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Building a family one brick at a time

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Single parents I salute you

Parenting is hard – I don’t think that comes as a huge surprise to anyone, but it must be 900 times harder to do it alone. I spend much of my ‘parenting’ time validating everything I do with my partner – and he does the same. Between us we seem to roughly work out what the hell we’re supposed to be doing, and having one other person with as much of a vested interest in your child/children makes all those (millions of) decisions a tiny bit more bearable.

We have just recently come through a bout of illness in our house, and let me tell you, it resembled a war zone. I’m currently between blaming a waterpark and a banana for infecting my 19 month old, but in all honesty I’ll never know what started it, I don’t really have time for forensics these days. I shan’t go into the gory details, but my reason for sharing this is because I found myself thinking about how I could not possibly have coped alone. How on earth do single parents do it? I must confess, we are living in what I call the ‘low support model’ of parenting – meaning we have no family or obvious support network around us – no babysitters, no one who loves us unconditionally and is there to help out in emergencies – and that is through our own doing – moving to the opposite side of the world has its downsides. I’m sure there are single parents out there who have a lot more support than we do, but unless you have your Mum living with you (and really, that’s not going to work long term is it?), it wouldn’t take the place of that back up person; the one to compare notes with, the one to swear at when you’re feeling at your lowest and most vulnerable, the only other person you completely 100% trust with your children’s lives.

Single parents are warriors. I feel like a warrior sometimes (battle scarred and all) – and I have someone to rely upon – and currently I’m not working. Knowing how hard I find it at times, it amazes me how single parents find that strength to keep on going.  Picture the scene of kids pushing your buttons over and over and over, you’ve had little to no sleep and your toddler is doing a good impression of a screaming banshee, the house is a mess, and at some point you need to earn some money and look presentable at work. Ah yes please, I’d like another serving of that for the next 18 years thank you very much!

I know children bring intense joy (juxtaposed with intense fear) into our lives; they help us revalidate ourselves, learn about ourselves, become more tolerant, selfless, giving, caring… the list is endless on my self improvement journey that’s for sure – so there are many many benefits and exciting new things to behold (otherwise why would we bother?). At the same time however let us take a moment to celebrate and revere those single parents who are simultaneously being Mum and Dad, the all seeing eye, the carer, the breadwinner, the example setter, the counsellor, the one who kisses better, the chef, the cleaner, the fun maker, the discipliner. It’s a tough gig and I just wanted to say – respect to you all.

On the eve of a sad day

I’m approaching an anniversary. One I never wanted to experience – no one should at my age. Having said that there are many things we shouldn’t experience and mine is only one on that list.

My brother died a year ago at the end of November. I still can’t believe when I write those words they are actually real and true. Despite the fact that he had been ill for many years with Multiple Sclerosis – I never truly believed we’d lose him. He was a wonderful soul, never complained, and endured many years of no real existence whilst my other brother and I forged on with our lives. I felt guilty – many times – not least when I made the huge decision to move to the other side of the world. Saying goodbye to him when I moved was (at the time) the single hardest thing I have ever done. I didn’t want him to see me cry, and my heart almost exploded as I tried to keep my emotions under lock and key. I was only to see him once more after I moved.

The toughest time was still to come – I received the dreaded middle of the night phone call from my eldest brother to tell me he was in hospital and it wasn’t looking good. There was the conversation with my parents when I was told the life support machine would be switched off. This was something I’d only seen in movies, read in books. This was soap opera stuff. Not real life – not my life, not the end of my brother’s life. This was the boy I’d grown up with, fought with, laughed with, been dragged down the road behind his tricycle on my roller-skates with…

My friends couldn’t believe it either. One of my best friends I feel really believed he would be ok – he always had been before, so why not this time? I had to send her a text to say he’d died – a text message. I live on the other side of the world, speaking wasn’t possible at that time. What a thing to write. How do you write something like that?

