queen of faff

Former secret writer. This is my rehab.


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Manchester

My heart is heavy.

 

After Peshawar, my baby was my balm.

Her warm, soft body caught my tears,

and kept me calm.

 

After Manchester, my baby is now four.

I don’t know how to speak to her about the horror

that’s reached our shore.

 

After Nice, Paris, Brussells, and many, many more,

my baby is not my balm.

She has a brother now and I

cannot shield them from such harm.

 

Aged four and one, they dance innocently

to any sound they hear.

I won’t teach them how to fear.

 

This venue, these children – it’s all as senseless as before.

No bullets this time, but the bones were no more grown,

and more faceless men keep score.

 

These small children of mine, will grow

with time,

and are home with me tonight.

 

I will teach them to dance

at every chance.

 

My heart will provide the beat.


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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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Daughters and sons

I have never read anything as powerful, harrowing or heartbreaking as the victim impact statement from the Stanford University rape victim.

I have never been so hopeful for huMANkind as reading Joe Biden’s open letter to her.

Angry and saddened again to read about the conversation taking place in an office this week – and I imagine it isn’t the only one. Yet again the insinuation that she (the victim) had any responsibility for what happened to her.

My heart breaks for the women who have been violated, some I know personally and most I will never meet. Women who have been betrayed, abused, hurt, damaged by strangers, by people known to them, and perhaps worse -by people they loved and trusted. Knowing one personally would be one too many. I don’t have enough digits on two hands to count them.

I will teach both of my children that their bodies belong to them, and them alone. I won’t make them hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to, no matter how long they have known them or how related to them they are. I will let them decide what contact makes them feel comfortable and what doesn’t. I will listen when they say ‘stop’ even if I am only tickling them- they get to choose what happens to their bodies and call the shots at the point they have had enough – even if two minutes earlier it was fun and they were laughing.

But I loathe and detest that I will have to teach my daughter how to protect herself as she grows up. That other people will make judgements on the choices she makes about how much she drinks, the clothes she wears, or the route she takes home, though they are never any excuse for anyone to harm her. I loathe and detest that her brother would never face the same condemnation for his choices.

And so, I will teach my son that no always means no.

That yes can become no.

That unconsciousness is a fucking no go.

That drunkenness is not an invitation.

That any type of clothing, or lack thereof, is not an invitation.

That nothing gives him the right to take something that isn’t willingly and consciously gifted to him.

Nothing.

Nothing.

NOTHING.

 


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I’ve got this

I’m 23 weeks pregnant with my second child. Our nearly three year old, who took over two years to really sleep well at night, has started waking again after months of sleeping for ten hours straight.

I am plagued by pregnancy insomnia, and in those waking hours, my mind is tormented by what will happen to my sanity if the next one is a non-sleeper too. My brain catastrophizing – as it is wont to do.

After getting my toddler settled around 1am this morning, I was still awake at gone 3am, and so when she appeared at our bedroom door at 5.30am, I had no strength – or even desire – to put her back in her own bed. As she snuggled into me and fell back to sleep, I was reminded of the weeks that became months, that became years, when I was the comfort she needed to sleep peacefully. At the time it felt like an enormous pressure. With hindsight I can see it for the privilege it was.

When she woke for the last time this morning, she hugged and kissed my bump, trying to reach her baby brother through my skin.

Those seemingly endless nights, when I truly believed I was losing my mind, actually enabled me to rock, soothe, and love my tiny person into the affectionate, confident, smart and funny little human she is today.

It was a timely reminder of what I’m capable of.

I’ve got this.


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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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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.


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Pointless planning

I’m a planner. Without a shadow of a doubt. I like to know where I’m going, when I’m setting off and what I’ll be doing when I get there. That’s not to say that I don’t like spontaneity, but I can’t seem to stop myself planning. Spontaneity interrupts my planning in the most wonderful way. Because being a planner is exhausting.

It tires my mind when I need to rest, and tires my body when I’m busy ‘doing’ instead of ‘being’.

Needless to say being a planner isn’t really compatible with having a baby. And that was really good for me. I was surprised at how I didn’t desperately plan to every inch how I thought the birth of our baby would go (though my husband may disagree with my perception of myself here!), and admittedly I would have if I could have.

I wanted a water birth, I wanted it not to be snowing in the depths of January when I went into labour, I wanted to not need more than gas and air in terms of pain relief – but I accepted I couldn’t have all of those things when my waters broke at 4 in the morning, and various uncontrollable factors meant that I ended up on a monitor, thereby keeping my birthing experience on dry land, (the deep snow thankfully arrived after we had made it to hospital).

I expected that parenthood in general would curb my instinct to plan. I knew I couldn’t predict or control when the baby would come, and that largely her personality and our parenting choices would determine when she wanted to eat, sleep, play and so on. That doesn’t mean the planner in me lay dormant as soon as she was born. I find the feeling of “getting nothing done” really frustrating and it has taken me a while to realise that taking care of our baby every day is getting plenty done, even if the pots don’t get washed or the clothes for that matter. So I didn’t stop planning. But now I plan differently.

I plan pointlessly.

I make plans to go places or see people, and alter or abandon them completely when life gets in the way. It has been good for me to learn how unimportant almost all my plans are when what materialises in their place can be just as, if not more, fun/enjoyable/refreshing/relaxing/rewarding than I had anticipated from my day. Every day is different, every day brings me something new, something challenging, often something exhausting, but always something utterly delightful, from just being with our baby.

I am going back to work soon. My job needs me to be organised and to plan ahead. It also requires me to adapt quickly to constantly changing circumstances. It will be interesting to see which trait comes out on top when I get back.

Whatever the case, I think this time on maternity leave has shown me how to slow down and appreciate the moment I’m in. I hope I can hold on to that when my other life beckons.