To my son on his sports day

Today was your sports day, marking the near end of your Reception year. 

In that year I’ve watched you grow taller, more confident and learn more with each passing day. Your interests have changed, your sense of humour is cheekier and you are a fantastic, compassionate big brother to your sister (when you’re not scrapping and teasing each other). 

And today, your sports day, the sun shone. I was hoping it would. We parents, grandparents and loved ones gathered around the yard, chatting with excitement. 

You and your classmates filed out, took a seat and scanned the crowd for those familiar faces, lighting up when you saw them. You waved, gave us the thumbs up and proudly told your friends you’d seen your dad. 

That morning, we’d told you to try your best and not worry about winning. You, like me, are fiercely competitive so we worried you’d be sad if you didn’t come first.

We needn’t have. Because you tried your best at everything with a smile on your face. From bean bag balancing to running races, you  tried your hardest.

One of the loveliest things was seeing you with your friends, observing those friendships, hearing you laugh together. Just so happy.

And that’s all I ever want from you and for you. Try hard and be happy (showing a lot of kindness along the way). 

You make us prouder than I can ever say and watching you grow, change and learn is a privilege.

Well done darling boy. 

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In defence of warts-and-all mum bloggers

Today you may well have seen this take down of some well-known bloggers/authors who write about their experiences of motherhood in all of its wonderful, exhausting and life-changing glory. 

As you’d expect, it’s sparked quite the reaction on social media and some brilliant responses from the writers it features, including this excellent post from The Unmumsy Mum. 

To me, it felt like a piece aimed at making mothers feel even more weighed down with guilt than they already are. 

Find Hurrah for Gin funny ✅? What a bad mother you are. Fed your children fish fingers tonight ✅? You should be ashamed.

I don’t drink gin (I’m an occasional prosecco/cocktail in a can drinker thank you very much) but I do, shock horror, feed my children fish fingers from time to time. And sausages and baked beans and chips of the frozen variety.  

On other days, I’ll lovingly make home made meals, which are often greeted with a melodramatic “yuck” and a refusal to eat, hence the occasional use of fish fingers.

There are days where we go bug hunting, on outdoor adventures, make cakes and have educational trips to farms. There are other days where they scoff Pom Bears and watch more TV than they probably should. 

Since I became a mum more than five years ago, not a day has passed without me feeling guilty. I always worry about being a bad mum. 

I wish I could be less tired, more patient and not flinch at the mere thought of messy play. I wish I was that smiling saintly mum I imagined I’d be, but then I am also a person and a rather knackered one at that.

Until these bloggers and others started writing about this stuff, I thought it was just me that found motherhood pretty hard at times. I love my children fiercely in ways I didn’t know possible, but my word it can be challenging sometimes. 

I blinked away happy and sad tears reading the Unmumsy Mum’s Diary, which I bloody loved. Eloquent and bitingly funny, I found it to be very relateable as well as brilliantly written. 

She and others put their experiences out there and got mothers talking about things they may not have spoken about before. They are shattering the illusions of the Instalives/lies we can all be guilty of presenting on our social media accounts.

Personally, I love how blogging has democratised writing and allowed people across the world to share their stories. It gives a platform to previously hidden voices, a place to share untold stories. 

I think we’re at a fantastic point in history where women’s voices and experiences are being documented and shared like never before. 

Sure, I might not like everything I read on blogs, but I don’t like everything I read in the media either.

So please, back off the parenting bloggers, and all bloggers for that matter. They are taking the time to write about their experiences and put their writing out into the often unforgiving internet.

After all, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.

Sleep, precious sleep…

It’s safe to say that when I was pregnant with our first child I was expecting a bit of sleep disruption.

Yes, there’d be sleepless nights but it would be manageable, I thought. After all, I was the kind of person who was up by 7am at weekends. I’d always been a morning person. It would be fine. And babies slept through at around six months, right?

Then I had a child and realised that the sleep deprivation thing was so much harder than I imagined. There was the day when an all-night feeding frenzy meant I had an hour’s sleep. That day is burned into my brain. It was so hard to function that I wanted to weep.

Our son woke at least five times a night until he was 17 months. I was exhausted and it felt as though I’d never get a good night’s sleep again. He’d also get up at 5.30am every day, something he still does at the age of five.

But then, as though by magic, he grew out of the frequent night waking. By two he was sleeping through pretty consistently and I felt human again. There were a few months of disruption when he moved from a cot to a bed but then he settled down.

When it came to having our daughter eight months later, I felt more equipped with what to expect. And although the early weeks were incredibly hard and exhausting, by 10 weeks she learned to suck her thumb and started to sleep through.

A baby who slept! Suddenly I realised why I’d get odd looks from other parents when I said our son was not sleeping because our daughter did it as if by magic. 

And, until a few months ago, we’d rarely hear anything from her when she’d gone to sleep at night. I’m not going to lie –  it was awesome. Having been through months of sleep deprivation with our son, I was very aware of how lucky we were.

Then, the dreaded thing happened. She learned to escape her cot. We had no choice to put her into a toddler bed instead. I worried it would disturb her sleep.

The early days were tough. We spent hours every evening sitting by her bedroom door and ferrying her back to her bed.

After a few weeks, I cracked and insisted on putting a stairgate on her bedroom door. That way she could play safely in her room without roaming around.

It worked a treat. Until she figured out how to climb over the stairgate and how to remove it from her bedroom door.

So we’re now a fortnight in to very late bedtimes. On a good night she’s sleeping by 9.15pm, on a bad night it’s 10.20pm. I usually crash out not long after. 

And she’s still up bright and early each morning.

We’ve tried putting her back to bed and trying to get her to fall asleep in ours. We have tried reward charts, new night lights and bedtime stories. We have tried taking her for a walk in her pram too.

Our latest approach is to bring her back downstairs after bath time and try to carry on with our evening as normally as we can. It meant she was watching Eurovision with us until 9.45pm last night.

Two weeks in, we’re exhausted. We look after her in shifts to make sure we each have a little bit of time to do what we want such as go to the gym, but we don’t get much down time together while we’re contending with this.

So, fellow parents of non-sleepers, you have my upmost sympathy.

And if you have any bright ideas for techniques and tactics to break this habit, I’d love to hear from you!

Navigating the terrible twos

Yesterday my daughter had a dreaded accident at a soft play centre. As I changed her clothes in the toilet, her screaming was so loud staff knocked the door to ask if everything was okay. “Yes. Just changing my daughter!” I replied as sweetly as I could.

At two and a half, she is fiercely independent, brilliantly confident and fearless. And that’s awesome, but challenging to parent. 

As she’s our second child, I’m finding navigating the toddler tantrums a little easier to navigate than they were with our eldest. 

So here are the three tips I’m clinging on to while navigating the toddler years.

1. Try to see the funny side It’s easy to lose your sense of humour after trying to get your toddler to put their socks on for the umpteenth time. But trying to see the funny side of their requests does help. This morning my daughter was crying because she couldn’t eat her breakfast in a high chair. We don’t own one anymore so there was little I could do to meet her demands. 

2. Pick your battles This is one I try hard to focus on when I’m negotiating. Does it really matter if they wear wellies and a party dress? This morning I spent 10 minutes trying to dress her in a matching outfit, but she was insistent on a pyjama top. So I let her wear it.

3. Put your pride aside. I’m a firm believer that any pride you had before becoming a parent is left firmly behind in the delivery room. I really struggled with this as a first time parent. I was mortified about what people would think of my child’s behaviour. But I try to park my pride during toddler meltdowns and support them through them. 

How do you manage toddler meltdowns? I’d love to hear your tips.

My morning

This morning I almost lost it. It was 7.40am and I was trying to get the children ready for school and day nursery. My son was a darling, ready and waiting in 10 minutes. But my toddler was a different story.

She didn’t want to wee, wear clothes or shoes. She would have preferred to leave the house in her knickers and her Frozen pyjama top. And she made her views known in the best way she can at her age – a monumental tantrum.

I’m talking rolling on the floor, hitting and kicking me in the face and gnashing her teeth on her clothes as I tried to dress this tiny person filled with rage. She also smeared her snotty nose all over my work trousers.

After 27 minutes, she gave in and had a cuddle before agreeing on getting dressed. And 31 minutes later, we left the house late. I was sweaty and still wearing snot-stained clothes as I had no time to change.

I’ve now successfully dropped them both off to school and nursery and a day of work awaits.

And I’m shattered. So today I’ll be mainlining tea and chocolate. Sigh.

The dinnertime blues

Today I made a pasta bake for dinner. Tomato, cheese and child-friendly pasta bows with a side of garlic bread. Nothing fancy or inoffensive (or so I had hoped).

My five-year-old took one look at it and declared: “I don’t want you to make it ever again”.

And as much as I tried to stay positive and smile inside I was screaming: “Just eat your dinner, please!”.

The dinnertime battles are becoming a familiar scene in our home. Before Christmas we had fallen into a routine of eating the same set meals as, admittedly, I just couldn’t face the teatime showdowns.

But I started the year determined to mix things up and to try new meals. (Not that I’d consider a pasta bake a culinary adventure).

I’ve dug out the slow cooker and made more from scratch only to be greeted with disdain by the children who’d rather eat waffles and fish fingers. I have had many plates pushed away with a sneer only to be asked for a dessert two minutes later.

It’s exhausting but I want to stick to my plan. I don’t want us to be making different meals for everyone. I want us to sit together around our dining room table and share a meal and our stories from the day. And I want our children to grow up enjoying a variety of foods. 

I’ll just need patience and determination to get there.
Now, who’s helping me with the dishes?

What are your tips for family friendly dinners? What are your fail safe recipes? I’d love to know.

Parenting as an introvert

Since I was small, I’ve savoured time on my own. Some of my clearest and happiest memories are of the hours I spent devouring books (or writing my own versions using coloured paper, pencils and glitter glue) or playing alone in my room.

That’s not to say I didn’t love being around people and playing with my friends. I most definitely did. But after playing outside for hours or play dates, I’d need a bit of quiet time to recharge.

Similarly, before having the children, as an adult I enjoyed time alone. I’d often take a day off work and spend it pottering in the garden and relaxing in the house alone. Again, it’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with my husband, friends or loved ones – I just needed a bit of alone time.

Suffice to say, alone time (rightly) becomes scarce when you’re a parent of a young child or children. When I had my son five years ago, I didn’t fully understand that this need for quiet and space was part of how I was wired. 

When I was on maternity leave, I filled our days with play dates and playgroups and spent time with my lovely new network of mum friends. My ideal scenario was going out for a few hours and a well-timed nap afterwards so I could recharge, drink a warm cuppa and catch up around the house. Jackpot!

But on the days on which that nap didn’t happen (which were the majority, let’s be honest), boy was I exhausted. Now some of that was down to my son waking at least five times a night for 17 months and still getting up anywhere between 4am and 5.30am. But the other thing that played a part was not having that bit of quiet time to rebuild my energy.

When my son was one and I was back in work at a new job, we were lucky enough to have a talented colleague who was trained in analysing Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) preferences. Her project saw her working with every team member to agree their MBTI profile and then to map each individual and team after we all agreed to sharing our preferences with each other.

I struggled with it at the time but going through this process has been incredibly helpful to me in and outside of work. Before then, I’d never given deep thought to what my preferences were. Surely everyone got tired after spending lots of time with people? And everyone prefers an email over a phone call, right? No.

It gave me a better understanding other people’s preferences and how to work with and communicate with each other. But it’s also given me a much better understanding of what I need.

Now I have got better at telling my husband when I need a bit of space after a full on day with our lovely, boisterous and chatty children. It’s not that I’m being rude, I just need a bit of time – sometimes only 10 minutes – to recharge. It can’t always happen of course, but I do my best to get the time, quiet and space I need to be the best mum, wife, colleague, friend, daughter and sister I can be.

Are you a fellow introvert parent? How do you get the alone time you need?