The news drove me to extremes of emotion. I had a compulsion to be home – immediately. I couldn’t cope with waiting another second to start the journey. So much so that it meant I would have to travel alone from one side of the world to the other, accompanied by an 8 month old baby. INSANITY! That’s the only word to describe what I did. A 36 hour journey, with no stop over. I don’t know how I did it, and to this day I have no idea where my energy or resolve came from. I met some wonderfully kind strangers along the way who restored my faith in humanity. The man who helped me pull my luggage off the carousel and tried to help me through customs because I physically couldn’t push a pram and my luggage trolley at the same time, and the woman who noticed I was about to pass out in the queue at passport control and insisted I go to the front, to name but two.

When I made it home I was still running on empty but had to hold everyone else up. My parents were understandably falling apart, and my eldest brother had been juggling his family, job and life to hold everything and everyone together. He needed help – a break – time with his own kids and I was there. My turn.

I did what I know best. I started organising everyone and everything. I knew we had to find a way to celebrate his life in a fitting manner, and despite organising an event being the last thing I wanted to do, I knew I was capable, and in all honesty everyone else was falling apart. And we did it. It was memorable, and so very important for my parents. It was a most cathartic experience and a memory I will treasure. I only wish I had been able to voice my thoughts and memories of him on the day – I read a beautiful poem but they weren’t my words. I have since written down my memories and I’m so glad I did.

The shining lights through the whole experience were my little man, who brought joy to all who crossed his path, and the extremely poignant news I was already planning to announce when we came home for Christmas – that I was expecting number 2. They say things happen for a reason, and I’m certain some of my brother’s beautiful soul has come through in my second son. My brother was a second child, and we have honoured his memory by having his name as my second son’s middle name. So instead of being sad, I will try and be happy. Happy that I knew him, happy that he knew I’d had one baby (‘Is she a good mother’ he asked my mum, which made me laugh), tinged with sadness he didn’t know about number 2. Or maybe he does know. Who knows. Fly high beautiful soul, you will forever be my guiding light. X

I know why you had three kids

Ok. I’m a newbie to this mummy game, and I’m the first to admit it.  What I do know, is what it’s like to have two kids very close to each other – and to not intend to do this. Mine are 13.5 months apart – I know it’s no record, and people have had them closer than that, but fuck me, it’s intense. I doubt that comes as much of a surprise though, and I have mused on this previously so I won’t go on about that again…

I have two words to say right now (or maybe technically three, but who’s counting?)

It’s weird.

When I had my second child, it all came around very very quickly. Despite the third trimester lasting approximately 300 years, nevertheless, I blinked and I had two. Baby boy 1 was barely walking so we still had (and have) many unique milestones to hit. Baby boy 2 eased into the world and has remained chilled out ever since.

When I had my first child, I – like many others I imagine – stepped on to the steepest learning curve of my entire life. I’ve had challenging jobs, I’ve trained for a marathon, but nothing – NOTHING – compared to the explosion of emotions – happiness, sadness, fear, worry, terror, joy, love, hate, misery, love, love, love, shock, amazement, angst…. coupled with body trauma, removal of personal privacy  (where did that go?!); dissolving of pride, and the sheer fatigue of it all. Oh the tiredness.

We learned to care for a helpless human being – with all the 10,000 multifaceted responsibilities that encompasses. We made choices – asking each other what we should be doing, ‘what’s wrong with him?’ – a mildly irritated ‘how should I know!’ rings in my ears. We googled and googled – what’s normal? What’s not? Am I being irresponsible ignoring this, or is green poo something every parent sees?
The crazy induction into parenthood is like no other. No one guides you – but there are far too many opinions. And judgements galore. We (as in the parenting collective) seem to not be united in this parenting world – everyone has their own idea of what is the right way to raise a child-and that’s fine and normal – but we seem to struggle to live and let live. I find it quite sad really.

Parenthood for me, has been a catalogue of firsts – nappies, wobbly heads, prams, nappy bags, no sleeping, bassinets, smiling, rolling over, moving to cots, weaning… the list is endless, and it needs to be completed and ticked off very quickly. Imagine going into a practical exam when you’ve never even had chance to practice anything, even once and this is the real thing. They wouldn’t send a fire-fighter into a real life emergency fire without at least some training first? Ah, parenthood – the real baptism of fire on acid.

