The juggle

Parenting is one big juggling act. It’s striking a balance of trying to be in the moment whilst also trying to get organised – something that’s much easier said than done. Sometimes you’re needed in two places at once, and sometimes the meaning of multi-tasking is taken to a whole new level.

Over the years, I’ve found myself in many strange and slightly hilarious situations which have involved having to juggle. Breastfeeding whilst playing crazy golf. Having a one-handed wee with a sleeping baby in the other arm. Fixing a broken bike pedal whilst wearing a baby, being pulled around by a dog and trying to keep a distraught toddler from having too much of meltdown. Plus, there are the general daily juggles. Prepping dinner with a little person hanging off my legs. Car journeys and shopping trips and prizing children with snacks. Answering work emails whilst playing Duplo. Even the simplest of tasks take an age now. Nothing is simple. Everything means having to juggle.

Earlier in the week I made the last-minute decision to take the boys to the beach. I had the bright idea of driving to Mudeford, about 45 minutes from home – my first venture that far on my own with the little ones. I couldn’t face packing up a picnic yet again, so Tesco meal deals it was, along with our trusty bag of beach toys which I have learned to always keep in the car boot at the ready. Suncream on. Snacks packed. We were good to go.

But. Half an hour into the drive I realised the sat nav was taking us a completely backwards route though. We had listened to the Boogie Bear audio book for what felt like a thousand times and I was slowly starting to lose my mind. It was also clouding over and there were now no blue skies in sight. I hadn’t packed jumpers – we were fully beach ready and were probably going to freeze – and I was beginning to envision just a quick half hour by the sea before heading home. Theo was excitedly squealing and kicking the back of my seat and Wilf was munching rice cakes and flinging toys that he was getting fed up with. I have learned over the years that car journeys are a true test of just how well we can juggle as parents – watching the road, plying children with snacks and dodging missiles that get thrown from the back seats.

The drive to the beach was actually the easy part though. At least both boys were strapped in and contained. I then had to navigate the next leg… getting us and all of our kit on to the beach. Of course, the car park right on the beachfront was full so we had so park further away – not ideal when you haven’t brought a pushchair. Then came the fun of trying the download the Ringo app and input all my details to pay for parking whilst also trying to make sure Theo didn’t run in the road and Wilf didn’t try to eat too much debris from the floor. By this point, naturally, I was getting pretty frazzled. But off we then went, with me loaded up like a carthorse, Theo already stopping to empty the sand from his Crocs and Wilf toddling off and trying to run in the opposite direction every few steps.

There are some moments as a parent where I’ve stopped myself and thought, what on earth am I doing here? This was one of them. Why didn’t we just go to the park or have another day playing in the garden? Because this is going to be wonderful, I told myself. It didn’t matter that I was carrying three bags and child. It didn’t matter that we had to walk all the way up the path to use the toilets. The sun was now shining, the sea was sparkling and I was now going to spend the next few hours trying to get Wilf to stop eating sand.

But it was wonderful. The boys played and played and it was beautiful to watch. Theo made a friend and they built a moat together, and it was adorable to watch him chat with someone new and just be a four-year-old. Wilf shouted “Hallooo!” to every single person who walked past, spending most of the time dancing to the Alexa that he could hear in his head. All my worries about lockdown and how it had affected the boys were totally lost in this moment; they were both so confident and contented. I couldn’t really have asked for more. Although beach trips once meant laying with a book and a nice cocktail, not juggling applying suncream to sandy little bodies or wiping sand of apples, this was far more enjoyable. Their little faces made it all worth it.

As far as a day out alone with two little ones can go, I guess you could say that this was relatively calm. The boys are happiest when they are outdoors doing some sort of digging, and the sea air was just what I needed too. But of course, there were moments of crazy as well. There always are. Taking a work call on the beach was one of them. “Is now a good time to talk, Hannah?” I was asked. There were sea gulls squawking having attacked some poor man’s chips, I was in the middle of building a sandcastle and also trying to stop Wilf from running off to get someone’s giant inflatable unicorn dingy. “Of course. Just excuse any background noise,” I said. And then there was the wonderful car-boot-change, de-sand, mint-green-ice-cream-everywhere performance to round off the day nicely before we headed home. Luckily both boys slept all the way and I really didn’t care that it was danger nap time. I got to listen to a podcast as I drove through the forest: the juggling act was on pause for now.

It’s a given that as parents we juggle. It’s just something that we learn to do. Conversations are often interrupted and disjointed. Tasks are begun without being completed. Every outing revolves around the juggle of toilet trips, snack time or naps. Being a parent is a full time job where your clients are demanding and needy and change their minds constantly. It’s a job where there is the juggle of tight deadlines (being at a swimming lesson on time), organisation (bag-packing and food-prepping) and clear communication (asking for shoes to be put on for the millionth time). And then there’s the juggle of actual work on top of that too.

But whilst things take longer now, and whilst life is far more frazzled, it’s also far more full. The juggle might seem endless at times, and the need for eyes and hands everywhere is exhausting, but it’s also so much fun too. There will be a time for relaxing beach trips and floors that aren’t covered in toys.  There will be a time no doubt where the boys are sat messaging their friends on car journeys. So right now I think I’ll try to enjoy this juggle as best as I can. It’s absolute madness but my goodness, it’s worth it.

