I was standing in the garden hanging washing on the line when I heard the sound of a fork being stirred around a glass in the kitchen. And I realised that I knew without looking exactly was happening in that room.
I knew that Leon had cracked two eggs into a glass to make an omelette. I knew which pan was on the hob, and that there was a tortilla wrap warming in the microwave. And I knew that in a few minutes there would be grated cheese absolutely chuffing everywhere.
After almost 17 years together, there’s not much that surprises us about each other. Some might say that’s a bad thing, but I don’t think it is. I take great comfort in the predictable. It’s taken us years to build a life we can depend on, and that helps us handle whatever surprises life throws our way.
It occurred to me how many unknowns we’ve had to face in order to end up here. How many risks we had to take. All the times we had to be brave. How much of life starts with walking into a room, telling a bunch of strangers your name, and seeing what happens.
I found myself thinking about all this because our daughter starts school this week. A whole new chapter of unknowns is about to begin. I’m excited for her and I believe she will flourish. But I’m also nervous as there’s so much I don’t know. Who she’ll be friends with, what she’ll like, what will make her feel happy, sad, and every emotion in between.
So big and yet so small
One of the things I’ve found hardest since having our daughter is how little I can control. Like any mum, I want an easy, happy life for my children without even a moment of turmoil. But of course I can’t promise that. We created life, and life is unpredictable.
But what I can do is let her know what she can depend on. That we believe in her. How loved she is. That she can talk to us about anything. And that if she asks if she can watch an episode of Hey Duggee I’m pretty much always going to say yes because I LOVE Duggee.
I’ve been quite enjoying going through the multitude of administrative motions that come with preparing your child for school. Buying the uniform. Participating in class WhatsApp groups. Having her feet measured. Printing name labels. I like getting organised, and I also like distracting myself from my emotions with tasks. Don’t we all?
But then I found myself putting a little name sticker inside her school shoes and suddenly felt the need to cry.
Our little girl is simultaneously so big and so small. Big enough to wear a pinafore and carry a book bag and head off for a busy day in Reception. Small enough that I’m worried she won’t know which shoe to put on which foot after P.E when I’m not there to show her.
A new pattern awaits
I don’t doubt that she is ready for a new environment, to learn, and to form new friendships. I’m just not sure that I’m ready to accept the pace at which children grow up.
After she was born, I took a year’s maternity leave and I’ve had every Monday and Tuesday free since to spend with her. They’ve been quite the rollercoaster as we’ve moved from the baby years into toddler town, from lockdown chaos into life with her baby brother in tow. I thought that time would last forever, but here we are. Now it’s her brother’s turn to join me for playgroups and park trips while she ventures out into the world.
I am aware that she’s not moving out, and that we’ll be together a lot of the time still. I’m just a bit stunned that the pre-school period of her life is over already. What they say is true – the days are long but the years are short.
I’m looking forward to what a new routine will bring. To school drop offs and pick ups. To wandering back down the hill at the end of the day, holding her little hand and asking what she learnt. And to bringing her back to our house that contains everything she knows – home comforts, people who love her, and a kitchen that’s somehow always coated in grated cheese.
Is it normal to kiss your maternity bras goodbye? Because I did.
I’m no longer wearing maternity clothes, I haven’t for months. But I kept them in the drawer anyway. Because if I let them go, I’d be making a statement I wasn’t ready to make. That the pregnancy/tiny baby phase of my life is over.
But I put them in a bag this week to take to the charity shop. It hurt but it was time to say goodbye and move to the next chapter.
And that chapter sees our son turning one, and then starting nursery three days a week so that I can go back to work. And in a matter of weeks, our daughter will be starting school too. No wonder I’m a bit emotional at the moment.
When I started maternity leave a year ago, it felt like I had infinite time ahead. But it’s slipped through my fingers, just like it always does. We only brought that little baby home from the hospital a few days ago, I’m sure of it. And yet somehow he’s about to have a birthday.
So much about the past 12 months has been different from my first maternity leave. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been easier. I’ve felt more able to enjoy the smallness and cuteness of him, rather than worrying that I’m doing everything wrong. I realise now that I wasn’t bad at it the first time, just inexperienced. It’s been nice to rewrite that story in my head.
Just as my first maternity leave revolved around our daughter, my second one has mainly revolved around her too. Nobody really warns you about that.
Sure, you have to feed the new baby multiple times, change them and keep them safe and happy. But in many ways that feels like a side hustle. Managing the contentment, snack consumption and social life of our four year old has still dominated most of my time and brain space. First children are clever like that.
I’ve definitely felt much more at peace with myself this maternity leave than I did the first time. I haven’t felt desperate for company and activities like I did before. I don’t feel phased by a quiet day at home. I’m so busy that I really don’t need much more in my life. It’s definitely overwhelming, but I like it too.
A woman walked past us in the park the other day and said “You don’t realise it at the time, but days taking children to the park are some of the best of your life.”
I keep thinking about that. I can see myself looking back on this period of our lives and wanting to do it all again. Yes, I am tired all the time, but the second the chaos stops, I’ll miss it.
