Saturday, 16 May 2015

Why I've Stopped Giving a Sh*t About What Other Parents are Doing

When my son was younger, I was all about keeping up with the proverbial Jones's. I spent my time on the internet reading about what other mothers were buying for their children or giving them to eat, and I ended up driving myself to the very edge of insanity. There was no way I could keep up with what everyone else was doing; my budget simply wouldn't allow it, and yet here I was torturing myself about all of the crucial developmental tools that Blake was missing out on. I truly felt that he was being held back in life by my lack of Fisher Price gadgets and Nuby feeding utensils.

It's only now that he's older, and as developed as I'd expect at his age, that I've realised that material goods in a baby's life are no different from material goods in ours; that actually they don't matter. It's just stuff.

For example, when Blake was a little less mobile (oh, blessed days) I was completely obsessed with the idea of the Jumperoo. It seemed like everyone else had one and the internet was basically telling me that if I didn't have one then I was failing my child at a most fundamental level; he would never learn to walk and his fine motor and communication skills were going to suffer irreparable damage thanks to my crap finances. In truth, not having a Jumperoo really meant that the only thing we were missing out on was having half our lounge taken up by a plastic monstrosity. The actual functionality of a Jumperoo was easily achieved with a bargain door bouncer bought from eBay and a reasonably priced (but perfectly sufficient) baby walker given to us by Blake's Granny. 

Blake never had a Sophie La Girafe teether. As I jumped from forum to forum, I was crippled with guilt over the fact that I hadn't invested in something that had brought so many other children such hours of joy. Let us not also forget that it's made with all natural materials, as though we're somehow poisoning our offspring by daring to let them put anything man-made into their mouths. I've seen people putting out impassioned pleas on social media to find lost Sophies because those sodding giraffes cost a small fortune. Can you guess what happens if Blake loses one of his cheap teethers that I buy from Boots? I buy another one.

When I introduced Blake to bottles, I spent hours online researching the best types to buy. I tied myself up in knots reading about Dr Brown bottles that prevent colic and will make your baby the happiest he can be and eventually save him a fortune in therapists when he's older. I read about techniques to alter the hole in rubber bottle teats to make the flow more resemble that of the breast, and stood in Tesco nearly in tears wondering what sized teats to buy in the first place. In the end, I bought the pretty standard Tommee Tippee bottles and now, sixteen months later, we're still bloody using them, alteration free.

I bought the cheapest travel system that I could find that still had good reviews, and I absolutely love that thing; I'm pretty certain it could survive a nuclear holocaust.

We used a mid-priced Moses basket and put it next to the bed instead of bothering to hire a Bed-nest. 

We put the landing light on and opened his bedroom door a crack instead of buying a night-light that projected stars onto the ceiling. 

I downloaded a free lullaby app on my phone instead of worrying about a Slumber Buddy. 

We used a hand-me-down baby monitor that does nothing but transmit sound instead of investing in an Angelcare mat that sets of alarms in case of an emergency. 

It's not that I didn't want any of these things, because I did. The more time I spent on Google and Twitter, the more I convinced myself that I was somehow failing my child by not keeping up with everyone else, but then something strange happened: Blake stayed alive. He started to crawl, and then to walk and kept up developmentally with all of his peers despite the fact that our house was more 'car-boot' than 'Mothercare'. So I relaxed and I learnt that things are just things. Clever marketing is designed specifically to make us feel like shit if we can't afford a particular product but, chances are, you can probably do just fine without it. 

I began to work on the principle that my Mum never had any of this crap when she was raising us and we all still grew up into (mostly) fully functioning adults. I mean, look at me: I can read and write and I never even watched one, single episode of Baby Einstein. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Here's to The 'Middle' Mums!

I've seen a lot of things said about the benefits of being both a young and an older mother. From this lovely meme on Facebook:
to Huffintgon Post's article about why it's awesome to have a baby past fifty, and while this is all well and good, it got me to thinking that there doesn't seem to be many articles heralding parenthood in the dirty thirties. So I thought I'd write one.

