Saturday, 19 December 2015

Breastfeeding With A Bump

I'm finding this second pregnancy very different to the first - I'm more tired, achier, and despite craving chocolate last time I have a complete aversion to it this time (that last one really is tough!). But one thing that has made it even more different is that I'm still breastfeeding Preschooler.

Still breastfeeding. That sounds a bit awful, doesn't it? Like it's a nasty habit we ought to have stopped ages ago. Well, I suppose some people might think that. But I trust my daughter to know when the time is right for her to stop, so maybe I should just say, I'm breastfeeding Preschooler.

It's quite unusual in our culture for mums to be breastfeeding a child when the next pregnancy starts, and among those who do there seems to be a wide variation in how breastfeeding continues. Some stop - either the mum's choice or the child's. Others continue to breastfeed on demand.

We've gone for a halfway house. Well, I say 'we', I've led the changes really, which has felt odd after 3.5 years of (mostly) feeding on demand. I gradually cut out feeds through my first trimester and Preschooler now just has one feed a day in the morning - sometimes she even forgets to do that. This is very different to our pre-pregnancy feeding schedule, which was still around 5 or 6 feeds a day including at least one night feed.

So why did I cut down? Well, feeding in the first trimester was extremely painful. I'm talking worse than when she was newborn, worse than when I got mastitis. Every feed made me draw breath. Sometimes it made me cry. Gone were the days when we could snuggle up and enjoy a nice long feed. I had to start limiting the length very early on, maybe at about 6 weeks. This was surprisingly easy, especially with the night feed - having previously spent 20 minutes nursing her back to sleep, it suddenly started to take just a minute or two, then she dropped the feed altogether and started (mostly) sleeping through. After three and a half years of broken nights, I was very grateful for that!!

She still asked to feed fairly frequently in the day but I just couldn't bear it so had to set limits. I told her that my body was changing (I didn't say why and, oddly for her, she didn't ask) and so we'd have to just have mum-milk in the morning, midday and before bed. To my surprise, she went with it. If she asked at other times, I just reminded her of the new rule and she was happy with that. I can only guess that my milk had already started to change so she believed what I was saying about my body changing.

Fairly soon after we managed to drop the before bed feed, then we went on holiday and were so busy in the day that she forgot the midday feed too. At one point I thought she was going to drop the morning one too but she still seems fairly attached to that and I can cope with it.

It's been interesting seeing how things change. After about 15 weeks feeding became less painful but still not very comfortable, possibly because there was no actual milk so her latch got a bit rubbish. It was OK for the rest of the second trimester but now I'm in my third, it's getting painful again. My colostrum is coming in as well so she sometimes feeds for longer than before, so at the moment it's quite tricky. But it's only one feed a day, and I remind myself that I'll be doing a lot more than that when her brother arrives!

Another interesting thing is seeing the impact on Preschooler. I'd love to say it's been plain sailing, but to be honest, her behaviour has been very challenging lately. Part of it may be underlying anxiety about the new baby (although she's very excited so I somehow doubt it), and part of it might be that my lack of mobility and fatigue mean I'm not being a very fun mummy right now. But I do wonder whether she's missing those pauses in the day when we just cuddled and fed calmly for a few minutes.

I'm glad I've been able to keep breastfeeding whilst being pregnant. Since she was about 18 months my goal has been to feed her until she's ready to stop, and there have been times in the last six months when I didn't think that would happen. But I'm pretty pig-headed when I have a goal so I'm sticking with it for as long as possible.

As for what happens when baby arrives, who knows? At one point Preschooler said she'd stop when he's born, but then a few weeks later she announced she wanted to keep having mum-milk until she's 9 or 10! (I think even I would struggle with sticking to my goal if that happened!) We've talked a lot about how baby will need lots of mum-milk and her age means that she understands, so hopefully if I do end up tandem nursing we'll find our stride fairly quickly. And if she does choose to stop, then that's fine too. I just want it to be her choice.

If you're breastfeeding and thinking of having another baby, I really recommend reading Adventures in Tandem Nursing, it's a great book that will prepare you for the changes that pregnancy brings. It is totally non-judgmental too - if you choose to wean, it has information which will support you to do that. And if you have any questions for me, feel free to comment below and ask away!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Claus Controversy Continued - not 'doing Santa' with a preschooler

Image courtesy of British Library

Two years ago I wrote about our decision not to tell our daughter that Father Christmas is real. I won't go into those reasons again because, well, you can read all about them in the original post, but I thought it might be useful for people to find out what it's like having Christmas with a preschooler when you choose to be honest about Santa.

In short, it's tricky. This is the first year it's been a real challenge, as it's the first year she's been in preschool at Christmas time. In previous years, we've had chance to explain it's a nice story and some families like to play pretend at our leisure, but this time we were a bit blind-sided by just how early the Christmas preparations started at preschool. They started practising Christmas songs straight after half term but I thought little of it, assuming not much else would be said about Christmas until nearer the time.

How wrong I was. In mid-November, Preschooler started talking about Santa. There was even a day when she came home saying that she would ask Santa for, "a stamper like Tilly's." Apparently when she had got upset that she didn't have one, one of the workers had suggested asking Santa. Helpful, seeing as Santa is actually me, I haven't a clue what Tilly's stamper is, and my daughter is blessed with a VERY good memory.

So we didn't get in there first with an explanation, as we'd intended. That means we've been playing catch up a bit this year. When she mentions Santa, we'll say something like, "oh like in the story?" or, "oh yes, we can pretend Santa's coming." We don't want to make a massive deal out of it, but equally we don't want to just 'go along with it', as tempting as it is to make life easier.

Because there are times when I think maybe I should just give up and go with the flow. Santa/Father Christmas seems to invade everything to do with Christmas these days, especially things aimed at children. Finding magical things to do that don't involve telling my daughter that Santa is real does feel very challenging.

But then I think back to my childhood. Yes, I believed in Santa, but the really magical things were nothing to do with that. They were Christingle services and carols around the village Christmas tree. They were Christmas stories by candlelight. They were decorating the tree. That's what really sticks in my memory about what made Christmas  special.