And then baby boy 2 appears. And we’ve done it all before (rather recently too). There is no major panic (just occasional minor ones), there is less worry. Of course bringing another helpless little being into our world is scary – especially when we weren’t exactly planning it so soon. I confess, I was shitting myself. But there were so many things we had DONE BEFORE. Experience is priceless – why don’t they pin more of that on jobs than qualifications? There is no better demonstration of ability than having done something before. I have enjoyed this little joy bundle so much more so far – I think that’s my standout feeling from having had two children. He’s benefiting from my experience with kidlet number 1. I am more relaxed with him – and as a result he’s more relaxed with me. I remember panicking about naps. WHY wouldn’t kidlet 1 sleep more than 45 mins? Probably because I spent too much time looking at him and marvelling at the fact he was asleep – nothing quite like someone staring at you while you’re sleeping… CREEPY.

There’s a reason they say dogs are like their owners.

So now I get to my reason for writing this. When I had baby boy 2, I categorically said ‘NO MORE’. We were about to embark on the most intense period of our lives so far and it was a terrifying prospect. My body had been traumatised twice, and I felt like I’d been pregnant for two years. Why would I go back there? Why would I look to try to have a third or more? Well we’re 4 months into baby boy 2’s life now and I think I know why. I clawed my way up the terrifyingly steep learning curve of baby boy 1. I’m now a ‘fitter’ parent and enjoying a slightly easier climb with number 2. The most poignant feeling I have now though, is that with each centimetre he grows, each nappy size we go up, outfit he grows out of, and each milestone he hits, I feel like I’m grieving the loss of never having that moment again.

It took me until number 2 to really be able to appreciate these precious little beings and the incredibly short time they are tiny and equally short time they are just small. So now I know. That’s not to say I will try for another though, there’s ruling with one’s heart and equally ruling with one’s head – time will tell.

 

The curse of ‘before you know it…’

I haven’t been able to say this as both my children are still frighteningly young. But I’d like to put a plea out to all mothers and fathers with older or grown up kids to think before you say ‘before you know it’. I’ve heard it so many times now, it almost evokes and anxiety attack. Have I taken enough photos of my children, will I remember how small their feet/hands/faces are/were? Have I cuddled enough because ‘before I know it’ they won’t want my cuddles anymore.

Before I know it, they’ll be at school
Before I know it, they’ll be moody teenagers
Before I know it, they’ll have left home
Before I know it, I’ll be dead.

It’s starting to quash my enjoyment of my kids right now. I want to mark their milestones and be able to look back at their little lives and how they’ve grown, but it doesn’t help me to be constantly told how short this time is.

I know.

I’m in it, and it’s going fast. These are the longest, shortest days and being reminded of that is bringing a premature sadness. I’m mourning their ageing before they’ve aged! We all love (or perhaps more accurately; hate) the benefit of hindsight; but preaching it to us newbies isn’t all that helpful. I know I have friends who are shocked that the first school day has come around so quickly – but I bet if we spent a bit more time reminiscing over that well earned bottle of wine, she’d remember the long, tiring, anxiety ridden nights all too well when they were just babies. We all look back through rose tinted glasses; and why not – I’m all for remembering the good stuff – that’s why we bother isn’t it? But lest we forget, there’s many a challenging day/night, days/nights when we think – WHY?? WHY DID I DO THIS?! It’s all relative to what we are experiencing at this moment in time.

I’m sure I’ll have all these same nostalgic feelings in a few years and I’ll want to bite my tongue when those four little words want to trickle out of my mouth -it’s inevitable and a trap I doubt I’ll be able to avoid but I hope I think twice before saying it if I do.

All about friends

The world of social media has diluted the meaning of the word ‘friend’. I know of the entire list of ‘friends’ I have on Facebook, some of them I haven’t spoken to in a long time, and some would be better described as acquaintances. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but it does beg the question of what is ‘friendship’ these days?