That sense of nostalgia kicked in almost immediately after our son was born. Knowing how insanely quickly the time passes made me determined to savour his early stages. They don’t stay little for long.
And now after so much precious time together, this next chapter will see us all spending a bit more time apart. It will take a while to adjust to I’m sure. There are things I’m looking forward to, and things I’m worried about.
I’ve learnt that it is entirely normal to think and feel a multitude of things at once when you’re a parent. For example:
I can want to go back to work, and also feel sick about being away from our son.
I can foresee the benefits of time to myself, and feel guilty about having it.
I can imagine our son enjoying time with other children and teachers. I can also find it unbearable to imagine him wanting me when I’m not there.
I can believe our daughter will enjoy primary school. I can also feel panicked at the prospect of her having anything other than a good time.
My son isn’t the only one celebrating a birthday this week, I am too. I’m turning 37, which my daughter assures me is “really old”.
The older you get, the less anyone – including you – really cares that it’s your birthday. And now that I have a son with a birthday so close to mine, this time will be all about him, and that’s fine with me. He’s the best present I’ve ever had anyway.
This has been the most hectic year of my life. We moved to a different part of London. We took on a house requiring way more work than either of us realised when we looked around it for 10 minutes during the thick of the pandemic. We moved our brilliant, brave daughter to a new nursery. Oh and we had a baby five weeks after we moved in.
It has been exhausting, overwhelming, and a constant rollercoaster. It’s also been one of the best years of my life.
So what I want to take with me into my 38th year is a reminder to keep appreciating when I feel lucky. To acknowledge happiness when it’s happening. Because time is going to absolutely fly by anyway. And hard things will happen. So when it’s good, I want to stop and notice.
I guess that’s why I felt the need to give my maternity bras a little kiss on their way to the charity shop. It’s been quite the year and I’m grateful to everything and everyone that’s been a part of it.
So now, onto the next one. And I can’t deny that it’s rather nice to have underwire back in my life to help me through it. With this much going on, I’m going to need all the support I can get.
We bought a house in June. It’s great to be here, there’s just lots to do to bring it up to date.
Ever since we arrived we’ve been having rooms decorated and bathrooms renovated. And I noticed early on that when a project has such an endless to-do list, it’s tempting to let your own impatience prevent you from feeling happy with progress.
I had to stop myself thinking ‘If only we could get the bedrooms painted, then I’ll be happy’ and then as soon as that was done ‘Ok, now we need the downstairs loo done, then I can be content’.
If I sign up to that way of thinking, I’ll deny myself happiness… forever? Houses are never really finished, are they.
No, I cannot wait to get the eighties kitchen out and modern fittings in. And yes, toilets made this century will enhance our lives. But I’m not going to hate my house until it’s all done. I refuse to lose sight of how much I love how far we’ve come.
To keep celebrating the little things
For the first six months of 2021, I wrote a list everyday in my diary called ‘Today’s good things’. (We then moved house and had a baby. I’ve hardly had time to go to the toilet since then let alone write anything down).
I’d pick out a handful of reasons to be grateful for the day we’d just had. I did it to boost my morale during lockdown, and to remind me that even when life feels tough, there’s always good stuff going on too.
I felt quite emotional reading it back. I’d noted down so many little things that meant that, despite the context, we were lucky and happy. Fresh air featured a lot, as did cuddles with our daughter. On one day I ended with ‘Just how much we love her’. Aside from mentions of life changing stuff like house move progress and baby scans and kicks, most things were small, everyday moments I wanted to cling to.
It helped at the time and it’s a lovely thing to look back on. So I’m going to do it again for 2022. Our son is already growing up too quickly so I want to write down all the ways he brings me joy. As long as he lets me sleep I’m sure I’ll have the energy to pick up a pen again.
To speak to myself more kindly
Anxiety and I will live alongside one another forever I’m sure. But when my inner dialogue and I work as a team, that’s when I get to win.
I haven’t done so well on that front lately. I found a note I wrote whilst trying to work through a worry which said “Anxiety makes you feel small and insignificant but also massive and in the way”. And that’s the problem. It skews your view of yourself and the world to such an extent that it makes it difficult to have the rational, helpful thoughts that would make it go away.
So I want to keep working on that inner voice.
My excellent friend Alexa Radcliffe-Hart wrote this great blog about selecting a word to guide you through the year. I think I’m going with ‘Deserving’ for mine. Of space, kindness, rest, choice. It’s what I want my children to believe about themselves, so I need to model it myself.
To be truly present when I can, and kinder to myself when I can’t
The combination of being a worrier, planner, and a parent means I find it hard to live in the moment. But I’m definitely happier when I do, so I’m trying to make it more of a habit.
I’m learning to spot opportunities to let go and just play with my daughter or walk at her pace or cuddle the baby. We don’t always have to be moving towards the next thing.
…but we do sometimes. So when I have to keep half my head in the future, planning for the next snack/meal/nap/absurdly large load of washing, I need to forgive myself for it. I’m doing my best.