The simple truth is, not 'doing Santa' with a nearly 4 year old isn't easy. But I stand by our decision to do it. I just don't feel comfortable going along with an elaborate lie, especially at a time when Preschooler is starting to grapple with the idea of belief. A couple of times recently she has said she doesn't believe that Jesus was real, prompting us to explain that he was a real person, but different people have different beliefs about him and it's up to her to learn about him and decide what she believes. I don't want to force my beliefs on her, but I want her to know I do genuinely believe them. If I spend a month or more every year trying to convince her of something that's not true, would she still take my beliefs seriously?

Plus, not doing Santa has it's upsides. As I realised when I saw the huge queue for Santa's grotto at the local school fair.

Friday, 27 November 2015

What Not To Say To A Woman With SPD

Ahh, SPD. The pregnancy gift that keeps on giving. Pain, that is.

For the uninitiated, SPD stands for Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction. It's actually supposed to be called PGP (Pelvic Girdle Pain) these days but that doesn't seem to be catching on. I'm no medic, but basically it means that, as a pregnant woman's muscles relax, the bones that make up the pelvis become misaligned causing a lot of pain. I tend to go for the shorter explanation of, "my pelvis is falling apart." Which tends to kill the conversation right there.

But it doesn't always. While most people will be sympathetic, you will get the odd comment which gets you grinding your teeth (although that could be symptomatic of the fact you're in CONSTANT PAIN too). So if you're faced with a friend or relative with SPD, please try not to say any of the following:

#1 "Oh well, it's not for long." - In my first pregnancy, the SPD started when I was 30 weeks pregnant. I went to 40+5 in the end. Nearly 11 weeks of being in pain all the time, becoming pretty much housebound towards the end, doesn't really feel like 'not for long' when you're living with it. Plus there's the fact that, while in many cases the SPD will magically disappear after birth, it doesn't always. It took me a few weeks to feel normal again, only for it to recur when Preschooler was 22 months old. And with this pregnancy I started getting symptoms at 6 weeks. So actually, yes, it might be for long.

#2 "Oh we all got that in our day, there just wasn't a fancy name for it." - Really? You all felt like your bones were grinding together with every step? Oh no, what was that? Your hips felt a bit funny? Yeah, that's not SPD. And even if you did all get it, here's a newsflash - that doesn't mean I should have to put up with it. And you shouldn't have had to either. Pain is not just an inevitable part of pregnancy we should ignore - it's our bodies saying something's wrong and needs fixing.

#3 "It's quite common though, isn't it?" - Well, yes. Roughly 1 in 5 pregnant women will get SPD. But colds are pretty common too, yet we all still need lots of rest and moan a lot when we get them. We'd moan even more if we had a cold for weeks or months on end. It might be common, but that doesn't mean I should just live with it and carry on as normal, and it doesn't mean that I don't occasionally need to whinge about it.

#4 "Well, you'd better not get it with your second child, you won't have time for it then." - I won't have time for it? I'm sorry, is SPD a luxury I'm squeezing into my schedule? No, it's a MEDICAL CONDITION! And actually, seeing as it almost always recurs in later pregnancies and is usually worse, that's just making me worry more about my family's future. (Incidentally, I am now having my second child, and it is worse, but I'm coping. At some point I'll blog about how.)

#5 "Just take some paracetamol." - This was genuinely the advice of my GP. That and Google "symphysis pubis." Helpful. Paracetamol is about as effective a pain reliever as TicTacs for me anyway (the latter would at least leave me minty fresh) but when it comes to constant, at times severe pain, it won't even make a dent. SPD sufferers need proper manual treatment, not to be told to pop a few pills and deal with it.

Have you suffered from SPD? How did people react? Did you get any not-so-helpful comments?

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Got a Girl, Having a Boy: What Clothes to Keep?

When I tell people we're having a boy this time, one of the first things they usually say (after the obligatory, "ooh one of each!") is, "oh well I suppose that means you can get rid of Preschooler's old clothes now!"

Well, yes and no.

It seems odd that people automatically assume that a) all of Preschooler's clothes were so clearly girl's clothes they'd be entirely unsuitable for a boy, and b) ANY clothes should be deemed unsuitable for a boy.

It's drawn my attention to a double-standard I was already aware of in our culture. While pink and frilly is seen as the norm for girls, dress them in 'boyish' clothes and nobody's that bothered - they just label them a tomboy. (Don't get me started on that.) But it's far less acceptable for boys to wear 'girly' clothes, especially as routine. Yes, we might see the odd photo of a boy dressed in a princess costume and all go 'aww' but he was wearing a regular dress, or even just a pink outfit, would there be the same reaction?

As it happens, when I went through Eleanor's old clothes, I was fairly indiscriminate. The piles in the photo above are, from left to right, the get-rid pile, the query pile and the keep pile. The last one was by far the biggest, partly because we were fairly careful to choose 'unisex' clothes from the start, but also because I simply don't see why a boy shouldn't wear pink or flowers. My husband was even less discriminating, promptly transferring most of the query pile to the keep pile.

The get-rid pile was made up of things that were a bit worse for wear or that we weren't that keen on anyway, but I have to admit I did put dresses, tights and particularly frilly tops in there too. Although if he grows up wanting to wear a dress I'd be fine with that, something about deliberately putting a baby boy in a dress feels too much like a 'statement' to me, and not one I'm really comfortable making.

We've sorted through the first year's worth of clothes but it does leave us with a quandary about what to do with Preschooler's old clothes from now on. Do we keep everything to give our future son full choice when he's old enough? Or do I 'de-girl' entirely to save storage space? 

I suspect if it was the other way around - if we'd had a boy and were expecting a girl - I'd be keeping everything just in case. So would it be hypocritical of me not to do the same given our actual circumstances?

I'd be interested to hear what other parents of girls-then-boys did about this. Did you keep the two wardrobes firmly segregated, did you keep everything, or did you go somewhere in between?

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Going For The Double

It's been a bit busy in Ish Mother Towers recently, so there's something I haven't had chance to blog about ...

Yep, I've been eating far too much. But I've got an excuse, because I'm pregnant. Baby number two (which we believe to be a boy) is due in early March!