The 5am club

Is anyone else in the 5am club? That’s the time here as I’ve begun writing this. Wilf is very much awake, rolling around his cot and calling ‘Aaaandy’ (but Andy is fast asleep next to me). It’s just not an acceptable hour to start to the day yet. 

I’m used to these early wakes now. At this age, Theo quite liked beginning the day at 4am, where I’d then wear him out for an hour before rocking him back to sleep in his pushchair in the hallway. So I guess this is an improvement with Wilf. Plus, there’s the new perspective I’m trying to shine on things – rather than will myself to get back to sleep, I just accept the fact that I will now be awake. Sometimes Wilf protests so we come downstairs and enjoy easing in to the day together. Other times, like this morning, he’s quite content crashing around his cot and talking to the useless dream sheep which does absolutely nothing to lull him back off. So here I am, at the crack of dawn, mind wandering and now writing.  

I’m actually going to stop believing people when they say their children sleep past 7am as I honestly think that’s impossible. In fact, there’s a lot that I think is impossible. Having now had two children, I am well aware that I fall into the category of mums who have early risers, who wipe their children’s snotty noses on their t-shirts and who think fish fingers are the best creation ever. I think it’s impossible for children to sleep in, to not be covered in dribble or food or mud, and it’s definitely impossible for them to eat broccoli. There’s such a pressure with parenting to feel like you’re doing your best, that you’re all wholesome and earthy (thanks, Instagram), but in reality, it’s a case of just muddling through sometimes.

As parents, we’re forever talking to other parents, albeit interruptedly thanks to the little people we’re chasing after. Comparisons are made without even realising it sometimes. It begins with bump sizes and birth stories, then evolves as our babies grow. We share our babies’ weights, how much they’re sleeping, how weaning is going, the milestones of sitting and crawling and walking. And it goes on. First words, how they’re settling at nursery, how they can swim, how they’re learning to write their name. And I’m sure these moments will continue for many years to come as our children grow into adults, heading out into the big wide world.

Often these comparisons bring comfort; knowing that you’re not alone with the night wakes or refusals of food, that there are other parents out there with the same struggles, helps to soften to blow of the challenges. And as parents, although at times we may feel alone, we actually really aren’t. It’s a club where the solidarity of worrying, tearing our hair out and beaming with pride unites us all.

So here, at 5am, I wonder right now how many other parents’ days have already started. How many have watched the monitor, fingers crossed with hope, willing their little ones to go back to sleep. I wonder how many have leaned over their baby’s cot, rubbing their back and shhhh-ing them, before doing the ninja-like creep out of their bedroom to avoid the creaky floorboards. I wonder then, by 8am, how many parents will feel like they have already done a day’s work. 

There are probably way more glamorous clubs than those that begin at 5am, or those which involve less snot. But this little club – the mum club, the parent club – certainly has its perks too. I’m not sure there are other clubs where you have breakfast with the Paw Patrol theme tune blaring, or where you’re dealing with a mid-nappy change, weeing-by-the-bookshelf-incident, all before 7am. Here’s to that club, with its madness and sleep-deprivation in all its glory.  

Never a dull moment

With kids, there’s never a dull moment. Without a doubt, this is the most tired I have ever felt, the most plates I’ve spun at any one time. But it’s also the most I have ever laughed.

Yesterday whilst giving the boys their tea, I had one of those moments of suddenly feeling like I was oozing with adoration for them. So much so, I got up to squeeze each of their little faces in turn, gave them a big kiss and told them I loved them. In that moment, for no particular reason, I couldn’t get over that they were mine. It might have been because they were both tucking into their tea without fuss, or because I knew that bath time was on the horizon, or might have been because there are times, just like that, where I feel so incredibly lucky to have them.

There are other times though where things aren’t as calm or adorable. I am now well accustomed to the rollercoaster life that is parenting: some days I feel like I know what I’m doing(ish), whereas others are a complete case of winging it and hoping for the best. It’s hit and miss as to what the day will bring, what the battles there may be and what curve balls might be thrown. A meal that is enjoyed one day can cause such a problem the next. A nap that usually happens like clockwork can suddenly be refused. A meltdown can ensue simply because it’s raining. Little people certainly bring a great deal of uncertainty – there really is never a dull moment.

Today, I nipped to the shops to buy the boys some new clothes. But of course, there was no nipping about it. My pre-child self always wondered why parents dragged their children on shopping trips. But I now know that this is because parents in fact have very little time to themselves. I now come as a package – it’s me and the boys – and wherever they or I need to go, we all do. So off we went, the usual routine unfolding of trying to keep Wilf strapped in and happy with snacks, and deterring Theo from all the things that we didn’t need.

In a book I am reading at the moment, it says that as parents we often think back to what life was like before children and the ease at which we travelled through life. Instead of looking back, it recommended looking forwards – advice which I thought was great, but easier said than done. So as I was there, explaining to my four-year-old that we didn’t really need water balloons, Elsa sandals or a Batman costume, I couldn’t help but think back to the days of really being able to just nip in somewhere to buy exactly what I needed. No fuss. Super speedily. And as for looking forwards, I just hope that shopping trips get easier. And quicker.

