Mother (Almost Never) Knows Best

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Everything Changes: Working Out the "Working Mother" Bit

It's been a big week this week and, no, we haven't sold our house. In fact, it is no longer even on the market which was both a heart breaking and entirely sensible decision on our part. How dull. We have opted to stick with the devil we know until we can afford what we want which, fingers crossed, should be an option available to us around the same time our daughter is eligible for retirement. Anyway, despite our domestic situation being something of an anticlimax, this week has heralded big changes, albeit predominantly, for me. After six and a half years of, what my brother terms, "bean counting" I have decided to change jobs. 

Taught her everything I know

This was not an easy decision to make. My current employer has seen me through two rather gruelling pregnancies, my daughter's numerous hospital admissions and appointments as well as my own diagnosis of diabetes and the rigmarole that that entails and whilst they may be one of the "Big 4" (a super uninteresting term for the most prolific Professional Services firms) they have acted like anything but. They have looked out for me and cared for me like I was part of a tight knit family (think more Brady Bunch and less Walford Mitchells). They have gone out of their way to make sure that part time working worked, not only for them, but for me and my family (and believe me, it took quite a lot of doing). They understood that I was the primary caregiver and there would be times when I was needed elsewhere. There were points when I would barely be in the office for days at a time as illness was passed from child to child (and then far too often) to parent and they never made me feel bad for it. They understood that each nativity performance was as momentous as the, undoubtedly, clashing deadline and they were more than willing to have me work from home on the rare occasion that my childcare fell through or, more often than not, when the school run took priority over my personal appearance. In short, they were bloody lovely.

Nativity performances were prioritised

The only teeny, tiny issue was that the work never really excited me. I never hated it but neither did I find myself intrigued to read further than what was entirely necessary. This was never a huge issue for me as plenty of people don't love what they do and the job still had more good points than bad. It allowed me to be the sort of parent I wanted to be so leaving never really crossed my mind. As a qualified accountant I would regularly be approached about "exciting opportunities" in the industry that I may be interested in but I knew that as soon as I revealed myself to be a part time worker they would disappear quicker than a tinder date when a bad case of herpes becomes apparent. I was accepting of the fact that I might not love what I do but I liked the people I worked with and it suited our family life. I knew that the only jobs advertised as "part time" were entry level, administrative type affairs that could never command the (albeit middling) salary to which we had become accustomed. 

It was fine. 

being the parent I wanted to be

Until I saw "the job". It was a mix of the subject I used to love and the skills I had acquired over the past six years. It had the potential to excite and engage me in a way that my current job had not. It was perfect. Except that it was full time. 

Medicine: but more people fewer animals

Now, I am all for every type of parenting: full time worker/full time parent, part time worker/full time parent, occasional worker/full time parent and full time parent full stop. Horses for courses I say, but as a family we need to balance the income with the childcare which means full time for him (the more substantial earner) and part time for me. At the minute we have no wriggle room on this but Reader, I applied anyway! The plan was to throw my hat into the ring then politely decline any further interview when informed that full time was non negotiable. I could leave the provess telling myself that I had tried my best but it wasn't to be and return to the cosy embrace of my current employer with some more interview experience under my belt. 

Then they uttered the seductive phrase that every primary caregiver - cum- worker longs to hear: "you tell us when you want to work and we will work around you". Damn it. 

Now there was a choice: a viable option. I could leave but did I want to? Staying where I was was safe. I knew what was expected of me and (since resigning have been reliably informed that) I wasn't too bad at it. It was comfortable, much like those jogging bottoms with the visible elastic that you've had since the late 90s but refuse to throw out because they don't cling to your lumpy bits the way your other clothes do. On the other hand though, there was the potential of something new; the potential of something that might make me feel good. Maybe something with a little more form but also a little, dare I say, sparkle? 

SPOILER ALERT: I took the job. 

