Attack of the Mama Guilts

Last night I felt guilty because my husband took charge of my tiny lady while I took some time away to write. Yep I felt guilty for leaving her with her loving father. Despite the fact that I could hear giggles and roars of laughter the guilt took quite a while to subside. But that’s me – guilty of a permanent sense of guilt! I even feel guilty for feeling guilty!

When I was pregnant I never understood the full and overwhelming force of Mummy Guilt. Sure I would feel guilty if I drank (slightly) more than the recommended daily caffeine limit or took some paracetemol for that raging baby back-ache but honestly that guilt was nothing to what I felt when I held that little baby in my arms. Suddenly every decision I made became riddled with the potential for a major attack of the guilts.

As a child my indecisive nature was a great joke amongst my family. They decided I should become a judge when I grew up – oh the joys of a sarcastic family! I was actually quite legendary for sweating over every little decision, getting everyone else’s opinion as if somehow everyone else knew better than me. In my eyes I suppose they did. I had little faith in my own opinion. This has only become worse since I became a mother. There are so many opinions out there and many of them differ from mine – how do I pick which is the best course of action? How do I decide? Nights spent scrolling google do not help with the decision process but that’s what I found myself doing during those endless newborn nights. Should I rock her to sleep? Should I use a soother? Should I teach her to self-soothe? I would forget amidst all the information gathering that as her mother I knew best. What works for one baby possibly won’t work for another.

But with every decision now layered with an undercurrent of guilt I just couldn’t decide what I should do; one wrong decision and I imagined I had sent my daughter hurling down the wrong path, never to return. As I grew more confident in my mummy skills the decision making did become slightly easier but the guilt never really went away.

Needless to say I have had many sleepless nights and I can’t even blame my toddler! The one thing she (usually) does well is sleep. I have a nightly battle to get her to eat her dinner but at least bedtime brings some peace. So those bags under my eyes are all completely self-inflicted. I can spend whole hours tossing and turning over the smallest of decisions. Currently I am wrangling with a pretty big decision – where to send her to school. So you can imagine the bags under my eyes are pretty huge right now.

Before I became a mother, guilt was more of a side-player in my life; only really making a grand appearance over something major like an argument with a friend. Now guilt is pretty much my side-kick; guilt and a giant cup of coffee. And guilt is such a pointless, negative emotion most of the time. Yet it seems to pervade motherhood like a bad smell. We beat ourselves up over everything and feel bad if we don’t achieve perfection. But I realised the other day perfection doesn’t really exist.

I was having a bad afternoon with my little girl – very cranky toddler, very stressed mother – so we went to the shop to get a break from the house. I watched jealously as a mother and her little boy played happily outside, the little boy beaming up at his mummy. Meanwhile my little terror was shooting mutinous looks at me because I had made her sit in her buggy. A while later, finished our shop, we passed the mother and son again. What a difference ten minutes can make. He was now wailing and his mother was trying to talk to him. Finally she huffed, grabbed him and walked off; little legs digging into her side as she went. Perfection, it seems, only exists in the moment. Within seconds it can be lost in tears and tantrums.

I probably won’t ever stop feeling the mum guilt but maybe, just maybe I will give myself a break every now and then. Maybe not every decision needs late night google sessions. Maybe I will make some bad decisions along the way. But that’s okay. Life isn’t perfect; it’s messy, loud and sometimes overwhelming. The trick is to take notice of those little moments when things are going your way, when guilt is taking a coffee break and your little tot is snuggling in for some mummy time. Those are the times that matter.IMG_2194.jpg

Parents: a soft place in a hard world

“You’re too soft on her!”

How many times have I heard this phrase? I imagine if I got paid every time it was said to me that I would be a very rich lady! Instead, the words just irritated me and eventually started to eat away at me.

I worked with children for many years and I was often described as “too soft”. At first it was said in jest then it became a byword for criticising my methods. When I first began to work in the early years sector I realised that, although we are all trained in much the same way, our methods vary widely. So it seemed that, yes, I was one of the ‘soft’ teachers; more likely to offer a cuddle than an admonishment. It is tough to stand by your beliefs when they are judged or held up as less than okay. It became tougher as the years went by. But, to me, it seems that childcare staff stand in for parents when they can’t be there. I tried to act in the way their parents would want their children to be treated.

I have left the sector since but now I have my own little girl. And what do I still hear? You are too soft! Sometimes it is said jokingly, sometimes gently, sometimes irritably. What has changed is my reaction to it. Now I just say so bloody what? Yes I am soft, too right I am soft! My daughter will too often have to deal with a world of hard edges, negativity and judgement. I want to be the one place in the world where she is welcomed and loved just how she is; where she will find praise not criticism, love not hate, warmth not coldness.

I believe in being firm and kind; offering a safe place for a child often works better than cold words of rebuke. When my child is all worn out, after an epic strop, her emotions vastly over-whelming, I offer a cuddle. That doesn’t mean her behaviour is alright but it means I am here for her, no matter how how far her temper flies. I believe it is our job as parents to provide a soft place, a safe haven for our children. This doesn’t mean being overly-permissive or spoiling them. It means showing them understanding when they can’t cope with life, kindness when they have lost their way and a warm hug when that tantrum becomes just too much.

Too often we rush in with harsh words or reprimands because it is seen as spoiling a child if we are too gentle. I have had days where the Tesco temper tantrum causes me to be stern and angry; under pressure from judgemental stares I rush to assure on-lookers that I can deal with this, I am a strong parent. But when did being strong mean you had to be hard as well? There is a quiet kind of strength in being the type of parent who teaches through gentleness, who talks to her child, who listens. Children respond better when they feel understood; don’t we all?

So yes call me soft. I will gladly wear that badge. I will wear it with pride.

Birthday Musings

IMG_0826

A week ago yesterday my husband and I headed out to celebrate my 35th birthday. Our little girl was safe and snug in nana and granddad’s house so we had the whole night ahead of us to let go and just relax. A night of pizza, prosecco and partying awaited. We ended up in bed by half eleven.

This wasn’t our intention. But rather it was the by-product of parenthood; the accumulation of numerous sleepless nights means that you burn out far quicker than in your pre-parent days. We were doing quite well at the beginning of the night, all shiny and clean in our dressy clothes. I had treated myself to a top that couldn’t be used for general mum wear; this was a big step for me. Normally I don’t buy anything that can’t be re-used for around the house or doing the grocery run. I don’t get out enough to justify good money on ‘going out’ clothes. But it was my birthday so I took a leap. I disguised the bags under my eyes with layers of concealer and thought I might just pass muster. Thankfully no photos of the night exist and in my memories (glazed by prosecco) I look sparkling!

So there we were; a mini bottle of prosecco for me and a fancy ale for my husband. We ate pizza and sipped our drinks; revelling in the fact that our clothes would not soon be covered in sauce, our conversation wouldn’t soon be interrupted by a scream and our night would not soon be cut short. We ordered another drink instead of dessert. We then left to find a cosy corner in a pub where we could pretend to be ten years younger. This is where the night started to take a turn. We couldn’t decide on a pub; this one was too scruffy, this one too snooty, this one too grim…and on it went. Finally we ended up in a somewhat decent location. I noticed a devilish gleam in my husband’s eye.

‘Do you fancy a shot?’

Oooh it had been a long time since I’ve had a shot. I should be clear though that I don’t have a good history with shots. Tequila usually ends with me legless and talking nonsense. My one encounter with a Baby Guinness warranted a swift trip to the toilet and a promise never to hold commerce with Mr. Guinness or any of his babies again…As for vodka shots enough said. So I had to give this decision serious consideration. While I mulled over my choice the pub closed (it was a Monday night and practically dead in town) so we ended up in a hotel bar.

‘I’ll just have a Bailey’s.’ I said somewhat shamefully.

My husband returned with two Baileys and a packet of crisps.

On the walk home we came to the conclusion that while our mad, crazy, youthful days are far behind us there’s nothing wrong with a Baileys and a packet of Tayto to see in a new year.

 

We’re all going to the zoo…

20160806_161504

Last Saturday my husband and I decided to brave the zoo with our tiny lady. It’s a wonder we have never gone before but then I didn’t really feel it was worth the hassle involved until our daughter was actually old enough to appreciate that yes that’s an actual elephant! I am not the type to put myself through unnecessary hardships and I like to have some kind of pay-off in the end…you know like an actual reaction from the child! If I sound slightly bitter it’s because last year we ventured to an animal park with the grandparents in tow and she slept the whole way through it. She was awake to see the ducks…and that was it!

I planned the outing like a military excursion. There were two bags. One with extra snacks, pull-ups, clothes etc. I had another to carry with me, just the essentials (or so I thought). I was quite smug at how organised I was. This smugness was not to last. I should have known. Since the poor child’s birth I have been forgetting things; I once went out when she was teeny, tiny and forgot to bring a blanket. I had a whole heap of mama guilt after that outing; how could I forget a blanket?? The poor cold child.

But I digress. The zoo. We booked our tickets online thinking we could beat the queue. However, when we arrived the queue for online tickets was nearly as long as the one for people who hadn’t booked in advance. My smugness took a small hit here I’ll admit. However, I was pleased to note that the zoo was only pleasantly busy. There was room at picnic benches and lots of space to actually see the animals. We stopped for a quick sugar hit – hey you have to have treats on days out then my husband made up a brilliant name for the tiny lady’s buggy; he called it her zoo car. The backstory to this is our lady hates being in her buggy, she wants to walk. But the reality is a toddler is not going to last very long walking around a zoo and we were worried she would tire herself out before seeing anything. So the genius idea of a zoo car was invented. She clambered in and for about an hour all was well.

Then 12 o’clock hit. This is usually her nap-time. Spirits began to flag. She wanted to walk. So we let her out. That’s when I discovered she was soaked through. Her pull-up had leaked (and it never leaks!). I then had to confess I had left all the spare clothes in the other bag…back in the car! My husband ran the ten minute walk to the carpark and back. I stripped her down and got her nice and dry….five minutes later she pooped. Naturally. I was already becoming far too familiar with the changing room (kudos to Dublin Zoo it’s lovely and clean).

This change required two parents because guess what? The tiny lady was beginning to turn into a mini-beast and she refused to lie on the mat. Of course there was another couple next to us quietly and calmly changing a small baby. Meanwhile our little terror screamed and kicked while sweat ran down our faces and we fake laughed at her, ourselves and the whole situation though inside I felt like crying.

We decided lunch was the best thing to do next. After that well…we should have left. But we didn’t. My mama instincts were yelling to get the hell out of there but my husband wanted to show our daughter the giraffes. This involved a ten minute walk with a child who definitely didn’t want her zoo car anymore. It was also becoming hotter and more crowded with every step we took. The final straw was my girl kicking off her shoes then refusing to put them back on while simultaneously trying to walk on the grit laden floor. I grabbed her, signalled to hubbie we were done and literally pushed my way back out of the African Planes. That’s when B**** Ann-Marie took over.

B**** Ann-Marie made her first appearance on one long ago summer when I lived in London with a boyfriend (now ex) for two whole months. I learned quite quickly that in order to survive I would need to toughen up. Getting around on the Tube was a necessity and it absolutely terrified me at first. But after a few weeks I was an old hand at it. So much so that I would look pityingly at the tourists nervously moving their way around on the carriages and clutching their bags ever so tightly. The following year I returned with my mother for a visit. It was as if I had never been away. I think I may have scared my mother slightly with my hardened Londoner edge.

So London Ann-Marie came to the fore as I battled the crowds at London Zoo. I have never been so glad to see an exit sign! We still had one stop to make before we could head home. The shop, ever so cleverly placed next to the exit. A visit to the zoo wouldn’t be complete without a furry animal to take home so a little elephant was bought and promptly named Dumbo.

What a day. I can only imagine how people cope with little tots while on actual vacations. As we were driving away I noticed a couple with their six children (including what looked like toddler twins – yikes). All I could think was they must have better organisational skills than me.

Writing in Toddlerdom

I am currently attempting to find other outlets, beyond my blog, to write for; online or in print and have been lucky to find some publications that have given me some wonderful opportunities. I am delighted but finding the time to write has been hard. My tiny lady used to nap for about two hours in total (including the time it took to fall asleep and wake up properly). This was ideal as it gave me time to work on my blog as well as my other pieces. However, lately she has cut this time in two and is only asleep for about an hour so the most I can stretch nap time to has been an hour and a half (as now she is falling asleep almost immediately instead of after a half hour of chat!). Today she decided not to nap at all!

I am aware that as she gets older she will need less and less sleep (and then – oh the horrors – no day-time sleep at all) but I figured I had a while to go before she would need any less than the two hours. But I could be wrong. She could just drop the naps all of a sudden. And I have to be prepared!

So what to do? I can either work in the evenings (when I find it hard to stay awake past nine o’clock much less produce coherent work) or I can learn to work while she is awake. Hmm…me thinks this will be quite the learning curve! Since I started this post (about half an hour ago) I have been asked to find a doll, locate her teddy, fix a train track and play tea parties. I’ve tried to explain about mummy working but it kinda breaks my heart to turn her down so I’ve played for a few minutes then jumped back to the laptop. I guess it will take us both some time to get used to. I can’t resist that smile and she loves having play-time with mummy. It’s something I enjoy about being at home with her too; I have time to enjoy really being with her.

Perhaps I may have to set my alarm clock -which hasn’t been set once since she was born as babies are mother nature’s alarm clocks! – and wake up a little earlier so that I can combine the life of a writer with the life of a mother.

Watching Movies (parent-style)

Myself and my husband are big film fans. Our pre-parent selves watched a lot of movies and made numerous treks to the cinema. We stacked our shelves with all the new releases as well as hunting down eighties and nineties classics. Trust me when I say we have a lot of DVDs. Fast forward to now and our child is two. Since her arrival I have noticed a steady decline in our movie watching. I was prepared for this when she was a newborn. We broke up the night into two shifts so that each of us got at least five hours sleep. This usually meant that the person on the second shift (who got to wake up at…three am!!!) had to be in bed by ten. This usually meant making moves to get to bed around half nine or so – the time our pre-parent selves would just be settling in for a film night with popcorn, crisps and wine. So I begrudgingly accepted that our movie watching might be curtailed for a bit.

However, I’ve now been forced to acquiesce that, for now at least, the only way we can watch a full movie together is if we either go to the cinema (good luck finding a babysitter) or break the movie up into two halves. Now you can risk a full movie in one night but it will cost you…inevitably the tiny lady will wake up much earlier than usual and you will cry into your pillow, regretting that second glass of wine and bedtime at eleven o’clock. She honestly has a sixth sense about these things and punishes parents for attempting to enjoy themselves. I’m kidding…probably.

I have also found that if we try and watch a full movie in one night than about half an hour towards the end I will find myself drifting off, eyes heavy and full of sleep. I will turn to my husband and suggest we watch the rest of it the following evening. He will try to cajole me and remind me that it’s nearly over. This will go on for about five or ten minutes until one of us gives in. If I give in and stay up I end up quite out of sorts by the time the end credits roll by and usually won’t wash my teeth, remove my make-up or take out my contact lenses!

Recently I’ve started to remember watching movies with my parents when I was a child. And what was my mum doing while we all watched? Well she was fine for the first half hour or so then you would look over during a particularly funny scene and there she was …fast asleep!! And now I get it…I totally get it!!

It’s my party…and I’ll cry if I want to!

It seems like a very long while since my last post and while I have been absent from the blogsphere I have been busy, in real life, getting ready for the tiny lady’s second birthday party. I can feel the lump in my throat even typing this – my baby is two! She is officially no longer a baby in the eyes of the world although in my eyes she will be stuck with the baby label no matter how big she gets.

The party itself went really well but all the planning and organising it took was nearly worse than my wedding. There was a cake to be ordered, catering to be delivered (catering mind you for a two year old’s party) and decorations to be bought and then artfully arranged. My husband and I also had the ‘fantastic’ idea of making our own birthday card – thanks CBeebies for that! It seemed like such a nice thing to do and I had visions of us sitting there maybe with a glass of wine, making the card while reminiscing about the last two years. Naturally this did not happen. My husband took over the designing and spent the best part of three hours sweating over the computer and printer to produce Bing and Sula along with a photo of my daughter and various other bits including a rainbow and flowers!

I then had the ‘joy’ of cutting all of this crap out…and I am seriously bad at cutting. There were quite a few near misses with Bing’s hands and Sula’s trunk. Finally I stuck all the bits and pieces onto our giant A2 card. It was worth it, it looked really, really good. That is until the glue dried. All the paper images turned an ugly shade of green so it looked as if we were zombifying not only our beautiful daughter but her favourite TV characters as well. We decided it would not be displayed at the party.

We spent all last week in a similar fluster between cakes and decorations and planning until finally the day of the party dawned and I felt shattered. Cups of coffee and coke kept me going but between the stress of hosting (I do not enjoy hosting occasions) and a lack of sleep the night before I was ready for bed before my little girl.

At the end of it all I thought back to my own tiny birthday parties. There would be a few treats, a cake (of course) and myself, my sister and my cousin. We each took turns blowing out the candles (this still rankles it was my birthday after all) and then would eat a few treats before going off to play. Simple, easy and no stress or sweat involved. But these days even a simple home party like ours turns into a circus. It’s as if we are afraid our children won’t feel loved enough if we don’t celebrate with due style. I am just grateful she hasn’t started school yet – I can well imagine those parties are tough on both your mental health and your pocket!

Still it was a very lovely day despite all of that and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Toilet Training (part 1) – So it begins…

‘Mama toilet!’

These very surprising words were spoken to me by my tiny lady this morning. I say surprising as we haven’t even begun the arduous task of toilet training yet. We have bought a little toilet seat and she has sat on it nappy-less on a few occasions but this has been the extent of ‘training’ until now.

Having worked in the ‘toilet training’ room of a crèche for years I vowed that when I had my own child I was going to make toilet training as stress free as possible. It’s a huge step for a child and a daunting task for parents. You want to get it right and you don’t want to give your child issues for years after. It puts enormous pressure on you as a parent and I wanted to make it as calm as possible for myself, my husband and our tiny lady. So I decided we would take it in baby steps. We bought the aforementioned toilet seat. She has worn pull ups from time to time. We talk to her about the toilet and read her stories about it (including one I wrote myself). She has been watching mama go to the toilet for months now so she knows what it’s all about. Still I was eager not to rush things. Our next step was the purchase of a potty once she actually turns two.

So you can imagine my surprise when she actually asked me for the toilet. We were playing cars quite happily when suddenly she jumped up. ‘Mama toilet!’ You could have knocked me over with a feather! So I sat her up on her toilet seat. She sat for one second precisely then wanted to get off. I figure she had gone in her nappy and then asked to go. But still – a step forward all the same.

I suppose I may need to go get that potty now!! And so it begins…

So Bloom…with a Toddler…thank goodness for parental amnesia

So Bloom….with a toddler….yes it did seem like quite a good idea at the time. Normally we are a bit reluctant to go too far afield with the tiny lady unless we are staying over somewhere for the night but she is about to turn two so we thought we would risk it. What’s the worse that could happen?

Indeed.

Well, spoiler alert we didn’t actually see any flowers. At a national festival of flowers and plants we didn’t actually see any. It might be some sort of record.

The day started off quite well. We timed our departure to tie with in with the all important toddler nap time and the tiny lady drifted off for the better part of the journey. Then we hit Dublin. Aided and abetted by the help of Google Maps we came very close to divorce on the M50. We circled round and round. Voices were raised. Tempers flared. The toddler woke up and wanted out. I began to regret leaving the house. But we made it at last. Or so we thought.

We ended up parked miles away from the actual entrance only to discover an actual carpark a stones throw away once we got there. We attempted laughing it off but there were lots of dark looks thrown at the guard who had kindly directed us in the wrong direction.

Finally, however, we made it inside. Toilets were a priority at this stage. I found them…well actually I smelled them first. A queue snaked out of each woman’s cubicle while the men’s were quietly idle. Wishing I was a man I queued at the women’s. Ten minutes later I felt a little more comfortable thought I did vow I would go liquid free for the rest of the afternoon. This meant abstaining from coffee which quite frankly I could have seriously used at that point. However, I didn’t want to spend our limited time queuing at the toilets. We figured with a toddler and two hour journey home we have two hours max to enjoy ourselves.

Food was next on the agenda. We found a fancy hot dog vendors and basically scoffed some down in about five minutes the toddler helped though she preferred her banana and baby bel. We then took a quick stroll through the craft area. By quick stroll I mean I literally stopped at one stall before the tiny lady tried to grab a handful of shiny jewels. We managed to stop her but we had to pay a price.  What followed was a five minute meltdown that ended in bribery and ice cream. I never realised quite how sticky toddlers can be until the tiny lady rubbed her ice cream caked hand all over the grass and then tried to give me a hug.

