Compare, Contrast, Combust

You might have noticed (or more likely you probably haven’t) that it’s been a fair few weeks since my last blog ramblings.

It’s been a hectic time, juggling a busy, varied and ‘just the right side of stressful’ workload, the school holidays, other mini life niggles such as a delightful infected wisdom tooth and accompanying balloon face (attractive) and what I have been referring to as ‘family health issues’.

A few posts back I hinted that Blue-eyed boy is currently battling several health and development challenges, and recently the worry surrounding these has started to ramp up. Mainly because I find myself brooding on things more.

Blue-eyed boy has always been a fighter right since his conception.

There was the miscarriage, the awful scan where we were ushered into a private room and told that he might have a chromosomal condition, possibly one that could be life threatening, the invasive tests to find out whether this was the case or whether his heart was weak, the scans at the specialist hospital department and then the ‘all clear’.

Although this was followed by the caveat that in such cases as ours there is always a slightly higher chance of the baby being born with a health issue than what they refer to as ‘the general population’.

Even after this there was the nagging worry that followed us up right the day of his birth and the sheer joy at his arrival that followed.

Now considering I know people whose children have bravely battled cancer, others who have taken rounds of IVF in their stride and others who may not be able to have kids at all, I don’t for one minute think that hubby and I had to cope with that much – but I have always privately felt that Blue-eyed boy is my miracle boy.

And this means that, I suppose, we’ve wrapped him in more virtual cotton wool than we did with Mini-me.

When he was late to sit and walk and never really crawled we worried lots.

When we realised he couldn’t hear and had suffered with bad glue ear for most of his first two years we stressed out loads.

And when he used to cling to us and sob furiously in unfamiliar social situations we were concerned he might never find his feet.

But when he finally took his first tentative, wobbly steps at 19 months we whooped furiously.

When he had grommets fitted and we were told his hearing was now, probably for the first time, back within the ‘normal range’ we celebrated.

And when he started to babble, grow in confidence and even say the odd word, we were almost beside ourselves.

I guess because he has been through a fair amount, it makes every little milestone hurdled that little bit more special.

So now he, and we, are facing the next set of challenges.

The fact that Blue-eyed boy is a fair few months behind in terms of development. The fact that there is a long road ahead when it comes to him learning listening and conversational skills and, hopefully, catching up with his speech.

And the fact that there may be something else to contend with – possibly an autism diagnosis, possible a motor or sensory deficiency…

The good news is that he is doing amazingly well, continuing to battle like he always has. In fact I couldn’t be more proud of my little boy with the big eyes and the beautiful smile.

The thing I’m struggling most with at the moment is all down to my own issues and actually a trap that many parents fall into – the curse of comparison.

I hate myself for doing it, even though it’s only human, but sometimes I can’t help brooding on the fact that other children the same age as Blue-eyed boy are toilet trained, sleeping in proper beds, no longer using high chairs and chatting away with the best of them.

I worry, even though it’s far too early, that he may never get the chance to go to mainstream school or enjoy all the opportunities that Mini-me undoubtedly will.

I wish for a clear diagnosis of his condition so we know exactly what we are dealing with, but other days I dread the thought of it.

Personally I think that no good ever comes of comparing your child or yourself as a parent to others. In my experience it only leads to negative brooding and madness.

Do my children have too much ‘screen time?’

Do my children eat enough fruit and vegetables?

Do my children behave as well as their friends?

Do they spend enough time outside?

Do I shout too much – or too little?

Am I patient enough with them?

Will I ever get the work/parenting balance right?

Blah, blah, blah, blah, bleurgghh…

What I’m going to try to do instead is focus on all the good bits, with none of the lining up against stuff. And not look too far ahead.

And also take the good advice a friend of mine gave me today…

‘Look, if they’re still alive at the end of the day and you haven’t gone insane I consider it a good sign!’

Sounds a pretty good parenting motto to me.

 

Not black or white – or grey either

It might be nearly 20 years ago but I remember it as if it was yesterday.

Getting off a tiny plane in the middle of the night and being hit with strange smells, sounds and searing humidity. Oh how I remember the humidity.

