2/5 This much I know.

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So, parenting.

I don’t know, I’m sure some people manage it, but in my experience it is impossible to have a baby, and then not let said baby take well and truly over your life. Pregnancy, birth, feeding and raising tiny humans has utterly dominated my every waking moment for the past 4 years and has made up the fabric of my day, every day. Which has been both wonderful and totally bonkers, inspiring and, well, intense.

Right now though, I feel like some of the fog is lifting. I can sustain my attention for more than 60 seconds on topics other than cloth nappies and the best strategy for getting your toddler into their car seat without giving yourself an aneurysm. I am beginning to prioritise myself more, and my need to get fit and use my brain in different ways, rather than always feeling at the bottom of the pecking order. There is, oh my God imagine, space in my life for more than just babies. A dog! Why will no one let me get a dog?

Part of the reason for saying farewell to this blog is that the impetus to write incessantly about parenting has waned. But while I am still here, not quite clear of those all encompassing toddler years, I thought I would write down the most important stuff that I have learned. The pearls that I want to pass on, to other people still very much beneath the mist, trying to figure it out, with only 4 hours sleep and a strong coffee to their name.

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The very most important thing I know: We all fuck up. Like, you can read all of the Janet Lansbury you like, rehearse all the right things to say in the midst of an epic toddler tantrum, be the most zen and empathetic earth mother to your three year old who has very specific cup preferences, but at some point, you will lose your shit. Not in a ‘I’m strategically raising my voice to get you to listen’ way, but in a ‘Dude, I am exhausted, my patience is in the gutter, you are pushing me to my goddamn limits and I am just yelling because I am full blown ANGRY with this TOTAL LACK OF COOPERATION YOU ARE TAKING THE PISS MY GOD!’. This is not a thing that any parent is planning on, and shit, when it happens on the way into Sainsburys with a thousand judgey old people staring at you, know that it will be one of the low moments of your life. But guys, we are human, and while I LOVE positive parenting sites like Janet’s, I think we need to be honest that sometimes a situation will just push a button and we will yell and it will be ugly. It’s okay, our children will not be emotionally broken as a result of this, and it absolutely does not undo all the other good stuff that we do. On behalf of mothers everywhere, I am officially cutting us some slack.

Parenting though, it’s a judgey game. Actually I think it begins way before we are even parents and we are in a restaurant and there is a family on the table next to us. Ipads are on, pasta is being thrown and the parents are just benignly drinking wine and pretending not to notice the breadsticks that are being crushed and then liberally sprinkled about the floor. And we sit there and we think, ‘That will never be me, I will never be that parent, I will do so much better than that’. It carries on when we have had our baby, and you see an eighteen month old in the pushchair chowing down on a packet of Quavers and you act all aghast, because suspiciously cheese flavoured reconstituted corn shall NEVER pass the lips of YOUR preshus angel. And then again when you’ve got a toddler and you see those big kids dominating the bouncy castle, bumping yours right out of the way and onto their faces, while their parents drink beer and literally could not give less of a shit, and you vow to never let your children be such obnoxious little brats that leap all over babies without a care in the world. We all judge, of course we do. Judgement is useful! When you are thrust into the oblivion, I think it is good to look around at what others are doing and syphon off the things that you like, and want to emulate, and the paths that you swear you’ll never go down. This is all a healthy way to work out the parent we want to be. But also, shit happens. The afore mentioned shit in the last paragraph for example. And it helps precisely no one if you are there, looking on, at parents having a hard time or wilfully ignoring their children, because they’ve had ENOUGH that day, and passing judgey judgement. I am trying my best to remember that, and to not be a dick.

So if we have ascertained that we are all going to have bad times, and that we will refrain from being too harsh on others who are having bad times, what about the rest? Repeat after me: there is no right way. I know amazing parents who put a ton of effort into their interactions with their children, set up wonderful Montessori style activities, and are mindful of everything they do. I also know amazing parents who work full time and drop their kids of at child care every day and let them watch a ton of TV in the evenings because they are all freaking tired. I have written a lot about the guilt that suddenly descends when you have kids and makes you feel like whatever you’re doing? Not good enough. NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH. But the conclusion that I have drawn is that if it is working out for you and you’re family? Probably good enough. I am definitely the geekiest parent on the block and if there is stuff in our family that is bothering me (my kid has started waking up in the night again, my kid hasn’t eaten any vegetables in a month, my kid has an all consuming obsession with sharks at the expense of any human interaction, let’s say, just as an example), then you can bet I will be up all night scouring the internet for ways to improve the situation. But I do try and separate out the stuff that bothers me, because it bothers me, and the stuff that is driven by what I think I should be doing, because a Mormon lady in New York is doing it.

