Thursday, 31 December 2015


I'm going to say this now and then I am going to put it away in a box and try to move on from it. So here goes:

I achingly long for a daughter.

Let me be absolutely clear about this; I would not change my sons for anything. I would not trade either of them for a daughter. To live without ever having known one or the other is an utterly intolerable notion. Despite remembering with cold clarity how sickeningly disappointed I was to hear "you're having a boy" at the anomaly scan of my second pregnancy, if someone offered me the chance to go back in time and swap that boy for a girl I would not take it. I cannot imagine what life would be without, specifically, him. But if there had been a guarantee after I had Baby Taylor that my next child would be a girl, I would not have hesitated for a second.

For as long as I can remember, I have imagined having a daughter. I assumed, perhaps arrogantly and surely as most women do, that a daughter was in my future. As a teenager, I kept a journal called "Dear Adelaide". It was a comprehensive account of my daily errors, a volume I one day hoped to hand to my daughter - who, at that time, would have been called Adelaide - with the words "learn from my mistakes before you go out and start making your own." I still have that journal, packed away in a box in the loft. And my daughter is no more a reality now than she was back then.

The mother/daughter bond is a slight variation on the father/son bond. Children tend to gravitate towards the parent whose gender is the same as their own as they get older. I'm trying not to stereotype here because I don't believe that people fit into boxes based on their genitalia, and I certainly encourage my sons to be whoever they are without my judgement. They're free to wear whatever they want and play with whatever they want. For example, Toddler Taylor enjoys playing with cars and trains. He doesn't have much grasp of the word "gentle" and nurturing is not his bag at all. But Baby Taylor is a very gentle soul. He likes to cuddle his teddy bears and stroke their fur, and he will often climb into my lap for a snuggle. He likes to play with toys that sing and play music. They are people. They are individuals. They are different from each other in so many ways. 

I love my sons and I know they love me. Neither of those facts are in question. But I do not want them to ever worship me. I do not want them to put me on a pedestal upon which I will never belong. I especially do not want them to compare any women they meet in the future to me. I'd like them to call or visit every once in a while when they're grown up and have left home. I'd like them to bring their girlfriends or boyfriends to meet me, but I don't want them to care what my opinions of their partners are. I don't expect them to want to go on lunch dates with me or meet me to go shopping. 

The thing is, all of that would still be true if I had a daughter, but at the same time I would hope that I could have had the same relationship with a daughter as I do with my own mom. She and I talk on the phone most nights. We meet up to go do things together. When she's sick, I buy her medicine and take it round to her house for her. She is my best friend and most trusted confidante. She provided me with the tools to become my own person and not be afraid of being exactly who and what I am. And, possibly most importantly, if I have the opportunity I will be there to hold her hand and tell her that I love her when she makes her final journey from this world. To me, all of these things are synonymous with what it means to be a daughter.

In March my gran passed away. My mom sat on one side of the bed holding one hand while I sat at the other side holding the other hand. Three generations of women who truly and honestly knew what it was to love each other. The next morning I realised that there might not be anyone to hold my hand when it's my turn. My sons might be far away. They may not feel as though they have enough of a connection with me to want to be there. I know it's not a guarantee that a daughter would want to be there either, but I feel like maybe she would if she felt the same way about me that I do about my mom.

I hope that my sons are close to their dad. I hope they go to football matches or movies with him. I hope they look up to him and try to emulate him in some ways. I hope they call in to see him when he's older and retired. And I hope that they have a normal, healthy relationship with me too. I hope, more than anything else, that just every so often they'll give me a cuddle.

Please do not mistake this longing for being simply ungrateful; I know only too well how blessed I am to have the beautiful, wonderful children that I do. To be a mother is a privilege and an experience for which I am endlessly thankful. There is only this; that sometimes I feel the lack of a daughter acutely. Sometimes it is hard to accept that what I always imagined for myself is something that I will never have. It does not negate my love for my sons in any way, but it would be insincere for me not to admit to this feeling that closes in on me just every now and again.

Surely that's okay?

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas > Sleep

Sleep. When you think about it, sleep is amazing, isn't it? I mean, you pass endless hours of your life just lying in a bed, completely unaware of everything around you, inanimate, dreaming... What a clever thing sleep is. But sleep is a bit like money; if you have it you're not fussed about it, and if you don't have it then you're always worrying about it.

Similarly, in relationships between co-parenting individuals, sleep can be used as currency. Gone are the days when you would barter with promises of sexual favours; now it's sleep. Sleep is your trump card, your Ace, your guarantee of getting whatever you want. All you have to say is "I'll let you sleep in tomorrow if you'll..." and it's yours. Clean the bathroom? Sure. Do all of the ironing and put it away? Absolutely. Hunt down and capture a pink fucking unicorn? Consider it done. I will do pretty much anything you want if you dangle the offer of sleep in front of me. Maybe I wouldn't kill anybody, but then again if they were morally reprehensible and completely irredeemable and you promised me a whole day in bed... Fuck it. Probably.

Sleep is completely unappreciated by the people who have nothing and no one regularly interrupting it. But for me, sleep is the unobtainable holy grail. I fantasise about sleep. When I dream, I dream about sleeping somewhere other than where I am actually sleeping. Desert island with warm, white sand and gently lapping waves? Hell, I'll sleep in a pit full of vipers on a bed of nails if you just promise me no one will wake me up for 8 hours. 

Children don't like sleep. They seem to think that they might miss something or that there are abundant other things they could be doing that are much better than sleeping. But they also tend to fall almost completely unconscious when they sleep. Ever tried to wake a sleeping child who doesn't want to be woken? Not easy and definitely NOT wise. And do you know when children really, REALLY do not like sleep? Christmas. Tonight I fully expect Toddler Taylor to be so emphatically excited that he will tear around the house singing snippets of various carols in a sort of festive, tuneless mash-up and then absolutely REFUSE to go to sleep. And it won't matter how many times I say "Santa won't come if you don't go to sleep" because he won't believe me because Santa ALWAYS comes. Kids are smart; they figure that one out really quickly.

Tomorrow morning he will wake unreasonably early, sprint up the stairs - possibly waking Baby Taylor, who has no fucking idea what's going on or why there is a tree IN THE HOUSE - and declare loudly and with boundless enthusiasm "IT'S CHRISTMAS!!!" before leaping onto the bed and possibly breaking several of my ribs. But here's the thing; I love sleep, but I love my babies ever so much more than sleep. And I love Christmas. And Christmas with my babies is the epitome of wonderful for me. Tomorrow morning it won't matter how little sleep I've had and how bone-achingly exhausted I am, I will still find the energy to sob quietly all the way through the process of watching Toddler Taylor tear open his presents while Baby Taylor eats the wrapping paper off his. It's a parental rite of passage to cry at Christmas. Because another Christmas means that your babies are another year older and so much different and more grown-up than the year before, and lack of restorative sleep makes the whole thing feel, like, TOTES EMOSH. Parents of the world, go ahead and weep with joy (and a little bit because you're so tired and it's so early); you deserve it. You're all bloody heroes to me.

Merry Christmas everyone. May Santa leave a sackful of sleeping dust under your trees to sprinkle liberally over your children on Christmas night.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Becoming Your Parents

Something I’ve been ruminating on for a few years now: Are children bound to repeat their parents’ mistakes? I think about this on and off because my mother made two very defining mistakes in her life and I have gone on to repeat both of them.

The first mistake she made was my father, who died of pneumonia when I was very young. I remember nothing of him and I am not sorry. What I do know about him is that he was a functional alcoholic (one of the handful of reasons why I do not drink) and he was abusive. Growing up without him has not, in my eyes, had any detrimental effect upon my wellbeing. However, I do recall that I had a bit of an identity crisis when I was about 17 because I’ve always known that I look very much like my father and yet I know so very little about who he really was. The bad things were whispered secrets and cautionary tales told throughout my teenage years. The good things seemed less important, less real, when put beside them. The end result is that I have never felt any worse off for not having him around and I will not forgive him.

