My Mother’s Hands.

4am and I am downstairs with an overactive toddler on top of me. As I try to convince her to let me snooze on the sofa, she tries to convince me to read just one more book. As the hard and cold board book is shoved in my face I look down and see my mother’s hands as they delicately open the book and pull the toddler onto their lap.

My mother’s hands. These hands have given love beyond all measure.

They have wiped snot from sore noses. As the face attached to that nose squeals and twists away, making things harder and the quick job a long one.

They have tapped out a beat on the steering wheel as the voice has sung along to the radio. Driving the child wherever she needs to be this time.

They have rocked and stroked to sleep. The daughter who couldn’t settle without her mother there and then later, the grandchild who needed someone to soothe her while her mother had a moment’s rest.

They have patted the baby’s back. Mimicking the mother’s heartbeat in the womb they have continued to provide safety and security in the unpredictable and so much scarier “real” world.

They have held back hair. As the head leaned over the bucket or toilet the mother’s hands held back the hair and soothed the child. Sickness bugs received the same care and sympathy as the alcohol induced moments in the teenage years.

They have applied lipstick. On the wedding day, when hands were quivering and tears were rolling the mother’s hands calmly applied the pink gloss and sent the daughter to her happy ever after.

They have squeezed and stroked and held me with joy. They have clapped and covered gasping mouths. They have taken the grandchild into their arms as she entered their heart.

As I look down once again at these hands, my mother’s hands, I realise they are my hands.

The long fingers are paler than I remember, less plump and seem more aged. The palms are lined with tales of love and laughter and I am sure that a clairvoyant would see happiness in their future.

I am awash with a sense of both gratitude and pride.

My mother’s hands have held me up when all was falling around me, and I couldn’t be prouder that my hands are set to do the same for my daughter.

I am not the parent I planned to be (and that’s OK)

Routine “a fixed way of doing things”

Before my daughter was born I was a Supernanny obsessive.  I loved her clear and precise routines, I loved her no nonsense care and her uncompromising standards.

As a teacher I liked the discipline and the way that she does not have to shout to gain control.

I had idealised views about life as a parent, but not in the way that many do.  I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep, I knew that things would be harder than I could imagine, I knew that I would cry, but I knew it would all be worth it. I also felt, that my experience as a teacher, and my understanding of routine, systems and disciplines, would make it easy to maintain order in my life and that I would easily nip any “bad” behaviour in the bud.

There was something I didn’t count on.

My love for my daughter.

Maternal instinct is strong, and for me it has completely taken over.

I am not the parent I planned to be.

THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT!

I tried to have a routine, I really did. I set alarms and wrote it all down. I did everything it took to get baby to sleep at the designated time and I fed her by the clock.

We lasted less than 48 hours.

There was one simple thing that caused my failure. My daughter.

Apparently no one notified my 3 month old of the things she should have been doing at this time. Nobody told her that she needed to sleep for 2 hours before feeding for 20 minutes and she certainly hadn’t listened when she was informed that she wasn’t supposed to need a nappy change until 11am.

My 3 month instead chose to stare at my face and gurgle up at me. She chose to feed for hours on end and smile as she stared into my eyes. She chose to be a baby. To follow her own natural cycle in life and not a system created by a woman she had never met in a book that she could not yet read.

Some might say it was my responsibility to teach her. That as her mother I should have helped her learn that when she is put in her cot she must sleep. That I should have taken her off the breast after 20 minutes so that she learnt to fit to my timescale. As her mother I chose to teach her something else. I chose to teach her that I love her, and that I will protect her and support her no matter what.

The mummy me laughs ay my pre parent self. I thought I knew what was coming- I didn’t have a clue. I was totally ready for the lack of sleep and the dirty nappies but I was unprepared for the love. The love changed everything.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on attachment (although I have had attachment training in my professional life), but I do know this: You can not love a child too much.

I will never leave my daughter to cry. If I respond to her cries it will not spoilher, it will not teach her that her tears can manipulate me. It will teach her this: I am her mother and if she is sad I will help her to be happy again.

As she gets older this may require discussion, and I am sure my gentle and positive parenting plans will be challenged many a time. But I will always, without question, put her first.

I am not the parent I planned to be. I am better than that.