A word on parenting blogs: There are some amazing women out there who write inspirationally and honestly about their time with children (shout outs to Renegade Mothering, Parenting Illustrated with Crappy Pictures and Recipe Rifle for keeping it so real). For the most part though, once a blog has paid sponsorship, they have to maintain their brand, and their brand is usually them, being a completely perfect parent. Of course they are dealing with the same crap as the rest of us, OF COURSE THEY ARE, but they are photographing and writing about fun trips to the pumpkin patch, or how they just weaved their own yurt out of felt. Which is cool, I love those blogs! I love felt yurts! But the phrase ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’, has never been so apt.

Here are some other things I know:

Never tell the mother of a new born to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, ‘savour every moment’ or that is all ‘goes so fast’. It does go so fast but a day when you’re up at 5am and your partner is away and it’s raining and the internet has broken also lasts a thousand years, so that kind of makes up for it.

Instead, take the mother of a newborn food: cake, coffee and meals she can reheat. Literally the only gifts worth giving.

This too shall pass, this too shall pass, this too shall pass. They will stop doing that annoying thing that they do eventually. Sure, they’ll start doing some other annoying thing instead, but a change is as good as a rest right?

And seriously, if I was to pass on one piece of actual advice to the parent of small children it would be this: Ignore them sometimes. I am cultivating a style of parenting I like to call ‘conscious neglect’ (admittedly i might need to work on my branding), because honestly, it’s okay for kids to fend for themselves for a good chunk of the day. I think a lot about my Grandma, who raised three children in the North of England during the 1950s. She had a job and did all of the domestic chores without even a goddamn vacuum cleaner or washing machine, while her husband worked away a lot. Seriously, how was this even possible? Well she sure as shit wasn’t putting together colour match wheels and busy bags and making toast that looked like a little bear (although that bear toast? OMG). And yet she was still an amazing mother. So I think about her when I tell my kids that they have to entertain themselves for a while so I can cook, or get dinner ready or mess around on my iphone and feel thankful that I don’t have a mangle and that it’s no longer an expectation that I scrub my front steps every day. They’ll be okay on their own for a while, and it makes me appreciate the times when I sit down to do something nice with them all the more.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things. How to do a one handed nappy change on the parcel shelf of your car for a start, but that’s okay, you’ll figure it out. I need to go and do some other stuff: Plant some cabbages, swoon over yellow kitchen tiles, read a BOOK, Snap Chat a friend, secretly buy a dog. Stuff that still exists, waiting for you, when you emerge from the fog.

sixteen month update.

A bit late this month and time just seems to keep flying by. Here is a slightly belated update of what #2 is up to at the moment.

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Appearance and Growth:
Not much to report, his growth has reached a steady rate, his hair keeps getting longer at the back yet nowhere else and he is still the cutest when he smiles and his little cheeks pop out.

On the move:
#2 is walking so confidently now and toddles around over different levels and surfaces when we’re out and about. He enjoys playing a game where he deliberately falls, so I say, ‘ooplah’, then he gets up and does it again. He still crawls up and down the stairs, but that’s just about the only time he does.

Food and drink:
He is still eating a lot less than he used to, which I guess is a little surprising, as I thought he would be using that much more energy now he’s walking. He’s a real front loader, and eats a lot in the morning (toast, cereal, fruit, raisins all before 9am), then eats less at each meal, barely touching his dinner most nights. This is frustrating as I’m sure it’s not helping his desire to wake up at the crack of dawn and that’s often when we’ll eat most of our more adventurous meals and a lot of veg, but it’s a tough nut to crack.

Playing:
As I mentioned earlier he likes playing a few physical games such a falling over and getting back up, chasing and spinning to music (and the Hoover), and hiding behind my back. He loves his spinning top and his toy whale and is starting to enjoy building towers, but mainly he still loves boxes of little things (he has a tray of shells, which end up all over the house), and books. His favourite is The Snail and The Whale.

Sleep:
One slightly irksome development is that #2 has started waking up really sad from his nap. I remember the Mancub going through this phase, and actually it lasted until he stopped napping, so that’s not particularly reassuring. He just wakes up so grumpy and will cry on and off, sometimes for up to an hour and usually it takes a change of scenery or getting out in the car to snap him out of it. I have no idea what causes this, but it’s difficult and I can’t think of any ways to make waking up easier for him, so any advice would be welcome.

Language:
This month he has started using the initial sounds for some words, which is exciting. He can say ‘bah’ for bat, and ‘wuh-wuh’, for both walrus and whale. He can sign ‘more’ really well now and says, ‘moh moh moh!’ to ask for more food, another book or another episode of Peter Rabbit on the laptop (ahem). He has morphed a lot of the animal noises he knows into words for animals, so ducks are ‘dack dack’, cats are ‘yah yah’ and owls are ‘wooh’. He can follow so many instructions now such as putting his shoes in the shoe box, or fetching a particular book (I said the opening lines to Peepo the other day, and he toddled off and picked it out), and he can point out tons of stuff in his books, although he doesn’t quite have the same obsession with learning birds that his brother did at this age.

Personality:
This month has been a little tricky. He is so happy for much of the time, but he can go from happy and smiling to crying huge tears in an instant, and it’s not always clear what’s upset him (to us or him I think). He’s also developed a pretty insistent whine to let you know when something’s not to his liking and it’s hard on him because having a big brother means that a lot of the time I’m not necessarily able to focus on him and what he wants at that moment. I try to spend a little time each day giving him my complete attention, so he gets stories or playing or tickling, and it’s so rewarding to see how content he is, but I feel like too often he is just bimbling about trying to keep up with everything else that needs to be done. Not easy being second baby.

fifteen month update.

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Appearance and Growth:
Hurrah! All 16 teeth are through now, leaving only the last 4 molars to go, but they should be about a year away. The change in his temperament has been dramatic and we won’t be giving him up for adoption after all.

On the move:
A week or so ago a game changer occurred: he learned to get up to standing by himself. This means that if he falls over he can get back up again and is now walking the bulk of the time. Officially a toddler *sob*.

Food and drink:
His appetite has diminished a bit of late, as I guess he’s not growing quite so rapidly. As a result he’s becoming a little more… Discerning? I definitely wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’s being fussy, but he doesn’t eat absolutely anything like he used to. Although crumbs (and general dirt) off the floor are still his favourite, so not that discerning.

Playing:
Hs favourite things to play with are essentially toys with lots of small pieces that he can throw all over the place, collect back together, throw again, and then leave for me to tidy up. Pots of pencils are a favourite, as are jigsaw puzzles or anything where you don’t want to lose a bit. He was caught red handed the other day posting the cards from Bird Bingo through the floorboards.

Sleep:
Same. Old. Story. Early to bed, early to rise.

Language:
Despite understanding tons, and being able to identify lots of objects and animals using signs and sounds, #2 doesn’t have many actual words yet aside from ‘look’, ‘deh’, ‘dat’ and a few other things along the same lines. Recently though he’s started saying a few affectations, such as ‘Wow!’ and ‘Yay!’, and he is getting better at copying sounds and words that we make.

Personality:
Honestly, since his final tooth came through it’s like we’ve been gifted a new child. Of course he still has his grumpy moments (when it’s time to get out of the bath – he’s perfected the jelly arms), but he is just so freaking lovely at the moment. So happy and silly and smiley and ticklish. The only time he gets in a really foul mood is when he wakes up too early in the morning (I’m talking pre 5am), which is pretty rare and if he wakes up too early from a nap (before two hours), which is a little less rare, but still only once a week maybe. Other than that he is pretty damn chilled and even nappy changes are a relative breeze these days. I’ll take it while it lasts, because I know full well that the onset of toddler tantrums are only just around the corner.

fourteen month update.

Oops, with Christmas, new year and general laziness this one is a couple of weeks late, which means there’s all the more to report. Anyway, here is little #2, looking cute in his Christmas lion suit.

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Appearance and Growth:
This mullet! Guys, what to do with this mullet? It is beyond control and reason, but I can’t quite bring myself to give either of my babies a haircut. He’s so European.
In teething news, all four first molars are through (Hallelujah!), and his top and bottom right canines as well. Two more to come and then he should get a break until after his second birthday (fingers crossed).

On the move:
Man, after weeks and WEEKS of a few steps here and a few steps there, something has clicked and suddenly this boy is toddling all over the place. The balance is still tipped towards crawling, but he can happily walk the length of the room, turn corners and even carry a small toy or book with him. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been super impatient for this turn of events, so I’m glad he’s finally decided that walking is for him after all.

Food and drink:
This one loves his milk. The mancub was never too fussed about cow’s milk, whereas #2 has a full 200ml cup when he wakes up and a couple of smaller cups through the day. He also eats a small meal every few hours including a big bowl of porridge for his breakfast and then anything else he can get his hands on. His current favourite is baked beans.

Playing:
This month #2 has become a lot more dexterous, which means he’s interested in a much bigger range of toys and will sit and play for longer on his own. He completes the ubiquitous Ikea lighthouse independently and he got some Play Mobil for Christmas, which he loves. He’s starting to show an interest in toy cars and things with wheels, but honestly, his love of books prevails and Maisy Mouse still rules. The other thing he currently loves is action rhymes and he is starting to be able to join in with a few of the actions to songs like Five Currant Buns In A Baker’s Shop. He’s starting to role play a little and will jabber away on the phone and cram brick biscuits into my mouth with fervour.

Sleep:
Still sleeping from around 6.30pm til 5.30am without waking. I keep trying to shift it a little later in the hopes that he will wake up later, but to no avail. Any tips? He is still napping for a couple of hours at around midday at home, which is probably too late, I don’t know. I feel like we’re so close to a perfect schedule, but I don’t know how to make the final few tweaks.

Language:
This past month he has started picking up a few more signs and will sign bird, sun and star when he sees pictures of them. If you ask if wants more of something he will either sign more by clapping his hands together and say, ‘Muh-muh-muh!’, or shake his head emphatically. He is able to point out lots of things around the room including me, his Daddy, his brother and himself and uses all of our names pretty accurately too. He understands so much now and will go and get the toys and books you ask him for and can do a bunch of things on request, my favourite being if you ask him to sing a song – he will do a short ‘la la la’, before giving himself a clap.

Personality:
There are so many aspects to his character right now. He is definitely going through another bout of separation anxiety, so there’s that. It usually hits hardest in the lead up to lunch and dinner (go figure), so making food with a child quite literally clinging to the apron strings is a joy. He is also getting a little sassy in his old age and will push his older brother away if he is having a story read to him or if he is playing with a coveted toy. Luckily the Mancub finds this very funny and says, ‘Baby is telling me to go away’.
He’s in that stage where he finds pleasure in doing the simplest things over and over and over. Putting something in a container, tipping it out, putting it back in, repeat, forever. It keeps him entertained though. And of course he’s always game for a cuddle and more recently a big opened mouthed kiss. Nice.

thirteen month update.

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Appearance and Growth:
This month will forever be known as the month of teething. All four molars are finally with us, but not before almost driving us to the brink of our sanity because 3.15am IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE TIME TO GET UP FOR THE DAY EVEN IF YOUR TEETH HURT AND YOU NEED TO CHEW ON SOMEONE’S LEG TO MAKE IT FEEL BETTER. The low point was when I went to rub some Calpol gel on his gums and noticed that his mouth was full of blood. Fun times!

On the move:
Two words: first. steps. Yaw! It’s still totally as exciting the second time around when you plonk your child onto the floor and watch them stand, then wobble, then kind of fall forward with their feet moving from underneath them until you’re like, ‘Yes! That counted! Those were actual freaking steps!’. He’s a bit steadier now and is letting go of the sofa, taking a couple of steps himself and then grabbing back on, so yeah, exciting.

Food and drink:
Molars = whole new world of chewing. This guy can eat whole tomatoes now. An achievement yes? Also, Rich Tea biscuits. A world of sugary madness.

Playing:
I don’t know, I feel like there’s been a bit of a cognitive shift this month (do I say that every month? Probably), and suddenly we’re playing games like hide and seek (he hides behind the sofa, I find him, he hides behind the sofa again, repeat forever while he laughs like a drain), and he can do cute things like if you ask him to play the drums he will bang both his hand on the nearest surface. Just make sure the nearest surface isn’t your face, because I’ve been there.

Sleep:
I think we’re down to one nap. To non-parents this is probably the least interesting news ever, (let’s face it to parents of children who are not this particular child this is only mildly interesting), but to me, this is awesome stuff. He’s up all morning, then goes down at around 11am and sleeps (usually, touch all the wood) for a couple of hours, then goes to bed any time past 6.30pm. It’s the best and it frees up so much time that we can do stuff without having to worry about tired babies. Now if he would only stop waking up so freaking early it would be pretty much perfect.

Language:
This guy? King of animal noises. He does so many now and also does the signs for elephant and rabbit and a couple of others. Before he would just do them if we asked (incessantly, because it’s always funny), but now if he sees pictures of animals in books he will do the right noises or sign and has also started to point to pictures and ask what they are (dat?). If he picks something up and you ask him, ‘Oh is that your hat?’ he puts it straight on his head. I like to do this when he’s eating spaghetti and my husband is on bath duty.

Personality:
Man, if you had asked me this at the start of the month in the days known as ‘teething hell’ I would have been like, ‘this child is the clingiest one year old in the history of ever’, and had somehow convinced myself that it would never, ever change. I am apparently still to learn that no phase, good or bad, ever lasts that long when it comes to small children. Right now he is super playful and affectionate, very into putting his head on people’s laps to get cuddles and still very into monopolising any reading that takes place with demands for Maisy Mouse.

This boy.

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Can we talk about this boy for a moment?

With his eyes still slightly awonk and his mad dog hair and the biggest. mouth. in. the. world.

God I love him.

He has been cutting all four of his first molars for approximately three years now and man, the drool! The runny nose! The 3.15am wake ups! Ugh. But through it all he will laugh like a drain and do his little horse impression with such seriousness and I will forgive him for not letting me put him down for the first three hours of the morning.

(My husband took these photos, obviously, which is why they have fancy things like depth of field and actual focus.)

Science and Nature.

(Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love my job).

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First off, it has been very affirming to get some feedback from folks who have appreciated my honesty of late, so thank you if you have liked, commented or sent a message following my myriad emotional outpourings. I am grateful to know that I am not talking into the abyss.

And while I am absolutely an advocate for sharing the less than stellar times (aka the reality of life as a stay at home parent), it has also always been my mission to share the good as well. Not the sanitised, Pinterest friendly version, but the ‘here’s how I not only survive, but enjoy my time at home with my kids’. Because at the end of the day, I do choose to do this, so it has to work for not just our children, but for me and my mental health as well.

This year has had its many ups and downs as I have tried to figure that out. The first few months were absolutely lived in survival mode. We get through the day, we keep everyone alive, we try not to lose our patience (okay, perhaps that one was just me). But lately I have found a nice groove again, and have had not just moments, but entire days, that have been just that, enjoyable.

So here are some things that I did to get me there.

1. Find a rhythm. One of the hardest things about having a newborn (apart from feeling as if your eyes are constantly full of sand and you’re surviving on microwaved cups of instant coffee) is the lack of routine. The first time around I just kind of went with it, wore the baby in the sling a lot and went about my business. The second time, because I was also trying to create a sense of order for my two year old, it was hard to know when were the best times to go to the park, or to get an activity out, so we ended up staying in a lot and I found it very frustrating. At around six to eight months, we had a breakthrough as #2 consolidated his naps into a chunky morning sleep, and a short afternoon one. This meant that we could stay in during the morning and I would have time while both kids were awake to do chores (often with the baby in one arm or on the floor right next to me), then once the baby was napping i would focus on the toddler / get some baby unfriendly stuff out (paint, baking, books that you don’t want eaten), and then after lunch we’d all go out somewhere. This has remained the loose ‘rhythm’ of our day ever since, and it not only keeps me sane, but allows me to plan to meet friends in advance, as well as getting everything done that I need to at home. I’m not saying this same routine would work for everyone, but I think it helps immeasurably, especially if you’re finding life at home overwhelming, to have predictability, guaranteed time out of the house every day and sense that you are able to get shit done you know?

2. Do what you like. This probably sounds ridiculous, but it took me a really long time to figure out that I don’t like going to toddler groups. Actually, save for my own and those of my friends, I don’t really like hanging out with small children much at all, probably because I’m a monster it feels too much like work. But despite this, for the longest time, I kept dragging myself along to them, because that’s what stay at home Mum’s of toddlers do right? They go to toddler groups. But you know what? Fuck that shit. One of the only perks of being at home is that you are your own boss (the tiny dictators not withstanding), and you get to do what you like. I like, it transpires, taking my kids swimming. I really, really love it, so we do that as much as we can. I like meeting my other Mum friends and drinking coffee and talking about important issues (my hot new dentist), while ignoring our children (in order to foster independent play, obviously), and occasionally chucking them some fruit to keep them happy. So I do that too. I also like going to the farm and reading books at the children’s library and going to some really good outdoor playgrounds (even better when it’s kind of drizzly, so there are minimum other children there). I do not go to toddler groups. This has significantly improved my life.

3. Ignore the advice. I say this with the best will in the world, because I know people mean well, but the advice that you will receive most frequently when you have a baby is, in no particular order, to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps!’, ‘just leave the housework!’, ‘don’t worry about achieving anything!’. Which, yes, that’s a lovely sentiment, and I thank you for not judging my dirty floors, but, OH MY GOD I’M GOING NUTS ALREADY, IF MY HOUSE IS A SHIT TIP I WILL ONLY FEEL WORSE! (or something less OCD sounding).
I was talking to my friend who is a teacher a week or so back and I asked her if she is able to do any less than we used to do when we worked together, and were working long hours and taking on more and more extra roles. ‘No’, she said, ‘Because I’ve realised that I can’t do a bad job, I can’t let myself get away with just doing the bare minimum’, and I was like, woah, lightbulb, yes, that is me (thank you Anna, for the epiphany). I cannot just sit still and do nothing. Especially if the house is a mess, or there is a meal to be prepared for later, or I can be reorganising a freaking sock drawer (I kid you not, I did this today). Yes, I would probably be more relaxed if I did, but I do not do ‘the bare minimum’. And rather than fighting this, it has helped enormously to acknowledge that if my house is clean and in reasonable order, and I’ve spent some quality time with my children, and ‘have achieved something’, that I actually feel better. Tireder, but better.

4. Your presence is enough. That said, this excellent article by Janet Lansbury, made me realise that actually, sitting and doing nothing is sometimes incredibly valuable for your children. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to spending time with the Mancub while his baby brother naps.
I used to feel as if I should make this real quality time, which for me meant to get a special activity out that we wouldn’t be able to do with the baby around. I would suggest painting, or sticking, or going outside, baking. Which are all valid things to do with your preschooler, but were very much led and instigated by me, because we had this fixed slot of time in which to ‘do something fun!’ and if I didn’t do that, I would feel as if I was slacking, or somehow letting him down.
But of course, this wasn’t about him, it was about me, and my afore mentioned desire to never sit still for a single second. And actually, he wasn’t always that into it. So instead, when the baby was asleep, I began just going and sitting next to him, whatever he was doing. Often he would be listening to CDs at his table in the lounge, so I would go and sit quietly on the sofa and wait for him to take the lead. Within minutes he would come over and every day the outcome would be different. Sometimes he would want to do some imaginary play based on his CD, or his current interest, so I would be handed an oar and asked to go somewhere with him on his boat, or I would become an animal stealing fruit from his basket. Sometimes he would bring me a book to read, or one of his sticker albums to go through with him. Sometimes we would just cuddle up for a bit. Nothing, and yet everything. What a game changer. Now I make sure that the first thing I do is just sit with him, and see where that takes us.

There we are, some really obvious truths that it took me months to uncover: that days are better when you have a sense of order, when you do the things you love, when you put your all into them, but leave a little room for flexibility and the imagination of a small child.

Not every day is good. Not every day is full of smiles. But earlier in the year I got to a point where I felt like I was coping again, and it feels good to finally be going beyond that.

eleven month update.

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For all of my negative vibes recently, this month has been really, really good. #2 is doing so much and he’s at the beginning of that lovely age when we can have real fun together. Him and his brother spend their time laughing and rolling around the floor and hiding from each other. Even second time around, it is just the most amazing thing to watch my baby acquire language and understanding and independence. That said, my head is firmly in the sand about his looming birthday. He is a baby, for as long as I can keep it that way.

Appearance and Growth:
I tried to get him to sit still so i could weigh him, but yeah, that didn’t happen. Canines are coming in, hair is lighter, thighs are a little longer and leaner, eyes are just as blue.

Development:
So much development this month! He is properly saying Mama, like to call me, as opposed to just babble, (mainly when I’ve sloped off to the kitchen and he’s all, ‘Mama! More food! Stat!’). The other morning the Mancub was still sleeping and I put a slideshow of photos and videos on my iPad while I was getting dressed. #2 was crawling around when suddenly a video of the Mancub talking came on and sat right up, looked all around him, and started saying, ‘Buh-Beh! Buh-Beh!’, all excited to find him. He is the cutest. He will give kisses on demand and will point out or kiss a few animals in his books (top favourite: the fox in Rosie’s walk, who gets lots of kisses). He likes playing hiding games and finding things to give to me and banging his hands on the table and shouting, ‘BOOM!’.

Food and drink:
This month he has started spoon feeding himself with a decent amount of accuracy (read: more food in his mouth than on the floor! Huzzah!), so he feeds himself most of his breakfast and yoghurt now and uses bread dippers to eat things like soup and houmous.
We went to a restaurant for dinner last night and he inhaled a bowl of olives, bread, a whole pasta bake and leftovers of everyone else’s plate. There were three other kids with us and he was the last one sitting at the table while all others got down to play, because the food was still coming and eating is serious business.
We are down to just one breastfeed in the afternoon and I have introduced a beaker of cow’s milk in the morning just this week, which he enjoys.

Sleep:
He sleeps through from 6.45pm. We had a great few weeks of post 6am lie ins, even a few 7ams, which was like heaven, but recently they’ve been a bit earlier again due to afore mentioned canines and a cold. He still takes a long nap in his most mornings from 10am and then a short one in the car or pushchair at 4ish.

Personality:
I love this boy so much. He’s my nature baby, always happiest crawling round in the garden, picking up leaves and sticks and eating dirt and putting his hands in the water. He just wants to explore and is so brave and adventurous. Like his brother though, he is also a bookworm and we sit and read four or five little stories before bed time to help him unwind. Favourites at the moment are Dear Zoo and Where’s Spot, Rosie’s Walk and the Peepo. He’s become a lot more cuddly recently and will happily sit on my lap for a while, rather than constantly scrabbling down. He’s pretty industrious and will make a game out of transferring objects from one place to another.
At the other end of the scene, are the less pleasant nappy changes, which is short hand for TORTURE. I basically have to physically restrain him to get it done and I’ve almost given up on using two part cloth nappies with a Nippa this month, because they have driven me to the brink. Getting him dressed for the day and for bedtime is akin to running a marathon. I had forgotten the little explosion of autonomy that comes at this age, a nice precursor for the toddler tantrums that are only a few months away, but hopefully he’ll find a new way to channel his rage soon, because potty training is still a very long way off son.
Nappy changing drama aside, my littlest boy is a delight, melting my heart with his waves and kisses and MamamamaMAMA! I know I was just writing about what a tough year this has been, but my God it has been worth every second.

Play.

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Small children really like kitchen utensils.

I had actually forgotten this, how ordinary things can make such engaging toys. Way better than y’know, actual toys. So there has been lots more of this: pans and wooden spoons, big bowls of dry pasta, washing up bowls full of water and shells, a bag of ribbons.

I remember learning this exact same lesson with the Mancub: you cannot fight separation anxiety. You cannot run away from it or stay out of the house or just plonk them on your hip and cart them around with you. Sometimes, you need to just sit and engage and be with them, giving them your full attention. It took me a while to remember, but it makes all the difference. Just sitting, watching them playing animatedly with a whisk.

He has also started saying his first two proper words: dat (that, or more pertinently ‘what’s that?’ as he points to something), and deh (there, when he has found something that I have asked him to look for) and has learned his first sign (‘all gone’). He seems to wake up from a nap and can do something new at the moment, such is the rate of progress at this age. It’s alarming, but so much fun. It makes the just sitting and watching all the more exciting.

Sigh, no more.

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A few weeks ago I was in a rut. I wasn’t sure I could keep doing this whole Stay At Home Mum thing because guys, here’s the thing: being at home, full time, with two small children, is really, really hard. Maybe I should change the name of my blog to areallyhardandsometimeskindofsuckyworld.com. I’m pretty sure the domain isn’t taken yet.

So in light of this revelation, I kept wondering if maybe it was time for me to go back to work. Would going back to work be easier? A break? Maybe?

The rather inconvenient truth though, is that even if I did get a job, I would still have to get up at 5.30am to feed the baby. I would still have to run around getting myself and everybody else ready fed and dressed for the day and into childcare or whatever. And then, crucially, after 3 hours of chaos, I’D HAVE TO GO TO WORK. FOR THE WHOLE DAY. And then! Ugh, I’d have to come home and make dinner and do the bedtime routine and tidy up and do laundry and cleaning and Oh My God working Moms how do you do it?

Oh, and here’s the real kicker, I would do all that, but after I’d paid for childcare for my two children, I would make basically nothing. Like, maybe a few pounds each month. HAHAHAHAHAH! I repeat: even if I wanted to add work into the heady mix of my day, I couldn’t even afford to work. I couldn’t. Afford. To. Work. Suck on that you ladies who ‘don’t need feminism’.

What I concluded from all this introspection was that, no, I did not need to go back to work. I needed a holiday. I needed a few days, without my children and their continuing insistence that I listen to them and cook for them and do the voices of an octopus or a manta ray and put them to bed and wash their clothes. I just needed a few days off you know? I believe in the real world it’s called ‘annual leave’. Imagine.

Now, I don’t believe in God, but if I did believe in God I’d be so angry with God right now because God, when I said a few days off without my children I did not mean AT THE HOSPITAL, you hear me? But the (fictional) Lord works in mysterious ways and that is exactly what I got. A couple of Saturdays ago I drove myself to the hospital with some abdominal pain and ended up staying there for four days and left minus some bits of my reproductive system. I didn’t even get to eat for three of those days and spend roughly six hours in pain that I described as ‘the equivalent of crowning’. I crowned for six hours. Yeah.

Anyway, they finally worked out what was wrong (stuff had basically tangled itself up and died inside of me. I saw photos, it looked like dead flowers), administered large amounts of intravenous morphine and then cut me open and took out the bad bits. I was better within a few days and there are no listing affects aside from wonky scar right next to my stretch marks, which I guess means that my dreams of being a bikini model will never be realised.

The weird thing was that because it was so unexpected I left both of my children with their Grandma and barely gave it a second thought. I assumed I’d be back within hours. When my husband came to visit me half way through the first day I tentatively advised him to buy some formula ‘just in case’, but at that point I was more concerned that I felt like I’d been stabbed, so y’know, priorities.

Over the course of my four day hospital stay I tried to pump once, but nothing came. I’m only feeding twice a day now and I had been severely dehydrated when my drip was left empty for a long stretch of the afternoon (and I was nil by mouth), so I figured that my body would just not want to put any energy into making milk. I just tried not to think about it and focused on getting better, safe in the knowledge that my baby was at home, being looked after by his Dad and doting grandparents, eating plenty of food and taking sips of formula here and there. He was doing fine.

Then I came home.

I tried to pump once more, but still nothing came and the reality that I would never breastfeed again hit me like a truck. This was not my plan, I was supposed to feed him until his birthday, this was not supposed to happen.

And also, just, the saddest feeling in the world.

My baby.

It was on the second day that I was home, and a full five days since his last feed, that I was taking a shower and felt some engorgment. I don’t have a super high supply, have never leaked and rarely get engorged, so this was a surprise. Was there milk there?

I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to try and feed #2, but he was in bed for the night, so I just had to rein it in and try not to get too excited. I knew that it was highly unlikely he would even latch after five days and two attempts at pumping had yielded nothing, so the odds were well and truly piled up against me.

The next morning my husband brought him up for a cuddle. I was still pretty immobile at this point, but I sat him next to me on the bed and stroked his soft little cheeks. After a while my husband had to pop downstairs to get something and I just seized my chance. What’s the worst that could happen? I curled him up in my arms and just tried.

The photo above was taken by my husband when he came back up. Can you see how tired and emotional and just so quietly, serenely happy I am? He had a full feed. He’s had a full feed twice a day, every day since. I don’t know how that works, but it worked.

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So that was my holiday. My annual leave without the kids. Lying writhing around in agony for two days, then unable to walk for two more. Worrying about what was happening at home, worrying about my husband, worrying about my stupid boobs and my not so tiny baby eating formula in mashed banana like a champ.

A far as holidays go, I’ve gotta tell you, it sucked. But somehow it was just what I needed. My days aren’t so bad, they’re not so hard most of the time. We lie in bed together in the mornings with nowhere in particular to get to, we get dressed when we feel like it and we spend our days at the park and at the farm and in the garden and playing dinosaurs. It’s relentless. And I wish there was a magic fairy who would clean my highchair for me (maybe God, because he owes me one you know?), but it’s okay. I am okay.

And I get to feed him and hold him like a baby. For a little bit longer at least.