…And Yesterday I Cried

“The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.”

-Annabel Crabb, Policital Journalist

{Also features on The M Word }

I’m very sure there are lots of us for whom this quote resonates. Most of the time it’s a case of just getting on with it, stopping every so often and wishing things like, ‘if only they could sleep all night’ or ‘if only they could sleep past 6am’; most of my ‘if onlys’ definitely tend to revolve around sleep and the lack of it. For the most part we don’t do too badly, they are great at going to bed at 7pm, following the routine without any resistance, it’s usually smooth enough. Some nights they don’t wake up at all but other nights they’ll wake up for random reasons. But mainly I really cannot complain, they are really great kids.

But this week has really made me feel sorry for myself. This week, I can read that quote and it screams absolute relevance at me, this week has been a big lesson on trying to juggle and balance everything all at once. Thankfully, I’m not talking about major disasters, we’re all ok thankfully, but everything is relevant. I have found this week a big challenge of trying to keep all the plates spinning and I’m not ashamed to admit, this week has reduced me to tears.

It started last weekend when Alex suddenly went off his food and we realised he had caught a dose of Hand Foot & Mouth – a highly contagious virus, but very common viral infection that  most kids will pick up at crèche. It would mean he would need to stay home for the week. The risk of course was that Rian would likely catch it too – however instead, Rian caught a dose of tonsillitis so was also disqualified from crèche for a few days. This meant juggling around work options to be able to make sure they’d be minded, while also needing to get Rian seen to at the doctor.. and following an allergic reaction to the penicllin they prescribed late in the evening, and a very worrying hour as his body broke out in a frightening angry looking rash… things were getting stressful.

Thankfully, I’m extremely lucky to have an understanding manager who relieved a lot of that stress by letting me work from home, and Gavin has enough holidays to be able to look after the other half of the week. It was multi-tasking at a new level. Answering emails whilst wiping a face. Taking phone calls while cutting toast into triangles, and definitely not into squares. Dealing with work queries whilst dealing with various types of rashes that kept appearing on each child… essentially activating the two main parts of myself – the mother me and the work me – working each job in the same place at the same time. The feeling of being pulled in two opposite directions at exactly the same time.

And I’ll repeat – in the grand scheme of things, it’s just life. These things will happen, these types of weeks will come along. I’m thankful it wasn’t anything more serious of course. But that doesn’t mean I should just shrug it off and pretend I didn’t feel like I was really up against it, and really feeling under pressure.

Exhaustion, frustration, stress and worry were the main reasons behind the tears, but also the feeling that I’m inadequate in conflicting ways –

inadequate at being a mother because despite the boys having to be at home, I also had to work, and inadequate at my job because although I had to perform my duties, I also had to be their mother.

And it’s hard.

I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that I’m allowed to find it hard. I’m allowed to take a moment and feel sorry for myself – more than that – I think it’s really important to do it, acknowledge it. Throw in the fact that we haven’t had  much sleep to speak of all week, the fact that I’m most certainly coming down with something myself now, the fact that the commute was extra crappy this week with a two hour delay getting home.. all these little things chipping away and any sense of control I have over things normally.

So yesterday I cried. But also… I did it. I eventually got home last night after that disastrous commute, I got inundated with cuddles and hugs from the boys and from Gavin too that almost made the long delays worth it! I tucked them into bed and I put my feet up and – although tempted by a nice cold glass of Guinness! – had a cup of tea instead and figured I deserved to treat myself to something nice. So I did.

Today, the week continues and we discovered that Rian has also managed to catch the Hand Foot & Mouth virus from his little brother – let’s face it, it was probably inevitable – and so it means a weekend ahead of being housebound. It’s the week that keeps on giving – yes it is hard, and we’ve no doubt another few sleepless nights ahead until they’re virus free – but it was the week that made me realise that yes, the obligation of that working mother is that I will have to work as if I don’t have children, and be their mother as if I don’t have a job.

But at least I’ve learned that I can do it.

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To Alex, who is T W O!

{Part 1 of 2}

Over the last four, and last two years, these boys have brought so much happiness to us, the sheer joy they bring each and every day is beyond words. To hear them say the word ‘Mama’ and know it’s me they’re addressing is just the best sound in the world. I am so lucky.

So to celebrate them, and their birthdays, I’ve written each of them a post of their own. Also, as they change so fast and little things they do and like now will be gone in no time, I wrote it to help me remember years from now what they were like at two and four!

