Sunday, 29 June 2014

The hardest thing about being a parent

I recently read a blog post by one of my very favourite bloggers, about why she loves the newborn stage so much, and it made my cry and cry, because she speaks the absolute truth.
She speaks about how the needs of a newborn are so clear cut, so simple, but the really tough stuff happens when kids get older and start having needs and issues that are sometimes outwith our control.

I remember when Charlie was a baby, and I thought that parenting was about as hard as anything in the world. It was relentless, exhausting, confusing and full or worry and guilt.
Why is he crying? Is he too hot? Too cold? Is he hungry? Is he tired? Why the hell won't he just go to sleep then? Has he got colic? Has he got reflux? Oh my god, does he hate me? He hates me, doesn't he?

People would say that as kids get older, it only gets harder, and I struggled to believe how that could be possible, I believed that I could cope with any amount of worry, as long as I was getting a decent sleep at night.
It's true though, in a totally non doom-and-gloom way, parenting gets easier and harder as kids get older.
As Lauren Laverne recently said in this article (which she was slated for, but I kinda agreed with), looking after a small baby is simple, in the same way that rolling a large boulder up a steep hill is simple. Hard, but simple.
They get hungry, you feed them. They get cold, you snuggle them up with a blanket. They poop, you change their nappy. Pretty much all of their needs are within your control.

The real challenges happen later, when things happen that you can't fix with a blanket or a bottle or a packet of wipes.

Both of my older kids right now have a few issues with friendships. Daisy is at that stage where kids (especially girls, in my slightly controversial opinion - purely based on experience), are starting to learn about emotional manipulation and the power of witholding friendship as a means of control...."If you don't do X, Y or Z, I won't play with you/ask you to be my class partner/invite you to my birthday party"
Now, I'm sure she uses these powers as much as anyone else in her class, but she often comes home from school with a sad face because someone has done this to her, and it's heartbreaking to know that she's having these struggles. She's still working through her own ideas of what's right and wrong, what she wants out of life, and how to cope with the decision of either giving in to someone else's demands, or having to face playing alone because she's said no.

Charlie has severe social anxiety, and often has major panic attacks. He struggles to make friends and this week was his end of primary school ceilidh, where they all celebrated the transition into secondary school.
Far from being a time of great excitement and anticipation, this has been really hard for him. They all took limos either to or from the ceilidh, and Charlie's was afterwards. However, the excitement of the hall being filled with people all running in and out in a circle, singing "Auld Lang Syne" and the hall suddenly filling with parents, as well as the knowledge of an upcoming limo ride was all too much, and Charlie had a huge panic attack.
It was so painful to watch all the other kids dancing around, giggling and running excitedly towards limos, while my boy stood under a tree in the dark playground, gasping and crying because he couldn't breathe.
Part of me wanted to scoop him up in my arms, to carry him home and protect him from everything, while another part of me wanted to shake him and scream "Why can't you just enjoy yourself like everyone else???"
So, so hard. I wish I could fix this. I wish so much that I could fix it all, make him confident, show the other kids the happy, funny, incredibly witty boy that I know and love more than life.

I wish I could stop my kids from ever being hurt, but I can't. They will have to navigate the choppy waters of growing up all by themselves (although we'll always be in the background, waiting for them). They will have to fall, not only fall down and get hurt but also fall out with friends, or fall in love with the wrong people and get their hearts broken.
They will have to be bullied, they will have to have horrible teachers and bosses, they will have to fail, they will have to get drunk and have hangovers, they will have to hurt, and bleed, and have moments where they don't know if they'll ever be able to get back up again.

That sucks.

It won't change, either. I'm 34 now and still have times where I cry to my mum about shit that's going on in my life, and she will also cry and say how much she wishes that she could fix it for me. I'm certain that she also has times when she wishes her mum was still here to fix it for her. But that's just it, we can't fix it, but we can be there.

