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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Finally I can say it...

Scary Mommy
I'm a bit late, it was actually published over two weeks ago. What can I say? I'm ALWAYS late. But, with all the joy and pride in the world, THIS IS MINE!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

I'm not ready

Mat gave Dom a strawberry yoghurt drink last week and it sent him off his rocker.  I have never in my life seen him so manic, and I'd be happy to repeat the experience on the dark side of never.  It was the first time in our 2.5 month long summer holidays that I thought, "God, I can't wait for the 16th and nursery to open again!"

Once I'd had that thought and the guilt didn't kill me, it slipped in another couple of times when he was being a handful.  I started to think about what I'd do in the days between him going back to nursery and me going back to work, and the fantasies of a solo coffee without having to repeat, "Lovely cup of tea" all the way through; deep cleaning the house; taking those towels back to Primark without having to carry the buggy up a million stairs to change metro lines; actually browsing in Primark rather than running through at the speed of light because Dom has his father's aversion to clothes shops; maybe even squeezing in a morning at the beach if the weather holds; all of these thoughts took hold whenever he had a handful of the tiny hairs on the back of neck that he refused to relinquish or thought it was hilarious to bite my bum (WHERE do they get these ideas from)?

Now, however, it's the night before he starts back and I'm nowhere near ready to let him go again.  Despite the fact that we've had 10 wonderful weeks and he's had plenty of fun and intellectual stimulation; despite being lucky enough to be able to give him the kind of sunshine and sand and swimming summer that I dreamed of as a kid; despite usually being patient and involved and on hand; I can't help wishing we just had one more week where it - where I - could be BETTER.  Every moment I checked my emails or silently begged for just two minutes to finish something or rolled my eyes at his demands to see the mole on my back for the 50th time now feels like a precious, wasted moment.  

But while I'm beating myself up about being a human being, I have moments to look back such as this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this:


or this.


And I think - you know what?  We did OK.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

5 Life Lessons I Should Never Have Taught My Toddler.

Parenting: The process of turning our crotchfruit from wailing creatures that look like plucked chickens into happy, polite, well-balanced kids who become functioning adults of the kind we don't mind sitting next to on an aeroplane. It's a long, arduous, repetitive task, thankfully interspersed with moments of pure joy – the first laugh; the first steps; the first time they actually do what you ask, when you ask...

It is truly a wondrous day when all our nagging – sorry, effort – pays off and our little darlings actually learn something. Whether it's being able to tie their own shoelaces or being able to leave the park without a clump of somebody else's hair clutched in their freakishly strong little fists, we rightly allow ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done.

However, sunken in the battlefield of parenting are volatile mines that we couldn't even imagine. No sooner do our sweethearts take a concept on board than they turn it into another form of parental torture, using our carefully chosen words and well-thought-out examples against us in a barrage of bossiness disguised as “personal growth”:

1. “Me do”.
See that tiny window of opportunity you have to make your appointments on time? Wave it goodbye the second your toddler learns to pull on his own trousers. From now on, add a minimum of 5 minutes to each individual task in your 'leaving the house' routine, as they insist on taking sole responsibility for every aspect of their personal hygiene, wardrobe choices and feeding. Yay independence!

2. “Mama share”.
Toddlers resist sharing like cats resist baths. What's yours is theirs, and what's theirs is theirs too. The hallelujah moment when they first allow another child to play with their toys without attempting to gouge their eyes out will be quickly replaced with the misery of having to eat all chocolate-based products in the bathroom, or suffer the hurt bewilderment and indignation of a small child intent on shaming you into giving up the goods. And no, they NEVER want to share your broccoli. That's not how it works.

3. “I help”.
They won't help to tidy up their blocks or pick up the giant pile of books they've scattered around the living room. Oh, no. They will, however, be just DYING to assist with any intricate, dangerous or awkward jobs you're doing, preferably involving bleach or knives. If they can be steered away from imminent death or injury, their second-favourite time to assist is when you've just finished a time-consuming job. There's nothing like picking your clean, folded washing off the floor for the third time to make you rethink your emphasis on helpfulness.

4. “Don't touch!”.
Given that a huge part of parenting revolves around preventing your little ones from destroying their body parts in all sorts of bizarre ways, teaching them to steer clear of certain objects probably takes up the majority of your day. They're simple creatures, though, and the idea that it's just them who shouldn't use the oven or transport pans of boiling water is beyond them. This charming characteristic means that you'll spend a good year or two feeling like you're living with a particularly nervous drill sergeant, as your every move towards potential danger is greeted with roars of “DON'T TOUCH, MAMA!” It's OK, cold food is fine until this stage is over and ironing is overrated anyway.

5. Routine Problems.
Subject of many a heated debate, routines can make or break a parent. Once your squawking newborn has gained enough sense to realise that some things, like bedtime, happen every day, routines can be a handy weapon in your arsenal of ways to make your day easier. But toddlers can be creatures of habit, which in many cases means that slight deviations from the norm result in screaming fits and general misery for everyone within a 2 mile radius. Try skipping bath time for ONE night and not only will they not sleep, they'll make sure that the world knows that it's YOUR FAULT. Remember that festival you didn't go to when they were 7 months old because it finished two hours after bedtime? Now is the time to forcefully regret it.


I've decided – number two child will be feral. It'll be easier on everyone.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Lessons in peace


I've written before about my struggles with gentle or peaceful parenting.  I fully understand and appreciate the thinking behind it, and I genuinely believe that it's an approach which has the best interests of our children in mind.  I'm completely on board with the theory, though as I explained a very long time ago in this post, I'm hesitant to commit myself fully to any parenting style or school of thought, as parenthood should be flexible enough to evolve with the needs and personality of each child and each parent.  However, Dom and I had an experience recently which has put me firmly in the "peaceful" camp.