To read more
This will be my goal forever. I think I read about seven or eight of my books in 2021 (plus 4000 children’s books). It’s not a contest, just something I enjoy so I intend to do more of it. Even just a page a day is worth having.
To keep writing what I feel like writing
If it brings value to you (and it doesn’t hurt anybody) there is value in whatever you feel like producing. That’s what I tell myself every time I sit down to write.
I get so much from writing – whether it’s in a notebook to clear my mind, or published here. So I’m going to keep doing it when I can.
It occurred to me at the end of the year that this blog started as a simple creative outlet, then it became a series of what are essentially love letters. To my husband, my friends, my family, myself, and, more recently, to my children.
I look forward to writing many more.
I hope you will do more of what you love in 2022. Happy New Year, and thanks for reading.
I’d decided on a girl’s name before I was even pregnant, but the boy’s name took time, debate, discussion.
We thought we’d better have it nailed down before I went into theatre, just in case all those people who said I was definitely carrying a boy were right. Good thing we did.
The fact that I’d had a c-section before only made me more nervous about it. I knew what was to come, which bits I liked, which bits I didn’t, and that you never quite know what your body is going to do after a human being is removed from it.
I also knew how incredible it is to be presented with your baby. I didn’t dare let myself look forward to it until we were on our way there.
There were two of us on the surgery list that morning. Two second-time mums who knew everything and nothing about what was to come. We wished each other good luck. She may well have been in the bed next to mine for the next few days, but we never saw each other again. Maternity wards are funny like that. I hope they’re all OK.
So much of the prep felt familiar. There were the same gowns and compression stockings for me, the same fresh blue scrubs for Leon. The same paper bracelets on my wrists.
But some things had changed. They give you little white netted knickers to wear now, so the surgeon can just cut them off when they’re ready to start. No more wondering whether you should walk down to surgery pantless like we did in the good old days (2017).
I was first on the list and before we knew it, they were ready for me. Time to go.
I took my last pregnant waddle down the corridor, wearing the same flip flops I bought for our stay when we had our daughter almost four years ago. Where on earth did all that time disappear to?
From the moment we got into theatre it was ON. This is a room full of people who bring babies into the world everyday. They know what they’re doing and they know the pace required to make it happen. The momentum alone carries you through.
I tried to take it step by step, ticking off all the little bits that scare me. Cannula – done. Spinal – done. Weird lie down on the bed with a quickly numbing lower half – done.
The radio was on and Lewis Capaldi was playing. The anaesthetist asked everybody to say their names and I confirmed mine, she read out my NHS number and it began.
I kept a tight hold of Leon’s hand and my eyes on the flowers painted on the ceiling. I like this bit. When there’s no turning back and I couldn’t run away even if I wanted to.
My blood pressure dipped and I panicked. The anaethetist worked her magic then got back to chatting to us about our house move, our daughter, our jobs. I almost forgot that people had their hands inside my body. Almost.
She peered over the sheet shielding us from the procedure and said “It won’t be long now”.
I started to cry because this was it, what the last 39 weeks and three days had been building up to. When you’re cut open on the operating table, pumped full of drugs and awaiting the arrival of your child, you’re allowed to feel a bit overwhelmed.
‘Gooey’ by Glass Animals came on the radio. We weren’t organised enough to arrange a birth playlist, but later agreed that was more perfect than anything we could have come up with anyway. The second I hear it now it takes me right back to that room.
All of a sudden the surgeon said “Good morning!” and we realised that somebody new had come into the room. He was talking to the baby.
I looked up at the light above where they were operating and I could see a head in the reflection coming out of my body. I could see his hair. Before I knew it they were holding him in front of us. A boy! A beautiful boy!
I remember my mouth was wide open in amazement, my face soaking wet. They whisked him off to clean him up and sort him out. He screamed, as you’d expect, and I could hear Leon telling him everything would be OK.
They brought him over, placed him on my chest and he calmed right down and closed his eyes. Like you do when you get in after a long day, take your shoes off and lie back on the sofa. Nothing to worry about here, you’re home.
I hope I’m always that place for him. For them both.
Someone said “I think he likes that.” And so did I, so very much.
I’m 39 weeks pregnant and we’re a month into living in a new house. I’m huge, exhausted, excited, distracted, anxious… so it’s fair to say my thoughts have been a bit of a jumble of late.
I turn 36 today and it was only when I acknowledged the mental chaos I’m currently experiencing that I realised what I want to say to mark yet another birthday.
And it’s this: The older I get, the better I get at figuring out WHY I feel the way I do. With each year that passes, I gain a little more self-awareness. And that’s more useful than any birthday gift you can wrap.
Becoming a mum has helped a lot. I can’t expect my daughter (or her imminent sibling) to undersand their feelings if I can’t comprehend my own.
I try hard to make time to work out what’s behind my response to situations. Am I tired? Hungry? Feeling inadequate? Intimidated? Distracted by a timetable my daughter has no idea I’m trying to keep us to? So enormously pregnant I fear my stomach may BURST any minute?
