Advice you really need

There is advice that you listen to; there is advice that should be listened to but you have to find out for yourself; and there is advice that needs to be filed under F for FUCK. OFF.

The last category of crap advice is in plentiful supply in everyday life: “Smile, it might never happen.” Oh, really? You’re so profound, you total and utter chuffwit. I mean, how the flunk do you know that it hasn’t already happened? Or perhaps this is just how my face looks when I’m concentrating, or for that matter, resting. And even if I do have a terrible case of Bitch-Resting-Face the thing you seem to be ignoring is that it’s MY FACE. And above all else, does this piece of advice ever actually work? I mean, perhaps you consider a tense, narrow-lipped grimace that screams DO. ONE. a smile, but I would rather my smiles be, you know, happy.

Phew.

Sorry about that, but crap, cliched advice flung out with as much thought as a knee-jerk gets right on my left tit.

And it only gets worse when you become a parent.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of the type of advice that is so well-worn it’s practically transparent, the king of which has to be, “Sleep when the baby sleeps”. Oh, please. And when exactly is that? And if I did, I would smell of cheese and no one would be my friend and apparently it’s all about the making of the friends when you are a new mum. They are the ones that keep you sane, get you out of the house, who will “get” you when all you want to talk about is how many poos the baby has done, and precisely which stage on the BabyCentre poo chart he/she has reached. But if I just sleep when the baby sleeps then I’ll resemble Worzel Gummidge and get invited nowhere so, really, please don’t say this again or I’ll have to punch you in your perfectly rested face.

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I’ve been sleeping when the baby sleeps.

And then when the sleep deprivation gets too much, and you are crying about how your fanny feels like it’s been hit by a NutriBullet, and how you fear you’ll never walk further than the end of your own road ever again, or actually sit down to eat a meal without having a small person screaming in your ear, the last thing you need to hear is, “Well, at least the baby is healthy, that’s the main thing.” FFS. OF COURSE THAT IS THE MAIN THING YOU TOTAL FUCKTARD… Most of us don’t actually scream this in the face of the well-intentioned but ultimate imbecile who just uttered these words in your presence BUT does this really qualify as advice or reassurance? Of course the baby being healthy is numero uno in the list of things you want right now, but is it really too much to ask to be offered a sympathetic ear and some encouragement? I found being told “You just gave birth to a baby, you’re a hero” usually made me feel a bit better, followed by a long list of reasons explaining exactly why I was awesome, and why my baby was lucky to have ME. To top it off, this would also be accompanied by a cup of tea and some biscuits while someone else took the baby for a walk around the block (I hope you’re taking notes if you’re related to, or friends with, someone about to have a baby).

The fact is, however, that the list of useless advice that floats around us every day, pissing me off with its pithy “wisdom”, is endless – you’re making a rod for your own back?…No, I’m not. And even if I am, IT’S MY BACK… more haste, less speed?. .. yeah, yeah… Keep calm and carry on?… How about you keep calm with my finger in your eye…? What I really wish was around was a list of advice that would have actually helped me avoid wasting time and energy.

I wish someone had caught me by the shoulder and told me not to allow the small people to take anything other than themselves into their bed. Maybe then I would not have  allowed The Eldest to take a new pair of shoes to bed with her. You will know the ones as Before Parenting you will have dismissed them as hideous, while judging the parents as sartorial retards because who else would buy their child shoes with flashing lights in the soles? Now I know that most parents just want to get out of the shoe shop with everyone still alive, so if the small person wants shoes that light up like a tiny disco then that is fine.

So, The Eldest had flashing shoes, I was tired, she took them to bed. After an hour and a half of lighting up her bedroom like a crime scene, punctuated by the smacks of the soles being banged together like really-shit symbols, she finally fell asleep like this:

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I realise the pillow case seems odd but my daughter’s hair is easily dried and dred-locked. Silk does not dry hair as much as cotton but unsurprisingly there is not a huge amount of silk bedding aimed at toddlers. As a result we were stuck with a choice between 70s porn-star chic or Rastamouse…

Another piece of advice that would have saved me a whole lot of hassle over the last couple of years is “Don’t bother making picnic food.” I never learn and always approach a picnic with a total lack of realism. Despite all of the types of food The Eldest does NOT like, it is remarkable just how perfectly picnic food suits her – she likes a carrot, cucumber and bread stick; she likes a cheese sandwich and a humous-filled pitta bread; she likes strawberries and grapes; and she likes crisps. She really likes crisps. I generally don’t pack them though, I pack all the other stuff. I spend actual time preparing it all, wrapping it carefully in tin foil and filling up the cool bag (I don’t own a cool bag, it’s a plastic bag, or just the underneath of the buggy). So, the picnic is packed, the crisps are not. So how is it possible that within minutes of arriving at any picnic, my carefully prepared offerings are rejected in favour of her plunging her entire arm elbow-deep into a family-sized packet of Walkers Sensations? She wanders around like a miniature James Herriot and resists all of my efforts to tempt her to eat actual food. Advice to self – when it comes to picnics I should dial down the effort and just leave her to her veterinary training.

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There she goes, armpit deep…

The list of parenting advice that I need to be reminded of on a daily basis goes on and on: don’t laugh the first time the one-year-old dives backwards out of your arms – you catch him with a giggle, a kiss and an exclamation of wonder about what a risk-taker he is – he continues to prove you right every time you pick him up. So what if you’re also carrying a scalding hot cup of tea, I mean that just adds to the excitement, right..? Don’t tell a two-year-old a bedtime story that features her as the main character unless you want to be wracking your brains every night for the next five years – that is 1825 plot lines – are you really sure you’re up for that commitment? And don’t tell a three-year old about the Mermaid themed birthday party 5 weeks before it actually happens, unless responding to the question “Can I be a mermaid now” 5 times a day for the next 35 days is your idea of conversation…

On and on and on, I could go. As I’m sure you could too – go on, make a girl feel better, what advice would you give yourself, and which would you file under F?

