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.

Aquarium.

This morning my husband had to drive his Mum back to London and offered to take #2 with him so that I could hang out with the Mancub for the day. It’s always a treat to have a bit of one on one time with my biggest, and I had it in my head that we would do whatever he wanted with the day, while free from the schedules of preschool and his little brother. It would be nice to follow his lead and see what came of the time.

As soon as I asked him what he fancied, he instantly replied, ‘The Aquarium!’. Not what I expected, but I happened to have a 50% off voucher, plus it was a rainy Saturday, so feeling awfully spontaneous, we headed straight off on the bus.

So often we are out with others, be it the rest of our family or friends and, quite rightly, we have to find compromise and go at the pace of the group. It is nice, on occasion, to not have to nudge the Mancub along, or have him keep up a pace that is either too fast or too slow for his liking. Today the day was entirely his. We rushed through the initial tanks of tropical fish and straight to the rock pool area, where he happily stayed for half an hour, talking to the expert, leaning in and touching the starfish and shore crabs and operating the mini camera. I instinctively went to move him along several times, but he was clearly completely engrossed, so I bit my tongue and let him stay. We whizzed through several other sections too, pausing briefly to take in octopus and jelly fish, before getting to a digital exhibition on prehistoric marine reptiles. ‘Prehistoric is my favourite word!’, he declared, and that’s where we spent the remainder of our outing. It was an absolute pleasure throughout.

As we were in town we popped to the library and took out some books on sharks and fish, then headed home via a pizza restaurant, where he proved that he is still my favourite lunch date, because no one else I know scoops up and eats garlic butter using cucumber as a makeshift spoon, but really more people should.

Back home he spend the rest of the day playing PREHISTORIC MARINE REPTILES! using some of his dinosaur toys and told me that mudskippers are really his favourite fish.

I can’t remember a day where parenting felt so carefree and relaxing. A nice reminder that slowing down and letting them take the lead, avoiding that instinct to always hurry on, often pays off in the end.

Life Lately: Into Spring.

I have been thinking a lot recently about how the way I spend my time ebbs and flows, and the things I choose to focus on changes. There are the non negotiables, our status quo: keeping the house (reasonably) clean, putting cooked meals on the table most nights of the week, setting aside a little time each day to watch the children play, to read to them, to take them swimming and to the park. This forms the backbone of my days.

Then there are fluid areas, and sometimes I only have the energy to fill these with reading stuff on the Internet and watching TV. But sometimes, when I have a little left to spare, I write, or I bake something, or read, y’know, an actual book.

Right now is the time of the garden. Whether we’re planting, or digging, making new play spaces, or just sitting out there, that’s where I want to be, at the expense of pretty much everything else. It is the first time since we moved here that I feel totally relaxed about our outdoor space. We did a lot of major clearing last year, and while our lawn is still more moss and bare earth than grass, and every available space is currently full of unidentified bulbs, I just love it. It’s such a hodge podge, and the exact opposite of manicured, but finally I feel like I am getting a lot of enjoyment from it, rather than considering it a giant chore.

So at the moment the house is often more of a mess than I like, and a lot of other things, like this blog, are having to give, but I am really loving this Spring so far, and hoping the good weather lasts.

(Oh, PS. I finally worked out how make a gallery in WordPress, so you can click on each thumbnail to make it full size and then scroll through).


^^So far the kids have a pirate ship made from a pallet and a broom, a sandpit made from a builders tray and some rocks we’ve uncovered over the years, and a mud kitchen made from bricks and an old shelf. Nothing fancy or state of the art, but they play so happily, which lets me not only get stuff done, but occasionally put my feet up too.


^^One of my favourite things in the garden is a dilapidated old chair swing that was left by the old owners. Sometimes I get it to myself for a few minutes, but usually I’m joined by this ham.


^^This one is just happy as long as he has access to a washing up bowl of soapy water, and a vessel from which to sneakily drink it when I’m not looking.


^^The good weather also meant our first trip to the beach this year. I remembered to put the Mancub in his swimming trunks as I know he has a penchant for getting right in, even when the sea is still icy cold, but I foolishly forgot towels and a change of clothes, not realising that he would actually go swimming. While still in his tshirt. Lesson learned, I will be fully prepared for next time.

Mama Blogs

Okay, I am addicted to Mom blogs. To think I got through my entire pregnancy without EVEN KNOWING THEY EXISTED. To think of the hours I could have spent online reading about other people’s pregnancies. Ugh, what waste.

Seriously though, I do love me a good Mama blog and I thought it was high time I celebrated some of my favourites. (Sadly Tumblr seems to have revoked my hyperlinking privileges so I am unable to link but, yeah, google will sort you out).

The first time I ever dabbled in this brave new world was back when I was breastfeeding A LOT and had time to burn on my iPad. I stumbled across Shawna at Styleberry blog and proceeded to read pretty much her entire archive. I found her approach to Motherhood and the amount she managed to achieve each day inspirational, not least her passion for cloth diapers. At that point I was like, wow, she’s a Mom AND she takes photos and writes online, what a great idea! I had no idea that like, a bazillion other Moms had had that exact same idea. Who knew? Seriously, who knew? Okay, obviously all of you knew.

Since discovering Styleberry, I fished around the Internet looking for another Mama fix, but while there are tons out there, there are few that really engage and inspire me. But there are a few. Here are my tops reads.

Parenting, illustrated with Crappy Pictures. Hilarious. Freaking hilarious. It’s every parenting moment you’ve ever lived, illustrated with, well, crappy pictures.

Amalah. I love this lady’s style and self deprecation. She describes life with her three boys in a chaotic but adorable way. She also writes a regular advice column called Advice Smackdown, which is incredible. She is SO WISE. Wise, yet hella funny.

How We Montessori. Kylie writes about how she incorporates the Montessori philosophy into activities for her 2 boys, aged 18 months and five. They cook in the kitchen, use knives, heat and clean up after themselves. Really inspiring stuff.

My Bit of Earth. This is one of those blogs that i want to hate because it makes me feel so incompetent as a human being, but somehow… I don’t. Meryl knits, gardens, sews, writes, photographs, raises her young son, oh and works as a defence lawyer. How? I have no idea. Maybe she’s a time lord.

The Imagination Tree. I’ve name checked this blog a few times lately and it is literally full to bursting with craft ideas for toddlers such as making your own light box, printing with Lego and a zillion things to do with paint and playdough.

Finally, my list wouldn’t be complete without name checking my favourite Tumblr blogs, who in no particular order are…

Dover. I love hearing about what Eleanor is up to and the speed of her progress. Dover writes with complete honesty about the highs and lows of being a stay at home Mom.

Sweet Madeleine. Heaps of funny anecdotes about life as a new Mom, but it’s worth searching through the archives for some awesome posts about green living such as making your own laundry detergent and going shampoo free.

Life with Malakai. Beautifully shot photos of her little boy and parenting anecdotes with a green / Montessori twist.

Did you make it to the end? Woot, good going. So who are your favourite bloggers? I’d love to know who you’re reading every day.