queen of faff

Former secret writer. This is my rehab.


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Stuck

I’m sitting here with pen in hand,

but hesitant to write.

The censorship’s inside my head

No editors in sight.

 

I often think in prose and rhyme

but rarely write them ‘out’.

My head is full, instead, with words

My pages, empty with my doubt.

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Fat fairies

A few weeks ago, while playing with my three year old, she told me I couldn’t be the fairy godmother to her Cinderella. “Why not?”, I enquired. “Because she’s fat”, came the reply.

Of course, the postpartum part of me, having given birth to her baby brother a few months earlier, was chuffed to bits with this declaration. The warrior mama part of me however, was not.

My daughter’s only visual Cinderella frame of reference is the 1950’s Disney film, and whilst the godmother is more rotund than Cinderella herself, I was and remain baffled as to why my/her physical appearance was the barrier to the part, rather than say, my lack of wand or ability to turn pumpkins into carriages – I have never needed plaits or royal lineage to be the Anna to her Elsa after all.

Fast forward to two nights ago and I was reading her a book, Florence was no ordinary Fairy. Borrowed from the library, I was reading it for the first time, out loud, to my three year old. The basic premise being that Florence doesn’t like fairy things, won’t sit atop a Christmas tree or grant wishes etc, but does adore fairy cakes, eats too many of them and gets too fat for her fairy wings to carry her. Cue scolding from Queen fairy for eating too much and getting heavy.

What are we doing to our children that they can be fed such shite about fatness and fitness at such a young age? A recent BBC report showed that 34% of 10-15 year old girls are unhappy with their appearance. I know I can’t protect her from societal pressure and that how she feels about how she looks when she’s a teenager could be hugely problematic but does it really have to start now?

I don’t talk about how I look in front of her. Sure, she sees me doing my hair and makeup, but even on days I’m lamenting the skinny jeans I can’t get back into yet, I don’t comment on it within earshot of my children. I don’t flinch when she pokes my soft belly, still recovering from growing her brother. I do my best to promote strong and healthy as body aspirations, rather than thin and pretty.

And yet.

And yet she knows fat. She sees fat. Goddamm this superficial world that is harming my daughter already.


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Failing at motherhood

I told my husband tonight I felt like I was failing at motherhood. I’d felt that way all day and had been crying before he ever got home from work. I have a three (and a half) year old and a nearly three month old and for the love of whichever god you believe in I don’t know why it feels like I should pretend that I don’t find that hard.

I find it hard to pay my toddler the amount of attention she needs (or just wants?) while at the same time trying to keep on top of the endless laundry. My parents came to visit us today and my mum helped me peg out the washing (the second load of the day as the first load had been in the machine at 8.30am). I cried as she washed my dishes because I felt like I should be able to manage.

When a delivery of boxes to organise our chaotic house turned up and nearly half of them were broken I thought I was going to lose my mind whilst spending ages on hold to sort it out, followed by simultaneously trying to decide which order to tend to my children in whilst tidying up the chaos I had intended to pack away into the boxes and fold yet more laundry because there’s no way in hell I’m getting the iron out.

I’d had the slow cooker on since 10.30 am to make an easy yet nutritious tea, a desperate attempt to wean my toddler off beige and breadcrumb coated food. It was met with a ‘bleugh’ at lunchtime as I showed it to her, followed by a “I’m too tired to eat my tea mummy” at dinner time.

So I retreated upstairs as the tears fell, wondering what I’m doing wrong, wondering why I feel so goddam guilty about finding things so goddam hard. I don’t want to hear how lucky I am, how quickly this will pass, how quickly they will grow or how soon my own children will be saying all this to me. I don’t want to be told I’m selfish because some people can’t have children, I really fucking appreciate mine. I don’t want to be told I made my bed….., because I know, and I wouldn’t change it.

I just want people to talk about how fucking hard it is, how lonely. How one more game of nursery or Topsy and Tim might tip you over the edge and that that’s normal.

So I told my husband I was failing at motherhood today. Largely on account of the amount of guilt I feel at not doing more or better. He asked me how many children I’d washed, dressed and fed today. “Two” I replied though my tears.

“Doesn’t sound like your failing to me”, he said.

Perspective restored. 


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Identity crisis

I’m sick of hearing that I should put my kids first. I know how important they are, and I absolutely prioritise their basic needs. But not at the cost of all else. They’re not more important than my husband (equally, but not more).  If I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t have them.  If I didn’t have his love, support, company, ability to keep me grounded, I’d have climbed my tree ages ago with no sense of how to get down.  We’re a team, and because of that we are both better parents.

The sense that mothers (and it does seem to be directed at mothers rather than fathers, or parents generally), should sacrifice themselves at all costs to put the children first is grossly unfair and, in my experience, utterly unrealistic.  If I don’t eat, I don’t function well enough to feed my kids. Sometimes it’s just basic common sense and biology.

But sometimes it’s about recognising that we are people too. I don’t want to be defined by my parental or marital status anymore than I want to be defined by my paid employment role. I am beyond proud to be my husband’s wife and my children’s mother, but it is not all I am and I refuse to feel guilty any more for aspiring or even hoping to feel anything different. To be anyone different.

I don’t think I really knew who I was before my children came along, never really ambitious or dedicated to one particular thing.  Maybe it’s their being here that is making the need to locate the part of me that is just about me more urgent. But as a good friend of mine said to me as I went on maternity leave: “This will not be the last big thing you do”. I have clung to those words like a buoyancy aid and I am determined to prove her right.

I’m a wife, a mother, and somewhere, way down, way way down, there’s a little something that’s just about me.


