Life with a newborn; expectation vs reality.

Life with a newborn; expectation vs reality.

I had imagined whilst waiting for my first baby, that the few weeks after giving birth would be like a kind of holiday.  My husband would be off work and so would I, and even though we would be tired we would just have this happy glow. We would look at each other lovingly as we wandered around town with our newborn in the pram and sing nursery rhymes together as we gently rocked our little bundle of joy to sleep.

In this fantasy I would also look and feel fantastic. I would not look pregnant anymore and would just spend hours gazing at my happy baby. Relatives would visit and have a go holding the baby and we would all laugh over the amusing anecdote which my birth story would become.

Something along the lines of, me, plopping down my cutlery in the middle of dinner and suddenly announcing, ‘the baby is COMIIIIIING!!’ whereupon slapstick Benny Hill music starts playing as we pack the car for the hospital, jump in, speed down the road and arrive at the hospital just in time for the baby to pop out with a few minutes worth of gas and air.

Relatives would come and go, marvelling at my natural mothering ability, then maybe we would stroll out (in my pre pregnancy jeans) for a long lunch somewhere and I would do my first public breastfeed by just discretely popping the baby’s head under my (non maternity) top and use my free hand to casually fork a salad into my mouth (ha ha, in this fantasy I am eating a salad?). Such effortless multi tasking!!

I felt that having a baby would be hard in the same way that work is hard and that we would flop down onto the sofa at the end of the day and snuggle our little newborn to sleep while we watched telly and maybe relaxed with a glass of wine.

I imagined that breastfeeding would be as simple and as painless as it looked in those adverts for follow on milk (ironic though, really, because if breastfeeding was so wonderful, why use follow on milk, right?). That my baby would lie patiently and peacefully waiting for milk, latch on like a dream and snuggle up with me while I watched leaves falling off a tree through the window.

I knew that my emotions would be heightened due to hormones and adjusting to being a parent. I imagined calmly brushing a few tears of joy from my cheek as I lovingly watched my newborn sleeping.


What the motherf****ing hell was I thinking? Where on earth did I get these stupid ideas from? The shock of life with a newborn baby was only softened by one kind friend who told me the truth about her own experience. i.e. that it was the most shitty and awful time of her life.

Now, there’s a lot of people saying that you should not tell pregnant women horror stories, but surely now we have created a culture where not telling the truth has become the equivalent of blindfolding a couple and telling them you’re leading them into a room full of friendly puppies when in fact, you are about to fling them into a pit full of venomous snakes.

I am so grateful that my friend told me how totally awful the first couple of weeks would be. It made me feel much less guilty when I found myself, instead of floating on a love filled cloud nine, actually having the absolute worst, most stressful, painful, bloody, sleep deprived, tear soaked, nipple cracking, horrible time of my life.  Yes, yes, it was all worth it and yes, I had a beautiful newborn baby and I was grateful and lucky and everything and blah de blah blah blah but oh my God, where to start?

Let’s start with breasts.

On day 3 (or thereabouts) your boobs will feel as if someone has scooped all the flesh out and instead, crammed each breast fit to burst with several bags of heavy pebbles. Around this point you will also start crying hysterically, about everything. Well, I did anyway. It’s just hormones but I had lots of other things to cry about too.

I had trouble getting the baby to latch on properly which led to a lot of intense pain while feeding and eventually, deep, bleeding cracks on one nipple. Breastfeeding should not hurt but it did for me. It hurt despite all the information I had about getting the correct latch and the special breastfeeding antenatal class I attended. The intense suck at the beginning of each feed hurt so much that I wanted to throw the baby across the room. She was so hungry she would be screaming and shoving her little fists in her mouth constantly.

She just cried and cried and cried and we didn’t know what to do with her. She cried from 5 or 6 in the evening till about midnight every night. If attached to a boob she would not be crying but the pain was so unbearable that I couldn’t keep her on my boob all night. I just couldn’t do this breastfeeding thing. I started to dread each feed and with each feed being every two or three hours around the clock, breastfeeding just felt like a kind of 24 hour torture.

Would just like to say at this point that a combination of lansinoh cream, you tube videos about how to breastfeed (more accessible than a breastfeeding support group at 3am), nipple shields when the cracks were really bad and sheer luck got me through in the end. Oh, and there’s a really great website called kellymom for advice and information. My baby just seemed to get how to latch on properly at about three weeks in, otherwise I definitely would have switched to formula. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Sometimes you are doing everything you can but the baby just won’t conform. Once she got it I was ok.

Some Mums have no problems at all with breastfeeding. They might be lying, or on really good painkillers after a c section, or just really really lucky. I have to say that for me, the first few weeks of breastfeeding my child was quite literally, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Harder than labour for sure.

I have not covered labour in this post. I had planned a home birth with lots of relaxing music and an inflatable birthing pool. In the end I was strapped to a dodgy monitoring machine and induced on a labour ward, which included rather traumatic complications and a trip to theatre for an operation after delivery.Here’s what I looked like at the start of my pregnancy.Here’s what I looked like after giving birth.

I looked and felt like a total wreck. I was just as enormous as when I was pregnant except more swollen and insane looking. I had burst a blood vessel in my eye (which my husband named my terminator eye) from pushing so hard during the birth.

My whole body was covered in a mysterious itchy hive like rash, maybe an extra f**k you from my immune system. Down below was the site of some serious damage and Dr Frankenstein like stitch repair work. I felt like, instead of a baby, I had actually given birth to one or all of the following; a live grenade, Edward Scissor Hands, a large coil of barbed wire, a running chainsaw, a stick blender, a cheese grater . . .

. . . you get the picture. Going for a wee was quite a traumatic event.

I was anaemic, knackered, in pain, traumatised, stressed and just constantly sobbing about everything and nothing.

Never mind all that though coz guess what?

You’ve just had a baby and you know what that means don’t you?

Everyone you know, like literally everyone, wants to come round to your house to ‘meet the baby’ (have you make them a cup of tea while they wake your baby up, make it cry, hand it back to you and then go home so that the next lot of people can come).

Can we come over and meet the baby? We’ll come at the time most convenient to you.