Since becoming an expat, I’ve faced the challenge of starting back at more or less ground zero in the friend stakes. Luckily I have enduring friends on the other side of the world, and I thank social media profusely for helping me keep those relationships alive. Plus FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp etc. Are real friends only those whom you’ve known the longest? Or have significant history with – went to school with, worked for years with, shared a hobby with etc? I guess these are the easiest places to make friends; being in a confined space with someone is a natural icebreaker.

Feeling ‘friendless’ is a frightening place to be in your 30s, I confess I had desperate moments when I thought I was a loner loser and no one would want to be chums with me. Plus the fact I felt bereft of my beautiful friends back home – making my (self taken) ‘loser’ status all the more hard to bear.

My first job after moving here was an utter disaster. I worked for what can only be described as the most arrogant, up himself tosser of a bloke (who ran the 1500 metres faster than Seb Coe don’t you know – when they were about 10 – BIG DEAL – look at you now…). He also thought it was ‘cool’ to put the Pulp Fiction movie soundtrack on on a Friday afternoon, too loud for anyone to think, and sing/speak along to all the words. Horrific doesn’t cover it. He was such a twat. When I eventually convinced them to go for a drink on a friday night, he raced to get to the bar first, to buy himself a drink – yes just himself. You get the picture.

Anyway, it was a small company, so I hoped I might meet one, maybe two reasonable people. How wrong I was. I’d chosen a company full of brow beaten and extremely introverted individuals. They had been emotionally scarred by their boss (the company owner and previously mentioned tosser) – he would force them to stand up and speak in front of the whole team when they clearly wanted the ground to swallow them up. They would rather die than speak publicly – they were coders, nerds, and happy with that – they wanted to be left alone to weave their computer magic. To cut a long (well not that long) story short, I left pretty quickly. He didn’t tell anyone I was leaving, and on my last day I stood up and said (quite loudly) – ‘Well that’s me then! I’m off now, bye everyone!’ – to which I got no response… So you can imagine where my mental health stood at that point – first job; fail, friends made; zero. FUCK!

I had better luck with my second job, and also (through force of circumstance) being patient. Friends can’t be forced – much as it feels hideously awkward when you don’t have any/many.

I do however believe in fate. Especially when it comes to friends. I believe that people walk in (and out) of your life at certain times for very specific reasons. I believe in friendships running their course, and having the courage to let them go, can leave you with beautiful memories, rather than a frustrated relationship (or lack thereof). I think I have met people to meet people – some of my closest friends started as a friend of a friend. People have walked into my life when I least expected it, and for reasons that only became apparent because of a chance event. Friends come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s a very broad term, but I’m delighted to say I have some – on both sides of the planet, and I feel very lucky.

Who am I again?

So there are a few common phrases/statements we hear when we become Mummies – ‘your life is over’, ‘blame it on baby brain’, ‘you’ll never sleep again’ – etc etc. Well they aren’t all true, some are simply exaggerations of reality – because let’s face it, reality feels pretty exaggerated when you first have a child.

You do get to sleep again (well most of us do – I can’t speak for everyone), your life isn’t over – it’s just different, so maybe your old life is over…for now. I look back fondly at my old life, the girl who loved to play tennis (and would, a lot – pretty much whenever I fancied), worked up to running a marathon (after struggling with the 1500m at school), learned to make stained glass and LOVED it, and had a CAREER.

And now I’m a Mummy. ‘Just’ a Mummy as I hear people often say when asked what they do.

It’s a sad word ‘just’ – because being a Mummy is such a multifaceted, complex and challenging thing. You’re the entertainment officer, chief negotiator, conflict resolver, chef, cleaner, chauffeur, health and safety officer, accountant, first aid specialist, life coach, security guard, juggler of all other tasks, and a million other things in between. This is the hardest job I’ve ever done, with the longest hours and is the lowest paid.

I think I had a slightly romanticised vision of what being a stay at home Mummy would be like – I definitely thought I’d squeeze in a bit more me time but that’s not always as simple as it sounds.

