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...

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Love Letter From a Mother

Not to my son; not this time. There have been several of those and there will be many more, but this is a love letter for someone very different.

Hello You

I bet you didn't expect me to be writing you a letter to tell you how much I love you, did you? After all, we're sort of in direct competition for Blake's affections. You are the sole individual who has the power to make me feel pushed to one side, and on more than one occasion you've made me feel like I'm just not needed at all.

However much those moments hurt, I have to appreciate and admire you for what you are.

You are my son's best friend, his confidante, his soul mate. You are the one for whom he saves his most beaming of smiles. Whenever he sees you, it's as though he hasn't laid eyes on you in months, even if it has barely been a few hours since you were together. There are so many times that he has picked you over me when he's needed comfort, and painfully few moments that he has chosen the other way around. Of course, that's for a very good reason; you see, you provide a love for my son that I simply cannot compete with.

You are there by his side when I'm paying attention to the housework instead of our precious boy. You sit by his side, reminding him that he is loved and never alone.

You are there with him throughout the night when he's poorly or when his teeth hurt. While I sleep in the other room, you sit up with him on your endless nighttime vigils; making sure that comfort is on hand when he needs it.

You are tough in the face of his sometimes violent displays of affection. While I have to gently pry his fingers from around my neck during his overwhelming hugs, you happily let him throttle you with his love.

You are there for him at daycare when I can't be. You are there for him when he can't get to sleep at other people's houses while his parents are out working. You remind him of home and that he'll be back there soon.

Just the smell of you is enough to calm him when he's upset; he doesn't even have to open his eyes to know that you are there for him. As soon as he senses you, he settles and you sit there serenely waiting; ready to greet him the second he wakes up.

Yes, you are my competition, but I love you for everything that you do. I love how much Blake loves you and for all the ways that you provide for him when I cannot.

You are Mugglewump.

Thank you for everything

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Babadook - A Mother's Perspective

*** Warning: Contains spoilers ***

There has been a lot of hype about The Babadook with many hailing it as the best horror of 2014. Some have even said it's the best film of 2014. However, I was incredibly nervous about watching it. Why? Because I'm a Mum. 

After years of being a horror devotee, I have become sensitive to the genre since having my son and I was acutely aware that the roots of this film are in a mother's relationship with her child. As one reviewer put it 'The Australian thriller The Babadook is one of the most terrifying horror movies this year, because it roots its shocks in the most primal of emotions: mother love.'

Unfortunately for me, I'm a sucker for punishment and let curiosity get the better of me when I was given the opportunity to see the movie for myself. 

The film was fantastic and I'm glad that I set my own fear to one side. The clever use of muted grey tones throughout and the minimal but effective use of the score meant that the tension was ramped up to an almost unbearable level. For me though, the triumph was in the characters. Unlike most horror movies, you genuinely cared about what happened to the main protagonists, Amelia and her son, Samuel. By the time things turn nasty, you are really rooting for a happy ending for them. 

The horror itself is done beautifully. As the terror unfolds you begin to feel as though you are trapped in one of your own childhood nightmares; as the film keeps you guessing about The Babadook's physical reality, this is wonderfully effective. Similarly, the true appearance of the monster is left to the viewer's imagination; a shrewd move as we have learned time and time again that the image of the monster is never nearly as scary as the ones in our minds. 

As suspected though, the true horror of The Babadook did not lie in the monster or the nightmares; it was in the real core of the story. For me, the real fear came from how easily a mother can damage her own child. Long before the scares start coming, in fact right from the beginning, the narrative is tense and uncomfortable. A mother who is trying to raise a difficult child alone, she struggles with her conflicting emotions of wanting to protect him and quietly resenting him as she mourns her dead husband.

I watched the film with Mr Meaney and it was interesting to see how we both approached the story from different directions. He was firmly on the side of the mother; focusing on her struggles as her child becomes more and more out of control. However, I felt sad for Samuel; a small boy whose mother is his only friend and confidante, whom he worships unconditionally. Yet he believes in his monster so completely that it overrides everything else. Some of the most touching, yet heartbreaking moments in the film were when Samuel tries to show his mother affection, or expresses his overwhelming desire to protect her and gets nothing from her in return.

There's also an ongoing theme of sleep deprivation, which all parents can relate to. We're all too aware of how lack of rest can make us irrational and, occasionally, cruel. The film illustrates that starkly and it's incredibly hard to watch as a parent. Then as the monster overtakes her, the viewer is left guessing as to whether he's real or just a manifestation of her creeping insanity, and we're left with the very real impression that the real evil comes from the family's increasing isolation.

I'll admit that I tucked myself tight under my duvet the night after watching The Babadook and I saw a great many more shadows in my bedroom, but the lasting effect on me hasn't been to be afraid of monsters under my bed. I have gone away from The Babadook with the fear that, as a mother, I could be the monster and that's where the true terror lies. The story will resonate with me every time I lose my temper or let an angry word fly at my child and I will realise that I am meant to be his protector. To have the one person that you love more than anyone else in the world, the person that is supposed to look after you, turn into the thing that you fear must be the greatest horror of all.

Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Best New Year's Eve of All

2014 is drawing to a close and I'm beginning to put some thought into what I'm going to wear this evening. Or, more to the point, which of my clothes I haven’t managed to balloon out of over the Christmas period. Our plans for tonight are fairly modest – an evening with a few friends and family members at my sister’s cottage, children in tow, but I expect it to be a good party. That said, it does have rather a lot to live up to. I've had some incredible New Year’s Eves in my time, from the big blow-outs to the drunken pyjama parties, and only very few of them have been shit.

However, not one of those drunken midnights, seeing in another year, will ever come close to last year. Last year was the best New Year’s Eve I have ever had.

It actually started terribly. I was still in hospital, recovering from my C-section, and was rudely awoken at about 1am on the 31st because the nurses needed my bay for another woman just out of surgery. In pain and exhausted, I tried to gather my things from the floor around my bed – I had been unable to move enough to tidy up until then, and the emergency nature of my operation meant that I’d hardly been able to get myself comfortable and organized beforehand – while the HCA stood and tutted at the mess. I was then instructed to move from my nice, calm, private room into one already occupied by two other women, both of whom were mothers to premature babies and had been in hospital for several weeks. One of the girls didn't even have her baby on the ward with her yet. Suddenly, in crashed Blake and I; him screaming for a nappy change, me blubbering that Blake was dying (the baby blues: that shit is as real as it gets). We were tucked into the corner bay – the only one without any functioning lights – and left to our own devices. Let me tell you that changing a newborn’s nappy in the dark is hard; trying to do so whilst looking through a curtain of your own tears and inexperience is even harder.

Fast forward a few hours and I woke up feeling refreshed after some fairly decent sleep, but desperate to go home. The pain in my incision wound was beginning to abate slightly, and the lighting on the ward was really starting to harsh my morphine buzz. Visiting hours didn't start for ages and, while partners could spend most of the day on the ward, Mr Meaney was still without his driving license and had to wait for my parents to bring him in. The day was about watching the clock tick and wondering if my tits would always hurt this much.

Eventually, visiting times came around, but still I was not allowed to go home. I had to wait for a nurse to give me a bunch of syringes to take home and a lesson on how to brutally ram them into my own stomach before I could leave. My Mum was due to babysit for my niece so that my sister could go out, and as day rolled into evening, I could feel the stress emanating from her pores. Finally, a huge bag of drugs in one hand, I was allowed to leave the hospital. Blake’s electronic anti-baby-theft device was cut from his teeny, tiny little ankle (his first ASBO, really) and we were set free into the world. I had to sit in the front of my parent’s Land Rover to try and get as comfortable as possible, while baby Bear had to go in the back; the wrench of not being able to see him on that hour long journey was intense.

When we got home, Mr Meaney gave the best present that any husband could ever give a wife that has just spent three days in a maternity unit: he let me go to bed. He helped me to get comfortable under my nice big duvet and took the baby for a couple of hours until the next feed.

I slept like the dead.

Resurfacing after two hours, I was greeted by a baby screaming for food and a clock that alerted me to the fact that 2013 was nearly over. I settled down with my two boys – the new one and the one that had been kicking around for a while – and watched the London fireworks on TV. I was tired, a little frightened of what lay ahead and yet completely elated by where I was. As the first few minutes of 2014 ticked by, I was happier than I had ever been in my entire life. For all of the wild New Year’s Eves I had had in the past, everything up until that point suddenly felt like I had just been waiting.

It has gone on to be an incredible year. There have been a few ups and downs along the way, but every single day is a new adventure and I wouldn't change any part of the last twelve months. Even the shit parts have been better than anything that came before.

This New Year's Eve will see me spending it with my two boys again, although I hope the newest one will be in bed by the time Big Ben chimes twelve. Last year was the best New Year’s Eve I have ever had but from here on in I expect them to just get better and better. As I watch Blake grow and turn into even more of an hilarious little weirdo, the future seems more exciting than I could have possibly imagined.

