Going Solo – ish.

Well, if anyone follows me on Twitter, they will know that Baby Girl Brown finally made an appearance on Friday 9 April, and is now Emily Grace Brown. I will be blogging more about the birth and first few days another time – no gory details though, the squeamish among you will be pleased to hear. This post, however, is about today specifically.

My husband’s paternity leave ended yesterday, so technically today is the first day where I had both children by myself. Now, I say technically because my husband does actually work from home with flexible hours, so it was cheating a little. Alright, a lot. But it has taught me one or two things.

The morning started off fairly badly – I was tired and stressed from a not-so-good night with Emily and found it a struggle to get going. This wasn’t helped by both children needing my undivided attention pretty much simultaneously, and my only thoughts ran along the lines of “Oh no, I am never going to manage this, please can we just all stay in bed?” That’s where Daddy comes back in and saves the day, taking care of Daniel so I could feed Emily. He also calmed me down and saved me from crawling back under the duvet. I just found the whole idea of taking care of two children and myself and doing household jobs and writing and a million other things (which this morning seemed both imperative and immediate) completely overwhelming. Why this should be so, I have little idea. I used to be a nursery nurse – I had responsibility for lots of small children at once as well as supervising two or three staff and keeping records. The difference, I guess, is that these are my children. However much I cared for the children at nursery, they could never be as infinitely precious to me as Daniel and Emily, and the pressure to look after the nursery children pales in comparison to the responsibility I have been given for these two. Also, I don’t get to hand Daniel and Emily back at the end of the day!

In summary then, I started the day with high expectations of myself on which I had failed before I even got out of bed. I foresaw days filled with screaming children, me dwindling away to nothing as I ran round after them, the house getting gradually more and more squalid, husband fading away from starvation because I couldn’t get near the kitchen to cook anything…you get the picture. By half ten, things were looking up. I had a shower, and by half eleven all three of us were dressed and had had some breakfast. And it was nearly time for lunch already…(cue start of hysteria returning – deep breaths, deep breaths).

This afternoon, I managed to gain some control over the house, the children were both happy, fed and comfortable and I had a more realistic perspective on what I could achieve and what my priorities were. I say again, this is mostly due to the safety net I had of my husband being in the house, just a shout away if need be. I already had a great deal of respect for anyone raising children on their own – this has increased tenfold and also encompasses anyone whose partner does not work from home – the majority of the population I imagine! I do realise, in between feeling frazzled, how lucky I am. I have friends who I can call on at any time, even if it’s just for a coffee out of the house. I have an unbelievably strong support network on Twitter – I can’t say enough how much it means to put a couple of tweets up and receive back (often within minutes) replies confirming that I am actually a normal human being feeling normal things. I have family – not exactly nearby but close enough that they would be here within the hour and send me back to bed with a cup of tea while taking over everything. And I have an amazing husband who I can only describe as my lifeline. So that’s one thing that my first day of going solo(ish) has taught me – to appreciate how lucky I am.

The other thing I’ve learned – which I will almost certainly need to re-learn and re-learn until the children are putting me in a retirement home – is that I need to get a grip and put things into perspective. I am not going to achieve superhuman standards, simply because I am not superhuman (I know, I find it hard to believe too). Today for me was about keeping the children safe and happy and getting some control over the house again. Once I realised that and put the other things aside, I achieved it and have a great big tick on my to-do list. Now, I’m sitting in a tidy house (well ok, the floors need hoovering. Give me a break eh?), having done two meals, with two happy children and a happy husband, and I’m even getting time to write a blog post. I think I will be going to bed (early!) a happy girl, and we’ll see what tomorrow’s going solo-ish brings.

And Now, The End Is Near…

And so I face, the final curtain… On pregnancy, anyway.

With ten days until Baby Girl Brown is due (won’t it be nice to have a real name for her!) and little signs, not to mention wishful thinking, that she could come any time, my thoughts have naturally been straying to the future.

It is likely that this will be my last pregnancy, for many reasons. Chief of which is that I don’t really do pregnancy well. I’m not a glowing Earth Mother, and although there are some aspects of pregnancy which I will miss, overall I am better off not trying it again. The thing is, it’s not quite how I expected it. For ten years I’ve had an image of myself and my husband with three children and it’s strange letting go of that image. The names, sexes, age gaps weren’t important, just that there were three of them. I don’t know why it was important, either. Probably because my husband is an only child, and although I have a brother it is unlikely in the extreme that he will ever marry or have children, so the idea of us having three brought lots of happy images of large family gatherings, lots of grandchildren, family squabbles, you get the picture. But, c’est la vie.