It was August 1997 and I’d just landed in America’s ‘Deep South’ where I was due to spend a year studying at the University of North Carolina.

I’d expected it to be a bit different, but nothing could have prepared me for the huge culture shock I was about to experience. Or the crippling homesickness that held me captive for the first few months, as I juggled loving my new life with desperately wanting to go home.

The reason all this has sprung to mind in the last 24 hours is thinking about the horrific mass shooting of 50 innocent people in Orlando by Omar Mateen, a man who has since been described as a terrorist, homophobic, mentally ill… I don’t know what I’d call him, apart from a madman.

The shock of his senseless bloodshed, his hatred, his lack of compassion are all too hard to even try and compute, but what I have found bizarrely compelling over the last 24 hours has been some of the reaction on my social media feeds.

I felt the need to vent on Facebook about what I consider to be the sheer ignorance and pathetic bravado of Donald Trump in response to this terrible tragedy. This is after all a man who chose to accept congratulations on being ‘right’ about terrorism as a result of this nightmare. Nice sentiment.

Some will no doubt have called for his immediate election though due to the need for a ‘tougher stance’ on fanaticism across the pond.

Others, who hail not too far from where I once lived in America, seem to be outraged that British people could now question the need for greater gun control in the US.

To us it seems a total no brainer that you would massively tighten firearms regulation in the face of one mass shooting after another. To them this horrific incident was inspiration to talk about how America is still the greatest country in the world, and how they are sick of people criticising it, and them.

I think what these Monday ramblings of mine boil down to is that perhaps what we should never forget, the vast majority of us who want to live in a free world, is that while we might have different views on certain things we’re still all pulling in the same direction.

I despise the death penalty, completely and absolutely. I think it is never, ever justifiable – but many Americans support it.

I think it is worrying that under 50 per cent of Americans (46 per cent at the last count) have passports. Many Americans would probably tell me that in a country as vast and varied as theirs who needs to leave it?

The point is that these issues aren’t easy and they’re not black or white either, or even grey.

What is black and white is that most people are still good and still aspire to a global society where we can speak our minds, marry who we want and go where we like in safety.

So while I vividly recall the time I tried to order a simple sandwich on the UNC campus a few days after arriving and ended up in tears over the whole thing because it felt like I needed a translator.

(You can’t just ask for cheese, you need to specify whether it’s ‘swiss,’ ‘jack’, ‘cheddar’ or ‘white cheese’ – whatever that is!)

I also remember how unbelievably kind everyone was. How I got invited to umpteen peoples’ houses for Thanksgiving, and how they were all totally genuine about it.

And that, in my very humble and not very important opinion, is what we should try to hold on to in the face of such hatred and violence. That whether or not we’d choose to own a handgun for self-protection we’re all still pulling in the same direction.

Although I may have to revise that if you tell me you’re voting for Trump…

You can have it all. It just might kill you…

Have you ever played that game where you imagine what your dream dinner party line up would be?

You know the one, where you can invite anyone you like to sit around ‘the table’. (A bit like a normal Saturday night must be for Amal Clooney.)

Well along with Lauren Graham, Bill Bryson, Tom Hanks, Nora Ephron (yes I know she’s dead) and Kirstie Allsopp, I’ve always thought mine would include Emma Thompson.

Because along with being brilliant, funny, just the right amount of bonkers and a great British export, she always comes across as nice, normal and someone who wouldn’t be above feeding crispy chicken dippers to screaming offspring.

But then a couple of years back she gave an interview where she spoke about the perils of trying to have it all as a mum. She talked about how hard it is to juggle career and being a parent, and how having it all at once might not be good for you.

What’s she on about?! I thought to myself.

Surely you should be flying the flag for working parents who are trying to have it all Emma, I muttered to myself. After all I’ve always thought of you as someone who does that.

I said the same to hubby who quickly became bored by the conversation…

Anyway, a while further down the parenting track, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Emma’s words were actually very wise ones.

You see I’ve spent the last two months trying to have it all and the plain fact is I’m bloody knackered, the laundry pile in the house is now so large that it is soon to be named a local landmark and quite simply it hasn’t brought me happiness. It’s made me, and most people around me, stressed.