Really? Ok then, how about 3am? Oh. Oh, what? You’ll be asleep? Well you know who won’t?

Me. Me and my baby.

After all you have been through, no matter how awful you feel, a good night’s sleep is not on the cards. Neither is an average nights sleep or a bad nights sleep. Forget about night and day, you have left that world behind. The night never ends and neither does the day.

The early hours were the loneliest times.

I found breast pads were very handy for wiping away tears. Shit, I did so much crying. It was definitely not the jolly holiday I was expecting.

After a while though I did have a bit of a revelation. I remember saying to my husband, my poor, poor husband who thought I was going nuts, that all I could do for the rest of his paternity leave, literally all I could do was to sleep and feed the baby. I asked him if for the rest of his parental leave, he could do everything else; all the changing, cuddling, rocking, dressing and washing of the baby, all of the laundry, shopping, tidying, cooking, tea making, cleaning and washing up around the house.

And you know what?

He did.

Instead of hanging around in beer gardens having a ‘fun’ time with my husband I got something else. When I really needed him, like I actually had never needed him before, he was there, or more to the point, he wasn’t just there, he was there and changing nappies and driving the baby round the block at 11pm so I could sleep.

I remember telling my mother in law (whilst crying obviously) that she should be so proud of her son because he was really looking after us and that I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, at which point she obviously joined in the crying with me.

Quite a few people cried with me actually. My midwife shed a few tears with me when I sobbed to her about how incredibly hard I was finding it all and when I confessed to her how I had shouted,

‘Will you just STOP SHOVING YOUR FISTS IN YOUR MOUTH SO I CAN FEED YOU!’ Right into my little baby’s face.

My friend came all the way up from London to cry with me (and eat chocolate) one evening when I had txt her in the afternoon saying, ‘I am just finding this so hard. I can’t stop crying. I can’t breastfeed. Please help!!’

My Mum cried with me over the phone and then came to stay with us for a while which was just such a relief. She did amazing things like cleaning and tidying our whole house and sitting up with me through night feeds and everyday, no matter what, telling me I was doing a fantastic job.

And then one morning, when I went to get the baby out of the Moses basket for her first feed I saw this.

She was smiling at me. Me, the wobbly, sobbing, gibbering wreck. The crap breastfeeder who shouts at babies and, at just a few weeks in, already felt like a terrible mother.

I can do this, I thought.

I can do this now.

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How to do nothing with your kids.

How to do nothing with your kids.

Seven weeks ago, my car was stolen. I was devastated. Living in a village with my three year old daughter and seven month old son and totally crap public transport links meant that the car was our only ticket out of here and enabled me to transport my two to various play dates, soft play, farms, cafes, swimming, gymnastics, kids parties, toddler groups, shopping trips, etc. Being busy was my way of coping and I felt I was doing well as a Mum if their days were crammed with activities.

I felt that I was preventing them from boredom by filling their days up like this, as if they were empty vessels I could fill with ‘experiences.’ I felt that I was stimulating them, encouraging them to explore the world, but you know what? Actually I was just exhausting them. Actually I was just not giving them the space or time to really explore or experience anything.

When we lost the car our world got much smaller. Apart from the odd kind friend or family member taking us out here and there, we were limited to our house, the park (thank god we have a park nearby!) and a few little footpaths we can walk through surrounding the village. I started doing the food shopping online, gave up carting my daughter around to her various gymnastics, soft play and trampolining clubs, and generally embraced spending much more time at home doing ‘activities’ such as;  Sitting on the bed with the kids.   Playing in the garden.Hanging around in the park.  Aimless craft activities like dipping stuff in glitter and a sellotaping stuff together from the recycling bin and not in any way that produces something you could put on Pinterest.  Sitting on the floor in the kids’ room building stuff and pretending things.

Mainly pretending to be faires and building fairy cafes/castles actually.

The thing is that kids are never really doing nothing. They will always find something to do unless they are asleep so I suppose I am not talking about doing ‘nothing’ so much as I am talking about a different way of approaching a day spent with children.

For maybe the first time since having two kids rather than one, our days became unscheduled. Normally my daughter is at preschool for fifteen hours a week but just as the car was stolen, preschool began a three week holiday. No preschool, no car, no clubs, no toddler groups, no structure.

So are my children happy spending more time at home and taking part in less ‘activities’?

Well, Arthur is very happy spending a good amount of time picking up an apple and dropping it back into a fruit bowl over and over again. 

 Audrey is quite happy making magic potions and mermaid caves in the garden and I am realising that it is really ok for them to do stuff like that somedays and not even bother going out that much.

 Boredom is basically a space. By denying my children this space I may have been denying them a space in which to grow.
 Why was I so scared of my children being bored? What would happen to them? What would happen to me? Am I neglecting them if they don’t get to feed five farmyard animals a week, try out every swing and slide in the district and visit six sites of historical interest?

Look, all of these things are great and I will continue to do them with my kids (within reason) but I’d like to put forward the argument that children who are given the chance to be bored (play in a child led and unstructured way) are actually happier and maybe even more intelligent.

There are some woody bits near our house we like to walk through but just take it really slowly and look at everything. To be honest, I am trying to kill time and make the few activities I can provide last much longer but actually I have accidentally given the kids what they really needed which is just to have the time to explore and enjoy things.

For instance, if Audrey wants to stop for ten minutes to hit a tree with a stick (which in turn makes the baby shriek in delight) why don’t I just let her? The tree doesn’t mind and I don’t have any more interesting activities up my sleeve so why not?

One day we stopped and played in an underpass for a good half an hour. They loved listening to the echoes made by their voices, splashing in puddles and looking at the graffiti (thankfully, not too many penises) on the walls.
  The thing is, hanging around in a dark underpass and listening to your own screeches and whoops bouncing off the walls is probably way more fun to my children than being taken to a farm to feed some chickens, but as it is not really a typical ‘afternoon out with the kids’ they do not usually get a chance to enjoy this kind stuff.  Hopefully one day soon I will get another car but in the meantime, I’m so glad I’ve got better at doing nothing. Doing nothing has made my children and therefore me, much more happy and relaxed. Car or no car, from now on we will definitely be doing nothing on a much more regular basis.

