Friday, 8 July 2016

Why Parenthood Is Nothing Like I Imagined

Not so long ago somebody asked me whether life as a parent was ‘everything I imagined it would be’ and I laughed so hard that food came out of my nose.

‘Oh yes,’ I replied, after realising that this was, in fact, a genuine question. ‘It’s everything I imagined it would be and more,’ adding a slight grimace which I hoped delivered the honest subtext of ‘Absofuckinglutely not.’

Remarking on all the failed expectations of parenthood is actually one of my favourite pastimes. Not in a ‘Wow, look at all the things I hoped I would do/say/be as a parent, I’m none of them hahaha!’ way but just a chuckle over all the shit I thought I would do.

Except that’s not strictly true.


Clear as a toddler's backwashed sippy cup?

Allow me to explain.

I’m not saying I have lied about imagining a whole host of shit I’ve subsequently never come close to doing, I'm saying that imagining doing these things is not the same as genuinely believing that I would do them.

Is anybody still with me? (This feels like the bit in Titanic when Rose is calling the rescue boats back and begging Jack to stay with her but it’s too late because his bollocks have frozen after she hogged the floating door big enough for two). Stay with me Jack, I’m getting to the point.


Not quite what I imagined
My point is that deep down I knew my vision of parenthood was unrealistic even before I threw a baby into the mix. And that’s actually got nothing to do with parenthood itself, not really, because I’ve been setting myself up to fail with unrealistic imaginings all my life.

Before I started secondary school, I imagined that I would be instantly accepted by the cool kids and that I'd successfully attract a boyfriend to hold hands with between lessons. Only it turns out that when you have Deirdre Barlow glasses engulfing two-thirds of your face and you team ankle-basher trousers with ‘square’ shoes from Clarks (because your mum wouldn’t let you go to Shoezone and get the platform ones) you never do slot straight into the cool crowd. In fact, you later find yourself in Year 11 with nothing to show by way of romance except a drunken snog in the Football Club car park with a boy you suspect was sick before he kissed you.

When I started working in finance, fresh-faced from University and keen as mustard, I imagined that I would swish around in pencil skirts and deliver dynamic presentations so impressive they would leave senior management bamboozled. Credit where credit’s due I had a pretty good bash at swishing around in pencil skirts and delivering presentations but I also had spells of mediocrity. I got things wrong, I didn't always make a dynamic impression and I once managed to get myself locked in the staff toilet where I had to be rescued by a commercial banking manager who climbed over the top of my cubicle and gave me a leg up (upon re-entering the office from the toilet I discovered word of the escape had spread and I was greeted with a round of applause). Work life wasn’t always very swish, in the end, but it did provide years of laughter.

Parenthood has taken these unrealistic imaginings to a whole new level because every stage of the parenting game brings a new anticipation. When I first imagined myself having children I visualised a mum who would rustle up fresh pesto with a pestle and mortar, while listening to Jazz. Who would glide around looking positively glowy with her baby in a sling and her toddler sat nicely doing crafts (she would exude maternal confidence and have all sorts of educational crafty ideas because that’s what imaginary glowy pesto-pulsing mums do).

Only I’ve never been a glider, not ever, and there’s nothing about passing a small human out of your fandango that automatically makes you more glidey, is there? The reality is that I’m clumsy, I walk into things, I always seem to manage to get the belt loop from my dressing-gown caught on the door handle so it pulls me backwards with great force. I’m crap at cooking, I hate crafts.


It’s never been the boys’ fault that I haven’t blossomed into the beacon of delicious yummy mumminess I imagined. That was never my calling. My calling has always been slightly crummier. I just imagined a sleeker version because that’s what imagination does. It creates expectation.

So you see, it’s not exclusively parenthood that has failed to become 'everything I imagined it would be'. It’s just that by their very nature our imaginings are a bit fucking daft.

They are also inevitable. Which is why I can’t help but imagine myself absolutely bossing the role of School Mum when Henry heads into the classroom for the first time this September. I’m imagining that I will be on top of costume-making and cake-baking and the trillion emails I’m told I can expect every day. I’ll have a magnetic family organiser and I’ll have my shit together at all times.
I imagine.


Tuesday, 31 May 2016

One for the Bloggers! Get Your (Blog) Name Out There

Are you a parent blogger with something to say?
Are you longing to shout your musings about weaning/episiotomies/playground politics/any-other-topic from the rooftops of the interweb?
Maybe you have just started toying with the idea of starting a blog and need a gentle nudge to take the plunge?
If you are nodding along to any of these things then listen up and listen good.
This is your nudge.

I am nudging because for some time now I have been spectacularly failing at replying to all the emails and messages I receive from parents who are asking for my advice about starting a blog, or asking if I could have a quick read of a post they have written. I always promise myself that at the very least I will reply with some words of encouragement because I know first-hand that sharing your parenting thoughts online for all to see/share/judge is actually quite a big deal (and also, if I’m honest, because I strongly suspect that jotting down my own thoughts on this here blog has saved me from myself a little bit). I’m not about to start droning on again about how blogging has changed my life yadda yadda yadda because I have told you all that before. (It totally has though, just FYI).
(And it's super glamorous, as you can see)
Instead, I have decided to get involved with something that will help dazzling blog posts get the attention they deserve while at the same time mitigating the risk of me having another meltdown about all the inbox messages I can’t respond to (in my meltdown defence, I was knackered after leaving the boys’ shoes at my Dad’s and consequently having to sprint to buy them an emergency pair – I arrived one minute before the shop closed and panic-bought the first ones I found in their sizes, total nightmare).
I’ll get on to this blogging opportunity in just a moment (I’m wondering if ‘opportunity’ makes it sound like I'm pushing some kind of dodgy bloggy pyramid scheme? I promise that’s not what’s going on here) but before explaining what the hell I’m banging on about I thought I’d make a note of the one genuine titbit of blogging advice I have sent back to parents (well, all those I managed to reply to before shoegate hit the fan). It’s the advice I would prioritise over everything else:
Be yourself.
Yes I know it’s a cliché and might make me sound a bit wanky but it’s quite possibly the most important direction I can offer. There is absolutely no point trying to write in the style of somebody else, even if that’s a proven 'successful' style because if it’s not really you it simply won’t sound right (it also won’t flow, just like my Year 10 English essay). Equally, don’t be too scared to write a post that’s similar in style or content to another you’ve read - the crucial thing is that it doesn’t feel forced. Obviously it would be immensely shady if you were to plagiarise another’s post and steal all their pictures but if you fret about covering the same ground as another blogger whenever you write then you’d never write anything! No two posts are exactly the same, anyway. The most important thing is that you are writing something you feel inspired to write.
And if you are feeling inspired to write then look no further…
Share your blog with GoodtoKnow
Starting on June 1st (and on the 1st of every month thereafter) a brand new blogging platform: Because I Said So (BISS)’ is being launched over on the GoodtoKnow website. Bloggers will be able to submit a favourite recent post to be considered by a panel of judges (me included, hello!) and between us we’ll choose five bloggers who will each get a paid guest blog spot on the website. Better still, the blogger whose guest post attracts the greatest page traffic over the course of a week will automatically land themselves a page in a future issue of Essentials magazine.
Whether you are a brand new blogger, a vintage blogging pro, a lapsed-but-returning blogger or somebody simply toying with the idea of giving the whole blogging malarkey a go then this is an amazing chance to get your writing shared online and possibly in print. (It’s also a great chance for me to be nosey and read some blogs).
Further info and details about how to link up your blog post to the GoodtoKnow website can be found here.
Go forth and blog! Good luck xx

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Extraordinary Ordinary (Life Is Not a Movie)

This evening I went out for a jog. When I say ‘out for a jog’ I mean I walked around the park at the end of my road at a pace slightly faster than my usual stride, which is hardly a challenge given that my usual stride is one step forwards and five steps into somebody else’s garden chasing a feral toddler.

How fast I was bumbling around the park tonight is kind of irrelevant to this post, I’m just setting the scene, as it was during this uninterrupted walking time that I started thinking about life. Life in general. Everyday life. And how all too often there is build up and expectation attached to daily events, moments and milestones which can leave us feeling under pressure to feel a certain way. Feelings are not like that. By their very nature you can’t create feelings or build up to ‘a moment’. Something either gets you in the feels or it doesn’t.

I need to rewind to this morning for this to make any sense. First though, I need to tell you how years of watching sentimental films and TV dramas has set me up to fail on the feelings front. Real-life is nothing like film-life. Of course we all know that movies are not real life but once you’ve internalised a whole catalogue of film ‘moments’ it’s hardly surprising if you start to expect life to play out like a script every now and again. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I sit at home every night hoping the knock on the door is Andrew Lincoln instructing me to pretend it’s carol singers and declaring his undying love for me on handwritten cue cards. James has never once dressed up as a fighter pilot and serenaded me with You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling but I fell for him nonetheless.

Films have simply left me expecting emotional moments that just haven’t happened. Parenthood has brought about the absolute worst of this disappointment because parenting moments are so well-documented on the big screen. Moments like childbirth, where the parents always share a cuddle and a cry when the baby is born. My boys were delightful and I was over the moon to hold them against me but I didn’t cry. I can remember thinking, ‘Should I be crying now?’ No tears came.
More generally, there are all those scenes in films where motherhood looks amazing. Even when it’s portrayed as chaotic it looks like fun chaos – cereal spillages on floors, lots of noise and laughter, the odd slamming of a door that is later resolved by an emotional chat over fresh coffee and lots of meaningful eye contact. The chaos in my life can be fun too but milk on the floor generally results in a head injury and we tend to save all meaningful eye contact for our smartphones.

This morning, however, something special happened. A special feeling.

I had taken Henry to his first ever gymnastics class and after waiting awkwardly outside, not really knowing what was expected of me in this environment, it was time for him to go in. I have taken him to other classes before – music, drama etc. but these have always been things I have joined in with (to be honest, by the time we stopped the music classes I had found myself running around in a circle doing the animal actions while he tried to climb the chair stacks and steal other people’s shoes). This morning was different, though, because he is four and has joined a group where you just leave them to it. No big deal.

Only it became a big deal for me as I stood there and watched him through the glass. Watched him trot in with zero fear, confidently taking a seat on the mat amongst the other boys and girls and proceeding to follow them around in a gym circuit, stretching his arms out as he balanced on the beam and joining in with floor exercises (where he was understandably two steps behind everybody else but persevered with such a happy face). He was in his element, and when I saw his eyes searching for me I jumped and waved and mouthed, ‘Well done!’ with a huge thumbs up from the other side of the door. He returned my thumbs up with a long-distance fist pump and then, just as quickly as he had looked for me, he looked away and slotted straight back into the class.

It was nothing like anything you would see in a film. There was no moving soundtrack, no pep talk from me telling him I knew he could do it, no slow-motion shot of him leaping off a balance beam and landing gracefully on the mat to rapturous applause from the rest of the gymnasium. Nobody else noticed anything remarkable.

But I did.

To me, it was extraordinary. My boy was extraordinary. I fought back a lump in my throat as I stood there in a sweaty-smelling gym corridor and realised, with mild amusement, that it was the most proud I have ever felt about anything.

So this evening, as I found myself out walking and contemplating life-in-general, I realised that I have been looking for the wrong moments. Or at the very least looking in the wrong places. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been looking at all.

Feelings aren’t like that. Feeling just are.
Like pride just was for me, today.

The Unmumsy Mum

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Cherish Every Moment? No. My Advice For Brand New Parents

I was asked last week what advice, if any, I would give to brand new parents. I couldn’t help but think back to myself as a new mum. It made me feel a bit sad.

The New Mum Me was a bundle of self-doubt.
She wasn’t doing anything right. She wasn’t cut out for it. Her baby deserved better. She was failing. The New Mum Me once stood in the shower with her fingers in her ears, crying, trying to drown out the sound of the nursery rhyme CD which in turn was drowning out the sound of the screaming baby she could not settle. When her husband returned home she could only recall the 5 minute neglectful shower (she was sure this had emotionally scarred their baby for life) and not the 9.5 other hours she had attentively fed him ‘on demand,’ cuddled him and whispered to him that he was the most perfect thing she had ever seen. 
Very first pic as a mum. Terrible quality I'm afraid, I wasn't blogging then ;-)
So, with the magical wisdom of hindsight now bestowed upon me, I think I would tell brand new parents the following:

You are not obligated to cherish every moment.
It’s true that you will ‘never get this time again.’ It’s true that it will all ‘be over in a flash.’ It’s true that one day you will wake up and wonder where the time has gone, why you wished the days away, how it is possible that your baby will soon be heading out into the Big Wide World (reception). At 2am, however, when you’re not sure if the wet patch in the bed is leaked breast milk or leaked baby excrement, it is also true that you will quite justifiably wonder what the actual fuck has happened to your life.

Nobody cherishes every moment. Some moments are magic. Others are shit. On a sleep-deprived/‘cluster feeding’/nothing-stops-the-crying type day it is quite possible that the moment ratio will end up at 80:20 in favour of shit. Social media will never reflect this shitstorm because social media is not real life.

There is no shame in asking for help.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Quite the contrary, it is a sign of strength. To be struggling and to admit that you are struggling demonstrates a kick-ass determination and fierceness in your ability to look after your baby. 

There is also no shame in putting your own needs above the needs of domestic chores. Of course we all know that the liberally-offered ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ nugget of wisdom is a bit of a joke (are you going to hoover when the baby hoovers, too?) but sometimes sleep is the most productive thing you can do with thirty minutes. Do not feel guilty about sleeping. If and when you have subsequent children you will kick yourself for not maximising naptimes the first time around (as you find yourself at the beck and call of a toddler who wants you to watch his Ninja Turtle kick for the gazillionth time).

Have faith when people tell you that one day it will all be worth it.
You might want to smack them in the face. But they are right. The New Mum Me who broke down in the shower couldn't see it. She was yet to feel her heart jump at the sound of her baby's giggle. She was yet to feel the overwhelming pride of watching him have a go at writing his name before looking up at her as if to say, 'I did it, Mummy!' 

If you're reading this as a brand new parent, I want you to know that there are magical moments to come. And some shit ones, too, which you are absolutely not required to cherish.

That's what I wish I had known.

The Unmumsy Mum





Monday, 11 April 2016

An Alternative Fireman Sam Script

[Dilys Price is chatting to Trevor Evans inside her shop]

Dilys: Oh Trevor, I’ve been having dreams about you and what we could get up to on your bus.

[Trevor, clearly uncomfortable about her sexual advances, is saved by the shop door flying open. Fireman Sam enters dragging Norman Price in by his ear]

Fireman Sam: I’m afraid Norman has been up to no good again, Dilys. I found him skateboarding between cars down at the harbour, he almost caused a pile-up.

Dilys: Norman Price! What have I told you about skateboarding between cars? You silly boy.

Norman: Sorry mam.

Fireman Sam: Sorry isn’t good enough this time, Norman. I’m afraid I’m going to have to have a word with your mum in private. Go to your room.

Norman price: You can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my father!

[A knowing look is exchanged between Fireman Sam and Dilys. Norman’s face turns even paler than normal as he clocks Sam’s hair colour and starts reflecting on all the historic unwarranted patience Sam has displayed whenever he has been a total bellend]

Norman: Mam? Say something!

Dilys: It was one night, Norman. Strip poker got out of hand at the Floods’ house and Sam and I… well, Sam and I made you.

[Fireman Sam winces at the memory, it is plain to see he had his beer goggles on that night but doesn’t want to upset Dilys by labelling it a mistake]

Fireman Sam: We thought it best not to tell you, Norman. It has been tricky keeping it a secret. Both Station Officer Steel and Penny have voiced their suspicions, mostly because you have set fire to yourself and the rest of PontyPandy a gazillion times and yet still I have refrained from joining in with the others when they call you a dickhead.


Trevor: [coughs loudly] I think I should get going...

Dilys: Oh Trevor, please don’t be jealous of the night of naked passion Sam and I had on board Jupiter. It’s you I love.

[Trevor exits, leaving Dilys with her head in her hands]

Norman: I can’t believe I didn’t know that the bravest firefighter in PontyPandy is MY DAD. Are you going to pick me up and take me out in your fire engine every other weekend?

[Fireman Sam’s phone rings]

Fireman Sam: Hello? Penny, what’s happened? [cartoon squeaky phone voice from the other end] I'll be right there... I’ve got to go, Dilys - Mike Flood is stuck on a roof again and Elvis has made the situation worse. I honestly don’t know why anybody finds the ineptitude of a brainless firefighter so endearing - Elvis is a bloody liability. Let’s pick up this conversation again later, Norman.

Norman: Okay dad.

[Fireman Sam leaves the shop, vowing to never have drunk sex with a randy shopkeeper again].

The End.