Things you never really get until having kids

In the dim and distant past, otherwise known as the years before children, I vaguely remember an old boss once making what, at the time, I thought was a really fatuous comment.

I seem to recall that I’d been moaning about how knackered I was. She as a busy, working mum-of-three no doubt thought that, with me then being 28 and childless, it was one of the most stupid complaints she’d ever heard.

‘Wait until you have kids,’ she told me. ‘Then you’ll really know the meaning of being tired.’

And much as I feel like I’m betraying my younger self by admitting this, boy was she right!

Not that I’m here to preach to the un-converted you understand, but one of the secrets of having a family that you never really ‘get’ until living through it, is how you will learn to survive on hardly any sleep – and copious amounts of caffeine to slightly deaden that ‘insomnia’ tension headache.

Blue-eyed boy seems to be teething again at the moment – judging by his grumpy night-time moods and extensive drooling. Which means he isn’t sleeping – so neither are we.

And incidentally what’s with that thing where those pesky one-year-olds like to throw you off guard? You know with one good night where you think it’s either over or you’ve finally cracked it, followed by five bloody awful ones!

Anyway, lack of shut-eye aside. All this sleep deprivation torture/ extra early hours analysing time, has got me thinking about those other scenarios that you never fully relate to until having pushed out a sprog or two.

It’s a little like suddenly being able to speak a new language.

Firstly there’s the fear of causing a scene in a public place. Yes you care less as time goes by (party because you don’t have the energy) but don’t pretend you ‘enjoy’ being the mum of the offspring having a hissing, kicking tantrum in your local shoe shop or public library.

Then there’s the associated family tension caused by eating out. Yes that previously enjoyably leisure pursuit now compromised by everyone’s fear of causing a scene in a restaurant.

And by the way ‘friends’ who tell you their immaculately behaved children sit nice and quietly doing colouring before using their knife and fork properly only make it worse!

There’s the worry about your kid being ‘the one’ in the toddler music class (and this is true of any class, birthday party or ‘toddler social setting’ with other parents you don’t know well) who either runs around screaming causing total carnage or knocks another child over.

And it’s guaranteed to be the one belonging to ‘Judgy Mummy’ who will look down at her nose at you while you apologise profusely.

There’s the thing where you feel like laughing in the face of the health visitor who advises you to cut out drinking several nights a week – or altogether. And so what if that welcoming glugging sound occasionally happens before bath-time…

These little ‘parenting club’ scenarios are endless so sure to be revisited here on the Neat Freak blog.

But the final one for now is one that recently reared its head with my poor sister and her two lovely boys. Namely the horrible feeling that comes with being ‘put in your place’ just because your children are, well, being children.

In this case it involved them going out for breakfast, an obviously childless couple shooting her evils for the entire meal and muttering about ‘terrible parenting’ and then when she politely approached them and said they were making her feel uncomfortable she was sworn at.

It’s something that in the days before kids I would never have fully appreciated the awfulness of. But now I do.

So, in the spirit of goodwill, I hope the bastards choked on their eggs!

Parenting in a heatwave

So is it just me or has it been rather humid today?!

Seriously, if I want to be roasted alive I’ll go and live on Mars…

Grumpy levels in the Neat Freak household tend to rapidly rise with thermometer levels if I’m honest.

As my dad is part Indian people always tend to assume I’m a sun worshipper along with my sister. She thrives on weather hotter than living inside a microwave, and during her teen years used to oil up and lie out under the midday rays rotating herself occasionally a little like a rotisserie chicken.

Yes one of those slightly annoying types who breezes around looking cool whatever the temperature gauge says in one of her sparkly summer frocks.

Not me. I used to come out in a charming combination of prickly heat and hives. Brilliant when trying to impress teenage boys on a campsite holiday let me assure you…

Anyway, I’ll try to stop moaning, except to say that parenting in a heatwave isn’t much fun. And here’s why.

