…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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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…

How To Survive.. The Toddler Vomiting Bug

Also features on The M Word

There’s loads of things nobody warns you about when you’re waddling around with your Bump all glowy and dreamy and planning your perfect white Pinterest worthy nursery.
Put down that white fluffy rug with the matching white fluffy cushion for your nursing chair, Mama. Seriously, put them back. Don’t mind that sales girl, IT WILL NOT STAY WHITE. Or fluffy. Why?
Well, because it will get Babied and Toddlered, but also, because it is inevitable, at some point, the vomiting bug will find your toddler.
It will not be pretty. But you can do this! You turned that Bump into a Baby didn’t you, if you can do that, you can do anything!

Day 1
You wake up, all seems fine. Toddler or mini human in question decides today is the day they are going to happily eat EVERYTHING you put in front of them, and more. More scrambled egg, darling? Sure! I’ll even slather extra buttery butter on some toast for you too. A glass of milk, my precious? Of course, here, have two. What could possibly go wrong?

All continues to seem fine as they wolf down food as if they haven’t been fed for a week, the more dairy based, gloopy, puke inducing the better. It’s as if they know. I’m convinced they do but that’s a story for another day… crafty little feckers that they are.

Not long later though, you start to notice something is amiss. Maybe they are less energetic than normal…maybe they want more cuddles than usual… or for me, maybe they start producing nappies from the pit of hell in rapid succession. Looking back, I realise now I should have known what was heading my way, in fairness, he’s my second child so I’ve met the vomiting bug a handful of times now. Let’s hope my kids are faster learners than I seem to be.

So anyway, a handful of horrific nappies later, I’m already traumatised and fearful for the next 12-24 hours of parenthood and what lurks ahead, so I decide to issue a house-wide Orange Alert. This is the stage you might want to change out of your nice top, put away your nice cushions, roll up that nice white fluffy rug you ended up buying anyway because of pregnancy nesting hormones.

Keep a beady eye on your toddler and watch out for a change in temperament. Keep a suitable vessel nearby at all times just in case your worst fears are confirmed – I find the basin from the toy Ikea kitchen very useful – he’s familiar with it so it won’t make him think anything is wrong, it’s just a cool game with.. a basin… what’s suspicious about that, basins are cool… but also it is excellent for catching any sudden pukage.
Sometimes you can start to hear the rumblings before any fluids appear – and suddenly, just as I was wondering if that rumble was him or me (dear God am I getting it too?!!), there it was. Projectile. Vomit. Everywhere.
Upgrade monitoring system to Red Alert! It’s happening. In fairness, he got about a third of it into the basin. Could do better, but at least you weren’t wearing your nice top so that’s something.
Sob.

So here we are. The first projectile pukage has subsided for now. Poor little munchkin is just as shocked as you are – first things first, cuddle and reassure them that it’s all going to be ok. After while you wonder who you’re trying to convince more, him or yourself, but nevertheless it helps calm everyone down so just keep repeating it, it will all be ok! Depending on level of carnage, assess the crime scene and decide what needs to be cleaned first. There’s no pretty way around it. It’s everywhere. Into the bath he goes.

Now if you ask me, herein lies a gap in the Vomiting Bug market. Someone needs to invent colour coded puke. Hear me out…. imagine how handy it would be if it was colour coded so you know immediately just what it is you’re tackling here?
Are we talking a once-off puke? A 12 hour thing? A 24 hour one? An ‘I’ll puke today and then stop for a while to make you think you’re in the clear, but then start all over again’ sort of bug?? It’s the unknown that’s the worst part. Are you gonna be up all night changing sheets? Should you completely fast them? What if they get dehydrated? What if we all get it?? It’s a minefield of confusing times.

However, for now, it’s a case of battening down the hatches, get that puke cleaned up, and spend the rest of the day sorely regretting your choice of eggs and buttery butter and milk for breakfast.

Day 2

I was going to start with, ‘Wake up’, but in fact, have you even been asleep? It’s hard to tell really. What was real, and what bits were a dream?
What a night you put in. Who’d have guessed, back in the days of Pinterest Nursery Planning, that there’d be nights when you would just put them on towels to sleep on, never mind perfectly matching bedsets!! LOL at your pregnant self!

So, how are you holding up? You’re a bit on edge really, obviously tired because of the lack of sleep, if you weren’t mopping up puke and emptying the minute fraction of it that made it to the Ikea toy kitchen basin, you were lying there with one ear cocked in fearful anticipation of the now familiar noises that emerge right before the flow of vomit so you can pretend that you’ll make it there in time to catch it all in the basin.
Your hands are raw because you’ve scrubbed them clean a million times, anti-bacterial-gelled them a hundred times, along with frantically disinfecting every inch of surface in the desperation that it doesn’t spread to the other kid or kids or to yourself!

However, he hasn’t puked in a while now and God love him but he must be starving since you fasted him almost a whole day ago. Should you let him nibble on some dry toast? Look at his little face, those eyes, they’re gazing up at you begging for a bit of food… what to do, what to do. Is the bug still lurking, waiting for me to feed it so it can laugh at me while I clean up yet another round?! Seeing as nobody has yet to install the colour coded puke mode, I guess there’s only one way to find out.
Slowly and gradually and with your new best friend Basin close by, attempt re-introduction to food. Dry food. Assess situation closely. It’s a bit of a lottery really, you’ll either end up back at square one, or, maybe the end is nigh, and the light is finally at the end of that long pukey tunnel!

Rejoice.

So you made it through! Reduce alert down to Yellow status – commence boil wash of every stitch of cloth anywhere near anything, but still, be vigilant.

Sanitise everything from yourself to Basin to light switches and door handles. Get some chocolate into you, be nice to yourself, after all you’ve been through a traumatic and trying life experience! And most importantly, maybe keep that white fluffy rug all safely rolled up until, I dunno, until they move out?!

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Alex & Basin