#MumdayMonday: The Heart Warrior Mum

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This week’s #MumdayMonday is Vicki Moore, mum to 18 month old Elijah who underwent heart surgery at 6 months old. I only recently “met” Vicki in the wonderful world of Instagram and her enthusiasm and energy in the face of adversity, along with a healthy dose of honesty, makes me feel privileged to host this guest post. I have read it numerous times and the first paragraph still leaves a lump in my throat, and I find myself nodding enthusiastically as I read on. If you would like to read more of the musings of a NICU mum then you can find Vicki on Instagram at @vickimoore99 or on her blog, http://www.confessionsofanicumum.blogspot.co.uk 

I stumbled across the term ‘heart warrior’ recently when reaching out to other parents whose children have had open heart surgery. It is used for all of those men, women and children who have had heart surgery. The term is also given to the parents of these children, as although we didn’t physically have the surgery we had to live through the experience as well. What makes me a heart warrior mum? My son does. He taught me to be brave, to laugh when I didn’t want to and that we are stronger than you think. At just 18 months he has taught me more than anyone ever has.

The experience of having a baby in NICU, and having the op has changed my relationship with him. I feel a degree of guilt when I am just being a ‘normal’ mum to a toddler. Telling him off, stopping him from having chocolate for breakfast, looking forward to bedtime, I feel so guilty that shouldn’t I be grateful for him being here and healthy? Of course I am, but sometimes it is hard to distinguish where the NICU mum ends and the ‘normal mum’ begins. He is spoilt rotten and I sometimes worry I may make too many exceptions for him, and give in that bit too easily.

I had in my head such an idea of when Elijah was born we would have so many plans, and do everything “just so”. The reality was that didn’t happen. We had to adjust, we had to make exceptions and changes. I don’t parent how I thought I would, I don’t always give Elijah organic food or do arts and crafts with him. I let him watch TV too much but as long as he is loved, fed, happy and clean at the end of the day I have done my job. I have stopped stressing on being the ‘perfect’ mother as he wants a happy mum, not a stressed out mum.

I have learnt that I can do anything. I am stronger than I thought. I may be emotional but that is not to be mistaken for weakness. Being a mother is who I am, and everything else is part of that. It took me a while to realise this, and not to be ashamed of who I am. It took 26 years and becoming a mother to learn to accept myself.

If I could travel back 18 months ago to when we found out about Elijah’s condition, I would give myself hope. Hope that it was going to be hard but we were going to get through this. To not push people away, and to be hard on myself for wallowing in self pity for so long. The first 6 months when we were waiting for the op date were so tainted, I would tell myself to enjoy them. That it was okay that when we got good news, something wouldn’t immediately go wrong.

I can pinpoint two moments in the last 18 months that have been the most challenging for me. That I didn’t think we would ever get past. The first is when we found out Elijah had suffered a bleed on the brain at birth and this caused seizures. They didn’t know if it would affect his development, his speech, ability to walk. He may have special needs. It was hard to accept that, we had to deal with not just the fact he has a life threatening heart condition but he may be disabled too. The second moment was when I held Elijah to be anesthetised for surgery. Once he was asleep they handed me his dummy and took him off me. They laid him on the table and took him away. I crumbled. I couldn’t even kiss him goodbye, I thought my son was going to die and that he would never come back from theatre.

The biggest joy was the surgery being a complete success and him going from strength to strength. He is classed as a normal little boy with no restrictions. He is walking, talking and is currently on a 22-36 month development chart at nursery (4 months ahead of his actual age). Elijah is a funny, weird and beautiful little boy and is the biggest joy in my life.

Hands down the thing that puts fire in my belly is my son. I am fiercely protective over him. I would do anything to protect and provide for him.

The future is now looking the best it ever has for Elijah. We have been discharged from Great Ormond Street until next January! We are currently enjoying and planning a normal year and taking Elijah on his first holibobs!

Do you have an experience as a mum that you would like to share, sweeping generalised label and all?..! If you think you might like to take part, then send me a DM on Instagram, a private message on Facebook, or email me on washingtonnicola1@gmail.com

If you feel daunted by the prospect of writing it for yourself but feel you have something to say, then I can send you some questions and help you turn it into a post.

#MumdayMonday – because every mother deserves to be celebrated xxx ( I can’t believe I just wrote that – I feel a bit sick.)

Time loves to chuff up a parent

The average parent’s relationship with time is complicated. Before nap time it’s never as early as you think (unless you’ve been woken up at 5am with a tyrannical toddler demanding toast NOW, in which case that’s exactly as early as you think it is…) and after nap time, before bedtime, it is never as late as you hope. Time constantly loves to chuff up a parent and subject them to a whole world of pain that pre-children they were blissfully unaware of.

Day light saving time is the first testing time for parents all over the parts of the globe (I couldn’t be arsed to Google exactly where) who observe this ridiculous bi-annual ritual. Spring forward, fall back, who gives a chuff when what really matters is that the carefully established bedtime routine has been blown apart because small people can’t tell the time and do not care about the hour’s difference in schedule. They just want to know why they have to go to bed when the sun hasn’t.

Another time-phucking phenomenon that faces parents is that apparently it has the ability to slow down and speed up at will. When keeping small people alive, one minute in the morning passes at ten times the speed of one minute in the afternoon, which is why parents are terminally late. I know you’ve been there. It is 9.30am and you arrange to meet friends in the park at 10.30am. We need to leave the house at 10.15 you think, oh that’s good, we’ve got lots of time. I can tidy the kitchen, put on some laundry, check my Instagram…oh I wonder what ti– OH PUCK PUCK PUCKETY PCUK! HOW THE PCUK IS IT 10.16am? Troops, let’s mobilise! Where are your shoes? No, your shoes. No, we haven’t got time to do some drawing. You need a wee? Go on then. No, there are no monsters in the bath…What do you mean you don’t want a wee? Do you need a wee, or not? Oh FFS… You get the picture.

Except time then goes and does something so cruel and merciless that I can’t help but call it a bastard. Everyone has been in that place, cuddling their brand-new baby, sniffing their head and absentmindedly wondering what would happen if you tried to put him/her back where he/she came from (life was so lovely when the baby was just an idea, wasn’t it…)  when for no apparent reason at 5.02pm he or she starts to cry. You stand-up, you sit down, you shush, you pat, you pace, you jiggle, you turn on the music, you turn off the music, you stand next to the window, you stand away from the window, you burp, you change their nappy. Your other half walks in the room and in relief you gasp, “Oh my god. Thank god you’re here. I can’t take it anymore. He’s been crying for HOURS.” It is 5.07.

