Mother (Almost Never) Knows Best

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.

Stressed

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... 

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Some Day I'll Be Saturday Night: The Week That Never Ends


Well it has been quite the week on the rodeo of life that is parenting small children. The universe seemed to delight in making the stars align in such a way that an astrological apocalypse was created, if you believe in that sort of thing, interfering with my week as a working mother of two young children.

Let me walk you through it:


Monday

As we were on the 2.5 mile round trip to school, the wheel of the pram (and sole transportation device for the highly time pressured morning drop off) snapped beyond repair leaving it to limp sadly along the road with an air of Del Boy's Reliant Robin. Having coaxed it back down the hill and waved my husband and the The Toddler off to coax it home, I headed into the office to start my working week. As I settled myself down to work, opening my laptop and passing some light chit chat with my colleagues about the weekends events (theirs lavish and fun-filled, mine protracted and potty-based) I answered the phone to a rather distressed husband who, upon returning home had discovered that we were imminently about to be revisited by all of our son’s contributions to the family reunion in Pooland and was requesting the number of a "decent drain man". I have quite the little black book, clearly.



Tuesday

I woke with renewed optimism as the drains had been remedied and a new wheel was winging its way to us in the post. This was extremely fortunate as it was a day when optimism would be crucial as I had to run the gauntlet that is swimming lessons; solo. Now you may think that I am being overly dramatic and I am sure that there are parents in their droves who routinely deal with two small children in a swimming pool without too much anguish whatsoever. However I am not one of them. Dealing with two hungry, grumpy, slippery dictators who are reluctant to leave the fun of the pool never mind help in their drying and dressing is akin to wrangling a lubricated, enraged octopus into a leather one piece. Twice.

In all honesty though, the ordeal of swimming was merely the cherry on the top of this day following our impromptu voyage into town after the school drop off. Mixing a borderline potty trained toddler who has a penchant for trying out all the local facilities available to him with the first real cold snap of the year (rendering his bladder overactive and thimble sized) was, perhaps in hindsight, a touch cavalier but you will recall that I was feeling somewhat optimistic that morning. Having merely vacated the third premises a matter of moments earlier, the toddler emitted a shriek for "potty!" at such a pitch that it would have been injudicious of me to ignore his plea. The nearest convenience was (inconveniently) four floors above and only accessible by a single lift which moved at the pace of a fatigued snail so by the time we reached our destination the toddler was shedding clothes at a terrifying rate of knots as he ran towards his target. I too, ditched everything I was carrying in order to airlift him onto the receptacle in time.

We made it. My phone? Not so much.



Wednesday

Wednesday was a fiasco from beginning to end. My mother routinely treks across the country to provide childcare for us on a Wednesday thereby allowing me to hold down some form of employment without bankrupting ourselves on nursery fees. Today however, an ill judged petits four after lunch with the girls on the preceding day had resulted in a fractured front crown and a trip to the emergency dentist which meant I was left to partake in a business call with my youngest attempting to sit on my head. Totes profesh.



Thursday

Thursday was doomed before it began. I returned from a late hospital appointment the previous evening to the news that The Toddler was lurgy filled, spiking a temperature, intolerant of everybody and everything and, as a result, had taken to his bed at an unprecedented early hour. We settled on half hourly checks (never ones to overreact) and my mother called at half past ten to relay her concerns of meningitis. Needless to say sleep was sparse. It was determined prior to his waking that a GP visit was essential so the husband delayed his own GP duties to drop the Big One off at school to allow me to partake in the ridiculous system that our medical practice operates whereby patients must present on the morning to be seen as part of a triage system. With a two hour wait ahead of us (and a mandatory training course on the other side of the country beckoning) I was a touch frustrated to see the toddler terrorising the rest of the waiting room as "Spider Max" showing no signs of being anything other than brimming with health and vitality.

Damn you child.



Friday

Husband had to go away for the weekend and I was entirely understanding right up until the point that there was a double danger nap. At five o'clock. Enough said.


Saturday

Today is still ongoing and whilst I generally like to remain open minded, being that this day started at four thirty and has involved liquid poop I feel that perhaps I should just submit and wait until the stars shift or Mars does its retrograde thing.

