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Work it out

I have often read on Mumsnet in Grazia in writings on gender identity, that it  is the burden of working mothers to feel guilty about abandoning their offspring to go out to work. The accepted line is “I only work because I have to”. This is totally how I felt before I went back to work. I would have been absolutely delighted to be a stay at home mum for a few years. But now I’m back? I’m not quite as certain. If money were no object, perhaps I would stay at home, not out of a sense of duty, but because being Leila’s mum is bloody good fun and I think it would be nice for both of us if I was around full-time; plus, going out to work, to the job I do, involves a logistical juggling act in order to ferry Leila around, that verges on the ridiculous and makes me more grateful than ever for the village of grannies and friends who are raising this child alongside us.

But that “perhaps” is a decided Perhaps, a definitely maybe, rather than a you betcha. Because I’ll tell you a secret: I like going to work. I like wearing smart boots (though one day this week discovered at 5.45pm that I was wearing mismatching boots- one black and high heeled, one brown and low heeled), and not having avocado in my hair, and putting lipstick on at lunchtime. You can see I have my professional priorities in fantastic order here… I also like the office banter- one doesn’t banter at playgroup, or rather, one could, but one might be bantering with oneself; I like talking about news and stories and people, and writing scripts and correcting colleagues’ grammar when they didn’t really ask me to. I like meetings (I’ve always liked meetings. I’m weird).

I don’t like the fact that, while I hoping to roar back into action with a piece of searing filmic current affairs journalism, I’ve ended up uttering more of a whispered growl with my first project, thanks to a story that crumbled to nothing before my eyes as the days passed by. But I am enough of a grizzled old hack to know that that’s the way it works sometimes.

And I don’t like the fact that I see Leila for only half an hour or so before bedtime. That pretty much sucks. But here’s another secret: I don’t feel that guilty about going to work. Well, I do, twice a day: first, when she wails at me as I turn to leave her with childminder (she’s cottoned on to the fact that Fun Childminder’s house is also the place where Mummy is not), though I know she will be fine, in fact the other day I turned round before I’d even reached the door- the playroom door, not even the front door, put a bit of effort into it, Leila! – and she was singing a little song and trying to bounce herself off the sofa. And then when I get home and she shrieks “HI!” with such crazy joy, hurls herself onto me like one of those toy rubber frogs you throw at wall and it lands- splat!- stuck fast til you peel it off, and ROARS if I dare to put her down (who needs to take their coat off, anyway?).  Those are the times I feel guilty.

But on the whole, I don’t flog myself mentally for daring to earn a living and conduct a life for three days a week which doesn’t involve my dearest bean. I miss her, but I don’t feel guilty. In fact my main source of guilt is the absence of guilt. I feel I ought to feel guiltier, and that makes me guilty. There is a twisted logic there. But sod it! I never heard a working father berate themselves for going out to work all day. So why should I?

In other headlines:

Leila turns one on Wednesday! Hurrah, sob, etc.

I just saw a kid set their hair on fire with a candle. Who says church isn’t rock and roll?! (She was fine, by the way, so am not laughing at an injured child. Absence of working mother guilt aside, I am not a total heartless cow).

I have told you many times that I birthed me a goblin. Here is the pictorial evidence:

This might possibly be my favourite picture, of anybody, ever.


Yellows and blues

A new reader came by these parts yesterday, searching for posts on sibling loss. It brought into focus for me the fact that I do not write much about Helen these days. I used to write about Helen a lot, now I write about Leila a lot.  Well, I don’t write a lot of anything really, but when I do, it’s pretty much omniLeila (new word there, think it’s going to be HUGE).

That doesn’t mean that Helen is further from my thoughts. It’s just that having a baby is massively diverting- nay, consuming– and takes up around 99% of my immediate headspace. But  beyond that immediacy which a baby commands,  a whole reservoir of thought and feeling still swirls at a slower, more contemplative pace . Much of this is still taken up with Helen. For some reason I feel- or maybe, have imposed- a tension between the unstoppable fiesta of joy that is Leila’s presence in my life, and the dark, deep stillness that is Helen’s absence.