Having eventually got what we needed, the hard part was over. Or so I thought. Then came the checkout palava where Theo kept leaning on the scales alerting us to yet another unexpected item in the bagging area, in which the self-scanning process became painfully slow and frustrating. Followed by this was the realisation that Wilf had half-eaten a label and also managed to lose a shoe. Brilliant. It was at this point, reversing back through the self-checkout with me looking completely frazzled, that we began retracing our steps. I actually wasn’t close to tears before now, but quite easily could have been if the brand-new, over-priced Clark’s shoe was gone forever. But luckily, it wasn’t. Thanks to a lovely shop assistant, the said shoe was quickly found. And it was then that I absolutely did look back, my mind wandering to a time where shopping used to be a lot less stressful. But still, never a dull moment these days.

The madness then continued as we grabbed lunch out. It was either take two hungry boys home and frantically put something together, or brave being out on my own with two little ones. McDonalds seemed like an easy option – again, something that the pre-child me vowed to not really do. The guilt kicked in as soon as we’d parked, but I tried to redeem myself by buying cucumber sticks and veggie dippers, and the boys seemed to love the treat. Theo was in awe of yet more plastic tat from his Happy Meal to add to his collection of pricey magazine paraphernalia. And Wilf spent the entire time either squealing with excitement, shouting ‘hiya’ to absolutely everyone, or pointing at the music speaker and saying ‘ah eh uh’ (Alexa), over and over again. Is this what all lockdown babies are like – crazily ecstatic about being ‘out out’, I wonder?

Now, despite the mishaps, by no means has this been a bad day. It might sound like it in parts – the frantic moments and the chaos. But it is actually just our version of normal. Normal days now consist of unreasonable requests from them and reasonable requests from me, with the latter causing the most fuss. It might be because I’ve asked Theo to put his shoes on for the millionth time or I’ve stopped Wilf playing in the dog’s water bowl, the terrible parent that I am.

But the funny thing about being a parent is that these far-from-dull moments are what now make me tick; they make me smile and they warm my heart. Though I am so often desperate for space, in the same breath I’m  lost when the boys aren’t around. I can’t help but check on them over again when they’re sleeping and the house feels too quiet when they’re not in it. There really is never a dull moment, but who truly wants dull moments anyway?

By the end of today, like with many days, I was completely wiped out. But this evening I walked along the beach, on my own, and ate a Creme Egg that I found in the back of the cupboard. It’s all about balancing out these never-dull moments with the odd bit of calm, wherever and whenever that may be.

ONE

One whole year. The days might seem long sometimes, but it’s hard to believe nearly a whole year has now gone by. A whole year with our two boys, a whole year since Wilf joined our family.

It only feels like yesterday that I was packing our hospital bag at the last minute. Theo was getting ready for his stay at his Nana and Abu’s, Andy was calling them to say that it was all happening and I was dropping to the floor every few minutes as the contractions came. I remember thinking at the time – this hurts. A lot. How can I do this for much longer? Turns out that I didn’t have to as Wilf was soon to make a very quick appearance. I keep saying of late that his personality is just like the way he came into the world; he is so calm, so chilled and then… all of sudden he makes himself known. He’s a whirlwind who will forever keep us on our toes, it seems.

A few weeks ago I happened to drive past the Sainsbury’s on Hill Lane – it was the first time I’d been that side of town since having Wilf. My heart raced as I caught sight of the car park, thinking back to that day, in the earliest of days or lockdown, where we had caused quite the scene. I think I will forever be processing the sheer euphoria at how we delivered our own baby, versus the what could have been if we hadn’t have been so lucky. In true Wilf style, he asserted himself as a strong little character straight away – and he hasn’t stopped since.

It’s a few days until Wilf turns one and I’m doing what I usually do: I’m reliving the before, the labour, then snippets of so far. I remember being an emotional wreck on Theo’s first birthday, then again on his second (mainly because the chilli I had made in the slow cooker had overflowed and leaked all down the kitchen units), and once again on his third birthday because this was his last one as just the three of us. Perhaps it’s because of the desire for things to be perfect, the pressure of the day, a bit like Christmas, or perhaps it’s the realisation that time really is flying by.

When I look back at photos of Theo’s birthdays, I see how he has blossomed from a baby to a toddler and now a little boy. And now, with Wilf, it’s hard to believe our teeny, tiny little newborn was once so still given that he is now everywhere and into everything. For the past year, lockdown aside, we’ve got through the colic, the reflux, the many and continued broken nights, the head in our hands at his fearlessness when it comes to climbing on things or trying to dive off them. He digs in the mud, he likes to eat stones, he has destroyed our TV remotes by using them as teethers. He is the cheekiest little chap who absolutely adores his big brother, and without a doubt, watching the bond grow between our two boys this past year has brought us the ultimate joy. It’s been one year of challenges – of things being different, of things being unbelievably difficult at times – but it’s certainly now one year to celebrate.

I know my mum refers to the day as “window pain” when they first met Wilf. They stood on the driveway, us in our living room, a panel of glass between us. We put on brave faces and we toasted to Wilf, bubbles in hand, knowing that a window-meet was be the best we could do for now. It’s easy to dwell on what has been lost and what has been missed, but one year on, it’s now about celebrating. Celebrating bringing another little human into the world and the delight that he has become.