So, here’s to 2014; A truly vintage year! 2015 has got some pretty big shoes to fill, but I reckon it’s up to the challenge. Fingers crossed, next New Year will see us celebrating as a four…

Saturday, 20 December 2014

30 Things I've Learned During My First 12 Months as a Parent

Blake will be one next week, and the past twelve months have flown by in a way that I can barely believe. It has been an absolute roller-coaster of emotions, as well as learning curve steep enough to feel like I'm trying to climb up a demon drop slide. Here are a few of the things that I've learned along the way (only some of which involve bodily functions):

1. Throw unused mashed banana away straight away. You are not going to want to deal with it two hours later.

2. There is no upper limit to how many times a cupboard door can be opened and slammed shut.

3. Apparently bath bubbles are fine for consumption. That or it takes more than twelve months for adverse effects to appear.

4. Boys discover their willies way earlier than you might imagine.

5. Other parents don't always provide a particularly good support system; they have their own problems.

6. Poverty can actually make you a better parent.

7. At no point does poo-finger become any less traumatic.

8. Being dribbled on fast becomes a way of life.

9. As your baby becomes more active, you will find yourself putting nappy changes off until absolutely necessary; no one likes an impromptu wrestling match.

10. People will always criticise your decisions. 

10a. Take their advice with a pinch of salt and carry on doing it your way.

11. Controlled crying works. Sometimes. For some people. If the baby decides it's going to.

12. You will break every rule that you've set for yourself, from dummies to co-sleeping to television consumption. 

13. Broken sleep does not get any easier. 

14. Babies will hold onto an exploding poo for days, only to release it in spectacular fashion the moment you find yourself out in public and away from accessible baby changing facilities. 

15. At some point, you will probably have to throw away a rug or two after too many nappy free sessions.

16. Babies will do things at their own speed. Ignore the charts and milestone predictions.

17. Other parents do not want your opinion on what they're doing. Unless it agrees with them completely.

18. Hangovers will never be the same again.

19. Baby brain never goes away. Ever.

20. Your relationship will change, but that's usually mostly OK.

21. The post-partum hair loss does eventually slow down.

22. Join local buy and sell groups on social networks; baby clothes are bloody expensive and they grow out of them in the blink of an eye, so cheap used bundles of clothes are a money saving essential. 

23. Forgoing the baby monitor at night is a terrifying prospect. 

24. Sadly, some friends will probably lose interest in you.

25. Parents feel guilty about most of what they're doing, most of the time. Just embrace it; chances are you're doing a fine job. Let those feelings of inadequacy wash straight over you.

26. People will continues to ask questions like, 'how is the weight loss going?' even when you're feeling incredibly svelte. 

26a. Who am I kidding? Svelte is long gone.

27. Childcare is a fucking nightmare if you work weekends.

28. Baby socks exist in some kind of parallel dimension in which they are invisible 99% of the time, turning up only occasionally to be shoved into the baby's mouth. 

29. Pram shoes are completely pointless.

30. One day, you will unexpectedly stumble upon one of your baby's newborn vests and feel an uncontrollable broodiness that says it's time to do it all over again...

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Hints and Tips for The Reluctant Housewife

If you're anything like me then housework doesn't come easily. Ok, let me rephrase that: if you're anything like me then you're a complete and utter slob. Don't deny it; the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. When you only have yourself to worry about, being a slob is fine, if a little unhygienic, but I would assume that you are reading my blog because you are a parent in which case something will eventually give.

Having a baby does not turn you into a domestic goddess. What it does do is highlight how far removed from a domestic goddess you are. There are, of course, people who are natural born housekeepers and, for them, parenthood simply sharpens that set of already well defined skills. However, for us slobs, there is no automatic urge to pick up a steam mop the second that we push out our offspring. It's something that we have to work at.

I spent an awful lot of time making excuses for having a messy house. It wasn't just messy either; the bedding was musty, the shower drain was clogged and a thick layer of dust covered the shelves and windowsills. Don't even get me started on my kitchen. I kept telling myself - and anyone else who would listen - that I was sorry for the mess but that it wasn't my fault. I honestly believed that it was nigh on impossible to maintain a household as well as looking after a baby. The problem only got worse when I went back to work because it gave me yet another excuse to not clean up after myself; I was a working mother gosh darn it. I deserved to put my feet up at the end of the day. Unfortunately, my feet may have been up but my conscience was as clean as my kitchen work top; I ended every day feeling guilty, stressed and overwhelmed.

It's only now that I've realised that I can have a clean home and put my feet at up the end of the day; it's just about having a system and breaking life long terrible habits. I'm still finding my own routine and I don't want anyone to think that I'm preaching - I'm not - I just want to share some of the ways that I've sabotaged my own internal tramp. If I can help out just one fellow stressed out slob then it's been worth it.