The difference between my mother’s mistake and mine is that she didn’t know that there was trouble ahead at the start and I most definitely did. I had the good sense to be cautious, if not outright afraid, from the very beginning. I knew that I was throwing myself to the wolves. But the other thing about me back then was that I was reckless and I believed that I could be the change, that the sheer force of my will and strength of my love would be enough. I turned a blind eye to bad behaviour, cut off friends who tried to tell me things I didn’t want to hear and when the violence started, I convinced myself that it wasn’t really happening at all. Every time I picked myself back up and went back for more. I tried to leave, but we were like magnets left just that little bit too close together; we always found our way back to one another. We were so intent on destroying ourselves, and if not ourselves than at least each other. We were going down and we were damned if we were going to do it alone. When I finally severed the ties it was awful. It was bitter and angry and the fallout went on for years. It has taken me nearly a decade to get to a point where I can hope that he is doing okay and that he has found happiness, and part of me thinks that that is only because he is far away now. I wouldn’t still be walking these streets if he was too, but I will never get too far from him.

The point is that, before him, I always told myself I would never put up with what my mother had. The first time would be the last time. But when it’s a shove into a wall rather than a punch or a kick, somehow the lines feel blurry. From the outside it can be crystal clear, but in the eye of the storm the perspective is a little different.

The other mistake my mother made was the decision not to go to university, and it was for the same reasons that I chose not to. At 18, she didn’t really know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life and neither did I. And I didn’t want to get myself into debt in the process of trying to figure it out. I told myself that I had plenty of time, that I was young and that I would find my place in the world eventually. That was ten years ago and I am still no closer to knowing. I’m starting to realise that this is probably it for me, and I am trying very hard to be okay with that. But that doesn’t change the ever-growing inadequacy complex that feeds on the knowledge of my peers’ successes, which is not to say that I begrudge them those triumphs. No, it’s not that. It’s the fact that I feel like nothing and no one in comparison.

Growing up I remember my mother doing a lot of different jobs to make ends meet. The cruel irony was that she had given up a very good job to have children, then when my father died there was a steep drop in income and she had to go back to work. But by that time the job she had left required a whole new set of qualifications and she had no way back in. So, until her retirement at the end of October this year, she had spent over 20 years doing bit-part jobs to pay the bills. And she, like me, was smart enough to do better.

These are mistakes that I don’t want my children to make because I want what all parents want; I want my children to be happy. Abusive relationships don’t make anybody happy, and men can be victims too. Hopefully by the time my sons are grown up there will be less shame attached to being a male victim of domestic abuse and more transparency about how big the issue really is. And it’s not that I think my children need to go to university to be happy, but I feel like the exploration and reaching of one’s potential plays an integral role in future happiness. Because if you always feel like you could have been “more”, how can you ever be satisfied with falling short of your own expectations?

I don’t want them to end up like me; always damaged and always wondering “is this all I will ever be?” Because once they are grown up and I have fulfilled my active role in their development as individuals, just exactly what does that leave me with?

This too shall pass.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Week In Worries

I am a worrier. I worry about everything all the time. If I can't find anything to worry about then I worry myself about that instead. Do you ever do that thing where you've been cold-sweat obsessing about something all day, then you're just dropping off to sleep - having kinda forgotten about it - and you remember that you were worried about something earlier and then wrack your brains to remember what it was so you can continue worrying about it? I do. I do it all the fucking time. It's really no great mystery why I don't sleep well. And it's always stupid, small shit that doesn't even actually matter at all. Like I forgot to buy something that I don't really need or didn't wash up the stuff from dinner.

We have one of those Elf on the Shelf things this year. Do you know how fucking stressful they are? It was sent to us as a gift by my relatives in the US and Toddler Taylor loves it (which is all that matters and makes me incredibly grateful to my family for sending it as I don't imagine I would have thought to buy one myself). Every night the elf is supposed to fly back to the North Pole and report the day's events to Santa, then he will return to our home and find himself a new spot. Of course, that means it is my parental responsibility to find him a new place to sit in each day. So far he has perched in the Christmas tree, clung to the wreath in the hallway (where he had to have a safety rope because I found him on the floor when I came downstairs and can only imagine the horror that would have ensued if it had been Toddler Taylor who made the grim discovery rather than me), poked his head out of a box of Ready Brek, and today he is swinging, Miley style, from a glass bauble in the kitchen. He has also sat on a few shelves too, just to keep things traditional - and easy, if I'm being completely honest. But the point is that every night when the kids have gone to bed, I wander around the house, elf in hand, looking for a new spot for him. I worry that Toddler Taylor won't be able to find him. I worry that he will fall to his death from whatever lofty perch I have chosen. Mostly I worry that I will forget to move him at all. This has happened more than once and resulted in a sudden bolt-awake incident in the middle of the night, accompanied by frantic thoughts of, "The elf the elf oh my fucking god I didn't move the fucking elf!" So yeah. I worry about that cursed elf a lot.

I worry about Baby Taylor a ridiculous amount too. There's the fact that, at 14 months, he shows no interest in independently walking. I know that this is my fault because I have babied him because he is the last baby I will ever have (but that's a story for another day). I also worry about his proclivity for injuring himself. Because Baby Taylor may not be able to walk, but the kid is a fucking mountain goat when it comes to climbing. However, unlike a mountain goat, he often falls off the stuff that he has climbed and hurts himself. Yesterday he climbed up into the high chair and then onto the table. About half an hour ago he climbed onto this huge, soft cube he has that plays songs about shapes and, predictably, the thing tipped over and he fell off it. I can't even go to the bathroom anymore unless I take him with me because he WILL climb something, fall off it and probably give himself concussion. It's a nightmare.

I also worry about my house. My husband takes a philosophical stance on the issue of cleaning and tidying. "It will be better when the kids are older," he intones with a resigned sigh. I, on the other hand, regularly explode into hysteria over the state of our house: "If we don't fucking keep on top of cleaning the fucking house then it will be so fucking dirty by the time the kids are "older" that we will never actually be able to make it look clean again!" I hiss emphatically, windmilling my arms frantically in the general direction of the various detritus strewn about the place with gay abandon. For most of my adult life I have lived in the midst of other people's mess. First it was the boyfriend who never cleaned up after himself to such an extent that I gave up too. Then, after living in a few very cramped flats with no storage space and a three month suitcase-living stint in the US, I had to put up with my brother's negligent approach to basic cleanliness for six months. But in between there was this one flat I had with cavernous storage and plenty of living space and I kept that place immaculate. That flat stands as a monument to how I would live if I didn't have to deal with everyone else's shit being everywhere. At the present time, the ironing pile is so damned huge that I fear Baby Taylor may soon decide to climb it. I find myself panic stricken over the sheer volume of stuff there is to tidy away and clean sometimes. Like right at this moment my heart feels a little strangled by it all.

Money. Who doesn't worry about money, especially at this time of year? At the moment we are okay, but I know that soon we are going to need to send Toddler Taylor to playgroup for full days and I just don't know where that money is going to come from. I could work more, but that seems self-defeating because then I would need someone to look after Baby Taylor. So sometimes I look at the lives of my peers who have good jobs and are making good money and I wish that I had done more with my life. Of course, being a pragmatist, when I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do with my life at 18 I decided to put university on the back burner and work instead. And if I hadn't done that then I probably wouldn't be who I am today. But just every now and again I feel like I could be so much more, like I had so much potential and I just threw it all away. I guess there's more than one worry here, but they're so intrinsically tied up with each other - and both have such a huge bearing on my self-worth - that it's impossible for me to mention one without thinking of the other. Maybe what I should really be worrying about is why either of these things actually bother me so much in the first place.

