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Dear new mum me

The lovely Ali aka I’m Winging it too, https://instagram.com/im.winging.it.too?igshid=oq4rolncptrm has set a writing challenge for April. Every Monday there is a new topic. Due to me being totally behind the times, this is last week’s (Monday 6th) topic. A letter to myself as a new parent.

Dear me,

Congratulations, YOU DID IT! You’re a mum! After 9 long months of pregnancy, 9 even longer days passed due date and over 50 hours in labour, Rose is finally here, safe and sound! Cor it was a long old slog getting her out wasn’t it? I won’t dwell on the details, you know what you’ve just lived through.

Believe it or not, the part of the birth story you will retell the most frequently, in particular to expectant mum friends, is when you locked yourself in a bathroom to calm down because you were getting so annoyed with that blasé midwife. Trust me when I tell you this is a tactic you will come to use a lot during motherhood. Instead of a trainee midwife knocking on the door telling you to “stop pushing, you aren’t dilated enough”, it’ll be a small child crying because you’ve given them their lunch on the wrong colour plate / their Babybel broke in half when you opened it / their sock came off after they kept pulling it and now they can’t get it back on / any number of irrational reasons you can’t begin to imagine yet.

So amazingly, on day one, you have already mastered my top parenting tip: sometimes you have to lock yourself in a toilet and that’s okay! Taking a few minutes to yourself to calm down and take a few breaths is imperative sometimes.

Don’t worry if Rose (and later Heidi, yes I know, spoiler alert you’re going to have 2 tiny people to take care of in a few years) is crying in the other room. Leave them somewhere safe and take time to check in with yourself. Maybe have a quick cry, maybe a little scream of frustration, then take some deep breaths to refuel before heading back into the fray. It’s best for all concerned sometimes.

Top tip number 2: lets get ready to rummage! You are now an innovator, an improviser, a cobbling stuff together at the drop of a hat type! There’s a day in the not too distant future when you’re going to be en route to meet the NCT girls and your boobs are going to start leaking because Rose is crying. When you park, you’ll look down and see 2 massive wet patches which have come through both your tshirt and sweater. You will cry because you desperately want to see the girls but you should probably just feed Rose in the car and then drive home.

In the first of many “that’ll do” incidents, you turn the changing bag and the car upside down looking for a solution. You will decide to wrap a long scarf, you find in the boot, around your neck to hang down and cover the offending patches. Good save, well done, go get your coffee and treat yourself to cake for your quick thinking.

Top tip 3: you DO have instincts. You will try to learn the different types of cry (hungry, tired, full nappy, wanting a cuddle, special emergency cry reserved for when in public and mum appears to be ignoring you as she orders herself a coffee because she’s a selfish cow) and sometimes nothing will settle Rose/Heidi and you’ll tell yourself you’re a failure. You’re not. Sometimes babies just have a lot going on in their little brains and they’re a bit aggy. You’re going great.

Top tip 4: let those instincts shout louder than every Tina, Debbie and Janet on the internet. You will read countless books and mumsnet posts about establishing routines and sleep training, about dummies and bottle feeding. When the time comes, you will fret about the best weaning technique, about whether your baby is hitting developmental milestones, and whether you and Nick should be having sex again yet. There are so many sources of information out there, but remember, no-one else knows your baby and marriage like you do. Do what you think is right & sod what everyone else is doing. You’ve never been one to follow the herd, why start now? If one way doesn’t work, try something else. Simples.

Top tip 5: accept help. remember Nick? He did so well during labour didn’t he? Super supportive and an excellent back rubber. He’s going to do so well at this parenting business. Let him help you. You are the mummy, the milk machine, the one who normally wakes up in the middle of the night whilst he’s snoring his head off and you will resent him for getting to escape and go to work sometimes. You will think it’s all down to you, but seriously, let him give Rose a bottle sometimes. Let him soothe her. Let him take care of bath time and laundry and cooking and share the discussions about best techniques for this, that and the other. He is a more valuable resource than the internet and loves you and the girls fiercely.

I have so much more I could tell you, but I know you’re not really listening, you’re just staring at that little ball of perfection lying next to you with awe, wonderment and overwhelming love written all over your knackered face.

I’m not going to sugar coat this. There are some pretty rough times coming up. Motherhood isn’t all smooth sailing, it’s hard, like really hard, it’s draining in all sorts of ways. But it is also phenomenal. It’s going to shape you in ways you can’t yet imagine and teach you the true meaning of love, kindness and patience.

Children weren’t always part of your life plan but you’re soon going to feel like being a stay at home mum the vocation you’ve been searching for this whole time.

Be kind to yourself, you got this,

2020 Fay x

Ps Second time round the labour was MUCH faster. You only arrived at the hospital for an hour before Heidi did.

Pps The NCT girls didn’t notice your milk patches, nor did anyone else at Costa. Or if they did they were more embarrassed than you and didn’t mention them.

Lockdown 3: Reality hits home

Dear Pipsqueak & Hamster,

Well, here we are in week 3 of lockdown. If it were a movie I would probably call it, ‘Lockdown 3: Reality Hits home’. It’s Tuesday, apparently, although at this point it’s hard to keep track and I’m not even sure why I need to. We don’t have classes to go to, or preschool to get ready for, there are no play dates in the diary or appointments of any kind really.

The Queen addressed the nation, and the extended commonwealth, on Sunday evening and told us,

“We will succeed [in the fight against corona virus] – and that success will belong to all of us.”

I’m not really sure how much of the success will belong to our family. We’re just staying at home, making chickens out of old egg cartons and painting Easter eggs to stick up in the window. I take comfort in the fact that’s what we’re being asked to do though. In these surreal times, there is only one rule, “Stay home”. Whilst some people are flouting this continual request, despite it flooding in from every direction, we are adhering to it. I’m proud of that.

Later that same evening, PM Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital with corona virus. At the time of writing, he is in ICU at St Thomas’ hospital, London. There have now been close to 5500 deaths from the virus in the UK alone. Your aunty Jo has been asked to split her shifts between the emergency department and intensive care, which is making me worry about her and her boys. I made a little video tribute to her, and all the NHS staff, to the music of “Wind beneath your wings” and I cried a lot whilst doing so.

Your dad is still working and if I’m honest, I’m jealous. He’s working extremely hard (as always) and I suspect he is finding the set up a little challenging. He seems to have nonstop conference calls or Skype meetings, some of which you’ve made a guest appearance on. He disappears into the study at 8.30am, works until around 6pm and only emerges during the day for tea and food. He’s like a squirrel gathering stores for winter before disappearing back to his drey.

I know that probably doesn’t sound like much fun to you compared to the nonstop playtime which our days consist of. To me however, the structure of getting up, commuting across the landing to the study and working all day on projects, which were started prior to the lockdown and will continue long after, sounds deliciously ordered and sanity-saving.

Our only structure is based on meal times, snack times and bed time and even those have started to wander from their traditional time slots. When I wrote last week, I told you about a theme day we’d had based on ‘oceans’. This week we will be doing a series of Easter activities – decorating a bonnet, colouring in Easter pictures, making chocolate Easter nests etc. I have a fair few ideas up my sleeve (thanks google).

Last week there was no theme. There was a lot of free play, going with the flow and general making it up as we went along. It worked some days better than others. One day (don’t ask me which one, I literally have no idea) I hardly saw you both. You stayed in your pyjamas for most of the day (when you weren’t in princess dresses that is), you made up games together and kept each other entertained beautifully. I would periodically pop my head round the door, check you were okay and throw snacks at you. I was too scared to join you in case I broke whatever magical spell had been cast over the pair of you.

The next day however. Wow. What an about turn. Nonstop arguing over who had what plate, who was playing with a toy first, who could sit on mummy’s lap, which story we were going to read, what activity we were going to do, where we were going to go for a walk and so on and so on. It was exhausting. It was as though you’d used up an entire week’s worth of love and tolerance and now couldn’t abide one another.