  1. The kids don’t sleep, so neither do you.
  1. Fans can only do so much. Like push hot air around an already sweltering room.
  1. Your ‘waitressing’ demands go on the rapid rise. Now you have ice cubes, ice pops, ice cream, iced drinks and copious straws to add to the never-ending list of requests.
  1. Sweat patches and stripes around the middle region (lovely!) tend to be larger when hefting around a large, lazy one-year-old.
  1. Public transport of any kind descends into total chaos. Meaning hubby is uber-cranky, and so are you. And while we’re on the subject why don’t rail tracks ‘melt’ in other countries?!
  1. There’s no chance of a rest when feeling light-headed.
  1. You are not even ‘allowed’ to watch Wimbledon. And why would you want to when you can enjoy your third Night Garden of the day?!
  1. You are constantly worried that the 13 layers of sun-cream you have coated your children in will be insufficient, they’ll burn and turn beetroot and you’ll become one of those ‘neglectful mothers’ vilified and shamed in the Daily Mail.
  1. You cannot under any circumstances get your child to wear their sunhat. And the ‘game’ of retrieving and trying to put it back on their head every 30 seconds ISN’T FUNNY ANY MORE.
  1. You haven’t got the energy to take the kids to the splash park. So you throw jugs of water over them in the garden and weep at how rubbish you are.
  1. You know you should be drinking water, after all it’s only 11am, but all you want is a gin and tonic.
  1. You hate all your summer clothes. They don’t mix with ‘mummy tummy.’
  1. You know you really must stop complaining. After all as soon as it’s freezing outside you’ll be praying for summer again…

It’s the little things really…

This parenting lark is strange isn’t it?

Without sounding too like a therapy session I can imagine Gwyneth sitting through, I think sometimes it makes you forget to look at the bigger picture. At least I know that’s the case for me.

I can also be more ‘glass half empty’ than I should when work and looking after little people is pushing up the stress levels, and that only adds to a certain sleep deprived, blinkered view of the world.

In those very early days of having children, when everything is all new and shiny (and you’re not too knackered yet) you can often spend literally hours just staring at your baby thinking: ‘How on earth did we produce someone so amazing?!’ and: ‘Every tiny fingernail is a miracle!’

You know, a tad cheesy. A bit like the script of a Jennifer Aniston film!

Then those 2 and 5am feeds start to stack up and you find yourself, through furrowed brow, wondering how you are, inevitably, going to mess them up!

Becoming a mum or dad is the point at which you’re supposed to really count your blessings – and of course you do.

But equally all the plate-spinning that comes with the job means you’re sometimes so focused on simply getting through the day that you can forget the daily wonder of it all.

I certainly know I’m guilty of fobbing off Mini-me on occasion, telling her that I’ll be there in a minute when in reality I’m furtively listening to the radio with a semi-hot beverage.

Sticking Beebies or a film on so I can get a job done when I really should have spent longer asking about what she enjoyed at nursery today.

Rushing through Blue-eyed boy’s bed-time book so the ‘bath production line’ can continue moving.

Bizarrely it’s been him coming out in chickenpox – not welcomed, but expected – that has given me a bit of a wake-up call in the Neat Freak household this week.

I’ve been so knackered that I’ve just let the laundry mountain, and other mind-numbing but ‘essential’ chores, continue to mount up. That’s given me more time to reflect on those little gems that are the things we really want to remember when they’re all grown up and don’t need us anymore.

Mini-me and I decided to go on a bear hunt around the garden as we couldn’t inflict poor ‘spotty baby’ on the outside world – with me sporting a fetching PJs and wellies combo – and we enjoyed it so much that we’ve now decided to make it a daily thing.

I’ve re-discovered that Blue-eyed boy really does enjoy a waltz around the living room. And that it makes me dizzier than it used to!

The point is that I had forgotten just how lucky I am to have more time with them while poor hubby contends with his daily three-hour plus commute.

I hope once the ‘pock pocks’ are finally faded and I’m fully back in the world of permanent multi-tasking that I don’t forget to stop a few times a day and just soak it all in.

Before they’re both stroppy teenagers who want nothing to do with me!

Not getting better with age…

They say a fine vintage only improves with the passing years.

Probably not the case with buying whichever white is on offer in the supermarket eh?!

Anyway, wine consumption aside, it’s been a ‘prop those eyes open with matchsticks’ sort of week in the Neat Freak household.

Mini-me has valiantly fought, and scratched, off ‘the pox’ and we now wait with anticipation (more like total dread) for some sign of the small, itchy little sods blooming on poor blue-eyed boy.

Hubby’s friend, who has children almost exactly the same age as us, regaled him with a heart-warming tale yesterday of how they thought they’d got away with it with bubba number two. Until the pox re-appeared, like some sort of scary Jim Carrey sequel, when enough time had passed that they’d allowed themselves to relax.

‘Now he’s been exposed he’s bound to get it,’ said the voice of doom.

Oh goody!

More lack of shut-eye and passing out on the sofa because I’m so exhausted then, before blearily staggering up the stairs at 2am.

Last Sunday I woke up on the sofa at 4.30 in the morning. It was light outside. Birds were singing. Ridiculous!

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to read a news article about how, if you get by on only six hours of sleep a night, this will play havoc with your health.

Think dark circles hovering like bean bags under the eyes and skin a flattering shade of grey.

One expert said six hours of snooze time was the equivalent of driving your car over the same pothole every day. Apparently we should be getting eight or nine!

Now, correct me if I’m mad, but I thought six hours was pretty good when you have pre-school age children?!

And it’s even worse news for hubby, as when I finally do lumber into bed I’m a notoriously heavy sleeper, so more often than not he ends up getting up first with the kids.

Yes even kicking me in the ribs doesn’t work so I’m told…

I’d never really worried about obvious signs of ageing until mini-me approached her first birthday.

By then the inherent exhaustion that goes hand in hand with parenting had set in, and since then there have been (many) more grey hairs, more crinkly lines on my face and more ‘middle-aged spread.’

Yes, I’m clearly transforming into exactly Bradley Cooper’s type of woman. (Probably only if he actually was the Elephant Man… and even then he’d trade me in for someone younger, and firmer.)

The good news of course is that hubby will have to get over his Jessica Alba fetish as well!

The final insult hit home though, like a verbal punch to the chops, when mini-me was playing ‘families’ with her dolls and stuffed animals.

‘I’m the mummy, Mummy,’ she explained. ‘Baby brother is the baby and Moo Moo Cow is the daddy.’

‘Lovely. Who can I be?’ I asked.

She pondered for a few seconds.

‘You can be the granny,’ she beamed.

Fan-bloody-tastic.

If anyone could send me the number of a reputable face lift surgeon I’d be much obliged.

Things aren’t how they used to be

I’ve been thinking a lot about my lovely Gran recently.

Easter Sunday was the fourth anniversary of her funeral and on June 3 she would have been celebrating her 100th Birthday. Very sadly she’s not here to of course but I’ll no doubt raise a forkful of cake in her honour.

In some ways it’s good that Gran departed ‘while she still had all her marbles’, as she used to say. She once told me she had no desire to stick around for a telegram from the Queen if that meant she was no longer able to look after herself, be in her own home etc.

She was a straight talker my Gran. Having lived through some very tough times she told you like it was. She didn’t suffer fools gladly and that was one of the things I loved most about her I think.

It was Gran who first told me she believed I’d make a great writer one day, that she knew I ‘had a book in me.’ Well hopefully the elusive novel will emerge from the various notes I’ve scrawled over the years and half-finished ideas I have rattling around in my head and make her proud.

I hope at least that she was right about the writing thing – not that I’d ever use the label ‘great’ to describe my ramblings. If I can make a couple of people laugh that’s enough for me.

The reason for all this reminiscing is that I’ve also been thinking about how very hard the early years of being a parent must have been for Gran after having her first daughter, my mum.

My granddad left soon after she was born and was fighting in Burma during World War II. He didn’t come back until Mum was nearly four I think and at first was a complete stranger to her.

All this sprang to mind t’other day when I was trying to deal with a whingeing mini-me, a hungry blue-eyed boy, a sink full of dishes, piles of ‘plastic tat’ filling the lounge and several pressing copy deadlines humming dangerously at the back of my mind where I’d tried to stash them until later.

It was one of ‘those’ days where I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself, finding the juggling a little harder than usual – you know what I’m talking about.

I stuck a Night Garden on Beebies with promises to mini-me that she could watch the Wizard of Oz for the 15th time that week straight afterwards, fetched her the iPad and a snack, started heating up an Ella’s Kitchen pouch, called Mum to see if she could help me out the next day with the kids and then poured myself a glass of wine.