Here's something else I worry about: Am I not enjoying this as much as I should be? Am I spending too much time worrying about stuff and not enough time just being with my children? Is it normal to worry this much about mess and finances and milestones and fucking elves? Will I look back on this one day and realise that I worried so much about the things that didn't matter that I missed out on getting the most out of the things that do? But the thing that I keep hearing from the older generation is that this is just how it is. This is just motherhood and parenting and that I will find all of the joy that I lost out on to worry when I have grandchildren someday. To me that feels a little bleak, so instead of thinking about that I keep bringing myself back to an afternoon I had with Toddler Taylor a couple of months ago. We went up into the woods and balanced along the trunks of fallen trees and threw piles of leaves into the air and ran along the twisting little paths and listened for an owl hooting in the canopy above us and we had the best fucking time just being together. 

That's what I always dreamed of when I thought about having children. That's what makes me happier than anything else in the world ever, and I get so excited when I think about being able to do these things with both of my children next year.

And the best part? I wasn't worried about a thing.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Last Christmas

On Tuesday night my husband and I decorated our house for Christmas, and as I walked around and around the tree getting my feet tangled up in the power cord for the lights and occasionally muttering “for fucksake” under my breath, he reminded me of  how unpleasant this activity was last year. He remembered how I swore and shouted at him for not helping, then completely exploded when he finally got up, picked up a bead chain and started doing it all wrong. Because last year, decorating the house for Christmas was like a metaphor for my entire life in that I just couldn’t fucking cope with it. I couldn’t figure out how to get the lights onto the tree without getting them into a vast and unsolvable knot. I didn’t have enough bead chain, so I started being less liberal with it and then I had far too much. My colour scheme wasn’t working. The ornaments looked all jumbled and wrong. It took me hours, I wouldn’t let anybody else help and I hated every minute of it. And when I was finally done, I announced loudly, “Christmas can FUCK OFF!” and stormed upstairs to bed in a very un-festive strop.

This is the part where I have to be brutally honest and hope that it’s less uncomfortable for you than it probably will be for me... Last Christmas was fucking awful. Awful. I have this really clear memory of sitting on the stairs at my parents-in-law's house on Christmas Eve, nervously feeding Baby Taylor a bottle while thinking, “Well, at least he’s drinking it and not screaming and making me look like the worst mother in the world for once.” That one snapshot pretty much sums up the whole festive period for me. Every minute of it pivoted around whether Baby Taylor was feeding (sometimes) or sleeping (NOPE). On Christmas Day itself, he didn’t do much of either. When my husband and I went to bed at the end of that day, we turned to each other and said, “Next year will be better.” We had to think like that, that what we were going through right at that moment wasn’t terminal. But at the same time, I think that was the moment when we really knew that something wasn’t right and that somehow it had to change.

Fast forward almost 12 months: Baby Taylor eats and sleeps in a manner fairly typical of a child his age. It’s easy for me to pretend that all the stuff in the middle didn’t happen. It would be really convenient for me to forget how hard I found it to bond with him and how desperately I wanted to run away from him sometimes, but the truth is that it wasn’t until I had to spend time away from him while he was in the hospital that I finally started to feel an emotional connection with him. I remember going to see him on the ward one evening after I’d been home to spend a little time with Toddler Taylor and eat some dinner. He’d been asleep when I left, but by the time I got back he was awake and sitting in a pushchair out on the main ward with the nurses. The huge smile he gave me when he saw me walking up the corridor squeezed my heart, and I knew right then that everything was going to be okay.

Baby Taylor rushes to see me when I get home from work and climbs all over me for cuddles, just like his big brother. He cries at the front door when I leave, even when he’s just waved me off. Those dark days in the first few months of his life feel very far away from the place we find ourselves in now, but it wouldn’t seem right to allow this Christmas to pass without acknowledging their existence. They will always be a part of our history, but I’m finally starting to feel hopeful that they won’t have anything to do with our future. The truth is that this time last year, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t imagine a time when I would be able to feed Baby Taylor without feeling anxious, or a night when I wouldn’t have to get up 12 times to settle him. That’s just how it was; that was our normal.

Now our “normal” finally feels actually normal. This year I am looking forward to Christmas with my family. Whatever challenges we have to face over the next 12 months, we will be alright. We had a difficult start to the year, as documented here, but I feel very different to the way I felt back then. For example, I used to dread my husband going to work and leaving me to battle with the children on my own. I would hope and pray that a family member would text and offer me some help bathing the kids and getting them to bed, just so I could have contact with another adult and share the burden with someone else. I felt so much more able to cope when there was someone else around – at least until I stopped coping entirely – and I constantly questioned my ability as a mother. Now I don’t think twice about juggling my kids as I get them both ready for bed. In comparison to how things used to be, it’s easy. It’s just another part of normal family life. There’s that word again; Normal. I’ve never really had much of an affection for normality as a concept, but when you apply it to the routines of life with children it suddenly doesn’t seem so bad. When you compare it to what used to be normal for us, it is all I ever wanted.

So... I think that just for once, I get to sit here at my computer and type one small sentence that couldn't have felt further from the truth this time last year: It’s going to be alright.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Parenting Experience: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED

Sometimes I feel that parenting is a bit like one of those games like WoW or D&D, because a lot of the time it's random chance. You roll the right number or meet the right player (I once had a boyfriend who was OBSESSED with WoW, but I actually still don't really understand it, so forgive me if this analogy sucks/is inaccurate) or you... Well, sometimes you don't. The thing about parenting experience is that it's fluid, which is not to say that it's smooth and pleasing to the eye, but that rather like water, if there is a gap or a crack it will find its way through and leave you feeling drained and like you don't know what the fuck to do now.

So today I'm going to share some parenting level-ups and experience points with you, because maybe it'll make us all feel a little better about the bad days.

Sleeping through the night: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED

For one glorious week. Under-eye bags are diminishing, elixir of life is returning, you're about to attend your coronation as the monarch of parenting... Oh wait... Is that?... Yeah. It's still the middle of the night and the baby is definitely NOT still asleep. FFS.

The struggle. The tears. The unadulterated anguish. And then... POP. It's all over. But don't get excited; you've got 19 more to go. Time to restock the Calpol and grit your own 32 pearly whites.

Unswaddling: LEVEL UP
After an hour of watching your baby struggle on the video monitor, they've finally passed out sprawled awkwardly across the cot with their arms flung wide. Quite why this is such a pivotal parenting moment is beyond me, but the joy of it is almost unrivalled. Y'know, except for the nagging worry that they might wake up at any moment and beg you through the medium of screaming to be bound back into the swaddle again. They stayed asleep? LEVEL UP, MAMA.

That's 10 points for every food offered that doesn't end up in your hair. Or theirs. Or the cat's. Another 10 points if you remain calm in the face of an upside-down-bowl-on-the-carpet incident. More experience points are on offer for the discovery of successful distraction techniques when trying to feed a teething/tired/sick baby. And if you don't cry the first time your baby spits out the food they loved last week which you have lovingly steamed, blended and stored shitloads of in a huge Tupperware container ... Well, then you're a Weaning Warlock.

You've just stepped in your third puddle of pee of the day and you're pretty sure there's a poo somewhere around here too. What do you do? Sigh and locate the poo whilst mopping up the pee, say "never mind; it's just an accident" and kit your child out with new pants and a subtle reminder of where the potty is and how to use it? +5 Experience points for you. First pee in the potty earns you a level up, as does the first poo. And on the glorious day when puddles and secret poos become a thing of the past: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED. I bet you feel like a parenting
paragon, don't you? As well you should.

