Tag Archives: Motherhood

The problem of parenting

I am overwhelmed sometimes by parenting. It is new, and frightening. Until now I’ve been supplying food and routine and love in large doses. That’s all a baby needs. It can be draining, but it is simple. Suddenly Henry is doing things on purpose to watch my reaction, refusing food and naps, getting cross about boundaries he didn’t notice at all last week and screaming, screaming, screaming when he doesn’t get his way. This is parenting, surely, but isn’t he too young for rules and consequences? Does he understand it? I don’t know, and I don’t like it.

Today was a parenting day. I put him to bed at 6pm in his clothes, when he was too far gone to accept dinner or even sit still, and I couldn’t listen to screaming any more. Then I watched Jo Frost transform problem children with only a school ma’am voice and kisses, and cried over my own failed day. I made scrawly notes for now or later –

must eat food twelve times before proper dislike

cut back on snacks

bedtime routine

set up expectations

ATTENTION

read read read (ten minutes)

Then, anxious that he might be hungry or uncomfortable, I went back into his room. Intending to get him up and offer him dinner. Intending to explain, though he wouldn’t understand it. Intending to read him a story, even, and make up for our terrible afternoon.

He was asleep. I couldn’t bring myself to wake him, even to fix things. I put a hand on his back, smoothed down the flick of hair that wouldn’t lie flat today, and covered him with a blanket.

I can try again tomorrow. Some days it doesn’t come right, but he will wake up with a fresh face and having totally forgiven me. I can always try again.

(In the meantime, I would like some ice cream.)

Holding back the flood

My baby is about to turn one, and I’m having a bit of a crisis about it.

The reasons being,

a: this year has gone by like a flash. And it’s not like I don’t want him to be one – he is SO much fun he kills me – but that I feel like I’ll take a breath and be sending him to school. This is not ok, internet.

b: I have once again arrived at a point at which none of my clothes fit right or look nice. I wish my body would pick a shape and stick to it so I could work around it. I would like to be skinny again, very much, and feel bad that I am not and worse about being so shallow.

c: I have now had a year of this stay-at-home life, and decidedly do not have my crap together yet. Whence cometh the effortless homemade meals, the gloriously tidy house, the thoughtful visiting of old ladies, the volunteering in the community, the toddler reciting his times-tables over lunch? It hasn’t arrived here yet. And I only have one.

d: I am just totally in love with him right now. The chattering, and the way he laughs with a wrinkled-up nose, and the way he’s painting the kitchen wall with a tube of lip gloss at the moment, and the way he wants desperately to walk but won’t let go of my hand, and the fact that I’m starting to find things like biro in the space behind his ear. It won’t always be like this and I can’t keep him where he is. For evidence, see exhibit A, this business of turning one at the weekend. I am terrified.

Honestly, that’s why I write this blog, apart from the fact that writing and connecting with you fine people are some of my all-time favourite things to do.

Because maybe if I write him well enough, I can keep him still. At least for now. At least for the space of 200 words. Before he lets go of my hand completely.

I keep trying. Oh gosh, I can’t help it.

Ten tips for winning over your fussy eater: baby edition

Timothy and I are obsessed with food. I would rather go out to eat than go to the cinema, or a party, or to buy new clothes. It’s a silly thing to spend money on, since it’s not like it hangs around for very long. But food, glorious food. I almost always want some more.

Imagine our bewilderment, then, when our delightful firstborn turned out to be not much of a fish-and-chip off the old block. Henry is a temperamental eater at best. Dinner is a chore to be endured until a) we let him out of the high chair to go play, or b) it’s dessert time. I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit cajoling things into his mouth, picking them out of my hair, and bashing my head against the wall in frustration. I worry about being a pansy and letting him get into bad habits, but I don’t want eating to be stressful for him. It’s such a hard balance to strike. So over the past six months, I’ve gathered an arsenal of tricks that I pull out and reshuffle, depending on what works that day. I dare say these will have to be totally revised once I have a toddler.

If you’ve got a nose-wrinkler, see if any of these help.

1. Establish a meal routine

Henry needs to know that, at certain points of the day, we eat. I try to keep his mealtimes as consistent as possible. His best meal is breakfast, because he knows that as soon as he wakes up, it’s time to eat. I put him in his high chair about ten minutes beforehand, and give him a toy to play with. It eases him in gently. And he likes the challenge of seeing how many times he can drop the toy off the tray before the food arrives.


2. Force the first taste, then back off

This boy came with a built-in assumption that everything on a spoon is his mortal enemy. He’ll refuse it before he’s tried it. So I literally pin him down to get the first spoon in his mouth, then give him a while before the next one to decide whether he likes it. I try not to push him, but the deal is that he has to try it once.

3. Run the operation like a tapas bar

When I first started trying to make Henry eat, I went to Tesco, bought everything the health visitor recommended, and put a little bit of everything on his tray at once. It was too much for him to think about – our usual problem at mealtimes – and he didn’t eat anything at all. These days I give him one thing to concentrate on at once: I’ll drop off a couple of pieces of bagel in front of him, then go away. Five minutes later I’ll come back with chicken slices. Five minutes after that I’ll come back again with cucumber. It seems to work better. Maybe he just feels a bit Spanish at the moment.

4. Think global

If your fussy eater is anything like mine, one day he’ll refuse to eat something that the previous day he buried his face in. So there’s no advantage in sticking to the same, safe foods. If you’re eating something spicy, seasoned or otherwise unusual, you’ve got nothing to lose by giving him some. I try him with anything we’re eating, and thus far he’s shown a surprise enthusiasm for chilli pasta, onion bhajis, korma sauce and sweet and sour chicken. For now, at least.

5. Don’t snack

I used to give Henry raisins and organic baby snacks to munch on while I got dinner ready, then found that the little he was eating shrank to nothing at all. While his appetite is small, we don’t snack at all. If he’s going to fill up on cereal bars, you might’s well not cook.

6. The old two-spoon trick

One of Henry’s best stalling techniques is grabbing the spoon out of my hands while we eat. It’s not that he wants to feed himself – yet – he just wants to play with it and stop me using it for food transport. So I give him a spoon to play with, and keep a second one for myself. BUSTED.

7. Keep emergency rations

No matter what kind of day he’s having, Henry will eat two things: fruit pots, and strawberry fromage frais. So on days when the only things he’s put in his mouth are the batteries he’s managed to prise out of the remote control (AGAIN), I know I can always fill him up before bed. I keep a couple in my bag in case we’re caught short while we’re out.

8. Give praise, and then space

There are so many books that tell you to sit with your child and eat while they eat. No good in this house. Most days, Henry is more of a basilisk consumer: he eats better when I’m not looking at him. So I applaud him wildly when he chews something, and then leave him to get on with it. 

9. Be flexible

One of the things that has really bothered me is that I don’t want meals to be a battleground. Not so soon, anyway. So the rule is that he eats in his chair, but some days, if he’s really upset, he gets to eat on my knee instead. He hated the bib so much that he was getting too cross to eat, so we got rid of it and he just gets dirty clothes. Routines are good, but not every day is the same. Which leads me on to…

10. Don’t sweat it

The last time I checked (and trust me, I’ve googled it more than once), very few children starve voluntarily. If he has two bites and throws everything else away, the chances are that’s all he wanted. As long as he’s going through enough nappies, is happy and has lots of energy – and no one could accuse this boy of lacking in beans – then don’t worry about it.

Is there anything else that works for you? Welcome to Club Spoon-Thrower. May the force be with you, my friend.

Ice cream is not the answer. Unless it’s been a REALLY bad day.

Me, my cold and I

The chocolate icing cure.

Today is a sick day. And I remembered, at three in the morning when I lay croaking pathetically and choking down a Lemsip – dudes, when I am ill, I mean it – that sick days don’t exist with a baby. Writing down this hoary old parenthood cliche almost made my fingers seize up, but just because something’s been said a lot by many people, some of whom are annoying, doesn’t make it less true (this is a LIFE LESSON; write it down).