For no reason other than mischief and toddlerhood, Dom loves to beat people up with a viciousness belied by his adorably chubby cheeks and huge, innocent eyes.  When aimed at me, these ambushes involve him smacking my face, hauling my head around using clumps of my hair for leverage and pulling my glasses off.  This last indignity is the most worrying, because I'm useless without glasses (as an example of how bad my eyesight is, if I remove my glasses while sitting at my desk, I can't read anything on the computer screen), and I don't have a spare pair.  I used to use my old glasses in times of need, but my last pair were a victim of Dom's merciless need to render me blind, and my eyes deteriorate so quickly that the pair before those are now useless.  New glasses aren't cheap and, like having kids, there is never a right time to have to pay out a couple of hundred euros for the privilege of sight.

Usually, when Dom goes on his violent rampages, we deal with it by stopping his hand before it makes contact (if we're fast enough), telling him firmly that we won't allow him to hit, and reminding him to use kind hands.  We demonstrate kind hands by stroking him gently and he usually responds in kind.  He's also a dab hand at "saying sorry" now, which involves leaning in and cuddling and rubbing his cheek on the recently-mauled face of his latest victim. With hindsight we'd have probably done better to encourage a verbal request for forgiveness, as his apologetic approach generally strikes fear into the heart of the tiny peers who have just suffered at his podgy hands. This isn't to say that he's worse than his contemporaries - he's just being a baby. Despite my embarrassment when he skulldrags an immaculate little girl around the park or lays into someone because he doesn't like their hat, I know it's normal behaviour and it doesn't make me angry at him. His outbursts are becoming more infrequent as his impulse control catches up to his curiosity about the consequences of beating Mama with a plastic spade, and I'm confident that we're on our way to convincing the local kids that it's safe to visit the park at the same time as my little terror. 

However, a few weeks ago, I let my guard down for a second.  I don't know why - I could say it was because it was Saturday and I was tired from working nights, or I'd had a dingdong with Mat, or it was the 8th time in a minute Dom had tried to break my glasses.  I could, but I won't, because I'm not looking to make excuses for myself.  That's not what this is about.  

So, he launched himself at my glasses like a crazy baby, grabbed them off my face and proceeded to pull the arms in opposite directions.  Without thinking, I exclaimed "NO!", tapped the back of his hand a couple of times with two of my fingers and took the glasses from him.  Physically, it wouldn't pass muster as a smack or a spanking - it didn't hurt him or leave a mark.  It was probably about as much force as you'd use when tapping your wrist to let someone know they're late.  To be honest, I exert more effort when patting his bum in the way he likes at night, the way that sends him to sleep while he drinks his milk.  The difference here was the intent.  I wasn't soothing him with rhythmic pats, I was using force to show him that I disliked his behaviour, and I was immediately and crushingly ashamed of myself.  I apologised to him and promised him that it wouldn't happen again.  

The sense of shame didn't leave immediately, but eventually I resolved to stop beating myself up about a mistake and learn from the experience.  I was still shot through with darts of regret every time I thought about it, but I made sure I did some reading on how best to handle similar situations and Dom made sure I had plenty of opportunities to put the theories into practice.  

After a week or so, we'd put it behind us - or so I thought.  Then something happened that made the shame I'd endured before feel like a mere pinprick of guilt.  I had hold of Dom when, once again, he snatched at my glasses.  He'd done it several times since "that" time, so I don't know what it was about this particular time that was different, but as I gently liberated them from his eager hands, he stuck out his left hand and tapped himself twice on the back of it with two fingers of his right.

My heart turned over and I felt - still feel - like the biggest failure there ever was.  In that instant, I saw almost two years of being calm, patient, gentle and loving go down the toilet.  In one moment of lowered guard, my baby boy had learned that he got hit when he did something I didn't like, and the knowledge that he'd learned from me made me feel sick.  

There's nothing I can do to change what's already been done - I can't go back in time and change that moment, though I wish wholeheartedly that I could.  Dom hasn't reprimanded himself like that since (though he often tells himself, too late, that he's not allowed to climb on the table by gleefully shouting "Get down, you menace!"), and his ongoing obsession with my glasses indicates that he's by no means traumatised by the incident.  I can't quite say the same for myself - I still writhe with remorse every time I think of it and I don't think I'll ever fully forgive myself for teaching him a lesson I'd have preferred him to never have learned.  All I can do now is hope that all of my good teaching before and since eventually obliterates that memory from his brain, and make sure that every lesson he learns from here on in is a positive and peaceful one.

Most people I know would think nothing of a swift smack to the bum or a sharp tap on the back of the hand, and they'll probably think I'm crazy for being so upset by it.  Be that as it may, I'm not happy with myself for reacting in that way and I plan to make sure it's the first and last time.  Others may judge me harshly for my momentary lapse in control, and I can't stop that.  I suppose by writing about it, I'm inviting that criticism.  I just hope that the majority of people can remember a time when they struggled or failed, and I hope that they too resolved to let it be a lesson, not a loss.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Why my house never quite makes it to spotless.

Damn, Dom's finished his dinner already.  That was quick, I was hoping to have him distracted for a bit longer while I cleaned the kitchen.  Well, it was only a sandwich.  I'll see if he wants some fruit for afters.  

"What's that, my love?  Neenor?"  Hmmm.  Is he getting a bit too obsessed with neenor?  I don't want him watching too much telly.  I suppose an episode of Fireman Sam only lasts 10 minutes.  I can settle him down with that and a banana and I can get stuck into the dishes before we go out.

Right, that's that sorted.  He's happy.  Let's crack on with this kitchen.  Crap, forgot to give him his banana.  Where's the tea towel?  Oh sod it, a bit of soapy water never hurt anyone.  

Surely we can't have eaten all those bananas?  I only bought new ones the other day. I've told him he can have fruit now... maybe he's forgotten.  He IS pretty engrossed in Fireman Sa - "Yes my angel?  I'm sorry, we haven't got any bananas, my love.  Hang on, let's see what else we've got... pears, apples, cherries... OK, cherries?  OK, I heard you!  Go and sit down and I'll bring you some cherries.  I know!  I know you want cherries!  I'm bringing them in now!"