A screaming toddler is a force to be reckoned with at the best of times. In the middle of a busy supermarket it's just about the Worst Thing Ever. To be honest, I don't think there's a wrong or right way to deal with a public tantrum. I've tried most things, like getting down to my child's level and talking calmly to him about why he is unhappy. I've also tried ignoring him and walking slowly away in the hope that he will get up and follow me. Bribery has even been attempted once or twice, as has the threat of not buying him the magazine I promised I would at the end of the trip. It depends what kind of mood he's in. If he's tired, NOTHING works. I've always wanted to be one of those mothers who has The Answer to diffusing every tantrum... But I'm not. If you are, LEVEL UP for you. I'll be down here building up my experience points.

Disapproval from older generation: EXPERIENCE POINTS/NEW SKILL UNLOCKED
You're out in public with your baby/child, minding your own business and trying to get on with your day. You hear an older person make a rude comment about your parenting style/child's behaviour. How do you respond? This tends to be very heavily dependent on your level of sleep-deprivation. The worse it is, the more likely you are to explode or cry. Or both simultaneously. Since it's generally a comment such as "children in my day were seen and not heard/didn't have dummies/never cried in public", you can actually just fucking ignore it. This happened to me at a funeral tea earlier this year when an elderly and distant relative made an observation about "young mothers these days sticking dummies in their babies mouths the minute they make a noise" while watching me try to comfort a tired and refluxing Baby Taylor with his dummy. In hindsight I wish I'd asked her to repeat herself, since she wasn't actually talking to me directly, and then questioned her about why she felt that it was her place to comment. I didn't. Experience points for me. Not giving a shit what anybody else thinks about how you parent your children? NEW SKILL UNLOCKED. You know what? You can get a LEVEL UP for that too. You deserve it.

The thing about parenting is that no matter how you handle any given situation, you will probably always wonder if you could have handled it better. Some evenings I will sit on the sofa after the kids have gone to bed and go over every little thing I think I did wrong with them that day, but being a parent is a live-action experience; it’s happening right now and you have to think on your feet. It’s hard work and it’s exhausting and, no matter what anybody says to the contrary, there is absolutely no way that you can “cherish every second of it”. For every moment with my kids that I wish I could bottle, there’s another one that I just want to forget about. I suppose the only take-home message I have for any parent is this: We’re all at the rookie stage in one way or another and we are all just doing the best we can. The most important thing you can do for your kids is to love them and be there for them. Everything else you do, you do because of that.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Things Mothers Don't Have Time To Do

Things you have no time to do once you have children.

Wash your hair
Before I had children, I washed my hair every day. Now I wash it when I'm going to work, which is usually twice a week. The other days I use half a can of dry shampoo and a hair bobble. And now, because it's getting colder, I can add a hat to my repertoire of things-to-stop-people-noticing-that-I-never-wash-my-hair. Hurray for Autumn! 

Get engrossed in a good book
First of all, finding the time to get engrossed in anything when you have children happens about as often as a blue moon. And even when the stars do align, it's never actually that simple. For example, as soon as I sit down with a book and start getting into it, one of two things happens: Either the napping baby wakes up, woebegone by the tragedy of being completely unable to find the bunny snuggle he so desperately needs to sleep (despite the fact that said bunny is actually tied to the strap of his sleeping bag and two millimetres away from his face) OR I wake up an hour later with a stiff neck and my book on the floor, by which time the baby needs to be woken from his nap.

As a mother - and I'm sure the same is true for many fathers too - you don't so much sleep as fall unconscious. But it's the kind of unconscious that becomes instant, wide-awake alertness at the smallest sound from your offspring. And once the wide-awake alertness has happened, the unconsciousness is suddenly hard to find. Also, you probably have at least one child trying to get into your bed by this point, which renders sleep completely impossible anyway.

Have sex
Let's be honest here, when you're sleep deprived and lying horizontally in a bed, you're almost never going to pick sex over sleep. And if you do pick sex, your other half probably knows it's mostly just to get him to shut up and go away, or it's a guilty pity shag because you feel a bit sorry for him. Lovely.

Give a shit about your house
I used to clean my house religiously. I would just about come out in hives if it wasn't clean. Now I manage to hoover, mop and keep the bathrooms clean. Most weeks you could write in the dust - but please don't - and I hardly ever get around to putting my own laundry away. Don't even get me started on the endless fucking washing.

Take a long, indulgent bubble bath
I used to love soaking in the bath. I've probably spent weeks of my life just lying in hot, soapy water if you add it all up. Never happens now. Now I plan to have a long, indulgent bath... And then I spend five minutes hastily scrubbing myself down before dragging myself up the stairs and into bed. Because otherwise my husband would probably come home at 11:30pm and find that I had fallen asleep and drowned.

Go shopping
I'm not talking food shopping, because we have overcome the issue of dragging bored children to the supermarket by having our groceries delivered. I'm talking about when you need some new shoes or jeans and you have something specific in mind (or can only shop within certain ranges because you're an unorthodox size), and you won't be satisfied until you find that specific thing. I once tried to take Toddler Taylor with me when I went shopping for a new coat. He was bored after 10 minutes and it was only by sheer good fortune that I stumbled across exactly what I was looking for fairly quickly. Otherwise? Not advisable. Stick to online shopping.  

I'm sure you can all think of many more examples - and please leave them in the comments/tweet me if you can -, but these are the ones that spring immediately to mind for me. The thing is, I actually have no fucking idea what I used to do with my time before I had children, although I know exactly what I would do with it now!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Dear Husband

Dear Husband,

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost six and a half years since we met. Sometimes I think about that and I’m not quite sure where the time has gone. I look back at the photographs of us from our first Christmas together and I can hardly believe that the people in those pictures are us. We look so young. We were so young. But I remember those days like they were yesterday, even though it is hard to place the people we are now in the life we had back then.

I remember how we were always walking, endlessly circling the streets around our town, deconstructing our lives and our feelings and the simple facts of our days. I think most of what we learned about each other in those early months was learned upon those walks. We liked to drive over to York and walk around there too, then we would stop by the cinema on the way home and watch a movie together.

I remember the night you cooked vegetable lasagne for me in my kitchen, how we lay on the kitchen floor together and I knew I loved you. I knew it in such a way that it wasn’t a feeling, but a fact. Irrevocable. Unchangeable. Solid and dependable. It’s funny how I didn’t know that you were what I was looking for before that night, how I’d thought that we would have something short and fun, but never imagined us in the place we find ourselves now. That night it felt like something I should have known all along.

I remember how sometimes, on our days off together, we would just lie in bed all day, then in the evening we would get up and go wander around the aisles in the supermarket trying to find something we both wanted for dinner. More often than not, we ended up getting take-out instead.

I remember the first home we bought, the endless search through flats and houses and how nothing ever felt quite right until we stood in a ripped out kitchen together and something finally fell into place. Our situation there wasn’t always great, but we had each other and that somehow made everything okay. We told ourselves over and over that it was only temporary, just a footing on the ladder that would lead us to the home we would stay in forever.

I remember handing you a tiny ginger kitten and watching a part of you that I’d never seen before come out. You were like a child on Christmas morning. You’d always told me that you hated cats, but that was the first time you’d ever really been so close to one and I watched you fall in love with him in seconds. Within a month of bringing that kitten and his brother home, you were making friends with every cat on the street and I knew that you were IT.

I remember the night you asked me to marry you, how I knew it was coming because you couldn’t sit still and your sentences were left half-finished. You were skittish and unpredictable, like a firework in an overturned milk bottle. Then I remember the crippling nerves of our wedding day and the giddy excitement of becoming your wife. I remember how everybody else disappeared as I promised my future to you. There were only 40 people in the room with us, but there could have been 4000 and I wouldn’t have cared right then. You anchored me to that moment with nothing but your hand holding mine.

