I don’t have anything clever or funny to say today. (Don’t stop reading though).

I just wanted to say a genuine, heart-felt ‘Happy Mothers Day’ to all the wonderful mummies who read my blog, and to those that don’t (seriously – what’s wrong with it?). We spend everyday reflecting on ourselves as mothers, questioning our parenting, wondering if we are doing a good enough job… Well today is the day to say ‘actually, I do a pretty damn good job. Maybe sometimes I’m not as patient as I’d like, maybe sometimes we eat chicken nuggets, but I do my best, and that is good enough.’

So please give yourself a big pat on the back for doing your best at what is surely the most challenging job in the whole wide world. Go on… actually do it… no really, I’m watching, I’ll know if you don’t. How will I know? Mummies just DO.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

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Hooray! At last, my childlike excitement over the arrival of the post everyday has finally been rewarded. This week I had my first parcel as part of the Secret Post Club.

The brainchild of Heather at Notes From Lapland, the Secret Post Club appeals to the natural child in all of us – that part of us that feels a spark of eager anticipation at the sound of the postman stuffing the usual pile of bills and catalogues through the letter box. The post rarely contains anything inspiring, but the joy is in the not knowing – one day it just might be that letter that changes your life.

Anyway, the parcel I got this week didn’t quite change my life, but it certainly put a smile on my face for the day. My gift came from Clair at  Kids Craft and Chaos. I must confess I’d not come across Clair’s blog before, but it is definitely worth a read – a lovely mix of crafts, books and general parental musings.

My parcel is beautifully wrapped, and I almost don’t want to open it. I unwrap the first layer and find another parcel, plus some cute hairclips for Belle and Bee.

Bickering is temporarily halted while the new treats are shared out and photographs are posed for. Apologies to Belle for the rather strange angle – I was trying to get a good view of the clips but instead ended up making her look like she has a giant forehead. Oopps.

Very stylish I’m sure you’ll agree! So that’s the kids taken care of, now I get to open a prezzie – very exciting. I want to savour the moment, and I hold it for a while first, imagining what it might be and enjoying having a gift to open. When I do let myself peel off the tape, (I really want to save the cute owl wrapping paper), I’m definitely not disappointed. It is a beautiful notebook, the pages edged in silver. Now anyone who knows me will be smiling at this point, as they will appreciate what a perfect prezzie this is for me. I LOVE notebooks, they are one of my very favourite things. I love buying them, writing in them, putting them in little piles – it is basically any excuse for a new notebook for me.

So I want to say a HUGE thank you to Clair for taking the time and trouble to send me such a lovely gift – it really made my day. Now roll on April…

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When you think of internet addicts – what do you think? Probably teenagers on msn for hours on end, talking in words that don’t make sense. Or maybe men in their twenties and thirties, absorbed in the world of online warfare, with wives and children who know the backs of their head more intimately than their faces?

Last week, parents of a three month old baby in South Korea were arrested, after letting their daughter starve to death while they were online raising a virtual child in the role-playing game Prius Online. They didn’t even play at home – they spent hours at a time in internet cafes, only returning home occasionally to give the baby the odd bottle of milk. No wonder The Times were asking yesterday if there is such a thing as internet addiction.

This is an extreme case of course, but I do wonder if there aren’t actually thousands, if not millions, of internet users who although not addicted, find cyberspace overtaking their lives in a way that can often feel difficult to manage. With so much knowledge to explore, so many ways to connect with people, the internet can feel overwhelming. And once you start getting involved in online communities, you can feel a pressure, if only internally, to carry on. It’s a bit like buying regular lottery numbers – you can’t risk not playing once you have your ‘lucky numbers’. Once you establish yourself in a forum or social network it can be hard to leave, for fear of what ‘exciting’ news or discussion might be happening without you knowing about it.

Of course I’m not saying I neglect my children in preference of raising online babies, but I do feel a pressure to somehow be involved, to be available, and if I am not online regularly I often feel guilty, or wonder if I am in someway missing out. Perhaps it is because my work revolves heavily around email, or maybe it is my flighty nature, always wondering if something more exciting might be happening somewhere else or if that next email might be a new offer of work or interesting party invitation. (Disappointingly they never are party invitations, so if you have any kind of celebration coming up, please do bear me in mind.)

As parents, we are very aware of making sure our children use the internet safely, but do we always take the same care of ourselves? With more studies showing a link between excessive internet use and depression, we are right to be concerned, but that concern needs to include the whole family. We mustn’t fall into the classic parent trap – the one where you spend twenty minutes packing wholesome lunchboxes, leaving yourself only time to scoff a piece of bread in the car for your breakfast.

I do always switch my Blackberry off at night, so as not to be kept half awake with dreams of that teasing, flashing red light, but I’m not sure this alone counts as Healthy Internet Use.

I’d be really interested to know how other people feel about their use of the internet. Are you forever flicking between forums, or do you avoid social networking sites as much as possible? Maybe you set yourself a time limit? Let me know…

Photo credit: andyi

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This week, I have five copies of the new Uma Thurman film – ‘Motherhood’ – to give away. The film is a day in a life of a New York mother, writer, blogger and all round juggler of life. At the same time as planning a birthday party and constantly trying to prevent her car from being towed away, Thurman is trying to write 500 words about what being a mother means to her. So to win a copy of the film, just tell me what motherhood means to you. Winners will be picked at random by an apathetic fourteen year old. (See below for some blurb about the film).

So I’m going to start the ball rolling with my random and in-no-particular-order thoughts on motherhood. If you have read any of my other posts you will have an idea of the kind of issues that I struggle with on a day to day basis. I manage a seven year age gap between two feisty daughters, hide crumbs behind the sofa and every day lose the battle to get my teenager to wear a coat.

But that’s the daily grind stuff, the practical side of being a parent. What about Motherhood? Is that the same thing? ‘Motherhood’ as a concept, in capital letters, must be something more than that – a feeling, an ethos, a way of living. It’s hard for me, having given birth at 17, to separate the ideas of parenthood and adulthood. I have never been a grown up without children. I don’t know what it feels like to have independence without responsibility, so I can’t make a distinction – to me, being a mother is just something that has always been, and something that always will be.

Maybe if I had had children later, I would have had time to get to know a different me first, and would be able to say now with conviction that yes, motherhood for me means X, Y and Z, but I just can’t say for sure what that X, Y and Z might be.

Perhaps that’s normal though. Perhaps that IS the definition of motherhood, that it creeps into every aspect of who you are, grows as you grow, soaks into your very core. Once you have children, it is impossible to detach yourself from what that means. You can’t cut your life into neat chunks and define each slice individually and separately from the others.

So what does motherhood mean to me? I don’t know. And that’s not me just chickening out of an answer, I really don’t know. Motherhood IS me, I can’t remember a time Before Children, I don’t know how my life would be different.

And now I have to go and pick up Belle from a birthday party, hang out some washing and think about packed lunches for tomorrow. We can talk in broad terms, think about concepts, but basically that’s what motherhood is all about…

Win one of five Motherhood DVDs – out on DVD 8th March

Shot entirely on location in New York’s West Village, this bittersweet comedy distils the dilemmas of the maternal state (marriage, work, self, and not necessarily in that order) into the trials and tribulations of one pivotal day. MOTHERHOOD forms a genre of one – no other movie has dedicated itself in quite this way to probing exactly what it takes to be a mother, with both wry humour and an acute sense of authenticity.

Eliza Welch (Thurman) is a former fiction writer-turned-mom-blogger with her own site, “The Bjorn Identity.” Putting her deeper creative ambitions on hold to raise her two children, Eliza lives and works in two rent-stabilized apartments in a walk-up tenement building smack in the middle of an otherwise upscale Greenwich Village. Eliza’s good-natured but absent-minded husband (Edwards) seems tuned out to his wife’s conflicts, not to mention basic domestic reality, while her best friend Sheila (Minnie Driver) understands this – and Eliza — all too well.

MOTHERHOOD is a hymn to the joys and sorrows of raising children, and the necessity of not losing yourself in the process. Log onto www.motherhoodmovie.com for more competitions to be won and details about the film.

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I love books. I am a book person through and through and I’m not afraid to admit it, even if it does banish me from the cool kids’ gang. I love buying them, I love stroking them, smelling them and of course arranging them on their shelves. Sometimes in colour order, sometimes alphabetically, depending on my frame of mind. And it may be wrong, but I always judge a book by its cover.

