My Angel

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I’ve just discovered what’s known as a ‘linky’ thing through another website called Podcast

Its called What’s the Story and its an open invite to choose a picture which means something special to you and tell the tale behind the image.

This one dates back to Christmas 2010. It makes me laugh and it reminds me of an answer I gave in one of my NCT ante-natal sessions. Our leader went round the circle asking what it was we were most looking forward to about having a baby. I can’t really remember what everyone else said but I’m fairly sure they were really focussed on the whole ‘baby’ thing. At the time I had been with my partner for about three years and got to know his daughter from a previous relationship. She was only two when we got together and I think spending time with her flicked the switch on my biological clock. The time I did and didn’t spend with her also left me feeling somewhat impotent. Anyone who has ever had a relationship with a partner’s child must know how it feels when you develop a love for them and a feeling of protectiveness and closeness (she once called me her best friend – I think we were going through the checkout at Tescos at the time), but you are also kept from them at the most important moments – the special occasions in a little child’s life: sports days, nativity plays, easter parades. This was the thought that struck me when I realised what it was I was most looking forward to – motherhood as THE special person in that gorgeous little person’s life – the one who gets to make all those important decisions and be there at all those fun events.

The picture above clearly shows that, special or not, it was also a bit traumatic for poor JJ! Last year’s pre-school Christmas extravaganza was no better – he was the only child to spot mummy in the front row and break down in tears, later leaving the stage early for a reassuring cuddle. The fact that there is someone in the world who would always turn to me first for that cuddle is probably one of the most special parts of motherhood.

Something sad

Today something happened which, in itself, does not speak volumes but it opened up a whole door of sadness and guilt to me. I was over at my mum and dad’s for lunch (hubster working a weekend shift) and I know that mum had a hard time with both the kids on her own earlier in the week, injuring herself falling in the garden twice. The hot weather and the fact that JJ was there when normally he is at pre-school pushed things to the brink of manageability. I immediately searched for an alternative to try and take the pressure off and booked JJ in for a session with our childminder every wednesday morning for the rest of the school holidays.

Since EJ has started crawling and entered what I generally refer to as “the danger phase” (the bit where you need eyes in the back of your head just to ensure he hasn’t swallowed 12 pebbles/stuck his finger in a socket/abseiled off the upstairs landing) things have become a little more fraught over at my Mum and Dad’s house. One thing that never really caused an issue when JJ was in “the phase” (or for that matter my two nieces at the same age a decade ago) was him having any interest in their lovely, retro standing lamp, complete with large round glass shade. This lamp is something I remember as always being in our house as I was growing up. Its part of the general scenery of our lives. Unfortunately EJ took a bit of an interest in it a couple of weeks ago and so Mum decided it best to remove the temptation and put it out of harms way in the laundry room. Today I took some laundry over as I feel like I am in a neverending cycle of drawn out washing and drying and this was one way of getting a bit more done. At lunchtime my mum went to turn the washing machine off and in a moment of distraction bumped into the lamp sending it flying towards the kitchen only for the shade to shatter into a million little pieces.

Firstly, I knew that Mum was going to be devastated and emotional about this because she loved the lamp and when you have something iconic living with you in your house for thirty or so years its practically part of the family. Secondly I felt responsible on several levels: the lamp was in the laundry room because of my mischevous baby; my mum was in the laundry room because of my washing; Mum was probably feeling less herself this week because of her experiences looking after my two, very demanding small children earlier in the week and this may have contributed in some way to the accident. Either way my instant reaction was to assume that I should leave with my children and never darken their door again. Of course that would have been a bit melodramatic and needless to say that didn’t happen but I am definitely left feeling particularly sad and uncomfortable as if me and my children are now becoming responsible for causing my Mum both physical and emotional pain which is something I would never want to do as she has been so loving and supportive and given way above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to being there for us.

I wonder if anyone else feels this pressure that we put on our parents? Its been well documented that our recession-laden generation expects more and more from our children’s grandparents and the cost of childcare in the UK is apparently the highest in Europe. As I am an older mum myself, naturally my parents are older than the average grandparents to tiny tots and this also has an impact. Have I made all the wrong choices? Have I expected too much? Have I shortened my Mum’s life expectency by asking her to perform these duties and taken away some of the joy of her much-deserved and well-earned retirement years?

Guilt doesn’t really cover it…

 

George Foreman – I’m your new biggest fan!