Now, I don’t know about anyone else but this tense, uncertain relationship with time means that I feel like I’m eternally rushing, but I’m always late; I’m wishing for time to pass slower, and then hurry the chuff up, and let’s be honest, it is no good for anyone. The time-worn cliche about parenting and time is that the minutes drag, but the years fly by, so we should enjoy every precious second. Now if like me you did a little sick in your mouth the first time you read that, then you are reading the right blog because in my opinion there is NOTHING enjoyable about the baby doing a phlegm-based vomit in your bed at 3am. The seconds spent wiping arses, the floor, or your jeans with a baby-wipe several times a day are seconds that I am firmly wishing away. BUT perhaps there is some truth in the sentiment, after all, how else would it have become a cliche?

Every morning, I wake up with a knot in the pit of my stomach at the thought of getting myself and two small people out of the house either to make it to work on time when that was a thing, or because I’ve set myself a timetable for the day that involves being out at a specific time. So, in an effort to rebalance my adrenal gland, which surely must be suffering after three and a half years of this madness, I took a day off from dashing the other day and set myself the challenge of not looking at the clock once all morning. It was lovely. Yes, a bit like most trains, we ran half-an-hour later than usual, but just as every hardened commuter will already know, it didn’t really matter because we got there in the end.

#MumdayMonday : The Ordinary Mum

That’s me. Not a #mumboss, not a #mumpreneur, not even a working mum these days, or at least not of the kind that earns actual money for the work I do, because let’s be honest, looking after children is WORK. I live in South London with the “husband”, our two children aged 1 and 3, and enjoy frequent visits from our rather wonderful extended family. I am very ordinary and rather pleased about it.

I used to be a teacher and stress endlessly about not doing anything well because there were not enough hours in the day. A few weeks ago I walked out of the school gates for the last time and for now I am a Stay-At-Home-Mum (for what it’s worth, I hate the term, but what else do I call myself? Full-time mum? But aren’t we all full-time mums? I mean, it’s not like the minute you walk in the office you stop being a mum, is it? Any (polite) contributions gratefully received.) It’s not what I imagined I would be, and I’m finding it difficult to reconcile in my head – the idea that there is going to be no money that I have earned making its way into our bank account makes me feel a little cold and uncomfortable, and the question of “Who am I?” sends me spinning. Ever present around my edges is also the fear that I’ll feel the need to justify my position in this world that so over-values the world of work, and under-values the importance of home.

Now, as always, when I’m spending my days with the children, one of my favourite things to do is to take them outside. Admittedly this is partly because then there is less mess to clean up – want to spit out your half-chewed banana? Crack on. I’m sure the rats and foxes will love you for it. Anyway, I live in a leafy part of South London, one of the capital’s nappy valleys, and we are fortunate enough to live close to several parks offering safe spaces where the kids can wander, feed the ducks (pigeons) and enjoy the occasional (daily) packet of PomBears. Now that the summer is coming, I am relieved but slightly bored excited by the prospect of twice daily outings. Winter is so grim, and that time between nap and tea time can drag so slowly – I can’t be the only one who has checked the time on three different clocks convinced that the batteries must have run dead on the first two, only to have that crushing blow delivered to your heart when you realise that no, that really is the time. In the summer however, that time between the nap and tea is a perfect window for a scoot down the street to the shop, or a wander round the garden which makes the afternoon shift a little more bearable. Unless it’s raining. Then we’re screwed. Getting out of the house in the rain in summer is just as “involved” as getting out of the house in the cold in winter. Except now the weather is milder so although your waterproof mum-coat shelters you from the rain, you’ll still be a bit damp and steamy from the greenhouse effect going on underneath it’s impermeable surface.

Now that I am going to be making twice daily trips to a park and not going out to work I know that the biggest challenge I am going to face is to not let resentment take hold of me. The “husband” is usually out of the house before the children wake up, and he arrives home as they are getting out of the bath, so during the week I am THE parent. This used to weigh heavily on me, especially on the evenings when the “husband” would stay out after work with colleagues or with business contacts. I know that these nights out are not the raucous, uninhibited, tension-relieving release that he might enjoy with his friends, but the fact that he did not HAVE to come home for bath and bed time, that he COULD just text at 7.30pm and say “I’m not going to make it home”, used to make me want to chop his balls off and wear them as a necklace feel trapped and resentful that I did not enjoy this freedom, especially as he didn’t seem to appreciate the significance of it. Nowadays, three-and-a-half-years and two children deep into parenting, I can’t actually remember what it feels like to blithely call home to say “See you tomorrow” so solo bathtimes no longer make me feel anything other than tired.

The danger ground for resentment now is weekends as there is always the conflict between spending enough time together as a family but making some time for ourselves both separately and as a couple. This is especially true now that I’m parenting all week as the devil on my shoulder keeps whispering “When is my weekend, then? Huh? When do I get a change of scenery? This Saturday and Sunday shizz is exactly the same as all the other days of the week…” I have to keep bashing him (the Devil, not the “husband”) on the head and telling him to bog off, which takes mental discipline and energy that I don’t always have. Especially when he wants to play golf. I have no more polite words on this matter.

On those rare days when we get a break from the kids together, one of my favourite things to do is to go for breakfast with the “husband”, read a newspaper, and show him things that have caught my attention or imagination. The temptation can be to try and cram in lots of errands because “We’ll get them done quicker without the kids,” but actually, I have the best time when I slow down and let life pass me by for a few hours.

Despite really appreciating these slower moments (like a man in a desert appreciates a slightly damp patch in the sand, picking each grain of sand up and licking it dry, desperate and a bit gritty because you know there is never going to be enough), there are still things that light the fire in my belly. The sweeping changes being made across education by clueless politicians legacy-hunting makes my mouth run away with me, and I have a tendency to get a bit ranty. Improving the life chances of the children from disadvantaged backgrounds was the fuel that kept my teaching flame alight for twelve years, and while I have left the classroom behind, it is still something that I speak about with fervour. I hope that as I figure out the unsettling world of self-employment, I can discover ways to indulge these passions, even if not on a daily basis.

Day-to-day now is evolving it’s own routine. The Eldest is still in nursery two days per week (one of which is now free, thank dog) which gives me a break from the frenetic spinning that seems to accompany keeping two small people alive for the rest of the week. I’ll spend most evenings this week researching my options and ideas I have to earn some cash, and perhaps next weekend I’ll get some time to go to yoga. It’s not ideal, but that’s just the way it has to be these days, for now, and we’re getting used to saying that it’s ok.