I was one month away from twenty-nine when I had my first baby, I'm now carrying my second at thirty and, for me, my child bearing years have come at the best possible time in my life. Both young and older mothers have advantages over the other, yet here I am, smack bang in the middle of them all, reaping benefits from both sides.

So let me tell you why I think that being a 'Middle' Mum is the best.

1. You've lived but you haven't quite finished yet.

From the young mums cry of 'I will be young enough to enjoy my child as an adult' to the older women citing a full life behind them, it seems to be accepted that life in general is popped temporarily on hold during the baby-bearing years. If we accept this premise, then I think that I'm perfectly placed. I've had my selfish single years pre-parenthood, but I can also feel secure in the knowledge that I'll still be reasonably young once my offspring are old enough to buy me a well-deserved glass of wine.

2. Lots of  your friends are at it.

The late twenties and early thirties are very much an average time to start popping out babies these days. Both very young and much older mothers are more likely to find themselves suddenly isolated from their peers once a baby is on the scene. Not so for us Middle Mums. Everyone is at it, so we always have plenty of puke-stained company.

3. We remember what it's like to be young.

Just humour me here: We remember because it wasn't that long ago, really. Honest. Please agree. This puts the ultimate patience on our side. Being young can really, really suck sometimes and we know, because we did it fairly recently. Really.

4. But we're far enough away from our own childhood to not want to repeat it.

You won't catch me engaging in circular arguments with a toddler in full temper tantrum, put it that way. I can outwit them with my knowledge of the world and my unexpected use of big words and actual, genuine logic.

5. We have energy, but we also appreciate decent 'down-time'.

Because, let's face it, post-lunch we're about as ready for a nap as the child is. But don't underestimate us! One, or maybe two cups of coffee is all it takes to have us running around the garden with a football or building Mega-Blok giraffes with the best of them.

So here's to the Middle Mums! The often overlooked women in their late twenties and thirties, who have perhaps taken breaks in much-loved careers and partying lifestyles to have their babies in the middle of the parenting age debate. That said, while this is the best age for me, I don't really think that there is a perfect age that spreads across the entire board of motherhood.

The  best age to have a baby is the age that is right for you, personally, and if you go by that, I don't think you can really go wrong.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Of Course I've F**king Changed

Last night, my brother-in-law casually told me that he 'ignores half the shit' I post on Facebook. My Mum then helpfully told him that he ought not feel bad because 'loads of people do'. We were talking about my one woman crusade to make sure that all children are vaccinated against preventable disease, but I also post a lot of parenting links about other issues so I assume that their apparent distaste at my reading material extends to those as well.

So, to those who are on my friends list who think I'm boring I say this: I'm sorry that I care about things that are relevant to me. Perhaps they're not relevant to you and therefore I suppose I have absolutely no right to clog up your newsfeed with the things I believe to be important. After all, there are far more interesting things on Facebook that you need to see; I mean, your cousin's neighbour's sister might have just posted a fucking hilarious meme about hairbands and I wouldn't want you to miss that, would I?

I see an awful lot of stuff on social media that I don't consider to be either entertaining or relevant to my life. In those situations, I too ignore the poster and scroll right past the link. What I don't do is make a point of going to the person in question to inform them that I'm ignoring them because their interests are not specifically aimed at me. Because, you know what, the attentions of the masses are caught by different things and actually that's okay. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a good thing. It'd be a fucking boring world if we were all that obsessed with kittens.

