Saturday, 30 April 2016

Six Ways Parenthood is Like Driving

Obvious differences aside - you don't have to pass a test before becoming a parent, for example (sadly) - it has occurred to me that being a parent is a lot like being a driver. Confused? Let me explain...

6. It Costs a Lot

Bit of a no-brainer really, but learning to drive and owning a car is one hell of a money pit. First you have to pay for a bunch of lessons with a driving instructor (if you value personal relationships with friends/family eligible to teach you), then the test, license and eventually a car. The car will then do its best to empty your bank account at every available opportunity with insurance, tax, breakdown cover, MOTs, fuel, tyres, services and shagged cambelts at the worst possible moments. It's an expensive business.

A lot like having children really. You might go to specialist antenatal classes and prenatal yoga, before going home and browsing Mothercare for the perfect (and alarmingly overpriced) crib and travel system. You will buy every single piece of kit that the Internet tells you that you need and, most of the time, you'll use approximately none of it. Then the baby comes along and you're committed to spending every spare penny you get on the little bugger until they're eighteen (and beyond, usually).

5. It's Confusing at First and Second Nature Once You Get It

Everyone who has learned to drive will remember that moment when they 'got it'. Shortly before your test (if you're lucky), the infinitely confusing combination of movements and manoeuvres will suddenly all just click into place and you will just get driving. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll be good at it, but at least changing gears will make some sort of sense. The result is that you will be able to concentrate on the road while muscle memory takes care of the bits inside the car.

Having a newborn is fucking terrifying. Everything about it seems unnatural, from the way you have to bend their flimsy little arms into their clothes to the fact they don't even breathe in a regular pattern, and don't even get me started on their inability to hold up their heads. It's just so scary. Not to mention exhausting; having to think every single second of the day about what you need to do and when is tiring on a level you will not have experienced before. Then, one day, you wake up and it all sort of makes a bit more sense. Your routine will be like a well oiled machine on good days, and even on bad days you'll at least know how to change a nappy without gagging.

4. No Amount of Theory or Practice Will Prepare You

There is a saying that you don't learn to drive until after you pass your test and hardly a truer word has ever been uttered. The first time you take your car out on your own, without your instructor beside you with his extra set of brakes for emergencies, it's one hell of a bloody culture shock; fuck it up and you could literally kill someone. The first time I drove after passing my test, I went about two miles down the road and was so tense the entire time that I had to come home and take a nap.

If you think driving alone is frightening, try taking a helpless newborn home from hospital and being left to keep them alive; fuck it up and you could literally kill someone. Even now, I'm sometimes a bit alarmed that I've been entrusted with such an earth shattering responsibility. 

3. You Think It's Going to Make You Feel Grown Up - It Doesn't

I used to fantasise about pulling up to important job interviews in my super grown up turquoise coupe, wearing power suits and talking about super important things on my top of the range mobile phone. What actually happened was that I put fluffy dice on the rear view mirror and spent any time in the car wailing along to musical soundtracks. The only thing that has changed is the type of car (red five-door hatchback) and the CD (CBeebies - I still sing along). Oh, and I much prefer to text.

I was going to be a parent. Is there anything more grown up? I didn't think so. I thought that my transition into adulthood would finally be complete once I had children of my own. This evening, after putting the small people to bed, I ate Pop Tarts and drank Bitter Shandy out of a can.

2. You Think You Do it Better Than Everyone Else

Everyone thinks they're a better driver than everyone else. You criticise other people on the road from the safety of your own car, even if their behaviour affects you in absolutely no way whatsoever. If you're in a car and someone else is driving, you press your imaginary brake and draw a sharp breath when they get too close to bushes or parked cars, safe in the belief that literally no one can drive better than you.

Parenting works on basically the same principle: you do you and, as far as you're concerned, that's the correct way to do it. You sit at home with your partner and question other people's parenting techniques with raised eyebrows and wry smiles (don't lie, we all do it), certain that you are doing a better job than every other parent on the planet.

1. But Sometimes You Just Can't Do It At All

You know the days: nothing you do inside the car has any flow, you miss your opportunities at junctions and run out of fingers to count the pissed off glares from other drivers. Sometimes it's just the luck of the draw but, more often than not, it's because you're tired, stressed or hungover. But you keep going because the journey has started and you have to finish.

Some days you just can't parent - usually when you're tired, stressed or hungover. Some days everything goes wrong, everyone cries and you question every single decision that led to this point. Some days you will feel like you're the worst person in the world for this job and that your actions are going to lead to a lifetime of therapy for your angry and poorly behaved children. In fact, some days you just want to jump into that car and drive the fuck away. But you keep going because, well, the journey has started... and you have to finish.


My face when I'm driving. And occasionally when I'm parenting.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

My Life is Yours Forever, But I'm Ready for My Room Back Now

Last summer my husband and I spent an entire week creating the perfect bedroom for our little girl. We painted three walls of the tiny room in marshmallow and picked a bright turquoise for the fourth - the one that her cot would be against. I sourced a lovely white, second hand cot and spent evening after evening painstakingly creating felt art based on the unicorn theme I'd created. Once I'd added the finishing touches of bubble gum pink curtains and a rainbow striped rug, it was truly a room fit for a princess.


I'm actually a bit jealous.


We then filled it with a bunch of shit that we didn't have homes for and closed the door on it for nine months. 

However, we have recently made an effort to turn this beautiful, rainbow hued dumping ground back into a bedroom because our baby girl is nearly six months old. I could never be a parent who puts my baby into their own room from early on. I don't have anything against those who do - in fact, for the people that I know who have done so, it's been a very practical move - I just wouldn't be able to do it. In fact, for the first couple of months of each of my babies' lives, I wouldn't even sleep with my back to their cots. I just love having my tiny womb fruits close to me at night; more often than not, they spend a good portion of it actually in my bed anyway because I'm a lazy breastfeeder.

Still, there comes a point, as your tiny baby becomes not very tiny at all, when you really need to think about taking your room back.

It's not that I don't love having her there at night - if anything, it makes my life much easier in the small hours - but it's very difficult to try and live around a child that suffers from the curse of Getting Overtired. I've always been aware of  being overtired as concept, but just not as it applied to me. Until Merryn, I sort of thought overtired meant that you dropped off too quickly and did that weird jumpy thing where you think you're falling off a kerb despite being tucked up in bed. It was certainly never a problem for Blake. If he was tired, he fell asleep - if he wasn't, he didn't; a fact that still sometimes leads to horrific bedtime battles. Merryn, on the other hand, has to be put to bed the second she yawns or all sodding hell breaks loose. And when I say 'bed', I mean in bed, in the dark, or it's no dice.

The effect of all this is that my bedroom is sort of being held hostage. I can't clean or tidy it because Merryn decides she needs a nap every time I try, I can't blow dry my hair after washing it because it's easiest to shower when she's sleeping and don't even get me started on the marital functions of the bedroom (not with an audience, thank you).

So, I'm taking back my bedroom. We're starting with her naps in the day time by letting her sleep in the travel cot in her own room, but I plan to have her in there full time by the end of the month. Well, until 3am anyway, which is when she usually starts waking every hour or two for a feed. I'm not going to pretend it's going well so far, but we'll get there.

I'll find it hard, I know. I struggled when Blake went into his own room and checked on him at least five times a night for the first month, but there's also so much that I'm looking forward to. I can't wait to have extra space between my bed and wardrobe once the cot has gone; it'll mean I can actually get to my clothes and finally retire the baggy jeans and T-shirt combo that I've been rocking since last November. In fact, there'll suddenly be such a drop in clutter in our bedroom that I can finally carry on with decorating it (it's Harry Potter themed and takes a shitload of accessorising). I'll be able to hoover the entire carpet. I can go to bed early and read!

I know, right - I dream big...

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Eye of The Sh*t Storm

Having two babies close together is a bit of a learning curve to say the least. There have been tears, tantrums and total organisational train wrecks along the way... and sometimes the children have played up. There have been times when I've mourned life with one child and there have been times when I've mourned life before any children at all. Of course, I wouldn't be without them for the world, but I've definitely found myself yearning for the freedom I once had on occasions.

Until today. Today, I realised that things have balanced out. Today, I realised that I'm totally nailing this parenting malarkey.

Picture the scene...

I was feeling a bit smug after an altogether suspiciously successful trip to the park. Merryn was asleep and Blake was in a fantastic mood after his earlier burning of loads of energy by way of stealing a pre-teen girl's scooter. As I made the boy some dinner, I even found myself humming a bit. Yep, I was completely owning Tuesday, even if the lounge looked a bit like landfill.

As Blake tucked into his fishfingers and watched Tarzan (because, hey, you wouldn't want me to be too perfect), Merryn woke up demanding food. I brought her downstairs and sat down next to Blake's highchair to feed the baby. As she fed, I watched her carefully; poised with a muslin cloth, ready for any sudden unlatches during my hydrant force let-down, and completely took my eye off the ball with Blake.

By the time Merryn finished and I had looked up, Blake had filled a miniature tractor trailer (that came from fuck knows where because I'm sure he didn't have it when I sat him down) with peas, and had proceeded to squash them into a green, squelchy mush. He had then apparently seen fit to smear the concoction all over his face, including a good sized application to his eyebrows and hair. 

It took a while and about fifteen wet wipes, but I eventually managed to de-green Blake's face and was starting to clear the mush out of the tractor trailer when Merryn signalled that was tired. Now, with Merryn, you get a window of approximately a minute and half to get her into bed when she's tired before she crosses the line into hysteria. I dropped everything and stripped her off, ready to change her into her pyjamas. 

Just as I was about to pop a clean nappy onto my naked baby, it occurred to me that I could neither see nor hear my son. 

"Blake?" I said, gingerly, "what are you doing?"

That's when he appeared from behind the sofa with a grim expression on his face and his hand held out in front of him. Since his nappy change about an hour previous, Blake had been wandering about without trousers on (sometimes he just doesn't stay still enough for a full re-dress), and had spent a good portion of the past hour reaching into his nappy and removing his willy to examine it. Upon doing so on this occasion, however, he had apparently found more than he'd bargained for: the hand that he held out to me was covered in poo. 

Time stood still for a moment as I considered the shit-smeared digits hovering in front of my face...

I abandoned a naked Merryn on the floor, her changing mat an island in a sea of squashed peas, Play-Doh crumbs and bits of wooden train track, and took Blake by the arm (not the hand) and ushered him upstairs. I washed his hands in the bathroom sink, trying not to vomit on his head as I stood over him, scraping crap from under his fingernails, and then I led him back downstairs to deal with what was left in his nappy. I quickly fastened a nappy onto Merryn and relocated her to her play mat, temporarily wrapped in a blanket in lieu of pyjamas, plonked Blake onto the changing mat and began using another seventy four wet wipes to try and clean his bottom.

Unfortunately, by this point, Merryn had well and truly crossed over to the dark side of tiredness and was seriously losing her shit, eventually crying so hard that she began to gag. I grabbed her off her mat and held her up in the air, trying not to think about the fact that I'd literally just had my hands in her brother's poo, where she proceeded to vomit all over me and the floor, elegantly crapping her pants as she did so. 

It was at this point that my husband got home from work. And do you know what I did as I explained the carnage that greeted him? I laughed. I didn't lose my temper, I didn't cry, I didn't even get a little bit anxious, and that's when I realised that I'm really, properly coping with having two young children. I was the calm in the centre of the literal shit storm and none of it phased me. Within ten minutes of the catastrophic crap climax, both children were clean(ish), dressed and ready for bed and I didn't lose my shit once. Not once! 

None of us are perfect parents, we know that much, but we have to celebrate the little moments that remind us that we're doing just fine. I've spent the last five months worrying that I was doing a terrible job as a mother, and yet today, in the middle of absolute sodding chaos, I realised that actually I'm doing great. Better than great; I'm fucking killing it.

 
A picture of just the pea incident because I'm not a complete monster.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

10 Things I Hate About Disney's Frozen

You never think it's going to happen to you. You do everything you can to avoid it but some things have a certain inevitability that transcends circumstance or reason, and one such scourge has hit our household. 

Yes, Blake is going through a Frozen phase.

I quite liked Frozen the first time I saw it - the main character has a pretty dress, gravity defying hair and some banging vocals - but, at this point in time, I have seen it every single day for the past week. I no longer quite like Frozen. In fact, I would go so far as to say I fucking despise it. It isn't irrational hatred either; I have actual (fairly) well reasoned arguments as to why it's so bloody awful and it isn't just about the frequency with which I encounter it. Please note: if you have somehow managed to avoid this atrocity of a film but plan to inflict it upon yourself at some point despite everyone's warnings, this list contains spoilers.

10. The Trolls are not helpful.

They may have the catchiest musical number, but the Trolls are not the helpful, wizened creatures that they're made out to be. They're the ones to whom the King turns when his magical child injures his non-magical one. They are then the ones to whom the non-magical no-longer-a child turns to when her magical sister freezes her heart, but do they actually help? Erm, no. The oldest Troll makes some vague comments about fear and then later about love, but none of it seems to really mean anything, and the characters interpret them however they want anyway; a bit like horoscopes, really. In fact, if they were upfront with the King in the first place - if old dude Troll just said "Look, if Elsa gets scared, she freezes shit. If you show her the normal warmth and affection a minor should be able to expect from her family, it's all going to be fine" - then none of that Eternal Winter bullshit need ever have happened. 