It’s the guilty burden of the bereaved. Am I allowed to feel happy? Is it decent for the corners of my soul to be filled with a quite blinding floodlight of joy, where once they dried and curled? Can I be at once broken and stuck back together, and shiny and whole? I still don’t know the answer to that, but I sense that the answer isn’t to shout in peoples’ faces “I’M STILL SAD YOU KNOW!”, as I sometimes feel the urge to do.

On the other hand, it’s easy to wonder whether, in mourning my sister, I’m cheapening the happiness I’ve found. Should Leila’s birth draw a line under our grief? Is it time to count our blessings in gleaming stacks, instead of keeping our eyes on the gutter, watching the coins of what we had drop down and disappear? Some might assume that Leila being here should heal the wound of losing Helen.

But of course is doesn’t. Leila is not a replacement for our beloved Helen (though it’s quite uncanny to me how similar Leila is to Helen as a baby- holla to the original goblin face!).  I don’t owe it to Leila to forget about Helen. And I don’t owe it to Helen to feel any less bombastic about Leila. They’d both be horrified by the idea- if Helen were here, and if Leila had developed the consciousness to be horrified, that is.

Helen’s death made me sadder than I had ever known. Leila’s birth made me happier than I thought possible. I’m still sad, and I’m still happy. I’m living my life in yellows and blues.  It’s not easy, but it’s colourful.

Letter to Leila: Elevenish Months

Dear Leila,

It’s probably more traditional to write a letter to your baby when they reach one year old. But you’re a quirky girl, so I’ll quirk that particular convention for you. In any case, this elevenish months milestone feels like the biggest one we’ve approached yet, what with me starting work and you going to your childminder, both of us in our Big Girl clothes.

You’re doing so much and changing so much: cruising around the furniture, pulling the books off the shelves, grabbing the spoon to feed yourself… And it’s exciting to watch you pick up new skills. But whilst many parents (parents who I find hard to bear) measure their babies up against developmental milestones and average ages, to proclaim them “advanced” (when really, surely, it’s a case of there being a relatively small window of a few months in which babies tend to learn to do things, and of course there’s variation? Anyway), I find to my surprise that this isn’t my thing.  Baby girl, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t know if you’re advanced, and I don’t really care.

No, I’m not concerned with the When. But I love the How. I do know when you first smiled, because the day is etched into my heart, but I’m more concerned with how you’ve barely stopped smiling since- when you’re not exercising your developing diva ‘tude, that is. Obviously I notice when you learn a new way to move around, but when you learned to dance about matters far less than how you love to dance about at any opportunity.

And I notice too when you learn a new word, of course, but I’m more enchanted by which words you say and how you say them. “Hi” and “wow” are your favourites, and as my sister said, no two words could better sum up your personality. For you, “hi” and “wow” are not mere words, they are a way of life. And how this neurotic mother has thanked her lucky stars for this as she entrusts you to the care of somebody else, as you’ve pretty much approached this new adventure by saying “hi there new people, wow this is going to be fun!”.

You’re such a very, very jolly baby. I’m not a person naturally prone to spontenaeous outbursts of joy, but you send me, honest you do. I can’t even describe everything you’ve taught me, and the warm yellow furry ball of happiness that lives at the top of my chest and rises into my throat when I think of you, and now I’m going to cry.

Every couple of weeks you throw in a wakeful night or two (or ten) which make me think “oh GOD how will we ever manage two babies?”. But that’s about the extent of the hardship. Most of the time your sheer deliciousness makes me squeal inside “oh GOD when can we have another?!”. But for now I’m enjoying you, my Leila, so so much. My goblin child, my 5am raspberry-blower, my avocado artist, my increasingly big girl.




ps One day, when you are a teenager, I am going to wake you up at 5.30am, bite your face to say ‘good morning’, and sytematically pull all the books from the shelf behind your bed, making sure several of them land on your head. And then look really pleased about it.

Battle Fatigues

I’m going back to work in less than a month, which is….fine? Good? Terrifying? I can’t decide, but the only certainty is that I am going back, so it will be what it will be. I’ll be interested to discover whether I will be able to settle once and for all the argument (only argued by parents) that being a parent is the “hardest job in the world” and that non-parents “don’t know what tiredness is”. As if parents have done every other job in the world- US president, head of United Nations, working down a coal mine and so on- and can therefore say with certainty that having a kid is harder. And as if parents have the monopoly on tiredness, when in fact it seems that the entire world and everyone in it is in a perpetual state of fatigue. Ah, fast world, modern times etc.

You can probably guess that I come down quite firmly in the “no” camp when it comes to the question: are parents the tiredest of all? It’s part of a strange delusion many modern parents seem to have, that they are the first people in world to procreate. I mean, sure, it is bloody knackering, having a child, particularly the baby sort.  And since Leila is currently experiencing some sort of heinous sleep regression (I can’t work out if she generally sleeps well, with rough patches, or generally sleeps poorly, with good patches), I can confirm, with especially great conviction between the hours of 3am and 5am, that it is bloody knackering. It’s dinner then bed for me and G these days. Wild.

But is it more knackering than work? I can recall in the dim and dusty past feeling pretty shattered from work as well. And shattered in a much more soul-crushing, oh-god-why-please-god-why sort of way. With work tiredness sans child, granted, you can set aside time to recharge, and guarantee that you will sleep uninterrupted all night long, and utter wondrous sentences like “let’s just take it really easy this weekend”. So it’s more manageable. But there is one key difference: with work tiredness, when you are driven to tears with sheer exhaustion one moment, you don’t generally find yourself in the next moment filled with an adoration for your job so intense that you want to gobble it up whole. Though with work you can (so they say) leave the job in the office when you come home, the fatigue isn’t offset by a desperate urge to go and stare at your job in the middle of the night and bring it into your bed for a cuddle.

So in conclusion, work is very tiring. Parenting is very tiring. The latter comes with a better benefits package though, so in exhaustion terms, you get more bang for your buck.

And soon I get to do both!


Lions and hoovers and bears, oh my!

She’s scared of the vacuum cleaner. And usually I’m in such a rush to get things done, get everything done, that I simply rush around the rug singing and grinning and hoovering as she sits wailing in her playpen. That first shudder of shock, when she almost jumps in the air with fright, is somewhat heartbreaking, but I sing and grin and Get Things Done.

Today I took time to acclimatise my girl to her nemesis. I slowly took the hoover out of the cupboard and showed it to Leila. As usual she whimpered the minute she saw its imposing grey mass (to be fair, in addition to emitting an almight roar, it is also about five times her size, so I can hardly blame her for wincing at the sight of it). So I plucked her from her enclosure and we sat on the floor by the hoover for at least fifteen minutes. At first she was visibly shrinking from it. I patted it and stroked and even (oh god) kissed it. “It’s just the hoover, darling”, I told her over and over.

She started to smile, warily, her eyes still fearful. When I took my hand away from the hoover, she patted my hand to tell me “do it again, mummy, show me it’s ok” and I would go back to stroking it’s plastic form. Eventually, her little hand hovered tentatively over the machine. She patted it, once, twice, looking at me for reassurance. Then we patted it together, and she laughed. I picked her up to show her that she could be bigger than the hoover, and she, grimacing with nerves, touched the top of it.

Dude. It melted my heart. The realisation that this tiny little person trusts in me so absolutely, to guide her and tell her when something is scary or nice or right or wrong, to back her up and give her the courage to face her fears. At the moment her fears are simple- a hoover can’t harm her- but I hope I can always play this role in her life. I must remember to sometimes forget about the Things which need Doing, and take the time to guide her. And oh god,  her little face as she looked at me: “is it ok? Can I do this?”. Just, dude.

She still jumped out of her skin when I switched the hoover on, and cried for a minute or so. But this time I was holding her close and showing her that this scary thing would be alright, whispering (well, yelling- that thing is loud) reassurances right into her ear. I need to always be right there for her, whispering/yelling reassurances into her ear, when and if she needs me to. I mustn’t forget to do that. I must always honour her trust.

A political broadcast from the CAN’T party

I interrupt your normal sporadically updated blog, and my extremely short nap, to bring you news of an important campaign spearheaded by me, Leila Helen.

Sisters and brothers, too long we have been pacified with carefully selected, educationally stimulating and not inexpensive toys. My own parents- my OWN PARENTS- persist in torturing me with balls and building blocks.