Must buy a cherry pitter.  In the meantime, where's the little knife?  Oh, at the bottom of the sink under all the other dirty dishes.  Fine, no worries, I've got nails.  Oof, I need a wee.

"Here you go, babyface."  Right, dishes.  What's that over there?  Ah, THAT'S why he was so quick to finish his sandwich.  Half of it is under the coffee table.  Let's just grab that brush from the kitchen.  There, sorted. That'll do for now, I'll brush properly later.  Dustpan... where is the dustpan?  Why isn't the dustpan WITH the brush?  Isn't that the logical place for it to - oh, no, apparently the logical place is under the bed with the dustbunny population of the world.  I'll just grab that brush.

"Oh, Dom, really?!"  Note to self - don't leave a toddler with a pile of crumbs.  They can't resist. So it looks like I AM brushing properly now.  Might as well brush my way into the kitchen.  

It's getting a bit too hot to leave the butter out now, I'd better stick it in the fridge.  Jesus, what's that?  Has it got legs?  Cloth, cloth, where's the cloth? This fridge needs a good cleaning.  I'll do it later.  For now, let's just wipe up whatever this is and get back to the dishes.  Ooh, strawberries!  Forgot they were there.  I'll have them when Dom goes for a sleep.  Well, might as well have a couple now, keep me going.

Didn't I have a cup of tea?  Ah, there it is.  Bit cold but nothing the microwave won't sort out.  God, that microwave is vile.  Whatever Mat defrosted for his tea last night appears to have taken violently against the process.  Would it kill him to clean it BEFORE it encrusted itself to the glass?  I'll have to put it in soak.  After I've warmed my tea up.  

Dom's very quiet, that's ominous.  Let's see if I can see him without him seeing me or it's game over.  CHRIST ALMIGHTY IS THAT BLOOD?  Oh, thank God, it's only cherries.  Bloody cherries.  Shit, there's some on the wall.  Better get that off before it stains.  Please come off.  PLEASE!  Crap, looks like we're repainting.  Again.  Should just do it black and have done with it, except he'd probably just wipe his nose on it if we did.  Can't win.  What was that saying about cleaning the house with kids around being like snow or something?  No, it's gone.  I'll Google it.  

Where's my phone?  When did I last have it?  I was looking up the number for the dentist this morning, then I put it in my bag, which is in the hall.  "Dom, what have we said about emptying Mama's bag?".  Half of this stuff needs to go in the bin anyway.  I don't know why I'm carrying it around with me.  No wonder my back hurts.  I wonder if I can wangle a back rub tonight?  If I don't pick on him about the microwave he might go for it.

The microwave!  My tea!  Shitting hell.  One day I'll learn to put it on for 30 seconds at a time.  At least the crusty cheese has had a bit of a soak now.  Still need a wee.  Let's just check on Dom.  Yep, he's fine.  Toilet, here I come.  Oh, God that's nic- "What?  Milk?  You need milk RIGHT NOW?  OK, just let me get off the toilet and we'll - oh, OK, no, we're breastfeeding right here."  On the toilet.  That's sanitary.  There's a meme in here somewhere.  


When did I last put the mould stuff around the tiles?  Looks like it needs doing again.  I thought the point of it was that it KILLED mould?  I wasn't aware that mould could resurrect itself.  Maybe it's been reading the Bible.  Or Pet Sematary.  Yeah, this bathroom is definitely more Stephen King than hallelujah.  

"Dom, shall we play with your blocks?  No?  OK, you play on your truck.  Mama's just going to start the kitchen.  Nappy change?  Come on then."

Christ, that stinks.  How can one tiny, beautiful person produce such a stench?  Quick, into the bin before it explodes or something.  Bin needs emptying.  Binbags?  Oh, don't say we've got no binbags!  Ah, there they are.  I'll have to leave this outside the back door until we're going out.  At this rate, we'll be lucky to make it before it bio-degrades.  Worst case scenario, Mat can take it down when he gets in.

Speak of the devil.  "Hiya babe, you're home early!  Fancy a brew?  I'll make you a sandwich if you want, there's some cheese left.  Just let me - WHAT WAS THAT?!"  No harm done, just a shock.  And that's why we don't pull Mama's books off the shelf.  

"Mat, remember to use a chopping board, I've just wiped that down.  Sorry, sorry, I know you're not stu- GET A PLATE!  How many times!"  Good lord, it's like having two kids sometimes.  Did I say that out loud?  Phew, don't want to jeopardise my back rub. 

How can one man make such a mess in 45 seconds rubbing butter onto bread and applying cheese?  I swear it looks like Armageddon in here.  I give up.  Let's just go to the park.

*
*
*
*

Shit, forgot the binbag.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

In defence of my phone.

Don't worry, I KNOW that excessive use of a mobile phone can be damaging to our interpersonal relationships.  I'm not advocating for gluing ourselves to our phones 24x7, but nor am I a huge fan of the slightly sanctimonious backlash that makes us feel like criminals for checking our notifications.  I'm here to provide a bit of balance.

I keep seeing all of this judgement online 
Critical of how we're all spending our time 
Assuming because I've got hold of my phone 
I'm socially inept and feeling alone 

I have to admit, I dislike your assumption 
That our use of these tools is purely consumption 
Mindless and brainless and begging for more
You've no way of knowing what I use it for

From the brief glimpse you have, there's no way you can know
If I'm allowing the creative juices to flow
Writing a novel or completing this poem
In case I forget it before I get home

Connecting with family who live over the sea
Brought closer together by technology
Or maybe I'm disproving cosmic expansion
Is that important enough to warrant your sanction?

I think most of all I feel sorry for mothers
They seem to have it worse than the others
If they glance at their phone they're ignoring their child
Neglecting the baby or letting kids run wild

Maybe you think I'm being defensive
For finding your judgement a little offensive
I do understand that too much can cause damage
But I resent that you feel that my life's yours to manage

The irony is, now your video's gone viral
You're a contributor to the downward spiral
Every time you walk past someone and judge what they do
The chances are, they're watching YOU.

Friday, 13 June 2014

My reason for everything

It's easy to talk about the hard parts of our lives, the struggles we go through in raising our children, the tantrums and financial worries and the endless burden of guilt.  It's almost unfashionable to say we had a good night's sleep, or are getting on really well with our other halves right now, or enjoy being a stay at home mum or love having a job that involves getting dressed and leaving the house every day.  

Don't get me wrong, I can understand why.  It can be perceived as being a bit smug if we talk too much about how wonderful things are, and there's a level of bonding that comes from discussing our emotional war wounds.  Playing the "Bet my husband is messier than yours" game or playfully competing over whose washing machine is switched on the most is much more likely to win friends than waxing lyrical about how perfect your life is, which can quickly escalate into a dangerous contest of one-upmanship that results in snide comments and hurt feelings all round.  Plus, as someone who likes to write and usually wants to make people laugh, I can't deny that the miniature disasters of everyday life hold far more humour than a constant recounting of all the reasons that life is great, aren't you jealous of me, blah blah blah.

Yet sometimes, it's important to just focus on the positives, revel in the wonder of what we're doing as we bring up these little people who are hell-bent on causing chaos.  I don't say it as often as I should, but I could say it a million times a minute and it wouldn't be enough.  I'm the luckiest woman in the world to have the privilege of life with my son.  Every day of his life is a sheet of paper off this extraordinary game of "pass the parcel", and every day I see another tantalising glimpse of the incredible gift that lies beneath the layers of his developing accomplishments.  He brings sheer, absolute, undiluted joy to my soul and renews my energy even as his uncompromising sense of his own truth threatens to eclipse and overwhelm my weak morning-time composure. 

Personality-wise, we're starting to see the person emerge from the babyish appearance.  He's funny, in a way I didn't know people could be without language.  In fact, he is side-splittingly hilarious; bringing tears of laughter to our eyes and the sharp pain of overwhelming love to our hearts on a daily, hourly basis.  His affection is a goal we pursue every minute of every day and his attention is the sun on frozen limbs.  His new-found opinions, as critical to him as oxygen, are unshakeable and forceful, and when he loves, he does so with every drop of energy his miniature little body holds.

Mid-tantrum, he is as majestic as he is woefulas ridiculous as he is vulnerable, helpless against the weight and force of his own emotions.  He comes back to earth after these episodes a briefly wiser, weakened baby, ready to accept the circle of arms and love to which he was welcome all along.  In rest he is, quite simply, beautiful, to the point where eating my own kneecap seems easier than tearing my eyes away from his flawless face, eyelashes curving peacefully down to peach-skin cheeks; tiny, perfect teeth; ears a masterpiece of curves; plump baby lips that invite kissing over and over and over again.  His hands, so small, hold potential and my heart with the same fierce grasp that belies his tiny size when clutching his toys.  The chubby part above his toes that makes buying shoes so difficult makes not nibbling those delicious digits impossible.  He is, head to toe, a tour de force, the achievement I'm most proud of and my life's work made flesh.










Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Yes, it is fucking special



I have an acquaintance who objects to pregnant women being offered seats on public transport.  He considers himself a well-mannered individual, but strongly believes that pregnancy is not a medical condition and that, because a woman can choose to become or remain pregnant, doing so negates any claim she may feel she has to "special treatment".  

As you can probably guess, this attitude elicited a fierce response from me.  ("Fierce" being the word I choose when describing thing to people like, say, my mother.  "Profane" would work just as well).  In the ensuing heated exchange of views, I concurred that yes, pregnancy in itself is not a medical condition.  However, leaving aside the myriad medical conditions that can and frequently do tag along with this "normal part of life," a pregnant woman is the most vulnerable she will ever be.  Physically larger, slower and clumsier, she is also permanently aware of and responsible for her cargo in a way nobody who has not carried a baby, either in their arms or their womb, can ever fully understand.  Try holding an egg on public transport at rush hour without breaking it.  Now imagine that breaking the egg will lead to your physical and emotional destruction.

During the course of the discussion, a recurring theme emerged from the spilled words of my opponent - oops, fellow conversationalist.  It's one I recognised, one I've heard before from other people - not directed at me in particular, but always at unspecified "women".  "Women," apparently, have an inflated sense of their own importance when they're pregnant.  "Women" expect special treatment for doing what billions of women have done before.  "Women" should just get on with it; and stop making such a big deal about it.  "Women" think the world should bow down to them, just because they've had sex and have a bump to prove it.  Never a name; never a person; nary even an example as proof of these accusations.  

At the time, I focused my arguments on simple facts, details that really should be common knowledge and common sense.  I provided information about the debilitating fatigue, constant nausea and dizziness that can strike women during the first trimester; the back ache, heaviness and sheer exhaustion of dragging around an extra ten pounds of baby, liquid and placenta in the last few months.  I mentioned the more severe side effects, the women with hyperemesis gravidarum whose stomachs forcefully reject everything that enters for the entire nine months, those who suffer from symphysis pubis dysfunction and find walking incredibly painful; the multitude of other conditions that can be caused or aggravated by this "perfectly normal" part of life.  

Of course, all of the above makes pregnancy sound like nine months of relentless misery.  For many people, this isn't the case.  Some women (I was lucky enough to be one of them) sail through pregnancy with only a bit of heartburn or a few sore ribs to mar the experience of creating new life.  However, there is no often way of knowing whether the tired-looking woman with the rounded stomach on the train looks a bit worn because she was tripping the light fantastic until 3am (though chances are, she wasn't); or because her energy has been drained from her like blood from a leeched wound by the almost unbearable agony of simply standing on a bus.  There's no way to know, and I'd always prefer to err on the side of caution.

Thinking about it now, there is something I wish I'd said.  I wish I hadn't tried to defend my pregnant sisters simply by listing all of the medical reasons for being a decent human being, but had stood up strong in acknowledgment and pride against what the world seems to think of as the cardinal sin of the pregnant woman - the accusation that we "think we're special".  There’s a trend nowadays to downplay this everyday miracle and pretend that it’s nothing more important than dealing with a crappy customer or a botched business deal – inconvenient, annoying and potentially able to ruin your day, but nothing out of the ordinary.

I wish I'd responded that yes, it is special.  It's special and it's brave and it's fucking wonderful.  Every woman going through it deserves a medal, never mind a seat on a smelly old train.  In fact, fuck that - what would we want with a medal?  It's just one more thing to clean.  We deserve a daily massage, a bubble bath, our favourite meal cooked for us and someone else to take care of the laundry.  We're bloody amazing.  We're courageous, heroic and strong, every one of us doing this thing that happens every day.

Most of all, we're brave.  We're dealing with the symptoms listed above and more, day in, day out.  We're going to work in discomfort that would have most people taking a personal day, because we want to save our time off for when we really need it.  We're getting up and going about our business in pain, because the boss is someone who doesn't give up his seat, much less his time, for pregnant women; or because the dog won't walk itself.  We're accepting that at the end of the longest and shortest nine months of our lives, our body is going to become a battleground and we'll know untold agony and fear death, or be pumped full of chemicals and fear death, or be cut open through skin and muscle and organ and fear death.  We'll welcome it, because it signals the end of pregnancy and the beginning of a new life, and because that battle is where we find the strength for the hardest battle of our lives – being a mother. 

We're brave because we knowingly and with intent put ourselves completely at the mercy and in the service of another human being, one who knows no compassion and has no social skills.  We embrace chaos, bid goodbye to life as we knew it and become at once the protector of innocence and more dependent and vulnerable than we knew it was possible to be.  We commit ourselves 100% to a venture that all the books and classes in the world couldn't possibly prepare us for, and we do it on no sleep.

But you know what the bravest thing of all is?  We love, adore, worship, and set our entire being around SOMEONE ELSE.  We remove our hearts from our chests and our sleeves and send them out into an unpredictable world which really couldn't give a shit about any of this.  Anyone who hasn't loved a child can't come close to the fear, the obsession, the addiction, the love.  You think you love ice cream or your mother?  You think you'd be lost without your husband or your best friend?  Multiply that by a million, then imagine that your mother is completely fucking helpless, that your husband is constantly, suicidally obsessed with electricity or crawling off high tables onto tiled floors, that your best friend has to be trusted with strangers who may or may not want to shoot or kidnap or assault her when she can't even open her fucking mouth to tell people that her shoes are on the wrong feet.  Now imagine signing up for a lifetime of this and doing it while loving every terrifying minute.

Yeah, we're fucking brave.  Yes, it is special.  And no, I don't give a rat's arse if you agree with me or not.  Now step away from the seat, matey, and go and call your mother to tell her you love her.












Friday, 30 May 2014

In My Liverpool Home

Our Rach gets the credit for the fab photos.


It's hard to write about Liverpool because on the one hand, there is so much to say that I feel I could be here for donkey's years, but on the other hand it's been immortalised in so many books, articles, songs, poems etc that it's hard not to feel like I'm being imitative or being clichéd.  So forgive me if this is a bit bitty.

During my brief trip to Liverpool recently, I was reminded, as I always am when there, of the many reasons I love it.  I'm lucky enough to call two amazing cities home, but there's something about Liverpool that can't be matched.  I haven't travelled anywhere near as much as I'd like to, but I'm willing to bet that nowhere in the world has the same ability to put a smile on my face and earn a place in the hearts of the millions of tourists who pass through it every year.  

My relationship with Liverpool is a little unusual compared to most Scouse girls in that fashion, one of the city's main attractions for many, is a source of terror for me.  A night out in Liverpool usually begins with me rummaging through my case in panic, holding up items that I'd wear on a big night out in Barcelona and having them dismissed as "too scruffy to go for your tea in" in Liverpool.  There's usually a slightly heated debate about why I'm not wearing heels - I'm of the opinion that walking like a lorry driver in them, risking a broken ankle before I've even got in the taxi, being completely unable to enjoy any of my night out and not being able to bend my knee for a week afterwards is sufficient reason to steer clear, but that doesn't cut it with Scousers.  Pain is beauty and an unwillingness to suffer for longer-looking legs indicates a defect in my character that deems me not quite acceptable in certain circles.  Thankfully, I can now pretend that whatever I want to wear is all the rage in Barcelona, therefore blaming all of the above on "living abroad", rather than "being shit at fashion", and thus ensuring that my visits home are less sartorial stress, more six-pack-inducing laughter.

Oh, the laughter.  It's almost clichéd to mention humour when writing about Liverpool, so ingrained is it in the collective psyche of the city.  Even across the rest of the country, Liverpool is known for its incessant need to make people laugh.  Love them or hate them, Scousers aren't to be ignored.  

Apart from the sheer joy of being surrounded by my lunatic family with their hilarious stories, there were a couple of moments that stood out for me.  Both took place in discount shops, which makes me think that there's something about a bargain that brings out the comedian in Scousers.  While waiting to pay in Poundland, I overheard a couple of teenage girls ask the cashier, "Can we get served with hair dye?".  The question was innocent enough and the answer was negative, but it made me laugh - back when I was that age, I was worrying about getting served with illicit cider or Lambert and Butler.  Obviously the younger generation of Scouse women are more concerned with their appearances than with destroying their health via White Lightning, which can only be a good thing.  

The second overheard nugget of comedy gold came from a couple of lads stacking shelves in B & M, where I'd headed in search of dry shampoo (how did I ever live without this miracle product?  And WHY hasn't Spain cottoned onto how wonderful it is yet?).  Displaying an enviable level of commitment to the retail trade, one asked the other, "Ay lad, would you rather work in Marksie's or Morrisons?"  His colleague, clearly a thrillseeker, replied, "Nah, I want a job in the Asda - it's MAD in there!"  Luckily enough the Asda was our next stop so I kept my eyes peeled for any evidence of debauchery amongst the staff, but they were all disappointingly well-behaved and offered no glimpse of the wildness that they apparently keep hidden beneath their green polyester blouses.  Sadly, it failed to even live up to the post-Christmas shopping trip when we were in the right aisle at the right time as they knocked the giant Cadbury's Roses Fudges down from a fiver to a pound, though to be fair, that day would take some beating.

The thing I love about Liverpool is that Scousers will talk to anyone.  In the queue at that same B & M, I found out how the lad behind the counter deals with his monobrow (wax - he's not a fan of shaving).  My mum told anyone who'd listen, which was a LOT of people, that I live in Spain and she's coming to visit in July.  I found an alternative to Johnson's tanning moisturiser courtesy of a tip from the fella on the till in Primark, and gave his colleague some hints for his forthcoming trip to Barcelona.  It's just a friendly place.   I miss that.




Monday, 28 April 2014

Quick message to a commentor

I accidentally deleted a comment from somebody who didn't leave their name, while trying to remove the typos from my reply. The comment was something like "Brave would be telling him to his face, not hiding behind a blog." I decided to respond via a new post, in the spirit of taking the rough with the smooth and in the interests of not censoring people just because I disagree with them.

Who's hiding? The blog is no secret to either my family or Mat's and my photo is right up there. If we're Facebook friends, you'll see that I'm not slow to claim and promote my posts under my personal page. He'll see it.

Are you suggesting that I get on a plane to a different country to tell someone who doesn't want to speak to me that I don't want to speak to him either? Seems a little excessive.

But hey, you stay anonymous while talking about hiding and telling others how to be brave. I enjoy a bit of irony.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Please, don't sign yourself "Gramps"

Dear Stephen, 

I've toyed with the idea of writing to you since Christmas, when you blew up and blew apart the family we thought we had, but I haven't really known where to start or what to say. I haven't wanted to ask forgiveness - maybe we should, but we don't know what caused your behaviour, so we can't tell whether we're in a position to ask pardon or demand that you do.  And it seems silly to ask for an explanation when you won't be able to provide anything that comes close to excusing what happened. 

Of course, no matter the reason for the appalling show of temper on Christmas Eve, I'll never believe that your reaction was warranted. I'm used to people stomping and shouting and causing havoc - in my family, it's par for the course whenever one of us gets on another's nerves. We're not cold blooded, though - we don't plan to hurt each other and we're as fast to admit wrongdoing and apologise as we are to fly off the handle. However, again, this isn't really something I wanted to get into in too much depth. I don't really see the point.  You don't want to be in our lives and, as a family, we can live with that.

You sending Dom an Easter card, however, set my mind in gear again. I'm sure it was done with much deliberation about the effect it would have in our household, and the words were carefully chosen - that much is apparent. It's those words, and one in particular, that are the reason for me finally sitting down to write this letter that you may never even see. If you don't, it'll be a release for me and maybe the shitty dreams I continue to have about the whole situation will cease. I can only hope.

First of all, why the repeated mention of money? In a small Easter card to a toddler who still thinks money is for eating, it was undoubtedly the dominant theme. You seemed very anxious to let "Dom" know that you were still filling his bank account, almost as if money could make up for the loss of something that is precious and beautiful - the relationship between a child and their grandfather.  

See, to me, that relationship is absolutely sacred.  I grew up with the best grandfather the world has ever known - of course, most grandchildren who are lucky enough not to lose their grandparents early probably feel the same way.  Rather than diminish the strength of my feelings, though, this only serves to increase my respect for that togetherness that spans and bridges generations. I never called my grandad, "grandad". Until the day he died, I called him Dad. He was everything a father and a grandfather should be, and that's the standard I aspire to. It's impossible to attain, but nobody who loves my son should ever stop trying to reach it. 

It was for that reason, that sentimental memory of my own time as the apple of someone's eye, that during the nightmare that you tried to make of Christmas Eve, I was still standing against Mat in offering you the chance to remain in our son's life even as you broke your own son's heart.  I genuinely thought that, when you told Mat you wanted nothing more to do with him, that some sort of relationship would have to be maintained between you and I at least, so that you could be around for Dominic.  I mean, nobody could hold their grandson, take him to the park, delight in his achievements, get to know him better, and then drop him on Christmas Eve, could they?  I naively thought that Dom was separate from whatever was going on, that you still wanted him even as you threw us away.  But I was wrong, wasn't I?  You had Debbie and Leah remove me from Facebook before we even landed back in Spain, taking away the only chance you had to keep up to date on Dom's progress without having to speak to me or Mat.  And to this day, the phone hasn't rung.  You don't know what you've missed.  I pity you for that.  

Back to the money.  Obviously the repeated references were for our benefit, rather than Dom's.  The only money he's interested in has chocolate inside, like the coins he ate while opening his presents on Christmas day.  You missed that, too.  Do you think we want your money?  Do you think that's why we were around?  If so, that's sad.  I was tempted to return the card to you, tell you to take your money away and not pollute my family with mention of it again, but in the end, I realised that as a mother, my duty was to my baby.  That's not my money to refuse.  In the unlikely event that it does ever make its way to Dom when he's 16 or 18 or 21 or whatever you have planned, he'd probably be very grateful for it.  I can't in good faith let my own feelings take away something that could be beneficial to my son, though I hope you know that he's not for sale.  Not now, not ever.  You won't attempt to buy his affection while he's young and has his head easily turned, and for that reason, I'd like you to refrain from mentioning money to him again.  He can make his own decisions when he's mature enough without being swayed by the prospect of financial gain when he's too young to know the price it carries.  

I did want to keep a relationship going between you and Dom, because foolishly, I thought you wanted that too.  I feel differently now.  During the months of silence unpunctuated by so much as a reply to my one text message, I've had time to reconsider that.  I've held your son in my arms as he sobbed his pain into my shoulder, his grief at losing a father again.  Most people dread losing a parent once.  He's now lost both of his, three times in total.  

I remember a time when Mat and I were having trouble and I turned to you for advice, thinking that as his father, you would not only be best placed to help, but would also want to see us doing well together, for the sake of your son and grandson.  The vitriol of your response stunned me into silence for some weeks - a silence for which you later berated me.  An understanding of basic human emotion seems to be something which eludes you, and dealing with the difficulties of family life is clearly not on your agenda.  In the end, we weathered that storm without your help and we'll weather the rest of them.  You taught me something about families that day - that they weren't always like mine, sometimes too eager to be involved but always, always willing to help.   

Mat learned something about families too, over Christmas, and in doing so gave me an insight into himself that I'm glad to have.  Over the course of our relationship, almost ten years, we've broken up numerous times.  I used to wonder how he could pack his stuff and leave like it meant nothing. I didn't realise then what he'd come from.  He explained to me at Christmas, after watching my family laugh about arguments past and surreptitiously bitch about each other while maintaining the love, that he wasn't used to that.  To him, arguments and fights meant that person walked away and never came back.  He deserves respect for breaking that cycle and learning that it's OK to disagree and it doesn't signal the end of your family.  Because for him, growing up, it did.  

My heart hardened against you on Christmas Eve, when I watched you break your own child into pieces and toss him away like a rotten branch.  Maybe that's what you think he is?  Maybe, to you, all that are apparent are the problems, the flaws, the imperfections and the difficulties.  You don't see how amazing he is, how wonderful a father he is to his son and how he supports us both, working long hours, coming home and being engaged with me, with Dom and with the boring drudgery of cooking and cleaning.  You only see the blips and lapses, the bits where he becomes less than you think worthy of your time.  I don't intend to drag up the past between you and him, because I wasn't there, but I'll tell you this - I watched you hurt your son, and I hated you for it.  There is no way on this earth I will let you do the same to mine. He is not an "option" and never will be. 

Don't forget, I've seen the photos.  I've seen you acting the proud father with Mat when he was a baby and a little boy.  You didn't always carry such resentment towards him, obviously.  You even looked like a good father, and I've heard stories that melted my heart about how you cared for him as a tiny baby.  But the thing about kids is, they grow up.  They get smelly and narky and bolshy and don't listen.  They tell lies and make mistakes, sometimes over and over again, and they still need their parents even though they'd deny it to their last breath and with every fibre of their spotty, uncouth, sometimes aggressive being.  The same thing that happened to your son will happen to your grandson, but with one difference.  You won't have the opportunity to flick Dominic off like you did Mat when he became unpleasant and difficult.  He's not a dog that you take to the pound when he's no longer a cute little puppy, but has become a huge ball of slobbering fur that takes up too much room and has too much energy that's impossible to direct productively.  I watched you hurt your son, and you will NEVER hurt mine in the same way.  Understand that now, and remember it well.  You do not get that chance with my child.  You don't just play with the puppy until the novelty wears off.  

You may think I'm a bit ahead of myself, telling you how to parent when you have 40 years on me, but I don't measure success on longevity.  A marriage where one partner cheated or beat the other for 40 years would not be considered successful, and on the same note, parenting two children who become estranged from you as adults is no recommendation of your methods.  Your ability and willingness to turn your back on your children, to me, negates the time spent raising them.  

You probably wonder how I can sit here imagining that I'll never do the same to Dom, because he hasn't had the chance to hurt or disappoint me yet.  In answer, I'll once again direct you to Mat.  Our relationship is far from perfect and we've hurt each other on multiple occasions, but we still love each other dearly and deeply.  We forgive each other, we try to help each other do better next time.  In doing so, we demonstrate to Dom the very values that we hope to instil in him, and we show him that even when you mess up badly, your family will always be home.  I've spent ten years showing this to Mat, and will spend the rest of my life teaching it to our child.  

As you don't seem able to do that, I have another request regarding your little conscience-easing cards.  As I mentioned above, I feel very strongly about the bond between a child and their grandparents.  It is a source of intense sorrow to me that Dominic is not going to grow up with that depth of love from a grandfather, not going to know that  behind Mama and Dad there is another force, immovable in its ability to love and sustain.  I want to give my son everything the world has to offer, but I can't give him the best thing I ever had - a grandfather who would move mountains to be near him.  And I won't give him instead a grandfather who won't even pick up the phone.  I won't give him a cash-flashing imitation of a grandad.  

So, please, don't sign yourself "Gramps".  A Gramps holds hands, not envelopes of money.  A Gramps balances babies on his knee, not chequebooks to make himself feel better.  A Gramps goes to the park with his grandkids, not to the bank for them.  We wanted Dom to have your presence, not your presents.  If that's not happening, don't assume a relationship you don't have.  Sign yourself Stephen, and accept the relationship you chose.  

Dani

Friday, 25 April 2014

Oh, I've found my voice alright

If you spend enough time around writers or wannabe writers, at some point you might hear talk of "finding your voice".  That does not appear to be a problem in my house.  All of our voices are present and correct, especially, it seems, mine.

Way back when I started this blog, almost two years ago, I wrote this post which discussed my parenting style, or lack of it.  I didn't and don't feel comfortable labelling my approach to this crazy job in which the rules change constantly, the boss is an adorable tyrant and the wages swell no coffers but threaten to burst my heart every day.  It's too unpredictable when you're dealing with human beings to say exactly how you're going to approach every situation that could arise, to say nothing of the fact that toddlers will throw situations at you that you never imagined possible.  Once you've told someone not to rub his apple on his willy like it's a perfectly normal thing to say on a Tuesday morning, you begin to realise that in the game of parenthood, every ball is a curve ball.  Add to this the fact that the little person you're dealing with hasn't even finished developing the neural pathways in their brain and is effectively still a work in progress (aren't we all?), and how can it be possible to insist that you'll only ever do X or Y, and NEVER Z?  

However, there is one exception to this self-imposed rule, and it's one I feel quite strongly about.  I don't want to enforce harsh discipline on my baby.  I don't want to smack him and I want to avoid shouting at him.  I've been the child cringing in fear at a raised voice or a raised hand, and I never want Dom to be afraid of me like that.  Apparently, this is called "Peaceful Parenting", and it's actually A THING.  If it sounds like it could be your thing, there's more info about it here.

Anyway.  I don't want to get too into the nitty gritty of it, because I'm not interested in or here to preach at people to do things a certain way.  If your kid is loved, fed, clean, warm and cared for, that works for me.  Also, I'm not exactly the best example of peaceful parenting right now, as I'm in the middle of writing a blog post about how I failed miserably at it earlier.  

I come from a large, loud family.  Our time together is interspersed with arguments and laughter at full volume, and I love the chaos of that kind of family dynamic.  Now that I don't live in it any more, I can see how it could be overwhelming to some, but it's a lot of fun to be around.  The only problem is, growing up in a loud family means that if you want to be heard, you have to be louder than every one else.  And my word, did I rise to that challenge.

I've been told various things about my voice - that I am unable to modulate it; that it's not so much the volume as the pitch that causes it to carry across rooms, offices, parks and beaches like I have a megaphone in my throat; that when I think I'm whispering, the family three blocks down would beg to differ.  When I was a kid, my best friend's mum called me Foghorn Leghorn.  I genuinely can't help it - I'm just loud.  What I lack in altitude, I make up for in amplification.

Anyway, lately I've been feeling pretty good about myself as a mother.  Of course, it's a constant guilt-fest about every thought that ever crosses my mind, but I can live with that.  I've been feeling like I'm dealing well with Dom's challenges, or maybe there have just been less of them, but either way I've felt pretty proud.  

Until today, when I gently but firmly told him to stop using his spoon as a catapult to ping rice and stir-fry all over the floor (where do they get these ideas from?).  Afterwards, I thought I might have sounded a bit more grumpy than I intended, so I ran it by Mat.  He answered that I hadn't sounded narky, but that we'd agreed not to shout at Dom.  

I was taken aback.  I hadn't shouted, had I?  I certainly hadn't meant to shout.  Mat, with fear in his eyes (yeah, I'm great at this peaceful lark, obviously), hesitantly mentioned that it wasn't the first time he'd heard me raise my voice to Dom.  I didn't even know and am pretty crushed - I don't want to shout at him even when I'm angry, but it looks like I've been going around bellowing at him like an injured buffalo at the slightest provocation.  Apparently, when I think I'm putting on a firm but kind tone, I'm just getting louder.  

OK, it's not the end of the world.  He's not being abused and it doesn't seem to have affected him.  It certainly hasn't stopped him doing any of the things I was trying to stop him doing.  But it's a wake-up call for me to pay more attention to how I speak and how I'm perceived.  I'm 31, for the love of God - you'd think I'd have learnt to control my own voice by now!


Traumatised, as you can see.



Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Things T25 Taught Me

You may remember this post, in which I got all fired up about how I was going to lose weight, get healthy and fit back into my clothes.  I wrote the post and promptly went back to my old habits for a couple of weeks, hoping that scowling hard enough at my stomach would make it stomp (or wobble) off in indignation and avoid me having to actually do anything to get rid of it.  That didn't work, so I admitted defeat and stopped buying chocolate croissants, started eating a few more salads and refused to take money to work so I wouldn't be tempted to raid the vending machine.  Sadly, after a few days of this, I still wasn't skinny.  

The only thing left was to actually move my arse (and the rest of me) and do some exercise.  I tried to take advantage of the good weather to get out on long walks with Dom, but he's now at the stage where he'd rather eat his own toes than stay in the pram for more than 5 minutes.  Walking at toddler pace probably burns less calories than sitting down eating chocolate, so I needed a new idea.  Much as I'd love to go swimming, two jobs, one baby and a house which grabs every opportunity to throw parts of itself on the floor mean I'm very pushed for time, and the thought of having to wash my hair more times than I currently struggle to do in a week was off-putting.  Joining a gym was also problematic in the time stakes, to say nothing of the fact that I'd rather set my eyebrows on fire than have other people - fit, thin, healthy people - see me sweat.  I needed something I could do at home, with Dom around, in my own time.  Hello, Insanity.

 A friend recommended starting with the T25 workout instead, which sounded great to me - I pretended it was because of my busy schedule, but actually it was due to my inherent laziness provoking sheer delight at the thought of 15 minutes less of effort.  So, after spending a week and a half threatening to do it, tonight I actually got as far as clicking on the link.  Here is what I learnt from the experience:

*  When getting into your workout clothes feels like a workout, the workout is probably long overdue.

*  My sports bra is not the boss of me.  It WILL fasten if I shout at it enough.

*  Unfortunately, my sports bra is also not the boss of my chest.  I need some sort of binding, like buxom ladies in the twenties used to make themselves appear boyish and flat-chested as dictated by the fashion of the time (see, the fashion world have always been gobshites).  

*  I have no hope of ever achieving an androgynous look.  At this point, let's just aim for contained with low chance of concussion.

*  Likewise, my bobbles are no match for my hair.  Having to pause the video every 2 minutes to scoop up strands of wayward frizz is not making this pass any faster.

*  Remember the whole planking craze?  Remember how it was mostly youngsters doing it?  This isn't, as I thought at the time, because they're the only ones daft enough to do it.  It's because they're the only ones fit enough to do it.

*  I have no core.  There is no point telling me to use something I don't have.  The trainer may as well have spent 25 minutes exhorting me to use the million euros under the mattress for liposculpture instead.  Lovely as the idea sounds, it's no good to me when it's a figment of someone's imagination.

*  Sweating for 25 minutes will not, contrary to my long-held beliefs, actually kill me.  

*  Sometimes, when sweating for 25 minutes, I wish that sweating for 25 minutes would kill me.

*  Stretching is important.  Yes, I stretched before and after.  No, it wasn't enough.  On the plus side, I can see my bedroom from my living room, so crawling back and forth for the next few days shouldn't be too difficult.

*  You know those people who say exercise feels good afterwards?  They're not lying.  The adrenaline rush is great.

*  The adrenaline rush is not great enough to make you want to do the dishes when you've finished.  Next time, do them first.

I'd continue but I'm about to pass out.  That's a good sign, right?

See this snuggly guy with the earring?
See how sweet he looks?
I'm pretty sure I'm going to hate him in the morning.