The thing is, as much as we'd like them to stay tiny, simple babies forever, look what they'd miss out on!
I've had a lot of very crappy times. I've been bullied, I've had my heart broken, I've had horrible bosses and crappy jobs. I've failed and hurt and been abused, and I've worked my way through it all. I've learned and grown and become stronger and wiser and happier than ever.

I want my kids to have all of that.

I want them to marry the person who treats them amazingly, even though they'll write that kind of person off as being "too nice" a million times while choosing horrible twunts, until they've been hurt enough times to realise what's important.

I want them to do their dream job, but I want them to try and fail at many things until they learn what they're good at, and what makes them happy.

I want them to have awesome friends, but I want them to be bullied and mistreated and let down by enough people to understand what makes a really decent friend.

I want them to be able to afford everything they want, but I want them to struggle financially and do without and worry about money so that they have the sense to manage their money effectively.

I want them to hurt, and cry, and struggle, because as much as I desperately DON'T want any of these things to happen, I understand that it's what makes you who you are.

Most of all, I want them to know that good or bad, hurt or happy, they can always come home to mama and even if I can't make it all better, I'll goddamn well try.

Monday, 23 June 2014

The best laid plans of mums and dads go oft awry....

I've always been a planner. I'm always happiest when I have a plan of where I need to be, when I need to be there and how long it'll take. So you can imgine how hard I took it when I had kids and realised how effing difficult it can be to make a specific plan and stick to it, without any unforseen disasters.

The thing it, it comes with the territory. Kids get sick, they fall over and hurt themselves, they poop in their nappies, they get hungry, they suddenly decide on the way out of the door that they need to take something - the one thing they can't find, they need to go to the toilet, they forget things, we forget things...and on it goes. Getting anywhere on time, or at all, becomes a near impossible feat, no matter how organised you might try to be.

Sadly, this may cost you some friendships. 
Some folks will automatically Get It - I have a wonderful group of mummy friends who are all in the same boat. We make plans to see each other at least 3 times a week - but someone's kid will get ill, their mum will drop by unexpectedly, their car will break in fact, we actually see each other about once every month or two. And you know what? It's absolutely fine, nobody bitches or whines, we all understand and we just pick up where we left off.

There will be friends who think you're rude, unreliable or flaky - and I guess if they don't Get It, I can see their point. Sometimes somebody will text me and I'll reply in my head but forget to reply for real. I'll get an email just at the point where the baby is sticking her hand in the dog food or I'm running out to take Daisy to cheerleading, and I'll forget all about it. I'll make a date to see somebody, but en route to write it in my diary, the dog will puke all over the kitchen floor, and elbow deep in kitchen roll and antibacterial spray, the date will go unwritten in the diary and become totally forgotten.

Research has shown that after having a baby, your chances of being on time for plans reduce by 30%. For each subsequent child, knock another 20% off. That means that with 3 kids, I currently have a 30% chance of actually making it to a planned event on time (or at all).
After Tootie le Fourth arrives, my chances will be just 10%*

* These facts are actually not facts - I totally made them up to feel better about the fact that I'm an unreliable flake. I believe them to be true. Humour me.

It can be upsetting to feel like you're constantly lettting everyone down by being late or cancelling plans, and there are several ways to deal with this.
You could;

A) Get really distressed and decide that it's easier to just have no friends and never leave the house, like I did after my first child.

B) Get really distressed and develop a list making OCD, freaking out every half hour when things don't go exactly to plan, and end up on anxiety tablets, like I did after my second child.

C) Accept that this is life with kids and learn to go with the flow - the right people will understand and it won't be forever, like I'm doing now I've got three kids.

Just to give an example of how often things can go unexpectedly off piste, here's a rundown of the last week in my life....

SATURDAY, 10am: We decide at the last minute to take the kids to a local NCT sale. It starts at 11am, so we have an hour to get everyone ready and out the door. Easy, right?
After showering Amelie, she poops everywhere and needs another complete change. Both kids have showers and come downstairs wearing crumpled, grubby mismatched cothes they've found on the floor, so are sent to change. We both have showers. Amelie starts crying and needs milk, only we'e run out, so I nip to the shop to get some. Then Amelie falls asleep. Then we realise that the car seat is in my mum's car at her work, so Steve has to drive out and get it. By the time we make it out to the sale, it's 12.25pm and they're packing up to close. Oops.