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Why are children’s picture books hardly ever about children?

Why are children’s picture books hardly ever about children?

Shall we read a story? What shall we choose? Oh, here’s a lovely story about having a new sibling. Here is another brilliant story about two friends who lose a balloon in the park. Or how about this one? This is a story about a whole family going on a diet and then giving up and eating cake together in their kitchen. These are great stories.

How lovely that children can read these beautifully illustrated stories together with their parents about normal everyday life. Totally relatable tales from the perspective of a child. Oh no, hang on, not a child, something that looks like a child except that is has the head and tail of a monkey/ crocodile/ lion/ elephant/ aardvark (delete as appropriate).

 It seems that children’s authors, illustrators and publishers think that our kids can relate better to Caroline, the preschooler with a baby sibling, if Caroline, instead of being a child, is actually a Crocodile. I mean, not an actual crocodile swimming around in a swamp, oh no, no that is ridiculous. I mean an anthropomorphic crocodile. A crocodile that stands up, walks on hind legs, wears cardigans and lipstick and goes to cafes.

 The particular story I am referring to is actually a fantastic story that we have read many times and enjoyed. The artwork is fab, it is funny and well written and I do not have a problem with some picture books featuring anthropomorphic animals, but the amount of these walking, talking, clothes-wearing animals is starting to freak me out.

 I would say that at least 80% of children’s picture books we own (and we own a lot, handed down from big cousins) feature these humanistic creatures and although they are cute and the stories are great I am puzzled by their dominance in my kids’ story books. I really noticed it when we started to read Shirley Hughes books. We have read the Shirley Hughes books over and over again. They are totally relatable, funny and at times rather moving stories about real tots just doing normal things.

 The absolute all time favourite is ‘Alfie Gets In First,’ a story about Alfie, a rather energetic and fiesty little boy accidentally locking himself in the house alone and his Mum and baby sister outside on the street. Another all time favourite is ‘Dogger,’ a heart warming tale of a little boy called Dave who loses his favourite teddy and his big sister Bella who ends up saving the day when she swaps her enormous new teddy for scraggedy old ‘Dogger’ who has ended up on a bring and buy stall.

 These stories are set in the real world of a small child and are about real children and adults. We love reading them together. I know some of them off by heart and although the stories would be just as fun, I don’t think it would be as relatable for children if Alfie, instead of being a real boy, was actually a boy with the head of a badger.

 It seems that for the most part you have to go back to children’s books published twenty or thirty years ago to find any stories with children in. Most recent stories favour animal heads above all else. It is not a new concept obviously, I mean, look at Peter Rabbit. Children obviously enjoy seeing animals acting like them but has it gone too far the other way now? Are we lacking in stories about real kids? Are we lacking in stories about real animals, that do not walk around town and work in an office? Has there been some new research us parents don’t know about that says our kids just do not want to see real kids in stories?

I can imagine a writer approaching the publisher with a story about a young boy and girl called ‘Pip and Posy’ who just have little dramas that end well one way or another, set in the everyday world, only to be sent away with the notes,

“Hey Axel, we love the concept but instead of a boy and girl how about a rabbit and mouse? Something like that? Maybe a badger and a squirrel? We’re not too fussy really so long as they’re not human. They could still do all the things in the story but just draw them with the heads and feet of some cutesy woodland animals. Real children are soooo thirty years ago.”

Again, I do think these books are great, I just think it would be so refreshing to have some more stories about real children, that actually look like real children, with the heads of human beings. They do exist but I just wish there were more, especially some as beautifully illustrated and everyday as the Shirley Hughes books.

 A little bit of magic in a children’s story is what really hooks my daughter in. ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea,’ works so well, in my opinion, because into the normal everyday world of a real girl and her mother, the real world of a child, walks an enormous, hungry, tea slurping tiger. If the tiger rang the doorbell and Sophie was actually a clothes wearing gorilla we’d just be like,  yeah? And?

Surely it is the bizarre and the magic appearing in the everyday relatable world of a child which is so pleasing to children? When Lucy hid in the wardrobe during a game of hide and seek and walked past the fur coats into the snowy forests of Narnia, I was absolutely fascinated as a child, but if the story had started in Narnia or was about Lucy and her family of Fauns going to Narnia it just would not have worked. I think that sometimes children want to see themselves go on the adventure and I wish there were more books like this out there.

 So please, childrens’ Authors and illustrators, let us read more stories with our children about children. Please leave in the magic, leave in the bizarre and the adventure but for once let it be our children on the adventure, not Bertram the tweed-wearing badger.

What my child really plays with; a top ten.

What my child really plays with; a top ten.

 Soon it will be my daughter’s fourth birthday. No doubt she will get lots of lovely presents from family and friends, some of which will be toys and most of which will hardly ever get played with.

It’s not that I am ungrateful for the toys that she gets given. Hey, I give her toys too and I have also been disappointed in how little of her imagination and attention they manage to hold.

My child does not play with toys.

I have tried everything to encourage her to explore her toys more. We try to play with them together, I have tried rotating them so not all the toys are always out or available at once, I have done research into the absolute top quality and most interesting looking toys, taking my cues from other things that Audrey is interested in but she is really and truly just not really that interested in any particular kind of toy at all.

I have pretty much given up on toys.

Here are a list of Audrey’s top ten ‘other’ things to play with. In no particular order,

 1., A broken slinky (actually it’s a bird feeder)

Before this toy got broken, Audrey was not really interested in it, but since it got tangled beyond repair it has now become ‘the bird feeder’. Basically Audrey hangs it up on various hooks, doorknobs etc around the house and calls out to imaginary birds to get their dinner. She then hangs bits and bobs onto the broken slinky and they are the birds. That is the game.

 2., A piece of string or rope

Creating traps for burglars, ‘fixing’ pieces of furniture, taking things for a walk, throwing it up in the air, tying doors to each other etc etc, there really are a lot of things to be done with a piece of rope or string. Audrey will play with it for ages.

Real skipping rope though?