1. Laundry

Do at least one load of washing any day that you're in the house. Personally, I hate sorting through laundry; it's not the washing and drying that bothers me, it's the putting away. I despise it. It takes so long and I can think of a thousand things I'd rather be doing. However, rifling through baskets of clothing looking for a clean sleepsuit gets really old, really fast. It was when I found myself doing this at every bed time that I eventually cracked. 

By seeing one load of washing through to completion each day, I can completely avoid the overwhelming sensation of 'Shit, I've run out of everything', and the sight of three separate airers groaning under the weight of all of the clothes.

2. Routine, Routine, Routine

Babies love routine, so it stands to reason that a few weeks in you will find that you've adopted one without realising it. The trick is in shoe-horning a little bit of daily domestic into what is already a well established itinerary. 

For me, this means getting up and, before I so much as make a cup of tea, I tidy away any post dinner carnage in the kitchen and put the hoover round downstairs. It's not much, but it makes me feel like I have my shit together. It then means that the little things are more or less taken care of, so I can often tackle another room at my leisure during the baby's nap times.

3. The OCD Friend Technique

As you are cleaning up, keep telling yourself that the most judgemental clean freak you know is on their way round to examine the fruit of your labour. 

I use my little sister; the girl is a complete bleach fanatic. In order to keep myself on the straight and narrow, I firmly convince myself that her arrival is imminent and that, if I don't finish, she will go away with a diminished opinion of me. If I'm having a really lazy day - more often than not - I will tell myself that she's bringing my mother with her.

4. Get a Dishwasher

Ok, so this is technically just a way of cutting a corner, but hey, we've admitted we don't like chores so let's not put on any airs and graces. The more that you allow dirty dishes to clutter up your work surfaces, the less inclined you will feel to tackle them. 

Babies mean bottles, sippy cups, dummies, weaning spoons, teethers... any number of plastic objects that need constant cleaning and sterilising. Take it from one who found out the hard way that it's far more difficult to stay on top of your baby's bottle output if your worktop is covered in crusty saucepans. By putting as much as you can into the dishwasher, the space around your sink is freed up for washing teats and other non-dishwasher safe bits and pieces. Again, it's about protecting yourself from feeling overwhelmed - the enemy of organisation - but it's important to remember to work unloading the dishwasher into your routine. Out of sight shouldn't mean out of mind.

5. Establish a Holding Zone

I actually read this tip in Psychologies magazine. The idea is that if you're inclined to dump stuff on a chair/table/desk then that inclination should be embraced rather than fought. Nominate a 'Holding Zone' - mine is my kitchen table - and plonk anything that needs to be dealt with, but that you haven't got time for right now, here. Here's the important part: You must have regular sort through of your Holding Zone. If you don't clear it on at least a weekly basis then you'll be right back where you started.

6. Tackle Other Areas of Disorganisation 

For me, this meant emptying my email inbox of 2,456,354 unread emails and replying to a bunch of (quite important) correspondence that I'd been hiding from. By starting to claw back some control in other areas of my life, I felt able to start tackling the superficial issues inside my house. It's amazing how quickly things can begin to feel like a huge weight on your shoulders if you try and push them to the back of your mind. Eventually you just find yourself unable to deal with any of it, and that definitely includes doing the dusting.

7. Enlist Help

If you're lucky enough to have a partner or family/friends that are willing to pop round and lend you a hand then, by all bloody means, make use of them! By halving the time you spend cleaning, you are doubling the amount of time you get to spend playing with your baby.

8. Have a Day Off!

In other words, go easy on yourself. Even with all the best intentions, it's very difficult to maintain domestic harmony if it isn't something that comes particularly naturally.

I always find the end of the week is a bit of a problem, because I have to go to work. Usually, by Sunday, things have begun to get a bit scruffy again. My heart tells me to just close the door on it and go out for the day, but I know that doing that just means more work for me the following week. So I do try to get on top of it before it gets on top of me.

All of this is just fine, but it's important to remember that the idea is to minimise the time you have to spend cleaning. The single most important thing to spend your time on is your baby, so don't get too obsessed. There is more to life than bleaching and tidying; it's just about striking a balance that makes your life easier. So, if you want a day off, have a day off. Don't torture yourself, but also don't think that one 'off day' is an excuse to throw in the towel. Housework has to be treated like the Boo ghosts in the Super Mario games: if you turn your back on it for too long, you're going to end up in all sorts of trouble.

And now your bathroom needs cleaning again