I am however rather flighty, and after too much internet and not enough concentrating on Serious Things, I have noticed myself losing the ability to focus on a book for any length of time. That old friend Parental Guilt could also be to blame. As a child, I could lose myself in a book for hours, unaware of the passing of time. Now other things seem to intrude, and it is much harder to switch off, to silence that nagging voice in my head saying unhelpful things like ‘those dishes are not going to do themselves you know.’

In 2008, ashamed of the piles of barely read books by my bed, I set myself the challenge of reading 100 books in the year. All the way through. Right to the end. I managed 104. I completely lost touch with current affairs though…

Although I love buying books, I do try and limit myself. I love the look of floor to ceiling bookcases, and do cut out pictures of libraries and studies from magazines to stick on the wall, but I’ve found I have a tipping point with books. Not enough and I feel lost, too many and I start to panic – I calculate how many books I can reasonably read in the rest of my life and it doesn’t seem enough, there isn’t enough time, there is too much to be done. When I have too many piles of books they seem to taunt me every time I walk past. ‘You’ll never have time to read us you know,’ they whisper mockingly, ‘you’ll die before you can read 1% of us.’

I love to see my children reading, because I know how amazing it feels as a child to be consumed by a fantastic book. When I was younger I loved all the usual suspects – Secret Seven, Famous Five – proper escapism. As an adult, I still enjoy reading children’s books and have a particular fondness for the titian-haired girl detective Nancy Drew. Despite coming of age in the 1930s, Nancy is a role model for adventurous young girls everywhere. She is independent, fearless and never attempts to solve a mystery without a matching hat and gloves. If I find myself in a difficult or scary situation I often think to myself ‘what would Nancy do?’.

As well a Nancy Drew mysteries, I have some old favourites from my childhood that I will reread now for comfort – Winnie the Pooh and Adrian Mole in particular are guaranteed to sooth an overactive brain after a hard day – and I want to encourage my children to read not just for pleasure, but also as a useful coping strategy. When times are tough, a good book is a powerful weapon. Books can comfort us, inspire us, or simply provide us with the opportunity to escape from real life into a simpler world, a world of adventure, endless blue skies and lashing of ginger beer.

So I’m interested to know which books you enjoyed reading as a child. Are there any that have stayed with you, old favourites you turn to when you want to be whisked back, albeit temporarily, to a different time or place? And how do you find the time now to read with so many other aspects of life clamouring for your attention?

Amazing photo that I’m so jealous of: chotda

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This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, but I’ve yet to come up with an answer, or formulate an argument, so I am writing here as a way of exploring the issue and how I feel about. So I apologise in advance if the post gets a little fragmented – it’s me thinking out loud.

So my question really is how much emotional vulnerability is it ok to show in front of your children? As a single parent, a mother from the age of 17, I have become an expert at suppressing my emotions to always appear positive and in control. This comes I think not only from taking on responsibilities so young, but also from my relationship with my family.

I’m sure my mother will forgive me for saying that being a parent coincided with a difficult period in her life, a tearful period, in which emotional vulnerability featured highly. Because of this, I think I learnt to be sensitive about how I behaved and the things I said, not wanting to upset anyone or make anyone cry. I have taken this forward into my adult life and am still very anti-confrontation. If I can act in a way to minimise upsetting someone else then I will.

This of course comes at a price. I have always known this on a personal level – people see me as hugely positive and confident, difficult to upset, detached even. One long term boyfriend actually told me I was cold hearted. The danger with this is that people don’t worry about upsetting you. They think the positive exterior means I don’t worry about things, that I am a tough cookie. But this is not true. I am just an expert in the brave face, practised at making the best of things and seeming to shrug off criticism or rejection.

I have always known this sometimes hard exterior has an effect on my relationships with men, but recently I have begun to wonder how it affects my relationships with my children. Bee told me recently that I am annoyingly cheery, that she sees me cry so rarely that it scares her when I do. So how does this make her feel about me and, more importantly, about herself? Does she think I don’t care? Or will she think that letting down your guard, being prepared to open yourself up emotionally, and admitting to feeling sad sometimes are weaknesses?

I’m on my own as a parent. I don’t have anyone to offload negative feelings to on a day to day basis, and I am loathe to become the teary parent that my children are constantly afraid of upsetting. I am also very aware that it would be all too easy as a single mum to use an older child as an emotional crutch, and I really don’t want my children to feel in anyway responsible for me. But then maybe I should accept that family members do have a responsibility to look out for each other. This is hard for me though. My tough teenage mum shell doesn’t want to rely on anyone for anything. Dependence feels like a weakness. I need to be able to look after myself.

I am starting to wonder though if showing a bit more vulnerability sometimes and asking for help more often might actually endear me to people more. I’m sure it must be hard for friends and partners to feel useful and needed if I appear so capable. And maybe it would show Bee that actually it is quite normal to often feel lonely, bored, fed up and sad. We are all human after all, but perhaps I don’t show it as much as I could.

I’d be really interested to know what other people think about this. Do you cry in front of your children or do you believe in putting on a happy face at all times? Have the relationships in your childhood shaped the way you parent? How as a parent can you show vulnerability at the same time as being the person who provides security? Answers on a postcard please…

Photo credit: Cesar S

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I’ve been having a bit of a teenage pregnancy week this week, influenced by stories in the news and events in my own life. Although it’s 14 years now since I became a mum at 17 to Bee (pictured right as a baby), having been a teenage parent is still a hugely defining part of who I am and I feel an ever present determination to prove to the world that teenage pregnancy doesn’t mean a wasted life.

Of course if you believe the media, teenage pregnancy is the root of all evil, both the cause and the symptom of a society whose morals are crumbling faster than my house, (chunks of which have recently started appearing in the garden).

Jan Moir has vented her fury against teenage mums today in a particularly ignorant and disgusting fashion. I really can’t even begin to respond to her vicious rant without wanting to stab pins in my own eyes with frustration. Suffice to say Jan:

  • I was 16 when I got pregnant, which is quite legal thank you very much.
  • I was not drunk.
  • I remained in a stable happy relationship with the father for several years.
  • I have never lived in a council house, but if I had, that would have been my absolute right.
  • My life has been full of opportunities for fulfillment and excitement.
  • And I have most definitely managed to get myself “on the career ladder, be independent, promoted AND valued.”

Despite Jan’s prophecy of me wallowing forever in misery and housing benefit, I even managed – shock horror – to get a degree! A first class degree in Economics no less. Hard to believe I know that a teenage parent would even dare to have any kind of ambition or aspirations, or go as far as to consider making a good life for herself and her family.

And I’m not the only one. My friend Camilla had her baby while she was at university and lo and behold she isn’t wasting her life “from now until the grave…in a council house papered with State handouts and increasing despair”, as Moir so eloquently puts it.

But enough of my bitter sarcasm. I know I was lucky in that I had fantastic support from my family (pictured left – My Mum, Gran, Me and my sister), but can we please just all realise that, although obviously not ideal,  having a baby as a teenager doesn’t automatically spell disaster?

Women have babies at all ages and manage to maintain interesting careers and social lives. How about, as Camilla suggests, we think instead about supporting young mums? Rather than just dumping them on the educational scrapheap, we could offer these young women incentives and practical support to continue their education, ultimately facilitating their long term financial and emotional independence.

We could even celebrate the achievements of  teenage parents – congratulate them for the fantastic job they do juggling families, schooling and work, all while having their confidence, ambitions and parenting skills constantly undermined by a predominantly ignorant media?

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After school today we are going to Pizza Hut. I am anticipating mild bickering, but I am hoping the pizza and unlimited orange squash will unite them at least temporarily. There is a seven-year age gap between my two daughters, and at seven and fourteen, it has never felt so significant.

When Belle was a baby, Bee was an enthusiastic seven-year old, keen to help her mummy by doing Useful Jobs and still up for shared baths. It was a period of smugness for me. I looked at other friends, struggling with two or three kids under four and I thought I’d been pretty canny. I never had the problem of how to amuse a toddler whilst breastfeeding a baby – Bee was genuinely useful and could be relied upon to sit nicely doing some colouring and fetch me snacks as required.

Seven years later and my smugness has worn off. Now my friends have siblings who play together happily for hours at a time, leaving their parents to do the weekend crossword, drink cappuccino, and other grown up things I always imagine other people to be doing. My darling daughters however seem unable to be in the same room alone for more than 20 seconds without some kind of argument erupting. Belle is a bouncy child, always looking for someone to play with her. Bee is a sullen teenager, always keen for people to leave her well alone.

And so it is that we end up with outings to Pizza Hut being one of the only things that both of them enjoy. Holidays and days out are getting harder and harder. Bee doesn’t particularly want to hang out with Belle anyway, and hanging out in a toy shop or an indoor play centre is her idea of hell. The last time we went out for the day altogether Bee spent most of her time sat in the car.