You're probably wondering why I can't just read the articles that interest me and move on; why do I insist on sharing them with all of you? Well, in terms of the vaccination posts, I believe it's important that as many people see and read them as possible. Even if you don't have children, disease is an issue that affects us all and prevention is far better than cure. But in terms of the constant 'mum blogs', I share them for one simple reason: there's something in each piece that I share that sums up something about how I feel or think. By sharing the link, I hope that someone will read it and perhaps understand me a little bit better at a time in my life when I've changed so much that I actually feel a little bit isolated. Because of course I've changed, I've changed in ways that I didn't even think possible, but I'm still just me and I still want people to know me and even to like me occasionally. I share what I've read because I want to invite you into my mind.

Here are just some of the ways that I've changed since becoming a parent:

1. I think my son is the best thing in the entire world.

Women have babies all the time. It's no big deal. Except that, to me, Blake is a big deal. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, he's the best, most hilarious, handsome human being to ever grace the face of the planet. He might look the same as every other toddler to you, but I could say the same thing about the 'amazeballs' chicken salad you just posted a picture of.

2. My social life plays second fiddle.

I went out one night last year and drank one too many tequilas. My husband was home with Blake and I got a tiny bit carried away. When I got home and fell asleep, I promptly began sleep-walking around the house and woke to find myself naked in the kitchen, trying to clean Blake's high-chair. I was obviously on parental autopilot and it terrified me. What if I'd gone into my son's room and taken him out of his cot? What if I'd tried to take him downstairs when I was both drunk and genuinely asleep? What if he'd wriggled and cried and we'd both fallen? It doesn't bear thinking about, and I've not been drunk with him in the house since. He comes so far before my social life that he can't even see it on the horizon.

3. I care about different things because the world is a different place to me.

Things like vaccines and politics and human rights and the environment. I care about them because I want my son to grow up in a better world. I want him to have the best life possible. 

4. I feel crap sometimes.

Particularly when I'm told that I've clicked 'like' on too many Facebook posts and people are sick of seeing my name pop up, or that people have gone to my mother to specifically tell her that I'm boring.

Well people, here's the thing, I find a lot of things boring too. It's human nature because we're all different. A lot of you don't have children but will have some day, and I hope that you're never made to feel as shitty as I do sometimes. So I will continue to scroll past the Youtube videos of music that I don't like and the pictures of cars that I think are ugly and I will accept that, in this age of social media, we all just want to be a little bit heard and a little bit understood.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Poverty and Parenthood

Two and half years ago I got married to the man of my dreams. I had never wanted an overtly extravagant wedding, but I also knew that I wanted to share the day with as many of the people that I cared about as possible. While I admired the people who were able to elope with just their beloved and marry in front of two unknown witnesses, I didn't want that to be my wedding. I wanted to celebrate my nuptials and to show everyone I knew how in love I was with the man standing next to me. We succeeded and our wedding day was absolutely perfect. It was also achieved on a fairly reasonable budget. That said, it still cost us around five thousand pounds. We were lucky enough that we had friends and family that were generous enough to help enormously toward to the honeymoon of a lifetime but still, that few weeks of our lives didn't come cheap.

Shortly after the wedding, we moved out of my parents' house and into our first marital home, naturally incurring all of the costs that come with that. Those two huge events meant one thing: debt, and a shit load of it. However, we were both working full time and were managing to get things paid off, however slowly.

Then I got pregnant. We both strongly felt that waiting until having a baby was financially viable wasn't really an option; we'd be waiting forever. So we went for it, and I'm glad we did. I didn't want to be forty five with no debts and an achingly empty house; I wanted a family and I wanted it while we were young. In short, biology won.

Of course, the financial implication of that decision is that the debts haven't gone away but our ability to pay them off has. After nine months of statutory maternity pay (or 'peanuts' as I lovingly refer to it) followed by a necessary move into part-time work, money is tight. And by tight I mean that there is more going out than there is coming in. Luckily, I'm not a proud person and I am very good at identifying the problem and dealing with it. I don't ignore phone calls from creditors and I ask for help where it's available. My family are not going to starve any time soon. The debts won't be paid off until I'm around one hundred and seventy two, but frankly that's fairly low on my list of priorities right now.

I do miss having disposable cash though. Thanks to dropping out of school at seventeen and managing to survive on dead end jobs ever since, I've never had a lot of spare money, but I did at least have some once upon a time.

Here are some things that I currently need/miss being able to buy without much thought:

  • A pot of vaseline for my constantly dry lips.
  • Hair dye more than once every three months or so.
  • Night moisturiser.
  • A Friday night bottle of wine.
  • A new mascara. Back in December I picked up a blue one by mistake. I opened the tube before I realised and haven't been able to afford a black one since. So if anyone is wondering why I've come over all eighties in 2015, there you have it.
  • Lunch from the sandwich van at work when I fancy it.
  • New vests for Blake (it isn't all about me).
  • Hotels for the upcoming weddings we have this year.

There are a million other things, but thinking of them is beginning to get me down so I'll stop there. 

The thing is, I still don't regret my decision to start a family without a healthy financial situation. It has taught me some valuable lessons. For one thing, I now know that credit is the devil. A few years ago, I would happily buy anything I wanted and worry about paying for it later; now I have to think about whether I really need something before I commit. I also have to pay up front because my credit rating screams 'DO NOT LEND THIS WOMAN MONEY!'. It's made me incredibly resourceful too; when I do really need something, I have to find the money from somewhere and I've lost any sense of sentimentality with material goods. In other words: I'll sell anything that people will buy.

Most importantly though, being poor has taught me to be grateful for the areas in my life that are very full indeed, despite my empty purse. Every morning, when I'm greeted by Blake's beaming Disney smile, I realise that I'm a very rich woman indeed, and that's worth all the material wealth in the world.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Death Isn't Cruel - Merely Terribly, Terribly Good at His Job

I was an angst-ridden fourteen year old, standing at the top of my uncle Thomas's staircase, peering at his forever heaving bookshelves and wondering what to read next. I had always enjoyed books, but puberty had temporarily robbed me of my appreciation for my former favourite, and I was looking for someone to replace Roald Dahl in my heart. This bookshelf seemed like a good place to start.

Suddenly, a small paperback caught my eye. The busy artwork on the spine and the confusing way that the tome was titled grabbed me, so I took the book to 'borrow'. The white cover was decorated with darkly colourful illustrations, front and back, that sprawled confusingly with characters and action. The title was given as 'Faust' in gothic lettering, but this was crossed through in red, with 'Eric' printed in a font designed to look like scrawled handwriting. I was intrigued.

Eric may not seem like an obvious starting place when it comes to the Discworld but somehow, up until this point, its entire existence had passed me by. It was only after devouring my first book that I started to notice the signature busy cover art featuring on the bookshelves of almost everyone I knew.

It seemed as though I had stumbled onto some sort of a cult...

Over the following years, I read as many Discworld books as I could get my hands on. As my teenage years progressed, I found myself struggling with issues that I had never even imagined having to deal with and Terry's words gave me an entire world to escape into. His quick satire and dry wit put a smile on the face of a young girl who often worried that she might never smile again.

Crucially though, Terry taught me a love for words and for storytelling that would stay with me long after I'd put the books down. In short, he is the person responsible for making me want to write. I had always enjoyed stringing words together, and had always had a knack for doing it well, but suddenly I understood the power available to me. He gave me the words that I didn't realise I had; a voice that I was able to use to full effectiveness thanks to what he had shown me.

When I heard the news yesterday that Terry had died, a small piece of me shattered. I felt that the magic had been sucked out of the world and felt unbearably sad for all the new words that wouldn't be written. Luckily, I didn't feel that way for long. A few hours later, I felt altogether different. I felt inspired; I wanted to write. I was spurred on by the fact that Terry's life was unfairly short but he filled it with as many words as he could untangle from his head, and I owe it to him to do the same. I've been given a gift and I'll be damned if I'm going to do Terry the injustice of wasting it.

So I'll write. Like Terry, I will continue to string these sentences together until Death comes for me. I only hope I can do him proud.

Sleep well, Sir Terry

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Tales from the Rejected Parent

Well, this week has presented me with an unprecedented set of challenges: Blake has decided he has absolutely no time for his Mama.

For the last two days I have had to struggle to get any sort of interaction from my previously loving and hilarious son. He sits amongst his toys, his glorious little face set into an impassive expression, aimlessly sifting through them for something that might peak his interest. Few things seem to. I decide that perhaps he wants me to play with him so I attempt to join in as he 'plays'. I'm met with either a cold stare, a sigh and his retreating form or, worse, he ignores me completely; point blank refusing to give me any eye contact or to acknowledge my presence.

In fact, only one thing seems to illicit any sort of genuine smile from Blake at the moment and that's his Daddy. As soon as Mr Meaney walks into a room, all indifference is shed and he breaks into one of his megawatt grins; all smiling eyes and biteable cheeks. They play and laugh as I watch, wondering what on Earth I've done to upset our boy. Mr Meaney is kind and tries to encourage me to join in, but Blake's face immediately drops the second I try to get involved with his Daddy time. If he's in the mood to give kisses out for Daddy, he will kiss me too, but with a sigh that suggests he's only doing it because his father insisted.

I can't pretend that all of this isn't breaking my heart. In fact, today I had a little 'woe is me' cry, which isn't something I'm particularly wont to do if I can help it. I wouldn't mind so much if I could figure out any sort of reason for why this is happening; I can't think of anything I've done or said that might have pissed him off to this extent. If anything I'm the more lenient parent. I'm far less likely to tell Blake off over minor indiscretions and I'm forever imploring Mr Meaney to lighten up as Blake explores his environment. My motto is: if it's not going to injure him or break, let him fill his boots.

I turned to Google to find out if maybe this is an expected stage in a child's development and it turns out that I'm not alone by any stretch of the imagination. It seems that twelve months is a common age for a baby to suddenly reject the parent that is at home most of the time. There were a few theories put forward, including that the secondary caregiver is more likely to engage in play, whilst the homemaker spends more time doing housework or cooking. Well, that doesn't stand in this house; I don't cook and I barely glance at the housework if it's looking like Blake wants to play. However, one desperate mother put forward an idea that I think I might latch onto. As her son continued to completely reject her in favour of his father, she theorised that he felt secure in the knowledge that his mother would never be far from reach. His father, on the other hand, was at work a lot of the time and she believed that her son was afraid that he might not return. I could see how that might be the case on the good ship Meaney. After all, I'm always here; the kid's probably sick of me, but he has to make the most of his father when he's here.

Of course, it's of little comfort really because he doesn't just ignore me when his father is here; it's all the time. So today I feel sorry for myself. Today I require cuddles and love and the attention of my only child. Unfortunately for me, it looks like today I'm going to get nothing of the sort. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Teething - A Poem

They're hateful things, these pearly whites,
Bringing snot and tears and bedtime fights.
With sleepless nights and swollen gums,
Sky high fevers and red-raw bums;
With watery eyes and scarlet cheeks,
My baby wails and howls and shrieks.
The nappy count goes through the roof
With every spiteful, evil tooth.
The misery seems to come in waves,
While Calpol is what what my angel craves.
We need teething toys and pain relief
If we've a chance against these horrid teeth.
Every shirt he owns is soaked with dribble;
On every toy he's had a nibble.
He chews those fists without much grace,
Agony etched on that perfect face.
If I could take his pain away, I would;
I'd do as much as I thought I could,
But I'm helpless here, this must be done;
He needs teeth just like everyone.
So I'll cuddle him up with all my might
And hope he'll sleep right through the night.
It won't be long before this has passed
Baby Boy will have cut his last
He'll have forgotten this once he is grown
'Til he gets wisdom teeth of his very own...