SO that’s it. Me – The Ordinary Mum – nothing ground-breaking, but I still feel like I’m “doing shit”, like raising the next generation or something. What “kind” of mum are you? Fancy answering some questions, or writing a guest post? Email me on washingtonnicola1@gmail.com , DM me on IG, or send me a PM (or a public message, if you’re so inclined) on FB.

Instagram. A bit like children

My name is Nicola and I am an addict. There you go my dear “husband”, I’ve admitted it. I know that since I joined IG, you feel you’ve been cuckolded by a voiceless group of women who I know sometimes by face, occasionally by name, but mostly through the snippets of their real life that they post on line. Like an episode of Eastenders gone badly wrong I know that you feel abandoned before we even got close to the alter, but the thing is, I really like it. On the days that I no longer escape to work (and as hard as I know work is, it does at least offer a break from the mind-numbing monotony of being at home with the small people seven days a week), Instagram offers a rabbit-hole into a world where I can participate in pictures and snappy sentiments in a coherent and occasionally witty way – essentially a perfect world for the sleep-deprived, time-poor parent for whom coherence and wit belong in a bygone era.

My relationship with IG has developed over the last 74 days to the point where I know I’m spending too much time cradling my phone, but like any addict worth their fix I’m struggling to give it up. A bit like our children. I mean, they take up a lot of time, they have pushed you down the pecking order, and they are the subject that dominates most of the time we set aside for conversation but I don’t see you suggesting that I abandon them, so how could I possibly give up Instagram? Oh. Hang on a minute… Ok, so maybe you have a point about that, but there are other ways in which children and Instagram are actually remarkably similar.

Both my children and Instagram make me laugh. My children when they do things like roll themselves up in the bathmat and say “I’m a sausage roll, eat me”, and Instagram when I read posts about Beagle-rimming, what happens when you mistake a daffodil bulb for a spring onion (thanks @Mother_Pukka), or the arguments that arise when a small person insists that he is the person best qualified to wipe Mummy’s bum(@peckham_mamma). Then there is the most brilliant comment I ever received on a post of mine from mega-sweetheart @babeinthehood who told me that when she was a child, her favourite toy was a cat called Pussy, and she called her bedroom “Pussy Kingdom”. The noise I made when I read this in the middle of a local cafe was so alarming that the people sat two tables away turned in shock and perhaps expected a live pig to emerge out of the kitchen. God, I love Instagram.

Both my children and Instagram keep me coming back for more. Even when my children have tag-teamed all night and yet have woken up full of energy and eager for an outing, I don’t wish them gone, for more than a minute, anyway. My love for them knows no bounds and when they are finally asleep simultaneously I can look at their peaceful faces and feel positively gooey about the fact that they are 50% me, and 50% the other adult who I used to love most in the world. Until he was replaced by Instagram, allegedly. They keep me coming back for more – more kisses, more hugs, more funny mispronunciations, more poo under the fingernails. Meanwhile, Instagram keeps me coming back for more too. Maybe too much more? Am I the only one who finishes brushing their teeth and thinks “Oooh, I wonder what someone I don’t know has posted in the last two minutes and 27 seconds?”. Maybe the “husband” has a point.

Both my children and Instagram are rife with the possibilities for misunderstandings. That post about my daughter asking for brown balls in the shop? It was supposed to be funny. But thanks for the parenting advice, anyway. And what’s with all the #acronyms? #ootd? #tbt? #wtfdtm? Ok, I made that last one up (#whatthefudgedotheymean) but when I get tagged in something and don’t respond, I’m not ignoring you I promise, it’s just that I have no idea what is going on.

Parenting is even more susceptible to mishap by misunderstanding. The other day my daughter kept asking me for her wings. “Your pink wings?” I enquired.

“No, my blue wing,” she said.

“Oh. But you don’t have any blue wings, sweetie. Do you mean the greeny-blue ones?” They’re green – I was reaching.

“Noooo! I want my wing. My blue wing.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, I’m not sure what you mean.” By now I was sweating. “No, mummy, my wing. My wing I put on my finger!”

“Ahhhh. Your RING.” Crisis narrowly averted.

And then there is my all-time favourite mispronunciation from this year’s Good Friday when a friend’s little boy was skipping around a pub garden shouting, “Let’s go to the n****r shop!” Rather taken-aback, I asked him to repeat what he had said,

“Where do you want to go, A?”

“To the n****r shop!” he shouted as he made a run across the grass for the flower beds.

Now, as a parent of mixed-race children, and as a (just about) functioning human being, I found the three-year-old’s desire to go and purchase a slave a little concerning.  I wracked my brains as to what he could mean and came up with this little gem, “Do you mean you want to go to the Lego shop?”

“Yes!” he shouted, clearly exasperated by my stupid questioning, “Let’s go to the n****r shop!”

I changed the subject.

Both my children and Instagram are masters at making me feel inadequate. It’s a well-known phenomenon that lurking round other people’s IG feeds can make you feel a bit crappy – even the flat lays of what people plan to wear that day can make me feel a bit pants, as the only thing lying flat in my house is my hair – my clothes certainly do not. Lurking around your own children can also cause concerning feelings of crappiness as they demonstrate the dedication of a religious fundamentalist to their cause of proving you to be a less-than-shit-hot-parent. My attempts at teaching sharing, manners, volume-control and risk awareness are undermined hourly as The Eldest shouts at me to get her water, which is on the table 3mm out of her reach, while the BSCB climbs into the dishwasher to lick the knives.

Both my children and Instagram make me frown. Children = frown lines . Intently staring at my phone screen while scrolling through Instagram for half an hour a few seconds at a time several once or twice a day  = frown lines. Children + Instagram = frown lines so deep I look like I’ve fallen asleep, face down, on a tiny train track.

Having said all of this, however, it’s important that we acknowledge there are ways in which IG and children are NOT alike. IG is nicer.

Instagram doesn’t wake me in the night. Despite the burgeoning weight of my addiction, even I draw the line at waking in the night to check and see if anyone has liked, commented, or posted anything new. The children, however, well, they are allowed to wake me up to check on them, no matter how much I wished this wasn’t true.

Instagram gives me positive affirmations and motivational life goals on a daily basis which (mostly) lift my mood. Woken up feeling a bit low, and wondering how you can make it through the day? Don’t feel alone and unworthy, there is a whole community out there to echo your sentiments that “I’m so tired the bags under my eyes are bigger then my boobs” and make you feel all of the better with the brilliant #igrewapersoniamfuckingrad (thanks for both to @fourthtrimag). No matter how cliched some of them are, the power of the meme is legendary in my eyes as, in precisely the number of words my terminally-tired-toddler-tracking eyes can comprehend in one go, they often comfort me that I’m not the only one. The importance of this reminder cannot be over-estimated and as being a mum doesn’t come with much opportunity to be patted on the back, it can sometimes be nice to hear that “As long as you are yourself, you can’t fuck it up” (thanks @mothersmeeting).

On the other hand, it is safe to say my children are not big believers in the mood-enhancing power of the word. The BSCB can’t say much other than “sshhzzz” (shoes) which pre-daily-wearing-of-the-Nikes-because-I-can-push-the-buggy-in-them, might have set my pulse aracing but now merely means I have to somehow explain to a non-verbal 15 month old that we can’t go to the park because it is pissing it down. Meanwhile The Eldest mostly uses her words to insist I take part in games like the one where she is the mummy, and I am the baby. Oh, how I wish that were true.

Having said all of this though, despite my love affair with Instagram being strong, and despite my “husband’s” concerns about the extent of my infidelity, there are countless things that I’ll never lose sight of that Instagram can’t give me. The kisses, the cuddles, and middle-of-the-night snuggles, which (almost) make me forgive them for summoning me to their bedside again in the sleeping hours, make my presence on this planet of ours more meaningful than anything I ever did before. The “husband’s” patience, strength and limitless motivation to make the lives of our children safe and good make my heart grow every day.

And, when all is said and done, Instagram doesn’t need me.

#MumdayMonday

I have always known that there is more than one way to live your life “right”. No one has all the answers, everyone has their own battles that they are fighting, and while the established opinion is that people only post the “best” version of themselves on social media, I have realised that even from this glossy, filtered version of life there is something to learn: different people like different things.

Ok, so hardly ground-breaking stuff, but when you discover that there are blogs about blogging out there, you cannot deny that the spectrum of what is deemed interesting is a bit like the galaxy, stretching infinitely in all directions to places that your imagination cannot comprehend, and you sure as hell have no intention of going to.

These days my world is pretty narrow and mostly revolves around being mummumummumummummmyyyyyy, something which I know probably renders me mainly dull to many people. When the “husband” tells me that I’ve lost some (of my few) followers on IG I shrug my shoulders and call them bastards accept that I’ve probably bored them seven-shades-of-shitless with my mindless meanderings and inane baby-spam, therefore they have every right to ditch me. But the truth is that the mum-me, is of course, not the whole me.

I still love to read, write and garden, drink too much vodka and dance enthusiastically (in my slightly-stiff-white-girl way) to 90s RnB, but the time to do these things is in short supply and the repercussions of the last (and best) one at 9.30 on a Sunday morning could be far-reaching, so often I lean towards the “softer” options. And that is what finds me here, tapping away on a keyboard in a cafe, having been gifted some precious “me-time” by the “husband”. (He has taken the children to see Grandma at church – yeah, I’m not sure he knows what he has let himself in for but I look forward to hearing tales of how the BSCB climbed the font and The Eldest asked a complete stranger if they would like to stroke her pussy, “It’s really soft, you know” (for avoidance of doubt, this is a stuffed toy cat. She did not learn to call it pussy from me). But I’m here because yesterday I had an idea.

It was prompted by yet another realisation that there are mums out there who enjoy spending time doing things for fun that could actually work as a threat to make me give up something really important, like Instagam. There are actually mums out there who stay up until 11pm, not lurking in the hungry belly of social media, but making biscuits for their children to decorate the following morning. There are mums staying up until the early hours making wreaths out of cherry blossom, which I assume they hang somewhere in their house and glance at periodically to remind themselves that they are an Actual Person capable of Actual Stuff while chipping the dried Weetabix off the highchair following another “enthusiastic” breakfast.

Even more fascinating to me as I navigate my way through new waters of unemployment, trying to piece together bits of work around the children to bring in some extra cash, are the women running their own mini-empires. Sometimes they fit this in around children, sometimes alongside other full-time jobs (like what I did there?), sometimes at the same time as doing both (and how the chuff they manage that I have no Earthly clue). Finally, on the sidelines are the heaving masses, cheering them all on and I have never known a crowd of women so positive and so determined to lift a sista up. It makes the breath catch in my throat when I think about what women are achieving. Cheesy, practically Stilton-blue, I know, but I find it so inspiring, so incredible that I can’t help but get all gushy. And I want to celebrate it, and learn more about it, and just give it more love. SO, back to my idea…

Every Monday, on my blog, I want to host a #MumdayMonday (well, I’m going to try anyway – if no one wants to take part then I might be a bit screwed!). I already know many, and I want to find more, inspiring, fun, feisty, ball and ground-breaking women who are just getting. shit. done. Whatever their shit may be. I am going to give the mums a “label” – which they will all be welcome to revel in, explode, or just roll their eyes at, and I hope you will join me in enjoying what they have to say, enjoying the similarities AND the differences, and maybe learning something along the way.

I’m going to kick it all off, next Monday, as The Ordinary Mum, but if you would like to feature on #Mumday in the future then please just drop me a DM on IG, a private (or public, if you’re so inclined!) message on FB (click on the button under “Find me” on the left hand side of this page), or email me on washingtonnicola1@gmail.com .

Attending a party any time soon…? Part two

Aha, you’re back for more! So you’ll know that part one of this story dealt with The Preparation, which means now it’s time to move onto what happens once everyone has recovered from that trauma and you actually arrive…

The Reality. For some reason, every time The Eldest is invited to a birthday party I look forward to turning up and standing on the periphary having a chat and drinking some wine, or at least having a hot cup of tea. Lots of the parties we have been to recently have had a bouncy castle or even an actual entertainer so I always imagine that The Eldest will leap straight into the middle of the fun. But fate loves to chuff up a mother-flunker, and growing up is about as certain a fate as anyone has, bringing with it those harbingers of doom, inhibitions.

