The Mathematics of Being a Good (Enough) Mother

Family

I have a confession to make: today, I am a terrible mother.

When my daughter was born, I bought in to the idea that breast was best. I loved the suggestion that there was something I could do from day one that could give her the best start. I loved how that made me feel. And, fortunately for me, I found it easy.

As she grew older I could be found pulping and puréeing first thing in the morning. I found myself shopping everyday for yet more fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and foods free from artificial colours or preservatives. I have never been much of a cook but, even to me, it seemed pretty straight forward.

In that first year I also became a familiar face at various mother and baby groups. Something that didn’t come quite so easily. I despised the prospect of singing in pubic and was pretty terrified of socialising with people I didn’t know. But I did it anyway. And survived.

And I filled the days with every manner of enriching activities! From swimming to baby signing, museums and visits to the library, arts and crafts, flash cards, singing and dancing, days at the farm, fresh air and exercise and everything in between. And the reading! Endless hours of reading! Repeated reading to the point where I can recite a whole host of children’s classics from memory alone. Because how could I ever refuse her requests to sit down together and devour a book?!

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And, possibly harder than finding the time to fit in all of the above, I found the faith to tell myself that everything I did for her, every choice I made, held her best interests at its heart.

But I didn’t do it because I am perfect.

I did it because I know I am not.

I have been worried about today for a long time. If I am honest, I cannot believe it didn’t come sooner. I never thought I would survive this long.

Because I had already been a statistic. 1 in 4 people this year with suffer with a mental health issue. Depression, anxiety, paranoia…the spectrum is wide and the term encompasses so many different things but, having been there more than once before, I know the symptoms are often the same.

Put simply, it can become hard to cope.

I am reluctant to label the feelings that have been growing inside me for the past few months. I hope that I won’t find myself forced to as I sit opposite the doctor and ask for their help. But these feelings are familiar.

And, for me, the worst part is how they fool me in to thinking I am a failure.

So today, after spending the morning sat on the sofa whilst my daughter watched too much television, feeding her lunch of fish fingers and baked beans for the third time in a week and then driving her to her grandparents to spend the rest of the day and night, I returned home and got in bed.

And now I lay here doing the maths. Will all my efforts count in my favour? Have I done enough to make my workings add up? Or will my weakness cancel out anything I had going in my favour?

What does it take to be good enough?

No Kissing!

Family

Her lips were the part I noticed first. When she was born, it was her big, soulful eyes. Eyes that spoke directly to me and broke my heart there and then before re-building it and turning it into something stronger, something strange and new. But before that, in that grainy, swirling black and white footage, it was her lips. Her fathers lips; full and pronounced and perfect. Just perfect.

When she was a tiny baby (that phase where they don’t ‘do’ anything but you are just so amazed by it all) I kissed the tips of her fingers endlessly. I simply couldn’t believe I held something so precious. So pure. I would stroke her skin and watch her sleep and kiss her. Always kiss her.

And when she learnt to kiss me back I couldn’t have been more thrilled if I tried.

But she is a clever girl, one who knows her own mind and how to work us and get what she wants, and so she learnt the words that would thrill me even more; I love you. And my heart expanded and broke all over again. Aren’t words wonderful?

And I thought I might be blessed by a few more years of this. More magical moments that make you burst before her little independent soul grew and flew and sought her own life and love. But time flies when you are having fun and the words soon came thick and fast and now knowing her own mind is not enough for now she can speak it too. Her words are very clear;

Mummy, no kissing.

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With those words I saw more grainy shots of what the future holds in store. I saw beyond her first day at school to the day I wouldn’t be allowed to wait at the gate as she walked in. I saw past the welcome bedtime routine to nights spent waiting to hear her turn the key in the door. I wondered who else’s lips would she kiss? What other words might she choose to use and what might be their effect?

Now everyday I fight the urge to hold her hand a little more tightly.

Tales from the tent…

Family

So it seems my worries earlier in the week were what they often are; time wasted.

Yesterday we returned from what really was a wonderful few days away. So wonderful in fact that I felt the need to share a few snaps and short stories with you…

Anyone familiar with our family set up will have undoubtedly have guessed by now that the responsibility of putting up the tent clearly fell to me. To those that aren’t, let’s just say that my partner likes to take on more of an advisory role.

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And after a journey that, thanks to the closure of a stretch of the M25, took twice as long as anticipated, we just about managed to get the tent up and the car unpacked before any rainfall. However, the heavens opened in time for the BBQ!

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We were wrapped up cosy and warm with plenty of blankets and I relaxed the usual bedtime routine to enjoy cuddles in bed as we fell asleep.

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And although the rain ensured breakfast was also in bed…

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…the weather was still warm enough for a few hours on the beach!

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But don’t worry, the wellies didn’t go to waste!