One of the difficulties I’m finding is that whilst you two are alike in many ways, there are some key differences. I don’t think it is just a matter of your age either, I think it’s your core personality. Popso, you are a home bod. You love staying in, reading books, sitting at the table doing painting or practicing your letters. Yes you love dressing up as a princess and singing songs for what feels like hours on end sometimes, but in general you have a quiet and calm nature like your dad.

Hamsterino on the other hand. You are non stop. You are a Duracell bunny of energy. From 6am onwards you want/need entertaining and attention. That’s on a good day. Normally you’re in bed with us by around 1am, insisting that you be cuddled all night and if I try to roll away, you wake up and reach out for my hand placing it back over your belly again.

You are forever climbing over things, emptying things, wanting to play games, shouting “look at me” through your legs whilst standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, with your hands on the floor. You want what you want, when you want it . . . and that was generally about 5 minutes ago. You are adventurous, stubborn and determined and will come to the table in your own sweet time for dinner, thank you very much mummy. Basically, you are a mini version of me.

It’s tricky managing your different needs. Hamster needs walking and to get out of the house to explore regularly or she builds up excess energy which explodes in a tantrum the likes of which, R, I don’t recall you having at that age. You didn’t really exhibit “terrible twos.” You weren’t perfect or easy by any means, but you weren’t prone to lying on the kitchen floor screaming “ARCHIEEEEEE WHERE IS ARCHIEEEEEEEE MUMMY? I WANT ARCHIEEEEEEE”, about a teddy which was literally right in front of you but just out of reach *insert eye roll.

When I try to instigate a walk, R you will often protest and moan that you want to stay at home. Luckily for me, your tantrums aren’t long lived and I know once we are out and about you will love running along the paths searching for treasures, looking at the cows and the blossoms on the trees. Getting you out the door isn’t always easy but it’s always worth it. We come back refreshed and ready for our next bout of containment.

It’s unclear how long the lockdown will go on for at the moment. I can’t give you all the answers to your questions about it either. I’m just trying to get us all through it safe and sound, meeting as many of the family needs as I can.

This week your dad is going to start leaving his nest for an hour a day to give me a bit of a breather. I will probably use it to go out running, or read or nap. Who knows? Whatever I feel the need to do at the time. I have been a bit shouty in the last week and I’m sorry for that. All these feelings of uncertainty are making me increasingly anxious and I haven’t managed that as well as I’d like. Know that I will keep trying my best and I love you guys to the moon and back.

We’ll get through this together,

Love you,

Mummy xxx

Lockdown life – Week 2

Dear girls,

It’s Monday again and we are now entering week two of self-isolation. When I wrote last week we were in a voluntary lockdown, meaning we had chosen to stay at home for the weekend and minimise contact with other people. After I wrote that however, the Prime Minister (who has nothing to do with Amazon Prime despite R’s conviction that he does), Boris Johnson, put the entire country on mandatory lockdown.

We are now only allowed to leave our home for three reasons: to shop for food and other essentials like medicine, to go to work if absolutely necessary and to exercise once a day with members of our household, not with friends or family.

The police are patrolling the streets, even in our small village, and can fine people for breaking these rules. You are both too young to really understand how surreal this is. It’s like living in a George Orwell novel, who you’re also too young to understand but I’m sure you will read his books at some point and mummy will tell you how the reality of living in 2020 was like the fictional world of Airstrip One in 1984.

The play grounds are all closed now, as are the National Trust properties where we often go for walks in the woods, like Cliveden and the Vyne. The National Parks have also had to close because so many people were flocking there to get some exercise in the fresh air, it became impossible to maintain social distancing (keeping 2m apart which is approximately how far germy virus-spreading droplets from a cough travel).

The shops are now limiting the number of people in the store and have placed advisory 2m distancing markers on the floor. Some of the shelves are still bare – tinned tomatoes, pasta, spaghetti hoops, fresh meat, some alcohol and mixers are in short supply. A lot of people are wearing gloves and going out with scarves wrapped around their face. It’s all to try and slow the spread of the virus.

You haven’t seen too much of this for yourself. What you have become aware of, is that you can’t see your friends from preschool. R, you’ve asked, almost daily, to see your friend Stanley and when we walk passed Toby’s and Amelia’s houses you always ask if we can go and say hello.

When we bump into people we know on our walks you often try to run up and give them a hug and I hate having to stop you. I hope you understand that I’m doing it to protect you, and them. I hope that when this is all over, you haven’t lost your desire to dish out hugs, hold hands and be sociable with all your friends.

In terms of our day to day life, we are keeping busy in all sorts of ways. We generally start the day off with PE with Joe at 9am. R you normally last about 10’minutes and then disappear off and return dressed as a princess whilst mummy (and sometimes daddy) complete it. Then I get out a selection of toys and activities, which I try to rotate, and the play is generally guided by you.

One evening just before you went up to bed, we were flicking through some recycling craft books talking about all the things we could make from of our stash of old loo rolls, egg cartons and cereal boxes. You two chose – a mermaid, a shark, a crocodile and an aquarium. That gave me the idea to try a theme day and the next day our topic was ‘oceans’. A lot of primary schools have a theme for each half term, which they relate learning across all subjects to so I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to see what it was like and how versatile learning can be.

The following day I felt quite excited about it. R, you started with magic painting books of ‘under sea scenes’ & we chatted about different creatures. H, you and I played our 2 different fishing games. I put towels on the lounge floor – a blue one for the ocean and a beach towel, then I asked R to identify which of your stuffed toys belonged in the ocean and on the beach. You guys really enjoyed this bit and the search soon extended to include Zuma & his hovercraft from Paw Patrol, bath toys and 2 not at all annoying musical mermaid wands.

Rose did a jigsaw of the world to show how much of the earth’s surface is actually covered in oceans and had a chat about the Pacific Ocean Garbage patch which you’d learned about from Go Jetters and the Octonauts. Heidi you were a bit like an evil genius trying to conquer the world whilst we did this – trampling all over the jigsaw as fast as we could build countries. Maybe that makes you Godzilla actually.

In the afternoon, we watched The Little Mermaid when I needed an hour & a half of quiet time. I served up tea as an aquatic scene – sandwiches cut up as fish, with cheese string coral & cucumber sea weed.

As a family (daddy included) we made an aquarium from an old cereal box, H, you loved sticking glittery mermaid stickers all over it whilst R drew round fish stencils. It was a work of art which we then put in the window for people to see when they are on their daily exercise. Finally, I asked R to choose three ocean related books for bed time stories and you chose Julia Donaldson’s Snail & the Whale and Tiddler and 10 minutes to bed little mermaid by Rhiannon Fielding.

After a day of intense oceanic play I asked what you had learned and here’s a summation of your reply:

1. Not to put magnets down the toilet. You’d dropped a Peppa magnet down the loo whilst doing a poo and although she didn’t disappear down the u-bend when we flushed the toilet, the picture had dissolved in the water and you were distraught.

2. Ariel must live in the Atlantic Ocean because that’s where sharks live.

So there you are. Two valuable lessons well learned. To stay on theme I drank a large glass of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc in the evening.

Just to be clear, we don’t always do theme days or cram that much stuff in. In the same way we don’t always go to Sea life, or the natural history museum. We were just having a productive day. Normally I set out a selection of toys and leave you to it with the door to the garden open for free flow. Today the lounge is a little town. The rugs on the floor have roads and a town layout on, so I’ve dotted about the post box, piggy bank, vets kit, hairdressing model, the till with a basket of play food to be a shop and you’ve just told me we need a zoo too so you’re rummaging through your figures to find the lion, zebra etc.

I know Hamster won’t remember this period but Rosie, you’re just at the age when these could be your earliest memories one day. I really hope you remember it as a fun time when we made up games, ate all our meals together as a family & went on lots of walks exploring the local woods. The tale of when you interrupted daddy’s conference call to deliver him a strawberry milkshake will probably be one we retell for years to come. Mummy found it very funny.

Daddy thinks this summer is going to be the making of your sisterhood bond. I do hope so. I hope we all come through this time bonded closer than ever.

It’s a strange time but we’ll get through it together.

Love you,

Mummy xxx

A Lockdown letter for my girls

Dear Pipsqueak & Hamster,

It’s 7am on Monday morning and normally at this time the house would be waking up. Daddy would be in the shower, you 2 and I would be snuggled in bed watching Bing and Hey Duggee and discussing our plans for the day. We’d all go downstairs for breakfast and then I would start making a packed lunch for preschool whilst we listen to Absolute radio.

Pipsqueak, you would then rush upstairs to get your ‘uniform’ on (you don’t have to wear a uniform for preschool but you were given a hand me down gingham dress from your friend Katherine and you are obsessed with it), we’d all brush our hair and teeth – some more willingly than other Hamster – and by 9am we’d be out the door.

After preschool drop off, Hamster and I would be off to Hartbeeps for Happy House, which she adores and finds singing and dancing along absolutely hilarious. That’s our routine and it’s comfortingly familiar. Even the inevitable row about getting shoes and coats on, is factored in to make sure things run like clockwork.

Today, however, the house is silent. Daddy isn’t in the shower because he isn’t going to work. His commute is now to the office upstairs whilst he works from home so he’s having a lie in. You guys aren’t going to preschool or Hartbeeps because they are both cancelled for public health reasons. We are now maintaining what’s being called ‘social distancing’ for the foreseeable future due to corona virus.

At the moment you are aged 4 and 2 so it’s hard to explain to you what this means, although I have tried. R you understand there is a need for a lot of hand washing and whilst you don’t understand Hamster, you love playing with water and so you are happy to comply. Whenever you ask to go somewhere and I say we can’t, R responds with, “because of the virus mummy?”

“Can we go to McDonalds and get a balloon and play on the iPads for tea mummy?” “No, darling, you can’t dine in at their restaurants at the moment” “Because of the virus?” “Because of the virus.” (NB don’t judge me, we don’t go all the time, we go when they are having a treat.)

“Can we go to Beale Park tomorrow?” “I’m not sure, we’ll have to check the website and see if it’s still open.” “Because of the virus?” “Because of the virus. If it is open, things might be a little different, the train might not be running and you might find other children aren’t allowed to play with you.” “In case I have the virus?” “Exactly.”

“Have I got swimming / gymnastics today?” “No, I’m afraid it’s cancelled at the moment.” “Because of the virus?” “Because of the virus.”

“Can we invite Rex and Toby over for a play date if we have to stay home mummy?” “No darling, we have to keep our distance, particularly because Rex’s mummy is pregnant and Toby has asthma.” “because the virus could make them poorly?” “Yes, it could.”

“Can we have croissants for breakfast tomorrow?” . . . Arriving at the bread aisle “sorry, they’ve completely sold out of croissants, bread, thins, English muffins & rolls.” “Is that because of the virus?” “Sort of, people are buying lots of food in case they can’t leave their house because of the virus.” “Oh okay. Look they have cake.” “Yes, they still have cake but that’s not a breakfast item, even with the virus outbreak.”

I feel awful that we have so many conversations which result in me saying “no” to things that make you happy. However, I am so proud of how you’ve taken it on the chin with no tantrums or cries of “it’s not fair”, thus far.

We have watched some YouTube videos on how germs spread and corona virus itself and I’m doing my very best to keep calm and explain things clearly to you, without scaring you. I hope I’m doing a good job. I think I am, but times are a little confusing at the moment.

Mummy is much more anxious than you two are. I have cried a lot. I cried when we had to close preschool on Friday. I realised you could miss out on your graduation ceremony and might have to go straight to primary having been out of early years education for 5 months and that made me incredibly sad. I cried in Tesco when a stranger was rude to me because I had managed to get some eggs, which are currently in short supply. I cried when I spoke to your oddmother who has been receiving increased levels of abuse from people in the A&E department. I cried when I thought about your grandad having decreased immunity and therefore being at higher risk. I cried when we had to cancel our holiday for momo & grandad’s ruby wedding anniversary.

I have cried at all sorts of things but not in front of you, when I can help it, because I am trying to keep you as calm as possible. Today we start home-schooling, as much as preschoolers need ‘schooling’. I have bought some educational activity books because, R, your writing is coming on so beautifully and I don’t want you to get out of practice. We also have lots of paints, felt tips, crayons, colouring books, stickers, playdoh, puzzles, dressing up outfits, toys, a box overflowing with crafting bits and bobs & we have our imaginations.

I hope we can make it through this rough period without too many quarrels over who was playing with which Paw Patrol pup first and complaints about what meals are on offer. I hope we remember that we love each other and we are in quarantine to keep both ourselves, and other people safe. I hope the world comes out the other side of this virus having learnt a valuable lesson and fundamentally changed for the better.

I live in hope.

Now I hear two little pups barking in their bedroom so it’s time to get this isolation party started.

I love you both so much and daddy & I will do everything we can to keep you safe and calm during these bizarre times.

Mummy xxx

The two-year development check

It was H’s two year check this week. The letter came through the post in January, with the development questionnaire and the appointment was booked promptly for the week after her birthday. Then, being the highly attentive mother, I am, I forgot all about it until 2 days before we were due at the local childcare centre.

For those of you who haven’t completed a 24-month (2 year) questionnaire yet, it’s a quick way to check in with your child’s development. You are supposed to try each activity with your child before you answer “Yes [they can do X]”, “Sometimes” or “not yet”. There are 40 questions divided between five categories: Communication, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, problem solving and personal-social. I’ve only covered a handful here because in all honesty, who wants to hear me blather on about 40 different questions?

The advice at the beginning suggests that you make completing the questionnaire “a game that is fun for you and your child.” Easier said than done. For starters, my toddler’s favourite game is “sit/stand opposite mummy and laugh at her requests to perform things on demand.” She does tasks in her own sweet time and no amount of coaxing is going to change that. Luckily, that game is clearly not exclusive to my child because the questionnaire states that if your child CAN do the activitiy but refuses, mark ‘yes’. Phew what a relief.

It also suggests that you make sure your child is not tired or hungry. I decide that after lunch, before we go to collect R from preschool is the ideal time to complete it. It won’t take long, there’s only a few questions. Wrong again.  

Communication

“Does your child point to the correct picture when you say, “Show me the cat” or “Where is the dog?” I go and collect Room on the Broom, much to H’s delight, open it to the first page and say “Show me the cat”, she starts Meowing at me. I laugh and say “No darling, show me the cat on the page” “Meowwwwwwww” and much page hitting is her response. I know she knows what I’m saying, she knows I know she knows. She just giggles at me. Okay, I turn over the page, let’s try again, “where is the dog?” “doggie! Woof woof!” she declares before she starts panting. Thankfully she also points to the dog this time. I tick the ‘Yes’ column.

Let’s move on. Oh, you now want me to read Room on the Broom? Of course, you do. That’s understandable, just once though. Oh, now you want to read it yourself? Hmm okay, let’s try and combine this with another question and see if you can answer “what is this?” as I point to various things. No, no I don’t want to take the book off you, I just want to point at things. Calm down, stop screaming at me, alright does “mummy get off?” count as a three-word sentence for question five? I guess so. How about “that’s my book mummy”? 4 words? Excellent. You’re practically a child genius. Albeit a loud shouty one. Moving swiftly on.

Gross motor skills

‘Does your child walk down stairs if you hold onto one of her hands?’ hahahahahahahaha “Carry mummy, carrryyyyyyyyyyy” is all I get when I try this one. Swiftly followed by her lying on the floor, face down, wailing at the injustice of being asked to walk down the stairs by herself when mummy has two perfectly good arms for carrying her. I mark ‘yes’ to this one anyway because I know she can do it. She does it all the blinking time when the stair gate gets left open and suddenly realise she’s half way down the stairs. It’s only when I ask her to walk, generally because I’m carrying a load of laundry or the swimming bag or the bathroom bins, or a collection of mugs that has amassed upstairs, that she flat out refuses. Kids eh? I can’t even face getting her to kick a ball and/or run around inside the house and it’s pouring with rain outside. I’ll just mark those off because I’ve seen her do both, plenty of times. No it’s not cheating, it’s survival.

Fine motor skills

To begin with I thought things would speed up here.

Does your child get a spoon into her mouth right side up . . .? Yes

Does your child turn the pages of a book by herself? . . . Yes

Does your child use a turning motion . . .? Yes

Does your child flip switches off and on? Yes – most recently the doorbell, I couldn’t figure out why the postman had suddenly taken to flinging parcels over the fence when we were in. Turns out she’d switched the doorbell off so he’d presumed we were out. Her other favourite switch is the plug to the hairdryer, whilst I’m trying to use it.

We were flying through questions, then

Does your child stack seven small blocks on top of each other by herself? This is where we hit a wall. I got out some blocks for her to stack and encouraged her to make a tower and she just looked at me like I was deranged. If I could read minds, I’m fairly certain she was saying, “why on other would I want to stack blocks into a tower woman? Who am I? Bob the builder?”

I rack my brains to think if I have ever seen her build a tower before but I’m not sure I have. She loves playing with the babies and the dolls’ house, give her a set of the Toomies Hide & Squeak eggs and she will play with them for a solid half an hour. But building? Not that I can recall. And even if I had seen her, would I ever have counted to see if there were seven or more blocks? Am I terrible mother because I have no recollection whatsoever of counting blocks with my child as we make a tower? Do I remember doing this with R? Is H missing out on things because she is the second child and therefore hasn’t had as much focused attention as R did?  

Let’s move on and come back to that later.

Next up, stringing pasta or beads onto a shoelace. I rummage around for a spare set of laces but can’t find any so take one out of my trainers. Is that hygienic? Probably not. I’ll wash her hands afterwards. I then go to fetch some pasta. We only have spaghetti or fusilli and frankly if she manages to attach either of those to a shoelace, I’ll be signing her up for some kind of child MENSA. I pull out the craft box in search of beads. Yet another mistake because now she has seen paint sticks, and glue, and stickers, and goggly eyes, and is quickly looking at me through a pair of loo roll ‘binoculars’ and giggling. She starts pulling out paper and all sorts and when I eventually find the beads she’s not interested. And who can blame her? After many promises that if she can thread 5 beads onto a shoelace, she can do some painting, she eventually consents in a disdainful tone that makes me concerned for how I’m going to deal with the teenage years. She does it. We both breathe a sigh of relief and put the dirty, but now beautifully decorated, shoelace to one side.

< Insert 24- hour intermission here because we did some painting as promised and then had to go and collect her sister from preschool. There was zero chance R would be able to resist telling her how to complete the problem-solving tasks so I left it until the following day >

Problem solving

If you draw a line, does your child copy you by drawing a single line? Here comes that look that I’ve gone deranged again. “Come on sweetie, look I’ve drawn a line, can you do that?” Blank look. “What colour is my line?” “Red” “That’s right and what colour have you got in your hand?” “Blue” “Yes, so can you have a go at drawing a blue line next to my red line?” “No” “Okay, how about I show you how to write H, it has three lines in it, look, down, down, across, that’s what your name starts with. Would you like to try?” “No.” “How about if we make a rainbow and use all the different colours?” This seems to pique her interest and I do red, orange, yellow and green lines before telling her it’s time for blue and she consents to do a line at right angles to the others. This still counts according to the questionnaire. I congratulated her, we finish the rainbow and then I whip out the next task.

Oh yes, I have learnt from my mistake yesterday and have gathered all the necessary tools ready in advance of sitting down with her this time.

Drop a raisin in a clear plastic bottle and see if they turn the bottle upside down to tip it out. I remember this from last time with R. She wasn’t a huge fan of raisins, possibly because we ended up in minor injuries with one stuck up her nose once. Side note: Should your child (or any one else) ever do this, there is a simple technique to getting stuff out their nose. You cover the other nostril, form a seal around their mouth with yours and then do a short sharp breath into their mouth. Whatever is stuck up there comes shooting out of their nose covered in snot. It’s delightful. Obviously if it is something sharp, you need to be cautious of it damaging the nose but with a raisin or pea, which I was informed is the other most common thing stuck up a nose, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

Anyway, I digress. R wasn’t a fan of raisins so when I did this with her, she wasn’t fussed about getting it out, I think I eventually put something else tempting in there. H on the other hand, picked the bottle straight up and started shaking it horizontally from side to side – imagine the neck of the bottle going from 9 – 3 on a clock. For a while the raisin held its ground and wouldn’t come out but eventually it went flying through the air and landed on the kitchen floor, which H thought was hilarious and cried “again again” with glee. This time she shook it up and down to see what happened but the raisin didn’t come out. She didn’t give up and started the same rotational shaking which had worked previously. She then lost control of the bottle, and as it spun upside down the raisin came out. She picked it up, looked at the bottle and ate the raisin. The next time, she tipped the bottle upside down and got the raisin straight away. It was the most incredible thing to watch.

She asked for another raisin and another and another and each time she tipped the bottle upside down, got the raisin, laughed and asked to go again. I could see the whole concept of tipping something upside down to get what was inside solidifying in her mind and being stored for future reference. After half a box of raisins she started putting them in herself too. It was fascinating. I have to wonder how long it would’ve taken her to learn that had I not specifically sat her down and put a raisin in a bottle to test whether or not she knew how to get it back out again. Do they cover that at nursery?

There were some other questions which I won’t drone on about but here are a couple of tips for you as/when you come to do your child’s two year check

  1. Be prepared. Learn from my mistakes and have the materials close at hand, rather than having to rummage around and allowing your child free time to get distracted and then have to herd them back to the testing zone.
  2. Don’t panic. Children develop at their own pace so if they can’t (or won’t) do certain things it doesn’t mean they aren’t progressing at a ‘normal’ (hate that word’ rate. They may be able to do everything in one category really well, whilst another is just emerging. That’s fine. They may have put all their energy in to learning one set of skills and can now focus on something new.
  3. Marvel in your child’s achievements. The last time you did a similar questionnaire, they were nine months old. Feels like a life-time ago right? Stop and appreciate how amazing it is that age 2 they can already string simple sentences together, walk up the stairs, kick a ball, get a raisin out of a bottle. They are learning so much, so fast. They are truly marvellous.
  4.  Don’t force it. Yes I tried a couple of different ways to get H to draw a line but the rainbow was going to be my last attempt. After that I would have just moved on and returned to it another time (if I had the opportunity). There are multiple questions in each category and if they’ve done a few other things don’t sweat it. If they can’t do any of them, you’ll likely be discussing that with the worker you see anyway, so why bother putting you and your child through the agony and frustration of pushing them to thread a bead on an old shoe lace at home?   
  5. Remember this isn’t a judgement on you. It isn’t really about you at all (I think there should be more about mum’s health at the two-year check but that is a whole other topic for another day). It’s all about the child. The health worker isn’t going to blame you or judge you if you’ve marked ‘Not yet’ for some questions. They may have suggestions about how you can help your little one work on things but, it still won’t be a judgement on you. They are there to support and advise you so if you don’t give them the full picture, they can’t offer you any support you may need.

Development isn’t a race. There is no first place for your child because they’ve mastered kicking a ball and become a chatterbox. More importantly there’s no last place either. They are who they are. Unique, beautiful, irreplaceable. They will develop into whoever they will become at their own pace and that’ll do me.

Are you okay?

Three simple little words that can be loaded with symbolism and power.

I probably say them 100 times a day to my girls. Usually when they have fallen off something I’ve asked them not to climb, slipped on the kitchen floor whilst racing each other around the downstairs, walked into a table, trapped a finger, stubbed a toe, rushed their meal and started coughing, and other examples I’m sure you’d be familiar with. I say “gosh, hello, are you okay?” when an old friend calls me out of the blue, or when someone asks to “have a coffee and chat”. I ask new mums, older relatives, neighbours, strangers who have slipped on ice, I am a veritable ‘are you okay? Monitor’.

I ask it so often the phrase has almost lost meaning. What does ‘being okay’ even look like? What do people mean when they ask? What do they respond when the question is put to them?

Sometimes the conversation goes like this:

Person A asks, with a smile on their face, “So, how are you? Are you okay?”

Person B, smiles back and responds, “Yes, of course, I’m fine. You?”

Person A, “Yep, good, good, you know me, busy busy busy but it’s great.”

Each person walks away thankful that they’ve checked in and that the other person is doing well. But are they? I have been in these types of conversations before and here it is again with the inner monologues added in:

Person A asks, with a smile on their face, “So, how are you? Are you okay?” Then their internal monologue continues, “Oh God please, say you’re fine. I am so totally overwhelmed with my own stuff right now; the kids have been fighting since the break of dawn and I’ve got to find the eldest a maths tutor because he’s falling behind. I have to buy new rugby kits and football boots, trousers for school uniform, which cost an arm and a leg because they want a specific trouser that all their mates have. The boys grow so fast and eat so much food, we are struggling to make ends meet. I need to see if I can pick up more shifts at work. In turn that means less time at home with them and my husband, who I barely recognise because we are like ships passing in the night constantly on our way here, there and everywhere. When did we even have a night out just the two of us? There’s a to do list as long as my arm for jobs around the house which all seem to be assigned to ‘mum’ and I just cannot take on anything else to worry about. Please please please say you’re fine.”

My internal monologue “She smiled when she asked but I can sense she’s stressed and so she probably doesn’t want to hear about my world imploding. She won’t want to hear about the fact that my girls are being absolute sass monsters recently who refuse to do anything I ask them to, whether that’s eating the meal they just asked me to make for them, to putting on their shoes & coats to go out for the day (to the place they said they wanted to go not half an hour ago), going to bed, tidying up, walking anywhere, turning the TV off, getting in the bath, getting out of the bath, taking turns, not drawing on the walls . . . Also, my children are a lot younger than hers, I was hoping she’d be able to offer me some words of wisdom and reassurance that it will get easier and that making time for me as an individual and me and my husband as a couple isn’t selfish but is necessary. No, she doesn’t want to hear all that, I’ll just say, “Yes, of course, I’m fine. You?”

Person A breathes a sigh of relief.

Now, the reason I am able to provide that monologue is because one half of the conversation was me, obviously, but the other was my best friend. We’ve known each other over 35 years and we knew we were lying to each other. We knew the other one was stressed to the max and needed to verbal diarrhoea all over the other. And we did. And it wasn’t too much. It was a weight lifted off both our shoulders. We both cried about how much mental load we were carrying, how we couldn’t get to sleep for all the thoughts buzzing through our brains and when we did nod off, we woke up in the middle of the night with other things to add to our ‘To do’ lists.

Then we laughed about how silly we’d been to try and hold everything in, that between us a problem shared, really was a problem halved. That we’d been friends from day dot and there was no deceiving one another, that we could tell each other anything and everything. We talked and talked, we came up with solutions for one another, empathised about mum guilt and ended the conversation feeling more connected than ever.

I know that it can be relatively easy to open up about not being okay to your best friend (in my case I don’t have a choice, she just keeps probing until I admit what’s happening). It’s also a privilege when someone you’re close to confides in you and you’re able to help carry the load for them.

I also know that, conversely, sometimes those close to you are the very people you want to protect from how you’re feeling, from how utterly disillusioned you are with how life is turning out and how you want to scream and shout and run away and leave them behind. Sometimes it can take a complete stranger to help you see a way forward.

I would like to give a special mention to a lady I’ve dubbed “Mrs Lovely” who asked me if I was okay a little over a year ago, when I most definitely was not. As I type this, I am sat in my local Starbucks, I am being one of those people who has a balanced lunch of a protein salad, coffee and a cupcake whilst tip-tapping away on their laptop. The girls are at nursery and preschool, I’ve already been for a run, to a counselling session, done a load of laundry, bought a few groceries and am generally smashing my list of jobs. Tick tick tick.

I’m feeling calm, confident and organised. I have Giovanna Fletcher’s new book ‘Letters on Motherhood’ on the table in front of me (an excellent choice if you want to laugh out loud one minute and sob the next) and just across the room there is a lady with a baby who, I would guess, is approximately one month old. The book, the location and the mummy sparked the inspiration for this post. I’d planned to spend this time writing clues for the pre-school Easter egg hunt but c’est la vie, procrastination for one thing, is often inspiration to do another.

So, flash back to November 2018, my youngest was 8 months old and my eldest was coming up to age three. It was Friday and it had been a rough week. I’d received some devastating news about a good friend of mine in Australia, I was battling post-natal depression, H wasn’t sleeping well and I was utterly exhausted. I’d taken the girls to a local toddler group in the morning in the vague hope that R would play nicely with the other children and I’d get an easy couple of hours with tea and biscuits provided. WRONG. It was just one sharing / taking turns related melt down after another from the eldest and incessant frustrated crying from the youngest, who was desperate to crawl but hadn’t grasped it yet and was very sad about the situation.

I don’t know why I didn’t go straight home after group. I should’ve done, but stubborn me decided that as I’d told R we were going to buy her a new coat after group, that’s what we were going to do. I’d also decided that the drive to the retail park would put her sister to sleep. That was the only thing that went according to plan. We got to Mothercare, H sound asleep and I tried to entice R with some beautiful winter frock coats but she was having none of it. She hid in between the rails of clothes, sat down and would not come out. No amount of “wow, look at this one, so grown up!” or “gosh this is so beautiful, I wish it came in my size” would coax her out. It was getting close to lunchtime so in the end I suggested we go to Starbucks for a babyccino. She was out like a shot.

She was very calm in the queue; she asked the barista for her drink politely and went off to choose a table. Then all hell broke loose. Again. H woke up and started screaming in hunger and I suspect because she was still tired. Whilst my back was turned to lift her out of the car seat, R picked up her babyccino to sample it . . . which was too hot so she threw it on the floor (I’d asked for it in a take away cup luckily) and started wailing that her chair was wet. I then became aware there was a lady trying to get passed us to leave (who can blame her). I apologised and tried to move the pushchair to make space whilst shushing H. I caught her eye and she said “Are you okay?” and I burst into tears because I didn’t have the energy to lie and tell her I was fine.

“Right, okay” she said and disappeared and I collapsed in my chair feeling utterly useless. She reappeared with a highchair, which she offered to R instead of the milk-soaked seat. It was clearly an acceptable alternative because R stuck her arms up in the air and Mrs Lovely picked her up and strapped her in. She asked if I minded her going into my bag to get the lunchboxes out, which she’d heard me promising R. She dug them out, opened them up and made a fuss of the delicious cucumber sticks on offer.

She retrieved my keys from under a neighbouring table, which I hadn’t even realised were missing. She asked what I was having for lunch and offered to buy me some cake telling me that it was important to feed myself not just the girls. She bent down and gave me (and Heidi) a hug and whispered “You’re doing a great job” in my ear.