Tomorrow is a new day.



Thursday, 25 October 2018

Don't Speak: The Toddler Learns to Talk

My youngest is hitting that "good age", you know the one I mean; when their vocabulary extends beyond "Daddy" (accompanied by a wistful look and a clammy hand round his neck) and "No Mummy!" (two words that are never to be separated, clearly attributing blame for everything from third world poverty to why mud doesn't taste so good.) Now though, we are hearing those words being strung together into coherent sentences, so articulate (by the third attempt and with a firm grasp of the back story) and insightful ("triceratops DOES have a horn, my darling!") that no one can possibly dispute his superior intellect.


High brow conversationalist. 

His new found prowess with the spoken word just seems to have made life that little bit easier for all concerned. I (mostly) understand him and he understands me, despite deliberately choosing to disregard everything I say. He and his sister play so well together (now that he can follow orders and mimic feline behaviour upon demand) that I hope to soon be usurped as the lead in our impromptu (and yet critically acclaimed) household productions. The ability to reason with him is within touching distance (on a good day) and he is turning out to be quite the conversationalist.


They are forming an alliance. 

However, getting to this point (and I suspect moving beyond) has not been without its hurdles. There have been times when his mispronunciations have rendered us utterly bewildered,  convulsing with laughter and, on one occasion, absolutely toe- curlingly mortified when he started screaming "You can't!" at the top of his lungs but misemployed a "u" rather than an "a" in the second word.

Our much less offensive and therefore endearing mispronunciations to date include (but are not limited to) "poop-pets" when describing the toy he had created by donning his socks on his hands during a long car journey, "empehent" for the giant grey creature with tusks and a trunk and "ear-muffins" in reference to his sisters winter headgear. Whilst these examples still make me laugh on the inside I pity the fool who allows their lip curl upwards in his presence lest you forget that "it is NOT FUNNY!"


Just not funny... 

His frustrations do not stop there I am afraid. Should you fail to comprehend the information which he is desperately trying to impart, he will repeat the phrase a maximum of three times before raising his clenched fists, gritting his teeth and making a shrill, blood curdling scream thereby ensuring that you are fully aware that you have displeased him. I once had a rather protracted conversation with him about the number of ways in which I did not resemble the rotund, balding effigy of a medieval heroic figure to which he was directing my gaze whilst declaring "That's you! That's you, Mummy!" It was only upon dodging the flailing limbs and rupturing my left ear drum that I realised he had probably been pointing out a "Statue! Statue Mummy!" I should never have doubted him. Did I tell you that he is really clever?

Hopefully all these things will be in the past now that his vocabulary is expanding at a terrifying rate of knots. The one aspect of the toddler which I hadn't factored in, however, is their rather brutal honesty. My first child left the womb exuding empathy; she would cuddle you if you looked anything less than delighted and when her words arrived they were always thoughtful and considerate. My youngest has little time for that. He frequently keeps me updated on the squishiness of my stomach, the prevalence of my grey hairs and the number of wrinkles that adorn my tired face. 

Brutal honesty

Maybe I won't rush the arrival of the rest of his vocabulary.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Let It Go: The Subtle Art of Potty Training

This week has involved exponential loads of laundry, protracted periods spent on unforgivingly cold and hard tiled flooring and a multitude of poetic musings on the potential emotions that faecal matter may experience when finally reunited with their long lost family. For this week we have been potty training.
I will admit that I have been putting it off for a while. 

I have, in fact, previously denied my son access to a toilet having cruelly met his inaugural utterance of the phrase "POT POT!" with "Good boy for asking but you might just need to go in your nappy this time". In hindsight, a bit harsh but in my defence, we were on a motorway and I really don't like pulling over, or driving, or having urine stain my shoes. However, as he started to verbalise his preference for the porcelain over the junior Tena lady on a more regular basis the proverbial bullet had to be bitten.
The Holy Grail

The first step was to go underwear shopping for some "Big Boy Pants" that he couldn't possibly bear to part with should they become sullied by some rogue activity from his nether regions. Superheroes seemed to be his preferred theme but he was reminded that these gallant avengers were at his mercy. His poop was their nemesis.