Because nobody’s response to anything is just about what’s happening in that moment. There’s always more to it. Our history, our physical and mental wellbeing, our worries, our hopes, our fears… they all play a part. It’s a wonder we get through the day we’re carrying so much invisible weight around.
When I consider where my reaction is coming from, I handle things so much better than when I don’t. And I feel happier with who I am too.
But of course I’ve only learnt this by reflecting on all the times I haven’t managed things so well. I’m a fallible human being so I’ve let my insecurities, bad habits, and misunderstandings get the better of me LOADS of times. And I’ll 100% do it again. Age can’t magically protects us from that. But the better we know ourselves, the better we get at slowing down and seeing things for what they are.
So at least I know why I feel so overwhelmed at the moment. And I try to bear that in mind when I feel like overreacting to the smallest thing. (What do you MEAN the bakery has run out of jam doughnuts?! I NEED ONE.)
I’m about to have a baby and become a mum of two. It’s no surprise that I’m feeling 400 emotions at once.
What I like about being older is my understanding that there’s no point wasting energy fighting tricky feelings. It’s better for all of us if I acknowledge and lean into what’s driving them instead.
Whether it’s the nervousness I feel about the physical turmoil involved with birth and its aftermath, or the desperation I feel to bring our baby into the world safely and do a good job for them and their sister, it’s all OK. I can’t have all these wonderfully grown up experiences without them.
The only promise I can make is that I’ll do my best and keep learning from every high and low that comes our way. I’m confident my 37th year will be filled with plenty of both…
I had an idea last week to write a list of things I wanted to keep in mind while we all stay at home to help reduce the spread of Coronavirus. I’m so glad I waited until we’d actually experienced a full five days at home trying to live and work and look after our toddler before I wrote it. Optimism is essential right now but so is a strong dose of reality, which I think we all got this week.
This is not an attempt at advice. There is no pandemic experience on my CV. This is just a list of stuff I want to keep in mind to help maintain my perspective (and sanity) in the weeks and months to come.
It’s also an excuse to communicate with the outside world. Hello out there, I do hope you’re OK and staying safe. If nothing else, this should at least help you pass a few minutes.
1.You don’t suddenly have to become a different kind of parent
When this all kicked off, the internet became flooded with tips for things to do at home with children, which is great.
But as always, if we’re not careful, we can suffer from the flipside of social media: comparison syndrome. As I’ve discussed before, since becoming a mum I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time feeling inadequate because I don’t have the exact same skills and ideas as every other mother on the planet.
But I want to remember that I don’t suddenly have to become a nursery nurse, children’s entertainer and Blue Peter presenter all rolled into one just because we’re suddenly spending so much time at home. Yes I will try some new things and find nice ways to entertain our daughter. And we’re adapting our routine to make the best of the current constraints. But that will do. Normal life was working well for us, so the closer I can keep our days to feeling like they usually do, the calmer we’ll all feel.
2.Television is not the enemy
People talk so much about children and TV so I won’t harp on – all I want to say is this: my toddler, just like me and her dad, needs to wind down sometimes. She gets tired, she needs a bit of space, and she likes to catch up with the characters she loves. So at certain times of the day, we let her watch some telly.
This period we’re facing is bizarre, unsettling and weirdly knackering, so I’m sure she will end up watching a bit more than usual, should it make sense for us and her in the moment. An excess is bad for everyone, but the odd dose of comfort won’t do anybody any harm.
3.What I wear has a huge impact on how I feel
I gave birth to our daughter in November 2017 and we were then indoors most of the time for months. That period taught me (along with a million other things) how strong an impact my appearance has on my mental wellbeing. To feel like the day is worth doing, I need to look in the mirror and see somebody who would be happy to open the door to a human being who doesn’t love them unconditionally.
I don’t mean I need to put on a chuffing dress and heels to feel like a person, I just need actual clothes. My pyjamas are the best things in the world at bedtime, but if I’m still wearing them too late in the morning, and I’m not doing so because I’m resting, I start to feel sad. So getting up and dressed like I’ve got somewhere to go is a must for me.
4.We won’t all feel the same way at the same time
At separate points this week, all three of us had a moment when our current living situation proved too much. Leon got stressed out. I had to leave the room as the mess, noise and unwillingness by some residents to just EAT THEIR DINNER was doing my nut. And then – because why should she be left out – our toddler declared, if only through her body language and disproportionate irritation with her snack bowl, that she too was finding this situation to be bullsh*t.
It sounds ridiculous, but I hadn’t realised that we wouldn’t all necessarily be in the same place emotionally at the same time, and that that would be a challenge to manage in itself. Sometimes our daughter just needs us to hold her. Sometimes Leon needs to go out for a run by himself. And sometimes I need to eat an entire easter egg in front of The Mindy Project undisturbed. If we can all just do our best to give each other what we need during this time, it’ll make getting through it easier.
5.Any amount of time outdoors is worth having
We can’t go far and we can’t go within two metres of other people, but we can still go outside. Even just ten minutes outdoors can make all the difference. It’s easy to feel like it’s not worth the effort, that if you’re not going out somewhere proper then you might as well not go out at all, but even just a small dose of fresh air can make everything look brighter.
