Recently I sat down, scrolled through my calendar and discovered something slightly shocking.
I have not been in my house alone since the 20th September.
Furthermore, thanks to Elfie and Hux’s dad working away for a few weeks (and Elfie’s various 2/4/5am antics) I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since 15th November. Factor in the long days and a manageable bit (A LOT) of work stress and I was, by the beginning of this week, about ready to go a bit bonkers.
The one shining beacon in the craziness of the bonkersness was this coming weekend. I’d (kind of) cleared the diary and decided to be as low key as possible. With nothing planned, this weekend was going to be all about ME.
It is now 4pm Saturday and so far today I have: had a lie-in (10am, BOOM), cooked a brilliant breakfast, had a shower, read the beginning chapters of two books, watched my first episode of Made in Chelsea, been invited to a party, baked banana bread, watched a film, done an hour’s work and spent 30 minutes looking at eyebrow shapes.
I can’t go to the gym because I went last night- after a gin and tonic which was a massive rookie mistake – I don’t want to go swimming because I painstakingly blow dried my hair last night and I can’t clean because that was done on Thursday. I did my supermarket shop yesterday, I don’t want to work because I promised myself I wouldn’t, I refuse to go to the shops because it’s Saturday and I’m not mental and I can’t nap because I’m not tired.
I miss the kids.
Sidenote: why does Made In Chelsea have a weird yellowy filter on it, like Instagram? It’s really annoying me, real life doesn’t look like this. Or maybe it does when your bank account has lots more money in it? Maybe you just grow yellowy lenses over your retinas and everything literally looks more rosy?
I have three hours left until I leave for Bryony’s house to watch the X Factor and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all this time… apart from eat Banana Bread and the block of Duchy Organics stilton I have in the fridge that’s been calling my name all morning. Or maybe I’ll spend those three hours trying to figure out the intricacies of the various relationships in Made in Chelsea? I could be here a while. But then what happens tomorrow?
Don’t get me wrong, I think that as a hard-working mother, or a someone who works hard, or is a mother, WHATEVER, time to yourself is so incredibly important. I sometimes feel like I spend so much of my time serving others – the children or those at work – that I forget about myself. I can go days and days and days without realising that I do exist to relax and spend time on my own and not just to be busy busy busy busy. I know I have my evenings after the kids go to bed at 7.30 but these are invariably spend working, cooking, bleaching or washing. SO BUSY.
What do you do with your alone time? I NEED INSPIRATION!
When you’re a mother, the default mode seems to be GUILT. I thought this was just me until I started talking to my mum friends and realised this guilt phenomenon is universal. From what I can tell, save a few books by G Ford or your parenting practitioner of choice, we’re all pretty clueless when it comes to this parenting journey. Which means you’re always second guessing your choices, wondering if you make the best decisions when it comes to your children.
For example, in the last 48 hours I have felt guilty over the following things (and more, but I only have around 800 words here): giving rice cakes to the kids for a snack instead of blueberries, making Elfie go to nursery for the day when she was clinging onto my leg crying, sending her to bed early because she was mean to Hux (and tired), not giving them a bath because we were all too knackered for the nightly splish splash, not fastening Hux’s nighttime nappy properly meaning it leaked in bed and he was sad, leaving the school uniform purchase til August and therefore not being able to find navy P.E. shorts…
It doesn’t end. I feel guilty because I work too much, but when I’m not working I don’t think it’s enough. I feel guilty because Elfie got to the age of almost-four before going to nursery yet Hux is there at two. I feel guilty that I enjoy my work but I’m doing it at the expense of missing the final throes of his babyhood (when I’m home I sniff his head A LOT).
I’m digressing here, because my current mode of guilt is all about school. Elfie starts school tomorrow and I literally haven’t spent any time feeling sad about it. My Facebook timeline is full of mums waxing lyrical about the beginning of the school year but to be honest I’m feeling… well, I’m not sure how I’m feeling.
I know that Elfie doesn’t like nursery; they make her try fruit every day and she likes only blueberries, bananas and strawberries which is uber stressful on the orange and apple days. Yet she’s hugely excited about the prospect of big school and can’t wait to get there, so I guess I’m excited about that. I’m stressed about the aforementioned school uniform (buy it in JULY, people, JULY!), the last bits of which I’m picking up tonight, 12 hours before she starts. I’m proud of how cute she looks in her school uniform and I’m kind of relieved that I won’t be paying £60 a day for her to be in childcare any more.
I’m also starting a new job on the day she starts school, so much of my mind is on that. I’m saying goodbye to my four day weeks at the lovely London IKEA office and starting my first full-time permanent job since 2010 at a big London agency’s satellite base in Milton Keynes. I’m very excited about so much of it – running a team, using my knowledge, managing accounts, working for a big name in the industry – but mostly I’m excited that it’s precisely a seven minute commute in the car. No more leaving work at 5.30 and getting home at 8pm! No more delayed trains! No more feeling so tired that I dribble on a stranger’s shoulder during the morning commute! I’m going to miss my colleagues so much though. And the MeatMission burgers.
But then I realise I’m thinking too much about my new job instead of the start of school and I’m slapped with the working mum guilt again. I read a Nora Ephron quote this morning and it made me feel dreadful:
“I have a theory that children remember two things — when you weren’t there and when they threw up”
It was posted by a working mum on a blog… hashtag solidarity, hey sister?
Luckily I was there when Hux threw up last week (all over the car, thanks buddy) but I can’t believe their childhood memories will be made up of time I wasn’t there. Instead I believe they’ll grow up proud of their mum who worked as hard as she could to build a future for them. The holidays we took, the precious evenings reading books on the sofa.
And the burgers, they’ll definitely remember the burgers.
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.
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.
I’m finding myself at somewhat of a crossroads with Hux. He’s a very sucky baby – feeding on demand which is about every 2 hours right now – and I reckon his late night feeds especially have become about comfort rather than hunger.
At the moment I am of the mindset that I will feed on demand for a while longer before I start trying to establish more of a routine. He’s piling on weight so it’s obviously working for him, but little and often feeds aren’t so good for our day-to-day lives. He stretches his feeds to 3 hourly on occasion at night time so I know he is able to go that long.
Recently I’ve noticed that Hux likes to feed himself off to sleep and will find it hard to sleep without the comfort of sucking, particularly at night time. So now I’m left pondering the introduction of a dummy.
I’ve always been dead against dummies, vile pieces of cheap plastic that they are. Until we realised what an unsettled baby Elfie was, and that if we have her a dummy she would sleep and be happy. So Elfie became a dummied baby, though strictly at bedtime only (you’ll never catch her with a dummy outside of her cot). I’m desperate to wean her off them and will be doing so as soon as she seems more settled; personally I hate to see toddlers and young children running around with dummies in their mouths and I worry about the harm this can do to their teeth.
On the couple of occasions I’ve offered Hux a dummy he has spat it out in disgust, it seems he hates anything that aren’t milk and nipple flavoured. Interestingly he has taken a bottle on a couple of occasions when I’ve expressed and Will has fed him (so I can go to the pub, natch) so I know he is able to take teats other than a nipple. Maybe it’s the size of the teat that offends him? I’m not sure if I should give up on the dummy and go with my suck-hungry baby, hoping he grows out of it, or persevere with getting him to take one.
“Don’t put marmite in your eye”
“Have you done a poo? Poo? Poo? Have you done a poo?”
“Stop blowing your nose on your toast”
“Dirty knickers are not for round your neck”
“Elfie, dirty, yuck, bin, NO, bin, dirty, NOT IN YOUR MOUTH”
“Don’t put your toast in your ear. Oh it’s a phone, not toast. Who’s on the phone? Hello, Father Christmas”
“Elfie, dirty, yuck, toilet, NO, dirty, don’t lick it”
“Is that your wand?”
“Goy goy goy goy goy goy goy”
“Squeeze Tigger’s hand. Squeeze it harder. Harder!”
“There is no need to blow your nose on the carpet of every single step”
“Here’s your banana, remember its not a phone”
“Please stop grabbing your… erm… er… fanny”
“What does a car say? What does a dog say? What does a baby say? What does a cow say?”
This post originally appeared at my old blog, www.the-alice.co.uk.
I had always wanted to try baby-led weaning with Elfie. I’m a big fan of parenting in a way which feels most natural to me, and BLW fit into that category.
However, when she started showing signs of being ready to eat solids (at five and a half months), there was no way she had the hand-eye co-ordination to feed herself. She couldn’t even hold toys in her hands at that point, so I went ahead with the more traditional way of feeding her myself.
Now lunchtime is her favourite time of day!:
Tomato and Chicken pasta
We even got her a lovely highchair although as she can’t quite sit up straight on her own yet we only do ten minutes at a time in this: