Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

I just got back from a trip to Liverpool with Dom.  I was apprehensive about flying with an energetic two-year-old, especially as it's the first time I've:  a) flown alone with him and b) flown with him since I stopped breastfeeding.  The ability to provide food, comfort, entertainment and a knock-out sleep potion all in one simple movement is not to be sniffed at, and the thought of boarding a plane without my not-so-secret weapon was intimidating, to say the least.  

Also intimidating was the thought of who would be the unlucky third people in our rows.  We've all heard stories of passengers who tut, roll their eyes, or (if they're not British and passive-aggressive), go so far as to complain to staff or the harassed parent of a screaming baby.  I've read blog posts and articles from people who feel that kids should be banned from planes; people who think that the best way to deal with an obviously stressed parent as s/he wrestles a furious toddler is to ask if they could "shut that baby up" (because we're CHOOSING to suffer and enjoy making everyone around us suffer too); people who've forgotten that at some point in their lives they were probably less than perfect too and that nobody particularly welcomed their presence on a flight, on a bus or in a restaurant.  I was hoping and praying that if one of my fellow passengers were so inclined, they'd be seated far from me.  I was expecting the worst while hoping for the best.

The gods of travel, however, appeared to be smiling on me.  Dom was fairly well behaved for most of the outward trip and a demon in human form on the return journey, but with the help of several wonderful people, we both survived.  These angels in human form deserve more than the effusive thanks I showered them with, and as most of my words were probably lost as I bolted after a child who can move faster than the speed of light (or maybe it just seemed that way thanks to the many heavy, bulky, awkward bags that slowed my pursuit), it's only fair to make their kind-hearted deeds known.

First up are the two young Catalan guys who helped me out at the bottom of the aircraft stairs as I simultaneously collapsed the buggy, juggled three bags and tried not to let Dom run into the path of an oncoming plane.  One held Greased Lightning's hand firmly as I made a packhorse of myself with the aforementioned bags, while the other, noticing that I had more luggage than hands, took the bulkiest, heaviest bag up the stairs for me and dropped it off right at my seat before settling himself and his friend in, meaning that I could safely get Dom up the stairs and into his seat with the minimum of fuss.

The journey itself was fairly uneventful, for which I'm sure the man in the aisle seat next to us was extremely grateful.  Only in the last 15 minutes, as we began to make our descent and I began to feel that it was safe to breathe again, did Dom realise that he'd been trapped in a tin can for two and a half hours and begin to express his displeasure.  In his defence, I think he'd have lasted the entire flight had he been allowed to keep the window shades down as we came in to land, but aircraft rules forbid this and meltdown was imminent.  (Just out of curiosity, why can't the window shades be down?  Are we as passengers expected to be on the lookout for air traffic control towers or surprise mountains and act accordingly, warning the hatchet-faced Ryanair staff of our demise seconds before it occurs?  And why only on take-off and landing is our role so important?  If we run into an enemy fighter jet bent on taking us down mid-flight, wouldn't they want some warning, or doesn't it matter above 35,000 feet?)  Anyway, for whatever reason Meladdo had to put his window shades up and all hell was about to break loose, when the older lady behind us distracted him by chatting about what they could see out of the windows while I was pinned to my seat by the weight of the toys and snacks he'd rejected throughout the flight.  She saved the entire plane from 15 minutes of ear-shattering shrieks and I am incredibly grateful, as would be the rest of the passengers had they been aware of the alternative that they narrowly avoided having to endure.

I won't go into details about the holiday itself except to say that I went to a Levellers concert on the Friday night and left Dom with my mum.  He paid me back for abandoning him to more chocolate and Peppa Pig than he'd be allowed from me in a year at home by whining incessantly, sleeping badly, getting up at the crack of dawn and refusing to let go of my leg for all of Saturday and Sunday.  By the time Monday rolled around, I was frazzled and more than ready to hand him over to his father.  But first, the flight home had to be endured.  

It would be remiss of me to not give a special mention to the Ryanir check-in lady who pretended not to notice that my suitcase was a little overweight, thus avoiding tantrums (mine, not Dom's) at the check-in desk.  Of course, the fact that said suitcase had weighed 14.9 kilos at my mum's house and 15.5 at the airport, while Dom's little Trunki had weighed 4.9 kilos on the same scales at my mum's and 3.7 at the airport, leads me to believe that they make it up as they go along and maybe I just wasn't the intended victim that day, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.  For those who aren't familiar with the joy that is travelling with Ryanair, I won't bother explaining it.  These ladies do so in a much more hilarious way than I ever could.  

In Liverpool, you leave the airport building to reach your plane by way of 7,562 stairs, meaning I had to drop the pram at the boarding gate and wing it (har har) across the tarmac.  A third guardian angel relieved me of my bags and inched painfully forwards with me at Dom-pace down the stairs, across to the plane and to our seats, where he beat a relieved retreat to a seat far enough away from us that I'm sure it was a cosmic reward for being nice enough to offer assistance.

The third person in our row was a man travelling on business who had quickly given Dom the window seat, probably due less to altruism and more to a desire to survive the journey with eardrums and sanity intact.  Whatever his motives, it afforded us a whole 10 minutes of tense peace before Dom got antsy.  

Having learned the hard way that Dom is a creature of habit in need of much stimulation and should never be allowed to become hangry or bored on an aircraft, I travelled in both directions laden down with food and entertainment.  Story books, colouring books, blank paper, crayons, Teddy, enough Peppa Pig on the tablet to see us to Australia, dinosaurs, berries, pasta, cherry tomatoes and biscuits were deemed sufficient fuel to last a 2.5 hour flight.  How wrong I was.  Dom wolfed his way through the pasta before we took off, ate half of the berries and tipped the rest on the floor, and violently and vocally eschewed everything else in favour of hitting, biting, butting and pinching me.  I feel that I should say in his defence, I've since found out that he's got a virus so probably wasn't feeling great, and had been up since 6 that morning (his own choice).  Of course, toddler logic advises against sleeping when you're ill and knackered, so beating the living crap out of me was his only way to express his frustration.  Let's just say he's lucky we weren't travelling by sea.

Mr Businessman, who'd been engrossed in a film on his tablet, noticed that Dom was pausing between bouts of cage-fighting practice to stare at the screen.  He turned off his film and switched to an app for kids that kept Dom happy for a few minutes.  However, in our brief chat before he'd put in his earphones and tuned out the world (lucky sod), he'd told me that he had a three year old and a nine month old, so I was loath to interrupt his blissfully offspring-free flight too much and returned to wrestling with Dom, whose interest in tablets did not extend to the one I'd bought specially for the trip and loaded with kid-friendly distractions.

Several hundred years later, we landed.  Mr Businessman offered to help me off the plane, but I told him to go on ahead as I was going to wait until the rush had subsided before disembarking.  As I dragged my battered body and my fiendish child off the plane and through the SkyBridge towards the airport, I saw Mr Businessman heading back towards the aircraft.  He'd been a good five minutes in front of me so I assumed he'd forgotten something, but this knight in shining Armani had suffered pangs of conscience and traipsed back through the airport to come to my aid.  He saw us through almost to baggage collection and left us with words of encouragement and a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart at his kindness.

Our ordeal journey almost at an end, we had only to wait for the cases and the pram at belt 23.  The cases came off pretty quickly, but the pram was nowhere to be seen and images of me having to cart Dom home under my arm flashed through my weary, almost broken mind.  Now working on my last nerve, I was just about to burst into tears when I saw a family I'd briefly spoken to in the departure lounge.  They were travelling with a baby a little younger than Dom and were also pram-less.  It seemed unlikely that the airline would lose two prams, so their presence gave me hope.  Shortly after, we found out that the airline or baggage handlers or somebody who will, I hope, suffer greatly for the decision had put all baby equipment on carousel number 29, for reasons unknown.  The joy of discovering we had transport outweighed the rage at this unnecessary act of evil that played on the weaknesses of those most stressed and vulnerable of passengers - those travelling with Satanic imps small children - and I began to gather my paraphernalia to head off in search off my errant wheels.

But the universe had one more random act of kindness to offer my tired and shredded self.  The other family who'd been waiting for their pram told me to run down and grab mine, leaving my luggage with them.  By this point I didn't care if they filled my bags with drugs and black-market organs as long as I didn't have to take them with me, so I thanked them profusely and, dragging Dom on his Trunki (highly recommended buy), I headed to pick up my pram.

So there you have it.  I have no tips on travelling with toddlers because nothing I tried worked in the face of Toddler Tantrums, which intensify the higher in the sky you are.  All I can say is, hope and pray that your fellow passengers are decent human beings and I wish you well.

And to everyone mentioned in this long-ass post, I hope your journeys are speedy, your delays are non-existent and your transfers are tranquil.  You were all wonderful. I could have done it without you, but I'm glad I didn't have to.  Thank you.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Moments that melt me

I've been struggling a little bit with patience lately - nothing major, I just haven't been as calm and relaxed as I'd like to be.  So when Dom had trouble nodding off tonight (he's just gone to sleep, a few minutes before 10 pm, when he's usually snoring by 8:30), I resolved to get some practice in at being patient instead of making it clear that I was annoyed by the change.

He was sitting on my knee, mid-cry because I wouldn't let him get up, when I started crooning "Hush, Little Baby" - the only gentle song I'd been able to remember on coming home from the hospital and a song which had consequently become "ours," but which I hadn't had occasion to sing for a while.  He quietened within half a verse and snuggled in to listen, making me think that some part of his brain remembers the baby days and can still be soothed by the old lullaby.  When I finished, he took my face in his hands, kissed me and said, "I happy now.  Mama, sing it again."  Then he proceeded to gently stroke my face until I started singing again, punctuating the verses with kisses and laying his head on my chest between giant baby-cuddles.  Soon, he was snoring on my chest - the first time in I can't say how long that he's fallen asleep on me.  He stirred as I laid him in his bed, but a caress on the cheek sent him back to dreamland and there he stays.  

Saturday, 6 December 2014

I'm so tired of this conversation

I've steered clear of wading in on the whole breastfeeding discussion in this blog because - well, frankly, it's been done to death. In the same way that every love story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, the thousands of newspaper articles, blog posts and heated Facebook discussions don't seem to be adding anything new to the debate. On one side, we have the "offended". The "uncomfortable". The "I can't handle seeing a titty" committee. On the other, women feeding babies. How does this become a global discussion? WOMEN FEEDING BABIES. What?

But sadly, it is, and Nigel Farage's most recent foray into misogyny in defence of diners at Claridge's whose eyeballs don't work the same way as everybody else's has pushed me over the edge. Yet again, I'm having conversations - sadly, often with people I respect and care for - about why their refusal to turn the other cheek should not infringe upon my physical comfort OR my reproductive rights, never mind the ability of my child to eat in the most nutritious and natural way around.

So let's break down these arguments.  Just why are people so upset about breastfeeding?  

They say:  Having sex is natural and we don't want to see that in public either.

I say:  The moment breastfeeding my baby brings me to orgasm, I promise I will get a room.  And possibly therapy.  And if you think that the desire for sex and the need for food are of the same importance, I wonder if you might not benefit from some time with a shrink too.

They say:  Our bodies were also made to defecate and urinate.  Shall I do that at the table?

I say:  By all means, in your own home.  However, given that you seem unable to differentiate between a bio-hazard and a meal, you'll understand if I turn down your invitation to Christmas dinner.

They say:  But now we have an easier way - formula!

I say:  Perhaps my definition of "easier" differs from yours.  Planning ahead to ensure the correct amount of powder is in a sterile container; finding somewhere clean to prepare a bottle; giving said bottle to a reluctant, squirming infant who isn't fond of a mouth full of plastic; washing and sterilising said bottle and ensuring that all of this is possible at the exact moment a baby demands it is not, in my eyes, quite as easy as lifting up a piece of fabric.  But if you would like to test my theory, you're more than welcome to pay for the formula.  I'll stick with the free stuff, thanks.

They say:  A child that can ask for it is too old.

I say:  Maybe communication isn't your strong point, but you know when my 2 hour old baby cried?  He was asking for something.  If what you mean is "a child that can verbalise their needs is too old", I would love to see the evidence of this.  Last time I checked, punishing babies and children for developing and learning wasn't on the curriculum at Parent School, and taking away something they they love, that is good for them, because their vocal cords have reached a certain point of maturity seems not only unfair, but faintly ridiculous.

They say:  But there are CHILDREN around!

I say:  I know.  One of them is mine.  Should I let mine go hungry so you don't have to have a conversation with yours?  Then we can both be in the Shitty Parent Gang!  Hey, we can build a clubhouse!  No kids allowed, though!