First up is our beautiful little Alex…Happy Birthday munchkin!

Friday, October 28, 2016

We all thought you were going to be a girl. People kept telling me, they could ‘feel’ it. That they could tell by looking at you as Bump – it was high/low/in the middle, so all those things meant you were going to be a girl apparently. We started to believe it, so much so we arrived to the hospital on the day you were scheduled to be born ( slightly early at 37 weeks – a story for another day), with two names on our shortlist, and neither of them meant for a baby boy.

Hospital bound to meet Alex!

At the Coombe hospital on the morning of the 28th of October, in the little room we waited in before the surgeon was ready for us, I was sitting in the hospital gown with your Dad. He picked up a paper to read and I looked down at you in Bump form, and put my hands on either side. I thought about how this was probably the last time I’d get to have a minute with you like this, before we met you in the flesh. When it was just you and me. Your pregnancy was different to Rian’s – already I could see some differences between you both. I watched my bump move as you moved around, maybe you knew it was time to wake up and that we were about to meet you soon. I closed my eyes and felt you move in my belly, and focused on it and tried to tell you how much you were loved already, and that hopefully the birth would all go well and I’d be able to hold you soon. I made a point of remembering the sounds around me, and the smells; an important moment in  my life was about to happen, a defining moment. My baby was about to be born, and my body was about to be my own again. Somewhere in those few minutes I decided that you’d be named Alex, I must have known you already that you weren’t going to be the girl everyone else was expecting. Alex Moran was a beautiful, good strong name I decided. I said it to your Dad – he liked it a lot but wondered if Sean or Ollie might be better suited. We decided we’d think about it in a while, you’d probably be a girl anyway.

Less than an hour later, the surgeon held you up and we saw you for the first time. Such a tiny little thing, so amazingly beautiful! You were ours. Your Dad leaned in and said, ‘he looks like an Alex’. There you were.

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Alex Peter Moran, born at 11.44am

Two years on, and the only things that haven’t changed about you are the beautiful little dimple in the corner of your cheek and the way your face beams when you smile. For six full months you just slept, and fed, and cuddled and slept again. We thought we had struck it lucky with a sleeping baby – but then just as we were almost smug about how easy  you were, at six months you woke up and that was the end of the quiet little Alex! Suddenly, we met the mischievous you – a twinkle appeared in your eye and your spirit of adventure arrived with a bang. You were fiercely independent, wanting to always catch up with your big brother Rian. No high chair for Alex, no help with being fed. You demanded to sit on a chair at the kitchen table; you were so small you couldn’t see over the top, all we saw were pudgy little hands feeling around for the food to shove into pudgy drooly little cheeks! No more cot for Alex, as soon as you saw Rian climbing into the top bunk of your new beds, that was the end of that. You launched yourself into your bottom bunk, looking so tiny in the big mass of your first duvet!

And now you’re turning two, and it’s as if we always had you. But who is our Alex, this amazing little person in our lives, who only two years ago, was yet to be known?

Your first word was ‘Cheers!’ except it sounds more like ‘sheeershh’ as you clink your sippy cup with our glass at dinner, delighted with yourself. One of the first thing you learned to do was a fist pump – cutesy baby waves are not your style!

You chase your brother around to tickle/torture/blow raspberries on his belly, before falling around laughing with the cheekiest little laugh like you know you’re up to no good. Sometimes you chase him around just to hug him too – already you two are a team.

Rian showed you one day how to take off your own nappy, which you particularly love doing at 6am on a Sunday morning before making us run after you to catch you before you need to ‘go’ all over something. You carry two toy cows around with you sometimes, although most of the time they stand quietly on the shelf beside your bed, just keeping a quiet eye on you! But you seem happier when they’re there so we won’t argue. Woody is your favourite toy.  Sometimes when you’re asleep you accidentally pull on the string and we hear ‘WHERE’S MY TRUSTY STEED BULLSEYE?!’ bellowing from your bedroom in the middle of the night, almost giving us heart failure. That’s always fun! Doug is your best friend to snuggle into at night, a pink turtle with big eyes that once belonged to your Auntie Linda.

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Doug the turtle, Woody and a Cow – Alex’s bedtime friends

Your favourite song for ages was ‘You’re Welcome’ from Moana, always prompting  you to have a little dance around the kitchen whenever you heard it. Then you loved ‘Remember Me’ from Coco, and every so often when I sing it to you at night time, you sing along before tucking Doug under your arm and rolling over, blond wispy curls sticking up at various angles only highlighted by the chink of light coming into your room from the landing, before drifting off to sleep.