I haven’t had the time in my life for all the little things I used to love, such as blogging, and what I’ve realised is that, at least for me, having it all at once has not been a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, going back into an office has definitely had its upsides. Tea rounds, office banter and child-free lunch hours being three of them.

But trying to manage full-time hours with other freelance writing jobs, the school run, seeing friends and family, trying to have quality time with Mini-me and Blue-eyed boy and all those little bits of ‘life admin’ that you have to do to keep things ticking over has been really hard.

Plus on top of everything else Blue-eyed boy is facing challenges of his own (more of which another time), and I need and want to be around to give him all the help and support he needs.

So the upshot is that I’m going back to freelancing – for the next couple of years at least.

When I realised that this was the only decision that made sense for us right now I couldn’t help feeling like a failure. After all so many parents juggle much more than I do on a daily basis, and they manage, so why couldn’t I?

Fortunately a very good friend was around to mop up a few tears and give me some more wise words.

‘You tried it, it didn’t work for you at the moment and so you’re making a change,’ she said. ‘At least you gave it a go, and that’s something to be proud of.’

A much better way of looking at it – and another thing this whole journey has reinforced for me.

Like most mums I really rely on my friends, and I’m lucky because they are a bloody brilliant group.

In fact Amal really should invite them over…

Life – with a side of fried brain

It’s been an age since I last blogged. One reason perhaps why I will never become one of these social media whizzes with tens of thousands of followers.

Another being that I’m a total technophobe who would probably be most at home using a typewriter…

It’s not because I haven’t had much to say either, after all there is a reason that hubby moans endlessly about the fact I don’t shut up. No, let’s just say that life has rather got in the way.

In the space of a couple of weeks I’ve stumbled across a job prospect while not actually looking, accepted a full time post back in the ‘real world’ of an office, packed up and moved house and realised that despite their protestations it will probably be weeks before our builders have, well, left the building.

Not that they’re not nice guys, I just don’t personally think foot long saws left lying around and clouds of choking dust mix too well with a two-year-old still rather unsteady on his feet.

And a four-year-old who is seemingly making a profession out of being a nosy parker and who will stop any actual building work getting done by chatting to the workmen all day long.

This all adds up to what I like to call fried brain syndrome. It’s something I’ve discovered since becoming a parent.

The best way to describe it is a gnawing sense of panic if you think further ahead than a few hours, or try to remember all the school activities you’ve got to pay for, fill out forms for, and find clothes for this week, or try to come up with a workable plan for this week’s copy deadlines.

I presume it’s something that people like Victoria Beckham and Kate Middleton don’t suffer from, probably because they pay a team of people to scramble their brains for them. And probably why their hair always looks good too.

Sadly fried brain syndrome doesn’t mix too well with being a bit of a control freak.

The good news is that, in between making tea rounds for people in my house and ensuring the ‘emergency biscuit supply’ is fully stocked, I have two weeks left to dig out some office appropriate outfits and generally get my act together.

Not having worked outside of my study and various coffee shops for five years I’m not really up on the etiquette of work wear any more. But from what I remember pyjama bottoms and furry socks don’t count as suitable attire?!

Better get on it then. If I remember…

Judgmental parenting – in all its forms

So it seems this Facebook ‘Motherhood Challenge’ thingy has been causing quite a bit of a stir.

Articles in the nationals moaning about the ‘smugness’ of being nominated to post pictures of you and your kids on social media, people dissecting the whole issue on breakfast radio, people who have done it getting upset that others are upset about it.

And so the debate rolls on…

Having not been nominated myself I can only assume I must be slap, bang in the middle of the ‘crappy mum’ camp. Well, tell me something I didn’t already know!

Only joking – I can’t profess to have had majorly strong feelings either way on this one. Apart from noticing none of my FB friends had tagged me, and scanning through the lovely snaps of those that have.

I do understand the dislike of the whole ‘parental club’ thing though. You know what I mean, feeling like you’re included in something (even though you’re not even sure entirely what that is) and so somehow endorsed as a member of the badge-wearing ‘good parenting’ brigade.

Way back when after having Mini-me, like most first-time mums I suppose, I really felt the need to try and slot in with all the other mums I knew.

The fact that I hated, and I mean REALLY hated, breastfeeding worried me stupid for example because others used to wax lyrical about the amazing, natural bonding and sheer joy of it all.

Meanwhile I sat wincing in front of the television desperately trying to distract myself with episodes of Gilmore Girls and wondering just how long this horrendous, un-natural feeling of being a human cow had to continue for.

I was once reduced to tears by someone who thought fit to comment on how putting Peppa Pig on the iPad was probably not the most stimulating dinner accompaniment for my one-year-old.

Now as a part-time working mum of two of course my skin has thickened, my standards have slipped and I’m far more likely to laugh than cry about such things.

I’m a really big fan of sometimes sloppy, honest parenting – and so are most of my friends. So it’s lovely when we all have a good giggle about that morning’s ‘disasters’ at the school gates.

Mini-me’s pants falling round her ankles as we raced into school this morning was today’s… Nothing like a teaching assistant shouting at you about knicker elastic before 9am to make you feel like mother of the year!

But enough about that.

All this social media outrage has got me thinking about whether I myself am guilty of being a judgmental parent. After all it works both ways.

Just because I don’t juice things for my toddler, limit screen time and scour children’s cookbooks and draw up a weekly menu what gives me the right to scoff at those who do?

And I’ve been really horrible about Gwyneth Paltrow in the past but clearly her uber-healthy methods work for her brood… Resisting the urge to say more here…

Anyway that’s what I’m going to take from all this. Trying to just focus on my own family, making any changes that would be good for us, and perhaps not having a little chuckle about people who choose not to own a TV set or decide to home school.

Because that could quite rightly be construed as horribly smug too.

Drinking, Parenting and rubber ducks

I’ve never been the kind of person to give something up, either in the post-Christmas ‘flabby phase’ or for Lent.

I’m more of the ‘eat what you like and pretend that running after a one and four-year-old equates to proper exercise’ camp. But this year I decided to put the plonk on hold, not as some smug convert to Dry January you understand but really to see how long I could last without it.

(Besides I had a glass or two on my birthday at the start of the month and a small serving at lunch out this past weekend so I wouldn’t fit the proper criteria anyway!)

The result so far is that I’ve managed to pretty much go without my usual nightly glass of wine for more than three weeks. Pretty astounding for me…

One of my early memories back at home from the hospital with Blue-eyed boy is the visit we were paid by our health visitor.

Amongst asking questions about jaundice and feeding she also quizzed us about our drinking habits and how many units of alcohol we consumed on a weekly basis.

We looked at her like she was a bit mad, after all we now had two children under the age of three. Shouldn’t it be obvious then, we thought, that having ‘the odd glass to take the edge off’ was probably going to become a therapeutic – if not medicinal – necessity?

And unlike with Mini-me, I had absolutely no shame second time around in working out exactly how long it takes for a small glass of white wine to work its way out of your system so I could factor this into the feeding schedule. I know, Mother of the Year!

I’ve never really thought much about how becoming a parent has affected my drinking habits. Apart from making the connection that it’s probably gone up as a result.

But when Mini-me started school in September I started to notice that the occasions on which I’d pour myself a glass ‘a little earlier than usual’ were becoming more frequent. Let’s face it sometimes you need a little pick-me up to get through a whingeing bath time episode.

And as one friend said this week, it’s not like we’re out at the pub every other night any more. Vino in the company of rubber ducks can actually constitute a ‘good night’ these days.

Something about juggling even more than I’d been used to in the past though – homework, PTA bits and pieces, reading all the school paperwork, trying to organise regular playdates for Mini-me – with work and, well, just life, meant I’d started to rely on wine perhaps a little more than I should to help me relax of an evening.

Don’t get me wrong. The most I ever drink is a couple of glasses, even on the rare occasions when I am out. And I can’t even remember the last time I had a hangover because, frankly, it’s just not worth it. (God I sound boring!)

I once edited a story at the women’s magazine where I used to work about a mum who hid neat vodka in the iron. If I’d reached this stage I would be worried!