Obviously I'm very excited about the new baby, but I have to admit this pregnancy is proving a lot harder than the first. I got more nausea in the first trimester, and it still keeps coming back even now I'm nearly 24 weeks, but I can't really complain as I know people who've had far worse. I suffered from SPD in my first pregnancy from 30 weeks and it never really went away, but thankfully regular osteopathy is keeping the worst of it at bay, aside from a scary few days at 20 weeks when I could barely walk! The hardest part, though, has been the fatigue - I thought I was tired in my first pregnancy, and I thought I was even more tired as a mum, but motherhood and pregnancy combined has completely worn me out!

I've had to relax some rules for Preschooler as a result of being so tired. We used to have a rule that she could only watch an hour of TV a day - that went out of the window when, 6 weeks pregnant, I literally couldn't stay awake all day so would catch a nap while she watched CBeebies. I still do that some days, that second trimester burst of energy seems to have totally passed me by. TV is also my main recourse on days when I'm too sore with the SPD to really do anything. Preschooler is a very physical child and loves to roughhouse and play outside, and I feel really guilty that I can't do much of this any more. I suppose I'll have to get used to the guilt though, as I can't imagine transitioning from one child to two will be easy on any of us!

Preschooler is so excited about her new baby brother! She was already asking for a sibling before I got pregnant and, weirdly, just after we found out she asked if there was a baby in my tummy so I swear on some level she knew before we told her! She is very loving towards him already - she has a scan picture up on her wall and she'll often stroke and cuddle the bump and talk to him. She claimed she could hear him kicking way before I felt it so I've told her she must have big sister superpowers. She was very happy when we told her it was a boy but then she said she'd have been excited either way. And she's compensated by giving herself three imaginary sisters.

I'm really glad we left a long-ish gap between babies. As Preschooler is at preschool two and a half days a week now, the onus of entertaining her isn't wholly on me which has helped with the fatigue a bit. And she understands it so much and is so ready to be a big sister that so far it's been a joy to see her already bonding with her sibling. I've no doubt we'll get to a point where she realises this means a lot of change, but so far it's been wonderful seeing her excitement.

So there we are, that's my big news! I'm hoping to blog more about the pregnancy as time allows, I've also launched a new business recently so the little spare time I have after that is usually spent sleeping! But I have lots of post ideas for the rare evening when I'm awake and not working, so watch this space.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Review: Northern Ballet's 'Tortoise and the Hare'

Last year I took Preschooler to see Northern Ballet's production of 'The Elves and the Shoemaker'. It was one of her favourite stories at the time and, being a theatre graduate, I wanted Preschooler to grow up enjoying live performance. I didn't have chance to write about it at the time, but I still remember how she stared at the stage for 40 whole minutes, utterly mesmerised. So when I heard about Northern Ballet's latest children's production, 'Tortoise and the Hare', I booked tickets almost straight away.

We went to see the ballet at the company's home, Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre in Leeds. I was so impressed with how they'd transformed the waiting area to make it child-friendly - there was a ring of hay bales around an area of 'grass', a couple of bean bag toss games and a basket of pom poms (Preschooler loved these), colouring in and wind-up tortoises on the tables. In a meeting room to the side they had crafts available, with the choice of making a tortoise or a hare with paper plates. Preschooler is still playing with her tortoise today!

As for the ballet itself, I did wonder how they would spin a short fable out to a 40 minute show but actually it worked really well. The dancers playing the Tortoise and the Hare got into character brilliantly, the Hare oozing arrogance and energy and the Tortoise looking almost permanently sleepy and stoic. (I have to give special mention to the facial expressions of the dancer playing the Tortoise - he totally nailed it!) Extra characters were added to pad out the story - two cheerleader bunnies always competing against each other, another equally arrogant hare who had to pull out of the race due to injury, a honey-toting bumblebee, an acorn-throwing squirrel and a beguiling butterfly all have a part to play in the race, not forgetting Tortoise's loyal mole friend who gets over her admiration of Hare to cheer her friend on. It really did feel like a race too, to the point where the whole audience applauded when Tortoise crossed the finish line!

It always amazes me when I go to a ballet how well they can tell a story with no words - even Preschooler followed what was happening just from the fantastic dance moves and facial expressions. The music was beautifully played and well matched to the action, and the costumes were very clever in transforming the dancers into various animals. We both really loved the show and  hope that, as in previous years, there will be a CBeebies version of it so we can watch it all again.

I asked Preschooler a few questions - as it's a children's ballet, I thought she should have a say in this review - and here are her answers:

Did you enjoy the ballet?

Who was your favourite character?
The bumblebee.

What was your favourite part?
The bit with the squirrel. (Where the squirrel distracts the Hare with a game of acorn catch.)

Were there any bits you didn't like?
*vigorous shaking of head*

How did you feel when the Tortoise won the race?

 Northern Ballet will be touring 'Tortoise and the Hare' next year and I really recommend going to see it if you get a chance, it's a lovely little show and a great opportunity to introduce little ones to ballet.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Why I am So Happy that Nadiya won 'The Great British Bake Off'

Is it because of her incredible baking skills?

Partly, but not completely.

Is it because of her even more impressive array of facial expressions?

Well, a little bit.

The main reason I'm so delighted that Nadiya was crowned the winner of this year's Great British Bake Off is this: I can relate to her.

I remember when she first won Star Baker (not well enough to say which week that was, sorry) her response was something like this: "It's weird, I'm never proud of myself, but now I'm proud of myself."

And as a stay at home mum, I get where she's coming from. I feel proud of my husband for the hard work he puts into his job. I feel proud of my daughter for ... well, loads of things. I feel proud of my friends, my family - but I rarely feel proud of myself.

Now I know I may come in the firing line here so I'm just going to say this right now - I know that no matter what side of the stay-at-home/working mum divide we fall, we get flak for it. But in the current climate, with the constant talk about 'hard working families' as if this must necessarily mean both parents in employment, it's hard to feel pride in being a stay at home parent. So when Nadiya said she was never proud of herself, I knew what she was talking about.

But of course, however you do it, parenting is something to be proud of. It's relentless, it's all-consuming, it's permanent. And it's shaping the lives of fellow human beings, for goodness sake! A parent not only has to keep their children healthy and happy, they have to teach them about morality, justice, social norms, relationships ... the list goes on. It's a huge undertaking. But society as a whole seems to have such a low opinion of it that, if you choose to devote yourself exclusively to the task of parenting, you are made to feel somehow insignificant. You can start to doubt your capabilities outside of story-reading and bottom-wiping.

