His first year

In just two weeks time, my little baby will turn one. This year has been the most tiring, most testing and most wonderful year of my life.

Watching him grow up over the last 11.5 months has been absolutely amazing and I feel so blessed to have him in my life.

He has changed from this extremely dependent, squishy baby into a confident, playful little boy. Every day he seems to learn something new and I can almost see him changing right in front of me.

My little boy is loving, playful, funny, confident, cuddly, spirited, cheeky and has a smile that melts my heart. When he rocks back and forth to me singing ‘Row Row your boat’ or when he puts his arms in the air when I ask him how big he is, I burst with pride at this little person we have created.

He loves to clap, to stand up unaided, to try to walk to you and knows what he wants to do and when (most of the time). Peekaboo, stacking rings, knocking down brick towers and climbing on to his toy boxes are some his favourite things to do.

We have ‘inside jokes’ where I give him a certain look and he laughs at me, or he gives me his cheeky look when he is being naughty and all is forgiven. I sometimes wonder who is learning more, him or me.

He has taught me patience and how to love unconditionally. He has taught me how to play again and how to shut off the world and just be us. He has forced me to come our of my comfort zone and breastfeed in public (in the early days), sing to him in the trolly in the supermarket or talk to strangers at baby groups. He has allowed my husband to become the amazing, wonderful dad that I knew he could be. He has turned us from a couple into a family.

He is completely amazing and I am overwhelmed by my love for him.

Germs

I have never been a sicky person, some people get every bug going but I am usually one that manages to avoid it. However, in the last 3 months, I have been ill more times than in the last 3 years.

I can’t remember when 2 weeks have gone by when J hasn’t had some form of cold, sickness or tummy bug; this has definitely escalated since starting childcare.  It does;t help that I also work in a school so probably bring home bugs from there.

J has just had a bad cold including conjunctivitis, so I lovingly wiped his nose, used cooled boiled water and two different pieces of cotton wool to wipe his eyes, only for him to use the back of his hand to wipe the snot right back up into his eyes.

Inevitably, after a few days of wiping up snot, sick and cleaning numerous dirty nappies, I too am struck down by the illness, followed by my husband. As I write this I am actually off sick from work with laryngitis – no voice, terrible cough, sore throat.

It is an important life lesson to share but it seems like we are living on a carousel of germs passing them around to each other. A never ending snotty ride.

When can we get off?

Perfect parent pressure

What makes the perfect parent?

Is it the mum who attends five baby groups a week? The dad who bathes his child every night? The parents who teach their child three languages by the time they are five?

Is there a parent in the world who can, hand on heart, say that they have never made a mistake? Whose child has never banged their head on something as they learn to sit/crawl/stand/walk? Who has never given Calpol as a last resort when all attempts to stop crying have failed?

After recently putting J on the floor to have a go at crawling, a relative said to me: ‘His learning is very structured.’ I wasn’t sure how to take it. It wasn’t an insult but it certainly wasn’t a compliment. I asked what they meant and they explained that I have specific ways of doing things and structured time for things like ‘tummy time’. It apparently wasn’t a bad thing but just the way I do things is planned and it’s different to how it was in their day.

I don’t know why I took offence to this and why it has stuck with me, surely trying to be organised about my son’s development should be a positive thing. Yet it felt like they were saying that all the fun had been taken away from play somehow and that their impression of me was that I watched the clock, saw it turn 3pm and immediately put him down for some ‘tummy time’. This is not the case at all. I am very much led by what he wants to do, which, to be fair, is fairly limited at this age.

I’ve said it before but it’s times like this that remind me that there is no right answer with parenting. There is no one perfect parent. It’s a subject that everyone has an opinion on depending on the way they did it with their children and how it was done in their day. I swear I would be rich if I got a pound every time someone told me how it was in their day…move on people, times are changing.

I read something recently that said that parenting is even tougher now; there is no village community feel where everyone mucks in with raising the baby, if you’re lucky enough to have supportive family and friends then that helps a bit but mostly, you’re on your own (with your partner). With social media taking over our lives, there is more pressure than ever to show everyone how brilliant your child is, to post pictures of being a smiley happy family and make sure everyone knows what a good time you are having. God forbid if you actually said what a crappy day you were having, posted a picture of your poo covered child and questioned whether you had really considered this parenting malarkey hard enough. Parenting is a minefield already without the added pressure created by social media and often, by other parents.

