What kind of mum are you?

Why not take this overly-simplified, horribly stereotyped test to tell you what you already know?

I know, I’m selling it HARD.

When you open the curtains to find the weather is grey and drizzly with that fine rain that apparently gets you really wet, you know, wetter than other water falling from the sky, do you:

(a) Fist pump the air, skip into the kitchen and gleefully set up a craft activity? Wet weather is to be celebrated with paint, glitter and glue!

(b) Cry into your coffee, scan the weather forecast on your phone for any glimmer of hope, and then set up “camp” on the sofa with the kids duvets, some popcorn and stick on Frozen for the eleven-thousandth time?

2. When you arrange to hold playdate at a friend’s house do you:

(a) Worry because there might be access to toys/ food/ tv that you don’t approve of?

(b) Fist pump the air because 1. You don’t have to cook 2. You don’t have to tidy up 3. you don’t have to cook 4. You don’t have to tidy up?

3. When your kid begs to bake some cakes do you:

(a) Break out the food processor, pastel hued Joseph&Joseph mixing bowls – one per child – and matching silicone baking tins?

(b) Buy a Peppa Pig packet mix from the Co-op and precariously balance the paper cases in a roasting tin. Referee between children who ALL want to stir the cake mix AT THE SAME TIME IT’SMYTURNMUMMEEEEEMYTURNMINE!

4. On a trip to the playground, do you:

(a) Lead a game of hunt the Gruffalo/ bear/ witch in amongst the trees with your kids and any others who want to join in?

(b) Send them to hide, count loudly to ten, and then pretend to look for them while you sit on a bench and shout, “Are you behind the swings? Are you under this leaf? Nooooooo… I wonder where you could be…”?

5. When you’re at soft-play do you:

(a) Throw yourself with wild abandon up and around the curiously sticky plastic surfaces, without wondering why they are quite so tacky?

(b) Send them into the melee alone – they’ll be fine, the REALLY big kids are at school?

6. Do you cook up elaborate plans for day-trips because:

(a) It’s important to show them the world outside their little bubble?

(b) The more time spent out of the house, the less mess there is for you to tidy up?

7. Do you look at friends without children and:

(a) Pity them the fun and laughter they’re missing out on?

(b) Envy the lack of contact with bodily fluids that they make on a daily basis, and the adult conversations that they get to finish without requests to be accompanied to the toilet for a poo?

8. When negotiating with a two-year-old about whether its reasonable to use kitchen scissors do you:

(a) Get on their level, look them in the eye and explain calmly that scissors are dangerous, are not toys, and offer a hug in exchange?

(b) Swap them for a KitKat?

9. When you want to shower/ wash hair/ defuzz do you:

(a)bribe the kids with snacks and sit them on your bed with Paw Patrol?

(b) Get up early and do it before they wake up?

10. When off on a childfree overnight jaunt do you post on social media:

(a) How much you are going to miss the kids (

b) How much you are going to miss the kids but also now much you’re looking forward to guilt-free drinking/ bacon you don’t have to share/ reading newspapers/ maybe a bonk?

Now, in true 1990s Smash Hits fashion, count up the number of As and Bs that you chose:

If you answered mostly A: congratulations! You are a mum and you love your children unconditionally. You are doing your best to keep them alive and happy, while hoping they don’t turn out absolute arseholes, and that really is all that matters!

If you answered a mixture of As and Bs: congratulations! You are a mum and you love your children unconditionally. You are doing your best to keep them alive and happy, while hoping they don’t turn out absolute arseholes, and that really is all that matters!

If you answered mostly B: congratulations! You are a mum and you love your children unconditionally. You are doing your best to keep them alive and happy, while hoping they don’t turn out absolute arseholes, and that really is all that matters!

Mobile Moan

Driving a car, operating heavy machinery or being wrist deep in a shitty nappy, are all things best done while not looking at your phone. Death, maiming, the upsetting realisation that your finger has pierced a wipe and the whiff of poo under your nail is going to inexplicably linger for hours, are all reasonable motivation for not titting around on Twitter, or fiddling with filters.

But at a playgroup?

A few weeks ago I was shamed and consigned to staring at my child while he stayed still and played with the same toy for 45 minutes. He did not want me to touch the cars – a firm out-stretched fore-finger and the words no, mummy made that clear – and naturally, as I could not exploit the time for my own purpose, he discovered hitherto unknown, and since unvisited, levels of concentration.

To begin with I was sat on a twelve-inch-high chair, two feet and a flicker of an eye-ball away from my son. My phone was in my lap and I was tweeting (for my course aka study aka my new future aka how I hope to pay bills and buy stuff) when there was a tap on my shoulder accompanied by a conscending smile and, “Sorry, can you put that away? We don’t allow phones inside.”

In a click I worked my traitorous-face away from my first thought of, WTF? Do you KNOW how much work I have to do?! through to the reasons why this was their rule. I figured they were concerned that parents might not interact with each other/ their children/ keep their children alive if they were distracted by screens, and I was on the verge of a self-congratulatory I’m-such-a-good-adult-it’s-not-the-end-of-the-world moment when…

“You can use it outside though…”

WTF? smeared itself back across my face as I struggled with the logic of this, but fortunately the member of staff had moved away to deal with a squabble over a half-functioning plastic vacuum cleaner.

I observed as one tiny hooligan’s owner extricated herself from conversation and did that large-stepping, half-stooping walk we do when we realise our children are being feral. Its as though we are trying to reasssure any onlooker that we’re moving quickly and are ready to get down on their level and make eye-contact because we’re such a good mum who was in no way, nope, nada, not at all, distracted.

I (ironically) waited for the, “Sorry can you look after your children? We don’t allow conversation inside,” judgement to descend but unsurprisingly there was none.

What had dawned on me though was that this may not be about interaction or safety – this was (sort of) akin Chamillionaire’s tales of racial profiling and police brutality in his 2005 hit Ridin. I had been judged and juried for using my phone in the presence of Prince Procreated – they’d seen me scrollin’, and they were hatin’.

It appeared bizarre that we weren’t to use our phone inside while our child was playing quietly, but using it outside in an arena reminiscent of the Hunger Games was a-ok. The part of the film when all twenty-four tributes enter and make a dash for the most covertable weapons, picking off the weaker contestants along the way, while displaying vein-rupturing levels of aggression, can only have been imagined by someone familiar with the average preschooler tussle over the Little Tykes. But apparently parental distraction was to be welcomed here?

And what exactly is the difference between someone being engrossed in a Twitter thread about Piers Morgan being a penis, and being crotch deep in a face-to-face discussion of Brexit/ school catchment areas/ how your blood bubbles every time your husband fails to see “the stairs pile” (a common and bonding annoyance I have found)?

Who hasn’t, mid-conversation, vaguely heard a child yelling “mummmmmyyy, heeelllpppp” in the background but carried on chatting? Seconds later you’re yanked away by the flapping realisation that the yell is coming from YOUR child who has climbed into the toy washing machine. Thanks to genetically-acquired-and-one-day-to-be-grateful-for-freakishly-long-legs she is now jammed and can’t get out, and yet no one has ever told me not to chat.

The fact is that levels of attachment to a screen is definitely NOT an accurate prediction of a parent’s attention to the scream, so why the Rule, heavy as it is with all its implicit judgement that a parent on their phone is a neglectful one?

I am friends with enough working mums to know that receiving emails, messages and phonecalls during their “days off” is not unusual, and in many cases is expected. One friend told me how, when receiving calls from work, the person on the other end would hear the children and say, “Oh is there a better time?”. She would think, Yes, when I’m in the office. This is how I spend ALL my time when I’m not, you ignorant childfree chump – most people have nowhere to stash the small people whenever they become “inconvenient”, so what’s with the sniffy?

The world is also awash with parents (dare I say mums, because in the main it is?) who have been booted out of the traditional workplace so are setting up for themselves. As makers, cake-bakers, social media managers or clothing designers, they are in a classic chicken and egg situation – the money they need to pay for childcare comes from working more, but they can’t work more until they have the childcare.

So in steps the safe, friendly, entertaining stay-and-play where emails can be checked free of whines and requests for a few minutes, and you can be reasonably certain that no one is going to die.

And besides the working mums, what if, starved of empty minutes spent commuting, the stay-at-home-mum is using her phone to connect with family and friends? She’s had a pretty shit day, or week, or month, and that connection with other people gives her comfort and reassurance.

But oh no. Bad mum.

I once saw a woman stand up (with a microphone no less) and say, “Whenever I see a mum walking along or in the playground on her phone, I wanna trip her up and tell her to look at her kids.”

The jarring lack of thought and empathy could have sent me sliding down Guilt Gulley midway as I was through the training to be a social media manager that had me treating my phone like an extra limb. Instead, in a moment of rare confidence and certainty I decided to view her as a few bars short of Instagrammable wi-fi.

But this Rule at the playgroup has made me think again.

The implicit assumption seems to be that whenever you see a mum on her phone in the presence of her kids, 1. what she is doing is unimportant, and 2. that it is all she ever does.

I’m not suggesting that parents shouldn’t limit their screen time when around their kids. I’ve definitely been guilty of using my phone too much and have seen how my children turn from charmingly cheeky rascals into feral wildlings as a result.

I also don’t want them to ever think that I find my phone more interesting than they are so I do my best to limit it.

But the main thing is that, like everything in this parenting lark, judgment is cheap and easy when compassion and understanding would actually go much further.

So next time you see a fellow mum with her face in her phone, maybe challenge the first thought you have. Maybe speak up at work when a colleague says, “Let’s just give Nicola a quick call” with its unspoken suggestion that she’s only looking after her kids, or you could even join The Women’s Equality Party who have affordable childcare as a cornerstone of their manifesto.

At my local playgroup meanwhile, I might just (probably anonymously) suggest they display signs which say, “If you hear a scream, look up from your screen”, because next time they see me scrolling, I don’t want to feel them hating.

Is staying at home the same as having a J.O.B?

“Do you work?”

“Oh, yes. Yes, how about you?”

“Oh I’m a teacher… what do you do?”

“I’m a mum – I have two children.”

“Oh no, I mean what do you do for a JOB.”

“Yeh, exactly. I’m a mum.”

Contraversial I know, but this is exactly how the conversation I’ve never had (except in my head) goes about the disconnect that exists between being a stay-at-home-mum, and having a “proper job”.

There lies a question.

A matter for debate.

Or perhaps just another red herring designed to pit parents against one another: is staying at home with the children the same as having a job?

Well now you’ve asked (it’s ok, I know you haven’t…) there are many similarities:

  • from the minute you wake up, you’re on someone else’s clock
  • breaks where you get to sit and stare into space are few and far between
  • time to do the things you want to like read, write, yoga and re-watch all eight series of West Wing on a loop (for example) are limited to a couple of short hours each day
  • there are parts of the job that you enjoy, there are other parts that you HATE
  • there are parts of the day that leave you buzzing and mentally fist-bumping yourself
  • there are parts of the day when you feel like you’re not good enough and you’re sure you’re going to be found out
  • your boss(es) are demanding and at times unreasonable
  • there is never enough time
  • you never get to the end of your to-dos
  • you’re tired at the end of the day

But there are also a number of differences. Some, I’ll admit, are good ones:

  • the fear of sleep deprivation is no longer as strong. The stakes at work are much higher whereas no one gets sacked for putting the car-keys in the fridge
  • small children throwing tantrums are infinitely preferable to the teenagers who threw swear words and the occasional pencil/ ball of spittle-stuck-paper/ chair
  • boredom and frustration sometimes rear their heads but there isn’t the eye-popping, migraine-inducing level of S.T.R.E.S.S that being a teacher entailed

While others are B.A.D:

  • conversation consists of endlessly repeating what the two-year-old said so that he stops, interspersed with lectures on the skin colour of Polar Bears (black, fwiw) from the four-year-old, and asking her if she is hungry/ needs a wee
  • you get followed to the toilet
  • there is no tangible progression, no acknowledgment
  • there is no salary

The question it often feels like is really being asked is, is staying at home easier than going to work?

Its a sticky, tricky one, full of potential flash points and petty resentment, something I’m aware of as I admit that despite all my hand-wringing I find staying at home with my children easier than what I did before.

But then I had a job that sometimes felt like war, 14 hour days and working weekends were not uncommon, and I have enough friends telling me going to work is a dollyhob compared to being at home to be confident this is not the case for everyone.

About as commital as a pre-Amal George Clooney I know, BUT one thing I will insist is that staying at home with the children IS like having a job.

The point is that there is a distinction to be made between keeping children alive, and parenting. Which, incidentally, is why Jeremy Kyle’s sofas are never going to be bereft of guests.

The day-to-day triumvirate of providing sustenance, hygiene and entertainment is not parenting. That is looking after children.

Parenting is about the example you set, the choices you make, the values you instill, the heartache that accompanies all of those, and the hope that the overall outcome of your literal blood, sweat and (lots of) tears will be a Good Human.

It is generally accepted that when mums and dads, through choice or necessity, entrust their children to someone else to look after, they are not abandoning their position as a parent.

And from the other side of the (invisible) coin, if someone else – whether it be a childminder, nursery, nanny or the next-door neighbour’s teenager – gets paid for doing what you do for free, then I don’t see why it can’t be classed as a job?

One that is really hard work.

Just like the job your other half does when he/she leaves the house.

It’s all hard work.

So instead of wasting time arguing over who has the biggest shit-show for a life, why don’t we all just agree that challenge and compromise exist whichever way we turn?

Rather than sticking up the vees behind one another’s back, lets heartily pat each other  instead, because the bottom line is that we’re all doing the best J.O.B that we can.

Why parents are the real losers on V-Day

I’m writing this imagining that we’ll be marking V-Day by sitting on the settee, not touching, while I dick around on my phone and he pretends he’s not asleep.