My husband tried to take a brief tour of the food stalls while I entertained the toddler but after two seconds she wanted her dada again. She wasn’t happy until we were all sitting down together on the grass; preferably with food in our hands. There were quite a few meltdowns when we tried to do anything other than what she wanted to do so the main area we got to see was the children’s area where our little monkey played with tractors and watched half of a Punch & Judy show. I can’t even honestly tell you what we else we really did beyond that and eating!

But it was the walk back to the car that truly broke me. My husband suggested he walk ahead with my coffee and the bag of assorted toddler/parent crap. I figured the tiny lady and I could stroll back at our leisure as we wouldn’t have as far to go. All was going swimmingly until a steward asked us to step off the foot path to allow cars to pass. Yes cars …on the footpath. Of course the toddler didn’t want to walk on the grass she wanted to walk on the footpath. She raved and ranted. I cursed the steward under my breath allowing myself the luxury of calling him stupid in her earshot which normally I would never do. I then had to carry her all the way back to the car with an ache in the pit of my back and sweat streaking down my face. At that point I swore I would never go anywhere ever again.

The car journey home confirmed my decision.  All the way home the sounds of Mama, Mama literally every two seconds.  I curled up in a ball at one point hoping that if she couldn’t see me she wouldn’t call for me – out of sight out of mind kind of thing. This did not even come close to working.

The day ended with the least nutritious dinner – waffles and spaghetti hoops -this meant no fighting and very little washing up.

Of course we all know that with a bit of time and distance the stress will fade from my mind and all I will remember is my tiny lady’s face as she bit into her first lemon sorbet, the light in her eyes as she giggled at Punch & Judy and the feel of her warm body snuggled against mine as we walked home. That’s the joy of being a parent; you benefit greatly from parental amnesia…otherwise you might very well never leave your home again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The practical side of parenting

Since my daughter’s birth nearly two years ago (TWO yikes!) I have been constantly confronted by the notion that I am completely unprepared as a mother. It started in the hospital. I arrived with 0 to 3 month clothes having been convinced she wouldn’t fit into the teeny newborn items. In my defence at my last scan she had measured 7.5. This was a few days before the birth so I figured she would have grown a little by the time she actually arrived. But wouldn’t you know it she was a tiddler. So she spent her first day swimming around in the outfit I had spent ages picking out for her. Pink and perfect and much too big. Relatives were duly dispatched to nearby shops. Oh and could you also bring some cot sheets, more blankets, mittens and chocolate (that last was for me – not a fan of hospital food). Thanks so much! I was woefully unprepared despite the two bags I’d lugged into the hospital that first day.

Since then things have pretty much been the same. In my first few weeks as a new mother I was constantly forgetting some must need item from the nappy bag from actual nappies to muslins to bibs. Each time it happened I vowed to make a ‘nappy bag list’. This list was never written .

I’d like to tell you things have changed since those early weeks…but that would be a big fat lie. Only the other week out for a shopping trip with a friend I forgot to pack a spare pair of clothes for my daughter. Obviously the tiny lady then had to go and spill juice all over herself. “But she rarely needs a change!” I wailed! My friend wisely said nothing.

Only a few weeks before this fateful trip my husband and I had brought the tiny lady out for a picnic…and forgot to pack a nappy. She did the biggest poop ever….then went down a slide and mushed it all up her back. That was one long stinky drive home!

Today the long promised heat wave hit. What was my daughter wearing? A long sleeved vest, long sleeved top, a skirt and tights! Yes tights! I realised her summer wardrobe consists of two t shirts and both were in the wash. One frantic trip to tesco later and there she was in shorts and a sleeveless t shirt (for a wonder we actually did have short sleeve vests).

As we drove home I thought about how utterly useless I am at the practical side of parenting. I just don’t seem to be clued into it at all. She can go at least a week without me remembering to cut her nails and don’t get me started on the onerous task of ear cleaning! I can’t even excuse myself on the grounds that I hate these tasks I just genuinely don’t think of them! What does that say about me??

All I can hope is that she knows she is very much loved despite my devil may care attitude to the more practical side of life!