What’s that you say? You’re a boxer? I have no knowledge of that. No, what I love about you George, is your marvellous lean, mean grilling machine. My recent musings on my ridiculous slide into chocolate croissant, Costa latte, comfort food hell led me to the conclusion that something had to change. For starters less bread/cake/biscuits/sandwiches. Whilst there is nothing wrong with dry frying or ordinary, bog standard grilling, it has been the grilling machine that has captured my imagination and allowed me to experiment with meals I’ve never tried before (and the family too!).

So far I’ve made a delicious marinaded pork dish (soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, chillis), plain salt & pepper grilled chicken breasts with pre-cooked new potatoes chopped up and grilled at the same time, yummy lamb shoulder steaks marinaded in olive oil with garlic & chillis and eaten in a flatbread with salad and tsatziki, as well as using the grill for plain sausages and burgers, thereby syphoning off loads of excess fat. Unfortunately, not thinking ahead with blogging in mind I have not taken any pictures of these masterpiece creations but maybe I’ll start clicking everything from now on!

I read a few review sites before buying this kitchen gadget and noted that several people said that they grilled a couple of sandwiches on it and never used it again. Frankly I’m surprised. Its easy and versatile. Wow. This is beginning to sound like an info-mercial – George, if you’re reading, I’ll happily take a commission!

The boy turns 1!

As I write this I am breathing a big sigh of relief. One of the things that noone tells you when you decide to become a parent is that you will need to brush up on your organisational skills because, at some point, you will be expected to fulfill the role of party planner and hostess. OK, nobody is actually expected to do this and whilst a party is a popular choice, there’s nothing wrong with choosing to take your child for a family day out instead. I do enjoy a good party though but never realised how much hard work it would be to make it haone balloonppen. And I say this with no particular pride at the amazing job I did because, quite frankly, I was a bit all over the place and there were no organised activities or games (although I did have a couple up my sleeve if they’d been needed).

The most panicky bit for me was realising that I had organised an outdoor party (not altogether unreasonable – late July, middle of a heatwave) and the weather forecast the night before was non-stop rain, thunder, lightning, hellfire… To my great fortune, one of my lovely friends called the morning of the day and told me she had found a perfect venue (lovely church hall with big outdoor area too) and it was (unbelievably) free that day and bargain price to boot! I honestly cannot thank her enough and have definitely learnt a jolly good lesson about party planning for the future. Having said that – I’ve also learnt a lesson about trusting the weather forecasters because we had glorious sunshine for the vast majority of the afternoon.

Its not a cheap option but one of my favourite bits was sourcing lovely bright food boxes and creating a little impromptu picnic, and getting all the little bits and bobs together for the party bags. Guess I’m a sucker for accessories!

Time Management for Mums 101

Before I had children my need to be organised mostly revolved around gettng to pre-arranged meetings or appointments on time. I was pretty good – checking travel times and making sure I would have the time I needed to prepare in advance. Other than that there wasn’t time managementa huge call to be super-organised. Oh how times have changed!

This week EJ turned one and I realised that, although I had sent out a general invitation for a party ‘of sorts’ on a specific date, I hadn’t thought to plan ahead with food, party bags, activities or indeed EJ’s main present. This has led to last minute panic shopping online and succumbing to a few inflated delivery charges.

On a day to day basis I have learnt that the best way to cope with juggling everyone’s needs is to run things like a military operation. Second guessing and thinking ahead are everything and I’m rapidly becoming an expert. For example, I know that the kids hit a hunger/tiredness meltdown between 5 and 6pm, so knowing exactly what they will be eating, how long it will take to cook and minimising the last minute preparation so that I can give them as much of my attention as I can manage are crucial.

This is probably why the bedtime hours of my work days are the most organised of all. I can’t be there during the day to manage their snacking or make sure they have rested or napped at the appropriate times so we often have a meltdown anyway, but at least I have some semblance of a plan to cling to.

This last thought leads me to the conclusion that having children has turned me into a control freak. Or maybe I was always a control freak but I just didn’t have anything to control before! At any rate I look forward to the day when I can let someone wrench some of this uptight control freakery out of my clenched, white-knuckled fists – at which point I will breathe a loooooong sigh of relief and flop!

Number Twos

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I know what you’re thinking but I’m not here to discuss the recent contents of EJ’s nappies. And besides there is nothing of note to report (except maybe the blueberrygate affair – but enough of this talking crap!). No what I’m here to discuss is second children – do they get a raw deal?