Yet I subject myself to this online battle on a daily basis and am an active member of several online mummy groups. On one of the aforementioned groups we discussed how many baby groups we went to every week, suddenly the posts started coming in, 3 a week, sometimes 4, like it was some kind of challenge or competition as to who could attend the most. I felt like I fell short of everyone else, even when I tried to keep up to attending 2 a week, there were always those mums that attended Baby Sensory on a Monday, Baby Sign on a Tuesday, Swimming lessons Wednesday, Ballet on a Thursday and Coffee mornings on a Friday. Yet I sometimes struggled to get us out of the house and organised on the two mornings I dare venture out. I couldn’t imagine doing more.

Competition also came in the form of child development. Posts about babies the same age as J crawling everywhere, saying Dada and Mama clearly, standing up, feeding themselves sandwiches, completing the Daily Mail’s Sudoku. Ok so the last one I made up but I was constantly looking at J’s stage and comparing him. It didn’t matter if he was doing things they weren’t; he wasn’t keeping up with every other single baby on the group. Whose baby was? It was a place to show everyone just how amazingly clever your baby was and I was waiting for the post saying ‘My baby has solved world hunger this morning whilst eating her breakfast that I freshly prepared and reading the morning paper – isn’t she a clever girl.’

So, it seems that for many parents, we have created this environment where we must compete. Must win. Must be this impossible perfect parent.

No one can possibly live up to the high standards we set ourselves. It is surely not possible to attend baby groups every day, bake buns for play group, prepare every meal from scratch and teach your child Mandarin whilst they throw your freshly prepared banana muffins on the floor. So we compromise. We do our best.

If I aim to be a perfect parent I will forever fall short. So I strive to be the best parent I can be for J, one that aims to make him happy and encourage him in whatever he does.

I may not be teaching my son a different language or taking him to Baby ballet but he seems happy enough, laughing away with glee as I pretend to ‘eat his hands’,

For us, this is as close to perfect as it can be.

Bogeys

When did I stop batting an eye at having someone else’s bogeys on my fingers?

When did I start putting my hand out to catch someone’s sick?

At what point in my life was it funny when someone weed on my clothes?

When did me cleaning up sh*t that was all up someone’s back and in their belly button become a spectator sport in which anyone visiting would have to come help or watch? Laughing when I inevitably got poo on my hands.

When did it seem ok to sit in the house wearing clothes that had a little bit of sick on the shoulder?

When I became a mother.

20 things I have learnt recently

  1. Poo, on the carpet, stains
  2. So does orange puree sick
  3. Tears rolling down your baby’s cheeks are the worst emotional blackmail ever
  4. 6am is apparently the new 7am
  5. A person can still function on a surprisingly little amount of sleep
  6. Baby teeth are really sharp
  7. Baby nails are even worse
  8. Sometimes explodapoo vests cannot be saved
  9. Some people still have very backwards views about mums who return to work
  10. Babies think it is brilliant to feed the cats from their highchair
  11. A baby’s laugh is the most infectious thing in the world
  12. You can co-exist in a house with another adult without actually knowing how their week has been (as you are both too tired to make conversation anymore other than to complain about nappies, sleep or some other baby related rubbish.)
  13. You need to make time for your partner.
  14. Good friends are hard to come by but really appreciated when things get tough
  15. Sometimes it’s ok to accept help
  16. Comparing a baby’s development against another is a waste of time. All babies are different and all get there in their own time.
  17. Everyone, whether they are a parent or not, has advice about raising a child.
  18. I don’t actually have to take said advice. This has been a tough one for me to learn. I can now nod, say yes and then totally ignore them.
  19. Being a mum is sometimes really hard
  20. It is also really amazing when they do something new for the first time

Testing times

Well it has been a testing few weeks. Apologies for not writing anything sooner. Work has kept me busy and worn out and then on top of that we have all had a bug.

J was sent home from the childminder in his second week there and after that, things went downhill. He was sick and went off food and then seemed to forget how to sleep in the night.

The last week or so has been full of sleepless nights, getting up to a crying baby who suddenly wants feeding again or cuddling back to sleep. So you feed, you cuddle and then you put them back down to sleep. The second you let go the crying starts again and you are back to the beginning.

It has been tough.

Work has been ok and I have settled in well but, combined with the lack of sleep, I have zero energy.

Then, when it seemed we were all coming out of the worst, my childminder tells me she is quitting. So I now have to find childcare again.

Many days this week I have felt like I have had to make a choice between staying home with my baby and going to work. Unfortunately, in a new job, I have to chose work. It was hard but J has been fine and probably didn’t really need me anyway.

As I write this, my eyes feel heavy; yet it is only the afternoon so I must go on.

The working mother?

Ever since I was 13 years old, excluding the last 7 months, I have worked. I started off working part time in a local florist and then at 16 worked in a clothes shop. When I left sixth form at 18, I started working in an office and have dabbled in many different careers since. At 23, I decided I wanted to teach and so I left my job and started my degree.