I found a gym – and was incredibly excited because it has a crèche. Someone to take care of the nippers while I sweat a bit and have some time to myself. Up until this point I’ve exercised with the kids – I walk, walk and walk some more – which is fine, I live somewhere where there’s not an enormous amount of things to do (which has it’s pros and cons but that’s another story). The reason behind going to the gym is actually less about exercise and more about re-validating my sense of self. I want to have some control over my life, just a little bit please and thank you.

I have gone from being the most organised, meticulously planned individual into a sea of the unknown. Will I get to sleep tonight? Or will I be woken by a child’s scream in my ear through a monitor I want to throw at the wall. Will one of my children be unwell or will it just be a nightmare and they need a cuddle from Mummy (or Daddy, let’s not forget). Will I have a happy relaxed day or will it be prickled with tantrums and irritations. I used to have a rough idea of what each day would bring, and it suited my personality. I’m not a fly by the seat of my pants kind a gal – I always wished I was, but let’s be honest – I’m not. I’m not a big “surprise” fan (unless it’s diamonds of course ;)), I like to know what’s going on and when. I like routines, efficiency and lists… Eek – children do not comply to this model – at least not all the time. It’s been a stretch to say the least to adapt to motherhood and the curveballs it throws every single day.

It’s a stretch – it really is – but I’m grateful for it too. This time in my life is forcing me to live each day fully and unapologetically. I no longer feel like I waste time – I’m not just responsible for me and my life anymore.

In the words of Baz Luhrmann’s song – ‘Everybody’s Free’ – ‘Enjoy your body, use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own‘. In fact listen to the whole song, it’s all very poignant. I know when I find myself again, I’ll be a richer, far more experienced and wiser version of the me before kids.

Oh the PRESSURE… the pressure of being a Mummy

What is it with this pressure crap? It’s tricky enough launching into the unpredictable world of small people, and I could do without the judgement police seemingly waggling a finger at every corner.

Pressure about feeding, clothing, sleeping, pooing, what nappies you use or don’t use, screen time, the pram you use, the car seat you use, blah blah blah bollocks. We live in information hell in some ways and it’s starting to irritate me. I read a quote recently that resonated with me – ‘Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, because it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world’. I seem to run into opinion all the time – in fact I know I have been guilty of it myself on many occasions. Too often we get sucked into stuff we read on the net or hearsay coming from random sources that fit with what we feel makes sense to us.

I made the mistake once of joining a couple of Facebook groups on baby wearing and child car seats – it was like I’d entered a weird cult of people who thought they knew everything about each topic and would go so far as to pull up random strangers because they were doing something ‘wrong’. WTF? Live your own life, make you’re own choices, be responsible for your own children. And RELAX – all this pressure just makes everyone on edge, and squashes the fun out of everything. Let’s just be kind to each other and live and let live.

The shock of becoming a parent

For so many years (I would not describe myself as a ‘young’ mother) I have been slightly in awe of people who have children. Being a parent seemed like possibly the most terrifyingly large responsibility anyone could take on. Growing, birthing and being responsible for a helpless little human being is pretty huge.

But now I seem to have blinked, and I have two. It’s the most bizarre feeling.

I used to enjoy the fact that I wasn’t those people on the plane wrestling with unruly children – I could only remember being the unruly child, and I don’t think I was that bad… Might ask my Mum her thoughts on that one. I didn’t have to deal with tantrums in the supermarket, and I could just get in the car and drive without having to strap a small person into a car seat and bring a bag full of crap with me.

But here we are, after two years of what felt like solid pregnancy (only a 4 month gap of not being pregnant), I now am the person who has done long haul flying with a baby (oh my horrendous god – WTF). I now am the person who has to plan a trip to the supermarket like we’re going on a two week holiday, and it takes longer to leave the house than it does to actually select and buy the items we need. I sometimes think starvation would be easier.

I used to be excited about buying a car. Buying clothes. Going on holiday. Now they just seem to be huge headaches that I would rather avoid. Even the pram I bought was rubbish and broke and I can’t bear the thought of having to purchase another one. I’m now a member of the lycra club – stretch fabrics (and prints) are my friend. Hiding a multitude of sins and providing ‘comfort’. I remember sneering at older people looking for ‘comfortable shoes’. I understand now.

Things that used to be necessities – that time in your day simply had to be reserved for – having a shower, going to the loo, cleaning your teeth are now considered luxuries. I’m on the edge all the time in case one kid cries or the other is hammering on the toilet door. I now find myself asking my one year old to give me 5 minutes of peace so I can empty the dishwasher or cook him some food… There is very little me time in my life at the moment.

But that’s the key – ‘at the moment’ – it’s not forever and I keep reminding myself of this fact as they each progress through their little (well massive really) milestones. I remember those first steps of my first born, and realising I would never have that moment again. It actually made me a bit sad. But then I was very very pregnant at the time, so really anything could make me sad at the drop of a hat.

So you go through this process of morphing into a hippo, then your body is released back to you not quite as it once was, and your focus shifts completely off yourself. Being a mum is agony mixed with ecstasy, irritating and hilarious, exhausting but exhilarating. It’s joy juxtaposed with intense fear. It’s both wonderful and horrendous all at once and is most definitely indescribable – and unique. It’s certainly not what Facebook would have you believe. We all love the sugar coated moments and want to scream them from the rooftops – because that’s what makes it all worth it. And no one wants to see photos of poo on the walls or in the bath…

Twins would be easier?

No I don’t have triplets…

I am sat, looking in admiration at the girl in my mothers’ group with twins. Twins! Everyone gasps. How do you do it? One is hard enough isn’t it?

Yes, this is true – if you only have one baby. I have two babies, but they aren’t twins. Son number 2 was born when son number 1 was 14 months old. Technical term – ‘Oh shit!’.

Lots of people smirked and said ‘good luck’ when I told them of the age gap, and others smiled sympathetically and said ‘They’ll be really close friends!’. Well let’s hope so, because having a just toddling baby and a newborn ain’t no picnic.

Being pregnant while having a baby who can’t walk is a slight challenge. Especially as you get bigger and more ungainly. A friend of mine described any first pregnancy as you ‘princess pregnancy’. Oh how right she was. What a blissful cocoon that (didn’t feel at the time) was. I used to think – I’m tired, I think I’ll have a lie down, and what did I do, I lay down. Then pregnancy 2 rolled around frighteningly fast and there was no more lying down.

I tried to fathom out what the pitfalls may be before our second little bundle arrived. Of course I had no clue really. Practicality ruled. I must have a double pram, but not a side by side because I won’t be able to go in shops easily. Shops? Who goes to the shops with two children under 18 months?! Idiot.

Anyway I did buy a double pram – a tandem style one, and it’s promptly broken 6 months into it’s life. The brake locked on one wheel, so it’s only useful for going in very tight circles. Which I’m tempted to do some days as a dizzy 16 month old is very funny.

I wondered about jealousy – how will I handle that? An interesting issue, given the first child doesn’t have a clue what jealousy is, and just sees a foreign body arriving in the household he once owned. Unfortunately communication is not yet a strong point. Lots of noises come from child 1, however most of them are unintelligible. In terms of words, as long as it starts with the letter B, we’re good.

It’s easy to forget that child 1 is still to all intents and purposes, a baby. Just not a small one. When child 2 arrived, child 1 suddenly morphed into GIANT BABY. In a flash he was suddenly HUGE! But when I help him into and out of the bath, change his nappies, lift him into his cot etc, he is a baby again. Just a big one.

I’m currently lamenting the fact that doing ANYTHING is a mighty mission. Sometimes putting the rubbish out is just too much of a logistical nightmare. And the to-do list? It’s exploded into the stratosphere. I can’t see the end anymore.

In conclusion I’ve decided it’s al relative. I don’t know any different, like someone with twins doesn’t, and someone with one child. It’s all pretty tough, but we wade through it and are rewarded with the smiles and laughs and comedy we couldn’t make up.

Like a toddler’s poo in the bath, we float along and people avoid us because we look like shit.

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