I know we are actually incredibly lucky. When we’ve wanted a baby we have been lucky enough to get pregnant straight away. We’ve had, God willing, two healthy children – I know we still have to get through the actual delivery but judging from the way I get kicked she’s a robust little thing. We’ve suffered the pain of a miscarriage, but only one – I know both my mother and mother in law had at least two each and some women many more. If it comes to that, some women cannot get pregnant at all, and I am (though it may not sound like it) appreciative of how easy we’ve had it.

It just seems very final. Even during my last pregnancy, which I didn’t enjoy much, I was thinking about ‘next time’ and the next baby. It seems weird to be thinking this could be the last time I am in this situation, and a little sad too. As I said earlier, I have had this image for ten years, and that’s a lot of dreams to let go of. Never say never, of course, but the truth is it’s probably better for the whole family. Both Daniel and my husband suffered a lot when I was in hospital so much at the beginning, and that won’t get any easier as I get older. And I can improve my fitness, but that won’t help the fact that I would be x years older, or cut down my chance of hyperemesis for example.

So, as this pregnancy draws to a close, I am trying to savour the feelings I have as much as possible. Predominantly, I grant you, they are mostly pain. Backache, fairly constant Braxton Hicks, to-the-bone tiredness, muscles pulling left, right and centre in my abdomen, feet jabbing up into ribs. But there is also the special feeling of amazement, which cannot be described, the really, really weird feeling of a little body moving inside your stomach, the reassurance when you first get to feel movement or see the scan picture. The guesses, picked more or less out of thin air, as to what she will look like, what we’ll end up calling her, how she’ll eventually arrive. Sharing details with Daniel – hearing him talk about his baby sister and sharing a secret smile with my husband over how he will really react when she comes. Thinking of my baby as a big brother, thinking of both my babies playing together, growing together, loving each other.

And, now that the end is near, I look forward to the future. This is us, this is our family, and (you can throw these words back at me later when I blog about how tired I am!) I want to make the most of it.

Our Daughters’ Daughters

More Life Lessons from Mary Poppins

Anyone who read my post Sand Through A Sieve and thought it was inspired genius (well, who can blame you?) may realise that I am quickly coming to regard Mary Poppins as a Parenting Bible.

Today I put the DVD in and went about my business, tidying up and generally being housewifely (in other words, quite unlike myself) and heard the Suffragette Song come on. You know the moment – and if you don’t I suggest you watch  Mary Poppins urgently, there are valuable lessons to be learnt. Mrs Banks comes home after a day’s campaigning for votes for women, and launches into song. Among the many wonderful lyrics (I particularly like ‘Though we adore men individually / We agree that as a group they’re rather stupid…’) the chorus goes like this:

“Cast off the shackles of yesterday

Shoulder to shoulder into the fray

Our  daughters’ daughters will adore us

And they’ll sing in grateful chorus

‘Well done, Sister Suffragettes!'”

This set me off thinking. If my last scan was right, I am expecting my first daughter in approximately 57 days and 7 hours, and it would be nice to think that she will have daughters of her own some day and so on and so forth.

I have had all sorts of nice little fantasies about having a daughter. We’ll go shopping together – she’ll probably teach me more than I will teach her in that department – we’ll have girly moments, painting toenails etc like in Mamma Mia! We’ll finish the dollhouse I started when I was a teenager. She’ll have the voice of an angel and the grace of a ballet dancer. I’ll buy her girly dresses and dolls and she’ll ignore them all and go for the monsters and aliens. I’ll introduce her to Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen and she’ll devour Stephen King and Terry Pratchett. She’ll adore her big brother and be a real Daddy’s girl and the four of us will go out and eat ice cream on the sea front at Whitby in October.

I haven’t really stopped to think about the more profound things I want to teach her. I want her to be strong and assertive, two things I have failed at miserably so far. I want to pass on my faith, but leave her the freedom and conviction to figure out her own beliefs. I want her to think about the world and how she can make it better, so that her daughters’ daughters can look back at her and her generation and think “Wow, what can we do to build upon that?”

I don’t know about you, but I, to my shame, very rarely think about what our ancestors had to fight for to get to where we are now. The whole movement for women’s suffrage in England, for example, fought against the tide of popular opinion and went through arrest, force-feeding, torture, ridicule and even death because they believed it was wrong to deny women an equal say in how their country was run. Do we ever think about those women, and ‘adore them’? As we would like our daughters’ daughters to adore us?

They are, of course, a tiny representation of the people throughout time who have fought for what they believed in. Our own lifetimes throw up a handful of names – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela. Mother Teresa, fighting against the poverty and injustice she saw every day in India’s poorest. Nameless campaigners out right now, protesting against war and injustice and human rights.

I want my daughter to grow up with a social conscience and awareness. I want her to not be afraid to fight for what she thinks is right. Our ancestresses have left us a legacy of being able to vote, to speak out and be heard. They have given us a platform to speak from, on behalf of women, men and children all over the world who are still being oppressed, and I know I don’t do their efforts justice.

Mary Poppins has reminded me that we also have a chance to leave a legacy, that we will have descendants who will look back at our generation. They can ignore us, despise us or adore us. I would like to think that I and my daughter can still do things that will make our daughters’ daughters adore us after all.

Sand Through A Sieve

A lyric that gets me every time I hear it is from Mary Poppins, when Bert is cleaning up his chimney sweep gear and listening to Mr Banks. He comes back at him with this:

“You’ve got to grind, grind, grind at that grindstone

Though childhood slips like sand through a sieve

And all too soon they’ve up and grown

And then they’ve flown

And it’s too late for you to give…”

Generally, I find it really exciting when I think of Daniel doing new stuff like going to school or reaching a new milestone – this morning I did a post on his blog about potty training, which we’re hoping to start at the weekend. My husband (who’s as soft as muck!) gets quite sentimental and likes to hold on to the moment; he’s dreading September when Daniel starts school nursery. Probably the ideal is somewhere between the two of us.

But this afternoon, I found myself wanting desperately to freeze the moment we were in. He was sat on my knee, cuddled in while we watched his In The Night Garden DVD together. He was stroking my arm and I was stroking his hair, and it’s a rare moment now. He prefers to laugh and run away than sit and cuddle. He likes to be up and playing, and I take advantage of that to do – well, actually, I don’t know what I do. Writing and housework in theory. But our time together this afternoon made me realise how true that lyric from Mary Poppins is. I don’t grind, grind, grind at the grindstone, not by a long shot, and maybe if I did I would realise the true value of time at home. I do, though, let Daniel’s childhood slip through the sieve without fixing it in my memory properly, and today I was truly regretful of that, because it’s not sand, it’s more precious than gold dust.

We haven’t got much time left as just the three of us. Baby is due in 10 weeks, and while that will bring its own moments to treasure, I will never get this time back. I know how much I love Daniel, and I’m pretty sure Daniel knows too, but I mustn’t take any of it for granted.

I need to catch some of the gold dust before it slips away forever.

10 Things They Don't Tell You About Toddlers

It’s one of the things you probably hear most before you have a baby. “You don’t realise how much they’ll change your life,” usually said with a dreamy faraway look. At this time, you probably assume that the speaker is thinking fondly of their little darling, and how life is so much better now. With hindsight, the odds are just as good that they are remembering the last time they were able to eat a meal in peace or get a full night’s sleep.

Well, having been caught out by this ourselves, I’ve decided to be selfless and tell people the Truth About Toddlers. (sounds good doesn’t it? It could be a book…) You may have heard some of these before, or some may be a total shock, but if you haven’t got children, take heed and learn. If you have got children, feel free to heave a sympathetic sigh and add on any vital points I may have missed. We need to work together, people.

1. They are in training for adolescence as soon as they hit eighteen months. The Terrible Twos doesn’t start at their second birthday and end at their third- as soon as they can walk and talk the Terribleness is in place right up till their teenage years. They have strops, they have mood swings, they tell you to go away. My two year old even stamps into his bedroom and slams the door on me. All that’s missing is “You don’t understand,” and I’m sure that’s just a matter of vocabulary.