Nowadays, upon arrival somewhere new I often spend at least thirty minutes with a preschooler wrapped around my knees, behind my knees, on my knees, patting my arm, tugging on my hand and interupting any attempt that I make at conversation with other Fully-Fledged Humans. I’m relegated to sitting on the floor with her, shouting “Aha, me farties” in my best gravelly Pirate voice because this is one mispronunciation that I don’t want her to grow out of yet. And, just to add eggs to my face, my foolish optimism had me convinced that, with the “husband” manning the fort at home while The BSCB naps, somehow I’ve got the better end of the deal. Sitting on the floor. With a three year old. Not able to drink any drink for fear it will be knocked over by one of around fifteen other three year olds who are also sitting on the floor next to me. While the “husband” probably snoozes on the settee in front of the footie.

Just one more thing to add to the list of blindingly obvious things it has taken me three and a half years to figure out, then.

The Tea. So The Eldest eventually lets go of my legs and starts to enjoy herself. I start to relax and, like a toddler edging towards the cake hoping no one will notice, I manoeuvre my way in increments across the room. Finally, I get close enough to actually greet my mum-friends in the slightly too excited manner of a seven year old at a school disco and we chat for precisely 27 seconds  when the entertainment finishes. It is time for tea. Well, in theory.

Somehow The Eldest has grown into a five-year-old sized three-year-old fuelled only by milk and around five foods. Basically, she’s not really one for the eating. Now some of you reading this will not have a clue about the level of hair-pulling that happens when your small person won’t eat, but I’m sure there are others out there who will completely understand my anxiety when the small people are summoned to the table to eat their very public tea.

Nobody wants to be the parent of the child who is first to leave the table after one and a half minutes. Everyone knows that even the most efficient eater cannot hoover up a ham sandwich, a box of raisons, a pot of grapes, some breadsticks and a cocktail sausage in that amount of time, so when The Eldest extricates herself from the table and swishes (the Princess dress, remember) into the centre of the room to chase a balloon, in my imagination I am drowned in the swell of thoughts that surge towards me from the direction of the other parents: “Ah, there goes the fussy eater.” I die a little inside because there is no pretending that you are a shit-hot parent when all your small person will eat is twirly pasta covered in exactly one shade of sauce.

If you’re in my position on this – my sympathies. If you’re not, then please remember my child is not fussy, she’s just excited, okay? (She’s really effing fussy. It drives me mental.)

The Departure. Entertainment tolerated, food not eaten, fresh stains accumulated, it is time to depart the party. One benefit to having a child who extracts calories from fresh air is that she does not ask repeatedly where the cake is. I have seen this happen. Loudly. I have also seen small people scrabbling through the leftovers, who have to be dragged away yelping like the mangy neighbourhood fox furiously foraging for food before bin collection day. Of course I take absolutely no pleasure in watching this scene unfold while my perfect, polite, classy child (ahem) is outside ignoring the carnage. I don’t pat myself on the back for a job well done in teaching her manners and restraint (ahem ahem) mainly because I know I’m likely to turn around to see her blowing snot bubbles out of her nose and sucking them into her mouth in a manner eerily reminiscent of Hanibal Lector.

Wielding a tissue I approach the snot-sucker and while wiping her nose tell her that it is time to go. To be fair, most children seem to accept the end of a party with remarkable levelness, perhaps because they are well versed in the tradition that when they leave, they get a Party Bag. Come to think of it, that is blatantly why these godforsaken things have become such a stalwart of children’s parties. Nothing says “Please leave now, without screaming” more than good old fashioned bribery. Anyway, “Oh good, a plastic bag full of more sugar and plastic tat. I’m so grateful,” is what no parent thought, ever. But of course we all graciously accept the gift with thanks as it usually offers a few minutes peace on the way home. Then comes the real test.

“Have you said thank you?” says the parent, only to be met with the glazed, borderline angry gaze of a three year old well on their way to a massive sugar comedown. “Say thank you.” No response. “Come on, you know it’s polite to say thank you after a party.” Still no response. At this point you know that if you push too hard for the elusive proof that you are a good parent, despite the evidence of their eating habits suggesting otherwise (feeds on fresh air vs feral fox-like forager, I’m not sure which is worst), you are likely to get the twist round with ugly-face that means “Sod off, you silly woman, I’m a three year old standing on the precipice of a sugar-comedown that could qualify for a trip to The Priory. Why the f**k would I say thank you to this b***h? She’s the one who did this to me.” Now, of course no one’s child would actually use this language, mainly because they do not have the vocabulary to express such *strong* emotions but we all know that if they were this “articulate”, but were still three-years-old in their level of self-control, this would be exactly what they would say. Right…? No? Oh.

Regardless of just how rude you think your small person would be given a more extensive vocabulary, the fact is that the small person wins again.  With the quintessential-apologetic-shrug-and-slight-shake-of-the-head by now perfected by every owner of a mini-Hitler, the parent thanks the host on behalf of their not-so-benign mini dictator, and heads homeward.

At home. Entertainment tolerated, food not eaten, fresh stains accumulated, party host abused and party bag contents strewn all over the living room, the small person now kicks back on the settee, legs akimbo and finger up nose in a pose that says distinctly “Don’t fuck with me.” And don’t. Just don’t. That is all.

And that is all. May you go forth and have fun at all festivities in your child’s future (send daddy).

Attending a party anytime soon…?

Well, you might want to read on. Tonight it’s all about preparing for the party. Forewarned is forearmed and all that…

One of the benefits of your babe-in-arms being just that, rather than a babe-in-yet-another-situation-in-which-he-could-die, is that for a while “proper” birthday parties for children stay off the radar. First birthdays especially are best spent in a pub where you can suitably congratulate the parents on surviving the first year. Second birthdays can be reasonably contained at home with a couple of pals and the rest of your family as up until this point they haven’t got a fudging clue what a birthday is. BUT by the time the small people reach the age of three they are far too savvy about the nature of birthdays, parties and presents to be palmed off with a cake from Co-op and a few flaccid balloons. This is when the real partying kicks in, although sadly not in the way you were once used to.

Planning parties in particular is a pain in the proverbial but something that is rarely talked about is that attending birthday parties can also be surprisingly stressful. The Eldest is now three and a half, and in the last few months we have accumulated considerable experience of “party attendance” and its associated challenges…

The Preparation. Birthday parties these days often come accompanied by a theme. “Oh, shit”, your first response? Yes, so was mine but don’t panic as there is a distinctly finite list of possibilities. As individual as we like to imagine our small people are, the fact is that most of the little darlings will want a party that involves dressing up as a superhero, pirate, princess, or any character from Frozen (except that Prince Hans. Any child who wants to be him needs to be watched. Closely). The cost of arriving appropriately attired can therefore initially seem excessive, until you realise that he/ she will be getting more use out of that flammable Spiderman onesie than you are necessarily comfortable with. Once it is a few parties deep, and takes on the distinct aroma of bouncy-castle sweat and party-food, you’ll be wondering whether it might be time to put it in the wash. Stop. Right. There. Not on your Nelly, lady. Remember who you’re dealing with here.

Your three-year-old does not care that they smell and look like the discarded, shiny paper bag that was once wrapped around a Greg’s greasy cheese and onion pasty. Your mum-mind must surely know by now that the second the washing machine door locks will be the exact same second that your son/daughter’s need to dress up will attain hitherto uncharted altitude. Step away from the washing machine. Comfort yourself with the scientific fact (don’t hold me to that) that at three they are developmentally programmed to want to “fit in” therefore to dispatch him/her to the party smelling of sausage roll is actually an act of shit-hot parenting – they will all smell like that.

In some ways The Eldest is entirely typical – most of her fancy-dress costumes have indeed seen better days, or possibly the inside of a deep fat fryer judging by the stains BUT in an annoying impressive display of loyalty to Elsa, Ana, Cinderella and Snow White, every party is a Princess Party. To be fair, while I am eternally disappointed by her refusal to dress as anything other than a sappy-Cinderella-type it has never bothered her that she is the only child wearing an Elsa dress amongst a sea of Supermen. While I cringe at the sight of her skipping through a melee of pirates in her sparkly, singing Ana dress, it never stops her climbing trees and ultimately she is at her most confident with a long skirt to swish, swirl and trip over.

Essentially, therefore, dress your child in whatever they will agree to wear. Life is too short to fight that particular crap battle and sometimes leaving the house with the small person actually in clothes is an achievement. And also consider that this torture can actually double up as a handy bullshit-ometer because if any of the other mums do care that your child is dressed as Sleeping Beauty instead of Superman, you will know exactly who to avoid in the future.

Present buying. Once upon a time I’d have had birthday presents bought and wrapped in advance. Not any more. These days I can barely form a sentence in advance of it tripping out of my mouth therefore more often than not (every time) I find myself in a toy shop panic-buying a present merely hours before the party starts. Now, as reported by many parents and other victims of torture, chronic sleep deprivation reduces an individual’s ability to make good decisions. Shopping for a child’s birthday present in such hurried style therefore only exacerbates the agony. So a reasonable question to ask might be why did I decide on a recent occasion that it would be a good idea to take The Eldest with me? Just, why?

Well, in “good mum” style I had been telling The Eldest all morning that we were going to buy the birthday boy a present and that was all. Nothing for her, only for him. Why? Why? Why I ever said that I have no earthly clue. It left me nowhere to retreat to. Idiot. I am sure you can guess where this is going because “Oh ok mummy, nothing for me, that’s fine,” is a sentence not ever uttered by your average three year old. A fact that I seemed to have overlooked.

Upon entering the shop, she immediately made a beeline for a 6-inch-tall glittery purple, pink and white Unicorn. “This isn’t for Conor,” she ventured with a concerning level of confidence. “This is a treat. For me.” My heart dropping down my trouser legs and disappearing out of the door, I took a deep breath and replied, “No, sweetheart, not today. We’re here to buy a present for Conor, remember.” Oh. Shit. The brow creased, the corners of the mouth turned down. Oh. SHIT. In front of me opened the tiny-toothed gates of a cavernous, black hole of death, and if it weren’t for the noise coming out of it, I’d have wished for it to suck me in, chew me up, and dispose of me in another galaxy far far far away. In a remarkable impression of a WWII air-raid-siren The Noise wound its way up while I grimaced smiled and said “I’m sorry sweetheart” in a desperate lighthearted tone hoping that this might fool her into thinking it wasn’t that big a deal. Ha. Bollocks to that.

She trailed me around the shop wailing that she wanted a toy while I tried to string a coherent thought together about what the birthday boy might like. In the manner of a moth trapped in a small space, her full-throttle assault pummelled my ear-drums and I struggled to see the toys, nevermind select one. I kept giving her the occasional squeeze and pat on the head, to remind her that I still loved her despite her effing awful screaming. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? All this Googling of what to do when the small people lose their shit has told me that even when they are behaving like a Gremlin high on crystal meth, small people still need to feel loved. Apparently this helps them move through the out of control emotions they are experiencing out into the light of remorse (imagine me saying that last part in the breathy, gentle manner of a yogi exhorting the power of peace, man) or some such shit. Not that its complete nonsense of course. I mean, when I’m doing the ugly-cry, someone sticking me in the corner with the umbrellas is definitely not going to make me think “Oh, I feel better”. So shit-hot-adequate-parent that I am, I did exactly as I was told. Except every time I gave her a cuddle I can only think that she interpreted it as a chink in my resolve as she then would ask again for the unicorn. Again I would have to say no, and again the world was put at very real risk of being sucked into oblivion down the yawning chasm of her throat…

To cut a short story long (this carried on for some time), we made it out of the shop only slightly broken and carrying a wrapped present. They wrapped it for me! This reassures me as perhaps it means that I am not the only parent who buys a present for a child on the way to their party. It’s not just me. Although perhaps they just felt really sorry for me. Oh, and it’s also worth noting that the shop was PACKED – I think everyone there was on their way to a birthday party, and was panic-buying a present too. I’m really not alone!

Lesson learned? Don’t take a small person into a toy shop only to tell her none of the toys are for her. No, I can’t believe it has taken me three and a half years to figure this one out either.

Coming tomorrow… actually attending the party. Hold onto your helium filled balloons, folks…

Seven things I never knew

On Bank Holiday Monday we went to Ikea. We really know how to live, I know. Of course, they did not have what we went for so in our efforts to feel like it wasn’t a wasted journey, we left with an enormous blue bag of stuff we didn’t need. Not the most successful trip then, but I did come away having overheard a conversation that has inspired this post.

In the Kids section, the “husband” spent some time negotiating The Eldest down from buying a 2 foot tall rabbit to a 6 inch long piglet, an exchange that was being observed by a young pregnant couple. As they walked away, the male half of the couple commented, “Yeah, give him some keys and a bag of pasta and he won’t even need toys.” Well, safe to say it got me thinking about the things I never knew either before I actually had children.