Nope, not interested.

Craft kit with threading involved?

Mmmmmm, let me see . . .

Nope, no, not interested.

 3., The princesses

What? You can’t see them?

Me neither, but I have been putting them to bed, making them dinner and putting the little buggers on the naughty step for the last couple of years.

I don’t know all their names but there’s definitely a naughty Violet (bit of a gang leader who Audrey loves to tell tales on), Tulip, Juni (perhaps a imaginary version of Audrey’s real life friend, Juno), there’s also a Violet-Tulip and a Tulip-Violet, oh and an imaginary dog named Fliff. Fliff has been dead for one hundred years and scares away monsters.

The princesses are often responsible for drawing on walls and making colossal messes.

(Our house is about 150 years old and I did once think of playing a prank on my husband Sam by mocking up a fake census from a hundred or so years ago that shows little girls called ‘Tulip’ and ‘Violet’ living here. Although actually, I hardly have time to make beans on toast let alone a falsified historical document.)

 4., The Sink

The sink has always been a favourite. Washing things, turning the tap on and off, filling up cups, drinking water, spitting water out and generally making a mess and getting soaked.

 5., Stones

Hunting for stones, picking them up, washing them, drying them, naming them, making them a nest, putting them into pots, our bed etc. Stones are everywhere. They are in my pockets, Audrey’s pockets, the pockets of the changing bag and buggy, drawers and tins around the house, Audrey’s treasure box, they are everywhere! Should you leave a welly unattended for a few days in our house, it will soon be home to a small family of stones. Which brings me onto the next item.

 5., The transferable family

Audrey will take a set of objects (not toys) but maybe plant pots, twigs, coins, plastic cups, Cheerios, bits of paper, stones, Tupperware containers and turn it into a family which she then plays with. There will be a Mummy and babies, a Daddy and a big sister. There will often be a rogue object which does not have a Mummy and Daddy, this object will then be adopted into the family. This is the game.

How about playmobil families with little baby buggies and accessories? How about a vintage dolls house, with a family and awesome little pieces of retro furniture and crockery, telephones, a light up fire, aga, real opening and closing cupboards and pets etc?

Nope, no, no thanks, not interested in playing with that.

 6., A balloon.

Tip for any parent. If your child would like a treat at the supermarket, go to the party section and buy them a pack of balloons. When you get home blow them all up in the room where the least injuries will occur. If your children are anything like mine they will be absolutely delighted for hours. If you want to really splash out buy them a pack of punch balloons.

So. Much. Fun!

 7., The bottom of my wardrobe

Audrey sometimes spends quite a bit of time in a little nest she likes to make for herself in the bottom of my wardrobe. She takes in blankets, camping lanterns, torches and all the pillows off our bed. Once she has played the game of making this nest she then likes to pretend that I am a ‘naughty teacher’ who makes her live in a cupboard.

Don’t ask.

The other night I got up to feed the baby and noticed that the wardrobe was glowing. For a moment it really freaked me out until I realised that Audrey had just forgotten to turn the light out in her little den.

 8., A pack of tissues

This makes a mess but it’s a winner every time.

 9., Measuring tape

Not a toy one or a flimsy dressmakers one. A real, heavy metal one where the tape is clangy metal and bendy and snaps back into the box when you press a button. Hours of fun.

 10., The hose

Washing the patio, watering the plants, filling up plastic bottles and tubs. Oooh! What happens if you put your finger over the end? Wow! Best thing ever!

So, there you go. Maybe toys are a bit of a con? Or maybe some kids would just rather play with ‘real things’ or would rather pretend that a plant pot is ‘a daddy’ rather than be given a playmobil or happy land ‘daddy’ character? Maybe the problem is that too much of the imagining is done for them with toys?

I don’t expect that kids had buckets full of toys a hundred years ago, but I expect that plenty of kids were enjoying playing with lengths of rope, stones, imaginary princesses and making little hide outs in the bottom of cupboards.

Kids will always play when given the chance and maybe they will always find the absolute best things to play with in a house, no matter how many Melissa and Doug educational toy sets you buy for them.

The Disappearing Mother

The Disappearing Mother

I have always found the notion of disappearing both haunting and fascinating. There is something a little bizarre and maybe a little bit funny about someone, all of a sudden, just not being there. When I sneak a peek through my fingers as I ‘hide’ from the baby in our game of mid dinner peepo, his face is so wound up with glee, excitement and that little tiny bit of terror, just in case I have really, really gone this time. Obviously when I have popped up and shouted, “PEEPO!” the mystery is over and the baby shrieks with joy and sprays bits of half chewed toast all over his tray, but for that split second from behind my hands I do see a look of panic start to set in.

This is not the kind of disappearing act I want to write about though. I am not disappearing from my kids. I am disappearing from myself.

Here are a few recent moments when I have thought this;

1., Treating myself to a bottle of Cif. 

I usually buy very basic cleaning products. I can get most cleaning jobs done with either washing up liquid, bleach or a mix of the two (or just not do any cleaning) but the other week as I stood in the cleaning and household aisle at the supermarket I decided to go for it and treat myself to some branded specialist cleaning products like Cif stuff and items I normally think are a waste of money and materials like floor wipes and disposable cloths. TREAT MYSELF! I decided to TREAT MYSELF to some mother f***ing CLEANING PRODUCTS!!

2., Generally letting myself go.

On one hand it is quite liberating but at the same time I could really try a bit harder. I was talking to a rather honest friend who, when I mentioned that Arthur was sometimes sleeping through the night asked,

“Well why do you look so bloody awful then?”

I shrug and say,

“I just don’t wear make up most days anymore. I don’t have time and I can’t be bothered.”

“Well,” she says, looking at me in a concerned way, “maybe you should.”

I used to never ever leave the house without at least a little bit of make up on. Now, it’s quite common for me to leave the house with one boob out of bra, which I only notice half way down the road when I have the odd sensation that more of me is moving around than it should be.

3., The contents of my freezer.

