The Making of Memories

{Featured on MummyPages.ie}

Someone asked me recently what my earliest memory was…the very first thing I ever remember happening. It is a memory from when I was around 3 years old, and I only know I was that age because I remember being in the kitchen of the house we lived in at the time, which we moved from when I was 4 . There were blue walls I think, and I was sitting at the table eating breakfast. The sun was coming in through the window and I can see my Mam at the kitchen sink, I remember she was wearing a long skirt and she’s singing a song. I want to say it’s ‘You Are My Sunshine’, but honestly I’m not sure if it was that, or if I just think it was because that’s what I sing to my two boys. Maybe that’s why I started singing it to them… that bit has got mixed up in my mind but anyway, that’s the memory.

And now that Rian is almost three, it dawned on me that any of these days might turn into his earliest first memory that will stick with him. So I suppose it’s kind of like when you know there’s a speed check up ahead, and you want to be on your best behaviour in case you get caught. What if his memory decides to pick the day I’m cross with him, or the very moment I crack under the pressure, lose my patience, and shout?! So I’m trying extra hard to keep it calm and channel my inner Mary Poppins (although, side note, I adore that film, but I’m not sure why we hold Mary Poppins in such high childcare esteem when you think what she actually did with those kids. Jumped into paintings, entered them into a horse race without even a helmet in sight, floated to the ceiling in some random old man’s house, managed to get them lost in the middle of London on their own chasing after a homeless woman feeding pigeons, dancing on roofs and leaping up and down chimneys…but who am I to judge!)

So it’s kind of a big responsibility. Not just the first memory, but all the core memories. We’re responsible for the childhood of two people…that’s a serious responsibility. You don’t really think of these things on a day to day basis, most of the time it’s just getting dinners cooked and kids washed and hoping we all get a night of uninterrupted sleep and things like that. We make an effort do do things with them, things that involve investing time. Playing games with them, making things with them, involving them in the cooking and baking things, going for walks and all those sorts of activities, nothing unusual there.

As a full-time working mother, or as I prefer to say, an outside-the-home working mother, I’m plagued with constant guilt and always questioning myself about whether I should be leaving them. Missing little day to day things, the things that  inevitably add up to big parts of who they are. It’s not easy, but it’s something I just have to deal with. So I ask myself, how can I make it work? How can I make sure that the memories they have that will stand out won’t be of the days when I’m at work?

All I can come up with is to make sure that the time we do have together is full of fun and happy things. Of course there’ll be the day to day things, but I want them to grow up and remember things like us all baking something together. Or reading books together, or painting pictures. Going for walks to hunt for the Gruffalo (in our house, this seems to be the most fun an almost three year old can have!) The more I think about it, the more I realise that I’m no different in wanting these things just because I leave the house to go to work. Does every mother have the same guilt regardless of whether they work outside or if they stay at home and work there every day? Probably. We all just want those core memories to light up yellow (ever since I saw Inside Out this is how I picture it!), and stay stored in a cosy little corner of their minds and hearts forever.

And some days, I know it’s working. Recently my heart almost exploded when I saw Rian playing with ‘Sniffy’, his favourite can’t-sleep-without-him soft toy. Sniffy got flung to the other side of the room, presumably trying to fly, but he landed kind of awkwardly. Rian went over, picked him up and asked, ‘You ok Sniffy?’ Then tucked him into his neck as if Sniffy was a tiny baby, stood there and sang to him ‘You Are My Sunshine’….

I get it wrong a lot of the time, I know I do. But when these little moments appear that show me that sometimes I’m also getting it right, at least getting it the way I’ve chosen, well, there’s just nothing better. Maybe it is possible to work away from the home and not see them all day every day, and still create those all important core pieces of comfort, happiness, security, home…love.

 

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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.