I remember the moment the world turned upside down, and now I look back I can really see how scared we both were behind the excitement and the exhilaration of knowing that we were going to be parents. But you were right there when I needed you, and you made me anything I asked for on the rare occasions that I actually felt up to eating in the first few months. I remember one night all I wanted was a baked potato with butter, so you made one for me and you pulled such a sad face when I came back from the bathroom ten seconds after finishing it looking miserable and shaking my head.

I remember our second search for a home and the many disappointments we had to face along the way. I particularly remember that one house, the house we both loved, the house we could see ourselves living in before we even stepped through the door. There was so much space, so many rooms that went on forever, such a place to grow a family. I know we both felt like we couldn’t possibly belong somewhere like that. We ignored so many things about that house because it was The Dream. The hole in the top floor bedroom ceiling – a sure sign that something was amiss with the roof -; the weird bath; the fact that we would need to buy a new oven with next to no money; how close it was to the road; the lack of parking... But when it came down to it, we knew that enough about it wasn’t right that even when the vendors came back to us after rejecting our offers twice, we somehow knew we’d done the right thing in walking away. But I still think about that house sometimes when I feel like we’re all falling over each other here, and I know that you do too.

I remember us painting this house together, talking for hours about what our lives would be like here, trying to imagine what our baby boy would look like and gazing out over the overgrown jungle of a back garden while we pictured summer days playing football and splashing in a paddling pool with him. And I know that I would have been so much more scared during my first labour if you hadn’t been there. I remember telling you at one point that I didn’t want you to be around for the birth because I couldn’t bear the idea of you seeing me like that, but I know that I only got through it because you were there and when I sobbed that I couldn’t do it anymore, you held my hand and you told me that I could. You were so calm and you made me believe that I was strong and brave and could do anything.

I feel like so much of who we were has gotten lost over the last three and a half years. Or maybe not so much lost as buried, because now our world is so much bigger than just the two of us. But sometimes I forget that you still need me. You still need me to be on your side, to have your back and be the person that I always was for you. So I want you to know that I remember us. I remember the little things and the big things and the million tiny moments that have led us here, and I am grateful for you. I’m grateful that you know me well enough to understand that I’m a bit fucked up sometimes and that it’s not your fault. I can’t imagine feeling so right with anyone but you; you are everything I never knew I always wanted, and I don’t even care how cliché that sounds. I want you to know that I wouldn’t be who I am today without you and that I love you.

I just love you.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Birth of Baby Taylor

Tomorrow is Baby Taylor’s first birthday. My baby, my tiny little burrito bean, is turning one. I don’t even know how we got here. The first three months felt like an endless battle. I thought we would never get to this point. I thought I would have long since lost my mind by the time this day came around. This is all coming out in broken, staccato sentences, but the truth is that that is how I feel about it. When I think about everything we’ve been through over the last 52 weeks, I can hardly form a coherent thought in my head. So, instead of writing a blog about tomorrow, I’m going to write a blog about the day Baby Taylor came into the world.

It was a Thursday and it was my due date. I can’t remember what the weather was like. I can remember that I was tired and huge and fed up. I’d had SPD for about four weeks by this point and I was sick of being in pain and collapsing in public. I felt cumbersome and awkward and completely fucking ridiculous.

That morning we took Toddler Taylor to a soft play centre and I will never forget the look on the face of a father relaxing at one of the nearby tables when I landed at the bottom of the huge, bumpy slide right in front of him. He was clearly, hilariously horrified. I remember that I wanted to laugh and joke with him, “Don’t worry; nothing is happening today!” How wrong I was.

On the way home, we decided to get cake ingredients and bake cupcakes, but it was time for Toddler Taylor’s nap by the time we got back and my husband left for work not long after. About half an hour after he left and just before I was due to get Toddler Taylor up from his nap, I had my first contraction. I didn’t think that was actually what it was, so I ignored it and went to wake up Toddler Taylor. As I was changing his nappy on his bedroom floor, I had another contraction and started to wonder if I might actually be going into labour. So I set up the contraction timer app on my phone and settled down in a kneeling position on the floor with my forearms resting on the sofa. I had about six contractions in this position before I realised it was probably time to call for reinforcements, so I rang my mother, still not entirely convinced that I was actually in labour and not wanting to bring my husband home from work for no reason.

By the time she arrived, I had moved from the sofa to the birthing ball and was rocking backwards and forwards on my knees, still using the timer app and trying to breathe calmly through the contractions and not scare Toddler Taylor, who had no fucking idea what was going on and kept bringing me cuddly toys to make me feel better. Bless him. After about half an hour, my mum insisted that she call my husband while I called the labour ward. They didn’t actually believe that I was very far along, but they told me to go in anyway and my husband arrived home shortly afterwards, grabbed my bag from upstairs and helped me into the car.

The drive was awful. I’m a dreadful passenger at the best of times, but that was made so much worse by being in labour and being in the passenger seat of my own car. Between contractions I texted my mother-in-law (who works as a discharge liaison nurse) saying we were on our way in. I can’t even remember if I told her why. I think she probably guessed. My husband dropped me off at the main entrance and as I hobbled towards the doors, I had a huge contraction that had me clinging to the lamp post right next to the bus stop. I may have startled a few people, but even then it struck me as odd that none of them offered to help when I was clearly in labour and needed physical support in getting through the fucking doors. Anyway. I made it and my mother-in-law found me clinging to a wall and ran to get me a wheelchair.

Most of what happened afterwards is a blur. A few things stood out though.

I hated the room I was in. It was bright and sterile and I wanted to move around but I was wired up to a fucking monitor and no one would let me. It was a stark contrast to the peaceful, holistic birth experience I’d  had with Toddler Taylor.

The midwife didn’t believe that I knew my own body. I told her the baby was coming soon, more or less right after she broke my waters. She said I hadn’t been in labour for long enough and that I could expect at least another couple of hours of it before Baby Taylor was born. On that basis, when she offered me pain relief, I’m ashamed to say that I took it. I was in so much pain and I was exhausted from looking after a rambunctious toddler all day. But I should have known in the 15 minutes that she was out of the room preparing my shot of pethidine that she was wrong. To this day I don’t know why I didn’t say anything. I suppose I was just in the zone, I was focused on the labour. I don’t say much of anything when I’m in labour. I certainly don’t shout and swear. I've never felt like it would be helpful.

Weirdly, the midwife came back, injected me and then said, “I don’t think that’s going to have time to work before you push him out. Do you feel like you need to push?” I nodded and tried to roll over onto my front so I could get up on all fours, but I’d torn a muscle in my abdomen quite early in the pregnancy and it had never had chance to heal, so I couldn’t do it on my own. My husband could see that I wanted to change position and he could see that no one was helping, so he shouted, “Will you please help me here? She obviously wants to turn over!” By this point there was another midwife in the room and they all helped me get into the position I wanted to be in, then I didn’t even have to try to push because my body did it all for me. Baby Taylor made his entrance within five minutes, but because of the pethidine he didn’t want to breathe for himself, so the midwives gave him some oxygen after I’d had a quick cuddle with him and then I snuggled down in the bed with him and he latched straight on for a feed.

We were allowed to go home that same night and everything seemed to be perfect until his problems began to become apparent when he was around two weeks old. And, to be perfectly honest, most of that is a blur now too. It feels like it happened a lifetime ago, or like it happened to somebody else.

All things considered, it hasn’t been a bad year. It has been a privilege to watch him grow and turn into this beautiful, happy little boy who is full of mischief and character. I am unendingly proud of him for how adaptable and strong and brave he has been. He is truly and honestly my hero.