2. They are experts at manipulation. They could write a book on it (if they could write). Machiavelli could learn a thing or two from any toddler. Tactics vary, from going straight from one parent to another hoping for a different answer (everyone knows about this one though), to using emotional blackmail that they learn from Grandma when you’re not looking. They keep you on your toes – just when you’re all fired up, in strictest, no-nonsense mode, they switch to utterly adorable and you cave instantly. And you fall for it every time.

3. The mess. Seriously, even if people tried they couldn’t warn you about the mess. I was never a great housewife (I can hear my husband choking as he reads that understatement of the century) but even I get depressed by the sheer scale of mess one tiny little body produces. And they do it without you noticing. It’s one thing to tip the toy box upside down – at least then you just pile it all back in. But I’m talking about the house exploding. It’s relatively tidy one minute, so you go congratulate yourself on keeping on top of it and go to make yourself a cup of tea. Five minutes later you can’t find the floor.

4. The amount of ‘stuff’ you need with you. When they’re newborn, that’s fairly self-evident, what with bottles and muslins. And I imagine once Daniel’s toilet training it’ll be the same, pants, spare trousers etc. Now, I thought I had it easy. After all, all he needs is a few wipes and a couple of nappies and a drink? Yes, but he also insists on bringing a train, or Buzz Lightyear, or a cow. Soon you’ve got half of Toys R Us in your handbag, and get a funny look at the checkout because instead of your purse you’ve pulled out a toy shark. And you wonder on the way back to the car why your neck and shoulders ache all the time.

5. Speaking of shops, the old ‘tantrum in the aisles’ chestnut is a classic. This is a tricky one, because everyone’s seen the cliche on tv and is prepared for it. But the true horror of it actually builds up over time. It starts when your child is around eighteen months, and you’re thinking behaviour problems should be starting any time now, but since they’re not you must have the best-behaved child in the world. You go around the supermarket, outwardly commiserating with the harrassed mother coping with meltdown in the biscuit aisle but secretly smug because your little angel is sitting contentedly in the trolley smiling serenely at the world. Then one day they decide enough is enough and you are suddenly the harrassed mother, caught totally unprepared because you’d been lulled into a false sense of security.

6. How much you can love and loathe CBeebies simultaneously. No matter how much you swear pre-parenthood that you won’t let them watch too much tv, it’s a rare parent that doesn’t, in a moment of desperation, blurt out “How about CBeebies?” and savour the moments of peace that follow. Mister Maker is pure genius, at least that’s what my son thinks. On the other hand, Waybuloo is just weird and you want to shoot Little Cook Small after about three minutes.

7. Their unerring sense of timing. They will desperately need something (insert most inconvenient request you can think of here) right when you need to make a phone call / leave the house / go to the toilet. They are at death’s door until the moment you get them into see the doctor, at which point they jump up and run around, completely healthy. They will sleep through for the first night in eight months the night they sleep at Grandma’s (not that I’m bitter and twisted in any way).

8. The total lack of fear. They’re tiny, they look so fragile and you hear horror stories about children who’ve landed on their heads. So you spend your life a quivering wreck if they are higher than 5 centimetres off the ground or even slightly close to the road. But the little so-and-sos really don’t care. They climb onto the sofa, jump off, roll off. They climb onto the slide and try all sorts of interesting ways to come down, none of which include nice and safely on their bottoms. They launch themselves off every piece of furniture they can get onto. They arrange toys so that it makes a precarious ladder to the top shelf just to reach a DVD. Or just for the fun of it. And every hair on your head that turns grey overnight they count as a job well done.

9. The lack of freedom. Yours, not theirs. When they’re a baby, they lie in their pram looking cute and you can go just about anywhere and do just about anything. Please, make the most of it. Yes, you have to stop for an occasional feed or nappy change, but this is nothing compared to going out with a toddler. They don’t like a shop, they WILL let you know. You fancy a pub dinner? Forget it. You can’t just up and out for some late night shopping because they need to be back in bed by seven. I hadn’t realised how often we had popped out for an evening, browsing at Borders and having a leisurely latte in Starbucks (with our only constraint the closing time), until we couldn’t do it any more.

10. How much none of the above matter. You are totally unprepared for how much you love this little person. When I am upset or ill Daniel will come and give me a cuddle and ask “alright Mummy?” with such love and concern in his face, and there is no way of describing the feeling that comes with that. Just as there is no way of describing the feeling you get when you haven’t seen them for a couple of hours and their faces light up when they see you.

Is there anything I have missed?