SUNDAY: To make up for not getting to the sale, we decide to take the kids out to a local castle for Fathers' Day. Only we wake up to a vomiting Amelie. Never mind, we think, it'll be a one off.
An hour later, she vomits again. We won't be put off, we decide that fresh air and open spaces are the answer. We get ready and are heading out the door (on time), when Amelie spectacularly vomits everywhere - all over me, herself and even inside her changing bag.
That's it, plans cancelled, we eventually end up walking round the block about three hours later, just to get some air.

MONDAY: Steve and I plan a "date night" - nothing fancy, just an evening of no telly or phones, where we spend time together. 9pm is our curfew - let's get upstairs and just spend time with each other. At five to nine, Steve suddenly starts vomiting. At five past nine, I start vomiting.
By quarter past nine, we are both in bed together, writhing and moaning. Not in the good way. Mega sickness bug which keeps us both awake all night.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are all lost to the sickness bug, which blazes through our household like a forest fire - fast, sudden and relentless.

FRIDAY: We're all better, yay! I make plans to see a friend in the morning and have lunch with her, then get home and take the buggy out to meet another friend and walk to a playgroup.
At 10am, Amelie unexpectedly falls asleep so I text to say we'll be late. By 12noon, she's still soundo so I text my friend and tell her to have lunch without us. My other friend texts to cancel our playgroup plans as she now has a sickness bug. I decide not to go to playgroup and instead go to see the friend I didn't get to see in the morning.

See what I mean? Things almost never go according to plan, and I've learned that the easiest way to deal with it is just to go with the flow, skip to plan B, or C, or D, or E....

Having kids makes you a crap friend. Well, not a crap friend, but an unreliable one. It's never intentional, but like I say, most people will get it, and if they don't, well, tough.  We try our best, but it's just a fact that when your kids are young, their needs will quite rightly come first, frustrating as that can be for everyone involved.
If I haven't replied to your text for 3 days, or I've forgotten your address, or I haven't RSVP'd to your party, or I'm running late, please understand that I don't mean it, I'm probably up to my elbows in baby poop.

Anyway, how are you? I haven't seen you in ages! We must meet up for coffee soon - let's make a date....

Friday, 20 June 2014

Get out of the bitter barn, and play in the hay....

There are a few things in life that irritate me (just a few...), and one of them is sour grapes.
I read an article on The Stir not long ago (which has since been taken down, so I can't link to it, sorry!), which was about Mackenzie Douthit (Teen Mom), and a tweet about breastfeeding...

Now, according to the authour of the article, this tweet was "Totally obnoxious", and Mackenzie was accused of rubbing her success in everyone's faces. Seriously, doesn't she KNOW that some people out there struggle to breastfeed? How DARE she be so pleased with herself.

Well, thank you, Captain Obvious. Breastfeeding is HARD, this is exactly why you have every right to be proud of yourself for keeping going. If the tweet had said something like "Ner ner ner, I can breastfeed and you can't, haha!", that would be obnoxious. All she was doing was giving herself a little high five, and fair play to her. She wasn't trying to make anyone feel bad if they haven't managed the same, and why should worrying about other people's struggles be her responsibility anyway?

Why, oh why do we women keep trying to tear each other down over every little thing?

When you've achieved something great, or something wonderful has happened, why shouldn't you be able to celebrate it? Why should you have to stop and feel guilty because there might be someone out there who doesn't share your success and might find it hard to take?

Here's the thing - your life = your responsibility.
Other people's lives = not your responsibility.

We shouldn't be made to feel bad every time we have something to celebrate, because guess what? There will always be someone out there having a harder time, and as long as you're not clearly just deliberately trying to personally wind them up, being happy is your right.

