a great sleeper and a terrible eater I thought I was excellent at bedtimes and awful at weaning. Then T came along, and I realised that it was only ever H that was good at bedtimes, not me. It wasn’t that I was right or wrong, it was that we found something that was good for them, with lots of trial and error. There’s something freeing in that, right? There’s a measure of grace in admitting to yourself that you’re just a parenting work-in-progress. I change strategies all the time; I fall short of them all the time. My only useful measure of success is whether those boys are happy, and well, and feel loved – though that’s not the only one I use.

But it should be. I want to do better at following my own parenting path without embarrassment, and letting other people mark out theirs. Just a little thing, but I want to be more ‘I get it’ and ‘it’ll pass’ and ‘me too’. Openly supportive and silently supportive. And if I do it and you do it and the person next to you does it too, we could start a little something that kicks all that smug-mummery to the kerb.

I present to you: DON'T PLAY WITH KNIVES two meltdowns a soup burn a refusal to sit on one's bottom a swiftly accelerated bedtime And sometimes dinner goes like that.

One of my philosophies: family dinnertime is important. And I present to you:
‘DON’T PLAY WITH KNIVES’
two meltdowns
a soup burn
a refusal to sit on one’s bottom
a swiftly accelerated bedtime
Because sometimes philosophies suck, and dinner goes like that.

This Is Where We Are: a letter to my sons on Mother’s Day (5)

Every year on Mother’s Day, I write about how I mother my babies day-to-day. I think they might like to know how the little things felt, as well as the big ones. Here goes the fifth (late again – will this become part of the tradition? Yes).

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Teddy,

This has been my fifth Mothering Sunday, and you are four-and-a-half and two-and-three-quarters, respectively. And we look like this.

March 2016 (800x600)

In previous years we’ve taken Mother’s Day photos in natural light, somewhere outdoors, possibly with matching outfits. We ran out of time for that, this year, but I’m glad. When I look back at this phase in our lives, this is how it will feel. We are dishevelled and muddy from walking home through fields. I wear those trousers every day despite the giant hole in one knee, which I got from kneeling on asphalt wrestling Teddy into pushchairs. Henry in school uniform – hasn’t that been a transformative, defining part of the last six months – and Teddy wearing a piece of everything he’s eaten today. I need my hair cutting. I always need my hair cutting. We’re a mess, but it’s a good mess.

Photo 19-12-2015, 2 53 25 pm (817x1024)

Ted, you still wake up first. Will you always? It feels like it. Six am, on the lucky days. We have an unspoken rule that the parent you’re shouting for is the one who has to get up for you. You seem to be favouring Daddy this month (yessss). You are way past two-and-a-half, and it still hasn’t occurred to you to try climbing out of your cot. (Much more cautious than your brother, who climbed high and early and often.) You are getting taller, suddenly. Long fingers, long feet. Still the blue eyes, the half-ton of white-blonde hair. You are quite heart-stoppingly beautiful, altogether. We don’t really know how it happened.

You are also, alas, the twoiest two-year-old that ever lived. Once you had full sentences and strong opinions in your arsenal, we were sunk. You are constantly nattering, shouting, protesting, singing. Singing! That’s a new one for us. You pick up songs from nowhere and sing them to yourself – accurately and in full – in the bath. Your current favourites are Hey Jude (by ‘zer Beatles’), Life on Mars (by ‘Starman’) and the Frozen soundtrack (while you provide an audio commentary to explain what would be happening on screen right now, if we could see it).

You also love: your stuffed dog and cat, your rainbow wellies, books, the ‘little wed boike’ you inherited from Henry this year, Thomas the Tank Engine, grapes and yoghurt, and all the beleaguered pets belonging to our neighbours. You hate: having to get in the pushchair, having to get into your car seat, getting out of the bath, sending Henry into school and not being able to follow, having to do anything you weren’t going to do anyway. You are the best and most exhausting of daytime companions, the teller of terrible jokes, the giver of spontaneous hugs. ‘I baaaaaack!’ you shout, as you run into a room you left thirty seconds ago. We three introverts couldn’t do without you for a moment.

Photo 19-12-2015, 1 47 36 pm (800x639)

Henry, my love: isn’t being four fantastic? It feels like a crossroads of an age: we get occasional flashes of toddlerhood, when you struggle with taking turns or decide you don’t like chicken again today; then sometimes I look at you and can see ahead, to the quiet, capable and fascinating boy you’re going to be. So soon, so soon. You are so much calmer, more able to articulate your ideas and feelings. You do a heck of a lot of both, being you: interested in everything, and also hyper-aware of how you and others feel. It’s a funny old (sometimes exhausting) mix. All this emotion makes you a worrier who tends towards melodrama (‘my TEARS are BURNING MY FACE!’ you screeched at me last week). I’m hoping you’ll feel more at ease with time, and that you know you always have a safe place here with me.

You started school in September and you took to it immediately, much to our relief. You like to learn, as I said, and once you had a small circle of friends to call your own, you flew. Writing, reading, solving little counting problems – all new, and you seem to thrive on it. We walk home with you peppering me with facts and questions from your scooter. This morning you asked me to locate and explain all of your major organs, and the kidneys were your favourite. I suspect because they work with wee, and toilet jokes are king. All this is total joy.

Other things you love: dinosaurs, sausage and mash, your scooter, your books, your dinosaur trainers, your red Oxford hoodie (worn so often you’ve broken the zip), and our giant box of Duplo. You eat well and you’d sleep for much longer if it weren’t for Teddy bouncing on your head. You’re growing out of all your trousers simultaneously, again.

So there we are. I wonder, often, what you’ll remember when you’re older, now you’re starting to remember. From my vantage point I can see it all, of course, including the hard and terrible days. I know that I am often tired and bedraggled, that I’m not very patient, and that I make dinner too late (does that ring a bell? Like, 6pm at the earliest?).

But we’ve been walking home through the gorse this week. All out, and all blazing yellow. We made up a rhyme between us to remember its name, ages ago, and you always do. You tell me jokes and I laugh because the telling of them is funny even if the joke isn’t (it isn’t, sorry). We take off our wellies and come into the warm and I put the kettle on. I hope you’ll remember that feeling, the same one I get when the kettle starts to boil: I love this, and you – so much I can’t really articulate it, after all this – and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Let’s stay here as long as we can.

With much love,

Your mother.

Photo 07-03-2016, 7 17 20 pm (800x640)

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