Parenting sl-hacks

Recently I was doing a late-night social media shuffle when up popped “The 36 must-have items every new mum needs”.

Anything that uses the word “must” gets me all twitchy around my rebellion-reflex but it also got me thinking that while all the bouncer, nappy bin and buggy recommendations are great, they are ultimately a bit pointless during the day-to-day demands of being a new parent.

Some days are joyous, some days are shit, but every day underlines the small people’s ferocious appetite for time. They just suck that tucker right up.

So here are my “Top five have-if-you-want-to items every new mum might consider” for saving some time, some tidying up and some sanity.

Hack 1: baby wipes. This one is as old as the hills, but is so good that it merits revisiting. For the first four years few months of your child’s life, you may find it useful to mutter the mantra, “No one died because the hoovering didn’t get done” on repeat, and adopt the attitude that if the surface is smooth and non-permeable, a baby wipe is all you need.

As far as I am concerned, in the habitat of every hairless hobbit, the TV, furniture, wooden floors, door handles, doors, sink, bath and mirrors have at some point received the baby wipe treatment.

And never forget that when the longed-for night out-out finally rolls around, and you have approximately 7 minutes and 46 seconds to get ready, it is perfectly acceptable to baby wipe the day’s detritus off your jeans, shoes and hair using just a Huggie and hotfoot it out of the door.

Hack 2: changing station. Just don’t bother. With the station, that is. I’m pretty sure that even the worst parents are aware of the need to wipe the small person’s bum every once in a while. But just don’t be conned into thinking that a changing station that matches the wardrobe and cot, and has storage for the nappies, wipes, muslins, scented nappy bags, Sudacrem, Bepanthon, Metonium, distraction toy, and which also offers the perfect place for the nappy bin, and gin, is necessary. Especially if you have stairs.

Think it through – when the baby drops a bomb every seventeen seconds do you really want to be dragging your sleep-deprived, stitched-up, sore-all-over-self up a flight of stairs? All you really need is a box, a folding nappy mat and a small table to tuck the lot under. Repeat x the number of rooms the baby will be in (your bedroom, the living room, the bathroom are a good bet) and you are set for every nappy changing need.

Hack 3: plain cot sheets. Ok, let’s call a spade a spade, this one is sliding towards slovenly BUT don’t judge me, I’m trying to save you time. Time = sanity and possibly more sleep, so you know, slovenly ain’t always that bad.

The idea is that you don’t want any sheets with pattern which identifies the top from the bottom. Why change the sheets when they’re covered in spit-up, slobber and snot when all you’ve got to do is turn the mattress round?

Minging? Maybe. But if the only thing that is going to be sitting on the small-person’s dried up slime is the seven useless snuggly soothers your childless friends have bought you, then what’s the problem? I’m not suggesting you don’t wash the sheets, just use them for double the time. Win.

Hack 4: scissors. A decent-sized, really sharp pair. The kind of pair that you can use to gently stab your child’s father when he fails to wake up in the night ever  cut up pizza, spaghetti, sausages, lasagne, fish fingers and any kind of carb-heavy-meal that are the life blood of most new parents. Scissors win over knives all day long as they are quick and can be used one-handed while you are holding the baby who won’t be put down. Your food can then be eaten with a spoon, so you can carry on holding the baby who won’t be put down.

Hack 5: sleep suits. Generally speaking, the most sensible sartorial choice day and night for a very small baby is the sleepsuit. As the child gets older however, the lure of two-piece pyjamas, can prove too cute to resist, especially when it means avoiding wrestling with an errant toddler while attempting to match up multiple poppers. I realise that this sounds appealing, but I have two words for you: false economy.

A separate top and bottom provides unparalleled access to the nappy and the gleeful grab at the nappy sides is best avoided at bedtime. As is “exploration” which can result in a scene reminiscent of a dirty protest in a prison cell, or the odd willy appearing over the top to wee. To be avoided.

During the day, it’s worth applying the same strict “poppers-only”policy as small people do not have an accurate barometer of what constitutes anti-social behaviour. Suggest they might eat a broken biscuit and they will remind you of your duty to uphold high standards at all times and offer only the perfectly spherical snack. Just minutes later, however, they’ll be sampling the cigarette butts from the pub floor as though they the classiest canapés. It’s not worth the risk of a turd being tossed around, or rolling under the settee. Just grit those teeth and press those studs.

So that’s it – my 861 words worth on the matter of what a parent might choose to do to save some time – no must, no should, just might.  These are things that have genuinely occurred to me over the last almost-four-years of parenting, and while opinions may differ whether they are parenting hacks, or parenting slacks, as always I’m just being honest.

 

 

 

 

Dear Ada

When you write about something like Post-Natal Depression, then take the nerve-wracking step of pressing “Publish”, you hope to help anyone out there who feels alone. You hope to reach them in the dark and show them that it is possible to feel better, because this is what you wish you had found back then.

But then there is also a weight, a risk. Because other people will read this – people who don’t understand, who only want to criticise, and you feel apprehensive of how easily people can judge.

Even more importantly, however, is the risk that other people, people important to you could be stung, their hearts hurt by the words you have written. So I wrote this letter to my daughter.

You are three years and ten months old. I am 35. I’m supposed to be teaching you, guiding you and helping you find your way, instead you have taught me more than I ever knew there was to learn.

You know all of the letters of the alphabet and can write your own name. You shine when you dance and sing, draw and paint and when you grow up, you want to be a decorator. This, simplicity…

You still can’t say your ls, vs, and rs in the right places and every time you shout, “Let’s go to the yilling yoom and watch teyelision” my heart skips, then swells with a love that no words can wrap themselves around.

You are a brilliant big sister who makes her little brother feel he is the most important person in the room. You laugh at his jokes, and involve him in everything you do. His first word was your name and he lights up when you are around. You are his hero.

You are sweet, you are caring, you tell me I am the best mummy in the world. I cry when you say this and although you are clueless as to why, one day you will find that, for so long, I wasn’t even close to the mother that I wanted to be.

To hear those words prickles me with the guilt that I let you down in those early days. But they also fill me to spilling over with the knowledge that you are here, you are mine, and there is nothing I would do to change any of it.

I’m writing to you now as I imagine you one day discovering what I have written. Like in a secret diary, hidden under the mattress, or in a shoe box at the bottom of the wardrobe, I have given voice to the most intimate of thoughts, and the bleakest of feelings. But in public. For other people to read, find hopeful resonance in, and one day, for you to find.

I imagine you finding it in your teenage years, alone in your bedroom, and I wonder whether you will be uncertain whether this discovery is something you should admit. Admit it, keep it secret, that decision is your’s, but one thing I want to say for certain is that it was never about you.

But how could that be? I imagine you thinking. How could it not be my fault? It was my birth that tore you down. It was me who left you flattened and hopeless. It was me.

But it wasn’t you, my sweet girl. That was illness. And that wasn’t me either. I thought I was gone, but you showed me there was a new way, a new me, that I was always meant to be. But most importantly, the darkness was never about you.

You will have read how I struggled for months to feel how I thought a mother should feel, how I didn’t feel I could do you justice. But please trust me, no responsibility is yours.

Call it chance, circumstance, fate, it makes no odds. The stars were aligned, the Gods had spoken, and your birth was just not supposed to be smooth. It was sent to test me, to prove to me how strong I could be but it took time for me to see this, embrace it, rejoice in the lessons I could learn from it.

And in amidst a swirling storm of blackness and scarlet and the dark deep emerald envy, I lost myself for a while, but you? You were the light. You are my light.

Your arrival heralded a new time, new lessons, in empathy, patience, understanding and forgiveness. I have learned to be humble, to not suppose or assume, to think about the path others may have walked before, and honour their survival.

You have showed me my strength and ability, and your arrival has sent me on new adventures of the mind and heart that without you would never have happened.

Every day I envelop your hand in mine, and for a moment forget the duties and performances demanded by life. I look down at you and there is a squeeze in my chest, a momentary stop to my centre. How can you be so small, and yet, in my mind, in my heart, so huge?

Know that you are loved. Know that I am grateful for what you have shown me. Know that I wouldn’t change a thing.

Not. One. Thing.

Because out of all that, came you.

Thank you, my magic.

 

If you are struggling with PND or even low mood after having children, then please seek help. PANDAS Foundation are an amazing charity who offer support and advice on seeking treatment via a helpline, email and other support groups. Check out their website for more information.

Do I really need to explain why?

Weddings are torture on the trotters. From 12pm onwards we women teeter on the front two inches of our feet waiting for the ceremony to begin. After the ceremony is the mingling, and then, several agonising hours later is the dancing. And for most female guests, all of this is done in that most debilitating stalwart of sartorial grace, high heels.

These days my feet are mainly found swathed in Nike’s finest and are definitely not high-heel-hardened. Predictably therefore, at last week’s family wedding I found my self sitting on a sofa in the corner of the marquee by 9.30pm.

There I was doing the jerky-head-nodding-full-body-jigging “dance” beloved of all those who have fallen foul of uncomfortable footwear but who don’t want to look like the only person not having fun at the fiesta – “I’m not the moody one,” your pathetic rhythmic patting of your knees says, “It’s just that my feet really fucking hurt” – when I struck up conversation with the couple next to me.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries, “How do you know the bride/ groom?… Have you travelled far?… Hasn’t the day been wonderful?” and when the pyjama-clad BSCB scampered over and began to clamber all over me, talk soon turned to our respective children.

The couple were accompanied by their 8 year old daughter and as we chatted, they said that they would be leaving soon as it “wasn’t fair” on their daughter to stay out much longer.

At this point I paused in my pitter-patter to reflect on what to say next as there, snoozing on the sofa next to mine, was The Eldest. She was sleeping off the catastrophic crash that had followed the heady heights of hyperactivity following extreme sugar-consumption at the Candy Bar. Meanwhile directly in front of where we sat, now dancing around like a punch-drunk Uncle Fester, was the Bat-Shit-Crazy-Boy in all his bat-shit-crazy glory. A belly full of contraband candy courtesy of The Eldest, and turbo-wired with over-tiredness, sleep was still another hour-and-a-half away for him and teetering on the brink of that disaster, it dawned on me that I was the unfair parent.

Until that point I had been perfectly happy with our plan to stay out until the kids crashed, and then have a drink and a dance while they slept. It was the first time we had attempted it and I had congratulated myself for moving so far past the anxious, crippling hyper-vigilance of my early days of parenthood. It hadn’t even occurred to me that other people might see our plan as unfair, selfish or even irresponsible.

That other people might judge.

To be completely fair, to judge is to be human. But what I was so in fear of at this moment was someone being judgemental – that horrible excessive criticism that positions one person as another’s superior. And this fear was surely justified because nowhere is this pattern of behaviour more prevalent than in the world of parenting.

Bottle vs boob; co-sleeping vs cot; sleep-training vs sleep-deprived-hallucinating; baby-led weaning vs choo-choo-spoon steaming, the fashion for pitting parents, and particularly mums, against one another has been around longer than Kate Moss’s favour for fringing.

And as soon as one mum reveals her position as a dedicated baby-wearer, another only-by-buggy-swearer feels an implicit criticism of her choices abides, and seeks to justify her decision. Unfortunately, perhaps because motherhood is so personal, it seems that once a woman becomes a mother her opinions only seem to become stronger, and like aging cheese, some start to whiff a little.

Before one mum can crack open an Ella’s Pouch and confirm that Four Bean Stew tastes like farts, she realises that over there at the Baby-Led-Weaning table they are ducking direct hits from fistfuls of falafal while casting sideways glances. These mums explain their respective choices in a pretence of genial acceptance, but instead of clearing murky waters the competing heartfelt justifications lead us ever closer to that bitchy-mean-girls-you-can’t-sit-with-us attitude, that was a bit rubbish when we were all in the playground and has now taken on a stink of municipal dump proportions.

But sometimes I just wonder if the strength of all this opinion actually comes from a place of insecurity. Despite all our self-assured proclamations, the truth is that even the most vocal amongst us know that we don’t have all the answers.

As such we constantly worry that we are getting it wrong and wonder if others making choices different to our’s are the ones who are getting it right. So when we chance upon someone choosing to feed their baby nothing but “clean” food, have them wearing nothing but ethically sourced 100% organic cotton clothing, or who has decided not to teach their child to say “please” and “thank you” until they know the full meaning of the words (feel free to insert whatever emoji you feel would be appropriate at this point), we feel all of the threat.

We end up wondering if other people are simply doing “it” better than us. Thus the resultant inner-monologue of questions and comparison provokes us to shout a little too loud, a little too forcefully, and a touch too fiercely in defence of our own decisions.

At the wedding, I’ll admit that my twitchy-bitchy-trigger-finger was quivering over an arsenal of ammunition to justify our choice – “Of course this is way past their usual bedtime… we don’t want to be too strict with their routine… routine is important, but so is flexibility… We’re making memories (cringe)”. But contained in these words were implicit judgements of my own – “You’re being too strict… you’re too restrictive… you need to lighten up… your daughter won’t be able to adapt…” and ultimately I realised, it’s all nonsense.

Whereas feeding a day-old baby Ribena, or blowing smoke in a newborn baby’s face while adjusting the car seat straps are both (real-life) examples of piss-poor-parenting that quite rightly should be (gently) challenged, too much of the noise around what we should or should not be doing is unwelcome interference blurring the bigger picture: that we are all just doing our best.

When Convenience-Food Carol* chooses to feed her children fish fingers for the third day in one week, Clean-Eating Chloe* from down the road does not need to know that she prefers to spend time outdoors rather than tethered to the Tefal, because the stimulation of carrying sticks around and posting mud into the under-buggy basket being in nature is so very important for the healthy development of the small people.

And Clean-Eating Chloe does not then need to counter that she chooses to cook from scratch because avoiding the chemicals contained in processed foods is so very important for the healthy development of the small people.

Do you see? Ultimately, they are both interested in the development of their small people and surely that is all that matters.

When I am asked by friends who are about to board the crazy bus of parenthood, what tips I have to divulge, my answer is always, don’t be fucking ridiculous, have you read my blog? don’t do things because someone has too you, you “should” – do the things that make sense to you. There is no one way to do this parenting thing “right”, there is no magic formula.

Instead there are only your priorities, your beliefs – there is only your way, and you don’t ever need to explain why.

 

*names were chosen purely for alliterative purposes. I am sure there are clean eaters called Carol, and there are plenty of Chloes who enjoy a dirty burger from the van in B&Q’s carpark. Please don’t be offended if your name is Chloe or Carol.