So I don’t know how we got here... But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Mama Guilt

I don’t know if this is the case for most mothers, but I suffer with a constant feeling of complete inadequacy. When I get around to cleaning our house – which, if I’m honest, doesn’t happen as often as it should – I find myself wondering if every other mother on the planet has a cleaner house than mine. Do they all manage to keep their houses immaculate in spite of their mess-creating offspring? I try really hard to keep our house clean and tidy, but sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes the kids need more attention from me than usual, or something else is going on that precludes me from being able to make cleaning a priority. Sometimes I’m just too fucking tired, and then I go to bed feeling guilty for the two hours I spent sitting on the sofa, staring at the wall with the TV on in the background. I feel like I should have spent those two hours being productive and I get pissed off with myself for wasting them.

 The other thing is that I often feel completely inadequate as a mother. I read a lot on Twitter and blogs and message boards about all of the exciting adventures that mums have been on with their kids, or the crafty stuff that they spent an afternoon doing (most likely without almost coming out in hives over the mess), or even just the little walk they took... and I compare myself to these women and my kids’ lives to their kids’ lives and I feel like a hopeless case of parenting failure. I worry that my sons are bored or miserable – or both – and that I am ruining their lives by not being pro-active enough. Is literally every other mother out there doing a better job than I am at the full spectrum of parenting? Some afternoons when my husband is at work, Toddler Taylor is bored and destructive and Baby Taylor is cranky, I take them out for a ramble around where we live and I always feel this overwhelming sense of achievement that I managed to get them both out of the house on my own. How totally fucking ridiculous is that? I feel like giving myself a slow hand-clap just writing it.

This guilt/inadequacy complex often gets me thinking about Baby Taylor and the problems he has faced over the first 12 months of his life. A lot of the time I wonder if his reflux is somehow my fault. I was so sick during the early part of my pregnancy that I stopped taking my supplements because they seemed to make it worse. I've scoured the Internet, literally spent hours trying to implicate myself in his condition, and try as I might I can't find a link between the two. But then I also can't seem to accept that sometimes things just happen, especially not when it comes to my babies. I must have done something wrong during my pregnancy. Maybe it was that time I cleaned the bathroom with a bleach spray and didn’t wear gloves or open the window. Or perhaps it was that day I spent out in the garden using an electric sander on a couple of chairs; maybe the vibrations did something to him. Could I have rolled on my bump one too many times in the night and caused it? All of these ruminations are equally ludicrous and unlikely, but I will ponder over them for hours and convince myself that it is all my fault.

Sometimes I think about the breastfeeding thing too. Fucking breastfeeding. It's the most wonderful thing in the world when it goes well. It's a horror show when it doesn't. But I'll often catch myself wondering if I really tried hard enough. It was a nine week battle. I think. Who knows? It felt like fucking eternity. The idea of trying to battle through another three weeks, struggling to get him to latch on at all for a reluctant feed and otherwise pumping every hour... I felt like I'd lose my mind if I had to keep going. When I talk about it with other people, I'll say, "I tried SO hard, but he just wouldn't have it" and even as I'm saying it I'll be thinking But did I really try hard enough? Could I have done more? Was I really just doing something wrong the whole time? I think I've more or less accepted now that I'll never completely rid myself of the guilt, shame and, yes, feeling of utter fucking inadequacy... But it would be nice to forgive myself for it someday.

Being a mother is kind of all about being neurotic about stuff. I mean, when you have your first baby you’ll catch yourself staring at them while they’re sleeping, irrationally terrified that they might suddenly forget how to breathe. If you breastfeed you panic that they’re not getting enough, and if you don’t then you worry that it’ll have some catastrophic detrimental effect on them. You freak out over how they compare to their peers and spend countless hours Googling BABY MILESTONES  to try and figure out if they’re “normal”. It’s endless and constant and really fucking lonely sometimes because men just don’t seem to feel the same way, and it’s almost impossible to talk to other mothers about it in case you pick the wrong confidante and she turns out to be someone who does that awful “my baby could talk, walk and recite Shakepseare by the time s/he was six months old” one-upmanship bullshit. I hate those women. What happened to sisterhood and solidarity? Is that not a thing anymore?

I read this article once about how comparing ourselves and our lives to the people around us is ultimately really damaging, and the fact is that we probably aren’t even making an accurate comparison. Most people don’t go around telling everyone who will listen about the times they’ve fucked things up; they present us with the version of themselves that they want us to see. The same is true with motherhood, I imagine. We all have good days and bad days, but we tend to talk up the good days and gloss over the bad ones. My kids probably aren’t going to remember the boring days when we stayed inside and did nothing much of anything because mummy’s brain was numb from lack of sleep, but they will remember the days when we went on adventures and spent hours running around the garden and jumping on the trampoline. They’ll remember the afternoon when we read twenty stories in an hour and covered every inch of the floor in jigsaw puzzles. They’ll remember the day we planted the rockery, all four of us out in the sunshine together. If I judged my mothering skills by how happy my children are then I would probably be a lot kinder to myself, but I suppose that at least my constant worrying is also a constant force driving me to be a better mother and a better version of myself every day.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

What About When...?

I didn’t actually start this blog with the express intention of only ever writing about parenting stuff. I actually thought that at some point I might say something about my political standpoint or my diet, but then I figured that those of you who follow my Twitter account already have a pretty comprehensive overview of those subjects and probably don’t need a blog to fill in the blanks. But in spite of everything I share about my kids and my motherhood battles, the only part of my relationship that I’ve ever really alluded to is the fact that my husband had a vasectomy in March and we very nearly got divorced in April, two completely separate things which were in no way related. So this blog is going to be about relationships and marriage, and if you don’t want to know about either then please look away now.

So, the first thing I should probably mention here is that I’ve always thought of myself as being a pretty emotionally open person. I’ve never really been afraid to tell someone that I loved them, whether it was in a romantic or platonic sense. But this week I’ve kind of realised some stuff about myself that has actually left me feeling really fucking confused. Like, I almost feel like I’m not really sure of who I am anymore. For this to make sense I have to deviate from my original point so I can lay the groundwork and bring this back around full circle. Eurgh. This is hard... I’m not actually sure why I decided to do this.

When I met my husband I was hurt. Seriously messed up hurt. I remember sitting on the steps outside my flat after our first date thinking, “Well, fuck... I don’t even know if I can do this.” I’d been in and out of this toxic thing with my ex-boyfriend for about four months by this point which basically amounted to us not actually being together, but somehow always ending up sleeping together whenever we thought it was a smart idea to see each other. Which it never fucking was. It was always a terrible idea. So I was in a bad place around the time of that first date and definitely not at my best at all. I was pretty determined to be completely emotionally unavailable, but I guess over the weeks and months, my now-husband kind of... Won me over. I mean, it wasn’t that easy. I was a total mess a lot of the time and he had to be really patient with me, but I started to figure out that you probably don’t put that much effort into a fledgling relationship unless you really, really like that person. Or, I guess, unless you enjoy hard work with little reward and like a challenge.

After about four and half months we moved in together. I think pretty much everyone thought we were crazy, but you know what? If it’s going to be a total fucking deal breaker that he leaves piles of clothes all over the house that never find their way to the washing machine without female intervention then it’s probably just as well that you figure that out quickly and don’t waste your time picking them up. On the other hand, if it’s not a deal breaker and you can laugh about how he always sings the wrong words to every single fucking song ever – with the possible exception of songs you hate – then maybe it might work out. It wasn’t easy. It really wasn’t. I have a really chequered relationship history and I’d lived with someone before so I had pretty warped expectations of what it would be like, but... We did okay. We got engaged about eight months later, and I guess the rest is history.