You’re a little man with a big appetite! You love broccoli- long may that last! – and sometimes when you’re having your dinner you store food in your big pudgy cheeks like a beaver, and munch away on it long after the meal has ended. So far we haven’t really discovered any food you don’t like. Just like your Daddy!

Your favourite books are What the Ladybird Heard and The Baby Monster which has a purple fluffy toy attached that you hug and kiss as the story progresses! You’re extremely cute.

Hearing you giggle from the teepee in your bedroom with your hands over your eyes as you think we can’t see you is the funniest thing! It’s your favourite game, and I think it might be mine too.

Alex we can’t wait to see what the next year will bring, to see all the things you’ll learn and all the things you’ll teach us too. You make us happier than we ever thought possible – we love you!

Alex with his favourites

Boys Don’t Cry & Other Gender Stereotypes

{Also features on The M Word }

It was in the news this week that Keira Knightly has decided to ban her three year old daughter from watching some Disney movies because of the message they send to young girls. Naturally, as we see with most parenting-related news items along these lines it causes a little debate, with some feeling it’s all going a bit far now, and others feeling she’s completely right and it’s not going too far at all.

Which side of the fence do I place myself? If ‘Too PC’ is the right side, and ‘G’wan Keira’ is the left side, I’d say I’m firmly placed a bit to the left of the middle of the fence..!
I think, if I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t place an all-out ban on the movies, BUT, I probably wouldn’t actively encourage them either. Full disclosure – Rian, who is about to turn four, has seen the Little Mermaid numerous times (which is one of the movies Keira mentions) – it was a much-loved movie in our house with my sisters and I as kids, and ironically I wanted to show it to him because it’s deemed as a ‘princess’ movie and therefore, by society’s standards, only for girls. On this vein, Frozen is another hit with him and more recently with Alex too – he loves Sven the moose and will happily go around the house singing ‘for the first time in foreeeeverrrr!’

And I love that. But you won’t find any Frozen toys or t-shirts in the boys’ section of the shops.

However, with that in mind, overall I understand and probably agree with Keira’s reasoning for placing the ban for her daughter, and it has now made me rethink whether showing these movies to my boys might be such a good idea. I really don’t think it’s too PC – so much of the issues towards how we view and treat women and girls are so subconsciously ingrained within us as a bias whether we even realise it or not – that’s all of us, men and women. And we all know that this really needs to change. So when I think about it, movies with these messages about women needing to be saved by men surely have to play their part.

I watched a really interesting documentary on the BBC last year where they showed how studies prove that toys we give young babies and kids will help determine their overall skillset. For example, because logic-based toys are usually more targeted towards boys, like Lego / construction type of things, this will help them to develop skills in these areas. Girls are seen as more empathetic and in tune with their emotions and toys aimed towards them, like dolls, encourage nurturing behaviours. Nowadays people are more conscious of it so it’s thankfully improving and things are becoming less gender biased, or at least it’s much more accepted that boys can play with dolls and girls can play with tractors, as examples. But look at any toy shop and you’ll often see a clear divide of pink and blue.

Traditionally, girls are given pink ‘beautiful’ sparkles and boys are given blue ‘brave’ adventures and so this is what they are taught as correct gender behaviour, and importantly, attitude.

The documentary showed the audience how these ideas are embedded into us, so as we grow up they subconsciously affect how we see the world, giving us bias for and against our peers, across both genders.

When my boys were born I made a conscious decision to try my best not to gender-stereotype them with their clothes and toys. I would not restrict them from wearing something pink, and I wouldn’t only dress them in blue. I think if I had had a daughter I’d have gone a step further and almost avoided dressing her in pink – in my opinion the girls’ clothes are generally awful when you look closely at them. Although I have to admit, I detested being put into dresses as a kid, and I hated playing with dolls too. I’m sure this is having an influence on my dislike now for girls pink sparkly clothing, but I still strongly dislike the message they send.

Go into any kid’s clothes shop and look around – once you notice it once you’ll always see it. The girls will be pink of course – maybe some pastel colours too. If there are slogans or images they will usually centre around ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’ or somehow reference looks. There’ll be an abundance of sparkles and glitter and unicorns.
Over on the boy’s side you’ll see almost all blue / grey and black clothes. Their slogans will be all about bravery, adventure, and mischievousness. ‘Catch Me if You Can’, or ‘Here Comes Trouble’. There’ll be superheroes galore.