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Trampolines and sycamore seeds

As a person I am instinctively, or perhaps habitually, mean to myself. My inner voice isn’t soothing and encouraging, it is harsh, cruel and critical.

Maybe it is inevitable then that as a mother, I am pulled subconsciously towards focusing on the things I don’t do well, on the things I could undoubtedly do better.

Tonight, in my in-laws’ garden, I was given a gift.

” Come play with me on the trampoline Mummy”.

My two and a half year old sought me out to play with her. Me. She talks in full and sophisticated sentences. She is curious and smart. After some time bouncing and chasing each other she says “I’m a bit tired Mummy. Let’s sit down and have a little rest”.

She snuggles into me, puts her hand on my leg, taps it gently and says simply “We’re still best friends”.

As we sit there in a wonderful, comfortable, contented silence, I also sit with the unfamiliar feeling of doing something so incredibly right.

We run and jump some more, sharing fun and each other’s company, then we lie down in the middle of the trampoline, and rest some more.

“Look at the clouds,” I say, pointing, “Aren’t they moving fast?”.

“That’s not fast Mummy,” she replies, “they’re moving slow”.

I wonder at our different perceptions of time and speed.

We turn sycamore seeds into helicopters, then chase each other some more, and as I listen to her delightful squeals, I wonder how long it will be before she thinks clouds move quickly too.


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It’s time to talk

Today, Time to Change is encouraging people to take five minutes to talk about mental health. I’m fortunate to work for an organisation that is doing the same. This is the post I wrote for our staff blog at work today. My friend and colleague Paul, who blogs about mental health (amongst other topics!) at Dippyman, encouraged me to post it here too. So here is my virtual 5 minutes chat:

I’m not in the office today so this is my attempt to virtually take 5. Writing it feels like a confession, which in itself tells me how important it is for us all to be talking to each other.

I’m struggling.

I don’t know why admitting that is so hard, but it is. Most of you who know me know that I have a nocturnal toddler – I talk about it a lot. What you may not know, because I don’t like to talk about it, is the impact that sleeping for less than three hours at a time is having on my emotional wellbeing – on my mental health.

I am altogether less resilient. My reserves are depleted so I am less able to combat illness and less able to combat the negative voices in my head that tell me I’m not good enough.

Anyone who says that sleep is overrated, truly doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

I reached a point where I was convinced I was failing. I started a new job six months after I returned from maternity leave. I wanted to be good at it, I wanted to be brilliant at it, but on such a steep learning curve, on very little proper sleep, every time I forgot something, or didn’t understand something, I thought I was failing.

At home, I have a bright, beautiful, healthy, happy daughter and my god she’s funny. But instead of focussing on what a good job I was doing as a mum, I cursed myself for not being able to understand why her own sleep patterns were so poor and for not being able to ‘fix it’. I thought I was failing.

I felt like I couldn’t be a good parent and a good employee – and I hated that as a mother I felt a pressure (albeit an imagined one) to choose to do one or the other exceptionally.

I didn’t want to tell my manager that I was struggling. I was scared of the response I might get and how I might be seen afterwards. There was no real foundation for this fear. My negative thinking is exacerbated by my sleep deprivation and I’m a catastrophiser (that’s a real thing!). Luckily for me, my manager knew I wasn’t ok and created a safe space for me to say so. Telling him how I was feeling was hard, but it was the best thing to do. I was met with understanding and reassurance.

I am putting things in place to get me back on track, including seeing a counsellor.

I am starting to believe that I am not failing.

I’m just very, very tired.


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Hi ho, hi ho, it’s back to work I go

A year is a long time to be absent from somewhere. In a fast moving and ever evolving work environment it can feel like a lifetime, and the thought of returning after 12 months maternity leave can be daunting, to say the least.

I am nearing the end of my first full week back at work after maternity leave. My baby was born in January and I remember gleefully realising that her brilliant scheduling would leave me with a whole calendar year away from work. Imagine that: “I’m not going to work in 2013”. Well, not in my day job anyway. 2013 was a year for a very different and important job.

So it was with some anticipation and some trepidation that I faced my return to the office. I certainly felt like I was morphing in and out of at least four of the seven dwarfs: Sleepy, Grumpy, Sneezy and Dopey.

How would I ever survive a working week with the complete and utter lack of sleep that I am getting? How would I ever remember what I used to do all day?

I have been pleasantly surprised at how my first week has gone, and there are several things that have made it easier for me.

Childcare choices. Whether you choose nursery, a childminder, friends or family to look after your child while you are at work, it is immensely important to be confident and content with the decision you have made. I am nothing but impressed with the care my daughter is getting while her dad and I are at work and it leaves my mind free to concentrate on my job whilst at work rather than worrying about whether she is ok.

Memory aids. I hate the term baby brain but there is no denial that my brain doesn’t function as well as it used to. I guess a combination of sleep deprivation and other priorities is occupying cavities up there that used to be filled with useful information. I hate being forgetful and it doesn’t suit the nature of my job so I am coming to terms with the fact that lists are my future.

Supportive work colleagues. These include my manager who is helping me manage my expectations of myself (I’m a perfectionist after all), and the many many fellow parents I work with who constantly remind me that what I’m experiencing is normal.

From the people who tell me that their baby cried when first left at nursery too but soon settled, to the people that tell me they used to sleep in their cars on their lunch break (more people than you’d think!) as they were beyond tired – they are all helping me realise that it’s ok to take time to adjust to being back and to accept that I’m not as effective four days in as I was when I left, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be.

I can’t thank them enough for welcoming me and rehabilitating me back into the real world.