EJ turns one this week and we have just returned from a lovely party for one of his sibling-free buddies which got me thinking. We all dote on our first child, everything they do is lovingly recorded with photographs and videos, proud reports to friends and family and, lets face it, anyone else who’ll listen. Poor number 2 has to make do with a blurry phone pic once in a blue moon and a whole lot of sharing.

I recently visited Clarks with the boys – mostly with JJ in mind – for a much needed measure and refit. It was a kind of spontaneous last minute idea and whilst waiting in a ridiculously long queue, in swanned a young couple who had clearly booked an appointment in advance for this “ceremony of the first shoe fitting”. Their daughter must have been a similar age to EJ and she was so obviously a “first”. They twittered away obliviously about all their little darling’s funny, adorable habits to a gay sales assistant happy to play along. When EJ’s turn finally came around I was almost surprised when they bothered to take the obligatory polaroid, my main thought being – if the shoe fits, lets quit this joint at the double!

Having said that, I myself am a second, and went through such a self-pitying phase in my teenage years about the fact that my sister had a baby album and I didn’t that she actually put together a special album with pictures from my life so far to try and make it up to me!

The one thing that seconds do have that firsts didn’t is a semi-competent mum who actually has a bit of confidence in the way she tackles all your challenges.

Now the fun begins…

Tiny Joe
There is something really exciting about being pregnant with your first planned and longed for child; seeing their little heart beating on the monitor for the first time, picking out toys and bedding and adorable clothing, taking advantage of your pre-natal class of choice (aqua natal in my case), meeting new friends in the same situation and feeling those first little kicks (from the baby, not your new friends hopefully!).
For all those reasons in September 2009, at the age of 38, I had the biggest shock of my life (and we’re not even talking about labour and birth here) when JJ made his appearance in the world fully loaded with colic.
I duly posted a birth announcement and pics on my Facebook timeline and back came that most memorable of comments “Congratulations honey – now the fun begins“.
JJ was what might be described as a “fussy baby” and along with the sleepless nights, sore and bleeding nipples (TMI!) and a delicate sensibility, it felt as though I had stepped off the top of a tall building and was in complete freefall.
Only at this point does it occur to you that you have taken on a literally 24/7 job, which you have flip all qualifications for and cannot quit at any time. I don’t think the commonly used phrase ‘Baby Blues’ in any way covers how I felt for at least the first four months although I’m not sure it went as far as post natal depression either.
I remember clearly seeing other people in local parks with 2 or more children and feeling completely uncomprehending of how anyone could possibly want to put themselves through this experience more than once. People told me it would get better but I just couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and spent hours trawling through forums, zines and blogs searching for believable, convincing, reasons why this decision I’d made to become a parent was the right one and what good it was actually bringing into my life.
Ironically in doing so I also found a lot of negativity from child-free commentators who seemed to be pointing at me personally, with a derisive laugh, taunting “look at you, slave to your biological imperative, you’ll never be free, and in the meantime here I am, lying in until ten before cruising off for a leisurely brunch and a trip to the spa”.
On the other side of the coin, and somewhat lamely in my opinion at the time, the odd doting parent protested that having a little person to love you unconditionally, hearing them come out with the funniest things, that warm fuzzy feeling when they giggle or give you a kiss, watching them sleep – you get the idea – made it all worthwhile.
None of those things relate to a screaming newborn. And none of them gave me any comfort or set my mind at rest that I had done the right thing.
In fact the whole thing seemed a bit like a self-deluding attempt to justify a poor life decision and the child-free denouncers were quick to back up that viewpoint, for example “You’re trying to tell me that two hours of nagging, whingeing and screaming is instantly cancelled out when little Johnny finally calms down and mispronounces par cark – how we all laughed! Give me a night down the pub with my mates any day”.
The panic properly set in then – will I really be spending the rest of my life covering up pervasive unhappiness with a thin veil of self-delusion?
Nearly four years later down the line and with a second, completely planned and adorable (non-colicky) baby, I can see the situation so much more clearly and all those ‘reasons to be cheerful’ about parenthood come into focus. I know now that the expression ‘this too shall pass’ is utterly relevant and that what all those goading, free-time flaunting nay-sayers don’t see is that the most valuable, precious parts of your life are the parts you have to work the hardest for; they appear to be robbing you of your time/ your sense of self, but a few short years later you begin to get that back and these arguments fall down.
I’ll admit I’m not quite there yet but I can see it coming and this blog is the start of it for me.
What once seemed like smug, snide comments from child free commentators now seem to have missed the point completely and I’m part of that lucky club of people who know the true secret to lasting happiness, and its more than the sum of its parts.

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