2016: Take The Good With You

 

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And so it turns out that the smouldering embers of 2016 still have power to burn. That even in these dwindling days, there is still time to heap more sadness upon a brow-beaten people. The death of a beloved musical icon, a tragedy amplified by the fact that it occurred on Christmas Day – what should be the happiest day of the year – is rendered even more poignant by the subsequent tales of his generosity and humanity. What a legacy to leave.

 

This, and the other recent celebrity deaths, appear to pile misery upon misery. This year, no doubt, has witnessed the loss of a number of people who touched the lives of many others. They made an impact, be it through music or film or service for others, or just by the sheer force of their personality,  and their loss has been felt keenly with fitting posthumous tributes; one hopes that they knew of the esteem within which they were held during their – sometimes short – lifetimes.

 

But it’s not just the deaths, as tragic as they have been. In 2016, our screens have been filled with scenes of human suffering, almost too horrific to fathom. Then there has been the hate, the vitriol, spoken and written, which has underlined deep divisions within society. And politically, wherever you sat, campaigns and debates often got ugly. Indeed, the EU Referendum felt like a deeply unpleasant experience, setting families and friends on opposing sides, creating rifts and anger.

 

So no wonder that people are talking about 2016 as the worst year ever. It’s no surprise that people are looking over the horizon to 2017, and the potential for a brighter tomorrow. There is a sense that the world will exhale a collective breath of relief as midnight comes around on 1st January.

 

All understandable; this year has been strange. Odd. Scary. Sad. I suspect in the future, my daughter will be taught about the events of this year in school. But to me it feels wrong to reduce a whole twelve months to just a few words, just a ‘terrible’ year. Because to summarise 366 days in this way negates all of the good, all of the happy that there has been.

 

And it has been there. The tales of heroism, like the Brownlee brothers embodying what it means to be family. Or the outpouring of love and support, in the form of more than 250,000 Christmas cards, for a little boy with terminal cancer. Or the fundraising for Stand Up To Cancer or Children in Need, people putting their hand in their pocket to help others.

 

It’s been there in our own lives too. In the big things, like getting a gorgeous new nephew to love. And it’s been there too in the small things, the everyday things. The reassuring grip of a baby’s hand around the finger. A thoughtful text sent on a long day. A compliment about an outfit, the one you weren’t sure about but now you’re so glad that you wore.

 

Yes, this year has been replete with sadness, tragedy, hurt and pain. But there has also been love and joy and fun and laughter.We need to look for the light because it’s there. And so, as the year draws to a close, take from it the memories that made you smile, the feelings that lifted your soul; those are the things to treasure.

Rediscovering the Magic of Christmas

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We had become jaded, the two of us. The cost, the stress, the hassle. The overindulgence and the nauseating hangovers. The songs which jarred, the garish decorations, the embarrassing jumpers. The joy of giving, which could only be achieved via a painful, directionless, bad-tempered shopping trip. The warm fuzzy feeling, all too fleeting, replaced swiftly by a lingering guilt over excessive spending. The pleasure of a full tummy, accompanied by a wistful remark about ‘three hours cooking for twenty minutes eating.’ And once the main day was at an end, we’d be itching to get back to normal.

 

Christmas wasn’t what it used to be.

 

But then you came along.

 

And suddenly, it’s different.

 

Your sweet-sounding ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ of excitement as you haphazardly pull back the window on your advent calendar. Each day you are even more happy than before to discover your chocolate treat, the smile upon your face as broad as if you have stumbled upon a great treasure. Your energetic moves to the Christmas songs on the radio, your knees bending in time with the music. You have no self-consciousness as you shake your limbs clumsily; you care not a jot who’s watching. The way you point to the lights. ‘There,’ you say for emphasis, in case we’ve missed the glimmering beams which cut through the gloom. Your first taste of a mince pie, the way you screw up your face in distaste before deciding that actually, it wasn’t so bad after all and yes please to another bite. The way you stare transfixed at the snow globe upon the shelf, your eyes wide at the tiny winter scene playing out within.  And your first meeting with Father Christmas, a bemused visit, but the present he gives you so very well received. You tear at the paper with an urgency, an eagerness to get to the cuddly toy within which makes you grin cheekily.

 

And as we watch you, the joy, the excitement, the curiosity dancing in your eyes, your emotions spread to us by osmosis. Our hearts leap like yours at the sight of a beautifully decorated tree. We open our mouths and let our voices ring out to join in a festive song, whilst you babble along contentedly. We excitedly write our Christmas cards, a task made even more special by the fact that they have been ‘designed’ by you. And we look forward to the 25th with joyful, almost childlike anticipation, knowing that that date will bring a beautiful perspective as we watch the festivities unravel through your eyes.