9. The characters can't act.

How is that even possible? Anna and Elsa are animated, yet they somehow manage to make the cast of Hollyoaks look like worthy BAFTA contenders.

8. The songs are crap.

As Disney movies go, the songs from Frozen are pretty weak. The one about love being an open door is downright detestable. The only reason that everyone loved Let It Go so much is that Idina Menzel hits some pretty savage high notes and we all liked to pretend that we could do it too. There's something about pretending to be someone that can actually sing that feels all sorts of empowering. It's just a trick that Disney use to make us think that the songs we're singing are actually good.

7. Anna doesn't know what she wants to be.

The writers have tried to make Anna simultaneously a kooky, modern take on the Disney Princess, while maintaining that same traditional air of "I want me some Prince Charming" and it doesn't quite work. No amount of Anna's trademark awkwardness or exclamations of "Wait, what?" can make up for the fact that she's completely willing to marry a man that she's known for approximately ten minutes. She's also a pretty shit judge of character because that man later leaves her for dead.

6. The best character has no lines.

Of his own anyway, although someone else occasionally speaks for him. Yes, I'm talking about the reindeer.

5. The King and Queen are terrible parents.

Firstly: Elsa - The monarchs blame their obviously terrified young daughter for her powers and the damage that they have caused, essentially imprisoning her in her bedroom as a result. And let us not forget that this story is a fairy tale and, unless I'm mistaken, if your first born is shot out into the world bearing some kind of curse then one or both parents are usually to blame. Presumably, at some point in the Queen's pregnancy, someone stole a radish from a witch or had a goblin spin some wool into gold or something, and now they're transferring blame onto their poor, afflicted offspring.

Secondly: Anna - Poor Anna. She literally does nothing wrong and gets locked in the castle, apparently completely ignored by her entire family. She's talking to a Joan of Arc painting, for fuck's sake.

4. Elsa is horrible.

I get that Anna is the heroine. I also get that Elsa is supposed to be teetering on the edge of being a villain; that's sort of the whole point of the film, but they could have at least made her relatable .  Instead, we're supposed to get onboard with a character who has apparently never felt any love for any other human at all, or her powers would have abated, and who has designed herself an outfit that makes her look like she's wearing an ill-fitting strapless bra.

3. The ice rink at the end.

As a 'treat' for her people after accidentally subjecting them to a deep and torturous winter for a bit, Queen Elsa decides that they've had enough summer for five minutes and turns the town square into a snowing ice rink. What the actual fuck? It's like some kind of sick joke.

2. It tries to be a feminist masterpiece and fails miserably.

Ah, the big plot twist: the act of true love that unfreezes Anna's heart has nothing to do with men; it's all about the sisters love for each other. Alone, that's actually pretty cool. I like the way Disney decided to turn that old chestnut on its head - it's just a shame that it's attached to a film that is largely about the fact that women have no demonstrable control over their emotions. There is also a weird subtext that seems to suggest that Elsa is less Ice Queen and more just Frigid Spinster when Prince Hans says "Elsa was preferable, of course, but no one was getting anywhere with her". Wow.

1. I can't escape it.

I don't have to watch it. I can go and make dinner or fold washing or feed the baby and avoid the entire film altogether, and yet I still wake up with For The First Time in Forever in my head every morning. I know you're lonely, Anna, but get the fuck out of my head for one bloody day!

But he likes it, so whatever...

Monday, 28 March 2016

An Ode to The New Mums


I saw it on your face today 
As you tried to keep the tears at bay,

A weary fear that masked your eyes

And told of hours filled with cries.
"Will it always be like this?
Will sleep be something I'll always miss?
Will I ever feel like my shit's together? 
Or will I feel this lost forever?"
I saw it on your face today
As I smiled and promised it would be okay.
You're sick of words that don't ring true
From people who aren't going through
This constant shit storm,
When misery has become the norm.
But I promise you we're being sincere
When we say that easier days are near.
We've been there, we know it's hard
But relief is genuinely on the cards.
The newborn days are ones of joy...
And terror, exhaustion and being annoyed,
But remember that this too shall pass,
That the terrifying parts don't last. 
Your nipples will heal and you will sleep
And safe from these memories your brain will keep
You. Because you will forget,

And I'm here, willing to bet
That just as things reach a state of zen,

You'll decide to do it all over again.


I get it. Really, I do.

Monday, 7 March 2016

The Fear

It's said that being frightened makes you feel alive. I can confirm this fact because I experience crippling fear on a daily basis. The sort of fear that makes your blood run cold and your stomach feel as though it's dropping out of your arse. The sort of fear that makes bile rise in your throat and convinces you that you should never sleep again.

The thing causing this constant heart stopping terror: parenthood.

I should probably clarify a little here - I'm not afraid of my children; they fill my heart with a love so complete that I sometimes wonder how I ever thought I was happy before them. The creeping terror that lurks on the edge of my consciousness is the fear of them being taken away from me. Not by social services, you understand - that would be awful, but I'm pretty certain it's not an imminent threat - but by some awful and unpredictable tragedy.

When Blake was small, I woke throughout the night just to rest my hand on his stomach and feel the rise and fall of his breath. Once he went into his own room, I opened his door every morning with my heart in my throat, terrified that I would find him cold in his bed; taken from me by the unseen evil that is SIDS. I know that it isn't healthy to think that way, but think that way I did. Only ever for a second, just as the door creaked open. As he's grown older, the spectrum of my fears has broadened. Now, I live in a waking nightmare of fast cars on busy roads and little hands that slip out of mine; of a blonde haired boy darting away from my turned back in a busy shop and a bad person that notices before I do; of daring climbs that end in devastating falls. Just writing these things makes me feel like I'm betraying him, as though by manifesting these fears with words, I'm somehow giving them life and opening the door to them. It's not rational, but I'm sure other parents understand.

I thought that with Merryn I would feel more relaxed, but I was wrong. Last night I found myself lying in my bed, exhausted and desperate for sleep, but too frightened to close my eyes in case my baby was taken from me when I wasn't conscious enough to protect her. Social media seems so full of tragic stories about sleeping angels and tiny lives taken too soon, that somehow it had seeped into my soul and convinced me that my family was next; that my life with my perfect children was too good to be true and I was about to suffer the consequences. Of course I was being ridiculous; I woke up in the night and Merryn continued sleeping peacefully and today I feel less afraid again, but it never really stops. 

I sometimes wonder how old my children will be before I no longer wake up in the night, taken by the sudden urge to go into their rooms to check they're still breathing, but I doubt it will be any time that they live under my roof. I try to be rational; I know that I'm keeping my children as safe as I can and I don't want to smother them, but I also know that I can't control the world around us. 

So I try to accept it. I try to embrace The Fear and let it make me feel more alive than I ever have. I'm a parent now and The Fear will be a constant companion for the rest of my life - I might as well get used to it.


Sunday, 28 February 2016

A Letter From a Rubbish Mum

Dear Blake, 

My beautiful boy with the world at his feet. My first experience of wonderfully terrifying maternal love. You are the blonde haired centre of my universe, the beat of my heart, and yet I find myself needing to apologise to you for not being good enough.

I see my own failure every time I look into those huge, blue eyes; so beautifully innocent and yet so full of an aching betrayal that I put there. We were the best of friends, you and I, but now I feel like my company is the last possible thing that you want. 

If I could have, I would have warned you that things were going to change, but you wouldn't have understood. Instead, I brought a glorious stranger into your life and let our relationship change without any explanation. I expected you to accept her without fuss and, for the most part, you have, but how could I have not seen the effect it had on us? On me and my curly crowned prince.

"It's just his age," people tell me. "The Terrible Twos; they all do it," they say with wry smiles. I play my part; I nod along and try to convince myself that their words are true, but I know better. I know that your outbursts and irrationality are my fault. You're such a small boy in such a big and confusing world and everything is changing. And there, right in the middle of that terrifying chaos, is the one person supposed to help you to make sense of it all. Instead of helping, she's sighing with frustration and arguing back as you try to tell her how frightened and confused you are; your language holding you back and muddying those emotions with anger.

Sometimes I turn away from your raw emotion because it frightens me. I look instead at the beaming face of your new sister because I need to remember how it feels to be loved by someone that I haven't let down yet. I miss having you look at me the way she does. Please never think that I love you less, I just find it difficult to face up to the hurt I see on your face sometimes. 

I'm sorry, Baby Bear. I'm sorry I haven't been dealing with your emotions properly, but I promise to be better. I don't always understand them, but I don't think that you do either. Together, we can work out what it all means and put us back together, with a space for new sisters in our alliance. We will be ok, you and me.

I love you fiercely and I always will.

Mum
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