We might splash out on a takeaway, although if I get motivated the M&S Meal Deal seems the correct amount of lack-of-effort-but-let’s-pretend-we’ve-tried.

To be honest, we probably wouldn’t be celebrating “properly” even if we didn’t have two children running us ragged because (while I’m aware that this is a bit wanky) we don’t like being told what to do by card and flower companies trying to make a bit of extra cash in between the actual “things” of Christmas and Mother’s Day.

If you’re busy planning your celebrations however, and are now annoyed at me for belittling your heartfelt romantic gestures, please don’t be – it’s perfectly possible that I’m twisted because no one ever bought me chocolates, a card, breakfast in bed or flowers on the 14th Feb. (At this point the Mr is going to pipe up with “I have!” in an incredulous tone because last year he bought me some Maltesers).

Given my lack of experience in this field of roses, I’m also uncertain about the etiquette of Valentine’s – is the onus on the man treating the woman, or is the idea that the man and woman are nice to each other?

And if it’s a man and man, or woman and woman, who buys the present/flowers/ card then?

And what if you are (whisper it…) S.I.N.G.L.E on Valentine’s Day? Well, there I do have an answer because every year there seems to be a concerted effort by “the media” to make people who are single on Valentine’s Day “feel better” about it.

Last year a video called Why being single is the best gift you can give yourself did the rounds and, intrigued, I watched.

The assumption of the video, and the numerous articles I read while in freefall down this particular internet rabbit hole, seemed to be that being single is shit and anyone who is single on this particular day feels even more shit than usual, therefore they need advice to make them feel less shit.

Now, I appreciate that I’m not the target audience for these intensely patronising pieces so you’re welcome to shout “what do you know?” at your computer screen, but some of the “advice” was errrr, a bit shit?

One of the articles I read encouraged single people to go out and buy themselves a Valentine’s Day present. Call me a coupled-up clueless fool, but the last time I checked, going and spending your own money on something for yourself, was called “shopping”. No?

Anyway, that’s not really my point. What I’ve actually popped up all half-empty to say is that contrary to popular opinion, single people are not to be pitied on Valetine’s Day, parents of small children are the ones who suffer most.

And no one is making us feel better.

There is a chance that having met a person with whom we have procreated, the people who write these borderline-offensive How to cope on Valentine’s Day features think we have got it sorted. But it seems to me that all of the traditional methods of celebrating this occasion are no-go (or at least hard-to-go) areas for parents.

Romantic meals? Ha.

Special expensive chocolates? Will only be eaten standing up behind a cupboard door lest they be sniffed out, demanded, chewed up and spat out once reality dawns that Belgian Truffles don’t taste like chocolate buttons. You’ll probably be expected to willingly accept the slimy mess, complete with strings of attached saliva into your outstretched palm, and will then have to find somewhere to wipe it without smearing it over handles or drawers. Or you could just eat it.

Flowers are fine as long as you don’t have a small child who likes to eat them.

Candlelight? Four words – Disney Princess polyester dresses.

Basically, all the “romantic” stuff doesn’t just make the single people sad, it’s also a thorny rose in the heart of the average parent.

And all of this, of course, assumes that you’re still in a relationship with the person you had sex with and made another person. Eff me – imagine what V-Day is like for people who are single AND have small children?

Anyway, in a pleasurable backlash against the sappy soppy sloppy flowers and card brigade of which I am definitely not one although perhaps maybe possibly one day someone will buy me a card and some flowers and give me a kiss and some breakfast in bed and take the children away for a few weeks…sorry… there are people out there who take pleasure in marking Valentine’s day in rather less typical ways.

A trip to Ikea? A £5 Superdrug voucher? A cross stitch proclaiming “Come the fuck in, or fuck the fuck off”? Or perhaps some cookies with the words penis, cunt and cock emblazoned across them? No?

Well, perhaps you would like to celebrate by being sick on the kitchen floor at 3am after one too many on a girls’ night out, and gift your husband the pleasure of mopping it up?

Whatever way you look at it though, V-Day for parents is not even close to victorious. Especially when you realise that this year it lands on a Tuesday during HALF. TERM.

Roses are dead

Romance is too

When you have small children

Surviving is sometimes all you can do.

Five things to do for a friend whose child is in hospital

The smallsmall was admitted to hospital this year on Christmas Day. Sound dramatic, right? Well, it was a bit – breathing is kind of important and he wasn’t being terribly good at it, so in we went and ended up staying for four days.

Shittest Christmas ever, you might be thinking. But actually it wasn’t so bad. The nurses and doctors were immense (and of course were WORKING on Christmas Day – where were you, Mr Cu- I mean, Hunt?…) and even when I fell asleep leaning on the side of the bed the boy was on, they just brought me chocolates and left me face down in a puddle of saliva as they went about their very important business.