We’ve started going for a run about in our local park in the morning to let off steam and it’s become the highlight of our day. I hope that when this is all over we carry on treasuring every opportunity we have to play together outdoors.
6.Gratitude does everybody good
It’s good for people to know we’re grateful for the difference they make to us, and it lifts our spirits too to step back and acknowledge the things we appreciate. I said at the start of the year how grounding and therapeutic I find jotting down a list of things I’m grateful for each week, however small. I definitely want to keep doing this, to help me spot all the lovely moments that are punctuating our days as a family during this peculiar time, whether it’s fresh air, good health, cuddles with my daughter, or every bite of Cadbury’s chocolate I can get my hands on.
7.Make time to read
Reading makes me feel calmer than pretty much anything else. Because this crisis is so distracting, I’ve found that I’ve defaulted to sitting and scrolling through my phone rather than thinking about what would be a more relaxing use of time. The more lost or unfulfilled I feel, the more I find myself on my phone but it usually just makes me feel worse. So I want to actively decide to use the rare chunks of time I have to myself to read a book instead.
I always feel a lot more fulfilled when I’ve found time to make something. Whether I’ve tried a new recipe, drawn a picture with my daughter or written a blog, I feel better for it. I’m not overwhelmed with free time – that concept flew out the window the second I became a mum – so I want to make the most of any opportunities I have to be even slightly creative. For example, baking a batch of rice crispy cakes could class as a form of artistic expression, couldn’t it…?
9.I will never regret having extra time with my family
Extra time together in all its forms, however tricky to navigate it may be, is a gift. I’ve another blog brewing about how much I already know I’m going to miss our daughter being two years old, so I want to remember that this is actually all bonus time with her. And though I wish it was in different circumstances, having her dad around so much more than usual is great.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re a week in, I’m shattered and would not say no to a bit of space if it was available to me. But there are numerous lovely moments to be found amongst the chaos, and we’re lucky to have them.
10.Make the time to communicate
Just because Leon is working here, it doesn’t mean I’ll know how his day went unless I ask. Sure, I’ll know that our daughter decided to join him for a conference call and serenade his colleagues with a rendition of Baa Baa Black Sheep, but there might be other stuff he needs to unload. We still need to talk to each other.
Our daughter remains a two-year-old and, as such, not the best at articulating how she feels. Although this situation is exasperating at times, I need to make sure I stop and explain to her what’s going on, and help her tell me what’s up too. This will never stop being true, our current situation has just highlighted how quickly things will crumble if I don’t.
And regular check-ins with other friends and family are important as well. Finding the energy to get back on your laptop after a day’s work for a video call is a bit tough. But it’s worth it to share laughs and updates with people I don’t get to see everyday. A pandemic is a crazy and scary thing to live through. I want to remember how important it is to stay in touch and help each other through it.
11.If we look back on this time and our biggest complaint is that we felt bored and cooped up, we will be the lucky ones
There are thousands of people who are putting themselves at risk everyday by carrying on doing their jobs. And there are plenty of others for whom this crisis is much scarier than it is for people like me.
Having to stay home, work without childcare and cope with how strange and apocalyptic life feels right now is hard, and I’m all in favour of allowing ourselves to acknowledge every feeling we experience.
I also know that it will help me to keep going when this period feels endless if I remember that these are all entirely bearable hardships, and that if we all just keep doing as we’re told, we’ll help bring this crisis to an end.
Our daughter was born and all of a sudden all those moments of time to myself that I’d never realised were such a big part of my day evaporated. Goodbye solitude, I’ve got company.
You don’t appreciate how many parts of your life constitute alone time until they reduce down to seconds grabbed between feeds, cuddles, and attempts to persuade your child not to dive head first off the sofa.
I look back on all those times I went to the toilet without somebody there to squish my tummy. On all those showers I had where I didn’t feel the need to poke my head out of the cubicle every 30 seconds to shout “ARE YOU OK?” to the little person in the cot in the next room. On all those train journeys I spent reading a book rather than supplying snacks to the small dictator in the pram, perched on the edge of my seat, waiting to see which of the items I’ve selected will be deemed acceptable today. (Fruit, mummy? Really? Try again.) Did I appreciate all that freedom? Of course I didn’t.
Nobody appreciates time until something changes your relationship with it, and becoming a parent definitely does that.
But while I find the lack of freedom hard, having such limited windows to myself has forced me to make the most of the time I do have more than I ever did before.
I’ve learnt to snatch moments to myself, however brief. Ten minutes with Friends on in the background while Leon gives our toddler a bath and I cook dinner. Forty minutes on my laptop on a Sunday morning before everybody else wakes up. Thirty minutes slumped on the sofa on a Friday evening in the gap between my return from work and Leon’s arrival with our daughter after nursery. I don’t mind admitting that I LEG IT home for that sit down. You’ve got to get your rest any way you can in this game.