I actually am, or maybe was, a chef. I used to spend my Saturday nights churning out beautiful plates of food with fresh and truly local ingredients, some of it travelling from farm to plate in less than twelve hours. I did this for years full of 60+ hours a week, service after service, day after day. Hard work and love and passion going into every element on the plate, but let me confess something awful. In my freezer right now there are (don’t tell anyone) birds eye potato waffles and fish fingers. There are breaded onion rings. There are hash browns. Why? You may ask. Well, I don’t do it every night, not at all, but I just need, really need some dinners where I just get some stuff out of the freezer and put it on a tray and then put it in the oven and that is it.

I know how to prep food in such a way that I can have lovely dishes ready fast. It is all about Mise En Place, a French term meaning ‘put in place’  used in kitchens as a title for each prep list of jobs to get done in order to be ready for service. Also used as an insult for when you’ve been a pillock and, for example, are running out of a certain chopped herb to finish a certain dish and are manically prepping whilst cooking for service thus holding yourself and everyone up.

“MISE EN PLACE!!” Someone will shout at you which basically means, ‘get sorted’ and, ‘you’re a twat’ all at the same time.

Anyway, I have no prep time now, just a short window of tea drinking between the kids bedtime and my bed time and a whole load of other shit (quite literally) that needs putting in the right place around the house.

4., Remembering to eat.

Sometimes just before I leave the bathroom after changing the baby and helping Audrey in the loo and washing hands etc I decide to go for a pee myself and it is just such a relief because I realise that I haven’t gone all morning. I must have felt that I needed to but just kept putting it off until I had a spare minute.

I have done the same with eating. I have never ever been the kind of person who forgets to eat. It is one of my favourite things to do but even I, who never misses a chance to eat have found myself with a horrible tummy pain at two o’clock in the afternoon and thought, ‘ what is this?’ before realising that I am just hungry and haven’t eaten all day. It’s not about busyness. Busyness has never stopped me from eating. It’s just being so consumed by the needs of others (the kids) that I forget about my own.

So, there you go, I am disappearing.

Where I exist now is not so much here but more in between. I now exist in between my crying children and my arms, between my stupidest faces and noises and their giggles and shrieks. I am a series of partially met needs. I am a series of partially cracked jokes.

I am a rather rough looking, potato waffle cooking, loose boobed Mum. I smell of Cif and baby poo. There is no make up on my face, only partially chewed, sprayed out bits of breadcrumbs.

I have gone for now.

Chime Time

Chime Time

It is Easter Sunday and only me and the baby are awake. Actually, I think the baby may have also nodded off mid feed. Upstairs my husband is snoring. Next door my neighbour is also snoring. Audrey is still in a deep sleep due to a late night last night and spending the afternoon running around with her cousins.

The Easter eggs are wrapped up in the lounge for with notes from the Easter Bunny. I have opted for a “less is more” approach this year as Audrey gets way too much chocolate and sweets at seasonal events which I always put away in a tub and let her have a small amount at a time. It is now April and she still has sweets leftover from Halloween. She just has a smarties egg from us and I also got the kids a ball each (Audrey- foam football, Arthur- squishy, knobbly baby sensory ball), oh and the Paddington film on DVD which is really a present to me.

This three week half term without a car is proving a bit of a challenge. The first week has gone ok, partly due to having friends over to play and Mum helping me out with these two and partly due to my invention of a brand new kids game guaranteed to entertain babies, children and adults alike.

Introducing, the new family fun game (families that do not own expensive ornaments), CHIME TIME.

Here is how to play chime time,

You will need;

1., Windchimes, or something that dangles and makes noise; a bell, baby’s jangly toy etc.

2., A balloon, or several balloons, the best is a punch balloon. Buy from the party section at supermarket.

3., Something to hang jangly chimey thing from ceiling. I used a coat hanger attached to a light fitting. We had already broken the light fitting the week before so was not that precious about it.

4., Understanding neighbours.

How to play

The aim of the game is to chuck, hit, float, flap, kick etc the balloon up to hit the chimes.

Every time you make the chimes chime you win five points. You get bonus points for the following variations; double tap chime, triple tap chime (no one has yet made a quadruple tap chime), baby chime – this is when the baby is used as a bat for the balloon to hit it up to the chime, bouncing the baby up to ‘header’ the balloon (don’t worry, he loved it), team chime- when you set someone up for a chime, etc etc. you get the idea.


For variation try new rules, you can only sit on the floor to play, the balloon cannot touch the ground etc.

This is a fun game which always has you on the edge of your seat/ the edge of sanity due to all the excited screaming and loud chiming and the feeling that you are only one more stumble away from a trip to A and E.

Any other suggestions for games which will entertain a three year old and a baby simultaneously are most most welcome.

Other things I have been doing to prevent boredom include; decorate Audrey afternoon in which me and my friend Jo painted Audrey’s skin and nails and plaited her hair etc. She loved this.


We have also been to the park A LOT! Like everyday! We particularly enjoyed Faversham rec which we visited with my friend Bethan. Bethan likes playgrounds.

But as you can see from this picture she has no head. It is tragic.

Oh God! I feel the next half term week stretching ahead of me with no specific activities planned. Doooooom!

Must make a plan for each day otherwise will end up going totally insane.

I am serious about the ideas for games which involve participation from three year old and baby. There are not many things that we do all together that we all enjoy. Sometimes we just blow raspberries or sing the peanut butter jelly song for twenty minutes or so, which at least makes them both laugh, until someone cries or poohs in their pants that is.



Boys Climb Trees, Girls Look Pretty

Boys Climb Trees, Girls Look Pretty

Audrey, my three year old daughter is named Audrey for three reasons; 1., After my fabulous Nan who is also an Audrey. 2., I just think it sounds nice and 3., because of its meaning. The name Audrey comes from the old English name Etheldreda which means noble and strong.

I wanted my daughter to have a name that was not pretty or dainty or flouncy in any way. I wanted her to have a name that was feminine yes, but also strong. It says a lot that those two characteristics are often seen as opposites.

I was a bit of a tomboy growing up. Girls who would rather climb trees than play with dolls are tomboys right? That is the name we give them anyway. As a teenager I was very tall, much taller than other boys my age and rather gobby. I felt that my opinions were important and expressed them clearly.  I did wear make up and occasionally dresses (with doc marten boots obviously) but really, I tried to be funny much more than I tried to be pretty.

I have never been a ‘girly’ girl. I have never been short, slight or shy enough to be girly. I have never been weak enough. I have never wanted to smile and look pretty but say very little. That’s what all the pretty girls were like. Maybe if you are pretty that will do. You have met your requirements. If you can do pretty, why be funny or clever, why be strong?

Women who are funny, women who are tall and women who are confident are not that popular with the majority of men. A woman of large stature and quick wit needs no protection from a man and is not easily dominated by one either.

My identity as a woman is a mile away from the glittery princess dresses and tales of passive damsels in distress which are so adored by my three year old daughter. There is a world of Disney prisons out there for the minds of little girls and mine loves them with a great passion.

Despite my best efforts to encourage Audrey to have a limitless view of what she can do and who she can be in the world she does so love the idea of being a glittery princess who needs rescuing and feels she can only play with ‘girls things’ and play ‘girls games.’

I feel sorry for little girls in toy shops. Recently Audrey picked up a Bratz type doll in a toy shop and said,

‘Mummy what does it do?’

‘Well,’ I replied. ‘It doesn’t really do anything. You just pretend with it.’

‘What can you pretend?’

‘Well, you can really pretend anything you like but this set is, um, what is it? Errrr, well, she’s got different handbags and shoes you can put on her and dresses. Maybe you just dress her up?’

Audrey looks from the ‘girls doll’ to the karate chopping Buzz light years and superhero dolls for boys. It seems that the boys toys save the universe while the girls ones mainly go shopping.

Of course I encourage Audrey to look at all of the toys and have always made an effort to sell the ‘boys’ toys just as hard as the girls, if not more so when she has some pocket money to spend in a shop. Marketing is clever though, girls toys are colour coded pink and purple (Audrey’s favourite colours, or are they really?). She knows which are the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ toys and does not want any ‘boys things’. Although I have always discouraged this polarisation, she desperately wants to stick to her corner.

Somehow my three year old has soaked up a strong dose of sexism from her, so far, quite limited experience of the world. One day as we were walking along Audrey said to me,

“When I grow up I want to be a nurse.”

“That’s a great thing to do.” I say but throw in for good measure, “You could be a doctor you know? They do an important job helping people get better too.”

“No mummy, girls aren’t doctors, girls can only be nurses.”

Now, I would say that 80% of the times Audrey has seen a doctor it has been a female doctor and yet she stills feels, at the age of three, that her gender prevents her from choosing this career path. Where does this come from?

We play doctors almost every day, it is one of Audrey’s favourite games (and mine because I get to lie down) but when she is pretending to be Doctor Audrey, have I also not noticed that she is simultaneously pretending to be male?

I am not going to stop her from watching or reading about princesses in towers and to be fair to Disney they have made a bit of an effort recently to come up with some rather more unconventional female heroes and storylines for them. I was so grateful to Disney when Anna turned out to be her own saviour or when they gave us Merida who wants to gallop around on horses, climb cliffs bare handed and shoot things with arrows.

There is still quite a way to go though in the worlds of our girls and to be honest, when I look around the toy shops, where we now have either ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ lego (boys can build a space ship, girls can build a nail salon) and dolls that look even less human than Barbie, I am amazed that we have let this happen to our children. Surely they deserve better?

I recently took Audrey to get some new shoes which is always rather stressful and often requires taking out a second mortgage. After ten minutes or so of trying on shoes and forcing Audrey to walk around the shop in them saying which is most comfortable we finally settle on a pair of red shiny patent leather brogues.

“Right, go on then,” I say to the shop assistant, “how much do they cost?”

“These ones are fifty five pounds,” she says (WTF?) and my heart sinks. The thing is, I will pay £55 for her shoes if I have to. Audrey has very funny narrow, long shaped feet, frogs feet basically, she got them from me, poor child but the thing is I know that Audrey will shred these beautiful shoes to pieces within a week.

“Right,” I say, “The problem I have with these shoes, aside from the price,”

“I could do them for £45?” She throws in.

“Well, that would be better but even at £45 the trouble with them is that they will be ruined too fast. Do you have anything which is just as pretty but maybe has scuff pads around the front? My daughter climbs trees and scoots everywhere. She drags the toe of her shoes along the ground as a brake pad as she goes.”

“Well, unfortunately,” says the shop keeper glancing behind her at the wall of boys shoes, “girls shoes just aren’t made for that kind of thing,” she grabs a brown, thick soled, scuff resistant looking shoe off the boys wall and hands it to me to inspect.

“Boys shoes are made for playing in,” she explains. “Girls shoes are made to look pretty.”

Wow, I think turning the sturdy, but rather ugly shoe over in my hand. There you have it, the trouble with being female, even when you are three, is that what you look like seems to always be more important than what you are actually doing.

I am not putting up with this for my daughter.

“Right then,” I say to Audrey, “What I didn’t realise is that they’ve got some special shoes in this shop that are made for scooting and climbing things. Shall we try some of those on?”

Audrey is very keen to get ‘scooter shoes’ and tries them out by jumping up and down in them and galloping around the shop rather than looking in the mirror.

As I watch Audrey galloping with her long legs and crazed expression it occurs to me that despite her best efforts at being a girl, she, like me, may be too tall and too silly to ever be really girly. I cannot do much about that and I hope it does not really bother her as she grows up and is taller and funnier than most men. If men are her thing then I’m sure she can find one man enough to deal with it.

My main concern is that her fierce loyalty to the girls team and her passion for pink and princesses will not limit what she feels she can be or do. To me she will always be beautiful but I didn’t bring her into this world to look pretty. I want her to enjoy the world and everything in it and for that, she’s going to need a decent pair of shoes.

We settle on a pair of very sturdy red canvas skater pumps with rubber shell toes, especially for dragging along the ground. She is very pleased with her new scooter shoes.

Just please, no one tell her they are for boys.

I am coming.

I am coming.

When Audrey was a toddler and it was winter and I didn’t have my own car there were some days, I have to admit, when I felt pretty lonely.

