1/5 It’s always better on holiday.

What is it about the way in which our capacity for guilt increases exponentially the minute we set eyes on our first child?

It strikes me that this is not something that women in the past (and when I say past I’m obviously referring to some vague, romanticised bygone era, as opposed to a concrete period of time), would have felt as acutely. Back then, before women’s liberation is I suppose what I’m talking about, being a mother and a home maker was a given for the half of the population with the ability to give birth. The division of labour was simple: Men go out and make the money, women stay home and deal with the domestics. I’m not naive enough to think that these were equally valued roles, because read any advertising copy from pre1960s and it is immediately obvious that they weren’t (‘The Kenwood Chef does everything apart from cook – that’s what wives are for!), BUT, there was no stigma attached to staying at home. There was no judgement from other women, because communities were full of them, in the home, in and out of each other’s kitchens, providing support and gossip and cups of tea.

Now, post liberation, we have choices. There are still enormous issues around managing a career and a family (maternity leave, the cost of childcare and the attitudes of some employers towards women of child bearing age to name a few), but there is no longer a culture of women being resigned to life as a housewife. And thank God right? But what about those of us to choose to stay at home? How do we manage the dual expectations of being career woman on the one hand, and domestic goddess on the other? What if we choose to opt out of one of them?

My eldest child is three and a half and it is only recently that I am becoming comfortable with my choice to be a stay at home parent. I no longer feel compelled to follow up a question about what I do now, with a statement about what I plan to do in the future. I no longer feel that I have to remind others (and myself), that I did have a career and that I am an educated young woman, who just happens not to work. I no longer feel obligated to validate my existence to strangers at parties. Mainly because I don’t go to any parties.

Enough is enough! I am at home, because I choose to be! My husband values my contribution to our family as highly as he does his own. We both work, but only one of us gets paid.

There are days, Lord knows, when it feels like bedtime will never come. As soon as one stops whinging the other starts crying, I gave someone water in the wrong cup, they both need to play with the exact same dinosaur toy NOW, the baby’s nappy explodes and blah, blah, blah, I can bore myself with the minutiae of my day, let alone anyone else. Mostly though? I have a pretty nice life. We wake up and often have nowhere in particular to get to, so we stay in our pyjamas until we have reason not to. The boys are increasingly self sufficient and play together happily, while I potter about (who am I kidding, dash about frantically), doing the things I need to do, before getting roped into some game or another. If the weather is nice we get to go to all the good places when everyone else is at work or school and I catch myself, on a Wednesday afternoon, throwing pebbles into the sea, and I cannot believe that this is my life. That things can be this good.

But then the guilt.

Where did this puritanical idea that we are supposed to grind ourselves to the bone come from? That it is normal to be constantly tired and stressed and over worked? Maybe it’s because I was, all of those things, for as a long as I was a teacher, that I found it so hard to get used to being free of all of that. And felt so guilty for not being on my knees at the end of every day. Surely I was doing something wrong, I should work harder! Life should be harder!

I’m writing this in the evening. The last of the sun is shining through the trees and into my bedroom. The kids have had a good day, mostly free of cup related drama, and are now sleeping, more than likely until a (reasonably) civilised hour tomorrow morning. It is easy to think about life in soft focus, maybe with a nice vintage Instagram filter over the top of it, and to gloss over how incredibly difficult I found the first year after my second baby was born. About the feeling of utter exhaustion when attempting the heady combo of parenting a nearly two year old while heavily pregnant. The dark, dark days of waking six times in the night and then getting up and attempting to get a tiny baby and toddler out of the house, so that I didn’t go completely insane. I have done my fair share of hard work these past years and I do the work of being a parent relentlessly, day in and day out, and damn it, I put a lot of effort in. I have been a shark with a bad New York accent for the past WEEK to get my child to get dressed y’all. And yet, there is still a voice in my head that says I don’t do enough, because I don’t go out to work. Even though I don’t want to go to work! What special brand of crazy is this that we mothers inflict upon ourselves? IT MAKES NO SENSE!

So I have stopped. I have always loved the line from Jacqueline by Franz Ferdinand that goes, “It’s always better on holiday, so much better on holiday, that’s why we only work when we need the money”. I listened to it a lot after I finished my degree and was dossing around New Zealand for a year, but I am beginning to apply it to this phase of my life too. Being a stay at home parent is not what I would call a holiday (hahahaNO), but I love it. I choose it. I am in a position of immense privilege to be able to choose it, and I refuse to waste a second more of it by feeling guilty for doing so.

These photos were taken on an actual holiday. Where we swam every day, and walked in the countryside and let the kids watch too much TV and drank more beer than I have in the last year. It was brilliant and at the end of it I just felt so incredibly thankful not to be going back to work, and that my days at home, don’t look that dissimilar to my days on holiday.

This post was not actually supposed to be some braggy brag fest about how wonderful my life is, so sorry about that tangent, I will now return the original subject of my inner turmoil about letting down my feminist foresisters. Because I do feel like I’m maybe letting down my feminist foresisters, with the not working and the distinct lack of smashing through glass ceilings. But guys, it’s okay, I’m not here, repressed in my home, crying over the mangle and mourning my inability to vote. I’m HERE, liberated, making choices and raising my family and contributing to society and all that good stuff. I just don’t have a job, but it’s cool.

Bottom line: I know that in ten, twenty years, when retirement still seems a million years away and I am back at the daily grind, that I will look back at this time as so golden. I will have forgotten how many times a day I had to say, ‘please use your normal voice’, about the times I lost my patience and had to shut myself in the bathroom, and how I once sobbed at a toddler group with a baby crying in my arms and a toddler crying on the floor because ohmygod this shit is real and hard and exhausting, (no wait, I will NEVER forget that one). But I will forget the relentlessness of it, and the guilt and the worrying, and I will remember the cuddles, the stories, the trips out in the afternoon, the buzz of my children’s first words, first steps, first I love yous. It will be so, so golden. And I will not waste it feeling guilty.

Don’t waste it feeling guilty.

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.

***

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.

Sick.

The mood in our house today can be summed up thusly…

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The sick benefits of a stay at home mum are pretty weak. Imagine if you worked in an office and phoned in the night before to say you were taking a sick day and they were like, ‘Yeah, you could stay home, OR we could send someone round at 4am to scream in your face for an hour, then you can start work right after that, but we’ll triple your work load and all of your coworkers will be complete ass hats to you’. Well I think we can all agree that would be pretty shit.

On the plus side in an office you probably can’t leave one of your coworkers watching Winnie the Pooh on the IPad, the other chewing on a tin of Vaseline, while you lie on the sofa with your eyes closed. Maybe, I dunno, I’ve been out of the workforce a long time.

ANYWAY. We’re all sick. #2 is bearing the brunt of it and is helpfully responding by only napping for 45 minutes at a time and then waking up enraged because WHO WOKE ME UP? WHO WAS IT? WAS IT YOU?! TAKE THIS INTERMINABLE GRIZZLING AS PENANCE!

The Mancub is doing okay, he just needs his nose blowing approximately every three seconds. (As an aside, are my children unique in having some sort of mad, hysteria inducing aversion to having their noses wiped with an actual handkerchief, but if I use my sleeve, then it’s fine. I’ll leave you to guess which option I’ve gone with today).

Oh, I’m sick as well, but have taken so many paracetamol, Sudafed and throat lozenges that I have just boiled my symptoms down to ‘not being able to feel my face’.

We have just about managed to drag our sorry selves through until bed time, although at some points during the day time seemed to actually slow to a stand still. How is it that you can repeat the same action that is keeping your baby mildly amused for five consecutive hours, only to look at the clock and see that just three minutes have passed? Witch craft.

We ended the day with steam baths and Olbas Oil. Here’s hoping for a dramatic post 4am lie in tomorrow.

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Say what you like about Lily Allen…

…but to my knowledge there’s no one else out there singing about life as a stay at home Mum or life as a working Mum or glass ceilings and miscarriages and baby weight and objectification. So there’s that.

***

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When the day’s over and I have a second to myself
I lie on the sofa watching TV
Get on the computer and start checking up on everyone else
On everyone else

Looking at all the pictures
Up to all sorts of mischief
Some of them are ridiculous
Everything’s there to see

Everyone looks so wasted
Totally off their faces
I feel so isolated
Everyone there but me

Why does it feel like I’m missing something?
“Been there and done that” was good for nothing
Everything’s perfect, yeah I’m as content as can be
This is the life for me (This is the life for me, yeah)

Tell me I’m normal for feeling like this
It’s a bit early for a midlife crisis
Everything’s perfect, yeah I’m as content as can be
This is the life for me (This is the life for me, yeah)

I’m not complaining but last night I hardly slept at all
But actually yes I am complaining
No energy left in me, the baby might have taken it all
Cause I’ve hit the wall

Please don’t think that I’m being rude
Honey I’m just not in the mood
I’m head to toe in baby food
So please will you give it a rest

It’s not that I don’t love you
And it’s not that I don’t want to
Honestly baby to tell you the truth
I feel like a bit of a mess

I could never get bored of it
And most of the time I love this
But sometimes I get nostalgic
When actually I’m complete

Everything’s perfect, yeah I’m as content as can be
This is the life for me (this is the life for me, yeah)

Can you be a feminist and a housewife?

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That’s the $64million question isn’t it?

First of all let’s define our terms. When I say feminist I’m not talking radical bra burning feminist, or even vaguely politically active feminist, I’m talking any man or woman who believes in equality of opportunity regardless of your gender. Equal pay, equal treatment and no putting up with any bullshit because you’re a woman. The Caitlin Moran school of feminism if you will.

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Accidentally Montessori 

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Since before I had a baby I’ve had a fairly strong idea of what I would like life with a toddler to be like. I don’t mean things like, ‘tantrum free’ and other crazy ass pipe dreams, but how I would like our days to be spent, the sort of things we would do together and how we would interact. My ideas came mainly from my memories of time spent at home with my own mother, who (a teacher herself) was very hands on, creative and educational. I also spent the last 6 years working at preschools (as a nursery assistant) and as a primary school teacher, which also fed into my philosophy and made me consider what I did and did not consider to be good practice.

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The hardest job in the world?

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I’ve heard it said that being a mother is the hardest job in the world.

Quite frankly I think this is pretty naive, not to say insulting to men and women working on oil rigs away from their family, or working through the night in a busy hospital, or serving on the front line in the armed forces. In fact, I can easily think of about 20 career paths that I would rank as ‘harder’ than being a full time mother.

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Career Ladder

School is back. The kids are in their uniforms smoking outside the chip shop, the teachers are looking miserable and I, for the first time since I resigned, am wondering if I did the right thing giving up work.

I love my job as a primary school teacher, but am also ambitious and hope that one day I can work towards doing a PhD and possibly lecturing in education. However I know that if I am to ever to achieve that, that I can’t take too long a career break. Education policy and pedagogy just moves on too fast.

So I have started to worry a little. I was beginning to think that maybe we would have a second baby before I go back to work, but that would mean taking up to four years off work. Quite frankly I think I would be terrified to walk back into a classroom after that long. I’m pretty damned terrified after the summer holidays, let alone four years! Plus, I don’t know, I’m kind of craving something for me. My friend got an interview for some part time tutoring work, and I found myself kind of jealous. The thought of leaving the house and going to a be a professional person that exists outside the realms of motherhood, to be defined as something other than just a Mum, well that actually sounds kind of appealing…

I’m not being down on stay at home Mums here. I am a stay at home Mum and I am committed to doing this job for the next year. But I am starting to think that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep my ear to the ground for part time teaching jobs, or to investigate doing some further study while I’m at home, just to retain a piece of me. We’ll see….

A (small) cry for help

I find it hard to ask for help. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a control freak, but…. Well, my husband might beg to differ. And that’s the trouble with babies: you can’t control them.

We’ve been super lucky that the mancub has always been a really chilled out baby. He was never a big cryer, even when he was tiny, and he has always played happily on his own and we are yet to go through any major separation anxiety. I guess because of all this, I get disproportionately anxious when he is going through a tough time. I worry when he gets sad and grumpy and clingy, and I get stressed when it happens in front of other people. I’m not even sure why. People understand that babies go through phases and that they’re not going to be chilled out and contented 100% of the time, but I suppose I worry that it reflects badly on me… That they might think I’m not meeting his needs and that that’s why he’s upset. I don’t really understand it myself, but the bottom line is that it stresses me out, which is helpful for no one.

Part of it is that I take my role as a stay at home Mum (too?) seriously. My husband works from home a lot, so he is around a fair bit in the day, but I want to be able to do it all myself. I like being organised, and I like being able to fit in all the playing and the fun Mum stuff, the naps, the tidying up, the going out and meeting friends, the preparing good food, the laundry and everything else as well. I want to be able to do it myself, and although my husband is around to help out, I don’t want to rely on him, because this is my job.

So there’s two things that stress me out: a grouchy baby who I can’t please, and not being able to do it all myself. Both of these things came to a head in this epic week of teething, insomnia and early mornings, and I had to admit defeat. It reached a point, trying to put my screaming baby down for a nap, when I had been up since 5am and awake through a lot of the night, that I just had to ask for help. I had to hand him over and sit and cry and ask my husband to please take him for a walk, so that I could go back to bed. And of course after that I felt better, and of course he was happy to help and is always happy to help, and we both know that sometimes babies just don’t do what you want them to do, and that no one will judge us for that.

And I admit that sometimes I can’t do it all. And that’s okay.

Bad Dream

Today was not a lovely day. It was considerably less than lovely. 

I am incredibly lucky that the mancub is a pretty excellent sleeper. He goes down at 7pm and mostly sleeps through til 5am, then feeds and sleeps again until around 7.30. I am massively grateful to the baby sleeping Gods, that is until nights like last night when they throw me a curve ball. He woke up at 3am just to have a chatter, then again at 4am for a feed, another feed at 6am and then up for the day at 7am. Knackered.

As a result the morning was pretty much a write off. It didn’t help that the last wake up shook me from a really bad dream and I spent the rest of the morning and a big part of the afternoon feeling terrible. I achieved nothing of note, and whereas I usually try to fit as much as I can into every day, whether it’s doing stuff around the house and garden, or meeting up with friends, or going for long walks, today? Nothing. So the mancub got crabby. I got crabby. There were not many smiles in our house. 

Eventually I went to see my parents, who gave me a well timed break from my grizzly little bear, so I ended up feeling much better. I now feel like I want to get the most out of my evening. He’s tucked up in bed and I have already rocked through a load of chores and am feeling good. I have turned things around.

However, today has got me thinking about how I use my time as a stay at home Mum. We don’t have a TV, so that stops me from using that as a time waster, and I try to limit time on my IPad to when I’m breast feeding and in the evenings, as that’s one time that I’m forced to sit down and just relax. But what about the rest of the time? How am I beginning to organise my days? How could I improve my routines and systems to make sure everything gets done as well as all the fun, crafty playtime stuff too? How can I make a job of staying at home, so that I feel that what I’m doing is productive and has value?

Time for a think.