But look at Nadiya. She is a stay at home mum who has just achieved not only acclaim but national fame for a skill that she has honed over the many years that she has cared for her children. She has shown that she is capable of huge success. Her words after winning the Great British Bake Off were inspiring: "I'm never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I'm never going to say I can't do it, I'm never going to say maybe, I'm never going to say I don't think I can. I can. And I will."

I'm glad that Nadiya is proud of herself now. She should be. She has raised three lovely children (and I loved how her husband acknowledged her hard work in raising them for the last ten years) and whilst doing so she has developed a talent for baking that has now earned her the recognition she deserves. She can, and she will. And she's shown us that we all can.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Pet Death and Preschoolers: Helping my 3 year old deal with losing our cat

Animals and children. Despite that old saying, I love both and think they work very well together. I grew up with lots of pets, and think a pet is great for a growing child.

We got our cat, Millie, when she was at least eight years old, nearly four years before Preschooler came along. As she got older she noticed her furry playmate more and they rubbed along very nicely together. Millie taught her to be gentle, and gave her someone to practise affection on when she wasn't ready to try it with other children yet. The older she got, the more she doted on Millie.

But about two years ago Millie got very ill. We were told she had liver disease and the survival-beyond-a-year rate was about 50% in younger cats, so the old girl did pretty well to keep going until this August. But that does mean we'd spent nearly two years with the prospect of  'a difficult talk' looming.

This summer, she got a cold. Such a small thing, but she couldn't shake it off. The vet said she never would - antibiotics would just prolong her life. After a few weeks, she was losing weight and struggling to breathe, and she couldn't smell her food enough to eat it. We took the difficult decision to have her euthanised.

We made the decision on a Saturday, so had to wait until Monday before we could take her to the vets. This was helpful, as it meant we could explain things to Preschooler on the Sunday. We had already read her a lovely story called Badger's Parting Gifts by Susan Varley, in which it explains that Badger was old and his body didn't work very well, and so he died. We only read it once to Preschooler before Millie died but it helped us to find the words.

I don't actually remember those words now. It was something along the lines of, "You know Millie's very old and has been poorly for a long time? Well, the vet says she won't get better, and she's really suffering and miserable now, so tomorrow we're going to take her to the vet and he's going to help her to die, so she's not uncomfortable any more." That makes it look like I said all of it, but actually as the crier of the family I had to stop short and my husband finished it off.

She had a couple of questions at first, including, confusingly, "Will they come and get her?" When we asked what she meant, that's when the tears started. She was understandably beside herself, simultaneously grabbing at me and pushing me away. We accepted this and let her cry - we were crying so why shouldn't she? After a while, she asked, "Will the people look after her in Heaven?" As a Christian family we'd talked a bit before about Heaven, and this helped us to understand her previous question. I'm not sure on the theology of animals going to Heaven, but I like to think they do, so I told her that Millie would be looked after in Heaven. If I'm wrong, at least I brought her comfort in that moment.

She ignored Millie for the rest of the day, I suppose trying to distance herself to make it easier. In the morning she was more affectionate and we both gave her a stroke and a cuddle before my husband took her to the vet. We'd discussed whether we should take Preschooler but decided that her seeing us upset could make things worse.

Millie's body came home half an hour later. We let Preschooler look at her, and stroke her to see she was gone. We'd talked to her about the burial in the garden and at first she wanted to help, but when the time came she didn't really know how to act. She didn't like seeing me cry and hovered between the garden and the house as we buried the body. Later on we took her to the garden centre to choose a plant to put over the grave, which I think helped a bit.

Since then, she's had a lot of questions. Even over a month later she is still asking why Millie died. But she isn't upset about it. In fact, aside from that initial outburst, and a night waking when she'd dreamt Millie had come back, she hasn't really shown any upset at all. Her main question has been when we'll get a new pet but we keep putting her off - we haven't moved on as quickly as her!

If you're reading this with the prospect of a difficult talk looming yourself, don't worry too much. Yes, it was hard to explain and yes, her distress at first was hard to see, but she dealt with it far better than we expected. We're glad we told her about the euthanasia before it happened as I think getting chance to say goodbye probably helped. But this has taught me that children, even at three years old, are robust. They can handle big emotions if given the right support and acceptance to deal with them. So don't let worry about how your little one will cope overshadow your time with your beloved pet - they'll probably cope better than you.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

What’s In A Name? Introducing … The Ish Mother

So you might have noticed I’ve changed the name of my blog. If you haven’t, well … I’ve changed the name of my blog. And here’s why.

When I started blogging under ‘Growing A Girl Against The Grain’ I felt like my way of parenting was very different. I really felt like I was going against the grain by being gentle, babywearing (well, toddlerwearing by then) and breastfeeding beyond infancy. It seemed like everyone else was going with prescribed gender norms and prioritising formal learning over free, outdoor play. Basically, I felt like the odd one out. So I chose a blog title that was quite distinctive, like the way I was parenting. Or so I thought.

Then a wonderful thing happened. Blogging opened the doors to other blogs, blogs from people who actually were very similar to me in approach - but took it further. I found parenting bloggers who were going against the grain even more than me, like the wonderful Lucy of Lulastic. How can I say I’m an 'alternative' parent when faced with an amazing mama who is raising her daughters in a YURT, for goodness sake?!

The title ‘Growing A Girl Against The Grain’ started to feel like a pressure to be this amazing earth mother who shunned all conventional approaches to childrearing. But as my daughter gets older I find myself resisting ‘the norm’ less. She is now in preschool and next year will go to school. When I read blogs like that of Adele from Circus Queen and find out about her homeschooling journey, I realise that I'm not nearly as ‘against the grain’ as a lot of parents out there. I may be a bit different, but I’m not that different.

In short, I’m a bit … ish.

And that’s OK. It’s fine to do your best but still not be a home-crafting, zero-waste, endlessly patient and entirely gender-neutral mother. And maybe I should celebrate that, rather than pretend to be an expert on ‘alternative’ parenting. (I also long for the day when the things I do aren’t seen as alternative, but that’s probably another post.)

So here I am. I’m no longer Growing A Girl Against The Grain. Well, I am a bit. I’m just doing what I can. I’m gentle-ish. I’m green-ish. I’m feminist-ish. I am The Ish Mother.

You can still follow my rebranded blog on Bloglovin - here's how: 
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Monday, 6 April 2015

No Shouting for 40 Days - Did I Do It?

A while back I blogged about giving up shouting for Lent. Yesterday was Easter Sunday so Lent is officially over now. (Actually I count Palm Sunday as the end of Lent as that's 40 days and I don't take feast days off. But I was ill last week so didn't get chance to write up.)

So did I manage it?

Well ... no.

I made it to Day 20 though. And I could probably count the number of times I shouted on my fingers. But no, I didn't manage it.

I could beat myself up about it - I'd made a promise I didn't keep. Or I could learn from it.

One thing that having made the promise did was make me notice why I shouted. I realised I have two main triggers - lateness and illness.

I've known that running late or feeling rushed makes me shout for a while, so I try to avoid those instances. But I'm raising a small person here. There will ALWAYS be times when we're running late. And I can't use it as an excuse to shout every time. No matter how late we are, I can take five seconds to calm myself down.

Then comes illness. Eleanor starting preschool has welcomed a whole range of lovely diseases into our household, and I always wind up suffering with them more than she does. I've been ill almost constantly for over three weeks now, and Eleanor has had plenty of snotty noses and sore throats too. Looking after an ill, whiny child when you're run down is hard work. I get very grumpy when ill, so it does push me to shouting point at times.

I've been trying to cut myself some slack, allowing Eleanor to entertain herself when possible and resorting to the TV or tablet more so that I can rest up. But that's not sustainable - screen time has a negative effect on her moods and I feel guilty for not spending quality time with her. So I need to take care of myself better - get more sleep, eat better, get more fresh air.

Self care doesn't come naturally to me - I always feel like I should be doing something other than just rest, and I prioritise Eleanor's health over mine. But if neglecting myself means that I can't do fun things with my daughter, or that I shout at her, then it doesn't help either of us.

Although I didn't make it through Lent without shouting, I'm glad I tried. I may not have stopped shouting for 40 days, but I found new ways of hopefully stopping myself in future. And I might finally get rid of this cold ...

Tuesday, 31 March 2015


Welcome to ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ Carnival This post was written especially for inclusion in ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of their latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience: The Forgotten and the Fantastical. Today our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘Fairy tales’. Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants. ***

Your name flew to me when I was just a girl.
I watched the swallows swirl
In their graceful mid-air dance
And just caught a glance
Of your name.

Was it just my imagination
That saw in their migration
Those letters, in that order?
Or was that the promise of a daughter
Spelled out in the air?

You tell me you wish you could fly,
So much you even try
To fashion wings out of felt.
Your efforts make my heart melt
But it breaks a bit too.

Because one day you'll spread your wings
And do so many things.
You may fly away from me,
But that's just as it should be.

You are yours, not mine.

When I first read about the blog carnival being held by Mother's Milk Books, I was really excited at the prospect of participating. But when it came to thinking up a post I was stumped. Although fairy tales hold a great fascination for me, and I could probably write a lot about them, I didn't want to end up writing a literary essay, nor did I have time to. I racked my brains, scanning the prompts helpfully provided, until I thought again about one line; "Has anything 'fairy tale-like' happened in your own life?" And I suddenly realised the answer was - well, sort of.

When people ask how I chose Eleanor's name, I always say, "it's a name I've liked since I was a girl." This is a half-truth, because the truth makes me sound a bit bonkers. The poem above refers to two events, the first of which happened many years ago -  I'm not even sure how many. I can't tell you how old I was when it happened, sometimes I even wonder whether it happened at all or whether I dreamt it. All I can tell you is that I have a memory of looking out of my bedroom window at a group of birds making patterns in the sky as they prepared to migrate. For a split second, they seemed to spell out the name 'Eleanor'. Whether that really happened, or was just an embellishment from my mind, I'll never know. But I do know it wasn't a name I was familiar with; I didn't know anybody with that name at the time, I can't recall reading it in a book, I have no clue where I could have heard it from.

One thing (amongst many) that has struck me when reading fairy tales and folk tales is a recurring theme of childlessness. Babies are often born after the mother expresses a longing for a child, or in some stories, animals or inanimate objects become children to childless couples. This is something I'm drawn to in fairy and folk tales, and something I'd love to study further one day. When I read the above prompt for this post, I was reminded of this page from the start of the Ladybird version of Sleeping Beauty:

OK, so a frog didn't hop out and promise me a daughter, but when trying for a baby took longer than we'd expected, my memory of those birds (I don't know what kind really, my hunch is swallows but as a child I wouldn't have known) gave me hope that a child was part of my destiny. Whether real or not, it was very important to me at that testing time in my life.

The second event the poem refers to happened this week. Eleanor often talks about how she wishes she could fly like a bird, and again we were having this conversation as she bounced on the trampoline in our garden. She started to talk about getting wings and I tried to explain that it would be very hard to make wings that could make a person actually fly, but to her that was merely a challenge she had to accept. She ran inside, grabbed her scissors and a piece of felt and snipped some pieces out of it, then got upset because she didn't know how she could glue them onto her back. I gently told her that it wasn't safe to glue things to her skin, and those two small cuttings of felt would not work as wings even if they were stuck to her back. She was distraught. 

I was touched by the earnestness of her efforts, and saddened, obviously at her distress, but also by the thought of where that creativity and determination may take her as she grows - and it may take her far away. She shares her birthday with my brother who has travelled a lot in his life, and I sometimes wonder whether their shared birthday means she will be a globetrotter like him - she loves looking at maps and globes, longs to go on a plane and even talks about flying to the moon or Mars! Whether she was promised to me or not, I'm ever conscious she is not mine to keep. She's no passive princess, I can't keep her within the walls of a castle, I know one day she will start her own great adventure and I will just be a bystander.

So there you go, my own sort-of fairy tale. The tale of the girl whose name flew to me, and who might one day fly away from me, in the best possible way.