When Wilf was born, we Facetimed Theo from the hospital. His excitement at now having a baby brother was unreal – he quite literally jumped for joy, squealing and smiling from ear to ear. My mum reminded me of how he commented at the time “I’ll share him with you,” which I’ve since watched back on video, noticing how little Theo looks here, one whole year ago. And now, exactly as Theo said, we absolutely will be sharing the joy that is Wilf. This weekend he gets to see his Nanny and Bampi for the second time – for real, not on a screen – and we will be raising  glass with my family without a window between us. It’s been a year of hearing the word ‘bubbles’ so many times but not the ones we know and love. Nevermind support or social or childcare bubbles now. This weekend is all about the celebratory bubbles – the fizzy, sparkly ones to mark a whole year gone by. So, here’s to Wilf: our little lockdown baby, our wild little one.

It’s a mad world

Parenting is madness. Complete and utter madness. There are so many occasions where I hear myself and think, did I really just say that? Did that really just happen? It’s a mad, mad world.

I regularly tell Wilf at the moment to stop trying to climb in the dishwasher or tip the dog’s water bowl over. He quite likes to swing off the lamp, push his high chair around as if it’s a zimmer frame and empty the bookshelves too. All the while, he tells us “uh oh!” knowing full well that he’s up to no good. If he sees the stairs, he’ll make a dash to climb up them. If there’s a door open, he’ll be ready to slam it. If there’s a cupboard open, he’ll try to get in it. “Where’s Wilf?” is the most commonly used question in our house at the moment. Of course, everything is baby-proofed and he’s within our sight all of the time, but this still doesn’t stop him from finding every bit of mischief that he can.

Theo was a climber as a baby too, but he was far more measured than Wilf. A cautious explorer, I don’t remember us having our heads in our hands so much when he was little, but he’s more than made up for that in the past year or so. Being inquisitive has often got the better of our biggest little man, with his own speciality of getting things stuck. He’s managed to get himself wedged in the bars of a stairgate mid tantrum, and we also spent the day in A&E once after he pushed a raisin up his nose. When I asked him what made him do it, he responded (very innocently) with “just because.” Skipping around the hospital with a bed pan as a hat, I remember him being so proud as he told the doctor what he’d done and he wasn’t at all phased by the huge tool they had to use to get it out.

But he hasn’t exactly learned from this. This week he gave us another scare after managing to get his hand stuck in the toy kettle he plays with in the bath. Lots of moisturiser later and quite a bit of twisting and tugging, it came off eventually. It was a fine line for us as parents between panicking, giggling nervously and also crying with laughter at the hilarity the situation. It’s safe to say that we lap up every bit of quiet when the boys are tucked up in bed.

This morning I sorted the washing out and found a plastic corn on the cob in the wash basket; I know that Wilf is to thank for this and his new love of posting things in places. Plus he’s fascinated by the washing for some reason – clean or dirty – and quite likes to unsort it and throw it across the floor. It’s similar to his fascination with the bin, the hoover or the mop. Who knows why.

Stop diving on the sofa. Please take your finger out of your nose. Oh, Wilf’s eating food off the floor again. Who farted? I seem to say these things a million times a day. Who knew that parenting would be filled with such glamour? I certainly didn’t.

This week Theo has been self-isolating which basically means we have all been housebound. Again. The difference that a few months can make is really quite unbelievable. Compared to November when this last happened, this time around I have definitely gone more mad. The boys now bounce off each other – the squealing and screaming, the chasing each other, the diving around, the laughing hysterically. Their adoration for each other has most definitely blossomed as have their frustrations too. Clouting each other with a toy has become a regular occurrence and it seems as though little Wilf is learning to assert himself with his big brother. I am most certainly exhausted and have definitely gone more grey this past week.

Disjointed conversations. Duplo all over the floor. Endless requests for snacks. I know that we aren’t alone in this mad world and that other parents out there are very much familiar with the demands, the laughs and the bonkersness that their little people bring. It’s a mad world but one that we are very much used to now, and one that I know I’ll miss in a strange way next month when BOTH boys are at nursery one day a week. The house will feel quiet. I’ll actually be able to get on with my to-do lists uninterruptedly. And of course, I’ll be ready with open arms for their madness once again when they come home.

What next?

What next? I ask myself this a lot at the moment. It’s hard to believe we are coming up to a year of living under restrictions – a whole year of trying to find new normals. But in the coming months, as things begin to ease, does this mean that life will get easier too? How will we adjust to what’s next?

I’ve always been a worrier. I worry about the what ifs, about what people think, about what could or might happen in different situations. I even worry if there’s nothing to worry about. It’s exhausting, and as much as I try my best not to, it doesn’t stop me laying awake in the middle of the night mulling over what’s in my head. My latest worry, one that is consuming me quite a bit, is Wilf starting nursery in April. How has this come around so quickly? I read something recently that has really resonated – that the days seem long but the years seem short. And I find this to be so true. I can’t quite believe he will turn one next month.

Last night, I went to look around a nursery. It felt strange, after hours, oddly quiet for a place usually bustling with so much noise and activity and liveliness. This is how it is now, I told myself, as I chatted at a distance with the manager, her face only half visible behind her mask. I can picture Wilf there. I’m sure he will be fine. But that doesn’t stop the sinking feeling I get in my stomach when I think about handing him over at the door when he starts. Handing him over to a total stranger. Handing him over when I know I can’t be there to help settle him or offer any comfort at all – only to smile and wave him off, bravely, as if it’s completely normal. He has barely had close contact with our dearest friends or even one set of grandparents, so how does this next step even seem fair on him? But, I tell myself that he will love interacting with the other babies – that he will thrive on seeing real little faces. For him, this next chapter will be so strange but also so exciting. A new place to play, new faces to get to know. I just hope that the tears won’t last long… for both of us, that is.

Wilf going to nursery is a big part of what’s next for us, as is Theo starting school in September. It’s a way off, I know, but again, it seems so strange that we have applied to schools that we haven’t even been able to look around. And who knows what will happen between now and then, or what the start of term will mean come the autumn. Whilst we will always hope for the best, this past year has also taught us to prepare ourselves for anything, for things to change quickly. So for now, we will focus on the next few weeks and even months as lockdown lifts.

In all honesty, I’ve already lost track a little bit of all the dates of what is happening when – who you can meet, where you can meet, what’s opening and where you can travel to. Whilst I am completely desperate for a hair cut and to have my greys coloured in, the next bit of normal that I truly cannot wait for is to be able to meet up with our friends and family freely. Without having to think about numbers. Without having to keep an eye on the weather. Without having to tag team all weekend with my husband so that we can both get out. Next, it will be so nice to hang out with friends whilst all of our children play, whilst all of us adults talk (albiet interruptedly), whilst we ALL enjoy time together. Next, it will be so nice to be spontaneous – to grab lunch, to go for a picnic, to pop into a shop to buy new clothes for our growing boys. Next, it will be truly, truly wonderful, to enjoy an actual glass of wine at an actual pub on the way back from a walk (even if this mixed with the madness of playing cars and feeding the little ones snacks to keep them occupied). There are so many things to look forward to next. Things that will have been worth the wait.

Saying that, I know what I’m like. It took me months to go into a shop when they last re-opened. It took a great deal of courage when we went out for lunch as a family of four for the first time. And I remember it feeling so strange at first when we got to grips with distanced barbeques with friends last summer. Like anything though, these new normals become more comfortable with time. We adjust. We get on with it. But that doesn’t stop me worrying. Andy will return to work in London at some point this year which means his days will be even longer and he’ll be home once the boys are already asleep. I worry about what this will mean for us all – the not seeing each other as much, the new feelings of loneliness after we’ve been under each other’s feet for so long. What’s next is something that we’ve longed for in so many ways, but what we have now is also something to be grateful for too. We mustn’t forget that.

The strange thing with this past year is the muddled feelings of frustration and comfort that I often feel about our little world. The same four walls. The same walks. The same park trips. What happens next when we venture further? What happens next when I can actually take my two children on a day out to the farm or the zoo when they both demand every ounce of my attention? What happens next when we are out in a busy place and I know I need eyes on both of them? Cocooned in the same routines and outings for so long, I can’t help but worry about what will happen next when the world does start moving again. Perhaps it’s only really sinking in now, now that the big wide world seems within reach, that I now have two very adventurous, head-strong, energetic little boys who I need to keep tabs on at all times. How long will I be asking Theo to keep close by, to try and keep away from people? How long will I politely step back from dear old ladies in the supermarket as they get close to Wilf to coo and say hello? How long will it take for things to go back to the normal that we used to have, or will they not? Do we even want them to anyway?

This time last year, I couldn’t have imagined what was next – a global pandemic, a car park birth, the whirlwind of becoming a family of four whilst the world stood still. So, what’s next? Who knows. Hopefully we can strike a balance of enjoying the things we’ve missed as well as the recent things we’ve learned. Hopefully we can be excited about making plans whilst also remembering the ways which we’ve learned to slow down and embrace the simplest of things. And hopefully there are smoother months ahead filled with more freedom and the chances to do the things we love, and of course with those we love too.

The things I wish I’d known

I’ve been a mum for four years now. That’s four years of stumbling and learning along the way.  Four years of making things up as I go along, being uncertain or going with my instinct. I’m only four years in but already there are so many things I wish I’d have known.

I wish I’d known the truth about labour and the post-partum delights. The sheer exhaustion and appreciation of what the body can do. The absolute miracle that is growing a human and bringing them into the world. I wish I’d have known about the months that followed too – not just the leaks and the jelly-like bits and the parts that now drooped. But the parts that slowly become stronger again, and the parts that will never quite be what they once were. The night sweats, the new frizzy baby hairs that appear… no one really tells you about those things. Motherhood is oh so glamorous.

I wish I’d known about the fourth trimester and how it really is a thing. Permanently wearing a sling, sleeping so little, feeding constantly, not knowing what time of day or night it is. Babies just want to be held and feel safe when there seems to be this pressure from the minute they are born that we should be able to put them down. They have just come into this big, wide world. No wonder they don’t want to leave our arms.

I wish I’d known to lap up the quiet cuddles even more. It’s hard to believe that my boys were once still. That they slept on my chest. I wonder how often I really did just snuggle them without feeling the need to get them to sleep on their own because that’s what the books said. I miss their teeny little bodies and how they would tuck their legs up as they slept on me. I miss that I would be glued to the sofa feeding for hours on end. Now, my boys fidget and wriggle, barely sitting still for a squeeze. But when they do, they give the best cuddles back.

I wish I’d known about the mountain of baby things you need. You use them for a few months and then soon enough, you need new and different things because they grow so quickly. Every room in the house contains something that is usually bulky, colourful or makes a loud sound and lights up. There’s always something to get, always the next size up to buy. I wish I’d have known how cluttered the house would feel, but then how strange it would be when things were packed away – another milestone reached, another stage passed by.

I wish I’d known about the importance of getting out of the house. Minus those early days with a screaming newborn, car journeys now bring some much needed quiet time – they are a way to contain two children who will happily play with toys in the back seat and sometimes even drift off to sleep. And there’s nothing quite like a walk too. Be it for quick leg stretch or a good old stomp, the fresh air always does us the world of good. It may often take us longer to leave the house than the time we are actually out for, but it’s worth it. Both boys have happily slept in their pushchairs from day one and I must have walked thousands as miles whilst they’ve snoozed. Podcast on, out in the open. It does wonders for the soul and combats the loneliness that can sometimes be felt at home.

I wish I’d known how much things would change. The fact that there is barely any time for yourself any more. That these little people are the centre of your universe and everything revolves around them. That you would sacrifice and do anything – literally anything – to keep them safe and happy. And all of that is completely ok. I wish I could tell my pre-child self to appreciate some of the things I now long for – quiet time, a long shower, having a snack I don’t have to share. I’d tell my old self to make sure I was really grateful for these things.

I wish I’d known about time – how much it flies and how much it can drag. Sometimes the days feel like they are never going to end, that they are so samey that they blur into one. Lockdown certainly hasn’t helped with that. Sometimes though, I feel like I’ve blinked and we’ve managed to fastforward without me realising it. I have a four year old, no longer a toddler but now a little boy who knows his own mind, who is inquisitive, who I have the best conversations with. And I have a baby who also has such personality, who is constantly on the move, who protests when he doesn’t get what he wants. My squishy newborns have grown into real little people.

Just before having Wilf, I read a book called Letters on Motherhood and at the time, I wrote letters to our boys which one day I will give to them. Little did I know that Wilf would appear days later, and Theo would instantly seem so much more grown up. It has got me thinking recently that there is so much, pre having children, that I wish I’d have known. Perhaps it’s because Wilf’s first birthday is only a couple of months away, or perhaps because we are in yet another lockdown, but it’s definitely made me think. Maybe these things I wish I’d have known would be in a letter to myself – my pre-child self – reminding me to lap up every single moment. To ride out the challenges and to hold on to all those wonderful bits even more so.

Just a mum

I’m just a mum. Is it bad that sometimes this doesn’t feel good enough though?

Perhaps it’s because maternity leave really doesn’t feel like maternity leave without the baby groups, playdates or the simple freedom of being out and about. I forget that technically this is ‘time off’. Or perhaps it’s because at the time of writing this, there have been a long string of broken nights and very early starts. Or perhaps, quite frankly, it’s because I am feeling so unbelievably done with all of the restrictions we are facing. It’s hard.

With two young boys and being home all of the time, the majority of days feel like an endless cycle of preparing meals, clearing up meals, dodging toys and tidying toys. I feel genuinely happy when I have worked my way through all of the laundry and geniunely sad when the wash basket starts to be filled once again. Most days, I am covered in food or slobber of somesort, as are my floors (which I have to battle with myself not to feel precious about). And most days, I don’t have any adult conversation until Andy and I catch up of an evening once the boys are sleeping.

There are days where I feel like we have achieved lots. Maybe Theo has been really engaged in an activity, we’ve been for a long walk and Wilf has sat and played contentedly. I feel then like I’ve been a good mum. There are other days that don’t feel quite so satisying though. Days where there has been too much whinging. Days where I’ve run out of patience. Days where I am clock-watching to begin the bath and bedtime routine. But, I have to tell myself on those days that this doesn’t make me a bad mum – the fact that the two boys have gone to sleep soundly and happily means that I must have done something right. I have kept two little humans occupied, fed and watered all day, so surely, that’s an achievement.

Despite finding lockdown with little ones incredibly hard, I’m also incredibly thankful for not having to juggle homeschooling or working from home too. Hats off to those who are doing it. At the same time though, in a strange way, there is a bit of me who is envious of the focus that these things might bring – interactions with other people (even if it is on zoom), being needed or relied upon for something other than snacks. Do I feel guilty at times for not being at work or part of team during these times? Absolutely. Do I feel bad when I hear about the stresses of peoples’ days as they adapt to changes and new information? Absolutely. But then I have to tell myself: being ‘just a mum’ is work. HARD work. And it certainly feels like this all the more when you are at home all day, everyday, during a global pandemic.

Having now made the decision that it’s also time for a career change, the maternity leave as a teacher that I fizzled into back in March last year is now fizzling out. Freelance writing now means being my own boss, working flexibly and therefore being around more for our boys as they grow up. Plus, it’s something I have wanted to do for so long. But with this change comes a whole new set of challenges – being motivated to work of an evening even though I’m exhausted, making use of Wilf’s naps and keeping Theo occupied when I have things I need to do. It’s a whole new world of juggling and striking a balance. But it’s hugely exciting and at long last, I feel good for taking the leap.

There’s nothing wrong with being just a mum. It’s the hardest job in the world – I honestly believe that. I have the utmost respect for parents whose choice is to stay home with their children full-time because it’s full on and exhausting, it’s completely non-stop. But for me, since becoming a mum, whilst I’ve gained a whole new identity as a parent, it has been easy to forget all of the things I loved before my days became filled with little people. I often wonder, what did I do all day on weekends? How on earth did I fill the summer holidays? It’s amazing how quickly we adjust and how we forget too.

A bit like having two children. There is no doubt that two is a total game changer: they go in different directions, they have different needs and their little personalities are so different. Just as I was beginning to think I was getting to grips with being a mum, becoming a mum of two has brought about a whole new set of challenges and questions.

But, in this role as a mum to two boys, there are of course the best rewards too. Seeing your two children laugh and play with and adore each other is without a doubt, the biggest perk of the ‘just a mum’ job. It may be tiring and it may be intense, but my goodness, it’s worth it all.

Here we go again

Lockdown take three. Here we go again.

It’s hard to believe that we are back here amidst the restrictions, the worry and the feeling that this is all just never-ending. What an absolute mess. How is it that as a country we have got things so wrong? My brother lives in Vietnam and tells us that life is back to normal there, and all of my family in Israel have now been vaccinated despite some of them not even being vulnerable. It doesn’t make sense. But, the point of this blog post isn’t to rant; instead, it’s another attempt to find ways to make best of it and share the madness I’m experiencing as a mum to two young boys.

The first lockdown seems like yesterday and a distant memory all at once. For us it was two-fold: there were the pre-Wilf days where being at home as a three was novelty, followed by the post-Wilf days where reality hit us and we got to grips with a newborn, isolation and a huge lack of sleep. But we made it through and did our best to see the positives along the way.

With the second lockdown, we held on to the fact that Christmas was around the corner and that was something to look forward to for us all. A new year also meant a fresh start, so like many, we were very much ready to welcome 2021. Yet here we all are, having begun the year in a worse state than the previous one. Still, we try to find ways to be hopeful.

On the first day of lockdown round three, we woke ready to be brave and brace ourself for the road and madness ahead. But, by 10.30am, after the usual getting ready battle with our four(going on fourteen)-year-old, it’s safe to say I was already completely wiped out and ready to scream into a pillow. No matter how much we will ourselves to be positive and keep calm, there’s no doubt that these little people pick up on the fact that things are different and we’re anxious about something. We managed to turn the day around though thanks to a lovely walk which blew the cobwebs away – we reset and reboot. I have also come to realise that if I need anything or it’s time to get ready, addressing Theo as Ryder (“Ready for action, Ryder, Sir!”), then everything we do becomes a Paw Patrol mission and my life gets made ten times easier. I’m also now quite fed up of being Skye or Everest and being bossed around, but needs must, and I’ll go with the flow if it means keeping the peace.

We’ve decided at the moment to keep Theo off forest schools and pre-school given that infection rates are so high. We have the added luxuries (ha!) of me being on maternity leave and Andy working from home, plus we are allowed a support bubble given that Wilf is under one. For this reason, it seems safer for now to not jeopardise anyone’s health, especially given that there is no real ‘need’ to send him off. Would we be bad parents if we send him when he can easily be at home with us, or are we bad parents for denying him time with his peers? We’ve gone round and round in circles asking ourself these questions and know that there probably is no right or wrong. So for now, week by week, we will review things and decide what’s best… mainly driven by how mad we all begin to go.

So far though, it’s been a fun week, albeit completely non-stop. My fitness watch told me that I had walked nearly 5km by lunch time which says it all really – that’s a lot of running around, clearing up and fetching snacks! Once again, I’m learning to go with the flow and fill our days with activities at home. We’ve baked, done online yoga, made a Planet Earth and moon, searched for E.T out on our walks and played drums on a cardboard box. And of course, there has been a very healthy dose of Cbeebies thrown in too.

Compared to the first lockdown, Theo is so much more grown up, more reasonable and also unreasonable too. He is a little boy, no longer a toddler, and my goodness does he know his own mind. This really does make him the best company, but it also makes him quite a challenge at times too. And also, this time around, we have our second little one who seems to be equally as full of beans and bonkers. Newly nicknamed ‘Danger Wilf’, at nearly nine months old, the days of sleeping strapped to me in a sling are long gone. Instead, our eyes have to be everywhere as speedy Wilf crawls, climbs, cruises and attempts to walk. I remember people saying “Just wait until you have two on the move!” and I can now completely see why. We seem to be forever darting to catch Wilf or mediate between the two of them as Theo is also going through an ‘I don’t really want to share’ phase. It’s all fun and games.

The days are all a bit groundhog already and it’s safe to say we are absolutely desperate now for freedom and normality – whatever that is. But meanwhile we plan to try and stay as sane as possible whilst keeping the little ones happy and fed, the house relatively respectable and our minds as clear as possible. Thank goodness for evening wine, escaping into books at bedtime and spring on the horizon. You never know, we may well just make it to a full year of being in and out of lockdown, and with a bit of luck, by Wilf’s first birthday, we may actually be able to celebrate with our nearest and dearest. Here’s to hoping.