It was the sweetest, most touching thing I have ever experienced. There was such an astounding empathy in that hug that I cried harder than I’m proud of. All the things I’d been trying to hide and hold together came tumbling to the fore. Then she looked me straight in the eye and said, “One day soon, you’ll be back here, the girls will be at school and you’ll be having a quiet coffee on your own like I’ve just done. It will get easier and you’ll all be okay.” With one last squeeze of my shoulder, she was off, never to be seen again, like Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee.

And here I am. Sat in Starbucks, with my lunch, typing this post. She was so right. I posted on the Spotted Newbury site, looking for her to say “thank you” but I never found her and so she will never know the profound affect her kindness had on my life.

When you’re out in public with two small children and they are misbehaving you seem to become invisible. Oh, sure when they are being cute and trying to play peekaboo, people coo over them and ask how old they are. They tell you what adorable and well behaved children you have and regale you with stories about copious grandchildren / nieces / nephews / sons / daughters / godchildren / neighbours at that age. But when they aren’t well behaved, when you as the care giver are feeling your absolute worst about your capabilities to cope, everyone turns the other way and pretends, they haven’t noticed.

That lady didn’t. She saw me. She told me she saw me and she turned my day around.

Don’t be shy about asking someone if they’re okay or need a hand. They may be polite and say no but I’d wager that they would appreciate just being seen.

I still don’t know exactly what it means to be “okay”, but I do know that sometimes when you’ve been trying to claw your way out of a pit of despair, the empathy of a total stranger can help you reach a point of being “okay” and it feels like a gigantic victory and you know what? That’ll do me.

Happy Birthday Hamster!

Dearest Hamster,

Yesterday was your second birthday so I thought I’d write you this letter to tell you what we did and how much you’ve grown and changed over the last year. I would’ve written it on your actual birthday but your dad and I were both so exhausted, we went to bed about half an hour after you and your sister.

Where to start? Well, every year I make special birthday cards for you and R. They each have 13 photographs on – one snap of the birthday girl for each month of the last year, which frame a family photograph of the four of us in the middle. I love this birthday tradition I started. I save photos to special albums throughout the year and then sort through them a fortnight or so before your birthdays when I make the cards. The whole process makes me so happy.

There are always so many pictures to choose from and it’s tough whittling them down to just 12. I love reflecting on the past year, remembering fun days out together or being silly at home, marvelling at how much you’ve grown, the way your face has changed and some of the poses you & R strike. But of course the best pictures are the ones which capture you just being you. Your cheeky grin, the twinkle in your eye which says “I know I’m being a bit naughty but if I keep smiling she’ll let me off”, the bemused look you give me sometimes when I’m singing songs and dancing around and the look of genuine wonder you get sometimes over things that as an adult I dismiss as trivial all too often.

We saw that face a lot yesterday. The four of us caught the train into London to go to Sealife Aquarium and I’m pretty sure it was the best day you’ve ever had. You were fascinated by everything you encountered, starting with the station barrier ‘magically’ opening after I’d put the ticket in. I’d brought lots of activities for you and your sister to do on the train but they weren’t necessary. You spent most of the journey looking out of the window saying, “hello sheep. . . I see Houses. . . Cars. . . Train. . . Trees. . . Clouds. . .” We couldn’t get you to sit down (no change there), you were so excited to take everything in.

We arrived at Paddington and onto the tube which blew you and your sister’s mind. There were gasps at all the tunnels and stations, waving hello to other passengers and trying to entice them in to games of peekaboo. I’m not sure at precisely what age, but you’ll have to stop doing that at some point, Londoners really don’t like talking on the tube as I learnt when I used to commute to work. All that excitement and we hadn’t even reached the main attraction. I’m pretty sure you and R would’ve been happy to sit on the tube all day going round the lines and admiring the stations and people on their way to here, there and everywhere.

When we stepped out at Waterloo it was teeming with rain but it didn’t dampen your spirits. You were in the backpack and in my ear kept saying, “raining mummy. . . Look!. . . Puddles! . . . Doggies. . . Car. . . Wheel [London Eye]. . . Water [River Thames].” You didn’t stop for the next three hours. Every tank you saw, “look mummy little fishes . . . Big fishes. . . Ray. . . Pretty fish. . . Sharks mummy! . . . Turtles. . . Crocdile. . . Penguin”.

You were dead on your feet from all the walking so we put you in the backpack and encouraged you to nap but you wouldn’t give in to tiredness. That’s a trait daddy and I have become all too familiar with in the last two years. You made it all the way to the gift shop where you selected a mermaid and a little penguin, held on to them tight, handed them over to the cashier and. . . Promptly fell asleep. It took literally a matter of seconds to go from awake to snoring (just like your daddy).

It’s such a shame you won’t remember today when you grow up because it was incredible. In the past year you have grown from being a little baby to a toddler and your unique personality is starting to bloom a little more every day. This time last year you were crawling around, pulling yourself to standing, needing help at meal times and communicating with just one or two words and lots of pointing and crying.

Now, my goodness, you’re walking, running, dancing, climbing, talking, singing, feeding yourself – with some very decisive opinions about what and when you will eat, colouring and drawing (left handed like mummy), your imaginative play is incredible and your empathy for others is so beautiful; whether it’s the dolls, who seem to always need nappy changes and feeding, or other children who need “huggles” when they’re sad.

Daddy and I are so proud of you. You’re a cheeky monster at times, like all children are. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish you’d start settling yourself and sleeping through consistently instead of ending up in bed with mummy 99% of the time. But with so much wonder in the world who has time to sleep? And if you feel safe in my arms darling, of course that’s where you must be.

I hope you keep that charming sense of curiosity and fascination as you grow up. It’s all too easy to start taking things, and people, for granted. Try to keep joy in your heart, a song on your lips and “wiggle wiggle wiggle that bum bum” (you learnt that from your sister).

Love always,

Mummy xxx

Momma on the run

I ran a half marathon today, as you do on a blustery Sunday in February. It wasn’t my first half marathon, but it was my first one since the girls were born. I last ran one five years ago when I was training for the Paris marathon, which I was then unable to participate in due to shin splints. I was heartbroken to have put in all the training and then be unable to compete. We’d booked flights and accommodation for Paris so we went and supported my friend Kim who’d I convinced to run it with me. I watched from the side lines and cheered her on and then we celebrated with red wine and steak. It was très bon!

A few weeks later, early one Saturday morning, I took a pregnant test. We had friends coming to stay for the night and I’d been feeling a bit ropey during the week; aching boobs, nausea on the London Underground (and not just the normal gagging at some people’s BO), exhausted, just generally a bit meh. I’d bought one of the digital tests that spell out for you whether you’re pregnant or not and when it flashed up “Pregnant 2-4 weeks” I was shocked. We had only stopped using contraception in Paris. We weren’t even officially “trying” and yet here we were. Pregnant on month one.

I went through to the bedroom, woke up my partner and showed him the test. We lay on the bed in stunned silence for a while before I announced, “anyway, I’m off to Parkrun, see you later.”

So I guess you could say that running and being a mum have gone hand in hand since day 1 for me. I don’t know how other women felt on their first run after they’d found out they were pregnant but I was in a haze. There I was, with 400ish fellow park runners, doing the same route, with the same faces, just like any other Saturday. Except of course it wasn’t.

Whilst my feet were on automatic covering the course, my mind was in overdrive. Should I even be running today? Was I putting the baby at risk? What if I fell over? What if I got tangled up in the lead of one of the dogs running with us and went flying? What if the normally placid cows on the common decided to turn on us runners and we were suddenly in Berkshire’s answer to the Pamplona Running of the Bulls? What if what if what if?

I was thinking about that first run as a mum a lot today. This morning’s pre race proceedings weren’t life changing but they were a clear illustration of a changed life. Long gone are the good night’s sleep, the relaxed breakfast and leisurely arrival at the start line feeling fresh and ready to smash it!