I took the leap

So now I wait. Now I have broken the news to the people who have seen me through the most awful times and the best. I have left the warm embrace of a team I know, enjoy and understand  to move toward the unknown. I don't know what the new job will really be like or whether I will rue the day I left the almost perfect set up but the possibility of loving what I do was enough to tempt me to try. 

Fingers crossed x

Monday, 25 March 2019

In Da Club: The Youngest Turns Three

And just like that you are three.

Well to be honest you tell me you are nine (what with that being your favourite number) but the passage of time and my keen memory of the birthing process tells me that you are, in fact, three years of age. While we are on the subject of honesty, I have to unburden myself and tell you something that has been weighing on my mind. We lied to you. It was actually your birthday last Tuesday but I was the only one around and your sister had her swimming lesson so we thought it best to ignore the day and celebrate it (and you) the following Saturday. You would not believe how that one act divided opinions and my word, did people share their opinions! I do like to think that you are relatively unscathed by our deceit but I am sure you (and your therapist) will feed back to me in the fullness of time.

I like to use these annual punctuations to take stock of the person you are and the things that currently tickle your fancy so that I can cling to your infant state forever. So, if you are sitting comfortably we shall begin.

You are:

1, Charming
You have learnt the subtle art of flirtation and are using it to your advantage. People see you (your beautiful face makes sure of that) and they watch as you converse with your companion (be it person, animal or inanimate object) and tell them that “it’ll be okay. [Max] is here” before bestowing the most gentle of cuddles.

"It's okay. [Max] is here"

You have mastered a coy expression which you introduce to full effect upon meeting strangers but are also keen to display your ability to count, perform simple addition and inform them of your daily activities (generally accompanied by a nonchalant arm cross and worldly nod of the head.)

2. Frustrated
You get angry. A lot. We haven’t quite worked out the reason as your vocabulary is quite extensive despite often returning to a few key phrases:
“Good point Mummy!”
“Let’s talk about volcanoes”
“Mummy, I love you”
“You be Maxi and I’ll be Mummy”
“Can you make Sharky/Tiny Doggy/this random bath toy talk?”

In a one- on- one situation you are the best company and have the sweetest nature a persona which will continue so long as you have the other party’s full attention all of the time. If their attention were to be diverted for any reason (from meeting a casual acquaintance to saving a pot that had boiled over) you will go full gremlin and release an impassioned squeal that renders your veins bulging from your neck and your hands bundled so tightly that your fingernails almost draw blood. Laughing at this point does not help.

Sharing is so far beyond your remit that it is not even a speck on the horizon and at best is merely the notion that you might consider the concept at some less crucial point in your life and with something you never really owned in the first place (i.e. anything your sister is playing with.)

We are working on this.

Woe is you. 

3. Funny
You make us laugh, everyday and I mean genuinely howl with laughter. You seem to understand humour before we expected and will regularly use it to defuse a situation. Your routine move will be to bring out the “robot” dance where you employ a series of jerky movements and roll your eyes towards the back of your head.

You love to pretend to change roles and dissolve into giggles when we choose to impersonate you when consumed by one of your rages. With fists in armpits we lower our chins, gaze from beneath our upper eyelids, take a deep sigh and say “Mummy, don’t make me angry.” You just about end yourself, every time.

No words. 

4. Affectionate
I don’t know if this is a boy thing as frankly with only one of each of you to reference it could just be a you- and- your- sister thing but you cannot get enough physical affection. When your sister emerged from the womb she flatly refused to be put down right up to the point of walking but since mastering the ability to reach her destination independently she does not have time for physical affection. Frankly, she is too busy planning world domination (albeit through kind acts). You, on the other hand, may have to be surgically removed from me at some point. Your favourite thing to do is sit on the couch and read books so long as you get to sit on my lap and burrow in as far as the human form will permit. You cry if anyone forgets to give you a goodbye kiss and bask in people’s need to squeeze you when you say something sweet.

I love it.