Then for some reason Gran popped fully formed into my mind tackling her own pre-school meltdown with what would have been my Mum as a small child.

She didn’t have a TV, was my first thought, and how on earth did she cope without one? In fact she had three kids before she had a television – the very thought makes me need to lie down for a few minutes.

Of course she didn’t have an iPad, or anything like it.

She wouldn’t have been able to afford anything like as many toys as we have now. There was no such thing as organic, pre-made baby and toddler food – she would have made everything from scratch and this while rationing was going on.

She wouldn’t have had much family help with Mum seeing as everyone was probably working.

She lived in Greater London during the war, so while she wasn’t in the heart of the bombing it must have been something that affected her. It must have been terrifying.

She must have had to seriously budget to make money last, she couldn’t have allowed herself many treats and perhaps she couldn’t afford that many for Mum.

She must have felt really isolated at times, scared about Granddad, missing him constantly and just plain lonely.

Perhaps she was desperate to get out to work at that time (she always worked in later years) and felt like she needed something for herself other than being a mum. After all we’ve all been there.

Yes I thought of all this as I sipped my wine and listened to Iggle Piggle jangling on the TV while blue-eyed boy laughed and I counted my blessings.

Because ‘tough’ as I have it on some days, I really don’t have it that tough at all.

Of course if she was here for me tell all this to she’d brush it off and say something like: ‘Pah, I got on with it because I had to and so would you.’

After all this is the woman who when Granddad tragically dropped dead of a heart attack six months after retiring said: ‘I managed without him once, I’ll do it again.’

I miss you Gran.

Please, Please, Please, Judge. Off.

I love reading other mum blogs. Especially those of the ‘honest parenting’ variety that I hope Neat Freak Mum peddles. Or tries to anyway.

It can be a bit overwhelming trying to juggle work and small people and blogging, but having a good ‘ole vent on here is indeed therapeutic stuff. And I love it!

Anyway, this particular blog is called ‘Mama Said’ (http://boganette.me/) and one post ‘Mama’ penned recently really struck a chord with me. It was all about those times in the wee small hours of the morning, where you’re sharing your bed with several offspring, someone needs a bottle, someone needs (another) change, hubby needs a good kick in the shins so he’ll stop snoring (and farting) and, well, you just want to SCREAM!

For a few minutes your yearning for your pre-child life is so overwhelming that you can almost taste it, and you just want one good night’s sleep and to wake up to 30 minutes’ of uninterrupted bathroom time.

So, being as it’s the middle of the night, you pen something to the above effect on social media – only to be greeted by comments from ‘well meaning’ people about how you should be grateful for this time because it goes so quickly. (As if you weren’t aware of this yourself.)

Now, I’m not looking to make a new career out of cribbing other peoples’ blogs I promise you! This just got me thinking about all those ‘well meaning’ comments I’ve had from people about my freelance career.

These have ranged from queries as to why I don’t simply give up my job ‘for my own sanity’. (Do they know me at ALL??!) To whether I should be turning work down, spending more time doing laundry, to ‘helpful’ input about the amount of childcare I’m using.

The childcare thing in particular really, REALLY gets my goat – mainly because putting my children, particularly blue-eyed boy, into nursery a couple of days a week already drives me insane with guilt.

I feel guilty literally all the time. Guilt about whether I put them in too much, guilt that I can’t devote as much time to work and that looming deadline as I should on a particular day, guilt about wanting to work, guilt about needing something in my life that’s mine other than being a mum, and major, major guilt about still being driven and inspired by my job even though I have now also procreated.

The thing is that these comments, however kindly intentioned, are a form of passing judgement on me as a mum, and believe me they can make the daily juggling act of working and parenting even harder than it already is.

I know for a fact that good friends who are stay-at-home mums are also on the receiving end.

I think most mums feel like they come under the microscope at some point – and who wants to be analysed?!

This is precisely why I try never to pass judgement on how other people choose to parent. Because we’re all different and what works for you may not for me, but good luck to you.

After all some days it’s about just getting to the end.

Now the above ramblings would have come in very useful during our Mother’s Day lunch out. If I could have packaged them into a perfectly honed yet concise argument that was just acerbic enough to slightly sting.

