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The other night Pickles was going to be singing his little heart out at his first Christmas Carols night. So we went along with Pords and The Third, as well as my ever-present support crew (my parents).
At one point, I was selling candles to help fundraise for the school, my husband was cooking the barbecue, and my parents were with the kids. My mum called me over and said that we would be forgiven for not helping out this time around, with three very small people in tow and sleep deprivation to boot. She said she and dad had spent years and years on Parents and Friends Committees and it was a thankless task (or, rather, a million thankless tasks).
I’ve been turning that over in my head ever since. It’s devastating to me that my parents don’t know how much it meant to me to have them so involved in my school and the events that made up my childhood.
The sense of community and belonging inspired by their tireless generosity were hugely formative in my upbringing. I want my husband and I to participate, despite the fact that we don’t really have the time or energy, because of how wonderful it was for me to see my own parents involved. No one really has the time or energy, but someone’s got to do it after all.
It strikes me that there must be a multitude of little things like this in different families. Maybe a parent doesn’t think their child appreciates the long hours they work to provide for them, or the effort they put into choosing and preparing healthy food every day, or the time they spend sewing sequins onto ballet costumes, or the fatigue to the arm muscle involved in pushing a swing at the park ten thousand times. But beyond a thank you, all of these little things add up to making the child the person they are, and that they will become. The child is the embodiment of the gratitude.
But sometimes it’s nice to hear a thank you. So, Mum and Dad, if you’re reading this, thank you for everything. You are adored.
Barefoot at the beach.
Hours at the park.
Singing in the car.
Reading after dark.
The lens is rosy,
Scene is sweet.
Hard to beat.
Zoom out now / Through time and space
Another home / Another place
And there you were
And here are we.
The same but different
Exhausted parents struggle,
That other life a dream,
But happy children play around –
They run and dance and scream
And nothing here is possible
Since everything is new.
But all I want is what I had;
I want to be like you
So on we press
Though times get tough
For we have learned
That love’s enough.
You think it’s thankless.
That’s not true.
I’ll spend forever
So, after a long break in which the new baby sibling of Pickles and Pords arrived, I’m starting to emerge from the fog. Everything is just that little bit busier; just that little bit different. Well… everything except the fact that I still can never get enough peace for a quiet cup of tea!
I’m not sure if I’m going to go back to blogging and if I do, The Third will no doubt protest that he is absent from the title. But I just thought I’d explain where I’d been and apologise for disappearing for awhile.
Sometimes life with toddlers can be beyond frustrating. Then, sometimes, they can do something that makes all of the frustration melt away.
Pickles came into the kitchen where I was feeding Pords. He was dragging a sleeping bag overflowing with an assortment of items.
And he was looking exceptionally pleased with himself.
“What have you got in there, Mr Pickles?” I asked, trying not to sound too concerned.
“Things that I don’t play with anymore.” He replied. “To give away to people who don’t have lots of stuff.”
I was astonished. When I had suggested this activity a few weeks ago, he had been rather vehemently opposed. He’d obviously been mulling it over.
“That’s a wonderful idea. I’m very proud of you.” I told him. “Let’s see what you’ve got in there.”
He emptied the contents onto the kitchen floor. I was mildly alarmed to see some of his very favourite toys. I wondered if his newfound generosity was indeed this self-sacrificing, or if he didn’t quite understand the concept. Then he started talking about each item.
“This is for Pords because she likes it. This one is for Nanny. She likes green” And on it went, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, acquaintances. None of the recipients could be considered in the category of “people who don’t have lots of stuff.” Nonetheless, he had clearly put a lot of thought into it and his heart was in the right place.
Then he held out Blueberry Muffin, his favourite teddy bear since birth. “BBM is for you Mummy, because you’ve been sick.”
He could have asked for anything then and it would have been his. If only he could find some way of bottling up that moment, his teenage self could have secured his first car.*
I’m recording it here so that I remember, despite all of the frustrations to come, that this little person has a big, beautiful, generous heart.
*If this post still exists when Pickles is of blog reading age, this in no way entitles him to a car. Gorgeousness of the moment notwithstanding.
When I was getting dressed today
By some unlucky chance,
Instead of choosing my blue jeans
I chose my cranky pants.
Perhaps I woke and got out
On the wrong side of the bed.
Or maybe it was lack of sleep
That muddled up my head.
Whatever was the reason,
Those pants messed up my day.
Every noise annoyed me,
Everyone got in my way.
The cranky pants were much too tight,
Too itchy and too hot.
They even made it hard to walk,
And so I stomped a lot.
I’m sorry that I snapped at you,
Like some old crocodile.
I can’t help but be snappy
With my pants cut in this style.
But don’t you worry dear one,
No need to fret and pout.
After this bad-tempered day,
I’m throwing those pants out.
And so tomorrow I’ll be back
Full of smiles! Unless…
Let’s just hope that I don’t find
That spotty grumpy dress.
You started school last week
It doesn’t seem quite right.
Surely you’re a baby still –
Weren’t you born last night?
And yet so much has happened.
You’ve learned and you have grown.
And now you’re ready to explore
The big world on your own.
And the big wide world is lucky.
You surely are a star.
You don’t need to change at all
They’ll love you as you are.
And yet you will keep changing;
A bit more everyday.
Your shine will grow still brighter,
Through laughter, work, and play.
You’ll dazzle them with star shine
You’ll set the world alight.
Your time at school will be a joy
Because you shine so bright.
And though the day will come (too soon!)
When your school days will cease.
You’ll always be a shining star
My darling little niece.
*This post contains some unpleasant content about morning sickness. You have been warned.
Everything feels like it’s sinking. I feel like I have not slept a wink. Moving seems impossible. But the nausea has begun.
I wait until everyone is in the kitchen and then, quietly as possible, dash to the bathroom.
I lean over the sink. Frothy water, then burning yellow, then I rest my head on the cool sink.
Lunch preparation for the kids. I clench my teeth. Get through it. Get through it. Set them down to eat and then run back to the bathroom. I hope they don’t hear.
My husband comes in the door. I immediately go and lie down. Everything aches. We have dinner and I throw it up almost immediately. I lie back on my side, nursing a cup of ice and chewing it slowly.
Hooray!! I’m pregnant again!! Honestly, I’m more excited than I can say. We always wanted to have three children close together. It’s a dream come true.
I am also very aware that people have unspeakable heartbreak around pregnancy; either because of issues with fertility, or pregnancy loss. I understand that it may be hard for some people to read about someone complaining about any element of pregnancy.
These facts do not negate the physically, psychologically, and emotionally draining reality of persistent morning sickness.
Before I was pregnant with Pickles, my doctor told me that it was going to be tough for me to get pregnant. I had had surgery to remove aggressive endometriosis and polycystic ovaries. She told me to try for six months and then we could start with fertility treatment. I cried on the phone to an old friend.
The next week I woke up vomiting and couldn’t stop. I had to prop myself over a beanbag with a bowl beneath my head because I didn’t have the energy to hold myself off. I told my friend that I had the worst gastro of my life to add to my woes. She said maybe I was pregnant.
I had heard of people feeling sick in early pregnancy but nothing like this. This couldn’t be pregnancy. I went to the doctor the next morning and had tests. She called me that afternoon, stunned. I was pregnant. I was over the moon. The sickness, she assured me, wouldn’t last.
But last it did.
For someone with bad morning sickness, the social taboo of not telling people you’re pregnant before 12 weeks is basically meaningless. Anyone who spent any time with me, including everyone I worked with, knew almost immediately. I was vomiting 20-30 times a day. If I was this sick for any other reason, it would be ludicrous for me to be coming in to work.
But morning sickness isn’t something you take time off for. You graciously accept the congratulations of your colleagues while trying not to throw up on their shoes. It’s such a good sign, the baby will be strong. Tough pregnancies mean happy babies. It means the baby will be smart. It will all be worth it in the end. You’ll forget about it all the moment the baby arrives.
And the earnest but excruciating. Just have some dry crackers. Have you tried ginger? What about some lemonade? You should only eat one colour at each meal. Every day a new home remedy, on and on through the weeks and months.
Yet, I was extremely lucky in the circumstances. My baby was planned and dearly wanted. I had (have) a beyond-supportive partner who cleaned up more vomit than he would ever care to recall, and retained his good humour even when the only conversation I would have with him for days at a time was asking him to do research to find somewhere that would put me into an induced coma for the remainder of the pregnancy. I had a wonderful workplace that bent over backwards to make sure I was as comfortable as possible and allowed me to leave early whenever I needed to. I also had the means to afford medication that helped enough for me to be able to function.
I thought a lot about the women who were going through this without these mitigating factors. I spent time reading online forums where women talked about having abortions because the morning sickness was just too horrendous. One woman wrote that she was considering stepping in front of a bus. Others had commented that they too had considered suicide. I wasn’t at that point mentally, but I knew exactly why they would be considering those things.