In September 13 I got my first proper teaching job, classes of my own, essays to mark; my dream job. In December, that same year, I fell pregnant. I was overjoyed and it was perfect timing as it meant that I could complete my first year of teaching and then have my baby in the summer.

On that last day of work, I felt a mixture of sadness and excitement. Sadness for the job I was leaving behind, the friends I had made, the students that I had worked hard to build rapport with and the routine I clearly knew and enjoyed. Then excitement and anticipation for the journey I was about to embark on: motherhood.

As someone who likes routine and to plan in advance, I knew full well that this was about to change. There is no routine and plans in parenting and you very much have to go with the mood of your baby. I remember telling a close friend, who knows me well, about the pregnancy and she laughed and said I was ‘screwed’ because she knows how I like to be in control.

When this tiny, squishy newborn arrived, earlier than expected, work went out of my mind and I focused all my energy and attention on caring for my son. It became my new full time job, literally morning, noon and night. There was no home time from this job, no lunch break, no weekend but that was fine and I cherish all my time with him. Work became my past, almost an alternative world, something I heard about, other people did it, complained about it and even my husband disappeared there every day.

However, a horrible, guilt filled, unspoken reality is that those first few weeks, once your partner has returned to work, can be very lonely and sometimes, dare I say, boring. Please don’t get me wrong, I was never bored by my son. I loved watching him do new things for the first time, however small. I took photos when he slept, when he pouted his lips differently, even of the back of his head (to remember his full head of hair).

IMG_3377

But every day was very similar: eat, sleep, poop, repeat. When he was too little to really play, my days were mostly filled with feeding him on demand or watching him sleep while daytime TV slowly dissolved my brain. I became trapped inside by my mummy responsibilities, too scared to venture out in case I needed to breastfeed him in public. So I remained at home with the baby, the cats and the TV.

As is usual, when a baby is born, I was initially inundated with visits from friends; some of which I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. One of my friends, a SAHM, said to me ‘I bet you never want to go back to work do you?’ When I replied that I actually missed work a little she was disgusted and shocked. The look on her face will stay with me for a while. I clearly had said the wrong thing. I was meant to gush about how much I loved spending all my time at home and that I was constantly enthralled and excited.

My problem was that I wasn’t mentally stimulated. I had gone from a busy, hectic career to dirty nappies and This Morning. My brain was becoming unused and bored and I started to miss work a little. Then the guilt set in, how could I possibly be feeling this way? Didn’t I love him enough? Was I doing it wrong? Was I a terrible mother? A terrible person?

No. I wasn’t. I just needed to adapt to change.

Even though J is only 6 months old, it’s hard to think back to those first couple of months. They were so different to now. Now, he laughs, giggles and smiles at me; the only smiles I got before were when he had wind. There used to be limited interaction from him to me but now we play together and his firsts are now are exciting for us both, the first time he rolled, had his first food and now, as I write this, I am watching him trying his hardest to sit up. When I cuddle him to sleep during the day and look in awe at this beautiful face, I wonder how I made him. I am far from bored. He is my little person. My world. My everything.

Yet, in just two weeks time, I will find myself in a very different situation. Instead of cuddling my baby and enjoying his laugh, I will be at work and someone else will be protecting my world and making him smile instead of me (the childminder).

I am understandably nervous about going to work, it is a new job (my last one was temporary) so not only do I have the fear of returning to work after maternity but also the worry of it all being new.

I am also going back to work earlier than originally planned. The job came up and I had to go for it. It was the perfect location, the perfect hours and just what I had been looking for. Fortunately, it is only 3 days a week but I will miss him like crazy.

The longest I have really left him through the day is about 2 or 3 hours. I am not sure how I will be apart from him from 7.30 till 4pm. I am sad to be leaving him and wonder why someone else gets to have the fun with him. No doubt, in time, I will miss out on some other firsts and the childminder will see them instead of me. I am facing that common dilemma many women have of how to balance being a mum and having a job.

I am left to feel guilty by some for going back to work early, and guiltier still by others for going back at all. The truth is, I need to go back for my own sanity and for some adult conversation. I may even get to have a hot cup of tea.

What scares me is, I have been a worker and I have been a mother, but I have never been both. Can I even be both? I feel like going back to work is almost denying his existence in some way as if I am returning to my previous life without him.

How will I manage when my days are not structured around nap times, bottle feeds, changing nappies and keeping him entertained? My life has a new focus: him. The purpose of my life now is not just to succeed in my job but as a mother too.

I hope that I am making the right decision in returning to work, many mothers do it and they all seem ok. I hope that J won’t be unhappy without me, but also that he won’t like the childminder more than me.

The Sunday night is going to be awful, full of sadness, guilt and tears. The Monday morning, when I drop him off with the childminder will probably be the hardest, most heart-wrenching thing I have done for a while. In fact, I am pretty much going to be leaving my heart there with him. I just need to focus on the Monday at 4pm when I see my boy after a day at work and hold him close to me and remember that he is mine, he hasn’t disappeared by me going back to work and I am the one that gets to take him home with me.

My life is different now. He is not just an addition to my life but he has made it so much better.

Weaning worries.

I was really looking forward to weaning, watching him eat food, trying new things, even seeing it smushed around his face.

Oh, I was a fool. Now the time has finally come and I haven’t a clue what I am doing. I desperately seek advice on Facebook groups, read online blogs and articles and buy weaning books to decorate my kitchen shelves with.

I keep being told that I can feed him anything other than honey, whole nuts and too much salt. This simply cannot be true. Surely I cannot feed him chocolate brownies, chicken curry, beef burgers, pizza…although, reading this list it is possible I need to reconsider my own diet.

I try to offer him finger food selections of fresh fruit and steamed veg. Surely he will be good at this as EVERYTHING goes in his mouth. Nope. He cannot pick up food from his highchair and put it in his mouth. It usually ends up on the floor, on his knee and around his mouth.

Also, I question how he can possibly eat food without choking if he has no teeth to break it down.

So I watch him, like a hawk, as he makes a successful attempt to bring food to mouth. Then I quietly squeal with joy as he manages to swallow some and continues to munch away.

I am sure that as my confidence builds with giving him food, so will his with actually eating it.

Everything is important with him. Everything matters greatly and weaning is just another parenting worry that eventually will be overcome. Hopefully.

Just a little longer

Via Facebook, I have been sent many links to blogs that inspire me to write my own. They focus on a mother’s  relationship with her baby and how time is fleeting. I’d like to have a go at getting my own feelings down, though doubt I can compare to the beautiful words I have read from others.

At almost six months old, time really is disappearing before my eyes. How was it six months ago that I woke up in the night after a ‘pop’ and went to the bathroom to realise my waters had broken almost three weeks ahead of my due date.

I love him more every day and while I feel like I need his love and closeness more and more, his need for me is already changing. Yes, he is very much still reliant on me for almost every part of his life, but he tries to be more independent. Small things such as holding his own bottle when he feeds, learning to move, cuddling other people and laughing at things they do. He shows clear choices for toys and people now and it is not always me he choses.

So, when he does need his mummy cuddles, I ignore those internet voices or my elders telling me to put him down, and I cuddle him in closer, savouring every single second. I feel his breath on me and watch his chest rise and fall. He cuddles into me and I keep him as my baby for a little longer.

There will come a time, probably not long from now, when he doesn’t want to be cuddled to sleep in the day and I will have done it for the last time without realising that that was it.

We rush them to grow up, always looking at the next step, next development they need to make, encouraging them along the way and sometimes forgetting to stop and enjoy the moment we are in. Enjoy the time when he wants to snuggle in with me, when he enjoys my songs and the little games we play together.

Very soon, I will be returning to work and, while it is only three days a week, this is the last time when it will just be the two of us through the day, five days a week. Nothing in our way, time to spend as we choose. Other people will have an influence on his life and the way he does things.

So I enjoy this time, our alone time, our cuddles, our giggles, our little routines. I hold him in close for his naps when perhaps I ‘should’ be putting him to bed.

When he wakes in my arms after his quick cat nap, I shush and try to cuddle him back to sleep and think to myself, just a little longer.

He moves.

4 days before he is 6 months old and he rolls. He has been so close for a while now and I was convinced that I was going to miss it. He managed to roll quite easily onto his side and as it looked like he might push himself all the way, he just threw himself backwards and seemed happy with himself for doing so. But, on Saturday evening, he finally did it. He got onto his side and wobbled side to side and I was desperate to go and give him a helping (interfering) nudge over, yet I didn’t need to. He did it all on his own.

Who knew I would be so proud watching someone roll over. I cheered and squealed praise at him and he just took it in his stride. Then it was like he couldn’t help himself, every time I put him on his back, he did it again, as if forced to.

Of course I filmed it, several times, so that we can watch the moment back later on.

That’s it now though, he can move. I definitely can no longer leave him on the sofa or the bed while I go get something. When I leave him on the floor and return, he is now face down, struggling, almost the opposite of a tortoise, stuck on his belly.

While he doesn’t realise quite what he has done, I smile, proudly, and also wonder what he has in store for us next.