The stacking cup on the stair.

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Mess.
I’ve always had a talent for creating it, (luckily for me I married a man who seems to have a talent for cleaning it up) but having a daughter has brought a whole new meaning to the phrase organised chaos.

Where is…? Is a common question. The answer, however, is never common.

Where is my hairbrush?
In Noah’s Ark, with your other hairbrush. They went in two by two.

Where are my car keys?
Under the sofa- I wanted to see if they fitted.

Where is that half eaten biscuit?
Inside the radiator. Did you know that it fits perfectly through the grill at the top?

Where are my glasses?
Behind my back Mummy. I really love them so I am hiding them from you.

Where is your cup?
On the floor behind the sofa- I told you I wanted boob not water and you didn’t listen.

How did your stacking cup end up halfway up the stairs?
I took it up to have my nappy changed. I changed my mind halfway up.

How has the remote control ended up in your toybox?
You left it in reach Mummy, not my fault.

These are questions I have found the answer to. There are many many more that as yet remain unanswered. I choose just three for your entertainment.

Why does bathtime octopus keep moving?

How did my reusable breastpad end up in my marking pile?

How has the largest of the stacking rings disappeared from the face of the Earth?

The thing is. You see the biggest problem isn’t actually having a messy baby. It is being a messy person and having a messy baby.

I’s not just her mess. It’s my mess, plus her mess, plus the extra mess I create because I am too busy having fun and parenting to take time out to tidy. That makes for a whole lot of mess indeed.

And do you know what? I don’t care. I love the mess. I love what it represents.

I love that each carefully placed block or cup represents a smile from my darling girl.

Each abandoned book signifys a moment spent reading and the joy it bought her.

Each half eaten biscuit is a reminder that my angel is healthy and well.

Each hidden hairbrush shows that my daughter’s brain is developing, that she is now understanding in and on and under.

Each stacking cup strewn across the floor is a giggle, each bear is a memory and each item of clothing is a moment of happiness.

Thank you for the mess my darling. Thank you for opening my eyes to what really matters.

Why I am going to stop apologising for my daughter

There are several things that babies do not understand.  These include such concepts as sharing, being gentile, patience and timing.  As adults, we know that these ideas are beyond a babies comprehension, and yet, daily, we still hear cries of “No darling, don’t take that” or “I hope you are sharing”.

Babies learn about the world by exploring. And they like to explore with touch and with taste.  These tiny beings are new to the world and show much more curiosity than the standard adult.  But we choose to stifle it.

When our tiny beings arrive in the world we start to apologise.  For their noise, their smells, the time that they consume and the fact they have changed our priorities in life.

Then, at some point in the first year, (a scary 5.5 months for my daughter) they become mobile.  It is at this point that the apologies really start.

“I am sorry she stole your child’s toy”

“I am sorry she poked your son in the eye”

“I am sorry that my daughter ate your daughter’s rice cake”

“I am sorry that she keeps pulling your hair”

“I am sorry that your phone is now in her mouth”

“I am sorry that she is hitting your leg”

“I am sorry that she is tapping you to get your attention”

“I am sorry that she is biting your foot”

The list goes on.  Well, do you know what. I’m stopping. No more apologies. Instead I offer you an explanation.

“She’s too young to understand, she doesn’t mean to take your toy, she’s just interested”

“She is excited by that food, it’s new to her and she wants to learn about the world”

“She likes you, that’s her way of saying hello, if you wave at her then she will learn to wave back instead”

“Ooops, your phone was left in her reach and she is really interested in learning about new things”

I am not going to apologise any more.  My daughter is young and this is not her fault.  She is amazing. She is curious and she is intelligent. She is fearless and she is learning about the world at a speed I can only envy. She does not get tired of discovering new things and her brain takes on so much every day.

We should be embracing the curiosity of our children.   We need to stop apologising for them and instead defend them and help them to explore.

So, to all the babies and toddlers my daughter meets. She is a whirlwind. As long as I can help her she will not stop learning until she understands it all.  I will do everything in power to keep her learning, and to keep her curiosity. I don’t want time and age to kill her journey to understanding and stop her quest for knowledge. I am NOT sorry.

My daughter is a baby, and I will not apologise for that.

Please don’t eat your wand…

You find yourself saying some odd things as a parent. For me, with a nearly ten month old who likes to put anything and everything in her mouth, (and bite!) the most common phrase of all is “…. is not for eating L”

Mummy’s face is not for eating.
This includes, but is not limited to, her chin, her nose, her cheek, her eyebrows and her forehead.

Books are not for eating.
Mummy and Daddy met when they both worked in the same bookshop – are you doing this to wind us up?!

Wands are not for eating.
They are for magic. Also not for eating are your wings, your bunny ears and your Christmas hat. Anyone would think you didn’t want Mummy to dress you up!

Remote controls are not for eating.
And should you decide to sneak up and do so when Mummy’s back is turned, you should not get upset if Mr Tumble or Makka Pakka disappear from the screen.

Mobile phones are not for eating.
They are for talking on. (Or playing games, Facebooking or blogging) There is no ‘eat me’ app installed on mummy’s phone. Please put it back.

Feet are not for eating.
Not Mummy’s feet, or Daddy’s feet. Not Grannie’s feet or Grampy’s feet. Not your Auntie’s feet or the feet of your friend who has just arrived in his pushchair. Eating feet is also not the traditional and socially accepted way of introducing yourself to the other babies Mummy opposite us at Baby Sensory. (incidently, nor is stealing and eating their mobile phone.) Even your own feet, although yours by rights, are not really for eating.

Wires and cables are not for eating.
That’s just silly and dangerous, and it makes me look bad!

That other babies hand is not for eating.
The other mums are starting to talk about you my darling.

Bathtime octopus is not for eating.
I know you love him, I know he protects you from the rubber duck who you find so inexplicably terrifying, but please don’t eat him.

Darling girl. I promise you this, when things are allowed to be eaten it will be clear. That stuff Daddy and I put in your bowl or on your plate when you sit in your highchair- that’s for eating. (not throwing on the floor!)

Happiness. I owe it to my daughter.

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Post Natal Depression is a horribly selfish illness. Not selfish in the way that many assume, not always selfish in the “I don’t want to spend time with my child, I want my own life back” way that is the common perception. But, for me at least, selfish nonetheless.

I feel guilty all the time, I constantly feel like I am failing my daughter, (despite much evidence to the contrary) and I often find myself crying without reason. The selfish side is in my lack of happiness. My daughter is a happy, smiling, amazing girl. At 9 months she is the light in the dark, and thankfully, she seems completely unaware that her mother is a wreck. But I fear this will not last. My PND is selfish because I owe it to her to be happy.

Like all parents I want my daughter to grow up to be happy. She can be rich, famous, intelligent, married, single, unemployed, a stay at home mother, a business woman or anything else she wants, I don’t mind what path she chooses for her life, as long as she is happy.

My daughter will learn from me. Like it or not, I am the most influential person in her life. Therefore, I want my influence to be a good one. My happiness is essential, not for my own mental health, but for hers.

Imagine the following; as a child of six you see your mother drop a bottle of milk the kitchen floor, it smashes and the milk goes everywhere. She says, ‘Whooops, never mind, accidents happen.’ As a child, learning from their mother, you will learn not to panic, you will learn that accidents happen and are not the end of the world.

Alternatively, at age six you see your mother drop a bottle of milk on the floor and she says, ‘Oh no, what a disaster! I keep getting things wrong, I am so stupid and can never do anything right, now everything is ruined, I spoil everything.’ As a child learning from their mother in this situation your learning would be very different. You would learn that mistakes are awful, that there is blame and that when things go wrong it is very difficult to fix.

I do not want this for my daughter. I want her to learn love, to learn happiness and to learn resilience.

I want her to have what I call “bouncebackability”. I don’t want her to spend her life full of anxiety, jealousy, concern, sadness or fear. I want her to get back up after falls. I want her smile and intelligence to change the world.

Therefore I need to be a role model. If I want her to be happy, to be calm and to be confident then that is what she must see in me.

Happiness. I owe it to her.

The definition of perfect has changed

“I was waiting for the perfect moment, but you are upset, and I am ill, but this is life, and life is perfect. Will you marry me?”

These words, from my now husband, have stayed with me. Not just because, as expected, I remember the moment he proposed, but because he was right.