Things you like:

1. Paw Patrol
Don’t you just. Paw Patrol seems to speak to your soul and Chase is your alter ego. We have all been given roles with your father being Ryder (the dog owner), Moomie as Rocky (because she fixes things), your Sister as Skye/Everest (storyline dependent) and myself inhabiting the role of Zuma (this involves a lot of swimming which also happens to be my least favourite activity so thank you for that). You seem to love the emergency service they provide to Adventure Bay and the hapless Mayor Goodway and seek comfort in the programme’s complete absence of peril (read “anything interesting happening whatsoever.”)

For six months you have been planning your Paw Patrol themed birthday party and I like to think we didn’t disappoint but if we could move on to something a little more stimulating in the near future I would be very grateful.

In fact, I beseech you.

Paw Patrol Hell

2. Sharky
After an impromptu (and rather successful) trip to sea world on the long journey south to visit your grandparents you were allowed to choose a memento from the toy shop. Where Your sister opted for the incredibly life like pink turtle with purple flowers on their head, you plumped for the tooth- baring, cuddly Great White. I made the mistake of bestowing voices and personalities upon the sea creatures as an attempt to entertain you when your sense of humour ran out at the end of the pilgrimage. This was a more successful diversion than I anticipated and now we frequently (if not daily) have debriefs with the crew about anything and everything; the more mundane and banal the better.

The Adventures of Sharky

3. Firefighters
Even at such a young age you have decided that your career as a firefighter is a foregone conclusion despite being absolutely consumed by terror at the sight of a candle.

The witching hour pre-bedtime is often spent running up and down the hallway in your firefighter pyjamas with your imaginary hose putting out a series of imaginary fires. This has made me broach the possibility of Fireman Sam as a viewing option but I was met with an adamant refusal (see your issues with peril, flame and forsaking the canine breed.)

Fighting with (his fear of) fire 

4. Anything your sister has
I mean anything. Were you sister to contract a hideously painful disease you would probably still want it and wail about the injustice of “Cha-lotte not sharing!” The issue we have is that she relents and will, more often than not, issue a shrug of the shoulders, a knowing look and bestow her possession upon you as she opts for the easy life. No one’s fault per se but not helping prepare you for life.

We are working on this.

You are in summary a loving, impassioned and complex character; a product of all of those around you and yet entirely your own person. We would not have you any other way.

All the love

Although if you were able to reign in the almighty rages we would be eternally grateful.

All my love

Mummy x

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Coming Clean: Confessions of an Untidy Mother

The times are a changing. We have laughed in the face of Brexit fear and made the rather rash decision to put our home on the market. “So what?” I hear you cry. “Who cares? You are not the first to do this and you won’t be the last. What is the big deal?” 

We are “live”

The “big deal” my friends is that we currently have nowhere to go. The "big deal” kind reader is that we have two small children. The “big deal” loyal souls is that we are not, by nature, very tidy as a family. In that respect I fear we fall very short of everyone else’s mark. I placate my anxious self with reassurances of “it’s not like we are unhygienic” and “we do have two small children to look after” but in reality I fear that my husband and I will still be resolutely untidy until the day we shuffle off this mortal coil.

Now I know that Husband will be reading this with a resolute shake of his head while inwardly exclaiming that he does all of the laundry and that every so often he does set aside a time to do an overhaul of the homestead and I will admit that he is marginally more intuitive of the jobs that are required before the situation becomes desperate but, and believe me there is a “but”, he piles. He piles everything and that pile will become part of the furniture; gradually moulding itself into the contours of the room. 

He, too, embraces the chaos 

I, on the other hand, am blind to the gradual deterioration but merely wake one day to the realisation that I appear to live in a squat; the surfaces are no longer visible and my children are down to their last set of pyjamas. I then get to action (following a dramatic and self loathing outburst) and afterwards, thinking I have done a fairly good job, smugly flaunt my handiwork to my mother who will inevitably rectify the situation to a much higher standard. Tidiness is just not in my nature and, unfortunately for her, she is used to it.