 

You’ve given us back the magic. You’ve reminded us that the season isn’t all about the shopping, the spending, the cooking, the cleaning, the task. Rather it’s about the laughing, the playing, the dancing, the singing, the loving, the feeling. You’ve given us a joyful gift – the gift of feeling young and carefree again. As we watch you, we are transported back to our own childhoods; every now and then, we will catch a faraway look in each other’s eyes, and as our vision fogs, we are reliving the same feelings that you, our darling daughter, are experiencing now.

 

But, the magic isn’t just for Christmas; it’s for life. It’s in the ordinary every day. It’s in your first bite of cake, a delicious treat to be discovered. It’s in the way you look on in awe at the bubbles we blow together. It’s in the way you kick out your feet excitedly as you fly high upon a swing.  It’s in the way we pull funny faces together in the mirror. It’s in the way we break into your favourite song in a busy restaurant, just to make you laugh. It’s in the way it feels to just live, without self-consciousness, without self-censorship, without fear of the judgement of others.

 

Being an adult is tough, and some days it can be lacking in joy. But you’ve helped us to rediscover the magic, the sense of wonderment that can be found in the simplest of things. Through your eyes, the world is a kaleidoscope of beauty.

Hot Pink Wellingtons

The Parenthood Impostor Syndrome

‘I don’t think I’m good enough.’

This sentiment, this sense of lacking in some way, of being deficient in ability or capacity is one that surely many of us feel at some point in our lives, even if we don’t always verbalise it. It’s a feeling of uncertainty, of anxiousness and for me, it was the very real idea of being a fraud in those early weeks of motherhood.

I have experienced that impostor feeling before when I was appointed to a senior position, a step-up from my previous role in which I had felt safe and comfortable and capable. ‘I’m not sure I belong here,’ I’d mused nervously, silently, as I’d sat in my first management meeting. But I did and six years later I attend those same meetings assured of my place at the table.

But, that familiar self-doubt made an unwelcome reappearance after the birth of my daughter. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ I thought as I struggled to work out the logistics of the role – the nappy changing, the feeding, the dressing, the bathing and the soothing at 3am when there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for her screams. ‘Everyone else is better at this than me,’ I told myself as, more and more, I noticed mothers everywhere we went, mothers who all seemed to instinctively be able to identify and respond to their child’s needs. And: ‘I’m not a proper mother,’ I opined once, silently, feeling the weight of my guilt at my – perceived – fraudulent use of the name ‘mummy.’

There was no reason for me to feel like this. I was doing everything I could to meet my daughter’s needs whatever they were and whenever they arose. But I just couldn’t help feeling that I simply wasn’t good enough. I’d look at my daughter for some reassurance and she would stare back at me, blankly. My husband was, as ever, hugely supportive but when I watched him, so calm and cool, I was convinced that he was better at this job than me.

Then, one day a friend was visiting and I was feeling my usual lack of confidence as I tended to my daughter’s needs, and she said to me:

‘You’re doing great.’

I listened to her words and they had an immediate effect, giving me an instant shot of self-belief.

‘You’re doing great.’

To hear that, from another mother, was validation, and just the soul-lifting comment I needed. A little while later, I was with another friend, also a mum, and I said, in jest:

‘I’m hardly the best mum in the world!’

But: ‘To your daughter, you are,’ she replied. ‘To your baby you’re the best in the world. Because your hers.’

And I realised she was right. All this time I’d been worrying that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t come up to scratch, and all the time I’d been being the very best mummy I could be to my baby.

When we first become parents, we move into a brand new scary world where we are expected to carry out a role we’ve not been trained for – and we get no feedback from our babies on how well we’re doing. So, it’s no wonder if we feel out of our depth and like an impostor. I am sure there are others who have shared my feelings and that is why I truly believe we need to support other mums and dads with supportive comments and ringing endorsements, just like my friends did. After all, this isn’t a competition.

In time, that feeling of being an impostor has vanished and with experience, my confidence has grown. I am a proper mum, a complete mum.  And this Mother’s Day, when my daughter gave me a keyring bearing the slogan ‘Best Mummy Ever,’ I felt only a momentary sense of being undeserving of the title before I remembered: to my daughter, I am the best mummy ever.

Every day I do my absolute best for my daughter in a hundred different ways. And now I don’t have to search her face for signs of feedback because she tells me just how well I’m doing with a smile or a giggle or by reaching her arms out for me to cuddle her. I don’t feel like an impostor anymore.

I’m good enough.

We all are.

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Dear Bear and Beany
The Pramshed

When Parenting Reality Kicks In

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‘Baby soft skin.’ At least, that’s what they’re meant to have. Ours didn’t though and at three months old she was diagnosed with eczema.

 

‘Not to worry,’ we thought, unperturbed by such a common ailment and, accordingly, the condition was soon beating a hasty retreat after a brief course of steroid cream.

 

That’s that little problem over and done with then. Only, weeks later, those angry red patches were back. Surely that had been treated? A trip to the doctors’ led to the same diagnosis as before.

 

It went. And then it came back. Infected this time. Our hearts sank as we saw our baby’s skin inflamed and raw. This time, as we were given a course of antibiotics and cream, we were more pessimistic than before.

 

We were right to be. After just a few short weeks, time we spent watching our baby’s skin anxiously, the eczema did, as expected make an unwelcome return. And this time it brought an unpleasant side effect.

 

An itch.

 

‘Don’t scratch darling,’ we’d say, covering her little hands with scratch mitts to stop her burrowing at her skin with her fingernails. ‘Don’t scratch.’

 

She ignored us. Even if she could understand us, I doubt she would have done our bidding. But fortunately we had the scratch mitts to stop her doing herself any harm.

 

And then, one night, she worked out how to pull those mitts off.

 

We got to her before she could do any real damage but her cheeks were still marked with bloody little scratches. If she was in pain though you wouldn’t have known it; in fact, she tried to have another little burrow at her face. We had to hold onto her determined little hands to stop her, much to her fury.

 

As we drove to the doctors’, back from our brief holiday, we started to realise this was a real problem. And even with another course of antibiotics and cream it was a problem which didn’t go away. ‘Don’t scratch, don’t scratch, don’t scratch,’ we’d beg, to no avail. It would break our hearts to see the relief in her eyes if she ever managed to get a sneaky (constantly trimmed) fingernail to a place where the eczema prevailed. It was relentless. Our whole time together seemed to be spent stopping her from scratching. I remember one night coming home from work and looking at my husband, who was staying home with our daughter at the time, and in his eyes I just saw naked desperation. ‘She doesn’t stop scratching.’

 

At last, we got to see a specialist who took one look at our daughter and slathered her in cream. ‘It’s like a thousand bites on her skin a minute,’ she explained about the eczema. I felt myself fall then. My poor, poor baby girl; I hated that she had to endure such discomfort and would have given anything and everything to swap places with her.

 

I also hated the way our darling baby would scream when we applied the latest combination of creams. And I hated the way it took two of us to dress her – one to hold her ever-itch-seeking hands and one to get her into her clothes. I also hated seeing her in the special sleeves she wore at night which, thankfully, stopped her hands escaping for a scratch – but which also stopped her getting access to the thumb she used to soothe her. And I hated the way I always felt the need to explain what the medically prescribed ‘silks’ she wore were to strangers.

 

And then I realised. This was real life. This was the reality of parenting.

 

Up until my daughter had been diagnosed with eczema, our parenting path had been as expected, with sleepless nights and nappy explosions and projectile vomiting and earth-shattering screaming. All standard baby behaviour. But the eczema had caught us off guard.

 

And we weren’t alone. The more parents I spoke to, the more I realised that all of our children had different challenges to face – be it reflux or colic or horrendous sleeping patterns or, like us, eczema. And in some cases, for some poor parents, even worse. The path through babyhood is never smooth – and not as rosy as I might have imagined. At some point, the reality of parenthood kicks in.

 

Thankfully, the eczema has calmed down and our girl only suffers really bad flare-ups when she’s teething. And some days she hardly tries to scratch at all.

 

In an odd way, the eczema has made us stronger. We worked together to tackle it and we remained committed to getting the right treatment for our little girl.

 

And as for our daughter? Well, she’s the bravest person I have ever met, having borne it all with the most beautiful smile and the sweetest demeanour: she’s been my hero.

A Mum Track Mind

Choosing Not To Judge

 

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Long before our little girl was anything more than a beautiful notion, my husband and I agreed that he would take the lead on childcare in the first year. At the time, this would have meant him leaving his job but for a whole host of reasons, this was the right thing for us.

 

And then, something magical happened: the law changed and Shared Parental Leave was introduced. The timing couldn’t have been better, and not only would my husband be able to remain in his job he would be able to receive statutory maternity pay for the period he was taking care of the baby.

 

Excitedly, we made plans. And we shared our plans, to varying responses. Some people thought what we were doing was great, others were incredulous. ‘Really? You’re going back that soon?’ I was asked. And: ‘You’ll change your mind,’ others prophesised.

 

We didn’t. Our beautiful daughter was born and we were engulfed in a tidal wave of all consuming adoration. And, of course, anxiety; here was the most precious person in the world and we were responsible for her. It was the biggest task we had ever been given.

 

We learnt together how to look after her. There were tears – mine, mostly – and fears but each day got a little bit easier than the one before. The worries were still there, and I would often feel teary and overwhelmed.

 

Including on the day I went back to work. As, I’m sure any new parent does. Thank goodness then for the unstinting support of my husband, my little girl’s adoring and brilliant father who was at home taking care of her. With him in our corner, taking care of baby, I could return to work with confidence if not without that ache in my heart at the start.

 

But, even if we thought we had things sussed, even if our plan was panning out as we had hoped, what made me wobble were the frequent, shocked, ‘you’re-doing-what?’ comments. Unlike pre-baby, when I was far more together and far less vulnerable, these really bothered me. Like, for example, the lady attending the first aid for babies class who was appalled when my husband told her that his daughter’s mummy was ‘at work.’ Or a baby group member of staff who told me ‘don’t worry, we’ll help daddy out.’ He doesn’t need help, I thought frustrated, and angry, he’s her father. There’s no-one better to look after our baby than him. And so often we would meet someone who would raise their eyebrows or make an ill thought-out comment when we told them that mummy was back at work and daddy was staying at home for a bit.

 

I know that I shouldn’t have let the views of a stranger bother me (and now, I would probably tell them to get stuffed!) but at the time I was fragile and fearful of letting my daughter down and privately I used to worry that maybe I was letting her down by not staying at home. Maybe I should be the one staying at home and my poor, knackered, frazzled husband be the one going out to work.

 

But of course, I carried on. Because ultimately I knew that we were doing the right thing for my amazing little family. And in my head, all the time I heard this phrase: ‘Why do we judge others for exercising the choices available to them?’

 

Now, a year on, I wouldn’t change a thing. Both my husband and I were fortunate enough to spend some special one-to-one time with our wonderful daughter. Both of us also got to experience the different worlds – the missing-baby-at-work life and the exhausting and bewildering childcare planet. And, we both have our own, special, lovely bonds with our girl.

 

Reflecting now though, I do have some thoughts. The law might have changed but mindsets still need to catch up. We are fortunate in this country to have choice around maternity/paternity leave and we should support and not judge anyone for the options they take. It is not my business if mothers and fathers stay at home, go to work, work part time, work full time, return to work after a fortnight or go back after a year. It’s their choice and more power to them.

 

And, fathers deserve respect and equality. They are just as capable of being a stay at home dad and looking after their offspring. Indeed, my husband is better than me at some parenting tasks; he is the one who always clips our daughter’s fingernails with a steady, tender hand which I just don’t have.

 

My daughter, of course, will never remember who looked after her in her first year. But I will tell her that we shared our care of her. And I will also tell her that she can do what on earth she wants with her life – she has choices and it is down to her to exercise those, regardless of what anyone says or thinks.

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Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

 

Love is in the ordinary

My darling Sweetpea,

My phone is angry with me, berating me for my abuse of its memory capacity with an angry little warning sign. ‘You must delete some pictures,’ it judgementally chastises me. I never had this difficulty with my phone pre-you my darling, my mobile interaction always generally amicable. But ever since the day you emerged blinking into the light, I have been snapping away, capturing for posterity the milestones and events which have peppered your first months.

 

In a short while, I will pull together those pictures into a book, a catalogue of memories which we will look back on together in years to come. We’ll coo over those images from your very first day, commenting on your tiny size, so small compared to the girl then woman into which you will grow. We’ll laugh at the pictures of you at the swings, and I will tell you what a daredevil you were, wanting to go higher, even though you were just little. And you will probably roll your eyes at me at the pumpkin costume I dressed you in at Halloween, no doubt declaring that I have clearly always been an embarrassing mum.

 

But they are the highlights, the days out, the special events. What you won’t see are the mundanities, the day to day toings and froings which have underpinned your first year. There will be no shots of your dad and I applying the plethora of creams necessary to keep your eczema under control. Nor will you see pictures of your dad, showing a hitherto hidden talent as a manicurist, gently trimming your nails almost daily as part of our concerted effort to stop you hurting yourself when the eczema itchiness overwhelmed you. And, you’ll never see us desperately trying to get you to take your hated calpol, when your teeth were causing you agonising pain and your hurt broke our hearts.

 

And nor would I want you to see those pictures; I’m so grateful that you won’t remember the all-encompassing itchiness of your eczema, or the body-shaking pain of your teething. But what I do hope that stays with you, what I want you to carry through your life is how we made you feel. When times were tough, you dad and I have wrapped you up in a little love bubble, lavishing adoration upon you, utterly devoted to increasing your happiness. And from the look on your face, the way you’ve rested your head upon my shoulder, or relaxed visibly, I think you’ve known that. And that feeling, which can’t be captured in any photo, is what I hope you always carry with you: that feeling of being loved, no matter what.

 

There is a famous quote by Maya Angelou which is: ‘At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’ You will never remember these early days but I hope you always remember how we made you feel my darling.

Love, Mumumumumumum xxx

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Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

 

 

 

 

You Taught Me

My sweet baby girl

So pure and so new

There are so many things

I want to teach you.

Like how to distinguish

Between right and wrong

And which path is best

To travel along.

 

And darling, I’ll show you

How lovely you are

Giving you esteem

That’ll carry you far.

And sweetpea, I’ll tell you

That bad times won’t last

Your sadness will soon

Be confined to the past.

 

When you get stuck

I’ll be there by your side

Your biggest supporter

Your always there guide.

And with you I’ll share

All that I know

Helping you to learn,

Develop and grow.

 

But the truth is my sweet

You have taught me

To believe in myself

To be all I can be.

You’ve been showing me how

To be your mum

The best version of me

For you I’ve become.

 

And darling, it’s you

Who’s been steering the way

When I’ve doubted myself

My fears you allay.

Those times when I’ve floundered

And felt like I’m failing

You’ve been the rudder

Who’s stopped me from flailing.

 

I never quite thought

At this job I’d succeed

Yet I’ve managed to flourish

With you as my lead.

But above all else, darling

You taught me to behave

With courage by showing me

I could be brave.

Prose for Thought
Two Tiny Hands
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Family Tie

A gossamer thread

In our lives will embed

Tying us up in a knot

A bond never forgot.

 

An invisible line

An unspoken sign

Of a heritage shared

Of lives duly cared.

 

It links like a vein

Love flows in the chain

And time doesn’t alter

Nor miles ever falter.

 

Not eroded by wear

Or able to tear

And through high and low

It doesn’t let go.

 

It’s there at the start

And the time to depart

Can’t cause it to rupture

It’s not built to fracture.

 

This tie that will bind

Will keep us all twined

Hearts joined together

As family forever.

Prose for Thought
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Run

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It’s just a step

To take

A tiny move

To make

But my toes

Feel like lead

And a deep fear

Looms ahead.

 

I need to make

That lift

Force my heels

To shift

Yet I’m gripped

By paralysis

As I’m trapped in

This stasis.

 

Space must

Be found

Between my sole

And ground

But my feet

Refuse to bend

Despite the signals

That I send.

 

I give myself

A push

A shot of

Adrenaline rush

And my feet

Are finally free

Poised and ready

Now to flee.

 

Then I’m running.

 

Pavement pounding

Footsteps sounding

Breeze blowing

Hair flowing

Legs shaking

Path snaking

Dirt kicking

Heels clicking

Heart pumping

Soul jumping

Steps lengthening

Body strengthening

Lungs inhaling

Mouth exhaling

Dashing

Sprinting

Racing

Running.

 

One step becomes a pair

Two steps become a mile

As over land I hare

All troubles now erstwhile.

 

A Daddy’s Care

Your devotion’s been unstinting

Your adoration endless

Your commitment never wavered

Your hard work’s been relentless.

 

Borne out of love, a promise

Exceeded in its honouring

A decision made, so selfless

A generous, heartfelt offering.

 

Not once could you envisage

The duties now expected

And the overwhelming tasks

That you quickly had perfected.

 

Your days have been exhausting

And your nights full of waking

Caring, soothing, tending,

Til the dawn’s started breaking.

 

Now your shift’s almost ended

And you’ve looked back and smiled

At the outcome of your efforts

A well-loved, happy child.

 

Your work’s not been easy

It’s the hardest job you’ve had

But your daughter and I thank you

For being such an amazing dad. 

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Prose for Thought