They say:  Just use a cover!

I say:  I agree.  Every breastfeeding mother should carry a cover for those moments when her baby needs to eat in public.  If anybody expresses offence at the horrific spectacle unfolding in front of their (apparently paralysed) eyeballs, she can then put it over their head.  I'm not going to make myself and my baby hot, awkward and uncomfortable to satisfy the arbitrary demands of a random stranger.  If I were to ask that you wear a green sticker on your left knee just because I like it, would you feel obliged to do so?  Even though you'd probably forget it was there after a minute, unlike a breastfeeding cover?  Didn't think so.  

They say:  Can't you just go over there in the corner?

I say:  Unless you're Stephen Hawking, you're going to find it easier to swivel your eyeballs than I am to take myself, a child and all of our paraphernalia off to social isolation for the duration of this feed.  Just pretend I'm a market researcher or a pushy, slightly mad religious zealot on the street and look past me as if I'm not even here.  I promise I won't be offended.

They say:  The toilets are over there.

I say:  I plan to teach my children that we don't shit where we eat.  It didn't work for Clinton and it won't work for my baby.  Plus, metaphor aside, I tend to shy away from small rooms filled with the floating poo particles of strangers when attending to a dietary need.

They say:  But why do you need to post pictures?

I say:  Because you're still asking.  Because it's still seen as something odd, or private, or something to be kept to one side.  It'll never become the norm if it's not treated as something normal.  And you know what?  If I cook a beautiful meal, or run a race, or graduate, or get a really high word score on Scrabble, or have a wonderful time with my son, I take pictures of that.  I'm so happy to live in a digital age where I'm be able to access a visual recollection of my beautiful memories at any time. I document my achievements, my celebrations and my happiness.  Breastfeeding is all of those things.  And in case you're of a nervous disposition, I should warn you that I've documented some of those beautiful moments with my son at the bottom of this post.  If breasts offend you, look away now.

But look, all joking aside, this is a ridiculous argument and I have something to say to those who are against breastfeeding in public (those who are against breastfeeding full stop, I have a lot more to say to you but my mum might read this, so I'll have to bite my tongue).  You're not owed a world without slight discomfort or occasional offence.  My breastfeeding my child demands nothing of you, yet you feel that it is appropriate for you to ask me to put myself out for your benefit.  I don't understand how this came about - should we force all strangers to adhere to our moral code?  How would that work in a world of 7 billion people, all with varying ideas of what is acceptable?  Should I ask you to refrain from ordering steak in a restaurant if a vegetarian sits at the next table?  Perhaps I have asthma - should the rest of the world put away their perfume bottles in case they trigger an attack?  I cannot stand chewing gum - how people look and sound when they chew it, how it gets stuck to my shoe when they don't dispose of it properly - but I'm not starting a movement to deny people the right to minty-fresh breath.  Live and let live, people.  Move on.  Nothing to see here.

My child has a right to eat, and I have a responsibility to provide the healthiest, most nourishing food source I can.  The day you see my 3 month old brandishing a McDonald's french fry, you will be welcome to step in.  Otherwise, understand that I have chosen one of the two options available as a food source for infants, and afford me the same respect you would a woman who chose formula.  

For God's sake, people - even the Pope can handle a bit of side-boob.  Let's worry about the children who are starving, not the children who are eating.

If this is wrong, I don't want to be right.  And I ALWAYS want to be right.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Living the dream

I read something the other day about how we complain in lieu of conversing.  It struck a chord with me as it's something I know I'm guilty of, mainly because I like to make people laugh and there's little humour, though much happiness, in a dialogue about how wonderful life is.  A good rant, on the other hand, can be very enjoyable if done well and in the right company.

That being said, sometimes it's nice to just stop, take stock and appreciate how lucky we really are; and as today marks nine whole years since I landed in Spain ready to start a new life, it seems only fitting to do so now.  

I suppose the thing about being happy is that it never looks how you expect it to.  If I'd been asked back then where I wanted to be nine years down the line, I don't think any of my current life would have featured.  I don't spend my days writing a best-selling novel while sipping wine in my very own beach bar; I'm in bed by 11 most nights and I never did marry a dashing Spaniard (for which I'm sure Mat is eternally grateful).  Instead, my happiness comes from places I'd have found equally boring and terrifying in my early twenties.  