"There is nothing to fear but fear itself" AND poop. Obvs. 

We were timid at first, choosing to loiter around the house with The Boy roaming trouser free and flaunting his pants to any passing visitor/delivery man while we punctuated each sentence with "Do you need to go pot- pot?“ and" Remember that Batman will need to go in the bin if the poop gets him" - a lesser known fact applicable to all masked avengers. We would hear his strained vocals, witness his straight legged stance and immediately enquire as to whether he needed a vessel into which his imminent deposit could be made. When he would immediately answer in the negative, we would play on his love for his novel wardrobe addition by decreeing them to be lost forever should they fall victim to his bodily excretion. An assessment that would induce him to instantly reabsorb any faecal matter which maybe making its way towards the light.

After 48 hours or so we became emboldened by the lack of reverse banana hammocks and started to reintroduce more layers on the bottom half. This bolstered us with false confidence as we played loose and free with the olfactory nerves; lifting the toddler in the air and taking deep, almost meditative, inhalations to assess the situation on a regular basis. Sure, we were accident free but we had had to imprint a map of public toilets, anonymous department stores and friendly establishments whom we could access at a moments notice should the need arise, and it did. With a disturbing and relentless frequency.


At least he dressed for easy access... 

As my work days approached and the baton of childcare was about to be passed to the Mother ship, The Boy's stomach had started to bloat to the point that he resembled an off season Santa who was prone to overindulgence and was yet to don his whiskers for the winter season. Yet, still that turtle refused to emerge from its hiding place. We were all on tenter hooks.

We were all living on the edge

In the end it took a communal visit to the bathroom with his beloved mentor/sister and the decision to coach one another through the birthing process. When it finally happened, he frightened himself by turning to look at what had been lurking within and was startled to find the potty straining to contain what must have constituted half his bodyweight not five minutes earlier. Party poppers were discharged with wild abandon, anthemic songs were chanted and everyone hugged amid slaps on the back and tears of pride being wiped from their smiling faces. We had done it. I felt like lighting a cigar.


I returned to work with a spring in my step and when I received a phone call the next day from my mother to relay the magical story of how The Boy had reenacted the event that very morning, I was beaming with a pride so overwhelming that I had to relay the news to my unsuspecting work colleagues. An act I immediately regretted as I witnessed their faces adopt what can only be described as a mixture of dismay and disgust. My mother's pride was so palpable that she later confused my enquiry into how their day was going with a request for a more detailed assessment of his faecal matter. A request that she happily and rather illustratively attended to as a matter of priority.

Communications took a dark turn

We are now four days into no accidents and two poos down. Whilst I would be cavalier to declare Gotham to be safe from imminent harm I do believe that the masked avenger is definitely getting his strut back.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Get Back Up Again: When Parenthood Doesn't Go To Plan


Now I know I said I was going away for a while and you may be thinking that that initial declaration was somewhat insincere being that I am now here again a mere two weeks later but, much like an aged rocker answering the call to play his greatest hits, I am back but this time on request from one of my favourite people on the planet. You see, as a family we have been dealt a rather cruel hand of late and whilst the details of this particular person's predicament are not mine to tell they have occupied my thoughts and tainted my daily experiences to such a degree that my tales of merely surviving parenthood seemed to fade into a banal triviality. There seemed little point and an overriding sense of self indulgence in sitting down to write about my toddler's unwillingness to reunite his poo with its long lost family who reside in the sewars of Edinburgh (we'll get to that) when I could have been spending my time worrying (with its proven innate protective powers), consoling, falsely reassuring or researching the many methods in which to restore this person to her previous salubrity.

Superhero he may be... 

However, this weekend I took an enforced leave (by my husband) from parenting my own children and went to see her hoping to assuage my own concerns and dole out some intense, medicinal hugs. We talked, we laughed (probably harder than our pelvic floors were prepared for), we ate (a lot of superfood based meals) and we identified at least sixty two examples of her three month old's intellectual prowess. Parental leave well spent.