What do you think this really teaches us, and more importantly, teaches our kids?

If you really think about it. At first it might seem so casual, even a bit ridiculous, worrying about a simple t-shirt slogan. But add all of the pieces together and this is the message we are sending to kids, and it stays with them as they grow up. Not just boys or girls, but everyone.

If, as kids grow older and they can start choosing their own toys, and what they wear, and they WANT to be in pink sparkles or blue adventurous things, then that’s fine. I’m certainly not saying I would enforce anything or block anything at that point, there is no right or wrong if it’s their own choice – because the main thing is – it’s all about doing and being whatever it is you want to do or be. Not what society dictates we should be purely based on our gender.

I want so much for my boys to be feminists – but more than that. I want them to not even NOTICE a need for equality for everyone. I want them to JUST BE EQUAL. Not congratulate themselves if they, for example, are happy to play soccer with girls, thinking they are doing the girls a favour. Or feel they are being ‘in touch with their feminist side’ if they want to wear something pink, but I want them to just DO it and not even notice that it’s a thing.

So back to The Little Mermaid… I’m a bit stuck now between wanting to show my boys that they can happily watch and enjoy ‘girly princess’ movies whenever they want as is their right, but, what if showing them the decidedly un-feminist nature of women needing to be rescued by men and men alone teaches them the wrong message in the first place?

That is the question.

Parenting: Outwit, Outlast, Outplay

As a Mother every so often I get all deep and philosophical and wonder.. What IS Parenting? What does it MEAN to be a mother? What is that sticky thing on my jumper?!

I’ll never know how things stay so constantly sticky (although I’ve learned to accept it), but I think I have figured out what it is to be a parent. The meaning of Motherhood. What I strive to achieve each day of their glorious little lives.

I have come to the realisation that most of my parenting day is trying to find ways of outwitting mini humans. Two little people, one who thinks if he covers his eyes I can’t see him, and the other who thinks farting in the bath is the funniest thing since time began . . yes, I spend my day trying to outwit them.

And what’s worse, is that I feel smug about it when I pull it off. I’m 37 years old! Rian is almost FOUR! I think things like ‘Bahahahahahahaha HA you lose!’ when I successfully manage to distract one from something I didn’t want him to do. Or when I manage to eat a biscuit in the same building as them without them noticing. I’m surprised nobody has taken either of them off to some lab somewhere for extensive research into their supersonic hearing capabilites – these two can hear a wrapper opening from 100 paces. Not only that, but their supersonic travel capabilities upon hearing said wrapper, appearing at your side at alarming speed DEMANDING to know what is it? What’s in your mouth? What’s in your hand?  ‘What you have, Mama?’

Nothing sweetheart it’s nothing, just a bit of…. broccoli! For ages I thought I deserved the honour of becoming Outwitting Champ of the World when I told Rian that all of the things I didn’t want him eating were spicy, because he doesn’t like spicy food. So for a while it was so liberating – I could eat whatever I wanted and look at him regretfully and tell him it was spicy. No questions asked – he looked at me through squinted eyes now and then, as if suspicious that his loving trusting mother would lie to him, but he moved on and went about his daily business making things generally sticky around the house. However, sometime over the last couple of months, something has changed. I don’t know where he’s getting his information from, maybe we have a mole living in our midst, but now he has started to question me. ‘Oh no no Rian you wouldn’t like this horrible Jaffa Cake. It’s very very spicy’. Squinty eyes. ‘It’s spicy eh? LET ME TRY SOME AND SEE MAMA’. Game over.

The problem is, I’ve now met my best match, twice. It’s basically me, trying to outwit smaller versions of me! They’ve inherited all my best moves, I’ve passed on all my shiniest pearls of wisdom. They know what I’m up to, sometimes before I even know myself! Arguing with Rian one day in some restaurant about something I can’t remember now, but 5 full minutes into intense negotiations with him and I suddenly couldn’t help laughing as it dawned on me, I’m negotiating with a mini male version of myself. What hope have I got?!

So the Outwit, Outlast war rages on. Like any good stealth combat type soldier I will always try and stay one step ahead, always stay focused, don’t let them see my weaknesses! Always remembering though, you win some, you lose some. And I have to admit, on the days I lose, at least I can look myself in the eye and say to myself, I taught them well.

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Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash