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.

Kids on a plane.

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^^Photos from my husband’s Instagram.

Much like writing your birth story and (over)sharing in excruciating detail how you wash your nappies, a post about flying with your kids for the first time is a rite of passage for any bonafide parenting blogger. I think the apprehension beforehand is such that afterwards you feel the need to declare to the Internet, ‘I did it! I survived! I did not hurl them out of the aeroplane window!’

And we did! We survived! We flew to Portugal and back without major incident and luckily for us (although not so lucky for the rest of the passengers), a delightful stag do totally stole our thunder as the people you’d most like to stab in the neck with a cocktail stick, and drowned out the noise of a squirmy baby and then some with their gripping accounts of exactly how much alcohol they had consumed in the last three hours. Gotta love the Brits abroad #proud.

My main concern before we went was packing enough stuff to keep both boys mildly entertained for the duration of the flight. I shouldn’t have worried (about that at least). The perpetual bookworm that is the Mancub already spends hours sitting on the sofa looking at books and absorbing magazines, so why I thought that three hours confined to a chair would be an issue for him I don’t know. He read his copy of Disney Princess Magazine from cover to cover on both flights (what an absolute festival of sexism that is by the way, but that’s a whole other post), and barely even noticed the aeroplane taking off.

At the other end of the ‘keeping yourself entertained’ spectrum was fifteen month old #2. Fifteen months is surely the WORST age to take a baby on a plane and I swear you couldn’t pay me to take him on a long haul flight right now. He is that heady mix of wanting to be constantly on the move, but with no ability to stay focused on any one thing for more than 3 seconds, so he worked through our selection of toys, books and stickers before we were even on the runway. We also flew out at his bedtime, but getting him to sleep with the afore mentioned stag party so close by was impossible. In fact, the only thing that kept him remotely occupied was a steady stream of snacks, from biscuits to fruit leather to sandwiches, so by the end he was not only exhausted, but also entirely wired on sugar, an excellent combination to be sure. In short: if you’re flying with a toddler, fill all your available luggage space with food.

However, having focused on the potential for disaster in the air, I totally overlooked getting us through the airport, forgetting that we’d be there for nearly as long as our flight. Having arranged to borrow a pushchair at our destination, I naively thought that we would be okay with two kids and one sling between them. Hahaha!

#2 is content to be in the Ergo, as long as I am moving at a steady pace. If I stand still for more than 15 seconds (ie. to queue for security, queue to get into the gate, queue for an interminably long time to get onto the plane), he wriggles and squirms to get down before beginning a never ending campaign of whining until at last you relent and just let him run around desks and security checkpoints, pulling things off conveyor belts, because you’re embarrassment at being seemingly unable to control your toddler is preferable to the whiningOHMYGODSTOPWHINING!!!

The Mancub on the other hand was more than happy to walk through the airport. Totally happy to cruise along at a rate of approximately a mile a day, taking in every screen, every item for sale in every shop, every vehicle spotted out of a window. Our gate was a twenty minute walk away at a normal pace, so we were faced with the choice of either dragging him along the polished floors by his sleeve, carrying him the entire way, or nearly missing our flight because we indulged his desire to spend ten minutes carefully observing the patterns on a chair. Obviously we went with the latter, because we are ridiculous.

Unlike Gatwick, who don’t give you anything for free, Faro airport have banks of pushchairs available to borrow, which caused my husband to almost cry with joy coming home. #2 is always content to be wheeled around, and having him in a pushchair meant I could pop The Mancub in the Ergo if we needed to get anywhere quicker than at snail’s pace. Never again will I travel without that option.

Others things to note: Easyjet’s inflight baby changing facilities are appalling. Very glad that I took a fold up change pad. // €5 for a small tub of Pringles and a bottle of water. Gravely regretted packing a million snacks for the boys, but none for us. // Ears. #2 has been pretty miserable since his flying experiences due to a heavy cold plus cabin pressure, which apparently equals all sorts of pain. Our health visitor assured me this is normal, although unpleasant, but I certainly wished I had packed a sugar free lolly for him to suck and some Calpol for the following day.

In between times there was also the small matter of HOLIDAY! Three glorious days of sunshine sandwiched into this miserable British winter and thanks to my parents’ impeccable babysitting service, we managed to eat out, without the kids, for all three nights. This alone was worth the flights. The Mancub loved scurrying around on the beach collecting hermit crabs and sea anemones and hurling himself into every available body of water, usually fully clothed because HOLIDAY! SUNSHINE! FREEDOM!

I should probably have dedicated a thousand words to that instead, but there’s something about flying with kids that you need to get out of your system afterwards. So there it is.

Fine dining.

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We’ve been rocking through our Summer Bucket list the past couple of months, and I am trying to remember to take the photos to prove it, I mean, remember these special moments by.

A couple of nights ago we were at a loose end for dinner. #2 had taken an unusually long afternoon nap, which meant he would most likely be having a late night, neither of us were much in the mood for cooking, and the evening sun was too good to pass up, so we headed round the corner to our local Italian restaurant for our first meal out as a family of four. Spontaneous! Imagine!

I love this place. It’s a proper, old school family affair, with nice cutlery and proper napkins and nothing in the slightest bit hipster about it. Like, not a craft ale in sight nor a single thing served in a vintage jam jar.

Going out for dinner is one of those things that is so easy, so enjoyable as a couple, and yet has the potential to be so fraught with kids in tow. The endless grabbing of forks, the desire to crawl around on the floor eating other people’s crumbs (this is not just my baby I assume?), the fact that the food is always brought at seemingly molten temperatures, resulting in five manic minutes of blowing repeatedly on a potato until you think you might pass out. Yeah, all that.

But we decided to brave it anyway, because dammit, eating out is one of the few nights out you can have with kids, and some nights you just need some crab ravioli you know?

And actually, our first night out as a family of four was pretty easy going. The mancub is generally happy if he’s given some sort of beverage containing ice because ICE! TREAT OF TREATS! I HEART ICE! #2 is okay if he’s given a steady trickle of greasy carbohydrates to ball up in his little fist and then rub all over his face, and I was fine because there was wine. Lovely chilled wine on a summer’s evenings, and crab ravioli, which I ate while looking out of the window and ignoring my children. Just kidding!