Love and Fear

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Nothing teaches you about fear like becoming a parent. Nothing.

I recall the first night we brought our baby home. We took it in turns to stay awake through the night as she slept. Just in case.

And I recall that same night, around three am, when she wouldn’t sleep unless snuggled next to me as I fought to keep my eyes open and then, little by little, failed to do so. I remember how I berated myself for taking such a risk! I admit, I had an awful lot to learn.

Today, she has a rash. Red patches that can settle on neither spots nor splodges and leave me dashing to google for a diagnosis. She is fine.

Ultimately, I am terrified of losing her and it takes almost more than I have to keep that in check every day as we deal with all the big bad world dares to offer.

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But the fear I have found is so much more than this. It is a fear of myself and all the damage I will undoubtedly do. I dread the thought of breaking her.

And the only thing that scares me more is that thought that I might not be around to see just how misplaced all my fears might be.

The Mathematics of Being a Good (Enough) Mother

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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?

A Mothers’ Meeting

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An army of brand name buggies encircle the tables located in the prime position; equidistant from the parent and child toilet and the mini microwave next to the till. Each is accompanied by a high chair that was, upon entry, acquired by a blonde girl under orders from the tall woman in her late twenties who now waits third from the front of the queue. From this position she employs her best signing skills (picked up and practised to ensure her first born could communicate long before that much anticipated first word) to clarify whether the women want cappuccinos or lattes, skimmed milk or soy.

Sat around the table the other women are already chattering. They pull plastic pots from padded bags and test the temperature of pre prepared bottles as they reply to emails on their iPhones. But the talk never stops. Some share self soothing success stories whilst others offer top teething tips. One dares to enter the debate on controlled crying by detailing her own dilemma. The others avert their eyes. They talk in fragments. All fail to finish sentences as, instead, they are torn away to distribute organic carrot sticks or spoon pouches of purée into gummy mouths. There is a flow of faces as they take it in turns to lift their little ones and traipse to the toilets. On the table a mountain of torn wrappers and used wipes has grown long before the order even arrives.

Looking on are two retired women, weighed down by bags, whose eyes scan the room in search of a seat. A man dressed in a cheap suit stands in the queue and clutches his panini and packet of crisps. It is clear his aim is to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. Couples huddle along the side of the room and sip their too hot tea as they plan weekends away. Sometimes the women’s eyes can’t help but wander.

And, in the door way, struggles another mother, torn between her desire to pass half an hour in peace and her ever growing desperation to have another adult hear her voice.

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No Kissing!

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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.

What to do when your child uses the F word

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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?

To be.

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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.

Life before children

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Last night, I had an extra large glass of wine and stayed up until 10pm. This morning, light filtered through my curtains at 4.45am as usual, my eyelids flickered and then I fell back asleep. Then, when I awoke, I sat in bed slowly sipping an enormous mug of hot chocolate whilst talking to my boyfriend and reading a magazine.

My daughter spent the night at her grandparents.

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When I finally got up, I made the bed. I took a long, hot, silent shower and got ready. I took a trip to Tesco and ambled down the aisles stopping to look at anything and everything that caught my eye. Afterward, I wandered around the clothes shops and treated myself to a coffee and cake. Upon returning home I did other jobs; hung out the washing, watered the garden, painted my nails.

And I type this now back in bed! At 2pm!

I remember how this used to be the norm. How I could pick and chose how I spent my days, filling my time with this or that. Wandering. Ambling. How I knew the names of made-for-the-media celebrities and would spend my money on party dresses and fashionable shoes. Shoes that looked lovely whilst wandering and ambling.

Things were different today though. Where was the bouncing as I changed the bed? The photos I flicked through featured smiles that were unusually dimmed, subdued. The enormous hot chocolate was too much for me alone. In Tesco I missed the singing. As I shopped for a dress for this weekends party I realised that practicality was probably the order of the day. I left empty handed. And here is the part where poetic license suggests I claim to have scanned for sensible shoes, but anyone who knows me will see right through that. Suffice to say I looked at lovely shoes…in size 22.

Her absence was everywhere. How did I not see it before? Or maybe I did. Maybe all of those times I felt lost and alone I was simply missing someone I was yet to meet.

Confessions of a pushy parent

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Anyone who knows me will testify to the fact that I am, indeed, a pushy mother. Friends will confirm that I am more than happy to sing my daughter’s praises and boast of her many and varied accomplishments at any available opportunity. And if that opportunity doesn’t occur organically, be sure that I will create it. Given that she is not yet two, you are correct in assuming that she has not yet graduated from Cambridge with a first class honours degree, become the youngest Olympic gold medal winner or the first woman to set foot on Mars. But, don’t worry, when this is the case I can assure you that you will be the first to know.

Apologies to those of you reading this (as I would be) waiting for me to now provide detailed anecdotal evidence of exactly what my supposedly talented toddler may or may not be able to do so that you have that all important checklist for measuring your own child’s invariably greater successes, I will not be detailing any of her milestone markers here. Because I am slowly coming to realise that this isn’t really about her at all…

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I was pushy when I was pregnant. From day one (in fact, if I’m honest, even before that blue line appeared), I became obsessed with the Baby Centre pregnancy app. And, when that failed to satisfy (after all, that provided merely one piece of precious information a day), I began to alternate between that and Sprout. Obviously this is in addition to consulting every book ever written on the subject. I could accurately inform you at any given moment the exact fruit my growing foetus was the size of. Cumquat or butternut squash, I could detail the development of its organs and let you know exactly what I could do to ensure everything grew as expected. Okay, I may have indulged in a little more Diet Coke than was really recommended and certainly failed to meet the requirements for pelvic floor exercises, but told myself knowledge is power, right? And when I felt those first flutterings of movement I rejoiced because, not only could I finally feel my beloved baby, but they were earlier than the books said they would be! Terrible, I know.

And then my beautiful baby was born. And she was everything I had ever hoped for and more. And I swore right then and there that I would give her every little thing I had.

So my reading list expanded. My weekly guide became my scripture as I broke my earlier promise to myself by reading a week ahead, just to be on the safe side.

As she has grown we have tried it all; Baby Signing and swimming, flash cards and Gymboree, church mother and toddler groups and classical music. If research suggests it is beneficial for your child, we have been there!

We have also sat drinking coffee with other mothers after these classes. Now, 31 years of life experience has taught me that you don’t win friends by showing off so, as I became initiated in to that wonderful world of motherhood through shared birth stories and talk of reflux and routines, I often sat silently screaming yes, but guess what she did today?!

But it wasn’t until recently I realised I may have a problem. As I began a simple online search for Gifts for Father’s Day, good old Google decided to throw up every site I had ever searched with the reference gifted toddlers. And there were a few!

And today was her two year check up (I even took the fact it came a week early to be a positive sign!) and, as he left for work, her father (a man who’s mantra in life is don’t try, just do it and who recalls with pleasure tennis tournaments where he made his siblings cry) turned to offer these parting words;

Remember, it isn’t a competition.

And he is right. You are all right. Because I know that I should let her be a child, that they all develop at their own rate and every other pearl of wisdom that makes mothers like me fein modesty and bite our tongues. But I like to think that, despite the evident truths in these words, my behaviour (and I am sure I am not alone here) is not all bad.

I am proud of my daughter and I tell her every day, so why not the rest of the world? She is certainly not perfect but remains the most awe inspiring thing I have ever known and watching her change and grow never ceases to amaze me so should this not be celebrated? And if I want her to see just how wonderful the world is and that she can contribute to that in so many different ways, is it not my job to show her how?

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The little world we are building together

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On a Friday, I am a mum. Don’t get me wrong, I was there when she was born and have the scars to show I am indeed her mother and that is certainly no part-time thing, but on a Friday (and, because I am very lucky indeed, a Monday and Tuesday too) it is my job.

But, sadly, some days that is how I see it.

Today I woke up at 4.45am in a foul mood. The mood was a hangover from yesterday’s mood, and the day before’s. I sighed unnecessarily loudly and rolled over to read (Facebook is reading right?) knowing all too well that a return to sleep would be impossible. I was already listening out for her sleepy voice and counting down my remaining minutes until I was ‘on the clock’. Not enjoying them, but wasting them and wishing them away. I grumbled as I sifted through the pile of clean clothes (I may be a stay at home mum but I never said I was good at it. Clothes get washed, if they are lucky taken down when dry and folded but never, ever make it to being put away) before settling for jeans. Again. As I sat before the mirror I could hear my daughter in the big bed with her dad next door. They were giggling and laughing and playing as they always do. I sighed again and thought to myself how easy it is for him to be fun when in half an hour he gets to walk out. Even though I know it isn’t.

And I listened again as she was telling him a story…

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It was a story about a boat and a baby and the fish in the sea.

I began to let my mind wander and I wondered where that boat might take me if I let it. Where would I end up if I let her imagination lead the way?

And I let it. Struggling at fist to stop talking and telling her what to do. Slowly stopping to listen and breathe and take our time. To let go.

And we had a lovely day in a world made for just the two of us. And I smiled…

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Nap time

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I am typing this as I attempt to get my daughter to take a nap. I am failing.

I can hear her over the monitor chatting away and just know that she is not going to sleep.

I love her dearly and nothing in the world makes me as happy as watching her play.

But I adore nap time!

I am typing this in between carrying her back to bed as she gets up and attempts one of her many clever diversionary tactics. I have fallen for them all before. I admire her ingenuity.

I know that in a minute I will crack and resort to one of my tried and tested approaches. The monotoned storytelling. The head stroke. The ssshhhh to fade. And, when all else fails, I will simply climb in beside her.

It may or may not work.

And this is not a place for me to offer my mothering tips (see above. I have nothing else!) or a place for me to judge anyone else’s parenting approaches (although, if you know me, I am sure that at some point you have had to listen to me expressing my opinions on various methods). This is simply me killing time in an attempt to stay sane.

I look back fondly on the time just after she learnt to self soothe and nap time was simply a case of watching for the signs and laying her down. I could set my watch by her. Household chores crammed in to 40 minutes.

I recall those first few months and my obsession with routine. The time and effort I invested in ensuring she got enough sleep and fell asleep in the way I wanted. Patting and swaying to the radio four times a day.

And then I remember the early days when coffee with friends was easy. The carry cot nestled by the side of a table in the sun. Twitching purple eyelids and rosebud lips.

I realise now that the chatter has stopped. She is sleeping. But I know I will creep upstairs just to check. Just to see her.

Because I realise now that nap time won’t last forever.

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