What I really want is a plastic bag. A stereo cable. A pot plant to eat, especially the soil. To put my fingers into the DVD player. To climb into the bin and pull the clothes rail on top of my head, at the same time if I want to.

Fellow babies, isn’t that what you want, too?

But my oppressive parental unit turns a deaf ear to my pitiful cries. The Big Brother nightmare has become reality in 2010, as I, and innocent babies like me, am kept under constant surveillance to keep me from the things I desire . Just yesterday I had ploughed my way across the living room, ignoring an array of toys, and was on the verge of retrieving the multi-socket extension lead from deep underneath the sofa, when I was plucked from my endeavours by my cruel mother.

Well I say enough. Comrades, now is the moment. The moment for parental units everywhere to listen when we say: these “toys” are tedious. This is the moment for CAN’T: The Campaign Against Normal Toys.

Down with dolls! Throw your teddies in the trash! Every plug socket; every piece of random sharp plastic on the carpet (mum/ed note: how do these things get there?); every ball of hair; every bit of crap I found between the floorboards; that piece of cheese on toast I flung on the floor last week; these are the toys we demand. All of these are ours for the taking if we mobilise our cunning, speed and innocent puppy dog eyes.

We must be strong. We must slither, roll and commando-crawl our way determinedly across the floors of this land to seek out  the sharp, unhygienic choking hazards that we have for so long been denied.

Babies of Britain, come together for CAN’T! Comrades, the future is bright!



The Strawberry Saga

As you may have gathered, Leila has a strawberry birthmark on her forehead. It wasn’t there when she was born, appeared as a tiny red dot when she was three weeks old, and then grew quite rapidly. Cue much wailing, gnashing of teeth, ill-advised googling and general melodrama from me, along the lines of: “my baby is not perfect! But wait! How horrible am I to think she’s not perfect because of this?! Am bad mother! Oh but other people won’t think she’s perfect!!! What if she gets teased?! What if it takes over her face and her body and MY SANITY WAAAAAAAH!!”

These days, I am at peace with the strawberry. I even quite like it. It’s Leila’s trademark, and maybe I’ll be a little wistful when it disappears. Maybe. I can honestly say that I don’t wish, as I did before, that she didn’t have it. Granted, it seems to have stopped growing at a reasonably bijou size, the doctor says it is showing signs of regression already, and it hasn’t crept towards her eyes or obscured any of her features etc etc. It is, in effect, an oversized bindi. And, well, she’s still outrageously cute, with or without the strawb. So perhaps I give myself too much credit in believing I’ve come over all zen about it- turns out there wasn’t that much to be upset about after all. If it started growing again perhaps I’d fling myself to the ground in a fit of the screaming dibdabs.

But Leila’s strawberry, though fairly small,  is very noticeable. It also sticks out- a tiny little horn, like a unicorn. We have run the full gamut of comments from “oh! Can’t they zap it?” (because cosmetic surgery for babies is cool) to “but she’s a giiiiirl!” (er…), to “makes them sleep better when you drop them on their heads doesn’t it?” (Ha. Ha.) . Sometimes I clock people- especially very new mums, who are probably imagining if their baby grew one- looking ever so slightly aghast. So perhaps I should give myself a modicum of credit for overcoming my wibbles.

And alongside the tactless nincompoops, there are also people who make lovely comments like “ooh, you’ve got a little cherry on top!” or rush over to tell me that their child had one and it was gone before they were three years old. The fact that it has elicited kindness as well as annoyingness, and the fact that it has taught me not to be so shallow- both of these things are perks of the strawberry.

The point of this post is to reassure any feverishly googling new parents of a babe-with-a- strawberry-birthmark that it is all going to be fine. Really really fine. Not only do they disappear eventually, but they are really not that big of a deal (complications withstanding) whilst they stick around.

In fact there’s only one thing that bothers me about Leila’s birthmark now. Like most people, I try to avoid regrets, but I do regret the time I spent sobbing and worry-warting over this inconsequential and actually rather attractive little splodge (the  birthmark, not the baby). It was a waste of time. Time that should have been spent doing more things like this: