A plague on both your houses…

…or in this case, just the one.

A few weeks ago it dawned on me that now there are four separate people in our household, the chance of at least one of us being ill at any given moment has increased exponentially. The reality is that chronic sleep deprivation has lowered the immune systems of the “husband” and I, and the The Eldest positively paddles in germs every week when she goes to nursery. Meanwhile, just to compound the issue, until recently I worked in a secondary school and therefore spent an inordinate amount of time sharing door handles and pens with a demographic of people who are renowned for not taking personal hygiene exactly seriously. This all means that we are an ideal destination for the average bug looking to kick back and relax while our small people offer warm, damp and slightly grimy conditions perfect to grow a slightly lack-lustre strain of germ into a full-grown bout of Swine Flu (I am aware that this is not actually how it works).

Now, of course I am not talking about the kinds of illnesses that people actually die from – thank god we live in a country where we are lucky enough to have eliminated lots of those kinds of illnesses through a robust immunisation programme (sorry for the slightly political point there but it seems to me that vaccinating your children is a moral imperative. It doesn’t seem fair that some people choose not to vaccinate their children for reasons best described as “woo”, and yet benefit from the protection of everyone else taking the “risk” with their children. And if they lived in a country where dying from measles was an actual real concern, I’m sure they would feel differently. Despite my efforts to welcome all-comers in this parenting “game” I’m afraid that this is one thing that gets my Mc-Judgy pants all in a twist. Ok, posturing over, back to the flippant post). I am talking about the illnesses that leave you feeling like death but really are a relatively minor inconvenience. Since the BSCB joined us, I feel that we have become somewhat experts in the field of these slightly irritating but not life-threatening conditions as barely a week seems to go by without us all falling domino-style to a germ’s silky chat-up lines, or being taken out all at once in a Weapons of Mass Destruction full-throttle attack. And it’s not just us.

The many other mums I know regularly report days being taken off work thanks to the illness of children, and the general consensus seems to be that we all feel pretty shit most of the time. Swollen glands? Check. Tickley throat? Check. Sneezing? Check. General nausea? Check. The list of slight ailments goes on and on. In the interests of “science” therefore, I have been keeping a mental tally of the various illnesses (or Bastard Bugs as they have come to be known in our house) that have inflicted themselves upon us in the last few months. One of my findings is that at a time of our lives when illness is inevitable, some are preferable to others. In descending order of desirability therefore, I give you my “Top Five” most Bastard-y Bugs:

The 5th place prize for most B-dy Bug goes to… Conjunctivitis. Not an ailment that ever graced my door before children, this has appeared in all its sticky, crusty, gunky glory three times in the last two months. To be fair, this is not really a condition that causes hugely concerning symptoms. A swollen eyelid here, an itchy eye there, some sticky eyelashes in the morning, it can all be fixed with some eye drops from the chemist so doesn’t even warrant a pain-in-the-arse trip to the doctors (or more accurately a pain-in-the-arse 45 minutes and 73 redials to get through to the doctors, a half hour wait in a phone queue, followed by a 30 second conversation with a receptionist who tells me that the system has changed and we have to be triaged (another phone call) before getting an appointment. All of this before 8.30am while trying to prevent the BSCB from artexing the kitchen wall with Weetabix and trying to convince The Eldest that she cannot leave the house wearing only a vest and her fairy wings). So overall, not a bad illness, right? Except we live with The Eldest.

The Eldest has been known to scream for one or both of us in the middle of the night because her eye is itchy, so when she stirs in the middle of the night to find her eyelashes glued together I’m sure you can imagine how oh the world ends. Just to emphasise the extent of the drama that this girl can create, hear this – the first time she had conjunctivitis she was around 18 months old. After a couple of days of waking with her eyelashes stuck together and having her eyes bathed with cooled, boiled water and cotton wool (such a good mum…), she woke on the third day with no sign of any gunge whatsoever. Yes! I thought. Except she would not open her eyes. Just would not. Refused. Completely. She let me carry her up to the living room where I cajoled, demanded and pleaded but nope, still closed. It was a work morning and I needed to leave but I was also starting to think there was something terribly wrong. After 20 minutes or so it was the dulcet tones of the Peppa Pig theme tune that finally elicited a blink and the opening of her perfectly fine eyes. WTF?! At 18 months old she had no way to articulate what had just taken place but the only thing I can think of is that through conjunctivitis she had learned that she could be awake and yet not open her eyes, and she had decided to you know, try it out. So while conjunctivitis as an illness is really just a mild irritation, its knock-on impact for us justifies its place on this list.

In 4th place comes The Common Cold. We’ve all been there, in the park, playing with the slightly feverish child when they sneeze. Candlesticks hang from their nose – two bright green strands of snot that run down over their lips and off the bottom of their chin – and you hurriedly rummage through your pockets before the child can smear the offensive slime all over their face and into their hair. You pull out a slightly grimy napkin from Starbucks which you realise you used the last time you forgot the tissues and you know you could do better. You look at the soiled, scratchy excuse for a tissue and guilt gets the better of you and you use your scarf. Like conjunctivitis however, the common cold isn’t much to be worried about really and sometimes the children surprise us with their ability to breathe through their skin, or eyes, or ears, or something anyway, because I’m sure as hell that no air is getting up that nose and they haven’t yet realised they can breathe through their mouth. Most of the time however, at worst a cold means a few disturbed nights for parent and child but sometimes it leads to…

The winner of 3rd place, The Cough. I swear there is no more irritating sentence that ever comes out of a doctor’s mouth than the words “It’s just a virus.” By the time you have passed the Krypton Factor test of actually getting a sodding doctor’s appointment you have probably had a week of being woken several times a night by your coughing child. He/ she might not actually wake which obviously is a good thing, but you are awake. A lot. Listening to them cough. Please give me some drugs. But no. No drugs. And how long can a viral cough take to go away? Six weeks! By which time your child has had another 3 colds so the cycle just, well, cycles. Obviously there are times that coughs can be more serious – croup? Anyone been there? <shudders at memory> Bronchiolitis? Yup, that too. Chest infections? Well, yes, but really those don’t count because for those we get d.r.u.g.s. So coughs are pretty shitty but not a patch on…

The 2nd place prize winner, Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. Now, if you’re not a parent but for some reason are reading this, this is not the same as Foot and Mouth disease which affects mostly livestock. Confusing the two and questioning your child’s parentage is an easy mistake to make, I know, but I promise your child is not a cow, or any other cloven hoofed creature for that matter (although doesn’t Satan appear in cloven-hoofed form? I’ll leave that thought with you). Hand, foot and mouth is sometimes known by its colloquial name of F***king Hell on Earth (sorry mum, but it really was that bad) and results in blisters forming inside your child’s mouth, down their throat, all over their body and on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet. Horrible. I do know of children who have suffered mild cases of the infection who suffered only a mild deterioration in appetite and a few spots around their chin. This wasn’t the BSCB. His torso looked like he had slept on a Tangle Teaser, his face erupted into a mass of weeping, then scabby sores, and I have no idea what was in his mouth because other than to cry he barely opened it for about 48 hours. Grim. Although not quite as grim as…

The top-prize winner, the Gold Standard B-dy Bug, The Vomiting and Diarrhea bug. This is quite simply the worst minor illness to fall victim to. Like all of these illnesses there is a sliding scale of severity from the 24 hour bug that causes your child to vomit a couple of times and have one or two explosive nappies (no big deal), to the daddy of all “it was coming out of both ends” bugs – norovirus. Joking aside these can obviously be really serious as the threat of dehydration can lead to hospital admission and IV fluids. Most of the time though the reason a vomiting and diarrhea bug tops my list is quite simply because of the clean up.  During a particularly bad bout of vomiting with the BSCB (yes, he is rather sickly), we resorted to just hanging out in the kitchen – that way at least the floor was easy to clean. This is because the main problem with a vomiting and diarrhea bug is that even once the child starts to feel better, and the sleepless nights start to improve, you are still left with the mammoth task of washing everything you own so that you can leave the house again. Bed sheets, towels, more bed sheets, pyjamas, clothes, the carpet, the settee, muslins, mattress protectors, hair, skin – all of it gets covered in vomit and/or shit several times a day and the laundry pile simply spirals out of control. And while I’m thinking about it, am I the only one to ever pull a load of laundry out of the washing machine, only to find that in my throughly effed off state I’d forgotten to rinse the vom off? As desired, the wet bits have been washed neatly away but rather less pleasing are the nuggets of unidentifiable foods that have been left dancing around amongst my smalls like the sweaty, oddly-shaped and strangely pasty people who always remain in the discotheque in the early hours of Saturday morning. Vomit – the gift that keeps on giving.

Now this Top Five is clearly not definitive – these are only the Top Five most B-dy Bugs as according to the TM(M)I household. I am well aware that there are many more treats peeking over the horizon wiggling their fingers in a shit attempt at kidding me that I have seen their worst. Chicken pox, ear infections, flu, Slapped Cheek (no, I have no idea either) – they’re all there just waiting for their chance to pounce.

Oh well, what doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger, right? Now pass me the vitamins (wine).

I just can’t do it anymore

Seven years ago I received an email from the mother of an ex-student. In carefully crafted sentences that I read many times over, she thanked me for teaching her son that hard work, commitment and encouragement could go a long way towards success. I regret not keeping a copy of that email so I could better recall its uplifting words but the thought of it has sustained me through many a tough day teaching English to teenagers. I am a teacher. With the heaviest heart, however, tomorrow is my last day. My family have to come first, but it hurts to walk away.

It turns out that the job I fell into, and unexpectedly developed a fervent passion for, is not compatible with being a mother to two small people. The battle for women’s rights which has engendered my generation with the “I can have it all” attitude has of course failed to provide the extra hours in the day that “having it all”, or rather “doing it all”, demands. I have colleagues who begin work at home at 5am, arrive at school for 7am, work at school until 6pm, then begin work again at home at 7pm. They sleep and then do it all over again. At this time of year, in the run-up to exams, they work on Saturday mornings teaching revision classes, and spend a large proportion of their Sunday preparing lessons and marking.

In my twenties, pre-children, this was my life – the job was a huge part of my identity and my passion for improving the life chances of the disadvantaged children I worked with knew no limits. But I just can’t do this anymore. With two children aged 1 and 3 of my own, I no longer have all the hours in the day to think about other people’s offspring. To be honest, I have also started to wonder just how reasonable this expectation is for anyone.

The belief that teachers should not expect to have a life is one touted by government ministers, heads of OFSTED and headteachers alike. The mantra that is so often trotted out, in its various forms, is that “It’s for the kids.” Teachers feel guilty about just thinking about an existence outside the school gates. That’s what the holidays are for, right? And yes, the holidays are brilliant, but if a teacher does a good impression of a member of the walking dead for the other 39 weeks of the year, is this really in the best interests of the students?

My measure of whether something is a good use of my time has always been to question its educational value – essentially, how is completing this task going to improve the skills and understanding of the students in my classroom? Spending hours entering data into spreadsheets to track and “prove” progress is not a good use of a teacher’s time. Being asked to copy and paste entire documents into a new format in order to satisfy the latest guessing game understanding of what it is OFSTED are looking for, is not a good use of a teacher’s time. I can’t speak for other subjects but the changes to the English examination specifications are narrow and uninspired, doffing their cap to a dusty, archaic era whence literature born of only the mother countries of the Empire was deemed worthy. And the obsession with detailed book-marking is counter-productive – when the tick, target, question that the teacher is writing on a student’s work is twice the length of anything the student has produced, surely something is wrong?

Now, before anyone reading this dismisses it as the maudlin playing of a tiny violin, or utters the oft repeated refrain of “Get in the real world”, I would like to point out that I LIVE in the real world. In the classrooms I teach in there are students whose lives are more “real” than many of us could ever imagine. The things they have seen, the things they have heard, too young, and too early, make my skin crawl and my blood boil. Yet still they come to school. And that is the point. I know that there are other people who work hard, who don’t have the pension scheme that teachers have (or had), who don’t have the holidays. On and on we could go on comparing. But why should this be a race to the bottom? This is about our children. There are so many flaws in the education system that I have propped up for the last twelve years that I almost didn’t write this post because I simply didn’t know where to start.

But I do know this.

I, alongside most of the teachers I know, have no problem with teachers being assessed, observed and held accountable. I have welcomed all of these into my classroom as a necessary part of making sure that the students are getting the best possible deal from their school. But increasingly the time teachers have to reflect on, and improve, their own practice in ways that will have a direct positive impact on their students is being squeezed into oblivion. The biggest victims of this are the students, our children. In the place of innovative, collaborative practice is a growing workload and excessive accountability which means we are raising an entire generation of young people who are not allowed to fail. Students in secondary schools up and down the country are being encouraged to believe that if they do not achieve their target grade they are wholeheartedly not to blame – it is their teacher’s fault. Haven’t done any work for the last 10 years of school, but need to pass your GCSE? Don’t worry, your teacher will give up their entire life to make sure that you are not responsible for yours. It looks so harsh when I see it written down there as I have always been of the opinion that many young people do not have good guidance or support, therefore as teachers we should go that extra mile to help them fulfill their potential. But surely there is a line, and surely we have reached it. How many extra miles should we go?

A colleague of mine made us all stop and think not long ago. Following a fruitless attempt to get a Year 11 student engaged in completing his English coursework, with her sitting next to him to support, no less, she declared “There’s just no dignity.” And she is right. There is no dignity, or respect. Instead there is increasing fear. The once hovering, now swooping, threat of being turned into an academy, the skewed scrutiny of OFSTED, and the prospect of having your income slashed through performance related pay, renders us all virtual beggars at the side of the road, pleading and coaxing teenagers into oh-so-generously donating their time and effort towards passing their own GCSEs. And do you know what? For once, the teenage refrain of “It wasn’t me” rings entirely true because this situation isn’t their fault – they are only reacting to the current climate that completely absolves them of any responsiblity.

Instead the teachers are responsible. For everything.

My part-time return after the birth of my second child, was marked by a tangible change in the atmosphere of teaching. It felt like now that I had competing priorities, I was not welcome anymore. The value of my wealth of experience was out-weighed by the fact that no longer could I be a sacrificial lamb in the pursuit of “raising standards”. The implication seemed to be that parenting left me unable to give without restraint and therefore I was dismissed as lazy, uncommitted. Oh, she gets in “late” (8.30am, nursery drop-off); oh, she leaves early (5pm, nursery pick up); oh she hasn’t attended an evening performance (bath and bed time). It was enough to make me start doubting my contribution to a school that had been teetering on the brink of special measures and rumored closure when I joined.

My small part in its journey to becoming a thriving school, which has been credited with being in the top 5 most improved school nationally, is one of my proudest achievements. Of course I do not take sole credit for this, there was an incredible effort by an incredible team of people who led that charge, but I am part of the story. These are not the bitter sentiments of someone who never got to grips with the various demands of the job. I have been respected by students and staff alike for many years and classes under my care were considered to be a “sure thing” to make at least the expected progress, and often achieved more. I never imagined that I would be leaving the profession under such a dark cloud.

I can command a classroom of teenagers. I have a reputation as an excellent builder of relationships – some of the most enthusiastic, temperamental, exciting, obnoxious, defiant, curious individuals I have ever met have been willing, over the years, to take my word for almost anything. I can use my skills and knowledge to motivate the most reluctant, and occasionally inspire those with a budding love of literature. My twelve years of experience mean that I am often called upon when a less experienced colleague is floundering, or another experienced teacher wants someone to help fine-tune an idea. But apparently this isn’t enough.

The dark thoughts are tempered by the knowledge that I am doing the best thing for my family, and that hopefully new and exciting endeavors lie ahead. Nevertheless the cloud lingers. I feel like I have been dismissed and disregarded because the level of expectation that now accompanies the job wholly exceeds what I can offer. I can’t handle the guilt nor the pressure. I can’t stomach the rising acid in my throat when I hear the dedication of teachers being undermined time and again. I can’t work a sixty hour week for other people’s children as where does this leave my own?

Last week, in a perfect example of serendipity, I gratefully received a letter from another ex-student. She is in her final year studying sociology and psychology and is hoping to graduate with first class honors. In her letter she wonders whether I remember her. Of course I do, as I remember most of the students I have taught – with fondness. I remember her as a quiet, unassuming girl who struggled with the technical aspects of English, in particular spelling and the organisation of her thoughts, but she was over-flowing with thoughtful and sensitive ideas about Shakespeare and poetry. She wrote:

“You showed me my potential, brought out the best in my abilities and opened my eyes to endless possibilities that could become my own reality…In addition to all of the academic skills you have taught me, you have shown me the value of perseverance, commitment, dedication, determination and hard work. You inspired hope, ignited my imagination, enhanced my confidence and instilled in me a love of knowledge…”

And with her words she lifted me up.

