Tag Archives: toddler

Muddling through

I have spent most of my time as a parent feeling like I’m muddling through. From the early days with Baby Number One (when I constantly wondered why he did not seem to do anything the baby books said he ‘should’), through to now (a few weeks before Baby Number Two’s first birthday), our days seem to be a pick-n-mix bag of ‘let’s just try it and see how it goes’.

Sometimes, muddling through can bring unexpected joy. Like when your kids just WILL NOT go to bed at night (but it doesn’t really matter, because it results in cosy cuddles on the sofa).

Sofa cuddles

9pm and counting…

Other times, muddling through means watching in bewilderment as your toddler goes apeshit about what you can only assume is some major catastrophic life event.

Leafgate

His friend picked up a leaf

It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one muddling through – that everyone else knows what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. So it always surprises me when, while chatting to other parents – those who seem to have routines and plans and well-behaved children who never have a meltdown over a broken cream cracker – they say, ‘Oh, you know, we’re just muddling through.’

Huh.

But you know what? This makes sense. Because when it comes to parenting that first tiny newborn, none of us have done it before. It’s a whole new world of responsibility, sleep deprivation, unexplained crying, and sleepsuits with roughly 3,000 poppers that never seem to line up properly. Then later, if a second baby comes along? Well, we’ve never had to entertain a fully-grown child while coping with all the above, either.

It turns out that, as parents, often none of us knows what the bloody hell we’re doing. We really are all just muddling through.

When muddling through goes well, it can leave you feeling like you’re clutching a winning lottery ticket on a blustery day: by some miracle everyone is smiling… but you know not to get too cocky, because the wind could change any second, whipping the ticket out of your hand and the smiles off everyone’s faces. This is called a Good Day.

And when it goes wrong? You can feel perplexed and unsure. You constantly doubt yourself. It can make you question whether you’re a good parent; question whether you’re good enough at all. It can leave you exhausted, frustrated and sometimes even in tears. This is called Never Mind, Tomorrow Is Another Day.

Now, I’m not normally one for imparting advice (because, clearly, I’m no expert), but in my three-and-a-bit years of muddling through, I’ve learned a couple of little tricks that seem to keep the peace, which I thought I’d share…

1 No matter how dire things seem, the addition of breadsticks will improve almost any ‘child meltdown’ situation by approximately 97%.

2 Fresh air, fresh air and more fresh air! It’s amazing how running around a green space releases tension. For everyone. (Some days we spend so much time outside, my kids think we live in the woods.)

outside

…and breathe!

3 Bring a tub of Play Doh/paper and crayons/playing cards/some Lego everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. Cuddly toys get boring fast, but an activity can keep them entertained for, oh, at least five minutes. Result.

But do you want to know the most important thing I’ve learned? The only thing that really matters is that you love your kids. If you do, then you’re absolutely nailing this parenting shit.

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Not perfect? That’s perfectly fine…

The other evening, I sat down for dinner with my children. It looked like this: the two-year-old was eating a waffle and fish fingers. With lots of ketchup. The baby was being spoon fed straight from a jar of puree. We were sitting on the sofa in front of the telly. We weren’t even watching some sort of educational CBeebies offering… we were glued to Dragons: Riders Of Berk.

I’ll be honest – this wasn’t quite how I’d pictured mealtimes, back in the days when I was enthusiastically whizzing up a homemade puree out of an organic butternut squash.

A few years ago, I would have been mortified at the current scene (which admittedly is not every mealtime, but is regular enough that I couldn’t legitimately call it a ‘rare occurrence’). But you know what? Something has changed.

I’ve dropped the guilt.

This wasn’t even a conscious decision. It happened when my daughter was born. It happened because, frankly, running around after two children instead of just the one – and once more being on call during the night as well as the day – I simply don’t have time to worry any more. I don’t have time to worry whether the TV has been on for an hour more than it ‘should’ have been; whether all meals have been made from scratch; whether not taking my youngest to baby yoga/baby ballet/baby sign language/baby sensory classes is going to somehow stunt her development; and I certainly don’t have time to worry about how everyone else is raising their children – and how I compare. Ultimately, however parents get through the day, we are all doing the best we can for our children. And if that means a ‘from the freezer’ meal while glued to The Bedtime Hour to avoid meltdowns every so often most evenings, then that works for me. After all, tummies are getting filled and my children are happy. So now, rather than beating myself up about it, I’m happy, too.