Like most British people I moan about the weather and my inabiliity to get a GP appointment but on the whole we know that when the chips are down, the NHS always stumps up.

My mum’s cancer (x2), the instrumental birth of my first child, the midwifery care for my second, the weeks my preemie nephew recently spent in NICU, and now this little episode of festive drama – every time the NHS has proven themselves to be a little bit of ace in a world full of too much shit and Donald Trump.

Having said that, when your kid gets admitted to hospital, the resources are quite rightly pointed in their direction. There is little sleep and no food for the anxious parents (unless you count guiltily hoovering up the cold remains of your kid’s shepherd’s pie while hiding behind a blue curtain).

hospital-food
It would have been a waste, right..? The cake and custard was good too…

So, while I was sitting around in hospital I gave some thought to what would make the stay easier for me and anyone else who finds themselves in this position:

Food. Most children’s wards have kitchens which parents are able to use. One of the most helpful things friends/ family can do is bring/ send in food that can be easily warmed in a microwave.

Just a note of caution – I do mean actual food, not the snacky kind of junk food that we all imagine someone stuck in a hospital will be craving. The chances are that after the first 24 hours, the parent in question will have already consumed Christmas-like quantities of crisps and chocolate and will be feeling a little sick.

Proper food is the one here, folks. And if you have no time to cook (fair enough) then grab a decent ready meal, some soup perhaps, or a sandwich of superior quality to the average hospital canteen’s, and rest assured the gesture will be greatly appreciated.

Slippers, socks, (new) pyjamas. An unexpected hospital stay means no time to pack, no time to think what you need, and there is definitely no time to consider the fact that it might not feel ok to be forced out of your comfort-home while wearing your comfort clothes.

You can’t even fall back on being ill and therefore not caring, because you’re not.

I’m putting on my PJs at home generally means I’ll be donning the tshirts too tatty to wear in public, coupled with a pair of pants. If I’m feeling frisky (said with sarcasm and meaning exciting-but-not-really, not that kind of frisky) I might stretch to a pair of the Mr’s boxers.

Clearly this was not going to cut it on a hospital ward.

When it comes to socks, there was also something embarrassing about taking off my shoes to uncover an unwelcome toe or heel waggling at everyone. People generally were kind enough to pretend not to see it, but we all knew.

I’d change my clothes quicker than a self-conscious teenager in PE, in case the next footsteps swept the blue curtain aside. I worried that the sight to greet three doctors and two nurses “on their rounds” would be me, precariously balanced on one foot, arse in air, midway through changing my pants.

I’d guiltily wolfed down the small’s leftover banana behind a blue curtain as I waited for the Mr to appear with breakfast (see the first item in this list). It was 10am already, and I had considered eating my own arm.

And I’d been holding in my farts way longer than can possibly be healthy.

Having holes in my socks was just an indignity too far.

I really would have welcomed some new ones, a fancy pair of PJs so I could pretend I was in control (I’m totally taking this all in my stride – look my pyjama bottoms match my top) along with a pair of slippers because the Mr kept forgetting mine – no judgement, just a worried dad trying to hold together the other pieces of our life.

Take note.

An opportunity to nap. It’s likely that the parent has had little sleep. The combination of observations, medications, the noises of other children, and snoring of their parents, make sleep on a paediatric hospital ward impossible.

Ear plugs are frowned upon. Should your kid’s various machines starting bleeping and dinging in an alarming way (which apparently is different to the routine bleeps and dings that wake you up all night, or the ones that happen when your kid pulls off the oxometer. Again), I’m imagining the doctors and nurses rushing to your child’s aid would prefer not to have to rouse you from you slumber.

Should you be paying a parent a visit therefore, bring a cup of tea, then sit in a chair while they collapse face down on the bed and doze for an hour or two.

This will be the kind of sleep they will wake from not knowing their name or where they are, but the knowledge that their child is supervised and cannot launch him/herself from the bed will be enough to allow them to give in.

hospital-3
Don’t go to sleep, mummy! I don’t care if I only have half a functioning lung – I’ll land on my head if you go to sleep! I will, I will, I will!

Hand cream. Wash your hands on your way into the ward, on your way out, after nappy changes, after going to the loo, before eating, after eating, and after every time your kid spits their meds all over you (how they ever get better, I don’t know). The hand washing is BRUTAL.

Soon the skin on your hands starts to resemble the heels of your feet (which are hopefully now swathed in brand new socks).

Hand cream will be very welcome.

Bring your best chat. Once you’ve dispensed with the questions about how the small person is, ask how they are. They’ll no doubt tell you they are fine but let them know it’s ok not to be. Be ready in case they cry. And just let them for a few minutes.

Then pull out your phone and do some full-scale bashing of whatever you know floats your mate’s boat. Whether it be football results, the news, politics, celebrity gossip or you’ll never guess what so-and-so-in-the-village has done now, just bring it.

Your mate will relish the opportunity to think and talk about something other than medication, test results, or whether that bleeping is one of the important ones or not. They’ll feel rejuvenated by talking about something normal for once so research it beforehand if necessary, just do your best not to turn up with your head in shed – that’s going to help no-one.

There are about a hundred other ways that you can be useful to parents whose children are in hospital – this is just a start. If you’re really not sure, then why not ask?

And finally, to any parent reading this whose child is in hospital regularly, or who’s stay lasts longer than four days: you are a fecking hero.

 

NB. I’ve purposely said parents in this piece because most people care about their kids. But I also think most of these concerns might be peculiar to women (or maybe that’s my unconcious gender bias rearing its head – I just can’t imagine the Mr being quite so bothered about the sock thing. The food, yeah, but socks…?) What do you think?

Why there’s no Elf on the Shelf in my house and other Christmas musings

Child of the eighties, born in December, and the middle one of three siblings, the twelfth month of every year was defined by increasing levels of anticipation. The longest 25 days of the diary were punctuated by moments of ecstasy every 72 hours when it was my turn to open the advent calendar.

We’d have a new one each year but with three of us sharing the words “my turn” were wet-myself-wondrous. Hopping-on-the-spot levels of anticipation were reminiscent of the need-a-wee-shapes I would break at every summer service station stop.

I’d hold my breath and listen for that tiny satisfying crack that told me this one hadn’t been tampered with by sneaky sibling digits, and with barely contained excitement I’d ease that door open to reveal…

…a picture.

No toy to add to a ready-made scene, no present exquisitely wrapped, not even a chocolate to chew in determined enjoyment despite it tasting upsettingly similar to the cardboard it came in.

Nope, just a picture.

And I bloody loved it.

I’d fend off envy that it was my siblings’ turn by fetching down the previous years’ calendars from the loft. I’d play with them endlessly, pretending it was the first time I’d ever opened those doors, even though their edges would never again meet quite as closely as they once had. Occasionally I’d take a cheeky peek at number 24 way before its time.

We would buy our family Christmas tree on whichever weekend fell closest to my birthday, a tradition which meant we were often more than half-way through December before twinkling lights and tinsel made an appearance in our home.

It’s a tradition that my parents still uphold, although these days I wonder whether it was borne from reducing the necessary daily hoovering in the days before non-drop trees. Every slammed door would be followed by the whispers of branches unsheathing themselves needle by needle, and in a house full of teenagers it’s a wonder it wasn’t bald by the time Christmas Day rolled around.

It is these kinds of memories I have returned to several times over the last few weeks. I’ve been jokingly justifying my decisions not to participate in Elf on the Shelf, not to buy and wrap up 24 tiny presents or books for each child, or to think up 24 festive-fun activities to open each morning.

I’ve called myself “lazy” while not actually thinking I am, and wondered where people get the money, but underneath it all I’ve also spent too much time thinking that perhaps my children are being served the festive equivalent of chicken on Christmas Day – it kind of looks the same but is just a bit everyday.

Whenever I’ve told my daughter that No, the Christmas Elf has not filled the advent calendar up yet because she’s waiting for you to get dressed, I’ve wondered if I’m just being heartless and cruel.

When a crafting-induced fit of rebellion saw me throw the remnants of our creativity out of the back door, I spied an opportunity and used the sprinkling of sparkly stuff and lonely purple pompom as evidence of the Christmas Elf’s visit. My heart broke a little as I watched the girl wander in her socks into the garden shouting for Rudolph, worried that he might be stranded, and I marveled in mildly-appreciative horror at my own manipulative cynicism.

Despite my more machiavellian tendencies however, this year in particular I have felt the pressure of making Christmas “come alive” for my little girl. She’s four now, is really feeling the festive flavour, and her pleasure when The Big Man in red paid a visit to the nursery Christmas party made me kick myself hard for scorning the annual stampede to book tickets to the best grotto in town. It sells out by the end of August.

We call her our “magic”. Originating in the mists of time impenetrably fogged by too many sleepless nights, it’s a pet name which has come to represent the wonder with which we look at her as she spells her own name and other ubiquitous rites of passage that nonetheless stop us in our tracks.

But what if I’m depriving my magic, of her’s?

And so here we are again, caught up in the same old guilt-ridden cycle. Its spidery-tentacles stretch out around us like a creepy hangover from the horribly comercialised Halloween. They’re so transparent they are easily overlooked, until we find ourselves observing what other people are doing, how other people are celebrating, and wonder if we are getting it wrong.