In days gone by I used to say that if I was making a lasting difference to just one child in my classroom, it was worth all of the stress, the heartache, and the sheer exhaustion of giving, endlessly. I had forgotten this sentiment, lost as it was in the fog of frustration and I’ll admit it, anger, that has clouded my mind this last few months. This letter, however, with its most impeccable timing, reminded me that my last twelve years have not been wasted.

I might not be as available as I need to be, rightly or wrongly, to be a teacher these days; I might not be wanted anymore, but it has not been wasted.

I am still sad but the anger has passed. One last time, however, I’d like to make it clear – I am not leaving the profession because I am lazy. I am not leaving because I don’t want to work hard. I am not leaving because I don’t care.

I’m leaving because I just can’t do it anymore. How many more of us will there be?

This internet thing is definitely weird, but is it good?

This week, the “husband” sent me a picture of myself on Google Maps.

Google Maps Pic

Weird.

He saw it because he likes to look at how our road has changed in the time we have lived here (also weird) and it seems that anyone who is looking at our road now sees me. I am pushing the children in the minibus (the Phil and Teds – we also have a Mercedes (a Bugaboo) and a nippy little sports car (a Microlite) Why so many buggies? I have no idea.) accompanied by my mother. There is also a man in the shot. I don’t know him but perhaps he is equally freaked out by seeing himself on t’internet for the whole world to see. But why do I find it so freaky?

I’m here every day hawking the offspring all over Instagram trying to get a few likes and maybe the odd comment about whatever fundamentally mundane moment has just occurred. It seems a bit pathetic when I read it in Verdana Regular 12 but I can’t help but see it as harmless fun.  The “husband”, however, is definitely less of a fan and the question is, am I less suspicious, or just more naive?

Since becoming a parent I have found myself lurking, and now becoming increasingly active, around the pages, accounts, and blogs of the “sisterhood” and in particular other mums. Despite having plenty of friends I have found the whole motherhood shizz rather isolating at times. Online I don’t really “do” celebs, or lifestyle stuff, or even music these days, but I do find comfort in visiting the pages of people who I feel are a bit like me. Who are more likely to have their f**ks, and not so much their ducks, in a row. They say that it takes a village to raise a child and while I have no idea who “they” are, they sure are talking a whole lot of sense. But increasingly few of us stay in the village that would have helped us raise our children, so to whom do we turn?

As we have grown, the world has shrunk around us thanks to the marvels that are the internet, super-fast broadband, Facetime, and all other forms of technology that I know mostly nothing about (it is worth saying that my technological ineptitude has reached the point of paralysis. I can’t get my head around the fact that grooves in vinyl make music therefore my mind freezes completely when I think too hard about the fact that information travels through thin air). As a result I sometimes wonder if this has contributed to the flux and flow of people in and out of population centres like London where I have lived for the last 12 years. Very rarely do I meet someone who is living in London, who is actually from London. Where have all the Londoners gone? It is as though the ease of communication has salved the worries of leaving your family behind. These days, with a sideways swipe and the touch of a screen, you can hear their voices and see their faces. So, many miles away from home, our homesickness soothed by the light in the centre of the living room ceiling (or is it just my parents who always seem to point the iPad camera up there?), this internet thing becomes “the village”. Becomes the community to whom you turn your hopeful gaze when you need some uplifting words, some timely advice, or just to be told that you aren’t such a bad mum afterall.

Of course it has its drawbacks – trolling, the receipt of unwelcome (and boring) parenting advice as a result of an IG post (mine, and cheers for that), and the insidious presence of bullies who hide behind their computer screen and find a relatively risk free forum to hate on other people – afterall t’internet really would be weird if someone could reach through their computer screen and land one on your chin – are just a few of the risks that adults run on t’internet. And then there is the very real chance that my offspring are going to hate me in ten years time when the photos that would traditionally only be trotted out on 18th birthdays to offer up a reasonable amount of embarrassment, are instead OUT THERE. But more worrying is the effect it is having on our young people.

I won’t be the first, nor the last, person to point out that these days, even when a child runs crying up to his bedroom and hides under her duvet there is no escape from the bus-stop bullies. The next beep or buzz from his phone could be a picture of her face super-imposed on a porn star’s body. In days gone by the paper version of this slur would be torn up and cried over but only a handful of people would have seen it. These days, between Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter, these things can go viral and achieve an audience of hundreds, if not thousands.

Then there is the damage that the internet is doing to the cultural capital of young people. A friend explained to me recently that the sixth form students to whom she teaches Film Studies have rarely seen a film made outside their lifetime. In fact, it is often the case that they have not seen a film that has been made outside of their teenage years. I asked her whether she thought this was any different to when we were teenagers – did we really take that much interest in the classics or were we more likely to watch Teen Wolf on repeat (children of the 80s that we are, the fact that Michael J Fox was a thirty year old borderline dwarf did not matter one jot. When I was 8, he was my god)? We were absolutely different, she insisted. Having just four channels to choose from means that most, if not all, children of the 80s (and probably 90s) have seen ET at least 15 times – one for every Christmas they can remember between the ages of 3 and 18 when they could escape to the pub at the first sight of his scaly fingers. We’ve all seen Zulu, although perhaps not in one sitting, as I certainly can’t promise that the Sylvanian Family wouldn’t have made an appearence hiking across the leatherette settee at some point during it, as that film is ep.ic. But the point is that even though these films, amongst others, were made a long time before we were teenagers, we were aware of their existence.

In contrast, young people nowadays reside in an increasingly crowded bubble of people just like them. Their access to information is unparalled in history but they (being young) are content to populate their online experiences with one another. Just more of one another. Their worlds are completely saturated with versions of themselves and their choice is never going to be between another game of Trivial Pursuits (to which they know NONE of the answers), a cold park bench, or watching The Goonies for the 75th time. And as a result they are growing poorer. Bloody t’internet.

Despite all of these drawbacks, however, for those of us who remember the tense, wasted minutes of dial-up internet, and the nervy, sweaty wait next to the phone box, never sure if your friend was running late or had stood you up, all this technology malarkey is rather fine. It is pleasing to be able to find out exactly what time that bus will be arriving before you’ve even left your house, and while I gently mock the “husband” I have to admit a modest level of curiosity about how the street we live on has changed since Google maps started whizzing its eerie little cars all over the joint. Of course people survived perfectly well before t’internet took over therefore perhaps this renders its benefits merely superficial. But tell this to the many business men and women (although I have to admit it is the women I am particularly interested in) who are harnessing the power of the internet, and in particular social media, to create brands, sell products and basically bring the game to the doorsteps of established retail big guns.

When writing about my first forays into Instagram I mentioned a few of the new mum heroes I had “met”, and with each passing day my admiration for them only grows. When I step onto the square tiles of Instagram I often feel connected to the world and excited by its possibilities. I am at a cross-roads in my life as I am three working days away from leaving the profession I have been part of for twelve years. Seeing women who, faced with the choice between work and children, are taking a plunge into combining the two that makes the traditional workplace look about as flexible as an octogenarian at a yoga class, is enormously inspiring.

Having said that, this internet thing is definitely a bit weird. The dawning moment was literally my first Instagram post when I tagged @midwifeyhooper as one of my inspirations. She kindly replied (I imagine she was up on a nightfeed with nothing better to do) and said that her blog is neglected at the moment. I replied “Ha! I think your hands are more than full at the moment” followed by two baby emojis, two girl emojis, and four hand claps. Only a split second had passed before I thought “Is it weird that I know that?”. Six weeks in (jeez, is that all? I’m fairly sure even crack fiends don’t develop a habit this hard in six weeks. Gulp.) I’m still pretty certain it is weird. But I like it.

An A-Z of holidaying without your smalls

Nooo, not those smalls, although to be fair I imagine holidaying entirely without pants could be remarkably liberating. I’m talking about jetting off without the small people you created. Just you, and maybe the person you made them with, or someone else for that matter. Not Same Sh*t, Different Postcode as my partner likes to call it – the point is that the small people and all of their demands are not going with you. It’s different, right? So, just in case you have forgotten how…

A is for allowing yourself to have fun. You will miss the smalls, and they will miss you (although perhaps not so much as you would think) but allow yourself the fun because you will be a better person, and parent, for the break. (Well, that’s what I told myself anyway to justify dropping the smalls on my parents for an entire week.)

B is for beer, books, and basically everything else that you will have time for without the small people demanding to be supervised in the swimming pool for 95% of their waking hours.

C is for catching some zzzzzs. Have a lie-in. Have an afternoon nap. Hell, have a lie-in AND an afternoon nap. The world is your bed, go lie in it.

D is for dancing. The last time you broke some shapes you were a dress size smaller and your knees were way less saggy. Don’t let that stop you – this might be your only chance for another few months, possibly years, once the grandparents realise they might not want to look after the small people for several consecutive days until they can dress, feed, and wipe their bottoms unassisted.

E is for excitement. Dance on the spot and clutch your crotch like a partly-potty-trained-toddler insisting they don’t need a wee, because without set meal, nap and bed times to accommodate you can go wild and actually get excited about something. No one small is there to throw up in your hands, or wee in their boots, and spoil the occasion. Feeling excited is safe in these circumstances.

F is for freedom! Get drunk (shouting FREEEDDOMM in impressively bad Braveheart style is advised but optional), don’t get drunk, sleep, don’t sleep, eat, don’t eat. The choice is YOURS. There is no one else to think about.

G is for going topless… yeeaah…maybe not.

H is for headache. Hangover induced only. Soft play does not exist in this world, your first name is not mummy, and you have certainly not had to respond to it 70 times in the last 7 seconds. The only excuse for a headache is way too much wine.

I is for ice cubes in your drink that small fingers don’t fish out, suck, then put back. J is for the joy that waking au naturale offers. No squalling baby or shouty toddler to rouse you from your blissful slumber? Waking up will be a joy.

K is for keeping up with the kids. Not THE kids obviously – you’ve left them elsewhere. I mean the single, child-free twenty-somethings that you are no different from. You’ve had children but essentially you’re the same person and you definitely haven’t changed… Until you talk to some. Yeah, you’ve changed.

L is for last minute shopping at the airport. That explosive poo that went up the baby’s back the last time you were at the airport, which necessitated a 45 minute clean-up operation? That’s not going to happen. You’ll have time to go and get your Euros, meander through Duty Free and maybe enjoy a cheeky glass of bubbles before you board your flight.

M is for the minibar. Now I’m not actually suggesting you eat any of it – have you seen the price they charge for a packet of crisps? But you can at least enjoy looking at it in peace without having to stash it all in the empty suitcase in the bottom of the wardrobe to stop the small people getting their sticky fingers on it.

N is for napping. See C.

O is for opening lines. Make a list of things that people without children talk about. Keep the list handy.

P is for packing aaallll of the clothes in aaallll of the suitcase. Don’t think you’ll need that seventh pair of shoes? Put it in anyway. Plus another pair. Ewan the (b*stard) Dream Sheep and the (sodding) Star Show are not getting within sniffing distance of this suitcase so pack pack pack away.

Q is for questions. Similar to O you may find that your ability to make conversation has diminished somewhat since having children. Found yourself starting to relay the detailed ins and outs of your daily routine with the baby? Refer to the list. Actual People like to be asked questions beyond “Are you hungry?” or “Do you need a poo?”

R is for realising that you still have it. With the support of your lists of Q and O, you CAN hold a conversation with your partner/ hubby. You CAN still chat to strangers and convince them you are way cooler than you actually are. You CAN still apply make-up and blow-dry your hair without someone attempting to die in the meantime.

S is for sleeping. See N and C. Your partner will insist S is for sex. I’ll leave that one with you…

T is for talking. Actually talking in full sentences. There will be no pauses or hesitations to dutifully congratulate your small person on doing something that Actual People take a bit for granted… “Well done, you’re eating your food… oh look, you’ve drank your drink… no dear, it isn’t really necessary to share that Grandad has a willy with the whole restaurant…”. Be careful though – when the small people are not there the social crutch they provide to hide the fact that your brain has leaked out of your pelvic floor will also be absent. Unused to actually finishing sentences you may find you run out of things to say. In these circumstances refer to O and Q.

U is for undoing the damage that has been done to your relationship since having children. After a couple of hours of childfree time, and several days stretching out ahead of you, you will (hopefully) remember that you actually quite like this person with whom you have procreated. The thought of those little piles of pocket fluff, coins and random receipts that he leaves scattered around the place will no longer seem like justification for going all ISIS on their ass. Unless he has gone and got sh*t-faced in the airport bar that is, in which case you will probably want to just leave him there.

V is for virginity. If this is your first night away since giving birth you may well feel like you are losing your V-Bomb all over again. Sod it, if you have children you may well feel like you are losing your V-bomb all over again.

W is for white clothes. You get to choose the colour of your food and drink this holiday. There is no danger of being smeared in sweet potato, carrot flavoured rice cakes, or spaghetti bolognese. Orange foods are banned. Wear white.

X is for eXtreme sleeping (yes, I know I’m reaching there) like snoozing on a sun-lounger, or hanging in a hammock. Sleeping anywhere in the open, in fact. I’m wild, I know.

Y is for your arms. Having left the child(ren) somewhere else you’ll feel like you’ve lost your right one. If you have more than one child you’ll probably feel like you’ve lost both arms and will be worrying about how to drink your punch by the pool. You’ll imagine resorting to biting the edge of the cup and tipping your head back in a bad rendition of a university drinking game. Then you’ll realise that it’s not your arms you’ve lost, it’s just the small people. Don’t panic though, they are hopefully with someone you trust. Go and enjoy yourself with both arms.

Z is for, you guessed it, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… aannnd sleeeeeepp…

Hope that helps 😉

The parent’s guide to surviving waking-in-the-night

It’s really not a very catchy title but the truth is you’ve got to be one lucky mother-punting parent to not need to survive this shizzle at some point or another in the first few years. (There will be people reading this who think that their child is a champion sleeper and it will never happen. Well, (mwahahahahaaaa) tread carefully now, the phrase “This too shall pass”, a mantra for the suffering parent, goes for the good stuff too, you know.) With a very small baby you can generally plug them into a boob or a bottle and this will relatively quickly see them off for another few hours (<ducks for cover> I am well aware that this is not always the way that it works). With an older baby, however, at some point along the way you will have lost this weapon in the war of parenting. When the molars start to surface, or the baby is learning something new, you are therefore left with a sorry looking stash of a bow and some broken arrows to fend off the demon of sleep deprivation.

In our house, the BSCB’s sleep has never been great and the reasons for this are endless. At the moment it is particularly poor and if we score two undisturbed nights of sleep per week we actually start to float. Yes, of course we could sleep train, in fact we have done before and what we have now is an improvement(!), but Second Child Syndrome has weaved it’s wiley web around us and quite frankly we can’t be arsed.

On the off-chance, therefore, that anyone else is aboard a similarly sinking ship, I thought I’d construct a handy photo-essay-guide-thingy to summarise the survival tactics that we find work for us.

*Disclaimers* (1) The “baby” is not real. He is a brown doll that my mum bought The Eldest to prepare her for the arrival of her brother.

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My model. He has suitably wide awake eyes.

He has a mouth and a bum hole that you can insert things into(!) and his head wobbles more than it should. This is thanks to The Eldest who took a liking to shaking it back and forth while shouting “He’s nodding!”. Very reassuring behaviour for a heavily pregnant mum about to give birth to a floppy newborn. (2)Clearly I realise that putting the baby to sleep in a brightly lit room won’t help his sleep. (3)I don’t sleep in a sweatshirt and lurid lycra yoga leggings. The lights and the leggings are in the photos as I had precisely 6 minutes and 37 seconds for the “husband” to take the pictures in between the football ending and The Eldest erupting into a “You promised me the park” triggered tantrum. (4) My hair is always a mess.

Tactic 1: preparation Clothes by the bed, unfolded. Arrange them so that in the dark you can put them on easily. Folding them increases the danger that you won’t be able to find the hole for your head. NEVER attend to your child without putting extra clothes on – you will be colder than an eskimo’s dingle-dangle within minutes and leaving your child’s side to find extra clothes WILL result in them fully waking up, screaming themselves into a state of hyper-ventilation, and subsequently staying awake for another two hours. If you’re in a similar situation to us, the other child sleeping in the same room will also wake up and want attention. Avoid this at all costs. Wear extra clothes.

Also important for successful preparation is that you ensure that ALL the drugs are within easy reach. In our house Calpol, Nurafen, Olbas Oil, Vicks Vapour rub and for good measure a cup of water, all have a permanent home on the stairs that lead to the children’s room. This way we can scoop up our ammunition of choice on the way in. See above for why you don’t want to have to leave their side to go and collect any of this.

Tactic 2: be pessimistic. Preparation completed, you’re ready to go to bed. Under no circumstances imagine having a full night’s sleep. Repeat the mantra “I can survive on no sleep” several times before passing out, this way if for some reason the child(ren) do(es) sleep through the night you’ll wake up pleasantly confused. Spend even a second imagining the unicorn-fart’s occurrence of a full night’s sleep and the inevitable 2.30am wake-up call will turn you into a raging Cyclops. Your one eye will swivel only in the direction of your (probably) still sleeping other half and growl something indecipherable about him having his manhood attached to his forehead. He still won’t wake up. You will be in danger of losing all of your shit. Save you all the pain. Be pessimistic.

Tactic 3: assume Soothing Position One.  The baby is awake, you have dressed, and you have made it unscathed to his/ her room. Assume Soothing Position One  – this one is optimistic. You stand and bend over the top of the cot. Support your weight with one hand and use the other to pat/ stroke the small person. 12794591_10156516457670361_4129806914452529820_n

This will be fine for a few minutes and the child may well start to resettle. Do. Not. Move. Moving now will reset the baby and you will have to start all over again. Except you will need to move. It is likely that your post-pregnancy body has no core strength remaining, and if you have had more than one baby there is a very good chance that where your pulvarised-pelvis hinges onto your spine there is considerable creakage. Bending for any length of time is challenging. Add to this the fact that your body has clocked that it is night-time and you should be lying down, and you will need to move. At this point you will be tempted to just pick the baby up and take him/her to bed with you, but your resolve will be strong. You know it’s a “bad habit” and you quite like sleeping on the bed, not clinging to its edge, so you resist.

Tactic 4: assume Soothing Position Two. You kneel next to the cot and hang your arms over the side.12804790_10156516457690361_8784859289706433667_n-2

This is good because moving into this position can be achieved while continuing to pat/ stroke your child. This reduces the risk of resetting him/her and having to start again. Unfortunately, however, it is also bad as the cot rail will dig into your armpits and you will soon start to lose feeling in your hands. You can maintain this for a small amount of time but everyone needs feeling in their hands or the worry sets in that they might fall off. It is the middle of the night. You want to be asleep. Your mind will try all kinds of tricks to get you to pick the small person up and take them to bed with you. See above.

Tactic 5: assume Soothing Position Three. This is a favourite of mine as your own knee offers up a handy (bony) pillow, while the upright leg supplies the support required to prop up your weary body. You push your now numb hand and arm through the cot rails easily enough and are able to continue the patting/ stroking.12801596_10156516457770361_2533877274348036838_n

If you’ve been lucky, the momentary pause in patting/ stroking while you moved has not caused the child to completely reset therefore you are able to pick up where you left off.

After a while you stop stroking/ patting to see if it elicits a head-raise or grumble from the baby. If all remains snuffly but still, you hold your breath and start to withdraw your arm. This goes well until you come to extricate your elbow. Since you started your elbow will have doubled in size and it now jams firmly between the bars and refuses to slip through. You twist your arm in your efforts to free it, and your head expands with every passing second because you are still not breathing. Finally, with a rasp of sweatshirt cotton against the rails, your arm is free and you gather yourself to creep out of the room. But no. The child is stirring.. wait… no, his eyes are still closed…wait…ah bugger the head is up… Damn you extra clothes – a bare, numb, freezing-cold arm would have slipped through no bother.

Tactic 6: Assume Soothing Position Four – the ignore.

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Turn your back on your child, rest your head on your knees and whisper an incantation to summon the devil. If by some chance he arrives you are fully prepared to strike up a deal that buys you some sleep. The small person is now fully reset. He/ she will most likely stand up at the cot bars and grab those tiny hairs at the nape of your neck that really effing hurt. You are desperate. For at least 15 seconds you resist the thought of picking up the small person so that they can invade your bed. Then you realise you have been there for an hour with no end in sight…

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Oh, fuck it.

Well, that was worth it.

On your slow walk out of the room you imagine the sly smile that is creeping across the small person’s face. Somewhere deep in the depths of your mind there is a flicker of annoyance but you are unable to figure out from where it comes and your tiredness snuffs it out. Your bed is calling and lying down on a one-inch-wide slither of mattress while the child star-fishes in the middle of the bed is looking like bedtime perfection. You gingerly make your way to your bedroom, all the while aware that getting into bed with the baby is no guarantee of sleep. You could well end up lying on your own bed, torturously drifting in and out of snatches of sleep as the baby inserts his/ her fingers into every orifice on your head, and probably attempts to create some new ones. Luckily the little sod fell asleep on your shoulder six steps out of his/ her bedroom and as gently as a furious, exhausted person can manage, you lay the baby down on top of your bed.

Now it’s your turn to climb into bed but you belatedly realise that when you laid him/ her down you failed to adjust the duvet leaving you with just enough to cover one half of your body. What do you do… get a little bit colder than is comfortable for sleep, or risk disturbing the sleeping monster baby…? Either way, it’s likely that you’re screwed and I have nothing else left to offer other than my condolences…

So, those are my tips for surviving the sleepless nights with an older baby – the ones that no one ever tells you about therefore leaving you to assume that  once you’ve made it through the early months everything returns to a blissful state of snooze. These strategies must work to some extent as we’re not dead, but has anyone got any more to add? I’m all ears – we love (need) a good survival tip and who better to ask? After all, Bear Grylls is basically a bumbling amateur at survival shit compared to the average parent staggering, mostly awake, through the small people years…

A Love List to my Mum

Last year on Mother’s Day I posted a typically facetious status on Facebook that “My mum is better than your mum…” Now obviously this is pretty subjective stuff, but I don’t think anyone who knows my mum’s story could ever argue with the idea that she is pretty bloody awesome. Here is my list of reasons why:

  • Mother-of-three-under-five never meant much to me until I had my own children. Now I wonder how she, and we, are alive.
  • And then there is THE wonder that she is alive – she has fought the brave fight against breast cancer twice and is still standing, perkier than ever 😉
  • She has grieved for her father for most of her life after he died from bowel cancer on Christmas Day. She was ten years old. Like the plot of a saccharine Spielberg movie, the detail that always makes my heart catch in my chest is that her father bought her an umbrella that Christmas. Do you remember what you were bought for Christmas when you were ten? I don’t.
  • She has grieved for a sister who, aged just 43, died too young from breast cancer. My mum was one year younger than I am now when it happened. I have a sister. Just imagining losing her is too big and difficult a thought for my brain to wrap its thoughts around. I just can’t imagine it. And then to be told that you have fallen foul of the same disease that took your closest sibling, and your father, away from you? The terror. Just that. The terror.
  • Married at just 18 and a mother for the first time at 24, she did it mostly on her own. Unlike many of her peers she did not have much support from her mother, or other family members, for a variety of reasons that range from the mundanely practical to the emotionally explosive.
  • She talks about all of the above with calmness, acceptance and not a trace of bitterness.
  • Now, as Nana, consciously or not, she is rebalancing the equation of love and support that should exist between a mother and her child. Her unflinching dedication to me as a mother, and to my children who she adores and who adore her in turn, is softening the hard echo of coldness that stretches down the years.
  • In its place she is fostering a place of patience, warmth, love, encouragement and wholehearted acceptance of who these small people are. She inspires me to do the same.
  • She never stops reflecting and learning and trying again. She inspires me to do the same.

I hope I can be half as a good a mum to my children as she has been to me. That’ll do nicely.

A Mother’s Day message from my three-year-old

If she could write. And had an adult’s vocabulary.

Dear Mummy,

I love you. Not as much as I love Daddy and The BSCB because, you know they’re just better, but I do love you. Because I love you so much, like to the window and back, I’ve decided to write a letter to thank you for everything you do for me…

First of all, thank you for giving birth to me. Apparently you felt like you were sitting on a golf ball for a while afterwards. That sounds like fun. I like golf, and daddy does. I’m a bit sad that we haven’t played this game where we hide golf balls by sitting on them. Can we play that game again some time? You have to share.

I’ve also heard you talking to your friends about how hard you have found it. I’m not exactly sure what was hard but you seem to be drinking tea and eating cake whenever you say it so perhaps it was difficult to make the tea? I promise to help you make cups of tea more in the future. I’m really good at pouring milk, and putting sugar in, and carrying cups of scalding hot liquid. I am certain that if I help you it will make you feel happier.

Thank you for cooking me nutritious meals. And then grilling some fish fingers when I don’t like it when I haven’t tried it but it’s horrible. I like that you believe what I say and take me seriously. This makes me feel powerful. I know you have found feeding me stressful at times, and you’ve been concerned about the lack of variety in my diet. So I know you’ll be chuffed to hear that I have decided to add two new food groups to my repertoire – chocolate and Haribo are really yummy, who knew?

Thank you for getting me out of difficult situations. That time in the shop when I asked the man for Brown Balls, he really didn’t seem to know what I meant. I felt really sad when that happened because I really did want Brown Balls for a treat. You explained to him that I wanted Maltesers and that made it better. Thank you for that. Oh, and you look really pretty when your face goes that pink colour you know. Pink is my favourite colour. I think you are my favourite when you are pink.

Thank you for teaching me how to get myself out of difficult situations. That day at soft play when the bridge was windy, I thought I needed your help to get back across. You explained from down below me, where you were sitting with your friends, that the wind was just the air coming from the ventilation system. I don’t know what that is but you were right and it only took me 15 minutes of crying before I crawled back across the bridge and was able to climb down to you. Thank you for supporting me to develop my independence.

Thank you for wiping my wee off the slide at soft-play. Thank you for wiping my bum, my chin, my nose. Thank you for looking at the wall whenever I am doing a poo. Thank you for spending several minutes every time I fall over convincing me that I don’t need a plaster on my ouchy. Thank you for coming to see me in the middle of the night whenever you are feeling lonely and need to squeeze into my bed to give me a cuddle. I know I’d find your bed a bit too big and scary too so I don’t mind you coming to sleep with me.

Thank you for playing “Never let you go.” Thank you for not singing along to “Annie”. Thank you for dancing with me. Thank you for being you. I love you.

Lots of love and licks, The Eldest.

PS. The BSCB says thanks for keeping him alive. Hourly. And especially in the early days when I wasn’t very keen. Oh, and for letting him eat ALL the food. Sorry he can’t write for himself, he’s only a baby.