The bedtime realisation.

My two year old has decided that tonight we need to lie on the floor. Not in her bed as we usually do, cuddled up for that last breastfeed of the day as she drifts slowly off to sleep, but on the floor. In the middle of her bedroom.

She points at the ceiling and declares that she can see “egg mummy egg”, then rolls towards me and wraps her arms around my neck. I smile, and inwardly chuckle as she presses her face against mine, only to look up and realise that, yes, she is right, the shadow of her lightshade is indeed egg shaped.

She’s clearly not in the bedtime mood right now, as the requests are coming thick and fast.
“drink”
“other drink”
“big girl cup”
“milk cup”
“blue cup”
“wait there mummy.”

She’s cupped up. No more excuses. We move into her bed and attempt to snuggle down. “sing songs from Annie Mummy, tomorrow mummy.”
“twinkle twinkle mummy”
“sing yoghurt and mnanas mummy”
She points at the feet of her fairy dolls as they poke out over the edge of the shelf, “six, seven, eight, nine, ten! I did it!”

I squeeze her tight. So proud of the forthright and independent toddler she has become.

And suddenly, it comes.

I am hit by a wave of emotions.

The last two years have flown, and yet been the most fulfilling of my life. But equally full of hurt. One by one the pains of the years play out in my head, starting with events from earlier this year, heading back to the first few moments of her life.

The ectopic pregnancy.
The lost baby.
The lost baby sister or brother for my perfect toddler.
The threat of methotrexate and the fear of early weaning from the breast.

The PND.
The guilt of returning to work.
The anxiety at leaving my baby.
The lost time.
The mistakes I made that I can never undo.
The early breastfeeding pain.
My failure at labour.
My inability to stop crying for the first 8 months of her life.

They run on, over and over in my head, cycling round and catching me harder each time, an unforgiving whirlpool of tears.

Then I look down.

She’s latched onto my breast and she’s feeding. She’s holding me as tightly as I am her. And I realise.

None of it matters. Not anymore.

What matters now is the child in my arms. The way that my breath makes her hair move, the heartbeat I can feel against my tummy.

And the love that consumes us both.

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Parental confessions that few will admit to….

I pretend to be asleep so that my partner has to deal with the baby. 

If I just close my eyes and slow down my breathing then maybe he’ll do his get up.  If I turn the phone face down on the bed he won’t notice I’ve just been on texting and he’ll think I’m still asleep.  

I pretend I didn’t notice the dirty nappy. 

Because I did the last one.  Yes, it stinks.  It’s full to bursting and clearly needs changing.  But I will ignore it until Daddy enters the room.  When he comments on the nappy I shall look surprised and say “oh yes, I think you’re right.” 

I want to wake my sleeping baby for a cuddle, or because I know breastfeeding will help me sleep.

I miss her.  Even when she’s near me.  It’s 2am and I’ve woken suddenly? Time to wake little one, I want a cuddle. It’s 2am and I can’t sleep? Time to wake little one. The breastfeeding hormones will send me back to sleep. 

I hide in the toilet to play candy crush. 

I just want a moment.  Just a moment.  I’ve been stuck on this stupid level for weeks and I just know I’ll beat it if I have a moment to myself. 

I actually really enjoy Bing Bunny. 

Flop is ace, Pando is annoying and Charlie is cute.  

Mr Bloom is hot. Fact. 

I won’t make inappropriate jokes about sowing seeds and getting dirty in the garden, but .. Yum. 

I eat cake quickly so I don’t have to share it.

I eat it quickly and I eat too much of it.  

I wee with the door open.

For several reasons.  I do, of course, want to hear where the toddler is. But I’d also like her to start to understand toilets. I *may* have even weed in the potty before so as to demonstrate how it works.  And if my partner walks upstairs? Well, he’s seen childbirth, there is nothing left now. 

CBeebies is amazing childcare

Just to give me some time to sit.  I won’t even pretend it’s so I can do with washing up.  It’s not.  It’s so I can sit. 

Sometimes, just ever so rarely, I remember my life pre toddler and think how much easier things were back then. 

Then I look at my daughter, and I remember, it was emptier then too. 

To the mums I met before I was one. I’m sorry.

Some things in life you will not understand until you have experienced them. Parenthood is top of that list. There is much I have said, or thought, before my daughter was born, that I am totally ashamed of now. To all those who embarked on the motherhood journey before me, I am sorry.

I am sorry for asking you “does she sleep through the night?”
I know now this was wrong. Not only wrong, but frustrating, inflammatory and down right none of my business. To start with, sleeping through means different things to different people, secondly, babies aren’t supposed to sleep through, and finally, my question set you up to criticise your child. I should never have asked you this. I am truly sorry.

I am sorry for tutting at your bed sharing.
I confess, I thought you were odd still sharing a bed with your daughter when she was nearly 2. I couldn’t understand why you didn’t want your space, or why you were not forcing independence on her. I realise now that being independent comes only after being dependant.

I am sorry for asking “how long are you going to do that for?” when you breastfed your six week old.
I really didn’t mean to judge, I just didn’t know. I didn’t know the bond created when you nourish your child. I didn’t know then, that the NHS recommends breastfeeding exclusively until six months. I had no idea that the World Health Organisation suggests breastfeeding alongside food to two years ‘and beyond’. I know now, now I preach what I once misunderstood. I am sorry.

I am sorry for judging your lack of “discipline”.
I had been fooled by TV personalities who taught me how to “tame” toddlers, (as if they were wild animals and not children). I had been misled and I believed that you were spoiling your child when you did not sit them on the naughty step, or leave them to cry. I know now I was wrong to judge. Yes it works for some, but not for you, and, turns out, not for me either.

I am sorry for thinking you were boring for talking about your baby all the time.
I am now more boring that you could ever be. And I am not sorry for that. But I am sorry that I didn’t understand your desire to share your pride, and I am sorry for not listening.

I am sorry for the sleep and behavioural “tips” I offered unsolicited when we met in the street.
I was a back seat parent. So much worse than the back seat driver. It was none of my business, I had no experience, I had no attachment. Yet I thought myself an expert. Thank you for not punching me.

I am sorry. I had no clue. I didn’t understand.

How true it is that you should never judge a person before you have walked a mile in their shoes.

Parenthood is one hell of a mile.

Night time musings of the parent of a toddler…

It’s 3am and the toddler has been tossing and turning, feeding and cuddling, crying and snuggling for two hours already. The thoughts a parent experiences at this point as they try to get back to sleep;

Justin’s house, la la la la la la la, Justin’s house, la la la la la la, everybody’s welcome here in Justin’s house.

Who would win in a fight between the Octonauts and the Little Robots? I guess this depends on where the fight took place. Why would they be fighting anyway?

Ow, my arm, what do I do with them normally while I sleep? Surely they aren’t always this uncomfortable?!

I love you darling, but do you have to use my head as a pillow?

Justin’s house, Justin’s house. Arghhhhh I need to get that song out of my head.

What now? More milk? Really? I bet you need a new nappy, how long until Daddy wakes up and offers to change you?

Oh well, at least with being awake this much at night you are sure to have a lie in and I can get on with jobs before you wake.

If I go to sleep now I’d get a couple of hours before the alarm goes off.

Dusting for Justin, arghhhh that wasn’t what I meant. I didn’t want to replace one song with another!

Jobs for tomorrow, (well I guess technically it’s today), washing, washing up, sort through ironing, Toddler group, shopping, school work and planning…

You really do need a new nappy don’t you? But you are finally asleep and I don’t want to wake you.

You’re asleep! My turn, now why can’t I sleep?

Fingers tapping, Chuggington, chugger chugger chugger chugger Chuggington.

If I go to sleep now I’ll get an hour before the alarm goes off.

Yes! Daddy is up, nappy change for you, bad Mummy, I should have done that already.

If I go to sleep now I’ll get…

Beep beep beep

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.

To my daughter. Before you were created.

It’s 6am on a Saturday morning and here we are playing. And I couldn’t be happier. These are the moments when life is great.

Before you were created I slept when I wanted.

Now I sleep when you want. And I am fine with this. I feel sad for those who do not enjoy the early morning giggles and adventures. What better way to start the day than by sharing your achievements as I watch you continue to learn? Already sufficient in crawling, you now like to pull yourself up to standing, then turn and look at me with a smile. If you could speak I am sure I would hear “Look Mum, I can do it one handed.”

Before you were created I worried about clothes, shoes, work.

Now I worry about the world you will grow up in. I worry about the future, your future. I worry about your development, your happiness and the time I spend away from you. I worry that we need more money to provide you with all that you deserve.  I worry for those children who are not so fortunate. I want to change the world. I want everyone to feel my love. I want everyone to see your smiles and hear your laughs.

Before you were created I loved Supernanny.

Now she scares me. The discipline I once so admired now fills me with dread. Perhaps when you are older I will change my mind, but now, with a child who needs me, I am not interested in “training” you. I want to teach you love. I want you to learn that no matter what, I will be there to love and support you. If you cry I will comfort you, if the tears are anger or frustration I will help you to find words. If you lash out I will teach you with love. Teach you to reason and to explain. You will always know that I love you.

Before you were created I swore I would stop breastfeeding when “baby has teeth” or “can ask for it.”

How times change! Now we will stop when you are ready. Yesterday your first tooth made an appearance and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon. I have become the mother I once referred to as hippy  and crazy. You are thriving on my milk, our relationship is amazing and we both love breastfeeding. Why would we stop right now?

Before you were created it took less than an hour to leave the house.

Now, even at nearly 8 months, with a well rehearsed set up, leaving the house is a dance that always changes. You come first and are not yet able to understand time. Your hunger and needs do not work to our schedule. Your nappy will be changed, you will be fed, you will be cuddled and comforted. Your bag will be packed and repacked with everything you need. We will get out when you are ready.

Before you were created your Dad and I would spend time alone.

Now we spend time together, with you. Our love has grown beyond measure. He has seen me at my worst and at my best. I have seen a new person in him. We are stronger than ever before. We look forward to those moments alone with excitement. Tomorrow your aunt will enjoy time with you while Daddy and I go out, but we will miss you and be pleased to return to a unit of 3 on our return.

Before you were created I changed my clothes if they were dirty.

Now dirty has a scale. Sick is wiped up, snot is rubbed away. Now a small amount of milk or food is nothing. Poo is different and warrants a change, wee is decided by volume.

Before you were created there was a hole.

Something felt missing. Something felt incomplete. I had no purpose and no reason. I had a love to give that was beyond that of a wife, beyond that of sister, daughter, friend. Now my life has reason, my life has a purpose and I am whole.

Before you were created I dreamt of you.

I must have done something right.

I think it’s time I gave myself a bit of a break. I’m my own biggest critic and constantly punishing myself for not being who or what I think I should be.

I don’t have a strict routine for my daughter, we muddle through life in our own special way. I don’t teach her with a stern “No”, and I indulge her by picking her up and comforting her when she cries.

But she remains the single thing in my life that I am proud of beyond all measure.

I must have done something right.
While friends read book after book about “sleep training” and “contented babies”, the few books I have bought, (usually because it seemed like something I should buy), remain unread. Flicked through at best.

I parent by instinct. Using my experience in various pastoral leadership roles at school to help me trust myself.  It’s never easy, but my maternal instincts are the strongest I have ever experienced, I’d have to be a fool to fight them, and a strong fool at that.

I beat myself up every day that our six month old has no fixed bed time, let alone a bed time routine. She sleeps when she is tired. I have written previously about our bed sharing in my post While you were sleeping.

Well, I must have done something right. As I write, my darling girl is fast asleep in her own bed in her own room. It is night 6. 4 of the 5 nights so far she has settled happily in her cot, not fed to sleep, and the biggest shock of all, not woken every 2 to 3 hours. In fact, on the first and second night she woke twice, the third she woke once and the fourth she didn’t wake at all. On the fifth night she was unhappy alone and so slept with us in our bed. I did not leave her to cry, I did not stress about routine, I let her guide me, and it seems the time was right. She was ready. Just as my instincts had told me.

I have not bought my daughter the best toys money will buy. She does not have designer clothes. She wears hand me down outfits from friends and family. (She does of course have lovely gifts and we are blessed to have such kind friends.) I have bought from nearly new sales without prejudice and I openly clothe my darling in supermarket nappies. But she is happy, she is mobile and she explores the world. She sees every new object as a toy and has not once shown that she is upset by having a cheaper version of the “best”.

I have not been fortunate enough to take the suggested year off work with my baby. I have had to return and leave my darling with her daddy. And yet my daughter has strong and secure attachments. Separation anxiety does not yet appear to have hit, (although we know of course that it will rear it’s head at some point) and although she can show concern when we leave the room she is easily comforted by friends and family with whom she is familiar. She is excited to see her grandparents, she adores her aunt and loves her wonderful guide parents. And although it is clear, that as her mummy, I am uniquely special to her, she is also clearly loving the special time she is spending with her daddy.

We must be doing something right.

My daughter is happy, she is healthy, she plays and she laughs.  She seems to have a thirst for learning and explores the world without fear.

We must be doing something right.

My own mother is wonderful, and frequently reminds me that my daughter is the way she is because of my husband and I.

So, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I must be doing something right as a parent.

I apologise for my moment of pride and assure you that the normal service of insecurities and anxiety will return at next posting.