Confessions Of A Teenage Mother (Kind Of)

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My lovely friend Alison from The Motherhood wrote a piece recently that really resonated with me. She says that she spends a lot of her time amazed that she’s a grown-up, and even more that she’s a mother. I nodded my way through all this because I have a confession to make: for the last ten years I have been pretending to be an adult. I might have turned 18, I might be driving a car, boozing it up and voting in elections but the thing is, I’m actually still about seventeen.

Every time I walk into a shop to buy alcohol and don’t get asked to show ID I stop for a moment and think – really? Don’t they know I’m underage and shouldn’t be drinking this ten quid bottle of wine? How can they be sure I’m not going to go round the back and neck it with my friends on our BMXs? Never mind the fact I’m in Waitrose and am toting my membership card, my free tea, car keys sensible handbag and two children… I still feel the guilt of doing something a little bit naughty.

Similarly, I totally feel guilt when my mum texts me and doesn’t put kisses on the end. I think, uh-ho, what have I done wrong? Did I stay out too late again? Did she catch me kissing another boy (hasn’t happened since I was 16, honest). Did I get in trouble at school for skiving drama to go to Topshop? Did I accidentally go into my overdraft and she found out about it (this never happens, I promise mum!)?

Then it comes to these two mini people who apparently I am in sole charge of 80% of the time. When we’re in public and one of them yells “MUMMY!” it still takes me a couple of moments to realise they’re talking to me. I relate more to my kids than the other mums at pre-school (probably cos they’re actual grown-ups) and would totally shop at Zara Kids if I was only a couple of feet shorter. At a party recently I ended up in the TV room watching Saturday night TV with the teenagers because the adults were talking about adult things and at that same party someone asked me how I was enjoying University. I like to play with Lego, PlayDoh and am totally cool with that.

I worry that I don’t have conversations about finance or politics because frankly, it bores me. My jokes are crude, my pop culture interests revolve around Kim Kardashian and I don’t really have an off switch when it comes to wine or cocktails. I buy shampoo that I’m sure is targeted at 16 year olds (hi, Soap and Glory!). I listen to the Frozen soundtrack even when the kids aren’t with me and I wear a bright red GShock watch. My favourite outfit revolves around skinny jeans and my Liberty print Vans and I TOTALLY get where Michael Scott is coming from. THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID. 

The one thing that does make me feel a bit like a grownup is my forehead wrinkles. And they can be fixed by Botox so are not even relevant.

Is this normal? Need I feel necessarily worried as I enjoy the kids’ baked beans with a glass of wine and a Beyonce singalong this evening (hey, it’s Friday!). No word of a lie, to celebrate the weekend I’m currently jamming to a playlist that would mostly have not been out of place in my favourite club 11 years ago: TLC and Missy Elliot YO! Please tell me there are some other teen mothers like me (well, mentally at least) out there. And then lets go out and get irresponsibly hungover together, yeah?

Above: daytime drinking with @Photogirluk. Definitely not sensible adult behaviour. Loads of fun though. 

The Golden Hour

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Every single night at about 11pm I tiptoe quietly into the bedroom next to mine. I go to Hux first, who is always lying on his tummy, with his nose snuggled into his favourite smelly old muslin cloth. He has a little boy bed head and I bend down to sniff it and kiss his lovely little ears. 50% of the time his head will make it onto the pillow but the rest of the time he’ll be awkwardly sprawled width-ways across the cot. The bedclothes have always been kicked off so I try to tuck them tightly back around his little body without waking him up. The little houdini has worked out how to escape his pyjamas (and nappy!) so I’ve been putting him to sleep in vests and tshirts and I don’t want him to get cold. Raaraa is always there, as is whichever teddy Elfie has decided to gift him with that evening from her large collection.

I turn off the string of car night lights next to his bed and move over to Elfie next. I gently remove whichever object she’s taken to bed with her (last week it was a sketch book, yesterday her purse full of coppers) and make sure she has her favourite bunny within arms reach. She tells me every night before she goes to bed, ‘mummy you MUST kiss me on the forehead FORTY FIVE TIMES’, so I do what I’m told.

I scoot her over to the side of the bed nearest the wall because she has a tendency to roll herself out of bed with a thump and a wail; I shouldn’t laugh at this but it’s kind of funny. Her fairy lights remain on, and if they don’t she is happy to wake you at 5am to demand you jolly well sort it out.

When it comes to parenting for me this 11pm ritual is the most precious time of all. The house is quiet, there’s no pressure to cook dinner, make the school run on time, practice writing (Elfie, not me), reply to emails hoover up crumbs. Our days are busy and it’s time to take a bit of time to relax, reflect on the day and enjoy the silence.

There’s a quote I heard once when I first became a mother and didn’t pay much attention to, but as I travel further down this road of motherhood I come back to it time and time again:

The days are long but the years are short. 

At the moment for me there is nothing truer than this phrase. I might begin our days at 6am feeling grumpy and short-changed on sleep and finish them at midnight after ploughing through work in the only bit of free time I have but these precious moments, they won’t last forever. Looking back at just how small my babies were only a year ago it astounds me how much they’ve grown: how far we have all come.

This is why I have vowed to always take that extra ten minutes every night to stroke my babies’ chubby cheeks, enjoy their sleepy breaths and think about how much I love each little rumpled hair on their head. The days are long but the years are short.

Raising Daughters

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The parenting of little girls is a job that is so special. Boys are boys and boys are awesome, but compared to our daughters they really are as different as slugs, snails and puppy dog tails.

Yesterday I did something that doesn’t happen enough in our house; I took Elfie on a little day out, just the two of us. We had an appointment with her new consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital – and as an aside, what a wonderful place this is. I thank heavens every day that we have the NHS and such open access to brilliant doctors (ours is a Professor, oooh fancy). I’d promised her a lovely meal out afterwards and as she can’t get enough of public transport I made sure we went on both a tube, a bus, and then in a black cab for good measure.

We had a brilliant time together, and for me the day brought home how precious and important this time with my little girl is. Elfie is such a deep thinker, a deep feeler and her mind is more than inquisitive, as her mother it’s up to me to shape this into the person she will one day become and spending one-on-one time with each other brings that fact home to me.

I like to think I bring my children up pretty equally. There’s not a lot of gender stereotyping that goes on in our house: Hux has pink chinos, Elfie has blue ones. They both play with cars (E’s very much into Hot Wheels right now) and they both play with handbags. Elfie asked for her nails to be painted pink this week and so did Hux (I did him one fingernail and one toenail: he is awesome). I try to buy them gender neutral toys that they are both able to enjoy together or apart.

But in their thoughts, feelings and emotions they are poles apart. Hux barrels into everything, probably picking his nose and giving himself a black eye in the process. Elfie stands back, she observes a situation before deciding what she’s going to do. With school looming on the horizon I’ve been trying to teach her how to hold her own a little more with her peers, so she’s able to tell them if she isn’t happy. But she is so precious and I guess eager to be liked and kind to her friends she’s finding it hard. We are making progress – I heard her say the magic phrase “don’t do that, I don’t like it” to Hux without being prompted last week – and she’s getting more confident at holding her own with the older boys at softplay.

As her mother I want my little girl to grow up knowing she has me always on her side, ready to protect her at any minute. But I also need her to know how important it is that she is capable and able to be strong of her own accord, that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I’m lucky that I grew up thinking this (thanks mum and dad!), only doubting myself very rarely, so I hope to pass on some of my strength and bloody mindedness to her.

These times, when I’m feeling all introspective about raising daughters, this is when I reach for the poem B, by Sarah Key.  It makes me weep, makes me smile, but most importantly it makes me think: yeah… we’re doing OK here.

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Point B – Sarah Key

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s going to call me, “Point B.”

Because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

And I’m going to paint the solar systems on the backs of her hands, so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.”

And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by band-aids or poetry, so the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.

“And baby,” I’ll tell her, “Don’t keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick. I’ve done it a million times. You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him.”

But I know she will anyway, so instead, I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rainboots nearby. Because there’s no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix.

Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks that chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rainboots are for. Because rain will wash away everything if you let it.

I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat. To look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind. Because that’s the way my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this, “There’ll be days like this,” my mama said. When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly, and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape. When your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment, and those are the very days you have all the more reason to say, “Thank you.” Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shore line, no matter how many times it’s sent away.