I didn't plan to stay in the first country I got sent to as a holiday rep back in 2005, so falling completely in love with the first town I worked in came as a shock.  Being moved from there after only 6 months to a place I did not like in the slightest took the shine off my job for me, yet losing that same job 12 months later felt like a disaster.  My heart broke when I left AndalucĂ­a to move north with Mat, and it was breaking again when I packed up my things and left the home we had made in a little Costa Brava town to strike out on my own in Barcelona.  

Yet these setbacks, difficult and sometimes painful as they were to overcome, set me on a path to the life I have now.  It was in Barcelona that I finally began to settle, that I became part of a wonderful group of friends, that I gained in confidence and started liking myself.  It was this city, "trapped between a crescent of mountains and a sea of light, a city filled with buildings that could exist only in dreams," where a life built itself around me and I finally felt like I'd come home.

Things are very different now to they were when I first got here - people have moved on, nights out have become something I plan weeks in advance and seeing my lovely friends is now an occasional luxury rather than a daily pleasure, but the rarity of this only serves to make me appreciate it more. 

I'm very lucky and very grateful that my dreams were flexible enough to adapt, that there have been setbacks along the way but nothing I'd term a failure, and that I get to wake up every day in a life I love. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, there are problem areas and parts that need work, but it's a project I'm delighted to commit to. Not everyone gets to live their dreams, and even fewer people know it when they're living the version of their dream that's exactly how they should be living. I still have moments where I'm awestruck that THIS IS MY LIFE, and that, to me, is what living the dream is all about. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

I won at parenting today

Perhaps if your experience with toddlers is limited to having been stuck in front of one on a plane as it screams, tantrums and caterwauls its way through an eight hour flight, you might be inclined to believe that a quiet toddler is a desirable thing.  Having heard the apologetic mumbling of a woman with a tiny human, purple and apoplectic with fury at being denied permission to slake its thirst in the cleaning products aisle, shoved under her arm as she tries to manoeuvre a shopping trolley through a busy supermarket, it would seem logical that sweet silence is preferable to the brain-drilling shrieks bursting forth from that little bag of rage and irrationality.  

Of course, a quiet toddler is usually a happy toddler - they're not known for their ability to let their feelings stagnate into ulcers, so it's unlikely that you'd ever have an uncomfortable "Are you OK?"  "I'm FINE" conversation with anyone under 3.  Generally, when they're pissed off, you know about it.  However, those in the know - you'll know them by their eye bags and general demeanour of not quite concentrating - will be more than happy to inform you that contrary to all laws of sense and decency, a quiet toddler is very often NOT A GOOD THING AT ALL.  Because when a toddler is quiet, things like this happen:
Yes, this happened today.

Though I can think of one or two things I'd rather do than see my treasured, expensive, very necessary laptop injured (things like remove my kneecaps with a spoon; bath the cat; relive the clingy phase), the experience wasn't all negative.  I think I handled it pretty well - staying calm, explaining why I wasn't happy about what he'd done and teaching him that his actions have consequences (he couldn't watch Peppa Pig on the laptop as planned as I had to fix the laptop and it was too late once that was done).  I managed not to cry, shout or shame him, and I believe that he's understood me, though I don't think that necessarily means he'd resist the temptation a second time.  He's still two.

I'm pretty impressed that I managed to put into practice all that I've been working on, in the face of a situation which I could easily have handled very badly indeed.  It's not often we give ourselves credit where it's due - most of my posts about this approach have focused on how difficult I find it and how bad I am at sticking to it - so I'm going to be proud of myself for learning enough to override my instinctive reaction to get louder in times of stress.  And I'm going to sing that pride from the rooftops, because let's face it - if we're not good to ourselves, nobody else will be good to us, right?

Plus, publicly outing myself as a Zen master of parenting means I now have to keep it up, kind of like when you tell people you're on a diet so they tear you away from the chips at dinner time or recruit half the office to help you stop smoking by screaming at you every time leave your desk (makes leaving for a toilet break so much fun).  

So, while I'm in Superwoman mode and feeling like I could conquer the world, I need to tackle the next thing on my to-do list - making a very high, toddler-proof shelf for my laptop to live on.

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 on 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.