My youngest was up multiple times last night, screaming the house down for mummy when daddy tried to comfort her, so I was tired before I even got my kit on. I had to shovel breakfast down me whilst packing multiple bags – race bag for me, changing bag for her, swimming bag for her sister. I almost forgot my trainers in the chaos. I then took H to her odd parents (yes odd, not God, whole other blog) and as I grabbed my race bag from the car the zip split sending my post race snacks, bib and recovery shakes tumbling to the ground. I hurriedly stuffed everything back in, got inside, settled her down to play with their children (shall we call them her odd cousins?) and headed off.

When I got to the bag drop I discovered, to my horror, that my earphones weren’t in my bag. I tipped everything out and they were nowhere to be seen. A cold chill came over me with the realisation that they must’ve fallen out when my zip broke.

Now, I know a lot of people run without music or podcasts or audio books. I also know that a lot of races don’t allow earphones. But I have never run so much as a 5km without something to distract me. Talk about a baptism of fire! I had even saved the latest episodes of my two favourite podcasts (Shagged, Married, Annoyed with Chris & Rosie Ramsey and Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster, thank you for asking) to keep me laughing and entertained for 2 hours.

With no time to nip to the shop for some more I faced the cold hard truth: For the next few hours it was just me and my thoughts on the road. Urgh. This was going to be hideous.

So what did I think about whilst running? Loads of things. Turns out I have a really busy mind when it’s not being entertained. I thought about . . .

The booming population as I ran passed new housing estates that have popped up in Wokingham since I last ran the half there.

I thought about climate change and the weather I’ve battled during training as the wind swept across the fields and whipped my face.

I thought about the vilification of women and gender roles as I briefly stripped down to my bra to remove my base layer & hoped no-one was going to comment on my muffin top and semi nudity (they didn’t).

Whilst running behind two men from (I think) South Africa, I thought about immigration and Priti Patel’s claims that the shortfall in the workforce her new policy will leave can be made up by “economically inactive” people, like me.

I thought about the preschool I was running to raise funds for; the children, the staff, the upcoming Easter event, the garden fence which needs repairing, the committee meeting I need to organise and the child care crisis facing the UK.

I thought about all of these things and how they’d impact my girls’ future. Somewhere around the 8 mile marker it all felt a bit too much to think about if I’m honest. My legs were hurting, I’d definitely set off too fast and now I was regretting it. I slowed down but tried to keep plodding on. I looked at my watch and tried to calculate how much longer I had to run. And then I walked. I got out my jelly tots and tried to get my head back in the game for the remaining 5 miles.

Lovely supportive runners came passed me and told me I’d done a great job and to keep going. I passed a few spectators who offered me a drink and one Marshall who asked if I was in need of a foil blanket. I took some deep breathes and started running again. I broke the rest of the race down into sections and focused on getting to the end of the next 5 minutes. . . To the next marker. . . The last drinks station. . . The roundabout . . . The bridge over the motorway.

I must confess that I had two more walking breaks, limiting them each to two minutes of ‘recovery’ before forcing myself to start running again. Over the last 5 miles I was annoyed at myself for giving up and walking, for missing out on my sub 2 hour target and for letting myself, my girls and the preschool down.

And then I thought how like running motherhood can be. You do your preparation, be it training or NCT classes, you formulate a plan, tell yourself not to panic about the task ahead, and try to imagine how you’ll cope with obstacles and tough times as they come up. But planning will only get you so far and in both cases, I find, until you’re living it, you just don’t know for sure how you’re going to react.

Every time I stopped running, I thought about what I needed to do to get myself going again and told myself it wasn’t the end of the world. No-one was judging me except me. I do the same every time I feel I’ve had a mum fail – when I’ve snapped or shouted at the girls, left a lunch box at home, forgotten about promises for after school activities etc. I feel awful about myself but then try to look for what I can learn for next time. If I break it down what strategies are there to make it to bedtime/snack time/ through the next episode of Peppa without wanting to cook her up into a bacon sandwich?

Parenting doesn’t come with tech T-shirts or medals and there isn’t a finish line but take comfort in the knowledge that you’ve tried your best, you can always rely on Jelly tots for a pick me up and tomorrow is a fresh start. That’ll do me.

Creative conversations

When I was at school I was a pretty average student in most subjects. I knew enough about tectonic plates and the water cycle to get by in Geography, could hold a basic conversation in French, provided you spoke “plus lentement s’il vous plait”, knew the major elements of the periodic table and could spot an isosceles triangle at 20 paces. I was quite happy being middle of the pack. My parents were happy with my average grades and I wasn’t subject to any pressure of being a student who ‘excelled’ at this, that or the other.

There was only one subject where I was below average. Art and Design technology. Okay, two subjects. And when I say I was below average I’m understating it. I was appalling. My skills didn’t really progress after primary school, where they were also considered dire.

I would have lots of ideas for school projects. I remember being able to visualise a sculpture made from recycled cereal boxes and Muller corner containers. I think it was some kind of space theme but I can’t remember because the whole thing collapsed despite excessive amounts of PVA glue.

On another occasion I lay down on several pieces of sellotaped together A1 and asked someone to draw round me. I then cut out my silhouette and made it into a kind of Jekyll and Hyde self portrait; one side representing all the things I liked about myself and the other side the things I didn’t. It was deep, thought provoking and. . . No it wasn’t, it was shit. Utter shit. Even the good side looked more like Frankenstein than the ‘saintly, hockey team captain-come student council member’ vibe I was going for (we’ll look at that rather interesting perspective of what my “good side” looked like another time).

I can’t even begin to relive the trauma involved in my ‘design a game for the blind’ assignment. There were tears, feigning illness to skip school and my mum making a complaint about the teacher.

Sadly, no matter how creatively I thought about pieces, or how precisely I described what I was going to do, when it came to actually making it, the message never quite got to my hands and everything turned out a bit. . . Frustratingly underwhelming.

Just to prove I haven’t blown this out of proportion in my mind, I recently came across my old school reports when I was sorting through my filing cabinet (I know, I’m living my best life) and one year my Design Tech teacher wrote that I “hadn’t really grasped the basic concept of the subject”. Wow.

All of this was compounded by the fact my best friend at school was amazing at art. Her pieces were stunning. Whilst I drew 2D stick men for a book illustration piece, she created pictures which could easily have been in a Beatrix Potter book. Imagine you’re Bonnie from Toy Story 4 and you sit next to Rodin. You’ve just made Forky and then it gets compared to ‘The Thinker’. That’s what I was up against. I loved her, still do actually, but sitting next to her in creative classes and watching everyone (deservedly) admiring her talent and then turning to my pile of rubbish with pity in their eyes, scarred me for life.

The reason I mention this harrowing portion of my youth is because when I had children, arts and crafts was something I was fearful of trying with them. I avoided doing creative things at home, instead taking my eldest to Creation Station and pottery painting where professionals would be on hand to assist her. When she started nursery I decided that she could do all her creative painting and drawing and making of things there. I would concentrate on reading stories, doing jigsaws, learning the alphabet, cooking, singing silly songs whilst dancing in our living room and other activities not requiring PVA glue, paint or sticky back plastic.

The problem was, the older R got, the more she loved crafts and the more she loved crafts and asked me to do them with her, the more anxious I felt. Then the Christmas before her second birthday I was looking at the angel on top of our tree, which I made when I was around 4 or 5. It is made of yellow card, with a tin foil halo and gown and has cotton wool hair. It’s not elegant or refined, but it is still a recognisable angel 35 years after I made it. It has been loving kept and brought out of the decoration box every year and sentimentally chuckled at.

Spurred on by the realisation that parents will keep any old rubbish their kids produce, I did a quick google, found a few materials and then called R through so we could make a reindeer from an old loo roll. She loved it. We drew round her hands and cut them out to make the antlers, glued a red button on for his nose and voila! It didn’t take us long and she was so proud of her homemade Rudolph I went back on google to see what else we could make.

Since then we’ve done crafts for all sorts – Christmas, Valentines, birthdays, Easter, Father’s Day, Halloween, whatever the occasion, someone on Pinterest will have some craft ideas for it. I would love to say that all of this practice has improved my skills but it hasn’t really. In transpires that there are a vast array of crafting options which don’t require you to draw – Aquabeads, Blopens, jewellery making, pottery making, mosaics, painting by numbers and stencilling to name but a few.

The best thing about our craft sessions though is that it doesn’t matter what we’re making or whether it turns out like it’s supposed to. It’s the conversations we have whilst doing it.

We have talked about why recycling is important whilst making a fire engine, the state of the oceans as I tried to secure two egg carton cups to make a penguin, gender roles in the form of knights and princesses as we put together a dragon.

We even had our first discussion about sexuality when we discussed who lived in our cereal box / toilet roll castle. R informed me that it was home to 10 fairies and obviously they weren’t married because they were all girls. This opened up an easy, relaxed and organic conversation about the fact that sometimes girls do marry girls, and boys marry boys. She thought about it for a while and then said, “oh, okay then.” That was it. No awkwardness, just acceptance, because at age four she isn’t judgemental, just curious and that is an innocence I think we lose as we grow up. Which is a shame.

When we become parents, so much of our own childhood impacts on how we want our children to grow up and how we parent them. Fears we have that we don’t want them to inherit, skills which we hope they will, dreams we couldn’t fulfil that maybe they’ll be able to achieve. One day soon R’s artistic skills will probably surpass mine but I’m so glad I didn’t let my fear of ‘not being good enough’ hold me back from making that first loo roll Christmas decoration. It isn’t just about the end product, it’s about the ease of being together and chatting about things in an informal manner openly and honestly. So what if my fire engine button wheels won’t stay on and the castle turrets are wonky? We had a wonderful time making them together & that’ll do me.

Momma needs a new role model

This morning started the same as almost any other morning; with my husband and I getting annoyed at Bing. For those of you out there living in blissful ignorance of this particular CBeebies gem I’ll break it down for you. At the start of each episode Bing bunny is doing something pretty standard, like making a cake, getting ready for bed, or playing in the park. Flop (it’s not entirely clear to me who, or indeed what, Flop is. Possibly his dad or carer or a stuffed toy made from an old sock and brought to life by the same fairy that turned Pinocchio into a boy) will then say something like, “make sure you take care by the cake Bing, we don’t want to ruin the icing.”

Guess what happens next? Yup. Bing tries to get a closer look at the icing, tips the cake stand, cake falls off, icing is ruined. And what does el sock puppet do? He stays irritatingly calm in the face of ruined buttercream and says something like “hey, Bing, maybe we can make the cake into a jigsaw puzzle so it’s a fun game that also tastes good.” Bloody Flop.

You see, Bing never gets sent to the naughty step, or told “if you had just listened to me in the first place, none of this would’ve happened.” In fact he’s doesn’t get told off at all really despite the fact he never listens and frankly is a liability. Flop is one of those hideously calm people who turns every disaster or argument into fun and games. I can only assume he is taking some illegally acquired benzodiazepines which is why he is able to model this unrealistic perfect parenting behaviour.

Since becoming a parent, I have spent a lot of time thinking about role models for our girls. Who I want them to look up to, respect and emulate, tv shows and movies I want them to watch, books I hope they’ll fall in love with and want to read again and again. I thought about the characters I loved when I was younger. I have vivid memories of my best friend and I wanting to form a rock band like Jem, she was truly truly truly outrageous, Jem was her name no-one else was the same! I also loved Roald Dahl’s Matilda, Ariel from the Little Mermaid, Chetarah from Thundercats and She-Ra. None of these characters made me aspire to be a mother and you know, maybe that’s right, they made me dream bigger, of super powers and saving the world.

The more I started thinking about it though, the more I struggled to think of decent mother role models, particularly when it comes to the sort of age appropriate movies I’m watching with my girls now. I’m not saying there aren’t some fantastic women with the characteristics we associate with being a mother: nurturing, kind, protective, singing songs, teaching valuable lessons, playing games etc. It’s just that they are often not the birth mother. I know most mums would say that motherhood is the hardest job they’ve ever had, but there’s no manual and it seems very few role models.

Let’s consider some family films. In Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty & the Beast, Pocahontas, Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Aladdin, Bambi, Big Hero 6, Nanny McPhee and the Sound of music, the mother is absent, often dead. Sometimes she is replaced by an alternative mother figure such as a wicked step mother or a too good to be true nanny and sometimes she isn’t. (BTW big time respect to all the single dads in those films.)

Then there are mums who are present in films but limited to supporting cast roles. Sarabi in the Lion King, Andy’s mum in Toy story, who is basically just some legs and Mrs Banks in Mary Poppins who comes in every now and then to say, “votes for women” before heading out again, leaving her children with whatever chimney sweep is to hand. Then there’s Peter Pan, which is a veritable quagmire of mothering issues. Wendy becomes a temporary mother to the lost boys who have no idea what a mother even is. She sings a song explaining that mothers are “heaven on earth. . . Divine”, which is quite moving given her own mother is essentially leaving her upbringing in the paws of Nanna the dog.

I thought about it some more and then I asked some mum friends if they could think of any solid, well rounded, mum roles, with fully developed characters from children’s movies. You’ll be relieved to know we did come up with some, eventually, but it took us a worrying amount of time.

My top five, in reverse order:

5: Mrs Jumbo – that momma elephant just loved her son and his massive ears. To this day I cannot watch the “Baby Mine” scene without crying. If you can, you have a heart of stone.

4: Morticia Addams – still passionately in love with her husband, caring mother, dutiful daughter and her make up is on FLEEEEEEK!

3: The mum in Home Alone – gosh she tries so hard to get home doesn’t she? However many flights it is she takes, offering up her money, jewellery & watch and then hitching a ride with John Candy. All to make it back to her son WHO SHE LEFT IN THE ATTIC WHILST THEY JETTED OFF TO PARIS FOR CHRISTMAS. This is probably my level of mothering. Must try harder.

2: Purdita in 101 Dalmatians. That incredible lady gives birth to 15 puppies, goes on a mission in the snow to rescue them and *spoiler alert* then adopts another 84 children! Flipping heck! What a humungous heart she must have. And yes I know Pongo is there too, thank goodness! Wouldn’t you need an extra set of paws with 99 puppies to look after?

And in the top spot it has to be. . .

1: Elastigirl – in both Incredibles films she kicks ass as a mother to her three children, a supportive wife and a superhero. She does the housework, feeds her children leftovers, breaks up sibling fights, gets annoyed at her husband, has insecurities about her body and makes stupid faces when feeding the baby. This is a woman I can relate to. She perfectly portrays the need to be flexible as a parent & also the feeling of being pulled in a million different directions, all the time. Then bouncing back and getting ready for whatever is thrown at you next.

There are others, obviously, just shy of the top 5 were the mums in ET and Mrs Doubtfire who didn’t spot an alien / their ex husband in their homes for what seems like an eternity.

I guess there are two things I’ve learned whilst mulling this topic over. The first is that there are a lot of characteristics which make you a mother besides pushing a child out of your foof. Secondly I am going to be the biggest (mother) role model my girls will ever know. That’s pretty intimidating.

Hopefully I’ll be able to imbibe a bit of Elastigirl’s flexibility, Purdita’s big heart, Mrs Jumbo’s protectiveness, Morticia’s stoicism and Mrs McCallister’s openness to admit mistakes. Even if I just master Morticia’s eye liner, that’ll do me.

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