In fact, my husband is the only person who has actually learned to cope with my mess and I genuinely believe that is because, as with most things, in this we are equals. All flat mates (even those who were, and are to this day, counted amongst my best friends) ran for the hills after a few months of living with me. It’s not that I don’t care about my belongings (although I wouldn’t consider myself to be materialistic) but I just don’t seem to notice their erratic dispersal about our abode. If it were left to me laundry would be done on the basis of immediate requirement rather than a need to see the bottom of the basket, ironing would be saved for essential work items and the windows would be washed when it is starting to look unseasonably foggy in June. 

“What is this Mummy?”

I’ve attempted to rectify the situation and even had my fair share of cleaners but they all seemed to do a great job on day one before making a half hearted effort thereafter. This was probably my own fault as I didn’t really know what to ask them to do and, in all honesty, I was pretty uncomfortable asking them to do anything. The foray into professional help was short lived.

When the kids came along we just embraced it and put it down to tiredness, infant paraphernalia, toddler toys and the short attention span of children when it came to activities. We would spend the vast majority of the weekend outdoors and would rarely invite anyone into our house preferring to socialise at parks, cafes and other people’s homes. It wasn’t that we had dirty plates or soiled clothes lying around but the whole place appeared chaotic not just because of the “laundry couch”. There would be the odd occasion where we would have people round and remedial actions would be taken but descended into its previous state. 

Note the “laundry couch” in the background

At the tail end of last year we decided to sell our house. It wasn’t because of the mess, I mean, we’re not that bad. It just felt like the right time (ignoring Brexit, the ever present threat of a second independence referendum, job changes and night time potty training). We tidied, painted, scrubbed and put two car loads worth of belongings into storage and then, basking in our efforts, we invited the estate agent in and showed her around with unashamed pride. 
"Well you would need to declutter obviously...” Just brutal.

I see clutter, they see joy.

We are not ones to ignore advice though and two further car loads (including some unopened 5th birthday presents) were packaged off to the lock up. We were “live” in estate agent speak, “on the market” in anyone else’s. Viewings were coming thick and fast which meant that we had to diligent in maintaining the tidy state. Our drawers were fit to burst and we could find nothing but our house reflected a serenity that we could only dream of. It was exhausting. The children were routinely being hollered after to “hang that up!”, “that’s not where that lives!” and “we are trying to keep this place tidy!” It was fun for all the family but the only thing is, if we can’t pick up after ourselves how we can expect them to?

You can always try...

Saturday, 16 February 2019

I Want To Break Free: The Story of A Special Foot

This week we had to say goodbye to an old friend; a constant in our lives. The farewell was hugely anticipated and yet seemed to take us by surprise when it finally arrived. This week has witnessed the end of my daughter's nocturnal partnership with her "boots and bars".

Magic Shoes
For those who don't know, my daughter's rather difficult pregnancy resulted in her having been born with a "unilateral talipes" (to give it its medical title) or a "club foot" (to give it its rather archaic, colloquial term). It meant that, having been deprived of the the luxury of growing room in the womb, when she emerged all pink and shrivelled like a baby mole the sole of her foot was turned up towards her face like a flower seeking out the warmth of the sun. A pretty analogy but not much use to walk on.

We were forearmed on this one as when our 20 week "anomaly scan" had discovered just that the local health service had a plan and within a week of diagnosis they had packaged us off to meet the specialist physiotherapist at the children's hospital. Still grieving the loss of our "normal" child, we were ushered into the treatment room to discuss the next steps (so to speak) only to be abruptly woken from our self pity by the multitude of cupboards entitled "airway equipment", "cystic fibrosis essentials" and "mobility aids". This was by no means a worst case scenario; this issue was both rectifiable and non life threatening. Whilst we were warned that our child was unlikely to compete at an Olympic level or a perform as a professional ballerina she would walk, she would skip, she would run but more than that; she would live.

Totes profesh

So after she came along we trotted off to meet with our foot guru and have our new arrival assessed in person. The foot was no better nor worse than the physio had expected based on the scan and, as discussed antenatally, she would require a series of full length leg casts to slowly manipulate the foot from its turned in position towards a more natural sole- to- the- floor appearance. Now, keeping a full length cast on a wriggly baby is no mean feat (pardon the pun) and there were multiple occasions over the next 12 weeks when we would have to run to the hospital brandishing a cast in one hand and a startled baby under the other; desperately proclaiming that all the efforts would be undone were it not put back on in an instant. When we did eventually make it through the first 3 months and it was finally time for the big reveal we were delighted with the results. She had a matching pair!

However, we were then informed that she would need an operation to remedy her excruciatingly tight achilles tendon before the next stage of treatment could commence. So at the tender age of 12 weeks we presented her for her pre-op assessment having kept her nil by mouth for what felt like an inhumane amount of time for one so small. They too seemed to recognise this and she was put first on the operating list. We were relieved and terrified in equal measure. When invited to accompany her down to the anaesthetic room I could not face it and selflessly let the husband fulfil the role. He eventually reappeared looking haunted. He recanted the tale of how she had been all fighting spirit and then was gone; a limp doll only vaguely recognisable as our precious little girl.

Needless to say, several hours later we were informed that the operation had been a success and her last full length cast had been applied. Two weeks later, our relief at finishing the series of casts was short lived, as she was then strapped into her first set of "boots and bars". This apparatus was initially to be worn 23 hours of the day for a 12 week period before being reduced to 12 hours of the day until she was 5 years of age. 

She did not care for this.

Following her first fitting we decided to go for a family day out taking in the fresh sea air and a pub lunch. Being like any other 4 month old she opted to perform her necessary ablutions in her car seat resulting in every nook and crevice being infiltrated and a full strip and hose down essential and yet nigh on impossible in our current surroundings. My husband gamely took her into the nearest accessible toilets and attempted to liberate her from her new apparatus and rectify the situation. From my seat in the bar I issued apologetic looks to the other customers who were hostage to the ensuing cacophony erupting from the nearby facilities as my daughter let her feelings be known. Husband staggered out, battle weary and downed his (now tepid) coffee. It was home time.

Broken. Just broken. 

Having said that I honestly cannot recall another time when the boots and bars were truly an issue. Our little girl has always been open to reason and whilst she has questioned whether she had to don them yet again, she has always been amenable and understood the long term goal. Our long standing night time routine of bath, teeth, toilet, boots and bars, book and bed has become second nature and even the youngest has taken on the role of clicking the bar into place for his big sister before storytime. For us, it was normal but as the date of completion emerged on the horizon I saw, perhaps for the first time, how desperate she was to rid herself of her nocturnal companions.

The countdown was on.

5 years worth of "boots and bars"

Realistically there was no obvious reason why further time or manipulation would be recommended. She had passed every quarterly check with flying colours. She could run, hop and skip with the best of them. So, against my nature, I was cautiously optimistic where she was terrified. As ever, terrified of failure and of letting others down. She needn't have been. She received a big fat stamp of approval and was released on parole.

A happier child you never did see.

That smile. 

So now we are acclimatising to our new normal. It is taking some time and there are still occasions when we have taken our positions on the couch before realising that there is no apparatus required. In some ways I miss the feeling of having a defined, tangible role in helping her with the physical burdens she has to bear but these feelings are quickly dispelled by the sound of the pitter patter of her (unusually) tiny feet in the morning as she gets herself out of bed for the first time in 5 years. 

Everything Changes: Working Out the "Working Mother" Bit

It's been a big week this week and, no, we haven't sold our house. In fact, it is no longer even on the market which was both a hea...