There have also been a few actual parent fails this week…

I had 10 minutes to clean the house the other day and, on leaving the front room to locate a broom, returned to find the baby had discarded her toys in favour of the vacuum cleaner’s electrical cord and was cheerily using it as a teething toy.

Cable teether

‘Baby toys? No thanks Mummy, I’ve found this’

Then yesterday, while cleaning the splash mat after my daughter’s enthusiastic baby-led lunch, the toddler swiped the Dettol (which I’d left lying on the floor) and casually gave his little sister’s head a spritz.

BLW lunch

I’ll admit she needed a clean. Just not like that

In days gone by, both the above would have left me feeling like such a bad mother I’d have needed a 12-week course of therapy. These days? We simply rectify the situation and get on with things. Happily. No guilt.

It’s a revelation.

There’s been one other major change that has led to me feeling so much more relaxed and happy as a second-time-round parent: not only do I no longer have time to worry, but I have also not had a chance to open a single baby book.

Not one.

They have remained closed, on the shelf.

Which has resulted in all those ‘shoulds’ remaining on the shelf as well. Gathering dust. Where they belong.

Instead, I have been parenting by instinct. If it feels right to me, then it probably is. It’s liberating not to feel judged by a few hundred pages written by an author who does not know me, or my children. Not to be made to feel that I am somehow ‘spoiling’ my baby by cuddling her to sleep [check], bed-sharing [check] and baby wearing [check] (incidentally, I’m not saying any of this is the ‘right’ way to parent. It’s simply right for us).

Snuggles2

Sleepy cuddles to go. Nothing better

Ironically, this newfound ‘no-book’ attitude led me to an interaction on Twitter, which saw me recently attend a book launch. The Confident Mother by Sherry Bevan is a parenting book – but not as you know it. Comprising interviews with some truly inspiring mothers and experts, it doesn’t tell you how to parent: it simply helps you trust yourself. Its message is simple and brilliantly empowering – being good enough is good enough. Really.

I am not the perfect mother.

But I love my children with a love I never knew existed until they were here.

And that’s good enough for me.

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All by myself

Last weekend, my husband suggested he take the kids for a walk in the same woods where I was heading for a run, so they could see me.

What?

Don’t get me wrong, I adore spending time with my children. But I’ve got to be honest, I think they see quite enough of me as it is. In fact, I figured out the last time I’d had ten minutes completely to myself had been 61 hours ago.

My children are with me from the moment I wake up. The baby watches me from the comfort of her bouncy chair while I shower; the toddler ‘reads’ stories to me while I get dressed; I have constant company throughout the day as I attempt to feed, clean, entertain, cuddle, console and rescue (the baby recently got stuck under the play kitchen after one roll too many) my little people. My youngest falls asleep in my arms every evening and then, when I’m just about ready for a little space at night, she often ends up snoring beside me in bed, too (apparently, being gently lowered into a warm, cosy cot is akin to being dropped into a cold, damp cave: not pleasant).

And I’m not complaining about any of this. All I ask is that, a few times a week, I get to be alone. All. By. Myself. Just me and an empty trail to run along, with maybe the odd dog walker to nod hello to (I don’t mind seeing a dog walker during my alone time, because while they may interrupt my solitude, they are not reliant on me and are unlikely to require me to provide sustenance/sing a nursery rhyme/wipe their bum as I pass them by).

Woods

An empty trail = heaven

The need for a little ‘me’ time is just one reason why I’d like my running to remain family-free. There is also the practical aspect.

I’m just not sure how easily I’d get into my stride with a little voice shouting, “Mummy, look at me! Look at me Mummy! Look! Look Mummy!” every three seconds.

Then there’s the baby.

I’m pretty sure she chooses the most inconvenient moments to glance my way and think, “Lunch” (I recently had to whip a boob out in church while attending a christening. It’s all very subtle, but still…). So, in the middle of a run? Yes, this would be pretty inconvenient. I’m not sure if you’ve tried to get out of a Shock Absorber Run bra recently? If not, the design is a Godsend to female runners the world over, but it’s not exactly easy access when it comes to feeding a baby. (Obviously. I mean, this is not what it’s designed to do.) I swear, if Houdini had been set the task of getting out of one of these bad boys, he’d have spent so long grappling with the various clasps he’d have died suspended upside down in that tank of water.

So, with all the above taken into consideration, my inner voice screamed, ‘Nooooooo!’ at my husband’s suggestion.

But I hate hurting people’s feelings. So instead I said:

‘Great idea! Let’s go!’

I am such a tit sometimes.

Anyway, one baby, one child, one buggy, one scooter, one spare nappy, one pack of wipes, one portable potty, two changes of clothes and one pot of snacks later, off we went.

I ran on ahead, to shouts of “Mummy? Where you going Mummy? I’ll run too Mummy!” Oh bless him.

I didn’t look back.

And you know what? It was fine. I pretty much managed to complete my intended interval session before I heard shouts through the trees of, “Mummy! Where are you?” (This was inevitable. I run through a small patch of woodland that’s about a 4K loop. It’s not exactly the New Forest: they were always going to see me).

I ignored that little voice for a few minutes, although it was getting ominously louder.

And then I saw them. My little family. And rather unexpectedly, despite the fact they had muscled in on my alone time, my heart soared with joy at the sight of them. And when my little boy yelled excitedly, “Keep running Mummy!” I nearly cried. He looked so proud of me.

Unfortunately, at this particular moment, they were stood at the top of a bloody great big hill and I was at the bottom.

“Keep running Mummy!”

How do you explain to your excitable son that, actually, you’ve just finished a 6 x 5-minute tempo session, and you’re actually pretty knackered and have earned the right to stop?

Answer: you don’t.

So I kept running. I kept running back to him.

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‘That’ girl

It was 15 minutes into my run when I saw her.

With her long legs and swinging ponytail and perfect running stride. She was wearing tiny racing shorts, for Christ’s sake. And she looked about 15 years younger than me.

I say ‘saw’ her. In actual fact, she leapt past me like a sodding gazelle and was then off, into the distance.

I couldn’t see her for very long.

There I was with my extra stone of baby weight, wondering how attempting to run 5K had ever become so bloody hard. Wearing black capris, even though it was boiling (there’s no way I’m exposing the dog walkers to my legs just yet). And minus the swinging ponytail, which I recently swapped for a pixie cut that is a touch more Shoreditch than suburbs on a good day (I momentarily forgot I was a mother of two at the salon) and a touch more slept-in-a-ditch than Shoreditch on a bad day. It’s 50/50.

Seeing her was almost enough to stop me in my tracks and make me wonder why the hell I was bothering.

Almost.

Because then I decided that, actually, she really didn’t look like she had two children to care for round the clock. Which means she hasn’t pushed the best part of half a stone of human being out of her vagina four short months ago. And her body hasn’t been stretched and softened by pregnancy. And her whole being isn’t weighed down by the very physical demands of caring for two little ones.

On top of that, she won’t have been up in the night feeding a baby or trying to find Nemo. Not a bizarre Pixar-related euphemism, I promise. I mean I have literally had to try to find Nemo, the cuddly clown fish, who has got lost down the side of my son’s bed no fewer than three times this week. [Nemo, hear this: if I am called in at 3am one more time to locate you, I am going to stop thinking you are a cute little toy and start thinking that you are, in fact, a bit of a dick.]

Nemo

Nemo. My nemesis.

So, I might be ‘curvier’ than I was pre-children. I might be more tired. I might be softer and slower, and I might struggle to make it up that final hill.

But deep down, I am stronger.

And I won’t be stopped in my tracks.

Once I picked up the pace again, I realised something. You know what? It really didn’t matter whether ‘that’ girl had children or not. Whether she really was 15 years younger than me, or whether she has simply inherited good genes. In fact, if she is also a tired mother and is still managing to bang out a training run that looked like it could have bagged her a sub 45-minute 10K, well done to her!

Seeing her reminded me that running is an amazingly personal endeavour, with very personal goals and very personal achievements. Unless you are an elite athlete, it really isn’t about racing other people. It is not about comparison. Not for me, anyway. Everyone is running off their own struggles; their own stresses and strains. Everyone is running towards their own personal best.

Some might be a bit speedier or a bit slimmer than others, but at the end of the day, we’re all runners.

If I ever see ‘that’ girl again, I’ll even give her a smile and cheer her on her speedy way.

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Mini breaks vs mini adventures

My husband has recently returned from a long weekend away. Kayaking. In the Norwegian Fjords. With a spot of wild camping thrown in for good measure. A few years back, this is exactly the sort of adventure we would have gone on together.

Bastard.

OK, OK, it was a stag do, so I wouldn’t have been on the invite list even if we hadn’t had young children. But still. Norway, people. I feel I have the right to be a little pissed off by his 63.5-hour break away. Not that I was clock-watching.

And OK, despite the fact I upped the guilt factor for my husband (obviously), I actually had a bloody good weekend as well. The little ones were (for the most part) on great form, and the weather was beautiful, so we had a lot of time outside – in the garden, at the park and chasing around the woods. Plus we had a night at Nanny and Papa’s house, so we all felt thoroughly well looked after, and I even managed to get an hour to myself to go for a much-needed run.

With Papa

Grandparents. What would we do without them?

But the whole ‘weekend away from the children’ thing got me thinking. Could I? I’m not sure I could. Not just yet. Not while they’re so small.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m no saint. There are countless times during the week that I practically have one foot out the door to make a run for it, usually in the middle of a “don’t want that Mummy” mealtime, or after a loooong morning followed by nap refusal, or when I’ve trodden on one too many pieces of Lego that day. There are many times each week I have to stand on the other side of the door to my toddler and slowly count to ten. Many times when I wish I could simply pack a bag and take my own 63.5-hour holiday.

But then I look at them. And I remember that, for the first time in my life, I am completely and utterly needed. That I don’t spend all my time nurturing and caring and clothing and feeding and cuddling and rocking them just for fun. It’s vital.

And all this without even taking into account the fact that, for the first time, I have a bottle-refusing baby. And that, when presented with said bottle (be it filled with expressed milk or formula), she reacts as if I have just offered her battery acid, and only calms down once more when I shove a boob back in her mouth, to reassure her that, in fact, all is still right with the world.

So no, I can’t simply pop out for 63.5 hours.

Mind you, while my husband sits in an office Monday to Friday, right now I get to spend my days having lots of mini adventures with my little ones. And watching my toddler balance along a fallen tree for the first time – and seeing the look of sheer joy and pride on his face – beats a mini break any day.

Balancing

Sharing his daily adventures. How lucky am I?

So I guess it’s 50/50.

Obviously though, I still had to force a smile through gritted teeth when my husband showed me the photos from his weekend away.

His weekend

Jealous? Me? *Sobs quietly*

Like I said. Bastard.

Leaving the house with small children: a beginner’s guide

In the past week, due to a toddler with a sickness bug, a husband who’s had to work late and a baby who insists on feeding all evening, I’ve only managed to head out for one run. It’s made me realise what a mammoth task training for a marathon while caring for a very young family is going to be. Still, one thing consoles me. However tough it’s going to be, it won’t be nearly as hard as my almost daily task of trying to make the 5ft journey from the house to the car with said young family.

Unfamiliar with having to get out the door with an entourage of mini people? Here’s how it works.

10am: Inform toddler that it will be time to leave the house in five minutes. Ask toddler if he needs a wee.

10.01am: Watch as toddler breaks down into tantrum of epic proportions, because he does not want to leave the house. Ever, Mummy.

10.05am: Try to placate toddler by telling him we’re going to the park and he will have fun.

10.06am: Dodge the Lego train the toddler hurls.

10.07am: Sit down with flailing toddler and explain we don’t throw things in this house.

10.10am: Bribe toddler with a cookie.

10.11am: Wonder why I didn’t bribe toddler with a cookie ten minutes ago.

10.12am: Find toddler’s shoes. Ask toddler if he needs a wee.

10.13am: Baby starts crying. Realise it would be wise to feed her, to avoid the car journey from hell.

10.14am: Feed baby. Toddler asks to watch Peppa Pig. Tell him he can watch just one episode.

10.29am: Three episodes of Peppa Pig later, everyone is ready.

10.30am: Turn Peppa Pig off. Give toddler another cookie. Get toddler’s shoes on. Ask toddler if he needs a wee.

10.32am: Hear the baby fill her nappy. Head upstairs to change nappy.

10.33am: Realise it’s explosive. Change baby’s entire outfit.

10.42am: Get back downstairs with baby. Spy toddler’s shoes at the bottom of stairs. Toddler has vanished.

10.43am: Locate toddler. Ask him if he needs a wee.

10.45am: Get both baby and toddler in their car seats. Get in the car. Start the engine. Toddler announces he needs a wee.

10.46am: Turn off engine. Race out of car with toddler and back into the house. Locate potty. Sit toddler on potty. Console myself that at least that distant crying I can hear isn’t my child.

10.47am: Realise that distant crying I can hear is my child. It’s my other child. The one who is now outraged at having been left in the car.

10.48am: Get toddler back in his car seat. Get back in car. Toddler announces he needs his tractor. NOW Mummy!

10.49am: Slowly lower head to the steering wheel and silently weep for those bygone days when all I had to do was grab my keys, grab my bag and then LEAVE THE F*CKING HOUSE.

10.50am: Go back inside. Locate tractor.

10.51am: It’s the wrong tractor.

10.52am: Lose the will to live.

10.53am: Go back inside. Locate every tractor the toddler owns.

10.56am: Present toddler with eight tractors.

10.57am: Get back in car. Turn the engine on. Reverse out of driveway.

10.58am: Congratulate self on leaving the house in less than one hour.

11.01am: Realise I’ve forgotten the changing bag. Turn car around.

Yes. Running a marathon will definitely be easier than this.

Car

Getting a toddler into a car seat: harder than running 26.2 miles.

On Father’s Day

Back in 2009, before we had even contemplated the adventure that is parenthood, my husband and I went on a different adventure: a month campervanning around New Zealand. While there, we ticked a few obligatory activities off the list: bungee jumping [check]; horse riding [check]; single-track mountain biking [check]; sky diving [him, not me. You will never catch me in a plane that tiny]; and white water rafting. I was really looking forward to this last one. My mum had done it. How hardcore could it be?

I had no idea about grades.

My mum has rafted a Grade 3 river (intermediate: still impressive, mum). Ours was Grade 5.

A quick Wikipedia search has since provided me with the following information:

“Grade 5: extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk… swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts.”

Excellent.

On top of this, due to adverse weather the previous week, they’d cancelled all trips as the river was deemed too dangerous.

At the time, I was not armed with this information. It didn’t take long for the nerves to kick in, mind. When even the guides (who navigate the river day in, day out) look excited, you get a pretty good idea it’s not going to be smooth sailing.

The experience was exhilarating terrifying. There were three rapid sections. And we only did two of them in the raft. Yes: we capsized.

Rafting 1

Oh, this? This was nothing…

rafting 2

…because then this happened.

rafting 3

And finally this. This was not supposed to happen.

As I got sucked under the water and dragged along the river bed, I felt strangely calm. It was only when I eventually surfaced, amidst swells of white water, trying desperately to catch a breath, that I began to panic.

And then, like a mirage, the rescue boat appeared in front of me. A girl grabbed my life jacket as I spluttered for air. I was too shocked to follow her instructions as she tried to get me onto the boat. This rescue was not going particularly well.

And then I heard a familiar voice.

“I’ve got her”.

My husband. He’d already been pulled from the water, and now he had hold of my life jacket. And at that moment, I completely relaxed, despite still being in the river; despite the fact I was still coughing up water. Because I knew something: I knew he wouldn’t let me go.

Where am I going with this tale? I guess my point is that, while the types of adventures we’re now having are very different (these days, it’s more, “Can we get the toddler to the potty in time?” rather than, “Is this river raftable?”), one thing hasn’t changed.

On those days when I’m floundering; even when I’ve already sunk below a tide of congealed Weetabix splatters and meal refusals and nappies and tantrums and baby sick, I know something.

I know my husband will walk back in and rescue us. And I know he won’t let us go.