Elf on The Shelf – Thanks, But No.

{Also published on The M Word }

People who know me, know that I love Christmas. Actually, it’s the run up to Christmas that I particularly love – the planning, the choosing of gifts, the atmosphere and the excitement. I even have a ‘wrapping theme’ every year where I’ll carefully choose what paper and accessories I use to wrap my presents! Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous but I love it. Once all the shopping is done, I’ll pick an evening and put on a Christmas movie and sit on the floor in the sitting room and happy wrap and stick and accessorise with ribbons and bits of holly etc – according to the theme of course!

And it’s even better now with our two boys, Rian has just turned four and this is the first year where he’s really getting a good concept of Santa, and the excitement of it all, it already feels magical. Seeing it through their eyes again is as good as seeing it new myself, all the memories of my own childhood Christmasses. When I look back at them, for the most part I don’t really even remember what the toys were, I just remember the magic of it all. Being so sure we could hear Rudolph landing on the roof, holding up the half chewed carrot the next morning in wonder that THE Rudolph and really ACTUALLY TOUCHED this carrot!! Amazing!

Why am I telling you all this? Well, to illustrate that this is the sort of Christmas person I am – a certified Christmas fanatic. So with that in mind, I even surprise myself a bit by not buying into the whole idea of the Elf on the Shelf.

Why? Well, for a couple of reasons.

First up – he just looks creepy. There’s nothing appealing about it to me at all – he looks like a doll you’d see in a horror movie. The way he’s kind of looking to the side with that odd little smile… it’s unnerving! I don’t like the look of him. He doesn’t evoke a cutesy image of a typical Santa elf, elves are usually more cuddly looking or something aren’t they? Kind of like Doc from the seven dwarfs…? Anyone…?! No, just me then…! Regardless, this fella definitely looks like he’s up to no good.

Which brings me to my second reason. That’s probably the whole point, looking like he’s up to no good. The idea is that he gets moved around each night, and gets up to mischief, so the kids will wake up and find him somewhere new, and of course I can see how that’s exciting and magical for them, of course I do.

But the effort!

I’m all about Christmas magic and excitement but the thought of having to come up with 24 different imaginative things for this elf to do,and then on top of all the other jobs we have already to have to remember each night to carry it out… it just isn’t something that screams fun to me.

My third reason, is that I really don’t need to spend all of December, whenever I open Facebook, to have to scroll through all the elves who have spent their nights throwing breakfast cereal all over the kitchen floor,or rubbing toothpaste all over the bathroom mirror – or getting stuck in toilet bowls or whatever hilarious situation he might find himself in!

However, for me, the main reason I don’t like it is that some kids are told that the whole purpose of the elf is that he keeps an eye on things, and can report back to Santa if behaviour isn’t up to scratch. Similar to the ‘Santa Cam’ CCTV setup, it basically tells the kids that they’re being watched constantly, and if they put one step out of line, Santa will hear about it.

That whole concept just doesn’t sit well with me – I don’t want the boys associating Santa with any form of anxiety for any reason whatsoever. I don’t want to essentially threaten them that if they’re not good boys then Santa won’t arrive. I don’t like the idea that they couldn’t be their normal selves at home for fear of an elf watching them…!

Of course I’m fully aware that Santa himself allegedly watches you… ‘ he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake’, as the song happily tells us each year. But I stand by my opinion of the elf –there’s something more final or concrete, or just basically more certain with an actual physical elf (albeit inanimate!) sitting on a shelf, watching you and reporting you, with his weird sideways beady little eyes looking off knowingly as if to say, ‘ I just saw that, and I’m gonna tell on you!’

No thanks.

So there’ll be no elf on our shelves this year, or any other year. Bah Humbug? Maybe… maybe I’m not all about Christmas as much as I like to think! But one thing I know is I’ll be glad when I’m falling into bed at the end of a long day, and won’t be having a last minute panic about having forgotten to move some creepy looking elf into some non-hilarious magical position of mischief!

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…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.

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

Let’s Talk About Emotions

{Also published on The M Word }

I’ll be clear from the start: Most of the time, I’ve NO IDEA how to handle this situation.

But now that we’ve established our three-year-olds are essentially walking bundles of emotional confusion, what can we do to help them – and ourselves – get through it? Well, here’s what I’ve discovered on my quest to find out.

Last summer, when Rian was two and that all important half, I started seeing that he was randomly slapping other kids, for no apparent reason other than, ‘they’re toddlers, sometimes they just do that’, as people explained when I asked about it, and what I could do about it. It was quite stressful, if he did it to kids we knew, or kids we didn’t know, all I could do was apologise and try and make it clear to Rian in that moment that we do not slap people..however, during some research into it and how to handle it properly, I came across a recommendation for a book called The Colour Monster. Sold.

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Sniffy & The Colour Monster

The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas is a book about identifying emotions for children.

Any research I did about the slapping incidents, or major meltdowns in general which were starting to become more frequent, all told me what we already know – they don’t call them the Terrible Twos or Threenagers etc for nothing. Toddlers don’t know what the emotions they’re feeling are, or how to manage them.

To be fair, and perfectly honest, a lot of the time I find it hard to control MY emotions (specifically, impatience and temper), so how can I expect a two or three year old to be able to do it?

My research also explained how emotional intelligence is something that ideally should be taught from a very young age so that we can learn to control and understand how we feel in lots of situations, not just as kids, but as adults too. So I figured it was worth a shot.

When the book arrived, we started reading it for our bedtime stories. It’s a quick book, a line or two per page with really lovely illustrations. It takes you through five emotions: Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Calm. It assigns a colour to each emotion and explains that sometimes you can feel lots of things at once, when all your ‘colours’ feel all mixed up.

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After a few reads, Rian knew all the words. The slapping continued every now and then, and all I could really do was intervene each time and firmly explain why we don’t slap other people. Of course it was still stressful and I went through all the usual worry of, am I doing this wrong?

Tantrums are par for the course and so they continued, and still happen – in fact we just had one about an hour ago (side note, he’ll be four soon enough… they stop at four, right??!!). But what started to change was that he was identifying how he felt… and I’m no expert, but I think this is the important bit.

For example, just the other night, Alex merely sat on my lap to read a book, so naturally by his three-year-old logic, this was deemed as a valid reason for Rian to have a big meltdown. At the height of a tantrum, (on the days I manage to keep myself calm too – let’s be completely honest; it’s not easy), I just weather the storm and wait for it to pass. Once it does, I ask does he want to cuddle for a minute. Sometimes he does, and other times, its as if nothing had ever happened… like a switch flicking from complete chaos to complete calm..!

But on the days where he takes up my offer of a cuddle, I talk to him about it. This is where The Colour Monster comes into it and where I’ve found it an amazing help.

I started noticing that he’d tell me he was feeling like ‘The Red Colour Monster’ when he was angry. Another day he came over to me, and out of nowhere just asked for a cuddle because he felt ‘like the Blue Colour Monster’. Another time he asked me if I was happy ‘like the Yellow Colour Monster?’… and so I knew that he was at least learning to identify each emotion with a label, to recognise each one and differentiate between them.

Now I’m no expert, maybe this would have happened anyway as he got over each stage of development, I don’t know. But the book most certainly helped us talk about it in a way he could easily understand and picture in his mind. So back to the other night when he had a tantrum over Alex sitting on my lap, without me even asking him he walked over, got the book, opened it on the Red page and told me ‘This is how I feel Mama!’

Thankfully, the slapping phase is over, can’t say I’m looking forward too much to Alex getting to this stage, with any luck he’ll skip it altogether… yeah I won’t hold my breath! But if you’re reading this and are nodding along knowingly, in the same boat, then I can’t recommend this book enough. There’s a similar one too by Dr Seuss called My Many Coloured Days – we came across this one a while after The Colour Monster, and I really liked it too but we had already gotten to know The Colour Monster so I just stuck with that one.

I don’t think there’s a ‘too early’ stage, Rian was two and a half when I bought it – if they’re sitting long enough to look at books for any length of time, then give it a go. Go forth and unravel that little bundle of confusion!

Anyway, don’t forget, the very second you happen to figure out one confusing phase, they’ll leave you behind,  move on to the next one and you can start all over again…

The Guilt Factor

Each morning, Monday to Friday, for the last 10 minutes of my commute to work just before I walk into the office building, I try and FaceTime the boys for a chat, especially on mornings where they are asleep when I’m leaving the house and I haven’t seen them yet. Alex usually blows me kisses and babbles very important things at me. Rian, more often than not doesn’t want to talk. This morning though, when I was having chats with Alex, in the background he said: ‘ I don’t want to talk to Mama on the phone, I want to talk to her here!’.

For a moment I considered turning around and going straight back home again, giving him a hug and telling him I’ll never leave him. But I can’t, because I have to go to work – and I want to go to work too – and at the end of the day, the bills need to get paid. So I felt the usual pang of guilt that I usually feel a few times a day, except a bit worse than usual because he had said that, and finished my gurgley chat with Alex and headed towards my desk, feeling pretty crap about myself as a mother.

If I had the freedom to choose, I don’t think I would choose to be a full time stay at home mother, I just know it wouldn’t be for me. Part time would be my ideal option, because at same time, I want to be with them all the time too. It’s that very tricky, ever elusive, perfect balance.

Guilt is something I became familiar with very early on, in fact, since the start of my first pregnancy. We are IVF parents, very very lucky ones at that, our treatment worked. So it was a bit of a surprise to me that I didn’t particularly enjoy being pregnant – extremely grateful yes, of course, but pregnancy for me was months of nausea, vomiting, swollen feet, extreme heartburn… ok my hair got a bit thicker and softer and my skin looked nice and almost glowy (possibly from the hot flushes!) for a while but even that catches up with you after the baby is born and your hair falls out and you’re left with these mad sticky outy bits all over your head while it grows back to normal again…!! Aaand breathe…! So no, if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy being pregnant for the most part. Appreciative, yes, and lots of it I did love and cherish – the feeling of Bump moving around or kicking, but not really any of the rest of it.

Anyway back to the point… so I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, it was tough. I felt guilty about that because of our IVF and I thought of all the women who would swap places with me in a heartbeat because I used to be that woman too. And of course the moment they’re born you’re guilty all the time, am I doing this right, did I do that wrong?

When I went back to work after Rian’s maternity leave, the guilt was immense. How could I leave him every day, why was I working for a major chunk of my wages to pay someone else to see all of his ‘firsts’? And it only got worse, after I had Alex I thought I would be prepared for how it would feel to go back to work, but in fact it was worse again because what I wasn’t prepared for was Rian being old enough now to ask me, after a year of being home, ‘Mama, where are you going? Why won’t you stay here with me?’

It was very hard. I questioned myself a lot at the return to work last year. Why am I doing this?? Oh yes, then I remembered, I just don’t have the choice.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Is there a way to come to terms with this guilt or are we just destined to never be happy whatever the situation is – whether we give up work and stay at home, or if we choose not to stay at home?

I thought a lot last year about whether I wanted to give up work, assuming we could afford it and I could stay at home. It would be tight, but I think if we cut back enough we could probably get by on one wage. And is it even fair to assume that it would be me who stays home, what if their Dad wanted to stay home? I admit that thought didn’t even occur to me at the start. But even if I did stay home, I think the guilt would still find me anyway, and make me think about other things – can we afford to save for their college fund? Can we afford to give them all the things we want to?

And the other thought is – really the main reason I don’t want to give up my job – what will I do when they’re older and not as dependent on me? What if I want to go back to work then, when they’re off to school, and I have a five or six year gap on my CV – it’s hard enough going back after maternity leave,  your confidence is shaken a lot, or at least mine was. So a big gap, for me, would be very intimidating. So is it selfish of me to not want to be in that situation, to not want to sacrifice my career? Does that mean I’m a bad mother? And the guilt factor starts again.

Being a working mother, it sneaks up on you on a regular basis. When a work commitment clashes with an event at their creche or playschool, and we’re faced with missing it. Guilt. At Rian’s playschool Sport’s Day back in June, I took the day off work. Within the first ten minutes, three other mothers had mentioned to me that they hadn’t realised that our childminder, who they see every day dropping off and collecting Rian, wasn’t in fact his mother. Ouch.

Recently, our childcare situation  changed, and I was forced again to consider all of these points. I really struggle to come to some sense of peace with the fact that I’m gone all day from them. Today was their first day in a creche – Alex in particular has never been minded outside his own home until today – and I wasn’t there to drop them off. Guilty. They’re fine of course – the staff are amazing and sent me little updates and photos of them happily playing away, but my guilty mind goes into overdrive and I wonder what will they think of these decisions I’m making now when they’re all grown up? Will they think I’m selfish? Will they resent the fact that I ‘chose’ to leave them with someone other than me while I ‘chose’ not to give up my career? Ultimately, I suppose I’m thinking – how will they judge me? Am I ruining their childhood?!

I don’t know how to make the guilt go away, but I have decided to make some rules for myself.

  • I am not a bad mother. I am doing my best, along with everyone else. Yes, I go to work for myself because I enjoy it, but also of course so that I can give them everything I possibly can not just now but later in life too. I’m doing my best, and I have to tell myself that my best IS good enough.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives – instead I will focus on the times I am there. Their little faces when they see me coming through the door each evening, and the fun we can have all weekend. It makes me more grateful and appreciative of those times.
  • Most importantly of all: I make it my mission that they know they are loved. I know they know. And once they know that, I know I’m not failing completely.

Whatever way I look at it, mother guilt is here to stay, no matter what type of mother you are. There’s no point in questioning why we beat ourselves up over it, but in the end all I can suggest is that we get off our own backs, get off our own cases, and make the most of whatever situation we’re in. Guilt is not a choice, but how we deal with it certainly is.