The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover
The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical is now available to buy from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) and as a paperback from Amazon.
It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.
Any comments on the following fab posts would be much appreciated:
In ‘Imagination is quantum ergo fairies are real’, Ana, at Colouring Outside the Lines, explains why we should all believe in fairies and encourage our children to do the same.
In ‘Red Riding Hood Reimagined’ author Rebecca Ann Smith shares her poem ‘Grandma’.
Writer Clare Cooper explores the messages the hit movie Frozen offers to our daughters about women’s experiences of love and power in her Beautiful Beginnings blog post ‘Frozen: Princesses, power and exploring the sacred feminine.’
‘Changing Fairy Tales’ — Helen at Young Middle Age explains how having young children has given her a new caution about fairy tales. In ‘The Art of Faerie’ Marija Smits waxes lyrical about fairy tale illustrations.
‘The Origins of The Forgotten and the Fantastical — Teika Bellamy shares her introduction from the latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience published by Mother’s Milk Books.

Monday, 2 March 2015

A Farewell to Naptime

Dear Naptime

It is now nearly a month since you left us unannounced. I had hoped, nay assumed, you would take your leave slowly – your visits becoming gradually shorter, or not coming one day only to return the next – but no, you made a dramatic exit. From two hours, often more, every day to nothing. You've popped back twice since but too close to bedtime so we've had to shove you out unceremoniously after half an hour.

I knew things would be hard once you'd gone, but your very sudden departure has left me all at sea. When do I do all those little jobs now? The ironing, sweeping up, prepping tea, when are they meant to happen? They sure as heck can't happen with an overtired three year old in tow, who protests if I so much as go to the next room by grabbing my hand and gently tugging me back saying, "but Mummy, I'm lonely on my own!" Yes I've got those two precious mornings when Eleanor is in preschool, but that's five hours a week. I used to have fourteen hours of you!

Your leaving is a game changer. My business has had to go on the back burner indefinitely, and my plans to start up a second business are also shelved until Eleanor gets more hours at preschool. My hopes of actually having a bit of spare money have been dashed, as have my hopes of finding fulfilment rather than fatigue in being a work at home mum.

And it's not just the housework or the work-work that's the trouble. When do I get a breather? When do I get a cup of coffee and a biscuit now? A biscuit that I don't have to share, or eat in the cupboard so my daughter remains under the illusion that biscuits are just for pudding or as a treat at playgroup. I miss those biscuits. I miss a couple of hours of utter peace and quiet, just me pottering around the house getting stuff done. I used to hate getting to the end of naptime and realising I'd hardly had a rest myself – it's amazing how hindsight can make ironing in front of the TV seem like such a blissful experience.

Now you're gone, I have two extra hours a day to fill with entertainment. Two hours with a three year old who, actually, quite clearly still needs a nap because from 1pm onwards she is an emotional wreck who is unable to focus on anything and unable to cope with me saying no to any of her demands. My once-peaceful afternoons are now filled with requests to watch-Charlie-and-Lola-read-a-story-bake-gingerbread-do-a-crafty-thing-watch-Charlie-and-Lola-again-do-painting-play-with-the-playdoh-cake-maker-watch-Charlie-and-Lola-again-BUT-MUMMY-I-WANT-TO-WATCH-CHARLIE-AND-LOLA-AGAIN-NO-DON'T-GO-TO-THE-TOILET-BECAUSE-I'M-LONELY-ON-MY-OWN! All this at a time when I've already exhausted my ideas for what to do in the day and feel shattered. Thanks for that.

And then, aside from all the things I can't do, aside from all the things I now have to do, there is that sense of wistfulness. Eleanor doesn't feed to sleep at bedtime, but she did feed to sleep for you. At times that was stressful, but there was such a beautiful tranquillity in sitting in a chair in a darkened room, nursing my hyper preschooler until her eyelids were heavy and her limbs limp. Lingering for a few minutes after she'd dropped off, my own head nodding slightly, enjoying holding my sleeping baby just like I did three years ago. Now the only times I can cuddle my slumbering child is the night feed and that stolen extra sleep when she comes through to our bed in the morning. Both times when I'm too tired to enjoy it.

I wonder how long she'll keep waking in the night. Well, I've always wondered that but now there's a conflict inside me. I long for the day when I'll go to bed knowing I won't be woken until such a time as can respectably be called morning. But now I feel like I'll miss sitting in that chair and holding my wonderful snoozy bundle. And then how long before she stops falling back to sleep when she comes through to us? The time of sleepy snuggles seems to be creeping away now, and that makes my heart ache.

I won't beg for you to come back, naptime, because I know it's futile. Eleanor has decided that she's done with you, and once her mind is made up there is no unmaking it. But I'll miss you, and not just for the obvious reasons. I'll miss that oasis of calm in a busy day, when I held my darling child and her eyes slowly closed.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Can I Stop Shouting for 40 Days?

Shouting is something I really struggle with. I've been trying to stop it for the past two years (basically ever since Preschooler became a true toddler). And yet, I kept on shouting.

I know it doesn't work. Well, if my aim is to scare my daughter and make her obey out of fear, then I suppose it does work. But I don't want that relationship. I want a relationship built on trust and respect. And I imagine it's pretty hard to trust and respect someone who, despite being twice the size of you, chooses to scream at you.

The trouble is, toddlers and preschoolers are wonderful, hilarious and downright frustrating. I'm still not great at handling frustration or anger, so at times I resort to shouting. And then spend the rest of the day feeling guilty about it.

As Lent approached this year I wasn't sure what I would give up, until the Friday before. We were just about to leave for a music group we go to, which we both really enjoy, when I realised I couldn't find my keys. Preschooler had been playing with them the day before so they could have been anywhere. We searched for 50 minutes, until well after the group had started, and I got more and more irate. I tried to keep a lid on it but I was so cross at Preschooler for hiding my keys and then not remembering where she'd put them, and so worried about what was going to happen if I couldn't find them. Eventually, she found them herself - and promptly burst into tears. I'd shouted and yelled so much she was just overwhelmed. Any hope of even catching the end of the group dissolved as she was too distressed to go out.