I never knew that I would eat half-chewed food. Before parenting entered my life, I used to balk at “double-dipping” (for the uninitiated, this is when a nacho or breadstick is dipped, then bitten, then dipped again. Ew). I thought that the potential for sharing saliva presented by this was the height of grossness. I now know better. Since the small people arrived there have been more occasions than I can shake a baby wipe at when I have accepted actual half-chewed food from the out-stretched paw of The Eldest, or even directly from her mouth, into the palm of my hand. When outdoors, this is no biggy – I just throw it on the floor muttering “I’m sure the foxes will eat it…” – but there are times when I’m inside and already spending a significant amount of time scratching cheese out of the carpet. In these circumstances I can’t bring myself to casually discard food onto the floor so I have to look for alternative avenues. The problem is that large chunks of my time are spent playing The Eldest’s current favourite game of “You be the baby, and I’ll be the mummy” with one eye, while the other one swivels around on an antennae that I’ve evolved to keep the BSCB from, well, dying. Seriously, how the human race has survived thus far without us evolving to have eyes in our arse is beyond me. Anyway, for this reason I often feel like I’m stretching my average abilities to their absolute limit so when The Eldest presents me with a “gift” I often can’t reach anything to wipe the offending article on. The only thing to do is to eat it. Fast. Like a Z-list celebrity eating a seven-inch Kangeroo schlong on I’m A Celebrity, don’t think about it, just chew and swallow…

I never knew I would enjoy baby groups (<ducks for cover> deeply uncool I know). I clearly remember, when I was in my twenties, having a conversation with a friend who had recently had a baby. I had seen an item on the news where they had featured some footage of mums sitting in a circle, with babes on laps, singing nursery rhymes. I scoffed and cringed while my friend just shrugged her shoulders and adopted a facial expression that I now know meant “You’ll see”. These days my position on these groups is that, while there is often a price to pay, I occasionally meet a kindred spirit and enjoy a good natter. To further strengthen my case, sometimes there is even an opportunity for a cup of tea and a biscuit and, importantly, as someone else is now the source of entertainment, you might even get to drink it.

I never knew I would be inclined to catch vomit. Like a ninja wearing a catcher’s mitt, the average parent discovers they possess Superman-esque super-speed when the contents of their child’s stomach start streaming out of their mouth. Not any old random child’s mouth, of course – unlike Superman’s concern for the entire human race, this superpower is reserved only for direct descendants. For their own children all parents will sacrifice their hair, skin, and clothes when the stomach bugs strike, if only to keep the clean-up to a minimum. The car sear nor the carpet will fit in the shower or the washing machine therefore cupping your hands into a bowl to receive the partly-digested contents of your child’s stomach will become second nature. Your dedication to avoiding soiling the rug will know no bounds. I once used my hood.

I never knew I would read baby forums. Those things are for sad loners without the friends, right? Well, kind of, because what I quickly learned was that even with the friends motherhood can still be a sad and lonely experience so reaching out to an online community can actually be of some comfort. I even once posted a question on a Baby-Led Weaning site in desperation at The Eldest’s refusal to eat actual food. Baby wipes and board books were her nutrition of choice and she completely refused to eat anything off a spoon.  In her eyes this intriguing utensil was just a more effective way of flirting food around the room. I was desperate. The responses I received were, let’s say, “evangelical” therefore it was not somewhere I went back to, but even so I did find some reassurance that my baby wouldn’t starve before they chased me off.

I never knew I would sniff my fingers, his fingers, her fingers or unidentifiable stains, with quite such regularity. Or that the questions “What is that?… Where is that smell coming from?” would be the most challenging to answer every day.

I never knew I would co-sleep. Now, like the Baby-Led Weaning, this is less a question of a parenting philosophy or style, and more a question of survival. With The Eldest we were militant about where she slept. She slept in her cot, and only in her cot. Even on the nights when she would keep us up for several hours because she was teething/ ill/ partying we would stay with her in her room until she went to sleep. This lasted for precisely 2 years, 2 months and 27 days. Until her little brother was born. With the arrival of the BSCB we quickly realised that where everyone was sleeping was way less important than actually sleeping. This. Shit. Got. Real. For a few weeks in the beginning, when the BSCB was feeding every two hours, and The Eldest was psychotically jealous, I slept in bed with both children. I reached the limits of my patience soon enough however, and declared that I needed “to not see them sometimes”. The “husband” obligingly took The Eldest into the spare bed with him which lasted until she got sick of his snoring and begged to sleep back in her own room. These days The Eldest and the BSCB share a room so, whenever one of them is ill/ teething/ partying (mainly the BSCB on all counts), to prevent one waking the other, it is not unusual for the BSCB to sleep with his foot in my mouth, while the “husband” gets told off by The Eldest for snoring in the spare room.

I never knew I would find my “tribe”. Since becoming a mother, I have met some incredible, funny, thoughtful and supportive women who manage the daily chaos of their lives with a healthy dose of humour. At the same time they offer an open forum to discuss worries and concerns without anyone feeling the need to “make light” of anything. In my previous life as an Actual Person with an actual name, I had some awesome friends but nevertheless I would never have discussed the most intimate parts of my life and body with anyone. In contrast I now feel like I am a fully-fledged member of the best club there is and as such my borders, like my pelvic floor muscles, have relaxed. In fact I am now so shameless that when in non-mothering company I sometimes forget to dial back the detail. I make embarrassing errors like telling a story about how I wet myself at my first and only Boxercise class (skipping, way too much skipping). On this particular over-sharing occasion I continued in excruciating detail about how I find it annoying that the instructor probably thinks I am a wimp, when actually my failure to return is down to my desire to not stink of piss. I wittered on, oblivious to the nervous giggles and avoidance of eye-contact, until I remembered that I was not amongst “my tribe”. Hastily I backtracked and apologised for offering Too Much Mothering Information but the damage had been done – in their eyes I am now that woman who has to pad her pants with supersize sanitary towels.

But that is part of who I am now (the over-sharing that is, not the supersize sanitary towels). In some ways I am exactly who I thought I would be as a mother but in others I have surprised myself. Before I became a mother I didn’t realise how it was possible to be both strong and weak, vulnerable and fierce, all at the same time. I’m so glad and so grateful that I know these things now, and despite the soggy food, sleep-debt and substandard under-carriage, I wouldn’t have it any other way.