But even though I pretty much think I’m doing okay now and I’m probably about as “normal” as I’ll ever be, I’m still a bit less of a person than I used to be. I’ve kind of lost some pieces along the way. So when on Tuesday night we were in the pub with some friends and someone who once spectacularly shattered my heart walked in, I went into a kind of state of shock. This particular guy was somebody else’s boyfriend when we met and nothing happened for a really long time because I knew about her and I was determined not to be that person. Except that of course I ended up being that person, for which I have no excuse other than possibly the fact that I was only 19 and pretty besotted with him, and I was that person for exactly two weeks until the guilt crippled me and I walked away. But I was so hurt. I was heartbroken for months. In fact, since then I’ve only seen him in passing a handful of times until that night in the pub. And when I saw him and I felt the awkwardness of knowing that the only really sensible thing to do was not acknowledge him at all unless he made it impossible, I started to realise that maybe I’m not quite the person I thought I was.

On Thursday night, my husband and I watched a movie called “I Give It A Year”. I hope none of you were planning to watch it because I’m about to completely ruin it for you. When we went to bed that night, he cuddled up to me and said something about being really glad that our marriage isn’t messed up and how happy he is and even though I was thinking that I absolutely feel the same, I somehow felt uncomfortable about saying it. Which is when I realised that this actually happens quite a lot... Which is also when it occurred to me that maybe it’s because I still have some residual walls or defences or whatever.

Over the years, a lot of friends and family members have tried to reassure me that my husband loves me, which is something that I actually know is true, but I always respond with, “Right, but what about when...?” What About When... he figures out I’m not actually cool? Happened about six years ago when he realised that I love Dawson’s Creek, Pure Shores by All Saints and that I cry at veterinary programs. What About When... he notices that I’m a bit of an emotional train wreck? The illusion of me having my shit together was shattered pretty quickly when my aforementioned ex-boyfriend reappeared on the scene about a week after we met, causing an I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-to-do crisis that had me calling the whole thing off. What About When... I’m sick with something and I look like shit? About a month after we moved in together I came down with swine flu and he found me crying on the kitchen floor on my third day off work because I didn’t have the strength to get up and go back to bed. Looking like shit didn’t quite cover the catastrophic state of my physical appearance that day. The point is, there are about 27million What About When...? scenarios, and we’ve probably gotten through at least 26.5million of them over the last six years. So I should really know by now that it’s okay to be emotionally open again. I do know. I know he’s not going anywhere. I know there’s not one single What About When...? that could make him think any less of me. But... knowing and accepting maybe aren’t quite the same thing.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Toddler OCD

Is it me or do all children have some degree of OCD? I used to think that Toddler Taylor must have some kind of genuine condition because everything had to be done in a certain way or in a particular order. For example, when he first started to take an actual interest in the process of getting dressed – and by interest, I really mean decided it was an aspect of his daily routine that he had to have absolute control over – the entire morning would descend into tantrum filled chaos if I dared to suggest that he put his pants on before his socks. Like, if I just got sick of the whole messing about of getting dressed every morning, pinned him down and forced him into his clothes in an order of which he did not approve, I would find him five minutes later standing naked in his room screaming bloody murder.

Usually these things come and go in phases. We’ve had the “I want to do it!” phase where Toddler Taylor behaved like I’d just committed the most heinous crime imaginable if I dared to close his curtains for him or put the toothpaste onto the toothbrush without his input. Shortly after that was the aforementioned daily clothing debacle. Now we have this thing where he has to win at everything. If I was late for work in a life before children, I would run like buggery down the stairs and hare out of the front door, throwing myself dramatically behind the wheel of my car and tearing out of the driveway. But these days I have to allow Toddler Taylor to go down the stairs in front of me while I work myself up into a state of complete internal panic because if I don’t then he will have an utter fucking meltdown about the fact that he didn’t “win”. This also goes for the following situations:

Finishing a meal first.
Putting Baby Taylor in the bath first.
Walking into any room in the house first.
Getting ready for bed first.
Doing absolutely anything first.

Seriously. If I sneeze first then I’ve overstepped the boundaries because Toddler Taylor wanted to sneeze first. I really fucking hope this phase ends soon. I’d like to win at something in life again someday.

I remember my mother telling me once that my brother went through a stage shortly after potty training when he had to use every toilet he came across, which very nearly led to a terribly awkward situation in B&Q. So when Toddler Taylor throws me another OCD curveball, I just try to remind myself of that and thank every possible deity out there that nothing that bad has happened to us... Yet.

The thing is though, sometimes I still have absolutely no idea how to deal with these OCD phases. The whole winning thing at the moment is particularly trying because, realistically, I cannot always let him “win”. There are many nights when I’ve given Toddler Taylor every possible opportunity to get undressed and into the bath before his brother and he’s still running maniacally around the house and I just want to get both children bathed and into bed so I can collapse on the sofa and stare at the wall for the rest of the night. I also kind of want to explain to him that there will be times when he will not win and that he will find life very disappointing if he believes that winning is everything, but I rationalise it by assuming that it’s just a phase and will pass eventually like all the other phases. But knowing that doesn’t always make it easy to deal with and sometimes I am just really fucking late to work and need to get down the stairs first, so I have to leave my poor husband to deal with the epic tantrum that ensues when the door slams behind me and the screaming is lost in the screech of tyres as I gun the engine out of the gates. Sorry, husband. This too shall pass!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Mummy V Food

Isn’t it amazing the lengths parents will go to just to get their kids to eat? I have two crappy eaters. One of them has been a crappy eater since he was about a year old and the other one can’t really help it because, you know, reflux and stuff. But I realised today that I spend huge swathes of my time trying to persuade my kids to eat. Like, I’ve probably clocked up weeks – if not months – of time over the last two years trying to persuade small people to just eat.

It’s probably worth mentioning here that neither of my kids got teeth early. Or, actually, on time. Toddler Taylor cut his first tooth at ten months. Baby Taylor is coming up eleven months old now and he still has no teeth. He doesn’t even have the suggestion of teeth. So whenever I talk about my crappy eaters with other mothers and I hear “ooooh, have you tried baby-led weaning?” I want to fucking scream my head off. Or just scream “FUCK OFF!” if we’re being completely honest. Because I can’t let my baby lead the weaning process when he has NO FUCKING TEETH. That’s not really how it works. BUT I have tried pretty much everything else.

“Keep offering the same foods X amount of times to give your child a chance to develop a taste for them.” Yup. Done that. But, you know, there’s only so many times I can wash mushed up spinach out of my hair before I reach the conclusion that my kids just don’t fucking like spinach. I don’t blame them; I didn’t have much affection for spinach before I was in my 20’s and went vegetarian.

“Try adding milk to your baby’s food for a familiar flavour and gradually reduce the amount until you don’t add any milk at all.” I had limited success using this technique with Toddler Taylor, and adding milk to vegetables just seems gross. With Baby Taylor? Well, he’s on PurAmino formula, and as formulas go... I’ll be blunt here; PurAmino tastes like ass. I don’t know how he actually brings himself to drink it, because the few times I’ve tasted it have left me traumatised by the fact that anything supposedly edible could taste that bad. So adding it to his food seems like something that would just ruin the whole concept of food for him forever.

We could go on. There are a plethora of “expert” techniques out there, and I have tried most of them. I love experts... Do any of them have kids? Sometimes I wonder. Anyway, watching me actually trying to get my kids to eat can be a little like watching a poorly scripted sitcom. With Toddler Taylor, it goes like this:

“I’m a giant, mummy!”
“That’s awesome, baby. I made you broccoli pasta.”
“I don’t like broccoli, mummy.”
“I thought you were a giant? Eat your tiny trees.”

With Baby Taylor, I sing, pull faces, tap out a beat on his tray with one had while I wield a spoon with the other. Basically, anything to get him to open his mouth for long enough so I can shovel another spoon in. My husband finds it all completely ridiculous, but at least it usually works. If I'm trying to persuade him to finish his bottle of disgusting milk, it's like "You know what? If ripping out a chunk of my hair helps you focus on your milk then fine; keep yanking on it. It'll grow back." No kidding here; there's not much I won't put up with to get him to just drink his damned milk three times a day.

Here’s the thing though: Why do I worry about this so much? Seriously. Is it likely that either of my kids are going to starve to death if they don’t eat their broccoli pasta or mushed up orange stuff? No. Are picky children rare? No. Will my children always be picky? Probably not. I mean, if they end up being vegetarians someday like their father and me (which I actually kind of hope they will), they’ll probably eat pretty much anything that wasn’t previously sentient like we do. But right now I just dread mealtimes, and I find myself hoping it won’t always be like that. I hope that maybe one day we will all sit around the table together and I won’t have to keep reminding my kids to eat and refusing them dessert when they don’t. Because it always makes me feel so sad when I have to tell Toddler Taylor that he can’t have his favourite yoghurt because he didn’t eat his pasta/veggies/fish fingers. I really try not to make mealtimes a battleground because I know that doesn’t help, but I just fucking want my kids to eat so I can have one less thing to wake up in the middle of the night and worry about.

By all accounts, I was a picky eater as a child. Actually, I was quite picky for a long time. Long after I grew up and moved out, in fact. I used to drive my mother crazy with it. But did it have any detrimental effect on my health? No. I’m short, but I had short parents and was therefore predisposed to be short anyway. Otherwise I’m pretty healthy and I now try new foods all the time. It’s not something that I’m still struggling with and I’m sure the same will be true for my children. I think probably it’s my attitude that needs to change. Like, I can probably trust my kids not to starve themselves and me being neurotic about getting them to eat is just going to make them feel like eating is something to be neurotic about.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Why Hypothetical Baby = Actual NO

Before we get started: I am ever so very grateful for my two beautiful, wonderful children. Okay? Pease don’t forget that and feel the need to remind me about it because I AM.

Sometimes I’ll be driving along and I’ll start thinking that maybe we actually could cope with another baby, and I’ll wonder if perhaps we might even get a girl. I’ll start going over the dialogue in my head, how I would present the idea to my husband and I’ll think about the possible reaction I might get and how I would feel if he flat out rejected it. Then it hits me with a sickening lurch that seems to knock me sideways; another baby isn’t an option for us anymore. And it really doesn’t matter how many times I forget and subsequently remember that fact, the force of the impact never seems to be any less devastating. But we decided this. We looked at our options and we made this choice. And, truthfully, there are a lot of reasons why it was the right decision to make. Logical, sensible reasons with strong foundations in the reality that is our life together. But there are a lot of reasons why it was the totally fucking wrong decision too, and some days I find that I really resent my husband for how easy he found the whole thing. I know that’s really unreasonable. I’m self-aware enough to realise that. But here’s the thing about me; sometimes I am really unreasonable. And illogical too, a character trait for which this precise situation is a case in point.

Here’s a list of the things that would have to change for my husband and I to have another baby. It’s not a short list. In fact, it’s a list that falls just short of EVERYTHING.

I would need a new car. Probably some hideous people carrier effort with shitloads of seats and cavernous boot space for all the crap that I would need to cart around all the time. A new car would be expensive, and I just bought one that I really like and which suits our current family perfectly. I don’t want a people carrier.

We would have to move house. About six weeks ago we had a new bathroom fitted. It is a bathroom that I have been lusting after since ever we bought this house and the bloody awful bathroom that came with it three years ago. I like this house a lot, and there are a whole bunch of reasons why I wouldn’t want to move out of it. It’s not all about the bathroom. But right now, a lot of it is about the bathroom.

We would need more money, which means that I would need to think about taking on some evening work as well as my day job. And it might sound selfish, but I kind of value my quality of life over a hypothetical baby right now considering how hard everything has been during Baby Taylor’s first year and how sleep-deprived I still am. That’s just how it is right now, and how it will probably be for some time to come.

Okay, so actually laid out like that, it’s not a long list. But if you expand on the repercussions of just one of those things, the whole concept kind of takes on supernova status and suddenly I WANT ANOTHER BABY doesn’t really seem to hold much weight or make a whole lot of sense. Then there’s all of the stuff that wouldn’t so much change as change back.

Night feeds. Show of hands for everyone who hates night feeds as much as me? Yeah. Thought so. They’re shit, aren’t they? Particularly when bad experiences with Baby Taylor’s night feeds would mean a constant inner monologue of, “I wonder if s/he will actually go back to sleep when s/he is done...” I can’t even tell you how much I am done with night feeds.

Alongside night feeds... Explosive nappies in the middle of the night that get all over the bed and then the whole bed needs to be changed as well as the baby and the baby has shit in his/her hair and I have no fucking idea how it got there or what I’m supposed to do about it at 4AM and... NO. JUST NO.

The What The Fuck Is Wrong With You And Why Won’t You Sleep/Stop Crying/Eat guessing game. Because now Baby Taylor and I sort of understand each other well enough that most of the time he can find a way to tell me what he needs without screaming the house down about it and I usually figure out what he’s getting at pretty quickly. When he was a baby? Nope. And it was the same with Toddler Taylor, made even harder by the fact that he was my first baby and I had no bloody idea what I was actually doing.

Immunisations every four weeks. Absolutely necessary, of course. But “please don’t cuddle your baby until we’ve given both jabs”? Seriously... Fuck off with that right now.

Weight Clinic. Does anybody else come out in a cold sweat of panic every time they have to take a newish baby to weight clinic? Like, what if s/he’s not gaining enough weight? What if they tell me I’m doing something wrong? What if someone says FAILURE TO THRIVE? This has only become less of an issue for me since I bought my own set of scales to alleviate the fear of nasty surprises. I actually wish I was kidding about that, but HI. I’M NEUROTIC.

You know how people always tell you to “weigh up the pros and cons” whenever you’re feeling a bit on-the-fence about something? That’s my Could We Have Another New Baby cons list. Oh, and there’s one more: MY HUSBAND HAD A VASECTOMY IN MARCH AND WE CAN’T HAVE BABIES TOGETHER ANYWAY. I always somehow forget that one. It gets lost in the myriad of other cons, but then it always seems to be the one that flies back up and smacks me in the face because it’s the only one that really matters in the end. And a lot of the time I can see this for what it really is, rather than what my conscious mind would like me to believe it is. What I think this is actually about is how much I just did not enjoy Baby Taylor’s first few months, how guilty I feel about wishing that time away and how much I wish I could go back and find a way to not hate every second of it. It’s about me wanting to “fix” myself, and I think I always knew that I would feel that way. So my pros list would probably look something like this:

I could exorcise my I’m A Shitty Mother demons by doing an absolutely perfect job of nurturing and breastfeeding (I can’t even. It still kills me) and bonding with my new baby, then I might start feeling better about myself and stop obsessing over all of the things I regret that I can’t fucking change because it’s too late.

 But my selfish desire to not feel totally shit about the whole experience forever is not a good enough reason to bring another child into the world. Not at all. And it wouldn’t actually work anyway. I was going to do a better job of a lot of things with Baby Taylor than I did with Toddler Taylor and look how that turned out; I got thrown a curveball and that whole notion went to hell. If we’re going to start looking at it like that – and we shouldn’t, because I know it wasn’t my fault – the chances are it probably wouldn’t be any better or easier next time either. So it’s really a good thing that we can’t have more children, otherwise I might just end up forgetting all that and convince myself that it would be a smart idea to try again.