But what’s been nice over the past few weeks is realising that if I can push through the 6pm slump, I’m usually fine with a cuppa come 8.30pm.

(The fact that I seem to have filled the alcohol void with more chocolate and cake-type treats is by the by!)

How long my uncharacteristic drinking behaviour continues for remains to be seen.

We’re moving house in a few weeks so all that lovely packing will probably drive me to drink.

But honestly if I can get through some evenings without reaching for the corkscrew (or more often these days the screw top!) then I’m not going to worry about those days when I text my friends asking whether it’s ‘wine o’clock’ yet.

Because I’m only human – and the fact remains that I have absolutely no desire to become Gwyneth Paltrow.

Back to ‘normal’ – whatever that is…

I took the Christmas tree down this morning. Cut the wreath off the door, packed away the decorations for another year, then lugged the tree to the back door almost breaking something in the process.

I always find this annual tradition mildly depressing, like most people I suppose – but being a self-confessed Neat Freak I do quite enjoy hoovering up all those pesky pine needles afterwards.

And yes of course you don’t have to tell me I should get out more – I’ve got two children under five and several hundred pounds of leftover festive chocolate taunting me!

Anyway that aside, at this time of year, once Christmas, New Year and my birthday are behind us, although I hate the cold, dark mornings that will hang around for several more months, I do like pretending that I’m going to turn over several new leaves.

I always like to order a fitness video that I’ll use, ooh at least three times. This year it’s a Bollywood dance one.

I like to chat about converting to a healthier, leaner, more carb-free diet and cooking everything from scratch. Tonight I’m making stir fry, but don’t worry normal service and ready meals at least a couple of nights a week should be back on the menu by the weekend.

I like to ponder over which new hobby I should take up. Should it be running I wonder, perhaps tennis or photography? Or will it actually be sitting on my arse desperately trying to read more than a couple of pages of the books I got for Christmas – who can tell.

Anyway one thing I am definitely going to try and stick to in 2016 is feeling less guilty about things I can’t change/ haven’t done but should/ will never realistically get around to.

As a mum I really do think it’s ingrained in us to beat ourselves up mentally on a daily basis about anything, everything and the frankly ridiculous and it’s exhausting!

In just the past few days since the new year dawned I’ve had a sleepless night over all the things I’m ‘not doing’ with my career, felt terrible about how much more I could be helping out at Mini-me’s school and also how I should be helping Blue-eyed boy to socialise more and become less shy.

Whenever I think about work stuff in particular it’s always in the context of comparing myself unfavourably to others with freelance writing careers. I stew over areas that I haven’t managed to break into yet, rather than patting myself on the back for things that I have achieved.

In the last six months of last year for example I completed a non-fiction writing course, wrote a book pitch and first chapter on a subject I’ve been passionate about for half a decade and submitted it to a publisher.

I started taking on PR clients based purely on a little bit of email and social media networking and expanding this area of my business.

I held down two regular writing gigs and pitched and published various other features with half the amount of childcare I used to have.

But most often I can be found lamenting all the other things I should (at least inside my scrambled brain) be doing – such as finishing a novel, taking on loads of new copywriting clients, pitching a weekly column etc. etc. etc.

And of course this isn’t just limited to me. Every mum I know, whether full-time parent, full-time employee or small business owner, plays the ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ game frequently.

All of which brings me in a round-about sort of fashion to the late, great Nora Ephron.

Nora penned my two favourite film of all time, Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, and she also worked as a journalist, food writer, movie director, playwright, blogger, novelist, and probably many other things as well.

She also had brilliant pearls of advice to offer such as: ‘Everything is copy’, and: ‘Be the heroine of your life not the victim.’

So when I’m next feeling down on myself I’m going to pick up the book of some of her works hubby bought for my birthday and try and big up what I have achieved a little bit more.

Without getting too pretentious, writer and journalist India Knight has described Nora as the ‘imaginary fairy godmother of all women who choose to make a living by the pen and their wits,’ and I’d like to think that’s me.

And that’s a pretty lucky thing to be able to say – whether I balance the books or not!