That's when I decided to give up shouting for Lent.

40 days. No shouting.

So how am I doing one week in? Actually pretty well. Especially considering that on the first day of Lent we decided to go on our first day out by train, to a museum that, in hindsight, wasn't very Preschooler-friendly as there was lots of looking and not much doing. Having recently dropped her nap she was overtired almost as soon as we reached the museum, and she was very clingy with me, and I wasn't well anyway, and oh how I wanted to shout at times! But I didn't.

And then there was this Monday, when Preschooler demanded we bake biscuits. (Or bate bistuits, as she says.) Despite saying she wouldn't eat the ingredients she did, then she had a wee accident, just at the point where I'd started kneading and my hands were covered in sticky dough. I told her to stay in the living room while I cleaned up the puddle on the kitchen floor, she took that to mean baking was over and had a tantrum. Once I'd cleaned up I managed to calm her down, then she proceeded to throw flour all over herself, her chair and the floor. I ended up doing most of the biscuit cutting as she made a huge mess. I really wanted to shout. But I didn't.

In fact I haven't shouted in the last seven days. I've raised my voice, but only in pain, ("OW" when she kicked me in the head) warning ("WAIT" when she ran down the street without me) or both ("OW, NO" when she jumped on me as I held a cup of coffee). But I haven't shouted in anger.

Here's what I've done instead:

I've told myself out loud not to shout. Saying it in my head is too easy to ignore. If I say it out loud then I feel more accountable somehow.

I've taken deep breaths and floated my arms up and down. Sounds silly, but it's something I encourage Preschooler to do so if it's good enough for her, it should be good enough for me.

I've told Preschooler how I feel. I want her to know it's OK to express feelings, but you don't have to shout to do that. When we had the baking fiasco, I told her I felt cross and explained why, but without raising my voice. It didn't stop her making a mess, but she did come up to me afterwards and say, "I'm sorry for making you cross," so at least by telling her my feelings she started to understand the effects of her actions.

I've tried to keep things calm generally. Museum trips and disastrous baking aside, I've avoided doing things that I know will push my buttons. I've stopped stressing about leaving the house or having tea made on time. I'm working on reminding myself that grubby clothes, wet knickers and messy floors are just part of life with kids, and easily fixed.

And I've reminded myself that I'm doing it. Every morning I think to myself how many days I've gone without shouting so far. I've done a whole week now. A WHOLE WEEK! May not seem long, but if I can do one week, what's to say I can't do two? What's to say I can't manage the whole 40 days, maybe even longer?

7 days down. 33 to go. And then hopefully I'll have broken the habit for good.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Reclaiming Me: Time To Read, Time To Write

Yet again, it's been a while since I last blogged. Sorry about that. Two weeks ago Preschooler decided to unceremoniously ditch her nap without warning and I'm still reeling from the shock and struggling to find time to fit everything in now that I've lost two hours of peace and quiet a day!

Which kind of brings me to the subject of this post ...

I've mentioned before how I find it hard to make time for me. When I have a quiet moment there's always something I could be doing - washing up, ironing, tidying, fixing broken toys and torn books, the list is endless. If it's not housework, it's my small business which, even though I've scaled it back to make the maternal juggling act a bit easier, still could take up far more time than I have available. At the end of a full day of mumming, the temptation is to just lose myself in the temporal black hole that is social media before slinking off for an early night. (Out of interest, how long can I get away with saying 'early night'? Does it still count as early if it's fast becoming my regular bedtime?)

I sometimes remember my life before motherhood and it really is as if I'm thinking of a different person. I used to sing, I used to act, I used to knit and crochet. But my biggest hobby was reading. I love to read. I love words. And I love to write too. When I was studying, hard as the essays were, I secretly enjoyed spilling out my thoughts and organising them into a neat string of letters on the page. 

Then along came my daughter and, as she got older, it got progressively harder to keep up any of my old hobbies. Singing and acting simply don't hold good hours for parents of very small children, and as for everything else, well, I just don't have time. Unless I make it, that is.

Last year, I saw that Mother's Milk Books were holding a writing competition, and I thought I'd give it a whirl. It was hard to get back into writing but I really enjoyed the whole process, and I didn't really mind too much about the outcome. I wasn't surprised when I didn't place in the competition, after all I was only just dipping my toe into the world of creative writing. But one thing did surprise me - that Teika Bellamy, who runs Mother's Milk Books, liked my piece enough to include it in an anthology she was working on!

The Forgotten and The Fantastical is a collection of original fables and modern twists on classic fairy tales - but for grown ups. When I studied Children's Literature I was really fascinated by the history of fairy tales and their capacity for discussing very adult concerns in a 'safe' and indirect way, so I can't wait to read the finished book when it is published on 20th March. For me, the excitement of reading the stories of the fantastic authors who have contributed to the book is almost as great as knowing I'll be ranked among them!

I'm hoping this book will be a turning point in reclaiming a part of my identity that has been mostly dormant over the past three years. Having mainly read children's books and parenting books, I can't wait for an excuse to read fiction aimed at adults again. And being part of the book has given me faith that I can string a decent sentence together, so I am determined to keep writing as well as reading.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word (or, why I don't force apologies)

It's a situation many parents are familiar with. You're at a playgroup, a party, a friend's house, whatever, and one child does something that hurts or upsets another child. Sometimes this is intentional - a push or a snatched toy. Other times it's an accident - two children colliding as they run around, no malice, just one of those things.

As one parent comforts the injured party, the other parent brings their child over and tells them, "Say sorry."

They don't.

The parent repeats the request. "Say sorry."

They look away, fidget, do anything but speak.

And again. "Say sorry."

And so it goes on, often until long after the original hurt has been forgotten. I've had instances where I've held Preschooler back from going off and playing simply because another parent is trying to elicit an apology from their child.

This is not something I do with Preschooler.

Why? Lots of reasons, but mainly because I think sorry means nothing if it's forced. Saying sorry should mean that you realise what you've done is wrong, you feel bad about it, you regret it. If you're just saying sorry to get out of a situation or to get someone off your back, what does that achieve?