Don’t get me wrong, I had friends and I was an enthusiastic attendee at various toddler groups and activities but taking the bus with a toddler and stroller and changing bag and maybe a bag of shopping that you pick up whilst in town is an exhausting and a rather stressful feat on your own.

The buses round here are awful. Sometimes they don’t turn up at all and you have to wait half an hour for the next one. The drivers don’t help you with your buggy and once a driver pressed for the doors to close as we were still getting off and they closed on Audrey’s little arm. It was really awful. She screamed. I shouted at the driver and then burst into tears. It was not one of my finest moments.

Getting the bus had to be worth it and so, some days during winter, if we had nothing in particular on and no one coming over to us I used to avoid the over use of CBeebies by making a little picnic for us to have on the bench by the duck pond at Mount Ephraim gardens.

Audrey could just about walk all the way there but I would take the off road buggy for the way home. We’d take some bread for the ducks, a blanket for the cold metal bench, our lunch and hot drinks.

We snook in without paying. There was an honesty box but I guess I’m just not that honest. No one else was ever there and I resented the idea of paying £8 to visit my nearest duck pond. We were looking after the ducks after all.

After we had fed the ducks all the bread and had a bit of a play we would sit on the bench and eat our sandwiches. I would have a flask of coffee and I would let Audrey have a sippy cup full of hot chocolate. I used to make it boiling hot, seal it up in the sippy cup and then wrap a tea towel round it before sticking it in the bag. It would be just the right temperature by the time we got there.

Sitting there on the bench, one of us occasionally getting up to shoo the ducks away from our sandwiches, and drinking our hot drinks in the cold, will be something I will always remember about my time with Audrey when she was really little.

Yes I felt a little lonely, I think that every parent who is at home with a child does from time to time, but there was also something quite precious about that loneliness. Time with my daughter. Just me and her.

On the way home she would always fall asleep, snuggled up in her cosy toes, her muddy wellies in a bag over the back of the buggy and I would enjoy some headspace on the way back down the hill to the village.

Recently, one afternoon, Sam took Arthur out for a drive and Audrey stayed at home with me “helping” me go through some of her old clothes from the cupboard. I was getting pretty fed up of sorting through clothes and suggested we stop for a break.

I made myself a coffee and a hot chocolate for Audrey and we snuggled up on the sofa for ten minutes.

Time alone with my daughter. It is even more precious now that we have a screamy little boy in our gang too. I never expected to miss that time so much. After a bit of a struggle to get pregnant and stay pregnant I was so focused on having another child and a sibling for Audrey that this sadness took me completely by surprise.

The morning of the day I went into labour with Arthur, Audrey and I went for a walk in the woods together. A last bit of alone time before the chaos that comes with a newborn baby. Not that we knew it.

It was a funny morning, kind of hot and misty at the same time. The woods were quiet. There was only the sound of our wellies in the mud and Audrey’s happy chatter as we ambled along.

Just looking at that photo I can remember the feeling of those first tightenings of early labour. In the beginning not really much more than a niggle.

Easily ignored, but there all the same.

A whisper perhaps,

“I am coming.”

Being Mum; the shitty bits.

Being Mum; the shitty bits.

Let me be completely honest; sometimes being Mummy can be a little bit shit, especially on the days that involve cleaning up plenty of shit from a wide variety of surfaces and materials. I’m not saying that being a Mum is totally shit. I do think that being Dad however, might be a better option. On very dark days you might find a little bit of shit in your hair or smeared across your forehead. Pooh aside though, because dealing with that is one thing, being mum is something I’m finding quite hard at the moment. 

We’ve all seen pics of our Facebook friends doing wholesome activities with their children. Yes, yes, well done wholesome parent (I do like to post those pictures too!) but I want to be real about all the other bits too. The bits we choose not to share.

I was chatting to a lady at a wedding, a rather young and trendy looking vicars wife. She was being used as a climbing frame and slide by her three children and I was breastfeeding Arthur whilst glugging a glass of wine (must take at least ten minutes to make it to the milk right?). I asked her what it was like to have three children as opposed to two. Was it thrice the chaos? Or easiest third time over?

She got a little defensive and said that she never ever would whinge about anything that any of her children do and that God had blessed her with them and she would never be ungrateful for that.

Well, theology aside, I am also grateful for my kids but do believe that suppressing negative feelings is a great way to shortcut to a mental breakdown.

The struggles of women are often secret struggles. Heaven forbid we should moan (talk about how we are feeling) or complain (admit that we’re not finding things easy) or nag (try and delegate some of the tasks that our partners can’t take the initiative to help us out with). There are plenty of women seriously struggling and not talking about it. It’s pretty awful to suffer a miscarriage but many women keep them a secret. The tantrums of your child can reduce you to tears on really bad days but don’t complain about it. Aren’t you grateful for what you have? Aren’t they worth it all? Don’t you love them?  

My kids each seem to be going through a rather challenging stage right now. To be honest, like many mums, the pictures that I post on Facebook of me and my kids having a lovely time is a mere snapshot rather than an overview of my day with them.

Not many people post pictures on Facebook of the horrible battle they have with their child about having their teeth brushed, the nappy which has exploded through every layer of clothing or the pasta sauce splattered, playmobil massacred state of their house.

Not many people mention, that for the first few weeks after having a baby, they can only pee by simultaneously pouring a bottle of water over their hoo haa.

Oh the joys!

At the moment, Arthur, who is six months old, has found a favourite and most effective noise. He squeals. It is very high pitched and he does it every few seconds. He does it very loudly and on some days it just goes on all day.  Obviously when feeding or sleeping he doesn’t do it but on some days when playing with toys, when excited, when frustrated, when going for a walk, having his nappy changed, eating, bath time etc he is often squealing. It’s not an unhappy noise but it does make me want to duct tape pillows over my ears.

Audrey, who is soon to be four, basically wants to play with me all the time and I just cannot do that anymore. She gets very frustrated with me when I have to halt my role in her pretend games to entertain, feed or clean up Arthur.

At the moment I am not having a lovely time.

Actually, let me be really honest and say some things that I don’t often allow myself to say. Right, where to start.

I am finding this incredibly hard.

I am not enjoying myself.

I feel very stressed.

I feel very anxious.

I feel that the stress and anxiety of trying to cope with these two beautiful kids and all the poo and screaming and lack of sleep that comes with them sometimes builds up physically in my body and I will suddenly notice that my jaw and shoulders and fists and forehead are all bunched up and clenched like I am being slowly frozen from the top downwards by stress.

I feel that I should try harder and could do a better job of looking after my kids than I do now. Mainly I feel I should be coming up with wholesome and educational activities for them constantly and feel pretty guilty for how much I look forward to the little breaks I schedule in throughout the day where I breastfeed Arthur to sleep on my lap and let Audrey watch SpongeBob SquarePants.

 I feel jealous of my husband who goes out to work where he will talk to other grown ups, use the toilet alone, perhaps have a cup of coffee, have a lunch break and where no one will scream at him or poo on their clothes and need it cleaning up.

When I go back to work it will mean putting Arthur in childcare. I can just imagine his sad tiny face looking around the room for Mummy. When Sam goes to work his kids are looked after by their mum, which, crap at it as I am, is what they want.

The thing is, some days are just really hard. Some weeks are really hard and everything feels much worse on only three or four hours of sleep. It has been a particularly difficult week because everything has been highlighted by having my car nicked and therefore feeling a bit trapped by our lack of mobility.

Am I not grateful for my kids? Do I not love them? Did I never want to be a parent? Do I wish I’d never had them?

Are you kidding?

 I feel very very lucky to have them. They are quite literally my dreams come true. 

It has not been an easy journey to become a family of four. We have struggled to conceive and I have struggled to stay pregnant and those two issues have been tough. Maybe that’s another blog post. If I am feeling brave enough.

The thing is though, is it ok for me to admit that there are some days when their (often very different) needs and all the rather boring tasks I do to fulfil them feels all consuming? The endless nappy changes, food shopping, the sodding laundry, playing princess fairies on a loop, scrubbing bits of ground-in spat out rice cakes off the floor, cooking, pushing swings, washing up, cleaning poo, sick and wee off various surfaces, managing and coping with tantrums, being kicked, bitten, slapped and soothing fractious babies who just will not go to bloody sleep, there are just some days when I feel a bit overwhelmed by all of it.

I feel so consumed by it all that I almost feel I have disappeared.

And if you don’t take pleasure in all the aspects of being a parent is it alright to admit that? Do you deserve your kids then? Do you still really love them?

Do you still love your kids if you hate washing their clothes and then hanging them out to dry and then taking them down and folding them up (have given up on ironing) and transporting them to the correct wardrobe/drawers to put them away?

What about if you are so sick of hearing the word Mummy (Mummy? Mummy? Mummy? Mummy? Muhhhh meeee? Mum? Mum? Mum? Muuuuhhh meeee? MUM-MAY?) or the sound of squealing that you find yourself fantasising about spending the entire day alone and in silence? Do you still love your kids then? Are you still a ‘good’ parent?

Well look, I am going to be bold enough to say that being Mum can sometimes be a bit shit. It is at times, but not at all times, a real struggle and if I admit that, then maybe it’s ok if you do too.  Surely hard work and love, real love, go hand in hand. Not just for parents but for any relationship. Admitting that the work is hard doesn’t take away from the love at all.

I love my kids. They are the great joy and pain of my life. They are the people I most want to see happy and the people who I most want to leave me alone. When they are content, I have never felt more joy. When it is about four o’clock in the afternoon and they are so tired and whingy and crying and the baby won’t let me put him down and I need to make dinner and the place is in such a mess, I admit that at these times, I feel very alone and so very very grateful for kids tv. At these times, I am just counting down the minutes until my husband comes home to help me.

I am grateful for my wonderful children. Being their Mummy is a great privilege, but let’s just admit, for the sake of our own sanity, that on some days, being mum, is also quite literally, a little bit shit.

Mum, where’s our car?

Mum, where’s our car?

It is 4:32am and I am on my own in the lounge with a breast pump trying to deal with a blocked milk duct before I end up with mastitis. I might be making it worse to be honest but I feel that I have to do something rather than lie in bed trying to sleep without putting any weight on the painful side.

Yesterday I discovered that my car had been stolen and we cannot afford to replace it. The week before it was stolen we spent £400 getting it through it’s MOT. With two younglings in a village with crap public transport (a bus once an hour if you’re lucky) I just can’t convey how important the little old car was to me.

I really did struggle using buses when Audrey was a baby. It was not so much getting out but coming home that was always the issue. Sometimes with a child of any age you need to just be able to get home fast. The buses in the afternoon always seemed to be the ones that were impossible to wheel a pushchair on. A scheduled bus would often not turn up and we would have to wait in the cold at the bus stop up to an hour for the next one.

I always felt so guilty waiting there at the bus stop with Audrey. I’d feel guilty for not being able to drive, guilty for taking her out and just guilty that even though I was her Mum I just couldn’t do anything about us having to wait out in the cold for the sodding bus.

Some days I would avoid it altogether and we would just stay at home. This was fine if we had someone coming over to play or maybe the village toddler group to go to but there were many days when I just longed to go out and couldn’t and would think how much easier it would be if I could just jump in a car and drive us to wherever we wanted to go.

When I passed my test and got my little car it was like a different life. We could do anything at any time without the worry about getting the bus home or getting stuck anywhere. We could go to places that were nowhere near a bus route like little farms with cafes, new playgrounds, friends houses and the beach. I could go to the supermarket whenever I wanted and if we ever needed to just get straight home it was no problem.

That is what someone took from me when they took my car. Now with the two kids I just feel awful about it all. Somehow I feel guilty about it. I let someone steal my car, from right outside my house. How could I have let this happen?

I keep thinking through the logistics of how I will manage without a car. I know I can do it because I’ve had to manage without it before. I am good at managing without things but it is just so fucking tiring and I am so fucking angry that someone took our fucking fucking car.

Anyway, I really need to get to sleep now. All the birds are starting to wake up outside.