Being a single parent makes the situation much harder to manage. When there are two of you, you can share the load and split the outings. If I had a useful father figure, he could take Belle off for wholesome outdoor activities while I took Bee to the cinema to watch cheesy rom-coms and eat overpriced sweets. Day to day parenting would be so much easier too. Ultimately, there is only one of me, and as much as I try to be all things to all people I can only spread myself so thin. Sometimes I feel I can’t have a proper conversation with one child without somehow neglecting the other.

So I am asking for help – do you have a big age gap between your kids and how do you manage it, how can I make sure both sets of needs get met? Is there anything we can do as a family that won’t be met with groans? Bracing walks in the countryside are unpopular with them both, but a venue with a cafe/gift shop combo usually goes down well.

Alternatively, if your kids are close in age, you have a useless husband and you find parenting generally hellish, let me know. At least then I can take comfort in another person’s misery…

Pizza Hut

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This week I have officially had a New Experience. I went to my very first Baby Show. Yes I know, it is a bit late considering my children are now seven and fourteen, but I was working, not buying.

When my children I were babies I never really went in for Having To Have Lots Of Equipment. Pretty much everything I had for them was bought second hand or handed down from relatives who had boys. I liked to think I was challenging gender stereotypes by dressing them in a lot of blue, but basically I was just a bit poor. Or maybe mean. My two days spent at the ExCeL Baby Show though have made me realise I was right all along, and reinforced by long-held belief that babies really don’t need much more than a boob.

If you have never been to a Baby Show before, let me paint a picture for you…

Imagine yourself in a giant warehouse, an aircraft hanger, the air thick with pregnancy hormones and the cries of bored babies. The space is set out to keep you circling, wandering between stand after stand of colourful equipment you’ll never need, a never-ending maze of muslin from which there is no escape.

Ok, it isn’t really that bad, but you get the idea. Goodness knows how much the average new parent spends on ‘essentials’ for their baby, but judging from the prams piled high with goodies, it is quite a lot. And all the exhibitors are jostling for a slice, trying their damnedest to come up with the must-have product, the one thing that your baby really can’t do without. And the truth is that most babies can really do without most of it.

Of course there are a few things that really are simple, elegant solutions to real problems. The Cuddledry towel for instance, that simply fastens around your neck like an apron, leaving you two hands free to lift your wet, wriggly baby from the bath. Not that I’m at all biased – although I possibly should mention at this point that I was at the show working with Cuddledry…

Some things though are just making problems where there aren’t any, or trying to make a product out of nothing. I had a lovely demo from a woman selling what she maintained was a revolutionary cover up solution for breastfeeding women, allowing them to feed easily in public. As a breastfeeding counsellor, I was drawn in by the concept – anything that helps more women breastfeed is obviously great – and it wasn’t until I was walking away that I realised what she was actually selling. It was just a scarf, tied around your neck. A fairly thin, plain scarf at that. For sixteen quid. But even cynical old me had been temporarily ‘sold’ on the amazing, revolutionary, must-have breastfeeding scarf.

So the whole experience got me thinking, if you really break it down, what do babies and toddlers actually NEED? Are there any products at all that they simply can’t do without? Or is the whole industry built on fear and guilt, making women believe they will be bad parents if they don’t get a scary 3D scan, have their babies feet cast in coloured glass, or buy some kind of complicated pram system that they won’t even be able to get in the boot on their own?

Did you buy anything for your babies that you really loved and used? My one thing would probably be the hip seat from Hippychick – indispensable with Belle, who refused to leave my side for about two and a half years. Or maybe you were seduced into buying an ‘essential’ that turned out to be utter crap? I’d love to know what terrible products your baby-addled brain let you part with cash for…

Photo credit: maessive

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After all the lovely feedback for my rather childish birth story, I have been wishing this week that I kept more diaries when I was younger. I just know they would have been incredibly entertaining (in a laugh at me rather than with me kind of way) as I was a fairly precocious yet oftentimes naive child, with a sense of humour only a close family member could love.

I probably did write things down, but having moved house nearly 30 times in my life so far I am not what you’d call a hoarder. I have been forced over the years to be ruthless with what I throw away and don’t have a loft full of childhood memories I can plunder for the sake of a blog post.

My mum and my sister are a lot more sentimental than me, and have dragged boxes of what I call rubbish and what they call treasured possessions from house to house, certain in the knowledge that one day it will be very useful or significant. I must admit (don’t tell them), that as I get older, I do see more value in hanging on to things from the past, not least because I am beginning to forget things that happened more than about a week ago. As my own children grow up it is useful, when faced with difficult questions like ‘what was I like when I was little’, to be able to present them with a box of photos, letters and mementoes to rummage through.

It was in a box of my sister’s keepsakes that I recently found my diary from 1990. I say diary, but it really only has room for a few sentences a day. 1990 is probably pushing it a bit too, as I appear to have lost interest by 13 February. Still, the six weeks I spend spilling my heart and soul onto the pages of my M&S Snoopy diary are a fair reflection of the contents of my 11-year-old mind – it is mainly an account of what I ate and the occasions I did well at school. I am still very much a person motivated by praise and by snacks, so not much has changed really in 20 years.

So, for your enjoyment, here follows some unedited excerpts. For youngsters reading this – this is what life was like before kids had TV and the internet and had to make their own fun. (Although I’m not sure all 11 year olds made antique maps of their homes and clothes for their teddies)…

Jan 2: Went to town in the rain so I bought an umbrella. Both Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe tapes are broken. I am making Teddy a knotted hankerchief. Had fish and chips for tea.

Jan 5: Mummy stayed in bed until 5.30pm. I played Sylvanian families with Annabel. I made a map of our house and to make it look old I painted it with yellow water.

Jan 8: Back to school. School was quite good, but I forgot my dinner money again! Rubbish art lesson. Vicky doesn’t do anything to help. I have to do all the work.

Jan 12: Cross country today. I was almost in a state of collapse at the end. Time was 9mins 36secs. I was second from last.

Jan 21: Went to Bristol for Grandma’s birthday. Everyone was there. Even Auntie Jill.

Jan 24: Went to textiles to find Vicky hadn’t done anything towards our hat. Took it home to finish. Went to Grandma and Grandad’s for tea. They had beef!

Feb 5: We had a French test about the weather and we had to be able to spell them! I got 18 out of 18. In textiles we did drawing. I drew some brill shells and Miss Newton said I was a very good drawer.

Feb 8: Had a big fight with Leann in physics today. I have a massive bruise on my shin where she kicked me. Me, Paul and Michael got some special homework because we were so good.

Feb 12: Drama – we had to go to court. All the boys were the judges so none of the boys got a chance to do anything. I am making Teddy some clothes.

Now don’t let anyone ever tell you I don’t know how to have fun.

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I was chatting to a friend the other day, a friend who has known me since before I had children (i.e. a long time) and who has recently had her first baby. She also reads my blog. As I always imagined would be the case, she is a completely natural mother and absolutely loves it. When she was talking about her baby though on the phone to me, she sounded almost apologetic – “I’m sure the novelty will wear off soon,” she said, “and I’ll feel more like you do about it.”

Oh dear.

I looked back through my posts and wondered if perhaps they were a little negative. I guess it is the nature of my theme that I am going to be venting frustrations, sounding off to an imaginary husband, and that I will tend therefore to be writing about things that have annoyed me. I don’t want this to be the case all the time though, and have been planning for a while to write something terribly wholesome and positive. Honest.

So I have been spurred into action this week by a tag from Mari at Mari’s World, asking me to write about Shiny Happy Things – the stuff that is guaranteed to make you smile. Obviously my first thought is of sitting quietly somewhere with a cup of coffee and the papers, but in an effort to nurture my maternal side, I am going to focus on the things my children do that make me love them extra hard. Here goes…

I love when Belle is in my bed with me (which until recently was pretty much every night) and she strokes my leg with her feet in her sleep.

I love it when Bee comes home from somewhere and she is really chatty – either because something has annoyed her or inspired her – and she talks non stop to me for ages about it.

I love that Belle is only seven but she has a fantastic sense of humour. She can be so sharp, so quick-witted, and very sarcastic. I know it is the lowest form of wit, but it is the basis of our whole family sense of humour, so it’s important Belle gets up to speed.

I love it when me and Bee go to the cinema on our own and laugh at all the same bits of the film, (often the bits no-one else is laughing at), and Bee makes me buy her a gigantic, hideous blue slush.

I love it that Belle is so self assured and confident, that she will happily just say hello to random strangers and ask them questions about themselves.

I love it when I look at either of them, when they are doing something completely normal, not knowing I am looking, and I think to myself  ‘gosh, I made them. I didn’t just physically make them, but I helped to make them into the people they are, I shaped them.’ It can be a massively daunting sense of responsibility, but with that comes a huge sense of pride.

Yes well, that’s quite enough maternal positivity for one day.

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I was just 17 when my first daughter, Bee, was born. Her dad, Jonathan, was a year younger than me and was still at school until about three weeks before she was born. At the time I didn’t think too much about my circumstances, and obviously felt incredibly grown up and mature, as you do when you’re a teenager. Now Bee is a teen herself and I am beginning to realise just how much of a child I really was!

A little while ago, sorting through some photos, I came across a short birth report I had written at the time, fourteen years ago now. I read it and can imagine myself there, but it sounds like another person. A child. In some ways it makes me sad to think about how much growing up I must have done in such a short space of time, but at the same time it has an enviable casualness to it, a laid back, take-it-in-your-stride attitude that we often lose as adults.

So in the name of self reflection I have reproduced it here. Unedited. Even though parts of it did make me cringe a bit. I started having contractions at about 3am on the Saturday morning but the report starts when I went into hospital at around 7.30pm, when I was having contractions every 4-5 minutes….

7.30pm – Went to Musgrove hospital. Used TENS machine – lot of use that was. Jonathan sang me lots of nursery rhymes especially Baa Baa Black sheep. Had Columbo on TV. Waters broke at about 2.10am, which was a good job as they were on the verge of transferring me to a ward and sending everyone home. Was monitored lots but the bed was extremely uncomfortable and a nasty black-haired woman left me on it for ages. Had to keep moving the sensor thing on my tummy because Zippy kept dodging it. [Zippy was our name for my bump. We thought she was a boy so I refer to her as ‘he’ as well]. Contractions only peaking at 6/12 max on the printer.

Jenny was the name of the midwife who delivered Zippy. She was the nice one. The nasty midwife broke the rest of my waters with this big crochet hook. Jonathan suggested a big pin but I don’t think she thought that was very funny. When my waters broke it was a bit gross. I was on my way to the toilet and got loads of gunk on the floor. It got quite unbearable and nothing much seemed to be happening. I had a dose of pethedine at ten to four. I didn’t much like Jenny at this point as she said I would have to stay on the bed all the time, as it would make me drowsy – like I wasn’t completely exhausted already. I didn’t though. I sat in the chair. Jonathan had to practically carry me to the toilet and I kept falling asleep. I don’t remember the next few hours because I was so drowsy, but things definitely seemed to be happening. My contractions were coming every two minutes or so and it was horrid.

At quarter to six I had an internal exam and they said Zippy was ready to pop out. Lots of people seemed to be running around putting on plastic pinnies. Jenny said she would give me until 6.30am and then she wanted him born. We had Jenny and a fatish midwife there. Jenny made me lie on my side – she said it would make it much easier. To start with I had to not push which was practically impossible. I had some gas and air, which helped me not to push, but made my mouth feel really numb and dry. I kept falling asleep and Jonathan had to keep waking me up and giving me drinks. He was really brilliant and I couldn’t possibly have done it without him. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that towards the end my contractions were so bad I had to be sick into a kind of bedpan thing.

Finally I was allowed to push which was much more satisfying. I think it hurt a lot but all I can remember is the relief of being able to push and do something productive. Jonathan got really excited when he could see the top of the head. I felt it, but I didn’t fancy the mirror thing. I did one massive push and Zippy kind of catapulted out all at once. The cord was really long but it was all so lush. She was a bit cold but apart from that, perfect, loads of hair.

I was really shaking and I couldn’t push out the placenta very well. She was born at 6.23am but that whole last bit seemed to take about 5 minutes. It was a bit undignified with my leg up over a midwife’s neck but it was worth it when Jonathan saw we had a little girl and cried so much he made all the midwives cry. I was so proud when I saw him holding our little girl. I wanted to cry with happiness, but I was too exhausted and shaky. She put her hand in her mouth to suck it and I tried feeding straight away.

Eventually everyone went home and I had a bath. Then me and Zippy went back to the ward. We went back to the Mary Stanley at about 4pm and I stayed until Thursday morning.

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