You can’t spend your life waiting for the perfect moment.

Perfect has changed.

As a young child I dreamt of the perfect grown up life. Playing at house I had a doll that grew teeth when you squeezed her leg and one that wetted nappies on demand. I dressed up in my mum’s shoes and wore peel off nail varnish as a treat. I enjoyed making mud cakes and instructing my toys how to make the perfect sandcastle in the sandpit. I would be rich and famous, probably as a Blue Peter presenter.

Now my house is a mess, my daughter is not a doll I can control at the press of a button and I rarely cook. I do not have the perfect body and I still don’t see myself as a proper grown up.

But perfect has changed.

My house may not be immaculate, but it is mine. Actually it is ours, and that makes it all the more prefect. Every dusty corner, and every overflowing bin was worked for. Every carpet (all of them Storm!) was our choice. Each table, each chair, each coffee matt, has been put their by us. Yes, some may be hand me downs, and they don’t all match, but we have made a home.
And to me, it is perfect.

I have stretch marks, I have scars and at the age of 30 I still get acne. My body is far from the one shown to us in magazines as perfect. I am mismatched and unbalanced. I have boobs so big that they have gone beyond sexy and hit scary, and a chin that sticks out like a witches. But, for the first time in my life, I am wearing size 8 jeans and I am starting to like the way I look. On a good day I can look in the mirror and smile, and my husband always tells me I am beautiful.
To him, I am perfect.

My daughter cries, she scratches and she bites. She does not sleep through the night and she constantly has a runny nose. Her skin is not flawless and her hair is patchy. But she has a smile that can light up the darkest of days and a laugh that sounds like golden raindrops. She is clever and bright and strong beyond all measure. She crawls, and nearly walks, at such a young age and is settled and confident with new people. She is healthy and she is growing well. She smells like happiness and her eyes show a million thoughts in one go.
She is, in every possible way, completely and utterly perfect.

I am not a genius. There are far too many questions on University Challenge that I don’t understand and I nod and smile too often in conversations. I frequently have to look up definitions or ask for my husbands support and I am not as up to date with politics as I would like to be. But I am educated and qualified. I am good (with outstanding features) at my job and students and parents thank me often. I am certainly not a mensa candidate, but my brain does its job, and is working hard to improve itself every day.
And to me, it is perfect.

My health is poor, plagued by asthma all my life I am still invariably in need of steroids at least three times a year. Chest infections and throat infections are a regular occurrence. But they are part of what makes me me. And, to those worse off than me, I am sure my health is seen as perfect.

I have an obsessive and jealous personality. I am attention seeking, lazy and and judgmental. But I am kind, I spend hours plotting and planning exciting surprises for family and I lose sleep worrying about my students. When I love it is beyond all measure and I will fight for those that need me for as long as I can breathe. I give second chances and I run with new ideas.
To many, my personality is not perfect, but to me, it’s just the way it should be.

I do not have hundreds of friends. I am not little miss popular and I annoy people easily. People drift in and out of my life and tire of my insecurities easily. But I have friends I can rely on – friends I can turn to and friends that turn to me. Some I speak to daily, others much less often, but regardless of how often I see them, I can proudly say, without any doubt, I have some perfect friends.

My family is closer to that in a soap opera than that in an classic novel. We argue, we fight and we make each other cry. We have secrets and skeletons in the closet. But we make each other laugh and smile. We make each other proud and we share each others achievements. There is no problem I could ever face that I couldn’t find at least one family member to support me.
They are, without question, perfect.

I am not rich and I am not famous. We have enough money to pay the bills, (most of the time) and we work hard for that. I do not host a chat show or perform nightly on stage. But I am respected, I have had a impact on people’s lives and I have made a positive difference. I have money for the things I need and I am rich in love.
To me, that is perfect.

Perfect. Messy hair, handprints on windows, snot on my tights, bills on the doormat, confused looks, stretch marks and washing up piles. Arguing and tears, shouting and screaming. Spots and scars and far too many dirty nappies. And smiles and laughter and, above all, love.

The definition of perfect has changed.

Thank you darling. You have taught me so much, and this is a lesson I will work hard to live by.

Stop waiting for the perfect moment, and make the moment perfect.