Time spent squeezing babies is always time well spent

Now whilst I cannot begin to compare any experience that we may have had as parents to what she is currently going through there are elements of her current situation which bring rather unsettling memories to the fore.

Feeling Short Changed by Life
When we learned of the complications of our first pregnancy and the ensuing differences that my daughter was going to have to live with for the rest of her life, I distinctly remember feeling like we were incredibly hard done by. We had done everything right. We had waited for (almost) the right time financially, we had been living a healthy lifestyle at the time of conception (although maybe not by Gwyneth Paltrow's standards) and we had a strong track record of robust health on our side. 

Complications in pregnancy were minimal in the family tree and there was certainly nothing beyond the point of getting those two pesky precursors to unite so with that first blue line in the all important window there was part of me that felt we were home free.

So when it all began to unravel I felt cheated. I felt angry. I felt like we were undeserving of such a cruel turn of events. Why us? What had we ever done to deserve this?

The harsh truth of the matter is nothing. We had done nothing wrong. It wasn't right, it wasn't fair and we definitely didn't deserve it but life doesn't dole out your allotment based on what is right or what is fair. As it turned out, we were merely asking the wrong question of the universe. Rather than asking why it was us we should have been asking why not us?

Everything Will Be Alright

The Lost Maternity Leave
After my daughter hurled herself from the womb two weeks early, undersized and brandishing her nine fingers and ten toes in our general direction we were immediately treated differently. We were whisked into a side room and striked from the list of routine post delivery checks to be performed by the junior doctor and etched onto the much shorter list for the consultant paediatrician to perform where the assessment would be carried out in the most painstaking and methodical manner.

All the plans for baby classes and mummy groups were instantly discarded and replaced with doctors appointments and dates with scanners. Development milestones loomed in the distance with an aching desperation, not for her to excel but for her to merely attain within an acceptable window of time. Baby clothes were not purchased based on their aesthetics (except by my mother) but for their ability to provide easy access to her various bandages and equipment. Sleep was lost, not solely based on her partiality for nocturnal activities but due to the terrorising worries that would pervade my mind in the small hours of the morning.

It was only when the date for my return to work appeared on the calendar that I realised my maternity leave had ended before it had even begun.

Back to Work 


The Cruelty of Genetic Testing
When the first mutterings were made that there may be a possible genetic cause for my daughter's differences, we were struck dumb. To learn that the essence of your being, the part of you that made you who you are before you were even a person, may have been predestined to sabotage you and those you love in one of the worst ways imaginable is a horror that I would not inflict on my worst enemy.

Although we learned (when our daughter was 3 months old) that there was no obvious genetic cause for her individual handprint the intervening period was quite possibly the greatest test our marriage will ever have. My husband and I recently discussed this time in our lives and found our experiences to have been significantly different. Where a positive (in the worst way possible) result would likely lead to our daughter either having profoundly increased needs or a dramatically shortened lifespan my husband envisioned us remaining a stoical family of three; standing strong together and enjoying the time that we had to the best of our ability. In stark contrast, I couldn't envision how we could possibly stay together in the knowledge that our genetic make up had come together to punish our daughter in such a cruel fashion. What would we do if it happened, albeit accidentally, again? 

I can honestly say that I have always loved my husband but I seriously contemplated divorce at this juncture. I don't think either of us was right or wrong and neither of us are more invested in this marriage than they other it was just an instinctive reaction to an unprecedented turn of events.

Hey ho, it was negative. So married we stay.

Marriage: The Ultimate Test

The Test of Friendship
No one should ever feel tested as a friend but unfortunately there are occasions in life when friendships will be truly tested and, hopefully, forever cemented by the shared experience of something truly awful happening to one party and I choose to find something rather heartwarming in this. When the worst happens the nature of the human condition is to expose their true self and act on their gut instinct. People either prove themselves to be the best of friends, surprise you with a devotion that you didn't know they felt or leave you feeling a little disappointed in their lack of understanding or empathy.

Sometimes the worst times of our lives bring out the best people we never truly knew we had and whilst I would never chose to have gone through what we did I do appreciate everyone who helped us on the way.

Every cloud and all that


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 b...