When time feels so precious, you don’t let yourself waste it. I now know just how much it’s possible to get done in half an hour. Want the house tidied, a tray of brownies baked, and a week’s worth of washing put away? Get a parent whose toddler is taking a nap on the case – and they’ll still have time to negotiate you a new mortgage deal, too. I’ve been amazed and delighted by how the limits on my time have helped me focus my mind and get sh*t done, because I simply don’t have time to fanny about.
I’ve also changed how I think about how I use my days off work. I used to think annual leave had to be used for a holiday or a trip away, or at least for a fancy meal out. And of course it’s great to keep some for those treats, but now I also keep a handful to do the things I can’t do the rest of the time. To sit in a café and write a blog. To go to the cinema by myself. To listen to a podcast with swearing in it without worrying that I’m going to damage the next generation.
I adore my girl and value our time together more than anything else in the world. Being her mum is also the hardest work I’ve ever done, so I do my best to take moments to myself where I can, so I can give her all I’ve got when we’re together.
Because we’re together a lot – most of the time in fact – which is exactly how I want it to be. Nonetheless, one of the other things I’ve found most surprising about life as a parent is how lonely it can feel, despite the fact that you’re in company almost constantly.
It’s the weight of the responsibility, I think. On the logistical front, it’s being the one in charge of deciding everything that we’ll do, when we’ll do it, and what we’ll need to have with us so that we survive the day/avoid significant social embarrassment.
And on the emotional side, the desperation that (when it’s just the two of us) only I feel to get things right for her can feel a bit isolating, too. All I want is to make her happy and to create days that make her feel loved, inspired, amused, interested, and, let’s not forget, sufficiently pooped so that she’ll sleep well, for all our sakes. It’s a lot to be responsible for getting out of a day, and when things don’t go to plan – which is all the time, by the way – it can get you down.
I am of course not on my own. My husband is just as much a parent as I am. But for two days of the week, he’s at work and I’m at home looking after our daughter. And on the days when I do go to work, I do the majority of the childcare around it, because he works longer hours than I do. As a result (and because we live in the society that we do), it’s me who takes responsibility for most of the bits and pieces that keep us going day to day. The meals we eat, the endless supply of milk our daughter requires, the admin that gets our bills paid and keeps the roof firmly over our heads, and so many more things that find their way on and off the ever-growing list that lives inside my brain.
I am incredibly happy and grateful for our life and feel appreciated for my efforts, I just sometimes feel a bit alone in my role, too. I expect we both do.
But as our daughter it getting older (all of a sudden she’ll turn two next month) and she’s getting better and better at communicating, she’s taking an increasingly active role in our time together, and it’s making me feel so much more… accompanied in everything that we do.
She can now express opinions (which, of course, can be inconvenient/tricky to manage, but let’s focus on the positives for now, shall we?), so she can tell me what she thinks of the ideas I have for us. The other day I told her we were going to the farm and she said “Yay! Yarm!” and it made the whole trip that bit more joyous because we were in on the decision to go together.
For a while, parenting feels like something you do ‘to’ your child, rather than with them, because you just have to make decisions on your own. It can be a lonely job, being in charge all the time, so it’s nice to start getting some feedback. It’s most definitely not always positive, but when it’s good, it makes the meltdowns worth facing. And every meltdown teaches me more about how to empathise and communicate with a child who still has so little control over her world.
When you’re expecting a baby, you understand that you’ll probably feel pain during the birth, tiredness after sleepless nights, and a relentless need to go for a wee every 20 minutes for the rest of your life, but you don’t think about what responsibility for your child will feel like in practice. I didn’t realise how much effort I’d have to put into feeling content as an individual (as well as a mum), but I’m glad I have as it’s made all the difference.
Though a lack of time to myself can be trying, knowing that I’m making every moment I do get count helps me feel like I’ve had a break, even if it’s a short one. And when the pangs of mum-life loneliness kick in, I’m lifted by how much more confident I now feel to make decisions for us, to try new things, and to talk about what a roller coaster motherhood can be.
Every year to mark my birthday, I write a list of lessons I’ve learnt or things I want to say at this point in time. It’s a therapeutic ritual and I recommend it.
So here are 34 things I know about myself and the world now I’m 34 – yet another age that doesn’t feel anywhere near as old as I thought it would…
1. I know that when I sit on the sofa with a drink at my feet and think “I’ll definitely remember that’s there, there’s no way I’ll spill it,” what I’m really saying is: “I look forward to kicking that all over everything in a few minutes.”
2. I know that cheesecake is the world’s most overrated food and I do not apologise for this opinion.
3. I know that there is one person in every group of friends who is in charge of organising get-togethers and who LOVES to complain about how nobody else ever does it and then FREAKS OUT if anybody else ever tries. And hello, yes, that’s me.
4. I know that a solo trip to the cinema is one of the greatest gifts a person can give themselves and I’m just sorry I didn’t realise it sooner.
5. I know that the more energy I put into trying to make somebody like me, the less I will end up liking myself.
6. I know that periods can be a painful, inconvenient nightmare, but there is something undeniably joyful about selecting your biggest, most comfortable knickers to get you through those first, bloated hours.