Christmas with kids

When I was little, I truly believed that my grandad was one of Santa’s helpers. He had white hair, a big round belly, a very convincing suit and beautiful handwriting in which he’d reply to our letters. Plus he was the jollyist, happiest man alive. I even remember him showing us photographs of himself with reindeer – probably in a garden centre display or something – which made it even more believable. I really was totally convinced and for many years, this magic was very much alive and a big part of our excitement in the run up to Christmas. It was this sort of magic that I couldn’t wait to recreate in some way when we had our own children.

Pre-kids, our Christmas countdown would be filled with parties, dinners out and dinners in – all of course with plenty to drink. I’d have new clothes for different occasions, usually things with a bit of festive sparkle, and I’d actually have time to think ahead about what to wear and when. Christmas shopping would be done with plenty of time, wandering around the shops, stopping off along the way for mulled wine. Now though, that all seems a distant memory! Instead, Christmas has now become about the little people in our lives – about making memories with them and making as much magic as possible. Evenings are now spent in my pyjamas rather than at parties or the pub (that’s also thanks to covid), and the times I have worn a sparkly jumper this year, I’m covered in milk spit-up within minutes. But still, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The year that Theo was about to turn one, I remember Andy and I having a disagreement. In short, I was well and truly ready to create as much festive make-believe as possible, and even though I knew Theo was too little yet to understand, I was ready to leave mince pies for Santa, along with all the other trimmings of awe and wonder. Andy however had decided that telling children about Santa was just teaching them to lie and that it wasn’t morally right to be dishonest (what?!) so he wasn’t sure about all the make-believe now that we had our own child. I remember being genuinely upset that he wasn’t on board – though it’s quite funny looking back to think that we actually had a falling out about Father Christmas. I even went so far as to say that if I knew this before I married him, it would have been a game changer. Harsh, I know. But times have since changed (luckily) and our feud is long forgotten, plus I’m over the moon that he is now fully embracing every bit of Christmas magic that there is… and I can see how much he’s enjoying it too.

This year, for the first time, a little elf has visited our house and is causing havoc each night. At nearly 4 years old, Theo is totally caught up in all of this magic and mischief, though he’s also getting increasingly frustrated about the mess that he’s making (and Wilf just likes to chew him given the chance). I know we are only a week or so in but so far we are loving thinking of deas and chuckling to ourselves as we set things up each night – I’m well aware though that this novelty probably won’t last. But for now, it’s bringing such fun to the Christmas countdown, and who knew that the adult us would enjoy this so much. Let’s just hope we keep remembering to keep this up, unlike last night’s panic ‘we haven’t done the elf!’ just as we were going off to sleep.

Theo’s birthday is December 27th, and I remember when I was in labour on boxing day thinking that it was going to be so lovely to have a Christmas baby. It is, as it’s such a happy time of year for us all, but at the same time it’s pretty bonkers. The get togethers and celebrations at this time of year are always so much fun, but there’s also the need for some down time too – boxing day therefore becomes a nice little breather for us ready for the next day of birthday madness. It’s a busy time of year but it’s wonderful nonetheless.

And then there are the presents. Growing up, us kids would take hours to open our gifts in the morning – we would savour and take our time, then play and put things together, and my dad would always be setting things up or trying to figure out how something worked. I love that this is now what we do in our house too. Last year, I remember really taking a moment as I stepped back and watched Andy and Theo fully immersed in setting up and playing with a Playmobil ambulance. The pieces were scattered all over the living room floor along with other gifts, wrapping paper was strewn everywhere and the new box of Ferrero Roches were already half gone. It felt just like Christmas should be: full up of spending time together and enjoying new things in amongst fun and madness.

We do struggle however with the abundance of presents and from day one, we’ve tried to make Christmas about traditions, spending time together and exchanging gifts, rather than a chaotic mountain of new things which just overwhelm. It’s a challenge at times trying to strike a balance, especially as we only have a day’s breather in between Christmas and Theo’s birthday, but so far we have created some really special moments. New pyjamas and new books on Christmas eve to snuggle up with are a tradition which we we hope to continue for many years, along with watching Home Alone on repeat pretty much from November through to March.

Now throwing covid into the mix, Christmas will be different again this year. There aren’t the usual get togethers that there would be – instead we’ve made loose plans for walks with friends, hoping that the weather will be kind to us, as we know that this year we can’t be in and out of each others’ houses for festivities. The boys’ won’t remember the restrictions when they’re older though, and in a way, I hope we won’t too. Instead, we’ll reminisce about doing things differently, the chaos making salt dough decorations, forgetting where we’d hidden presents and barely setting foot in actual shops for a change (though this does come with its perks of not having to explain to littles that no, you can’t have that toy, whilst also prizing them with snacks and frantically trying to tick things off your to-do list).

Like any other year, of course, this year we’ll continue to embrace the fun and magic, reliving our own Christmases as kids whilst we make new memories with our boys. And given that it’s been quite a year too, surely that’s an excuse to go that extra mile and make it one to remember, for all the right reasons.