Before pregnancy, I had never known anyone to have suffered from really bad morning sickness. That made the whole experience more isolating. Now I know lots. Some with vomiting, some with constant nausea that pursues them all day long, day after day for months on end, others suffer in different ways.
The thing that strikes me is how often these debilitating complaints are dismissed as minor inconveniences. Women, myself included, are even told it is all in our heads. Well, to anyone reading this who suffers morning sickness, it’s ok to admit that pregnancy is not all sunshine and rainbows. It doesn’t mean you love the baby less. It has no bearing on your ability to be a good mother.
Find someone to talk to who doesn’t just want to talk about the joy and wonder of pregnancy but it happy to listen to you say that some days you really hate it. Find someone who can help around the house. Talk to your doctor about things that might actually help you.
And for what it’s worth, for me it meant that the actual labour was by far the least arduous part of the whole experience and the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn was a walk in the park – I wasn’t vomiting, life was good.
For those who have morning sickness and little people to look after, I have no clue. I’ll get back to you when I figure it out.
And for anyone who knows someone with morning sickness, please, please don’t tell them that it’s mind over matter. If you aren’t happy to just listen, or can’t offer practical assistance, just avoid the subject altogether.
It’s early on a Friday.
I wonder who I am.
On Monday I was Penny
To a tiny Fireman Sam.
On Tuesday I was Daddy.
On Wednesday I was Pa.
I’d come around with tools
So that I could fix the car.
On Thursday I was hopeful
When you said I was the cat.
I thought there would be napping,
But you wanted none of that.
So Friday’s rolled around
And I wonder who I’ll be.
Every brand new day
Seems to bring a brand new me.
But you wake up feeling sick;
Say you have an achey tummy.
At times like these I still can be
A quite convincing Mummy.
The wonderful Julie from Happy Mama Happy Baby is running a blog event throughout January, called Body Positive January 2016. Julie says it is “the antidote to all that New Year’s resolution, diet tip, exercise routine chatter the internet is about to explode with.”
When Julie asked me to write a guest post as part of the series, I wasn’t sure that I was the right person. It’s not my area of expertise, and I don’t intend to suggest in writing this that I have any sort of training in psychology.
When I thought about it a bit more, I decided that I could approach it from the point of view of language because this is one of my key areas of interest.
Language is a very powerful tool. As parents, we need to be especially careful about how we wield it.
Anyone who has ever visited my blog will know I love all sorts of picture books. It’s a bit of an obsession. However, there’s a classic picture book that I loved as a child that I refuse to read to my own children.
In “There’s a Hippopotamus On My Roof Eating Cake”, the little girl protagonist who tells the story from her own point of view is talking about everyone sitting down to dinner and the food that they are eating. She says: “Mummy is on a diet. She eats lettuce, tomato and cheese.”
What disturbs me about this line, other than the fact that lettuce, tomato and cheese are relegated to “diet food” rather than just being normal food that you would eat everyday, is the casual way the diet is mentioned. It implies that this Mummy character has been on diets before and it is no strange thing. It requires no more mention or context. Mummy is on a diet. Obviously.
The language that we choose and use can have a profound impact on our children and their own developing body image. Let’s try to make it a positive impact!
Talking About Food
Try to think of ways that you can educate your child about making healthy choices without labelling food as “good” or “bad”. If you do choose to use those words consider what they mean to your child. In what other contexts do you use those words?
Bad manners. Big bad wolf. Bad food. Bad girl. Bad boy.
Kids are still trying to make sense of language. If you use words that are tied to particular judgements or emotions to describe food, you are potentially tying the food to those emotions too. I ate too much cake at that party. Cake is a bad food. I am bad.
This is clearly problematic. On the flip side, if you tie “good food” to moral virtue you are creating a similar problem, not least because if your child does accept this teaching and eats only the good foods their whole life, they may turn into an irritatingly self-righteous adult who posts several-a-day Instagram updates about their kale smoothies. But, more dangerously, if they stray from the good food path, they may again internalise those messages and view themselves as being not good.
This leads me to my next point, which is more directly Talking About Your Child.
Talking About Your Child
When I took Pickles in for his routine 18 month checkup, the nurse told me that he was too skinny for his age. She gave me a horrifying pamphlet in which the causes of his “failure to thrive” were likely to be parental neglect, poverty, or some sort of medical condition. Se told me to put him on a high fat, high calorie diet, with no more direction than that. Eventually, after a couple of weeks of stress, we got in to see a specialist paediatrician who did thorough developmental testing and said he was at least at the right level in all areas, and well ahead in most. He said it was clear from the moment that Pickles walked in the door that he was a bright, healthy, active kid and that the best advice he could give was never to go back to that nurse again.
I was relieved. Yet, somehow, something had shifted.
Suddenly he was talked about as the skinny kid; the kid who needed to be fattened up. Despite my efforts not to use these types of labels, perhaps because my attention had been so stressfully drawn to it, I now noticed how many people commented on his size in front of him.
He’s not too bothered about it at this stage in his life. Mostly because it means people are more generous with treats. What concerns me is that as his identity forms, that is becoming a part of it at such a young age. My name is Pickles. I love running and jumping and digging in the garden. I love books and dinosaurs and trucks and singing and dancing. I am helpful. I am thoughtful. I am a big brother. I am a skinny kid. I shouldn’t be so skinny.
In a similar way, I’ve often heard people talking in an offhanded way about children as chubby or even fat. Generally it is said in an affectionate way – look at those chubby little cheeks, I just want to squeeze them – but kids are sponges, absorbing it all. I’m not suggesting we cease talking like this at all, but I do think we need to be more careful about the language we are using.
Research has shown even pre-school age children expressing dissatisfaction with their bodies. We need to be really conscious of the seemingly innocuous comments we make about our children. And about ourselves, which brings me to my final point.
Talking About Yourself
At this time of year we are bombarded with advertising about the New Years Resolutions you should adopt to make you a better you. And a better you inevitably is someone who looks different than the current you.
I happen to think that a resolution to adopt a healthier lifestyle can often be a good thing. However, it comes back again to the language that we use and the motive. Think about the words you are using to describe yourself, and why. Do you really think losing a bit of weight, or bulking up, will make you a better person?
When you talk about yourself in negative terms, your child is likely to take all of that onboard. They will accept it as normal. They too will think that there is virtue in a particular image. If they don’t meet that image, they may get trapped in a similar cycle of negativity.
I wrote a poem about this point, which I wanted to share to finish off this post. But before I go, I want to wish you all a happy new year, and to thank Julie for inviting me to be part of this series. I look forward to reading the other posts.
The Girl In The Mirror
In the mirror is a girl
Who’s quite a lot like you.
She has your eyes, your hair, your smile;
Your sense of humour too.
She’s watched you closely everyday –
She’s listened and she’s learned –
While you were speaking right to her,
And when your back was turned.
From you she’s picked up what to eat
And how to move about.
But also other little things;
Those inner shades of doubt.
Does she wonder what they’ll think,
Or if she’s good enough?
Creeping down the family tree
Comes all that kind of stuff.
If you and she are so alike
As all around concur.
It follows that what’s said of you
Is also said of her.
So call out those who put you down,
And those who speak untrue.
But even more, be sure to check
The barbs that come from you.
When she looks into the mirror
And sees her mother there,
Here’s hoping she’ll be glad to see
Your eyes, your smile, your hair.
I’ve been busy trying to be not busy. A nice couple of weeks of no computers and mainly no phone. It has been glorious.
I think it’s going to take me a little while to ease back into the blog. I considered not returning but my husband convinced me that I’d miss it and I think he’s right.
It was nice though for a time for it to be just the sun and the sea and me. That time was the blink of an eye as I briefly lay on my towel and imagined I was at the beach on my own. Then I immediately worried that in that second the children had both scurried away from my husband straight towards the sea so I snapped back to the reality of holidaying with very small people.
They loved it. It was amazing. But beach holidays are certainly less relaxing when your children are on an eternal quest towards the ocean. And rather than being tired at the end of a day at the beach, it was as if they were fitted with solar batteries that charged up during their days in the sun.
Coming home was sad, but a relief!
I hope everyone has been able to enjoy some time with family and friends over the festive period. Happy 2016!
A Fond Farewell
Farewell sand. So long sea.
Goodbye fish and chips for tea.
Farewell beach. So long sun.
Goodbye crashing waves of fun.
Farewell rest. So long dreams.
Goodbye strawberry ice creams.
But wait. When did we have time to dream,
When long days messed with our routine?
When little people woke too soon,
Excitement bounding in the room.
When every calming seaside stroll,
Was marked by vigilant patrol.
Though every cheerful toothy smile,
Made lack of sleep more than worthwhile.
And I can’t wait until next year
To live again this festive cheer.
As much as I would love to stay,
Sometimes home’s the holiday.