7. I know that one of the things I find scariest about being a parent is the amount for which your children will forgive you.
8. I know that there’s a huge difference between someone who wants you, and someone who wants you to want them, and that unfortunately it’s not always until you’ve experienced the former that you can recognise the latter.
9. I know that splitting the backside of my favourite pair of jeans open taught me this about clothing: Just because you can do something up, it doesn’t mean it fits.
10. I know that realising I’d done the above just seconds before I left the house to go to brunch taught me you should ALWAYS CHECK YOUR REAR VIEW BEFORE STEPPING OUTSIDE.
11. I know that I sometimes absentmindedly rest my hand on my stomach, trying to protect a baby who now lives out in the world.
12. I know that there will come a point when I have to stop calling my daughter a ‘baby’ and I will get there in my own time. Do not rush me.
13. I know that the way you feel when you see your partner unexpectedly tells you everything you need to know about whether you’re spending your life with the right person.
14. I know that each of us has to take responsibility for our relationship with the internet and to choose to live a life where we feel in control of it, and not the other way around.
15. I know that it’s hypocritical of me to talk to my daughter about the importance of sharing when I find it so very difficult to share her.
16. I know that carrying a yogurt in your handbag is the riskiest game a human being can play.
17. I know that just because you’ve walked into a room and feel like you’re wearing the wrong thing, it doesn’t mean that you are. It’s always OK to dress like you.
18. I know that of all my life goals ‘That I will one day get on top of the washing’ is by far the most ambitious.
19. I know that the more evenly spread the balance of power is between two people, the better their friendship will be.
20. I know that every friend you make isn’t necessarily meant to be in your life forever. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t still worth knowing each other.
21. I know that if you value your time and your energy you shouldn’t even think about chopping a butternut squash. Just roast the bastard for an hour and a half and then do what you need to do with it. Save your blood, sweat and tears for a more worthwhile activity.
22. I know that just because somebody’s on their own it doesn’t mean they’re lonely, and that just because somebody’s in company, it doesn’t mean they’re not.
23. I know that if you want to make a dream a reality, you have to start being able to talk about it whilst looking people in the eye.
24. I know that though migraines are the bane of my life, they have taught me a lot about how much activity, stress, and socialising I can handle. Your body knows what you can take, so listen to it.
25. I know that I’ve never been to an actual swamp, but I have been in the bathroom after my husband has been in the shower, so I’m pretty confident I know what one looks like.
26. I know that it’s always a good time to remind the person you’re spending your life with that you love them just as they are, mess or no mess.
27. I know that you have two choices: spend your time doubting whether there’s space for you and your creative work, or spend your time creating that space by doing it.
28. I know that the gap between what you imagine putting your child to bed will look like (reading them a bedtime story, rocking them to sleep, singing them lullabies) and what it actually looks like (being repeatedly kicked in the face/poked in the eye whilst you lie down with them to help them ‘settle’, saying ‘Yes, that’s a lovely tongue’ when they choose this moment to show you their entire mouth, getting so good at pretending to be asleep yourself that sometimes you do drift off) is VAST.
29. I know that there will come a time when I don’t sit with my daughter in my lap every night, reading her the exact same books before she goes to bed, and I miss it already.
30. I know that we trick ourselves into thinking that we’re working towards an end point in our lives where our achievements will be added up and evaluated. And I know that the older you get and the more milestones you tick off, the more apparent it becomes that that end point doesn’t exist.
31. I know that one of the greatest gifts my daughter has given me is total abandonment of my sense of self-consciousness. I will sing in the street, I will moo, baa and neigh on the train, and I will dance like she’s the only person watching. In so many ways, she has set me free.
32. I know that the moment things go wrong, you realise just how happy your life made you as it was, but that we don’t have to wait till then to notice.
33. I know that at 34 there’s still so much that I want to do, but that for the life we’ve built so far I am grateful.
34. I know that it never ceases to amaze me since we started our family how quickly our time together passes by. And that all I really want for my birthday this year is more, so much more of it.
You’re about to discover just how strong you really are. That’s the sentence I find myself saying to friends about to have babies.
I say it because it sounds wise and reassuring, but also because it’s gentler than saying “That child is going to DESTROY YOU – but don’t worry, you’ll cope.”
The trick to parenting is resilience. Without it, you’re screwed. But the good news is, you can’t help but develop it.
As I see it, these are the three main things that simultaneously test and build your resilience when you’re a parent.
1. The fact that you don’t really have a choice
My daughter is almost 16 months old and at no point in her life so far have her demands been negotiable.
When she wants milk, she wants it now. When she wants a snack, she wants it now. When she wants me, for reasons only she understands, to let her into the bathroom so that she can grab a clean nappy and wear it around her neck like a scarf, she expects this opportunity to come about THIS INSTANT.
Since the moment she was born, it’s been our job to give her what she needs, when she needs it. No matter how tired, emotional, confused, scared, fed up, distracted or lost we felt, we had to keep going.