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What not to pack when camping in Britain

Family

Regular readers may care to remember a shot featured here at the start of the summer when my daughter and her father spent the night under canvas in the garden as a dry run for a proposed camping holiday. Well, today is the day we head off camping…and to call it a dry run was apparently a little too literal!

For those of you not familiar with the weather here, please acquaint yourself with the forecast for the next few days…

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And as much as I wish to remain positive, a little voice at the back of my mind can be heard screaming ‘What were you thinking?!’

Former images of memories in the making have been rapidly replaced with thoughts of wellies and waterproofs, frozen feet, and a tired two year old. And I am sure in a couple of years time I will look back on the next few days very fondly – maybe even fondly enough to do it all again – but, right now, as I write this from the comfort of my bed, the fear has set in.

My only camping credentials are as follows:

My bronze Duke of Edinburgh expedition (I never completed the rest of the award) when still at school. A weekend where my friend Jenny and I existed on a diet of custard and nutri-grain bars whilst wandering the British countryside, blissfully unaware of where we might be going.

Various summer festivals. Events where sleep and staying warm weren’t even on the agenda.

Try as I might, I feel neither of these are adequate preparation for three days in The New Forest with a toddler and a forty year old who has a fear of the dirt that accumulates on a kitchen cloth!

And as I think through the mountain of bags stacked ready and waiting by the front door, I wonder if I really have any clue what I am letting myself in for. Below is a list of items which, despite my best efforts to be practical, have still made the cut.

Flip flops I am telling myself for the shower experience but I fear I may still be clinging to a little too much hope!

Battery powered fairy lights I’m thinking ambient, homely, maybe a little bit of a Tim Walker vibe…

Batteries For when the first set die. Never to be found in the dark under a pile of poorly packed clothes.

Paperback books For a relaxing read. In the dark.

A selection of blankets, cushions and throws (white) There was a reason the sleeping bag was invented.

12 canisters of cooking gas Even if I hadn’t already scheduled my trips to the fish and chip shops of the area, I feel this is a little excessive for three days. Certainly too much for boiling water for three cups of tea.

Make up Even if I had packed a mirror, seriously, what’s the point? I just about managed to draw the line at hair straighteners.

A mobile phone charger Stranger still when you consider that I know for a fact their is no signal where we are going.

From this list I fear I can only conclude to be utterly clueless. And from that I am choosing to draw from this the only positive I can find:

I really have no idea just how bad it might be!

What to do when your child uses the F word

Family

I worry far too much about the damage I do to my daughter. Or maybe I don’t worry enough. Or maybe I worry in spite of the fact that the things I worry about won’t be the things she will spend her twenties (and thirties…maybe her fourties…even beyond?) carrying around with her and fighting to let go of and instead these will be some other thing I did to try to save her from myself. Or herself. Who knows? All I know is I want to protect her from it all.

An impossible task.

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Her father and I spend lots of time discussing the language we use with her and around her. After some training at work he became a huge advocate of mindset thinking and took from this that I should ban the word clever (something I say all the time) in favour of telling her that she succeeds because she tries hard. I can see the sense here. However, we then spent the weekend using this phase to a ridiculous degree in regards to any minor success she had. Even she started to look at us as though we were crazy. And in secret I still told her what a clever girl she was. I can’t help myself. I think she needs to know.

But what good does all our worry and concern do? She learnt all too quickly to speak of selfies and emails and characters in shows I have never sat down with her to watch. It’s a big, bad world out there and she’s been taking it all in.

And then she said something shocking.

“Look at Mummy’s fat tummy!”

Aside from being a little offended (ok, I was carrying a few post holiday pounds), I instantly began to worry. Where had she learnt that word? Does she know what it really means?

Since becoming a mother, and in turn a feminist, I have worked hard (and evidently failed) to discuss people in regards to their value as a person rather than their external appearance. I have spent a lot of time (and money!) working on my own sense of self worth so I can be a positive role model as my daughter grows up.

I have VERY strong feelings about this particular F word.

Sadly, I know my partner does too.

And I know that knowing the word in itself is not the terrible thing. Being the person I am, upon hearing this I then ran my mind though the books I read with her; Fat Cat (a story about a large cat nobody realised is about to give birth) was the first title I came to before I’d even got to character names, traits, themes,messages or the other places I thought this word might be hiding.

Now you may think I am paranoid (and you are right, I am), but there was something in the way she said it that told me she knew that this word had the power to hurt. My mind raced and I pictured decades of scars. This was then reinforced when, whilst having a tantrum, she called her father fat too.

And this is why I worry.

Despite my care and concern about the words I use, she has picked up on something greater. She has seen the power and fear of this word elsewhere. Our bathroom scales. My sidewards glances into shop windows. And what else has she learnt whilst watching me ‘get ready’ each morning?

I can’t save her from the words, they are out there. She doesn’t even need to search.

But can I give her the tools, the thinking, to fight the fear when everything else suggests it is a battle that can’t be won?

Potty training: patience, perseverance and other words starting with the letter P

Family

This week we began potty training with our little girl. Well, if I’m honest, we actually began a few months ago when, one Friday morning, she woke up and announced “No mummy, not nappy, knickers,” when I went to change her, and (presumably taking my cue from the current trend for developments to be ‘baby led’), I indulged her whim. What followed was a weekend of frustration and spectacular failure. On my part, I hope you will understand.

Because, as I am now starting to understand about this developmental milestone, and probably every other one ever, is that it is a process and, if I am being really, really, honest, it all began even longer ago.

Aside from sleeping through the night, potty training has probably been the part of looking after a baby (although she would now insist that she is no longer one of those) that I feared the most. I feared it even before I fell pregnant. How do you teach someone to use the toilet?

And, so, I approached this fear head on in the way I always do; with a book. Or, because my inner geek just can’t help herself; many, many books. I will claim (even now, after being a parent for long enough to realise that it is almost certainly not the case) that her success in sleeping through the night can be attributed to my hours of study, and so it seemed the only way. As a result, for as long as I can remember, my bedside table has featured numerous titles on the subject.

I felt truly prepared. I had bought all of the suggested paraphernalia and embarked upon the proposed plan. I willingly watched for the signs; was she ready? She appeared to be. She had words for it, wanted to do it and was prepared to try. But, as it turns out, we weren’t.

Even after all of my reading and research (and, in fact, maybe because of it) I had no idea what to expect. I was expecting accidents. I had anticipated a challenge. But, ultimately, I had believed the success of the venture lay in my hands. How wrong could I be?

That first weekend resulted in me feeling as though I had been forced to quit, thinking that I had done it wrong and believing that I had let my little girl down. That weekend there had been many successes; she had used the potty a number of times and she enjoyed the reward and praise when she went, but I could only see the failure, my failure; she hadn’t nailed the whole thing in one weekend as I was so sure she should do. I also clearly failed to see it wasn’t actually about me! Sadly, I admit this resulted in me sulking. Her father and I bickered about my attitude and approach. And, after consulting my friend via text for reassurance that I wouldn’t be causing irreconcilable damage (thanks Bec!), Monday morning saw the return to nappies.

I would not have been able to admit it at the time, but it was me who learnt something new that weekend.

And so this time things are a little different. Thankfully, my daughter is still keen to tackle this challenge. As we are on holiday (I know, according to all my books one of the worst times to approach this task), she has been taken to proudly chose a new, pastel pink potty that is certainly not in keeping with my colour scheme of choice. She happily sits on it in front for the sofa for well over the recommended time frame whilst clutching her ‘sucky’ (a muslin she takes to bed) and watching way too much TV. During the day she is actively encouraged to drink lots with her father offering her the unusual and exciting options of squash or juice. And, when she does finally produce something, her face fills with pride as her grandparents provide a round of applause – but also a look of anticipation as her father has promised her an ice cream for every time she goes!

Things this time are actually very different. Nothing about our approach is the way I had anticipated things to be. I still feel as if I am breaking some fatal rule as I put her in to a pair of pull-ups for a stress free evening meal out. At times I feel I have relinquished all control. But I remind myself now that this is not about me.

For a self-confessed perfectionist and pushy parent, admitting my perceived failings fills me with fear. I worry that all of the warnings my precious books provided will suddenly come crashing down around me and I will return home in a fortnight with a toddler who is so bored of sitting on the potty she refuses to have anything to do with it, one who still wants the security of a nappy whenever we leave the house or (the most likely option) a child with a dangerous addiction to ice cream, sugary drinks and CBeebies.

And, who knows, I may have. But, as she ran the entire length of the apartment the other day shouting ‘quick, quick’ to arrive at her potty just in time, I saw her smiling face and realised that, right now, my doing something different is working for her.

And that should always be my most important thing.

Summer Nights

Family

Last night marked a bit of an occasion in the life of someone who grew up, and continues to live, in a world of teachers. Last night marked the start of something; the first night of six weeks of something similar. Nights where worry and weariness are long forgotten and prospects of fun and play fill the air.

And, in our house, we chose to begin our summer with a sleep out.

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A roaring success that hopefully sets the tone for a wonderful few weeks ahead…

Reasons why I hate running

Family, Health and fitness

Ok, this headline is a little deceptive, I don’t hate running. A better title would be Reasons why I simply can’t stick to the habit of going for a run as part of a healthy lifestyle. But not quite as catchy, is it?

And that’s where my first problem lies. I’m simply not passionate about it. I grew up in a family where my dad ran (and, well in to his sixties, still runs) everyday. Anyone who has ever gone to a gym with him says the same; he will probably die on a treadmill. He runs like a man possessed, completely goal orientated. Over the years he has completed many marathons in very respectable times and, as children, we were encouraged to go and watch, join in with training and participate in the attached ‘fun’ runs. And this approach was highly successful in installing a love of physical exercise and a passion for running…in my brother. My brother is now the one to fill those enormous muddy trainers and pound the pavements, day in, day out, whatever the weather. And he’s good at it. This year he completed the London marathon in a more than respectable time that was well under three hours. How can I compete?

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My brother and parents post London marathon 2014 – look at the pride on my mum’s face!

And there’s the second problem. Whilst I am an alright runner; a style that’s not too shocking and a pace that’s still not shameful either, I am simply not the best. And I don’t like that. Not one bit.

Add to this the outfits (trainers may have recently had a massive make-over for the female market but, at the end of the day, it’s still a trainer), the fact that, without a private gym at home, you have to leave the house to do it and (the most obvious reason of all) if you do it properly, it hurts, I simply can’t get excited about the prospect of committing to a life lived this way.

And, so, I don’t. I am, and will probably continue to be, a fair weather runner. I will take it up for a few weeks every year and enjoy it while it lasts, safe in the knowledge that the promises I make to myself each time about keeping up the the habit just won’t last. I accept that now.

But there is one reason why I love to run. One reason that gets me out there despite the rest. One reason why I am waking up this morning, leaving my house before anyone else and, yes, putting on my trainers.

Running works.

Running makes your heart race. It makes your head strong. It gives you a sense of accomplishment in a short time.

And, this week, this morning, today, I need that.

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To be.

Family

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Here is my daughter. My greatest achievement.

To imagine that two years ago today I was terrified of giving birth and becoming a mother seems unbelievable because, as I write this today, that is who I am and I cannot imagine being anyone else.

In those two years I have overcome fear much greater than I ever thought I was capable of facing just by being that person. I am scared daily by the task I have undertaken but it is only through this that I know what it means to live.

I would hate to suggest that being a mother is the only way to live a fulfilled life because I know that it is not. I admire so many women who haven’t had to undergo that transformation to be someone whole, complete. And others who have but who manage to be more than just that. But I am simply not that person. I needed someone else to make me all I could be. And now she is here I hope that I can continue to find the strength to show her who she might become.

Party preparations

Family

I awoke extra early this morning. A little bit of excitement mixed with anxiety. I wanted to get up, go downstairs, start doing something. But instead I lay here. I began writing this.

Today is my daughter’s second birthday party. She is, unusually, still asleep which, given that she has spent the past week and a half waking every day with the first words ‘it’s my birthday,’ and telling anyone who asks (and a few that haven’t) that she is getting a scooter (a pink one), is quite impressive. Maybe she is more sensible than I am and is banking those extra minutes in bed as preparation for later when the chaos of overindulgent grandparents, an army of aunties and uncles, reams of discarded wrapping paper and too many toys for any one person to really know what to do with will leave me simply shattered.

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Her father and I have very different attitudes to celebrating birthdays. I stand firmly in favour of dragging the special day out for as long as possible, giving great gifts and, if possible, topping it all off with a tiara to show the world just who’s running the show. He would prefer to mark them with a simple (and cheap) card, a single candle and swiftly moving on. But when it comes to our lovely little girl he concedes to celebrate.

In fact, this year he even treated me. Sometimes he surprises even me with just how lovely he can be. When I got up yesterday I discovered two packages by my bed, each containing a dress. A lovely gesture showing that, despite his incomprehension that any single event would require a new outfit because clothes aren’t magic and, aside from protecting our modesty and keeping us warm, really are pretty meaningless, he is starting to see how my neurotic mind works. However, he still has horrible taste. Maybe I should have done a better job in hiding my disgust or maybe I should have sucked it up and smiled anyway because I really did appreciate the gesture. But I didn’t. In that moment I looked disappointed. Sad. And I saw that reflected in his eyes.

Hopefully my daughter won’t feel that sudden, surprising sadness when she opens the wrapping to reveal that the scooter she has wanted for weeks is in fact red, not pink. I’m not sure I could handle the heartbreak.

Because disappointment is difficult. Often we find it in places we know we really shouldn’t, showing us how selfish or spoilt or shallow or stupid we can be. Sometimes it hits in that sharp shock and you just can’t hide it. Sadly, it also can creep slowly beside you, edging more close day by day and refusing to go away. Your hope conspiring against you to help deliver that blow. Sometimes the hardest hit. But the one you are expected to hide. Those of you who manage this are greater people than I.

But thankfully this morning we are all smiles. Smiles and scrapes on our knees.

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