So at 6.30am Henry started his I-think-I’m-awake-but-am-I-really hooting noise, which by 7.30am was the bored-of-my-cot yelling, and from then it was all

oh bananas I love them – but do I really – yes I do – wait that’s enough – ooh lights! – water running yessss – hang on a min there’s the washing machine – ok done with being wet now – enough with the towel rubbing already – vest? outrageous – oh good a bottle – pick me up pick me up pick me up – BRING ON THE MILK I’M READY WOMAN

which is our usual morning routine.

During which I felt even more pathetic, and was considering starting up a bit of low-level moaning. Except that if you moan and there’s no one there to hear it – no one who’s not currently half-in the washing machine, I mean – does the moan exist?

A deep question. That’s the Lemsip talking.

In the end I didn’t moan. Because two things occurred to me:

1. Timothy will be home later.

2. At some point today, Henry will sleep. And so will I.

It made me think about all you single parents and parents of more than one. How do you do it? I am in awe of you and your resources and your wonderfulness. Can we all just applaud for a moment?

Hope you heard it. That was for you.

It’s all fun and games until someone grows a tooth

We are having a teething evening.

Which is to say, number one, yoghurt for dinner; number two, teeth brushing optional; number three, Calpol before bed; number four, bed, really? Bed?

Thankfully we got through most of the day before Top Left decided to make an appearance. We spent Jubilee Day #1 with family, ate chilli and Eton mess, ran round a playground, and let the babies chew on each other’s fingers. They are fascinated with each other’s faces. It’s nice to have someone your own size to chew a strawberry with.

Just F to the Y-I, Henry only likes the swings in Central Park. Didn’t enjoy the roundabout either. Maybe that was the tooth talking.

Lessons I learned from the milk

This has been kind of a hard post to write.

This week, Henry has stopped wanting to feed from me. He was only breastfeeding three times a day anyway. Then one day he didn’t want any in the afternoon. Then I couldn’t get him to have any at night. I’ve been using the pump to keep it going, but that seems silly: if he doesn’t want it, who will?

I am heartbroken. This morning I lay still after he’d refused his 5am half-asleep feed for the first time ever, crushed by the pressure in my chest and what it meant.

Baby-feeding is such an emotional business. It ties in to the very heart of you. Feeding Henry has been a – well, I’m reluctant to use the word ‘farce’, but there it is. It was a catalogue of bad advice and new mother and tiny vomity baby. I am full of ideas for how I can do it better next time. I stopped feeling guilty about feeding him formula quite quickly; I wanted him full, by any means, and it just became part of his routine. But I never, never stopped feeling like a failure for not getting it right the first time.

Well, all of that is nonsense, of course. And now it turns out that food and this boy don’t get on well, because we’re repeating ourselves with solids. He is a spitter and choker and grimacer extraordinaire. Tim and I love food. I don’t understand it.

(Is this the time to confess that when people said ‘my child has a mind of his own’, I used to think it just meant ‘my child runs me ragged, and I don’t control him’? Haha. HA HA HA HA HA. Oh, the humility of parenthood.)

As I listen to health visitors telling me that he shouldn’t still be eating purees and new potatoes are a good idea and why don’t you try finger food (he hates finger food), I can feel the old panic coming back to me. Am I not making him the right food? Am I indulging him too much? But this time, I’m trying to be a little wiser. I’m bearing in mind that babies have phases and stages, that not all babies are the same, and that he will get there in his own time. I’m trying to listen to the reassurance that comes when I am quiet and my mind is at rest.

It says:

he is a baby, but he is a person.

He will not always fit the baby manual, because it wasn’t written about him.

He will continue to surprise you, because he is not you. Nor is he Timothy. You are not the sum total of your parents; why should he be?

You will teach him and love him and watch him change. He will grow until he grows away from you and do all sorts of wonderful things, but he will always and ever be his own self.

He came to you entire, and your job is to help him remember it.

It also says:

he is yours. Enjoy him.

And I do, I do, I do.

This Is Where We Are: A letter to my son on Mother’s Day (1)

Having read about it here, I wanted to write about how I mother my babies day-to-day, every Mother’s Day. Here goes the first.

Dear Future Version of Henry,

Today is my first Mothering Sunday, and tomorrow you will be seven months old. I am sat in a puddle of quiet, feeding you before your nap. You’re not much interested in feeding these days apart from as a comforting book-end to sleep. The knowledge that this connection between us is winding to a close is breaking my heart just a little. You are so big now. You are so completely yourself. You’re hardly my creation at all.

It has taken us this long to cobble together something like a routine, but we’re getting there. Neither of us are great at sticking to a routine – I am too indecisive and you are too energetic – but it does us both good. You nap twice in the day if we’re lucky, and most of the night. You will eat sweet potato till it comes out of your ears (or nose, more often), but choke extravagantly on anything more solid. You do everything extravagantly: lunging at things you want to put in your mouth, burying your face in my neck in a fit of excitement, bouncing like a grasshopper in my lap. You are always in the throes of some passion or other. You are never, never still. I think you’re going to give me a run for my money as soon as you can actually run.

You love singing, Sir Prance-a-Lot, your door bouncer, books that are solid enough to get in your mouth, labels, my hair and Daddy. You hate pasta, getting dressed, and doing anything for longer than five minutes.

In some ways I struggled with the transition to full-time mothering, needing more validation and more structure than you were able to give me, but I’ve grown into my life as you’ve grown into yours. I’ve been surprised at how natural it all is. I know every inch of you. I can sense what you need without really having to try. You want Daddy when you want to be happy, and me when you want to be sad. I know I won’t always be able to fix your problems so easily, but oh, I wish I could.

I have so many hopes for you. I want you to be independent and confident and curious. If I could have you be anything, I would have you be kind. I worry about you constantly. I suppose it will always be like that. But I love who you are and who I’ve become since you arrived. I only have you to thank for that.

With love,

Your mother.

The making of a boy

Someone told me that when a baby puts something in their mouth for the first time, they log it away for future reference. So you still know what sand tastes like, even though you only tried it once and however many years ago it was (no need to specify).

Henry won’t be trying it again, I assume.



I love these firsts. I love how they feel so exciting to us, trivial as they seem. What I can’t get my head around is how we’re creating a childhood between us. His hazy first memories will be made up of our normal lives. The stories he’ll tell his friends about the exasperating quirks of his parents will be woven from our personalities. I feel the weight of it when he has a problem that only I can fix, when he cries and cries until I lift him up, and he buries chubby hands in my hair and quietens himself, I feel it: I am the mother, I am the quiet in his baby storm, and this is a childhood we are forming together.

I know we are destined to be desperately uncool to him one day. I’m so glad that it’s not quite yet.

Making Room

Today I found a few photos of Henry’s room before it stopped being a receptacle for all our assorted junk and started being a nappy-splattered nursery.

From this:

to this:

And here’s what the other wall looked like:

Much better these days:

(Did I mention I’m completely in love with that chest of drawers? Those little handles. My goodness.)

You know, I agonised over that room. I cried over it. It became a symbol of everything I didn’t have time to do as a pregnant stuck-in-the-office worker, and all my inadequacies that were sure to emerge as a mother. I couldn’t think of how to decorate it and didn’t have time to do much to it anyway. I wasn’t creative enough. I had to throw away one of my Complete Works of Shakespeare when I purged all of my books, and resented it – now I only have two – and felt it was obviously an indication of how little prepared I was to make room for a baby.

Well, we got there in the end. We reorganised our clutter, made trips to IKEA, took up the carpet, painted the walls, wrestled with the rocking chair. I never stopped agonising. Before every purchase and every decision I ruminated for hours, worrying about whether it would fit and if it would look nice. Everything seemed painfully imbued with significance, and only if everything was perfect would this grand adventuring experiment, this entering of motherhood, be exactly what I wanted it to be.

Here’s what I know now: it never really mattered. It’s a lovely room to sit in, and somewhere nice to change nappies, but he won’t even be sleeping in it till after Christmas. The rocking chair is still half-painted, the cupboard is bursting with swag, and the blind needs replacing. But it never needed to be perfect. It just needed to be his.

It’s been the same with mothering, generally. Some days are better than others. I’m not the superwoman I envisioned, and spend more time sitting around and wasting time than I ever did in the office. But as I type this, with Timothy asleep on the floor at my feet and Henry sat watching me with his little hand in the crook of my arm, I know I never needed to be a perfect mother. I just needed to be his. And that, I find, I can do just fine.

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