The recipients would have been a table of pensioners sitting across from us who tutted, raised their eyebrows and unsubtly and loudly talked about hubby and I behind the backs of their hands throughout our entire meal.

And the reason for their disgust? The fact that we put Night Garden on hubby’s iPhone to keep blue-eyed boy entertained while we ate for 20 minutes because he’s currently teething, miserable and very, very clingy.

Yes being judged for being a ‘bad’ parent throughout the meal made me feel great. And I probably should have said something to them, but I didn’t.

Well I am now.

Anyone reading this who likes to post ‘helpful’ comments on social media about their golden days of parenting… Judge Off.

If you feel the need to give me your ‘top tips’ for how to cope with freelancing whilst being a mum… Please Don’t.

And if you have strong views about the occasional use of ‘technical’ products to entertain my pre-school brood and keep me sane… Keep Them To Yourself.

In fact blue-eyed boy is at this precise minute watching Night Garden in his cot while I finish this because he woke up early from a nap…

And so ends my Party Parent-ical Broadcast!

Spooked

Hello readers and fellow harassed parents, if some of you are in fact still out there.

Firstly massive apologies for the long radio silence. All work and NO play has recently turned Neat Freak Mum into a shadow of her former self. (Or to be correct one with slightly less sense of humour and massively bigger eye bags…)

I’ve probably mentioned that alongside my adventures in blog-dom I’m also a journalist and copywriter, and as well as tap, tap, tapping away on features and regular commissions, I’ve recently launched a new copywriting business venture.

All very exciting but quite stressful too, so if anyone has worked out how to pack 30 hours into a 24 hour day I’d be very grateful for some tips!

The good news is that should I get totally fed up of penning features at 2am and throw my laptop out of the office window I now have another employment option to turn to.

Yes apparently a parliamentary report – don’t zone out just yet, Ed Miliband wasn’t involved in this one – has declared that spy chiefs at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ should start recruiting spies from Mumsnet.

Apparently the drones of middle-aged men ‘secret agents’ are causing an uncomfortable sounding condition, ‘permafrost’, and we mums would bring a new breadth of skills, intuition and more emotional intelligence to the job.

Where they think we’re going to find the time to jet off to some dark, dingy (because they always were dark and dingy on Spooks) former Soviet state and crack a code, infiltrate a criminal gang and free some hostages or defuse a bomb I don’t know.

Hmm, perhaps I could fit it in after sticking on the fish fingers. If hubby was around to turn off the grill and turn on the saucepan of spaghetti hoops that is.

Neat Freak Mum, double ‘Oh no not another bloody nappy change, blue-eyed boy!’ Sounds good doesn’t it.

One thing’s for sure, our supreme multi-tasking, general juggling and ability to clean up poo at the same time as fixing a bottle would certainly give us the edge.

Thinking back to Rupert Penry-Jones in Spooks I seem to remember certain qualities were required of ‘good’ spies.

*Keeping unsocial hours – Well that’s hardly going to be a stretch is it. Once you’ve got to bed at 2.33am having finally finished a piece of work only to be raised again at 2.35am by a teething baby, working through the night isn’t going to phase you.

*Always being on call – ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Muuummmmy, MUMMMMAAAAYYYY…..’ Need I say more?

*Able to respond in a flash to the messiest of emergencies – Yes once you’ve simultaneously mopped up ‘the trots’ at the same time as baby sick, or had to soak those grubby items of clothing nursery send home in a little plastic baggy, even Lisa Faulkner having her head shoved in a pan of boiling oil would probably all be in a day’s work.

*Always being prepared – Mums are famed for their ability to think ahead.

Whinging pre-schooler? Whip out the notebook and crayons you’ve brought to the restaurant, and if that fails the iPad.

Permanently hungry baby? Yes hubby of course I stashed a second bag of rice cakes in the change bag.

Other half falling asleep in his dinner? Where’s that can of Diet Coke I threw in earlier.

Yes this is sounding more attractive by the minute. Especially if RP Jones is still on the job too.

What’s that you say? We’d have to do this spy malarkey on top of the supermarket shop, nursery run, cleaning pen off the wall, washing hubby’s pants and fishing toys out from under the sofa.

And we’d be expected to make most of the tea rounds for the ‘permafrost’ gang.

Oh, s** off.