…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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The Threenage Years

Let me start by saying, I feel slightly betrayed by my parenting predecessors. I got warned about things like sleepless nights, explosive nappies, teething, and the start of the tantrums, right up to the Terrible Twos. So you could forgive me for assuming that once we cleared those murky waters that it would be more or less plain sailing til the teenage hormones kick in.

NOT SO.

Let me introduce the Threenager. For those of you with first children under 3, or those of you lucky enough to be given children of relatively sound and logical reasoning minds, a Threenager is your worst nightmare of emotions all bundled up in one big knot lodged in the already unstable mind of a developing child. This recipe makes for very confusing times for everyone involved.

The most surprising thing about becoming a parent was just how much I have learned about myself. I used to wonder what sort of a mother I would be, promising myself I would definitely do this, and I definitely wouldn’t do that. What I wasn’t expecting was to be confronted with aspects of my own personality that I didn’t know about – and, honestly – that I don’t really like!

First up – turns out, I am not a patient person.

There is nothing, NOTHING more frustrating than trying to get a three year old to eat his dinner. It is a form of mental torture. ‘Eat your dinner….. yes haha I can see your snot; eat your dinner. No, I don’t know what kind of dinosaur that is or why he is purple, but eat your dinner. Stop licking things please, just eat your dinner. Yes, you do like it, you’ve eaten this dinner a million times, happily. EAT. YOUR. DINNER!’ … …..breathe. Repeat.

I’m sure this torturous experience must surely have been used on prisoners of war to try and break them. ‘Tell us what you know, or we’ll force you to convince this here Threenager to eat his carefully made, lovingly prepared nutritious meal.’ Ten minutes max would have done the trick. I’d have cracked anyway, in a matter of seconds! Just don’t make me try and reason with a three year old, anything but that!

Another factor in the Patience department is the sheer repetitiveness of the questions firing at you like bullets. Anything from your standard ‘Why?’ on repeat to questioning your driving skills. If we are stopped in traffic, for example ‘ Why are we stopped, why are you not driving, drive please, where are we going, why are we not driving, why are we stopped? ‘  All the way to ‘ Ok, who is driving, Mam are you driving? ‘ (he is still rear facing so can’t see which particular chauffeur is on duty ) – honestly it’s a constant interrogation designed to break you down. IT WORKS.

Temper.

It used to be easy enough to predict the temper tantrums, (not that you’ll ever understand them, LOL, silly you) –  but you can learn to predict what might kick them off. Like if you cut toast the wrong way, or if you peeled a banana the wrong way, or even if you just peeled the banana. Even if you only peeled it because they asked you to. Don’t waste your time thinking how unfair and unjust it is, just try and learn to go with it. Expect some random outbursts – once you learn to expect them that’s half the battle. Eventually you figure out the triggers of the tantrums, you even start to feel a bit smug about the fact you figured out what starts them. But then they go and change the rules again.

Sometimes all it takes is for you to walk into the room. ‘NO MAMA DON’T DO THAT OK?!’ ….’Ehhhhhh ookkkk’… and he’s off. Melt down.

Then approximately 4.2 seconds later they’re skipping up to you, hugging you telling you they love you and asking can they have chocolate for dinner. To be fair, I would love chocolate for my dinner too.

WTF you might wonder? Beats the hell out of me I’m afraid. I’m sure I wasn’t this bad when I was three; they must get it from their Dad…

Moving on – Ok, I’m just going to come out and say it: 3 year olds can be proper A**HOLES.

The main difference here between your Threenager and your Terrible-Two year old, is that the fear is gone. They don’t care what way you try and bribe them, or what you threaten to not give them. They just don’t care. In fact they’ll almost encourage you to challenge them just so that they can say it. NO!

The fear is gone and they don’t give a sh*t. It becomes a battle of wills. The worst bit is when they do it in a public place so the only weapon of armour you have is to glare forcefully at them and hope they comply. They don’t. (Side note, I’m not promoting fear as a parenting tool. I’m not for a minute suggesting anyone uses that to try and control behaviour! I just mean, they just do not care what toy they will no longer have, or what treat they will no longer earn for good behaviour. No fear!)

 

So yet again I find myself in a battle of wits with someone half my size. And half the time I seem to lose as well. To be fair, half the time I admire his tenacity, his unwillingness to just accept a situation, and I hope he fights what he perceives as unfairness with this level of passion throughout his life! But while he’s in Threenage mode, and while it’s me he’s fighting… it’s just so mentally draining!

Having a Threenager is often like carrying a mirror around, one that reflects not only a physical mini version of yourself or your other half, but one that reflects how you act, your mannerisms, things you say. I’ve asked myself ‘Where does he get that from?!’ when I hear a frustrated ‘Come ON, I don’t have time for this!’ directed at his 19 month old baby brother. Or when his Playschool teacher apparently told him ‘ We don’t shout “Jesus Christ!”‘, or my favourite, ‘Mama says it’s important to share’ when he sees anyone anywhere opening a bar of chocolate or a packet of sweets. Chancer.

So I find myself in a constant state of utter confusion, frustration and admiration all rolled into one, being around my Threenager.

However, I have come to the conclusion that it all comes down to picking your battles. This is as much a learning experience for me as it is for them. Don’t try and fight it, after much experimentation I find just to let them get on with it is the best method of defense in the almighty battle of wills. If they don’t want to eat their dinner, fine. If they want to wear some ridiculous combination of clothes, like a big woolly jumper on a hot day, fine. You know eventually they’ll eat when they’re hungry, and they’ll want to take off the big jumper when they get ‘too warmy’ as my Threenager says. The main mistake I keep making is treating them like I would treat a grown adult with developed sense of reasoning! They have none. They don’t know what these emotions are or how to use them. With this in mind, I highly recommend a read of this article which gives a nice insight to what is really going on in that three year old bundle of confusion!

And in the meantime, I shall continue on my quest of understanding my little Threenager and focus on the funny side of how his little mind works, the questions he comes out with and the little stories he tells and things he does. ‘Is that a deal?’ as he regularly asks after he has dictated to me how a situation will play out! Four isn’t too far away, there’s no cutesy little ‘Fournager’ type phrase to give me any sort of heads up about what lies ahead, is there…?

 

3yrold

 

(Thank you to my lovely friend Joanne for her brush lettering skills with this very apt quote I found online!)

 

Hello 37

Today, I turned 37.

T H I R T Y  S E V E N.

It’s not that I feel old. I remember turning 27 and for some reason, to me that age seemed like a milestone kind of age to reach. At that time, I thought I was positively heading for the proverbial hill, I saw 30 looming in the close distance and I remember thinking that was ancient. I can remember thinking, right, maybe it’s time to start thinking seriously about what it is I want to do with this life of mine.

And now for some reason, 37 is also a birthday that prompted me to stop and think, and sort of take stock. How have these last ten years flown by so fast? I used to wonder – will I settle down and get married? Will I have any children? It was impossible to think of myself adult enough to do either thing. And here I am, a 37 year old wife and mother of two young sons.

I’m really lucky to be able to say that. And I’m really proud of it too. It wasn’t exactly an easy path but as they say, the things we work hardest for bring the best rewards.

So with that in mind, now I’m 37 and hurtling at an alarming pace towards 40, I have decided that my next project will be myself. For as long as I can remember now, losing weight has been a never ending thing I want to acheive. I’ve done it, then lost it, then done it, then lost it. Then I was doing really well, then I did IVF treatment, then thankfully got pregnant. Then I had Rian, and tried again, and started doing really well again. Then more treatment, got pregnant, and here we are back at square one.

A couple of years ago, shortly after I went back to work after Rian’s maternity leave and 3 stone heavier than I was before I had him, an opportunity came my way to take part in a health programme run by a local fitness studio called True Fitness. I applied for a place on a course, where 20 spaces were available. I filled in the form, convinced I wouldn’t win a place, and congratulated myself for trying anyway and thought that was enough effort for one day. At least I tried.

To my alarm I actually did win a place on the course – and sure then I had no choice but to complete it! It petrified me. But I’m so glad I did because it was the thing that completely and forever changed my attitude to exercise, and why I want to do it regularly now. Then, we decided to try for Alex again so in a way I suppose I would say I put myself on hold for a while too.

And here we are. Life with a toddler and a newborn was full on. It still is, with a toddler and a bigger toddler. Despite getting back to regular exercise as soon as I could after our gorgeous Alex arrived, I never got back into the swing of it properly. It’s more than just losing weight – life was so busy and there were other things to focus on, I never really got back to finding myself again. It’s kind of hard to describe.

But since being back at work, things have been full on. I am convinced, the year between a baby turning 1 and 2 years of age, is the hardest one. (So far at least!) Give me the newborn stage any day. It’s tough going, of course it is. Coming up to Christmas I felt so worn out I kept finding myself skipping going to my training sessions, work was busier, I didn’t even find time for myself to write here, which has always been my way of escaping to myself for a few minutes. The ironic thing was, by skippping the training, I was only helping myself to feel more tired.

And so the New Year came around, and something in me clicked again. This is going to be my year, I will do something purely for myself. I don’t mean to make myself out to be another Mother Teresa – big deal, I had kids. So do millions of people. But I wasn’t happy in myself. That’s not to say I was unhappy in my life, far from it –  but I was piling on weight again, and with each pound I gained, I was less and less happy with myself mentally too.

And out of the blue I discovered that True Fitness were launching a Part Two for the original course I did three years ago. Pretty much straight away I put my name down again – the kickstart I needed just landed right in my lap. This time I filled in the form with no fear of what I was signing up to, in fact the opposite.

Before I even started the course this time around, I felt better. The biggest thing I learned at the very first one, which was a complete revelation to me, was that losing weight wasn’t to be my goal, but a side effect of a different goal. At the time I thought, yeah ok fine, that sounds great and all, but really I’m only here to lose the weight. But slowly I realised I wasn’t only there to lose the weight.

We constantly set goals for ourselves in life thinking if we can just reach this one thing, this one milestone, it will make us happy. But do we ever stop and wonder what we’ll do if we actually achieve it? What will we choose as the next thing to make us happy?

There’s a sort of freedom I found when I entered my thirties, which was that I discovered I give zero shits about what people think. And that just seems to strengthen as I go along. I can totally see how I’ll probably end up being a total embarassment to Rian & Alex the way everyone sometimes thought their parents were. Being uncool around their friends by insisting they consider sensible things and all that sort of stuff. They’ll be morto, I won’t give a shite!

And at the ripe old age of 37 it has finally dawned on me. I need to focus on the things I have and enjoy them, to not assume I’ll have them on my way to get the things that I think will make me ‘happy’. Even the things in life that aren’t so great – figure out ways to either make them great, or learn to accept them for what they are. And I need to do this within myself too.

So 37 years old, this will be my year. I might not make it all the way to skinny, and maybe I will. It doesn’t matter. But three weeks into the course and it has already uncovered bits of the old me. I am already so much happier in myself. This is my goal, maybe the weightloss will follow, that will be nothing but a bonus. After the last few years of IVF and then thankfully getting to grow two perfect babies, I’m taking myself back for a little while. Happy Birthday to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Circumstance vs Choice

* This post was also featured on HerFamily.ie!*

We’ve often heard someone say something along the lines of how boring life would be if everyone was the same – and it’s true. I’ve never really been the sort of person who is afraid or shy about voicing their opinion. When I was younger of course it used to matter to me a lot more about what people thought of me, or what they thought of what I did or didn’t do. But I think around the time I left my 20s I just stopped caring about it, and the freedom that brings is great.However it is still human nature to judge people…it’s just what we do whether we admit it or even know it. I like to think I can keep an open mind and not generalise people or make assumptions about them but of course I do to some degree despite my best intentions. But I’ve never come across such open judgement like the type I’ve experienced since entering baby world – and what’s worse is that it’s women judging women. Mother vs Mother.

 

When I was pregnant and still blissfully ignorant of what was ahead of me, I had all sorts of grand plans about the type of mother I would be. For example, I would certainly be breastfeeding – this was top of my list (even if at first the only reason was because it is said to help you lose a load of weight!), but it was important to me that I would breastfeed because I personally believe that’s what is best. I did my own research and reading on it and this was my personal decision. I would install sleeping and eating routines as early as possible, I would do all these brilliant and perfect parenting things to ensure I was doing my best.

 

But what I didn’t bank on was that once the baby arrived, I was given very little choice in most of these things. Almost everything I had planned, the opposite happened. I ended up having an emergency section, so that affected the skin to skin time that I had planned for after the birth. He ended up having to go up to the care unit the morning after he was born, and that affected our breastfeeding plans. He had colic, and that affected almost all our plans! At first I took it upon myself to feel guilty about all these things – most especially the breastfeeding. But the fact of the matter was that no matter how I tried to breastfeed, he had been put on a bottle with formula while he was in the care unit because of course they had to ensure he was getting what he needed, and my milk had not fully come in yet. He refused to latch on. So I expressed for the first 7 weeks or so, and he was combination fed during that time. But I found it too hard to sustain – the routine of expressing, feeding, sterilising, making up formula almost every hour coupled with the pure exhaustion of those first few weeks and the fact his colic was pretty bad meant that I eventually settled on just formula feeding him. Even writing this now to some extent I feel like I am explaining myself. Why is that? And who am I explaining myself to? Me? I felt like I was failing him.

 

I did feel guilty. Self-imposed guilt I feel it’s important to say – not one other person ever put me under any pressure to do anything a certain way. During those night time feeds while waiting for bottles to heat up or cool down or soothing the baby and rocking him to sleep I’d often take out my phone and have a look at some online groups on Facebook. I just wanted someone to tell me that it was ok to do things the way I had to do them so I could reassure myself that I was doing it all the right way. Some groups were for breastfeeding, some were general Mum type groups, there are some great groups out there for whatever section of parenting you are looking for information on. But some of them made me feel worse. The judgement coming from them was shocking! I had thought we were all on the same team, but it turns out that for some, we’re not. There are breastfeeders vs formula feeders. Co-sleepers vs Separate Room Sleepers. Soothe to Sleep vs Cry-It-Out. And I also should point out that it was the same amount of judgement going in both directions of each argument. One of the most contentious and judgey groups was one for sleep training. One poor mother obviously desperately exhausted had posted that she felt her only option was to let the baby cry for a while. She was vilified by some of the members – it’s nothing short of bullying. Once I saw the reaction she got I left a lot of the groups. Who needs that on top of everything else?

 

Somewhere in the midst of this self-imposed guilt I came across a piece online written by a new mother. She pointed out that some people do things by choice and some by circumstance. It struck a chord with me and I remember thinking – Nail.On.Head! Reading that made me realise that I should be proud of how I was coping because in fact they were not my decisions. They were not my choice – they were my circumstances.

 

Why do we feel it’s ok to make assumptions on how other mothers choose to do things? For that matter, why do we even assume that it’s their choice in the first place? Why did one woman look at me one day in a coffee shop while she was breastfeeding her child and I was making up a formula for mine – did I imagine that look of pity or disgust she just gave me? Perhaps the look was a result of my own paranoia born from my own guilt. Or perhaps it was real. Do I make that judgement of other women? I certainly hope not.

 

Despite the negative experience I found with many online groups, my biggest source of support was – and still is – a group which also started online. The November 2014 Babies group was founded when we all discovered we were due our babies at the same time, girls from all over the country found eachother online, and from there we eventually ended up with a group on WhatsApp where we still chat to eachother daily. And let me tell you – they are the best bunch of girls with the best support, friendship and laughs I could ever need to help me figure out how to be a mother. As a rule women need to remember that we are all on the same team: Team Mother, and we are all doing a fantastic job in our own ways based on the circumstances we find ourselves in.