Mother (Almost Never) Knows Best

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. 

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Secret Lives: The Mystery of Childhood

There have been times of late when I have felt that there has been an almost imperceptible shift in my family. It took some time for me to put my finger on precisely what had changed but I felt like I woke up one day and everything just seemed that little bit easier; that little bit less of a struggle. There was a little more time to put the dinner on, put the clothes away and get the hoover out. Fortunately, I managed to restrain myself from doing any of those things. Sure, I am still answering copious summons to the toilet where I am often greeted by a bare bottom being thrust in my direction thereby allowing me to “check” that the use of the first half of the toilet roll was sufficient but the other needs, whilst still plentiful, are not relentless in the way they once were. My children are discovering their independence and I am celebrating and lamenting in equal measure.

Where are you going? 

For the first born, the start of school has heralded a change in our relationship as she now spends the majority of her waking hours during the week away from me. I realise that the concept of school is not a new one and I probably should have been prepared for this but I don’t think I was ready for the her having a whole world away from me and for me to know so little about it. Don't get me wrong, I ask lots of questions, of both her and her teacher to try and gauge the pivotal moments from the day but the answers often just act to generate more questions. "Is she happy?", "Is she popular?", "Is she confident?" "Did she actually eat those peas she said she did at lunchtime?" I suspect I know the answer to the last one.

The school girl 

Meanwhile the youngest, while still having a temper like a bear with a migraine is, on occasion, to be found entertaining himself in his bedroom when his sister is not in the house. He can largely communicate to us what he wants (or "neeeeds") and whilst it may generally incur a negative parental response the resulting tantrum is half hearted and short lived. 

His two days at nursery are the highlight of his week but once again, due to his ability to mingle reality with a Paw Patrol storyline and his inability to understand the concept of time, his day often remains a mystery too.

He spent the day in a stab proof vest.
A STAB PROOF vest people!

It would seem that my babies are forging their own paths (albeit not too far away) and have elements of their own lives in which I am not allowed to partake. This theme seems to extend to their own sibling relationship. I longed for the day that I would take on the role of understudy; no longer being roped into playing pretend and having to act out multiple scenes from various Disney films but when I chance upon them playing together and hear the resultant peals of laughter I desperately want to join in. Unless, of course, it is Peter Pan then, quite frankly, they are welcome to leave me out of it.

The thing that I am struggling to define is exactly how I feel about it. I swing from the ache of a huge void that must be filled to relishing the freedom to pretend that I am doing the laundry when I am really scrolling down an Instagram vortex. Whilst I am (extremely) tempted to start the process all over again I am not sure one more child would ever be enough for me and that is ignoring the fact that with the life choices we have made we can barely afford the two we already have.

My friend once said that she often heard of someone with two children debating the third but rarely heard of the parent of three debating a fourth and therefore we must deduce that the third is one too far. However, she then went on to have a third so I don't listen to her anymore.

I think for now I am going to enjoy the minutes of freedom that their nugget of independence affords me and open a book or run an extra mile. I might just savour the relentless having relented even if only for a moment and spend a little more time choosing to ignore the housework rather than having to.

They still hold my hand... For now. 

Sunday, 13 January 2019

My Girl: Now You are Five

I saw you the other day but you didn't see me watching. I saw you as you ran to the side of that little girl after she slipped on the wet tiles by the pool. I watched as you knelt beside her and asked if she was OK before helping her to her feet. I looked on as you bestowed upon her one of your most empathetic embraces whilst she waited for her mummy to return and take away her pain.

It reminded me that you are one of the best human beings that I have had the pleasure of meeting. As a parent I know that it should be me who is showing the way but you make me want to be a better person. Your inate awareness and understanding of other people's feelings is the most special thing about you.

With your birthday (and full class soft play party) looming in the distance, the stress of ensuring that everything was going to run smoothly meant that I was completely taken a back when someone close to me pointed out that they couldn't believe you were going to be five when there was a time when we thought we were never going to get to meet you and then, having achieved that goal, a brief period when we feared you would not make your 1st never mind 5th birthday.

It is neither a time I would choose to relive nor would I ever wish such an ordeal upon another living soul. The cryptic uneasy glances shared across my lubricated swollen stomach by knowing health professionals; the calm ushering into a non descript room bare but for a box of tissues placed within easy reach; the measured even tones of the Consultant as she uttered the phrases "appears non viable", "likely chromosomal defects" and "need to wait for nature to take its course"; the endless waiting and aching need to dispel any seeds of hope which might take root and break me entirely.

Then there was the glimmer; the optimistic "let's give it one more week". You fought and you won. You made it out, albeit not entirely unscathed and with multiple minor battles still to be fought but you were here in all your 5lbs 3oz glory. The most beautiful shrivelled vole that I had ever seen.

My beautiful shrivelled vole

Then the questions started again. It would appear that your missing digit could have been a sign of a more pervasive problem, one which could include a "limited life span". There were blood tests, x rays taken of every minute bone in your tiny body and a series of grim looking professionals discussing your case. More waiting.

Then it was over. You were you. Different for sure, but amazing in every way.

So on this, your 5th, birthday I hope that the inability to demonstrate your new age using your right hand serves not as a reminder as to where you fall short but as a reminder of your inner strength. For before you had the capacity to make decisions you chose to live and when life isn't going your way (because sometimes it won't) I want you to look at your hand and remember that you are stronger than you realise with a courageous nature that runs deeper than you know. 

Happy Birthday Bear. 

To us you are perfect. 


Monday, 17 December 2018

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas: The Christmas Advert Debate

I know that I am super late to the party (but you know, life) but I want to talk to you about Christmas adverts. This year there seems to be a lot more debate on whether they have hit the (festive) mark.

I don't really remember the year that the yuletide advertisements became a phenomenon but my head wants to say that it was when John Lewis introduced us to the discontented little boy whom we observed crossing the days off the calendar with a frustrated strike of the pen while his parents shared rueful looks over the breakfast table only to discover that his vexation was rooted in his desperation to give rather than to receive. I am not sure we ever did find out exactly what he gifted his folks that Christmas morning (there were rumours of a severed head) but he definitely gave me the long sought warm fuzzy glow that I have been trying to recapture since childhood and the demise of that magical jolly fella in red.

The wait... 

Now though it seems that every one has jumped on the festive bandwagon from Aldi to Sainsburys and Visa to, rather incredulously, Heathrow airport. Correct me if I am wrong, but surely the choice of airport is less based on their ability to stir an ember of festive joy and more based on their accessibility, flight destinations, timing and price. Is there really any one in the UK seeing this on their TV for the first time and shouting "Mavis! Have you seen this? There is an airport in London. Seems to be overrun by bloody bears! Best stick to Southampton eh? Pass me another mince pie." I fear the promotional team may have merely been looking for some light relief having sold their souls as collateral for the fifth runway project.

Bloody bears... 

The big guns have spared no expense this year having enlisted the help of none other than Elton John; a move that appears to have divided the nation. The dreamers watch as Elton takes us back in time through a (fortuitously) glittering career to the Christmas morning when he was gifted a piano by his beloved mother who, no doubt, had to scrimp and save to afford it. They wipe their eyes as they imagine a series of potential virtuosos hurdling down the stairs bleary eyed on Christmas morning to be presented with the gift that will mould their futures. On the other hand, the more cynical members of the viewing population focus on the possible ulterior motives of Mr. John in light of his impending biopic due out next year. They might even comment on the John Lewis Partnership having only recently started selling musical instruments and question the likelihood of this extending beyond the festive period. They appear to be becoming increasingly enraged by the realisation that the multimillionaire might have actually been paid for his appearance.

Oh Elton... 

I find myself between the two camps. I have no issue with Elton John and yet less than no interest in watching his biopic. He is clearly a savvy businessman who is benefitting on all fronts and if I could do the same, I probably would. My issue is that it stirs nothing in me. I can glean no festive spirit from an ageing rockstar sitting on what is clearly a film set dressed to look like a working class house in the 50s pretending that he playing his childhood piano whilst warbling along to one of his (non festive) hits. Where are the bells? Where is the joy? Where is the tinsel damn it!

I myself am taking comfort in the Sainsbury's advert this year. After all, what is more festive than a children's nativity and what bigger role is there than that of the plug? 

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Where Do You Go To My Lovely: The Absent Mother

I am as stressed as an anxiety riddled dog on a battlefield on bonfire night. Despite consistently being reminded on all fronts that this is, in fact, the season to be jolly I am merely heaving myself from one day to the next whilst spinning more plates than a state banquet at Buckingham Palace. I am a mess.


You see it all started with a rare work trip abroad requiring me to leave my children for 5 days. This would be my inaugural work trip as management and whilst there was no pressure being put upon me by anyone other than myself, I was keen to appear effective and knowledgeable with an air of capability. Following several IT disasters, a plethora of mosquito bites and a sheer inability to master the buttons on the elevator in our shared hotel, my appearance was less die hard professional and more bumbling baffoon. Adding on to that a myriad of failed meetings and a thick layer of maternal guilt meant that by the time I returned home I felt that I had short changed everyone involved and all that my trip had served to do was allow me to selfishly spend time not having to be responsible for the offspring.

I did enjoy that.

I mean when you are dining out in places like this... 

Then I found myself liking it and was consumed by self loathing.

It was a complex battle of emotions.

My initial approach was to avoid contact with their little faces and the news of cherished mundane goings on at home. My 5 hour time difference and a hectic schedule of meet and greets meant my plan was fool proof. While my boss was constantly stepping out to call and check on how things were going at the homestead, I was sending a daily text as proof of life. You may think me callous but at no time was I concerned as to the welfare of my children, they were with two of the best and caring human beings in existence. I knew that when they asked about me (which they would), their queries would be met with a such a strong, and resilient reassurance of my love that they would feel infinitely more comforted than they would having heard my tear strained voice through a long distance phonecall. I found the easiest way to avoid the ache was to avoid thinking of them in their entirety and before I knew it I was enjoying my new sense of freedom. There were no lunches to be packed, no squabbles to referee and no wriggly, resistant toes to be dried after bathtime.

Not everyone is as anti-bathtime as me... 

I couldn't physically be with them and there was no early return available so I had to cope. We had decided as a family that saying yes to this trip was the best decision in the long run but being the "primary caregiver" acknowledged that it was going to be a wrench for everyone involved. I was prepared for the angst and the guilt (suffered from the comfort of business class) but what I hadn't expected was to feel a world away from the person I am on a daily basis. All of a sudden I wasn't rushing away to do the school run or collect the poorly child from their alloted care provider; for the four days I was only responsible for myself. I was effectively 24 years old again.

When I eventually did return I was met with a hero's welcome. There was a banner telling me how much I had been missed and long, heartfelt cuddles where I felt like I might never be released. Then after I got past the husband the children were pretty pleased too. I felt awful. I felt that I had not achieved enough on my work trip to justify either their distress at not having me or the expense to the company for taking me.

My welcome home... 

This sense of having disappointed on all fronts has resulted in my working during my unscheduled hours upon my return but being wholly distracted by an all-consuming guilt for doing so being that I am not devoting my time to the children whom I have abandoned so recently. I am pleasing no one.

Factor into this the upcoming nativity, Christmas shopping, hospital appointments for just about every member of the family, work deadlines and a stack of unwritten Christmas cards which are due to friends I have not had the chance to WhatsApp (never mind chat to) in the past few months means that I am an utter wreck.

Is there ever the right balance? Can it "all" really ever be had? What colour of tights do angels really wear? 

Answers on a postcard... 

Sunday, 18 November 2018

If: An Ode to the Mother

If you are familiar with Kipling's poem "If" where he describes the attributes required to be a grown up then I can only apologise. I have pillaged his fine verse and manipulated it to describe the attributes required to be a mother... 

If you are a member of the PTA or NCT, I do apologise. You are lovely people really. 

If you can't keep your head when mums about you   
    Are losing theirs and terrifying you,   
If you can't cope when your NCT doubt you,
    And make no allowance for their choice too;   
If you can wait - but be so tired of waiting,
    And make up lies -  but not be duped by lies,
Or have mated, but can't mind ever mating,
    And never look good, nor ever be wise:

Never look good

If you can't dream, when passed out on the pillow;   
    If you can't think— yet are always on, go!   
If you can't face the PTA once again
    And yet treat those impostors just the same;   
If you can't bear to hear your clich├ęs spoken
    Uttered despite promising to be "cool",
Or watch the things you have treasured be broken,
    And stoop to pick ’em up. Life can be cruel!

A dreamless sleep

If you can ignore the big heap of washing
   And rake through it for a top without sauce, 
And fail, leaving the house filthy for shopping
    And whilst dreading bumping into your boss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To answer cries in the dark around two,   
And stay awake when there's nothing left in you
    But the sheer need to protect this life, new.

New life

If you have the will to "pretend" one more time, 
    Or watch as food coats the walls where hands touch,
If dealing with the toddler poop now seems fine,
  And midnight vomit is much of a much. 
If all of your clothes either stretch or "control", 

    Your unwashed hair is scraped back in a bun;
If you can quote all six of the Paw Patrol, 
    Whilst navigating the morning's school run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a stressed out Mum!

Oh the stress... 

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 w...