You will put the “wind” in “winsome… lose some.” You will put the “star” in “starting over… and over…” And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.

And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.

“Baby,” I’ll tell her, “Remember, your mama is a worrier, and your papa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more. Remember that good things come in threes, and so do bad things, and always apologize when you’ve done something wrong. But don’t you EVER apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.

Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

You’re A Stay-At Home Mum… What Do You Actually Do All Day?

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“You’re a stay at home mum… so what do you DO all day?”

If I had a pound for every time someone had said that to me then I would have, well, a lot of pounds. But I don’t, I just have a lot of urges to clock acquaintances who ask me annoying questions in the face. Where did the idea come from that mums who work in the home spend their days on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle? The kids won’t feed themselves and the house won’t clean itself. Shit needs to get DONE people, and very often the only person to do it is mum.

Mums wear a lot of hats. Educator, cook, cleaner, laundry maid, chauffeur, disciplinarian. But it’s not just as simple as that; not only do we have to perform in all these roles but we have to try as hard as we can at them. The pressure is on to cook well-balanced, healthy meals from scratch (tough when your kid will only eat white pasta, bananas and avocados). We have to teach them the ‘right’ things (Montessori? Phonetics? I need to Google all these words). And then, still some of us have to hold down jobs, progress in careers, keep other halves happy. It’s exhausting. 

So here it is: this is a run-down of exactly what I did one day last week. And the next time someone asks me that question I am referring them straight here… right after punching them in the face.

- Got myself and the kids up. This involves tactical negotiations over exactly what cup our milk will be drank from and intense decisions over Weetabix, Shreddies or toast. I’m not kidding, the UN’s negotiators have nothing on me.

- Prepared everyone to leave the house. Three year olds aren’t rational, they will insist on wearing a summer dress and they won’t understand when you explain why this is most definitely not possible because it’s 2 degrees outside. Oh and cardigans? Only idiots wear cardigans, apparently.

- Drive Elfie to pre-school. Do you know how many times you can listen to Katy Perry ‘Roar’ on a 10 minute car journey? Three, but it will feel like twelve.

- Took Hux to creche. Sometimes fine but mostly heartbreaking. A three year old clutching on to your leg crying ‘Mama! Mama! Cuddle!’? ARGH.

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Went to the gym. My favourite time (I’m mental), but it’s the time I get that’s not for work, not for children, not for anyone else but me. 20 minutes on the cross trainer, 20 minutes on all the weight machine thingys then 10 stretching and admiring myself in the massive mirror ;) We all do it when we have muscles, right?

- Designed a blog. I’ve been doing a bit of blog design work recently and there’s nothing I’d rather do after the gym than a couple of hours of coding CSS. I’m not even joking here.

- Did three loads of washing. Though my two are little, one of them attracts paint like there’s no tomorrow and the other likes eating soup with his hands. I basically get through a lot of Fairy Non-Bio (which I buy and use because it reminds me of having newborns :’)

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- Cooked, photographed and wrote a recipe. I needed to eat lunch and because the light was on my side I photographed the recipe – sticky chicken cashew salad – for a new website I’m launching about my Paleo journey. Because I don’t have enough on my metaphorical plate. 

- Wrote an article about iPhone photography. I’m working with a new client (details coming soon!) and getting to do a lot of work about photography which has been fantastic.  

- The kids came home! Always a lovely time. Although today they brought cake, definitely not Paleo.

- Met a friend for a playdate. I think it’s really important to socialise – not just the children, but me as well. Because I work at home in funny snatches of time I don’t always get to see many people so I like to meet up with my friends when I can. Today we went to IKEA to meet our lovely new pre-school friend Amy: we get meatballs and the kids get to tire themselves out playing the ‘Arrow Game’! This is a genius invention (all Amy’s): the kids run from arrow to arrow throughout IKEA… they aren’t allowed to move on from one arrow to the next until we get to them so they stay within sight yet still have a good old run around. Brilliant! I buy a bath mat, loo brush and a candle, because I challenge anybody to go to IKEA and not purchase a candle.

- Get home in time for a bath. Elfie doesn’t like the bath after a busy day. She doesn’t like to get her hair wet and she is always worried that Hux is going to poo in there (a valid concern, admittedly). Sometimes I have to bring out my negotiation skills again but this day she actually managed to let me wash her hair without a fuss. Success!

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- Put the kids to bed. Bedtime is one of my favourite times of all. The children are clean, cuddly and smell delicious and everyone is happy after a busy day. We read a book (usually Hairy McLairy) and then Hux is the first to get tucked in with his muslin and RaaRaa the lion while Elfie and I have fifteen minutes alone for a cuddle on the sofa.

- Write a blog post. The evenings I have dinner with the kids are brilliant because it means I can spend an extra half an hour or so working rather than cooking. I’m sometimes too tired to sit down and write a blog post but I like to try and get some ideas down at least. Plus if I’ve poured myself a glass of wine I suddenly start to find my own writing rather hilarious.

- Go through my emails. The one thing I’m really bad at is not replying to emails that aren’t urgent. I’m trying to make myself spend an hour on them each evening but it’s hard. I’ll get there.

- Fall into bed. I usually remember I have a washing machine full of wet clothes waiting to go in the tumble dryer AFTER I’ve gone to bed. It’s good it keeps me on my toes.

 

So, Mr ‘What do you do all day’…  This is what I do. What did YOU get done today?

 

How Life Changes When You Have A Baby

How life changes when you have a baby

When I had Elfie I was determined that I wouldn’t change as a person. I knew some things would be different – I wouldn’t be able to go out on a whim, would be a bit thicker round the middle for a few months, might lose a bit of sleep and there’d be a new little person around the place, but essentially I was determined that life as I knew it would remain the same. How different could things get, right?

AHAHAHAHAHAHHHAHAHAHA.

Let’s take stock, shall we?

The Body
Weird things happen to your body. I’ve carried two children which obviously has put a strain on various parts of me and it shows: I have a spare tyre that I’m currently working on (getting rid of it, not keeping it), my boobs will never be the same and my feet GREW when I was pregnant. I have a funny bulgey vain at the back of my right knee and I won’t go into details because I want some of you to be able to look me in the eye again but: PILES. No 25 year old thinks she’s going to have to worry about piles. Think again.

The Sleep
Unless you have a child or have perhaps been tortured you DO NOT know sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is not being able to think, converse, cook, walk, function. I have had days when I’ve reclined on my sofa and wept feeling so unable to do anything at all: it’s a terrible feeling and is surely the worst thing about motherhood. When you’re in the middle of it you can feel like you’re never getting out of it and you want to punch the well wishers with their pointless advice on how to make your baby sleep (how do they not realise you’ve already tried it ALL?). Also: never tell a new mum she looks tired. Never ever ever.

How life changes when you have a baby

The Nose
Something must happen to your sense of smell during birth because you suddenly become totally immune to the smell of poo. Your child can be sitting right next to you and for some reason you have to place your nose to their arse and take a big whiff to decide whether or not they require a nappy change. If you want to make doubly sure you can use your index finger to pull at the back of their trousers and nappy and do a visual check. Pure glamour.

Last night I had a spectacular fail on the shit-whiff front. I did the cursory nose-based check of Hux’s bum as I was filling up the bath: nothing. I sat him on my knee, whipped his clothes and nappy off and plonked him in the bath. With an almighty crap clamped between his bum cheeks. Have you ever seen a bath with a full-length skidmark? My tub spent the day simmering under an inch of bleach but to be frank, I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to relax with bath oils and a couple of candles in there ever again. Thanks for nothing, sense of smell.

The Gross Things
Situations that would otherwise turn your stomach really don’t phase you anymore. I’m talking vomit (OH, the vomit…), poo, snot. Just today I have: dealt with a middle of the night nappy leak, picked a hardened bogey out of my son’s hair, retrieved a half-masticated piece of cucumber off the floor, held a toddler’s hand on the toilet and wiped two bums. I basically wash my hands a lot.

The Emotions
As soon as I had Elfie I developed ALL the emotions. And they never left. I will cry at the drop of a hat these days and have particular things that make me weep more than others. The sickly sweet Dinosaur Train on Nick Jr “I’ll always been your Mom”. WEEP. Any and all charity TV adverts (even the donkey ones). Love stories (The Undateables kills me). Don’t even think about Comic Relief/Children In Need. I even have issues with the X Factor final.

What have I missed?

Sleep Is For The Weak

I love sleep

…or so the saying goes. Not as far as I’m concerned… I’m not weak and I still need as much sodding sleep as I can get; eight hours if possible.

When I was mid-way through my bout of PND my mental health nurse spoke to me a lot about sleep. It’s my way of coping in bad times, and I always know something is wrong if I simply want to go to bed and go to sleep at every opportunity. When I was at my worst I would sleep ten hours at night plus an extra two if I could when they kids napped… not normal.

Anyway, one of the conversations we had that stuck with me was about our body’s Circadian Rhythm. We all have our own internal clocks when it comes to sleep and they are programmed for different times; I know that my body functions best when I go to sleep at 12am and wake at 8am, whereas someone else’s (my darling daughter for example) might run from 8pm-5.30am. Ouch.

So as mine and Elfie’s sleep patterns are so poorly matched there are a lot of tired eyes in our house. Mostly mine, in all honesty. I bitch and moan about this on Twitter a lot and am happy that I have some fellow sleep-deprived friends to empathise with. Not happy that they don’t get sleep either, but happy I’m not alone. It’s always a bit of a triumph when one of us gets more than five hours a night and I think we feel each others sleep successes a bit more keenly than others do.

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I do not know how she is so chirpy in the mornings.

When I was pregnant I didn’t get this sleep depravation thing. When people told me to “get your sleep in now, you won’t be getting much of it in the future” I just wanted to punch them in the face, because of course my baby would sleep. My baby would know how much its mama needed her 8 hours of shut eye and wouldn’t dare disturb that, would she? I thought it was that easy.

And even now when I moan about how little sleep I get I actually wonder if I’m making a big deal out of it. I wonder if child-free me would look at Work At Home Mother me and think “seriously? What do you do all day? Just sleep then”. I even wonder if I’m laying it on a bit thick and I’m being a big wimp; maybe I sleep more than I think.

So I decided to carry out an experiment. A week ago I downloaded a sleep tracking app that monitors your sleep cycles using the accelerometer in your iPhone. It’s a pretty cool piece of kit that is able to tell when you’re awake, when you’re asleep and when you’re in a deep sleep. It then processes the date into loads of charts and graphs that tells you what quality your sleep was that night. Or, in my case it’s able to tell me what time I went to sleep, what time Elfie woke up and how many times she got up during the night. It’s such a regular occurrence for Elfie to be up and down at night time that I tend to forget what’s transpired in the night and I thought it could be interesting to see exactly how much I’m sleeping.

Here’s my Week Of Real Sleep:

Friday:
5 hours sleep. No wake-ups, Elfie got up 5.30.
Saturday:
5.5 hours sleep. 3 wake-ups: 1.15am, 3am, 5am, Elfie got up 6.30.
Sunday:
6 hours sleep. 1 long wake-up, from 1.45am to 2.30am, Elfie got up at 6.30.
Monday:
5.5 hours sleep. 2 wake-ups: 3.30am, 5am, Elfie got up at 6.45 (A LIE-IN!).
Tuesday:
5.5 hours sleep. 3 wake-ups: 3.30am, 4.45am, 6am, Elfie got up at 6.45.
Wednesday:
5.5 hours sleep. 3 wake-ups: 1am, 4am, 5.45am, Elfie got up at 6.45.
Thursday:
6 hours sleep. 2 wake-ups: 3.45am, 5.30am, Elfie got up at 6.45am.

So, in a nutshell, to function properly I could really do with 56 hours of sleep a week. I seem to be getting 39 hours of sleep, a deficit of 17 hours. My weekly sleep deficit is slightly over 2 nights sleep. Ouch.

And that’s not taking the nightly wake-ups into account, which I swear affects me more than the actual sleep deficit itself. We had 14 of those this week. You know some animals sleep all winter, and if you wake them when they’re deep into hibernation it’s really really bad for their health? Yeah, that’s me. Only I like to hibernate each and every night.

So how do I get my child to sleep more? I kind of think this is just a (bloody long) phase and she’ll grow out of it eventually. In the meantime I’m taking steps to improve my diet and exercise so I’m in optimum health and more ably equipped to deal with the tiredness. Bring on the teenage years when I have to force her out of bed in the mornings.