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.