I wonder if I should have done Elf on the Shelf. I’m full of admiration for some of the brilliance I have witnessed on social media (that wily mistress with her kleptomaniac tendencies for joy) but I guiltily feel like I’m under enough pressure as it is.

“Just” this one more thing to do might be the elf that broke the reindeer’s back, and the price-tag of the “real thing” makes me wince at the thought that this is just another idea dreamed up by commercial interests who’re exploiting the lucrative fertile ground of middle class parent’s concerns about being and doing “enough”.

But then I think enough.

Because Christmas will be magical because Christmas is magical.

I clearly remember driving back from my aunt’s house late one Christmas Eve and being convinced I’d seen Father Christmas’s sleigh through the car window. I didn’t want him to know I’d seen him as I knew this meant a lump of coal and an unwelcome satsuma in my stocking the next morning so I shut my eyes tight.

A few hours later, around a parent-punishing 4.30am, I breathed a sigh of relief when my sack of stash was waiting at the end of my bed…

It turns out that I didn’t need to be bought anything, I didn’t even need to be told anything, the magic of Christmas and a child’s imagination was all I needed to give me beautiful memories to look back on.

I didn’t need the personalised stocking – not once did I question why my presents arrived in an old pillow case that I knew for the rest of the year lived in a drawer under my bed.

I didn’t need a box full of presents on Christmas Eve – I’m pretty sure I never thought, “Christmas is brilliant but I really wish all my presents didn’t come on the same day”.

I didn’t need an advent calendar full of gifts as well as those under the tree, and I look back relieved my parents didn’t feel they had to bankrupt themselves to create the acceptable measure of magic.

As always, if you are doing these things because you want to then deck your halls, jingle those bells and eat all the figgy pudding you can manage. But none of the songs sound quite as good if you’re only singing them because you feel you should.

The truth is, I’m sure you’ll agree, is that the lights, music, trees, smells, carols, stories, The Story, food, family, smiles, and the never-ending chocolate, together create a time of year that is already like no other.

There is no need to fill it to overflowing, because just as we will all no doubt say at the end of Christmas Day’s dining, sometimes you need to know when just one more mouthful will make you feel sick, because actually you already have enough.

Behind the smile: the internal rantings of a new mum’s mind

These days I become wildly protective of new mums whenever I meet one. Panting like an over-enthusiastic fat labrador in my efforts it can get a bit embarrassing if the new mum looks at me nonplussed and says she is absolutely loving every minute…Better safe than sorry though, eh…

I do feel bad when this happens though. I feel like the angry person scowling in the corner of the tastefully decorated monochrome gender-neutral nursery, spoiling the ambiance with my CLASHING SWIRLS OF RAGING COLOUR grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whereas occasionally most of the time, being a mum is easily the best thing ever for me too.

My assumption of the worst for new mums in fact comes only from a good place. I’m several years past those precious early days (treasure every minute, they’ll be gone before you know it bleurgh… sorry just vommed a little – gone soon, you say? Er, yes please) but the memories of the unsettling storm of rampaging hormones, sleep deprivation, uncertainty, anxiety and the pressure of keeping a whole other human alive rocked, rolled and turned my world upside down.

Not least to turn me inside out was the fact that my previously reptilian skin, thickened by years of catering to that toughest of crowds – The Teenager – was not immune to the pummice stone that is motherhood. Like the best exfoliator the friction of parenthood sloughed away cell by cell, layer after layer, my bullshit identity – the person I thought was me – until there was nothing left except a tissue veneer loosely keeping my organs from jelly-like splashing all over the floor.

I might have become a bit “sensitive”.

On one occasion, I cried because a family member wondered whether pregnancy yoga relaxed my first baby so much that she didn’t want to be born. In the fragile emotional state I was in, knowing that this was absolutely bloody bonkers was not enough to have me rolling my eyes and moving on. She continued to wonder whether this was why my labour was so (fucking horrendous – my word, definitely not her’s) challenging and my bullshit-deflectors failed me completely.

I just heard yet another shitty judgement on me, my body and my ability to be a mother. And I cried. And I cried. And I cried.

Part of the problem is that much of the shit that gets fanned in a new mum’s direction often originates in helpful intentions. It’s really hard to say “Oh just fuck off would you” when you know this would be seen as an “over-reaction”, not to mention the fact that lots of the most hurtful things are said by family members (no escape), or (even harder to negotiate) your partner’s family members, or even your friends.

These will probably be the people you have to draft in at some point or other to babysit. Piss them off at your peril.

Instead, tell yourself that they don’t realise their offer of unsolicited advice is not going to evoke feelings of gratitude. That your response might in fact be, “Oh well, if s/he thinks I need to be told this then I must look like I can’t cope”, won’t have occurred to them.

Tell yourself this so you don’t drive yourself crazy, or sad, or both.

The fact is that some people left their sensitivity bone behind back when two cells were becoming four, so protect yourself. Tell the boneless ones “Thanks” or “because I want to”, and entertain yourself by reading some of these internal rants that otherwise will never see the light of day because I need babysitters…

You should/ you must/ you will… Oh just fuck off would you? There is no should, must, will about it. This is my baby and I am going to do it my way. I don’t give two flying fingers of fudge that you have three children of your own, have cared for the entire under-5 population of a small Pacific island, nor that you have a PHD in offering unsolicited advice to anyone unfortunate enough to have ears and a baby, this is STILL not your baby and I’m STILL going to do it my way.

And besides, I have spent the last four night’s at ninety minute intervals reading ev-er-y-thing in the internet so I already know there are approximately seven THOUSAND conflicting pieces of advice out there about how to get my DC/ DS/ DD2 (wtf?) to sleep through the night. AND I’ve already tried eight thousand of them.

What works for one baby, might not work for ten others so please go and file your “expertise” under sh for “shut up”.

You’ve got to be strong now… Ok then, look at me. Look me right in the face – it might be a little drippy right now, but this <circle your head with a very pointy forefinger> has also just grown a person and pushed it out of her body/had it hoisted from the escape hatch.

Do you see me?

I AM the dictionary definition of strength – I am a chuffing HERO.

And if you don’t believe me, take a look at my strung-together under-carriage. Like an abandoned Halloween mask left draped over the pumpkin flame five minutes too long, that thing is terrifying right now, and who KNOWS if it will ever mould back into shape.

Still need convincing? Well how about I flash you my cracked and bleeding nipples – it’s not just milk dribbling out of those butt-ends right now, you know… Was that a WINCE? These are WORDS motherchuffer, just imagine how it FEELS.

I am a WARRIOR – who may be feeling a little unstable because, hormones – BUT Bow. DOWN.

Reassess your judgement of me as WEAK because I am crying a little – I am a GODLY-GOD-DAMN-GODDESS.

The baby is ok – that’s the main thing… Oh is it? So me, mum, the person who changed her life, wardrobe, eating and drinking habits, who has not slept properly for months (sleep in the late stages of pregnancy is a cruel, cruel joke – like preparing for a freaking famine by going on a diet) and who has just had her body torn apart in countless ways so that “the main event” can journey earthside, is not the most important person?

Are you high?

I’m a freaking hero (there may be a theme developing here). And if I tell you that the birth was hard, just fucking listen, people. It was HARD. I have just been through the most traumatic hours of my entire life and you need to make space for me to talk about it.

I might talk about it a lot at first, I might bore the tits off you. But as my tits are being pulled and pummelled, are growing and shrinking, stinging, cracking, bleeding and oh, yes lactating; as MY tits are doing all of this a little bit of boredom for your’s is no big deal.

So no: the main thing is not that the baby is ok – the main thing is that I am ok. An ok mother is an ok baby.

He/ she is/not hungry/ tired… I DON’T CARE. Even if you KNOW-KNOW – you’ve had seven children of your own, bottle fed three, breast fed four and tandem fed two of those, if you’ve co-slept AND cot-slept, sleep-trained AND gone insane, this baby is NOT YOUR’S so BACK OFF.

Let’s face it, there is a VERY small list of things that can go wrong – hungry, tired, wet, poo-y, hungry, hungry, wind, hungry – so even if you’re right, it doesn’t matter because we’ll get there eventually, without being made to feel like a twat for not knowing immediately like you do, apparently.

*Also see You should/ you must/ you will…*

You’re making a rod for your own back… Maybe. But it’s my back, right? I’m not going to actively “teach” my child to sleep nowhere except at a precise angle of 45degrees on top of me, but only when I’m wearing the green pyjamas and have the top two buttons undone so his little shell-like can rest on my pumping life-force, just so I can leave him/ her with you to scream for a few days while I go and party in Ibiza, am I?

So why are you so bothered?

Besides, maybe I don’t care. Maybe right now stuffing enough rods to build Trump’s fence down the back of my breastfeedingfriendly shirt is worth it, if that is all that stands between getting some sleep and getting none.

Maybe picking him/ her up whenever he/she cries makes ME feel calmer.

Maybe carrying him/ her in a sling all day instead of in the pushchair means that no one has to listen to the screams.

Maybe this is all just MY way and is none of YOUR business.

And maybe, just maybe, you do have something valid to add to the conversation.

But maybe just maybe, I’m not ready to hear it.

And maybe, just maybe, you need to respect that, button it, and say “You’re amazing. Well done.”