What it means to be truly at someone’s beck and call 24/7 takes some getting used to. You know that’s what you’re signing up for, but not what the reality will feel like.
I’m grateful that I don’t have a choice in the matter, that it’s my duty to serve her, and that I’m unable to function if she’s unhappy. Because it means I don’t have time to stop and think.
I don’t take a moment at 3am when she’s calling for me, to ask if this particular moment is convenient. And I don’t make time to notice that I’ve made her breakfast everyday for almost a year and a half now and never once has she even offered to make mine.
This is my job and I need to show up for it, rain or shine.
But of course that doesn’t mean your wellbeing isn’t important. Strength comes from giving yourself permission to matter too. To speak honestly about how you feel, to do activities with your baby that fill you both up, and to acknowledge that if you’re happy, they’re happy.
2. The fact that the best and worst bits will be a surprise
Your resilience is tested every time something happens that you weren’t expecting. Which is all the time.
Every single one of our best and worst moments has come out of the blue.
I didn’t expect to find breastfeeding so difficult.
I didn’t expect to realise in the middle of Heathrow Airport after we’d checked in our luggage, been through security, and ordered an ill-advised salad with a well-advised side order of chips, that those spots on our daughter’s ears were chickenpox and we wouldn’t be flying anywhere today.
I didn’t expect to spend 28 hours in hospital with her whilst she had antibiotics pumped into her little veins to rid her of an eye infection.
I never expect her to fall over but she does, all the time.
I often lie awake at night worrying about all the things that could happen and trying to work out how I can become organised enough to ensure that they won’t.
It’s a tough moment when you realise that there are only so many to-do lists you can write and parenting articles you can read. Surprises will still occur. But with every one that does, you gather more evidence that you can and will cope.
3. The fact that your heart lives in your child’s hands, and they can crush it whenever they like
I can find the words to describe most things, but I can’t describe the way I feel about my daughter.
When she was born, the love was so overwhelming that it broke us; more than the sleep deprivation or the attempts at feeding, or the c-section recovery. The hard and fast tumble in love with this baby was almost more than we could handle.
But of course, only almost. You get used to functioning in a world where you feel this way.
You get used to feeling genuine physical pain when your child cries.
You get used to how brutal it feels every time one of your efforts to give them a good start in life is rejected – a homemade muffin chucked on the floor, an attempt to get them dressed that ends in tears, a lovingly-read bedtime story during which they get up and leave the room.
You get used to feeling guilty every time they get ill, sad, hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, frustrated you won’t let them eat paper, displeased with one of their socks… basically every second of the day.
All I want on this earth is for my daughter to be happy, but because she’s a human being, she’s going to experience a lot of other emotions as well. As her mum I have to become resilient enough to handle that reality.
Because it’s not just me who needs to be able to cope. I have to help her grow up ready to face the highs and lows life will throw her way, too.
Our daughter will turn one this month, so I’m going through the inevitable nostalgic phase ahead of her first birthday, looking back on this time last year with rose tinted glasses firmly in place.
Pregnancy was so great!
Recovering from the birth didn’t hurt that much, did it?
Weren’t those first few days with a new baby just magical!
I relive the moment she was born everyday. I wrote about it soon afterwards to help make sure I wouldn’t forget it, but really there was no danger of that.
When we’re having a tough day or a tricky moment, I look at her face and I see the baby who was handed to me almost a year ago. I see the tiny person I’d kept warm all those months who’d finally come out to say hello. I see all our naivety about how challenging this job would be, and all our potential to get it right. Sometimes it feels like we’ve travelled so far from the start that it’s difficult to connect that baby girl with the one crawling around our house now, determined to gnaw on everything in sight. But they’re both my girl.
I feel guilty for feeling nostalgic, like I’m saying that I preferred her at the beginning to how she is now. But I understand from other mothers that EVERYBODY feels this way. Everybody misses the start, because we had it all to come. It doesn’t mean we’re not enjoying this moment too – I am, she’s so much fun – we’re just doing it whilst also stunned by how quickly time passes by.
I’ve been asking myself whether motherhood is what I thought it would be, and the answer is: of course not. When I imagined having a baby, I imagined cuddling them on the sofa and sitting reading them a story in their bedroom. That was about it. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Parenthood is the steepest learning curve I’ve ever climbed but I wouldn’t change a thing. It feels good to have finally grown up.
I have more to say about this first year – I’ve been writing another blog in my head for days – but I needed to talk about this first and then move on. To acknowledge the weight of nostalgia on my mind as we approach this milestone, and to give myself permission to feel it. I really can’t be bothered to add ‘Spent too much time thinking about how wonderful it was when she was born, and crying over newborn photos’ to the list of stuff I feel guilty about, so I’m simply not going to do it.
Nostalgia only comes along when something in our lives has been so good that we want to go back and do it all again, so I’m grateful to have such an incredible reason to feel it. If a year this emotional, challenging, joyful and life-changing doesn’t justify celebrating with a piece of cake, a party hat and a look back through the photo album, I don’t know what does.