We've all heard false apologies. Sorry is often used passive-aggressively - "well I'm sorry if you feel that way." I admit that I do this too. I've often 'apologised' for something in a tone that really says, "OK, just stop going on about it!" Nobody likes that kind of sorry. When people in the public eye issue apologies, we're often quick to pull them apart and find a telltale weakness in their statement. Because we know that a genuine sorry matters. Do we really want to teach children that only the word matters, not the sentiment?

Also, lines of right and wrong are so blurred with children. When two children are running around and bump into each other, there's nobody to blame other than nature for giving small children boundless energy and a rubbish sense of direction. And we don't see everything. What we see as our child snatching a toy could actually be them reclaiming something that was snatched from them when we had our backs turned. A few days ago Preschooler was playing with a tractor when a boy took it from her. Talking to the boy's mother, it turned out she thought Preschooler had snatched it from him in the first place. (I know she hadn't as I'd just used it as a trade-off to get her to give a snatched toy back to another boy!) Is it right to make a child say sorry when we don't know all the facts?

And then there's the fact that it can actually prevent both children from moving on. As adults, we often look for someone to blame when something goes wrong; from what I've seen, children mostly don't care. Yes, there will be times when a meltdown ensues, but most of the time they just get up and keep playing. But when you're having to hold your child still while waiting for a reluctant apology, they can't move on. I do wonder what this teaches them - could it make them less resilient? There are plenty of times in life when you have to pick yourself up from knocks. As an adult it can be hard, but kids are experts at it. If we teach them that they should drop everything and wait for an apology, is that going to help them in future?

So what do I do instead? Do I let Preschooler run riot, snatching and pushing without consequence?

Of course not. I talk to her about how her actions affect others. I point out if she's made someone sad. She still struggles with sharing so I talk about taking turns and help her to find something else to play with if someone else got to a coveted toy first. I try my best to model. If I shout at her I say sorry afterwards. I say sorry on her behalf if I feel it's needed in a situation. Sometimes if I think she's receptive to the idea I'll say, "do you want to say sorry to that child?" Generally she'll say sorry to me but clam up when we get to the child. That's fine by me - I just relay the message, at least she said a genuine sorry at some point. I'm hopeful that this way I'll raise a thoughtful child who is concerned for other people's feelings and says sorry because she really means it.

I'll admit this sometimes feels awkward, but to be honest it's rare that another parent seems affronted that I haven't forced an apology. More importantly, the child never seems affronted. I find it more awkward when I'm making Preschooler wait for an apology. I still do it, because I respect other parents' rights to choose how to raise their child, but it does make for an uncomfortable few minutes.

I'm also aware that, now Preschooler has started preschool and in a blink of an eye will be off to school, she may be told to apologise when I'm not around. I don't like this thought, but it's just another hazard of choosing a less common way of raising your child, and I'm used to that! Hopefully, the groundwork I'm putting in now will help her to understand it's not a get-out clause.

What do you think? Do you tell your child to say sorry, or do you leave them to say it spontaneously? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Landing the helicopter

I write this while sitting in an empty house. For the first time, I have left Toddler (who will henceforth be known as Preschooler) at preschool.

I keep thinking about the phrase 'landing the helicopter'. It's a phrase I've had flitting around my mind since Preschooler was around 18 months and I first plucked up the courage to take her to soft play and actually force myself to sit and let her work things out for herself. I meant to blog about it at the time, but kept putting it off - just as I have put off letting her go and explore without me.

I have tried to gradually put myself in the background, but it's hard. I am an anxious person, so I tend to worry about Preschooler getting injured, or having a fall out with another child. As she learns social skills I'm very conscious that she will need a guide in this, and I want her not only to be kind to others but also to be able to stand up for herself. When we first started going to play groups she would occasionally be 'pushed about' by other children, both mentally and physically, and I wanted her to know that she didn't need to accept that treatment and that she could always turn to me. But now, of course,she's so much bigger and more than capable of holding her own, I need to let her fight her own battles.

She started her settling in sessions at preschool at the beginning of December, and has had 5 or 6 sessions already, but I've never felt able to leave her before. I kept making excuses - she was upset about getting too cold when playing outside, it was the last session before Christmas and I wanted to watch them singing their songs, it was the first session back and she seemed a bit unsure. But really, I knew she wasn't that unsure. I knew I was the one having trouble letting go.

On Friday I took her to her usual music group and watched her standing right at the front, copying the actions of the leader, practically oblivious to me. Even then I talked to other mums about how I wasn't sure about leaving her yet, how separation-sensitive she is. But I knew deep down that I was kidding myself.

In my defence, there was a time when she was very separation-sensitive. As a baby, she wanted to be held almost constantly. As a toddler, she would keep checking in on me whilst playing, wanting me to be involved in her games, getting upset when I had to go out to work. And I responded to that as well as I could. I left my old job and, after a few efforts to find a new one, decided she needed me at home more than we needed the extra money. I cuddled her when she cried, only occasionally resorting to leaving her if I absolutely needed to, either practically or mentally. I allowed her to be firmly attached to me.

And now it's payback time. She's a preschooler now, and I can let her go off and find out about the world without me. This weekend I decided to try leaving her in the creche at church to see how she'd cope. I sat listening to a sermon for the first time in about two and a half years, while also listening out for the sound of the door in case the creche supervisor needed me to come back. But of course she didn't. Preschooler was absolutely fine without me.

It's taken me a while to change my thinking about Preschooler, to tell myself that she's not as separation-sensitive as she used to be. The changes the last year has brought have been so subtle that I still think of her as if she were still just turned two. But she's now a headstrong, confident, articulate girl who has learnt that she can trust other adults. She is always so excited to go to preschool and talks about her 'friends' (although I'm not sure she's exchanged more than a few words with any of the children, but hey, I don't remember the rules of preschooler friendships) very affectionately. And I'm so heart-burstingly proud of who she is. I just need to learn to share her.

I'm now completing this post while Preschooler naps upstairs. Having left her for an hour, I went back to find that she'd been absolutely fine, at first she didn't even notice I was back. As I watched her playing outside I felt like I didn't even need to be there - she was having a whale of a time and has clearly formed a bond with her key worker. The other workers all commented on her confidence and it made me so proud once again. She no longer needs me hovering, not even in the background.

It's time to land the helicopter.