I remember being massively berated during a discussion online about dating - some of us had boyfriends, some of us were dating, some of us were struggling to find someone, anyone.
The girls there had been part of the forum for years, and we'd all seen each other through ups and downs. Despite the fact that they'd seen everything I'd gone through - divorce, singledom, meeting wrong people, meeting the right person and eventually getting engaged, a few of them struggled to accept my new happiness. In fact, I was asked to leave the conversation because my talk of wedding plans was apparently rubbing it in the face of girls who were struggling to find anyone at all. I was accused of   being insensitive to the fact that some people still hadn't found what I had.

In other words "Your happiness is reminding me that I don't have the same joy right now, so go away and be quiet"

Well, sod off. We've all had our crosses to bear, we've all had our lessons to learn and that's just life. Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down.
"Being sensitive" to other people's misfortune doesn't mean that you should deny your own happiness or feel guilty for it, it just means don't harp on about it all the time, or be happy, but listen to other people as well.

It's a huge misconception that people who celebrate their successes are "full of themselves" or bragging - for the most part, I think people are generally just expressing gratitude for the good things they have going on, because they might have struggled to get there or be aware that they won't be there forever.

It could go on forever - don't be happy about breastfeeding, because some people struggle to breastfeed. In fact, don't whine about struggling to breastfeed, because some people can't even have kids. Oh, and how dare you be walking around on two legs, don't you know some people are in wheelchairs? And don't even consider posting recipes for delicious food online when there are people starving in the world....

You see what I mean? There will always be someone willing to suck the joy out of every situation, but you can't go through life being terrified to open your mouth in case you offend someone, because trust me, if someone wants to be offended, they will find you, and any excuse to tear you down.

There's NO such thing as a charmed life. Just because someone has something that you don't, or has achieved something that you haven't, it doesn't mean that they're luckier than you, it just means that this is the direction their life has taken. Maybe you have something that they'd secretly love to have. At the end of the day, we all have our ups and downs in life, and jealousy is ugly.

If you have a great house, good for you! If you have a flat stomach, that's great! If you have tons of money, enjoy it! If you have a hot husband, that's wonderful! If you have gorgeous, well behaved children who are always immaculate and perfect, you're a goddamn liar brilliant! If you have breastfed for as long as you wanted to, then that's amazing!

If you have all of the above, I hate you, bitch.

Just kidding, I love you really.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Dear Amelie...

.....I can't believe you are one year old already! How did that happen?
It's been the most amazing year, seriously. It's been the most exhausting, exhilarating, fantastic, fun filled year of discovery we could ever have imagined.
You are so clever and sweet, and you make us all smile every single day. You really are an innocent bundle of joy and possibility. To you, the whole world is a magical place, where the sound of a bird tweeting or the sight of a balloon is enough to make you squeal with happiness. I hope you always see the magic in the world, and thank you for reminding us what it's like to see life through brand new eyes.
We have taught you so much this year - we've taught you to enjoy good food, to not touch dangerous things (that one's a work in progress), that a doggie says "woof" and a birdie says "tweet tweet" and that sleep really isn't such a bad thing after all.
You have taught us so much more than that. You've taught us to live in the moment, to get excited about the little things, like flowers and juice and tickly raindrops on our skin.
You've reminded us that when you hear a good tune, there's nothing that should stop you from dancing right there and then, with the biggest smile on your face.
You've taught us that even on very little sleep, it's still possible to wake up smiling and continue to spread fun and laughter through the day.
You've taught us the meaning of patience and perseverance - even though you've been my most "sleepless" baby, you've also been the most enjoyable, because far from feeling sorry for myself in my constant tiredness, I've learned that smiling and getting on with it is so much more positive.
I guess it took me three kids to realise how fast this childhood malarkey really goes.
Your joy and positivity has rubbed off on all of us, and given us all a new energy. We were always happy, positive people before, but you have given us even more sparkle and zest for life.

Thank you, for all of these things and so much more.
Here's to the next year, and the next, and the next!
How wonderful life is, now you're in the world.

Mummy, Daddy, Charlie and Daisy xxxxxxxxxxxxxx