Zombie parents

As readers of this blog will know, I like to moan a lot about how tired I am.  There’s no getting away from it, I am tired all the time and can go to sleep at any moment.  This is largely because my daughter has started to get up really early, at 5am every day.  Now, I know that some of you will be reading this and thinking “Ha! That’s nothing! 5am sounds like a dream”.  And you are absolutely right.  That my daughter affords me at least 6 or 7 hours of sleep per night is wonderful.  I am, nevertheless, still tired and have been since about September 2013.

This does not, however, mean that other people aren’t more tired than me, and I’ve noticed a certain amount of playful competition going on with other parents in that regard.  Enter Mr. “Shit I’m going to miss my train” (see previous post), who was remarkably two minutes early for nursery today, as was I.  Mr. Smile (a friend who I like very much, and whose daughter goes to the same nursery) says hello and asks how I am.  “Tired.  Up at 5.30 again” was as much as I could muster (I am known for my plain speaking).  Mr. Smile boldy counters by telling me that his daughter woke them up at 7.30am.  That was just too much for Mr SIGTMMT who entered the conversation by saying “11!!!! 1!!!! 3!!!! 5!!!!”.  It took me a few moments to register that he wasn’t just shouting out sequential numbers but was talking about when his son, who is only a month or two younger than my child and Mr. Smiley’s child, woke him and his wife up last night.  Poor Mr and Mrs SIGTMMT.

The amusing thing about this was the brief conversation which ensued, since it appeared that Mr and Mrs SIGTMMT argued at every waking-point about who should get up and “sort him out”.  That had us all nodding in sage agreement, since we’ve all had morning arguments about who has the busiest day ahead, who did it last time, who the baby wants etc.  You both fight hard for your corner.  You both press your case.  You both don’t feel like being nice at 3am (or 5am in our case). But the baby is still crying, so one of you capitulates and then has amunition for the rest of the day – “who’s making dinner”? (not me, I got up at 3am); “who’s turn is it to do the bins”? (not me, I got up at 3am); “can I put the sport on”? (no, I got up at 3am) and so on and so forth.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins the war.  But perhaps I’m only saying that because it was, today, my husband who capitulated.  And because the truth of the matter is that we are fortunate to have a little girl who has slept through since she was about 4 months old (sorry sorry sorry but it is true).  So while it is true that I am always tired, I really need to applaud and salute those parents who get through the day having got up at ridiculous o’clock however many times with a baby who, despite being amazing, the centre of their world and otherwise a joy, is a little sleep depriving s*d at 3 in the morning.

 

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The rules of the nursery

I have always been strangely reassured by the way that human beings form themselves into groups, that those groups have rules and that the rules are, generally, observed. That is why, for example, we get annoyed when someone pushes in front of you when you queue, and why we bother to have laws. We all need to know how we fit in to the system.

What I find surprising is the way that applies to really small situations, and to babies and toddlers. I first became aware of this when I started to drop my daughter off at nursery. Now, the nursery drop is very tense. By and large our children are at nursery because we have to be at work, and so it’s essential to get the drop-off procedure right. It’s a fine art which involves knowing the rules about who arrives when, as this helps us to get to the next place on time. We dash down the road, rushing past Mr Stressed-with-2-kids at 7.56 who falls in behind us. Mr “Shit I’m going to miss my train” nearly collides with us at 7.58. The Other Hannah and her mother are already on the top step waiting for the door to open. Mrs. “Casual Approach” saunters down the road and gets in everyone’s way as she mucks about with her pram (clearly doesn’t have to catch a train). Muttering and swearing ensures. Mr “Shit I’m going to miss my train” is starting to go purple. It’s now 7.59 and the tension in the air is palpable. Door opens. Bundle as the children go in through the narrow corridor. I’m holding Hannah, Craig unbuttons coat as I fumble for her shoes with my remaining hand. Mr. “Shit I’m going to miss my train” hands over his child, who was derobed before we got in the door. Bag in box, coat on peg, kisses goodbye, GO GO GO. Until Bruno’s mother arrives and squishing of bodies in the corridor as we push past each other ensues. Same every day – except yesterday when Mr “Shit I’m going to miss my train” actually passed his son to me to deal with and hand over because he had parked in the middle of the road out of sheer terror of actually missing his train. It’s mild panic every day but also a comfort knowing who is going to turn up when; what order we walk in to the room; whether we should talk to the other parents (only before the door is open, not when we are in the corridor itself as this just wastes train time) etc.

On the return everyone is much more chilled. I usually do the pick up and it’s a case of wander in, chat to the nursery assistants, say hello to the other children, faff about with the coat etc…. and the other parents are the same. It’s cool, the day is coming to an end, we are going to look after our child for an hour or two before bed time and it’s going to be lovely. Work is over for the day, who cares? Let’s just chat and relax.

The babies, however, have their own protocols to observe as follows:
1. Do not interact with anyone but Mummy and/or Daddy until you have been dispatched to the assistant.
2. Run away to find breakfast, no longer caring whether your parent is there.
3. Do not, at any point, touch the gate. The gate belongs to Freddy and Billy. They guard it, you do not. Only the assistants are allowed to touch the gate instead of you. Do not touch the gate, do not approach the gate, do not even look at the gate.
4. Do not interact with a nursery assistant who has already been claimed by another child.
5. Do not drop your food or cease to pay attention to it, even for a second. If you do it will be forfeited to Hannah or Bruno who will consume it as punishment.
6. Get out of the way of all other children when Mummy or Daddy arrives, otherwise you WILL get hurt.
7. Make sure you cry if any adult who isn’t an assistant speaks to you. They need to know that they are not your parent and that you are not interested in them being nice to you.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall and see what other rules they have in place for organising their days. Never forget, they rule the roost. You might like to think you are in charge, but if you ever really start to believe that just remember who is preparing to wake who up in the middle of the night, and who is laughing and giggling at you as you madly do the drop off in the morning…. they are laughing AT you, not WITH you.

These are just some of the nursery rules

Going back to work….

I thought I’d leap in and write a blog post about going back to work and putting my daughter in nursery following the great posts of my gorilla mums friends.  It’s so hard knowing what to do and each solution has to be the right one for you and your family.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted and that’s precisely because I just haven’t had any spare time and when I do have a brief moment of opportunity I try to use it sleeping!

For me and my husband there really was no option.  I had to go back to work and I had to go back full time – we both did.  For us, when I became pregnant, the most sensible thing to do was to sell our cute flat and buy somewhere that could happily accommodate a baby, so we moved and bought a house.  That increases the mortgage, the outgoings, paying for the baby etc….  Anyway enough of the justification.

We were incredibly lucky to have found a nursery that we were happy with when I was just 5 months pregnant because (a) the place for her didn’t become available for over a year later and (b) I knew it was an excellent place and just the kind of care I wanted for her because my nephews had gone there before they moved to Singapore. 

She’s there 4 days a week; I look after once per fortnight on  the remaining day (I work full time but work compressed hours) and my parents or my husband looks after her once per fortnight.  It’s exhausting but it’s the best solution for us and I can honestly say that it’s one of the best things we’ve done for her.

I had a melt down about a month before my maternity leave ended and ranted to my friends about how unfair it was that my baby wasn’t ready to be separated from me and that I was an awful mother, but in fact I think the reverse is true.  It’s me who wasn’t ready to be separated and actually I think I’m turning out to be a pretty reasonable mummy – and our daughter is turning out to be a happy, feisty and well developed little girl.

The days are most certainly long – she’s waking up at 5.30am and since I mentally don’t switch off properly until about 10.30pm that usually adds up to a very tired woman pretending she doesn’t have bags under her eyes and trying to pull off the impression of a diligent and capable senior policy manager.  I am without fail on the 7.38 train every day, have 20 minutes for lunch, and around 4 policy/personnel meetings per day. Yet my 8.25am – 4.30pm working day (with top ups in the evening) is not the longest part. The longest part of my day is undoubtedly the walk from the station to the nursery – it takes 15 minutes but as I turn the corner to the road where it’s located I break into something of a frantic walk (I must look like a mad chicken on speed and dressed in a suit) and reach my hand out to knock on the door long before it is able to make contact with it.  I’m not kidding – I’ve tripped a couple of times.  And there I am, excited and giddy as a schoolgirl and with arms outstretched, at 5.40pm  to cuddle my girl.  The walk home is fun – she’s excited to see me too and we have a play at home for about 30 minutes before she’s ridiculously tired and it’s bed and bath time. We don’t see her much during the week but those 30 minutes are magical and those bedtime cuddles are the best in the world.

Weekends are precious.  It’s not just us who love her and want to see her, and we have the usual household stuff to do and people we want to see too, so packing everything us and having family time is difficult – there’s no two ways about it.  And I miss seeing my friends and their babies too, and having a tidy and ordered house, and spare cash to spend on this and that.

I tell you what though, I wouldn’t change it.  Yes, of course I would love to see more of my beautiful daughter and yes, I could definitely do without all of the stressed that I’ve just described above. The Fridays I’ve had off with her are brilliant.  But to be honest I enjoy work and, for me, I want to work and see that as part of being a positive female role model for my daughter (nb I know there are lots of positive female role models).  I’m mentally stimulated, I have friends at work that I can whinge to, and I believe I’m more rounded and fulfilled for being there.  But – crucially – the most important benefits are my daughter’s.  She absolutely loves nursery – she’s very very happy there.  Yes she is excited to see me when I pick her up, but I’ve also seen how happy she is when she thinks I’m not there too.  She spends her time there being cuddled, playing, copying the older children and having regular sleep and healthy food.  She’s learned to stand, crawl and cruise far more quickly than we expected her to; she’s communicating more confidently; and she’s learning far more social skills than she would have done if I had been caring for her full time.  She’s not as dependant on me or my husband and is generally much more tolerant of new people, she sleeps without a fuss (usually) and eats like a trooper.  She goes for regular walks, feeds ducks, learns about flowers and trees… the list goes on.  I know I did some of this with her before when it was just us, but rather than seeing nursery as a childcare solution I now see it as an investment.

My heart breaks every time I leave her.  I spend all day at work wanting to see her and missing her.  I think about her all the time and, frankly, just don’t care very much about things at work that used to stress me out.  . As I type this she is being cuddled to sleep by her daddy and it’s images like that which come to mind and almost make me cry when some idiot is being annoying about a deadline at work. Every day, the best part of my day is seeing her. I adore my girl and the best part of my day is seeing her.  I applaud those women who stay at home to look after their little ones.  Their reasons are as valid as mine and if being a mother has taught me anything it’s that one size does not fit all – mothers and their babies are all different.  But for us, this is the best way.

Separation Anxiety

Babies, when they are around 6 months old, often start to get anxious when their mother or father leaves the room. They will reach a stage where they will scream until she comes back, wailing as if the world will end just because she has gone to the kitchen and then hold their arms up desperately as if they have been waiting all day to be picked up. This is something which is, for the parent in question, upsetting, annoying and probably slightly gratifying at the same time. I say probably because, though I have seen several other people go through this, Hannah hasn’t reached that stage and hopefully never will. But this post isn’t about Hannah. It’s about me.

I think my baby is the most beautiful baby that was ever born, even more gorgeous than Prince George, and he is seriously cute (I wonder if Hannah will ever have to wonder whether it’s wrong to fancy the King …) and I am totally in love with her. She is the best thing that has ever happened to me and we have been together for 15 months- longer than some marriages. And while I started this journey not having much of an idea at all about how to look after her, I am pretty sure I know what’s best for her and would bite the head off anyone who told me how to raise my child. Raising her is the sole responsibility of me and my husband and always will be.

I don’t want you to get the impression that I am some kind of over protective lioness; I’m really not. The first time I left her – to go to the hairdressers over the road- I briefly cried and then an enormous sense of freedom came over me. In the end, while I didn’t enjoy leaving her, I was comfortable with the people who were looking after her and knew that I would be back in 3 hours. On that occasion I was more upset about the disastrous highlights I ended up with that I had waited a year for. I’m very happy for her grandparents to look after her, and made the decision about 2 months ago to join a gym and leave her in its crèche while I worked out (you wouldn’t know it to look at me). That was weird but I knew that it was a good crèche and that I would be back in a couple of hours. But the other day I took her for a settling in visit at her nursery and I think that is what has set me off….

The nursery in question has an excellent reputation and I am totally convinced that the staff there will take great care of my little girl; more so because they did an excellent job with my wonderful nephews who are growing up to be happy, confident and capable young men. I want the same for her. So why was I getting tearful when they started to look for a date for a home visit? Was it because my house is a complete tip? No. It was because putting her in nursery is now getting very real. There’s only a month to go now. I know I’ve written blog posts that are along similar lines in the past but as D Day approaches I find myself feeling more and more guilty, more and more like I want to kiss her all the time and less and less like I want to leave her with anyone- even when she is being a complete toerag and I feel like putting my head on a blender. Even today at the gym I couldn’t get into it as much as I would usually and I think it’s because she was crying when I left….

I clearly need to toughen up and accept that while no one will love my daughter like I do, no one can ever love me like she does either and that other people can enrich her life and advance her development far more than I can alone. So my fervent hope is that we are now bonded for life- me to her and her to me (at least until she leaves home) and that when she comes home in the evening she will still need me and love me as much as she does now. It will be OK because it has to be OK, and if so many other women can rear a happy baby and bring home the bacon I know I have that capacity too. But I tell you right now, one of the hardest things I will ever have to do will be that first drop off at nursery, and I pray it will get easier. My boss had better prepare himself….!

Perhaps you have had similar concerns or could even offer me some pearls of wisdom…..?

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My updated CV

I’ve been off work since the end of October, and I’m due to go back in July. I won’t dwell on that here; the thought of it isn’t pleasant for a number of reasons and most of them are to do with Hannah. However, when I was having one of my little wobbles yesterday, I got to thinking about what I could bring to my job rather than what I would be taking away from her. Here are a few of my thoughts (let me know what yours are…).

1. I work smarter. Note that this isn’t the same as harder, or more. To me it means that I have a fresher approach to prioritisation and that I therefore work more efficiently, using the tools at my disposition as they are really needed. I feel more confident now about deciding what needs to be done and when, and whether it needs to be gold plated or whether a quick and dirty job will allow me to get on with other things. Baby and home management basics?

2. I delegate more effectively. I don’t need to do everything and I don’t need to control everything either. Tesco can deliver the shopping. My husband can clean the loo (it doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect) and I will spend time making puréed food for my daughter because I know what she needs and how much.

3. I can walk away from things that aren’t important. It’s easy for me to say now but I will be able to set aside petty issues in favour of the major stuff and at will be able to leave work where it belongs at the end of the day. My family is my world and work will always play second fiddle. A smile from my little girl would make me far happier than praise from my boss (although that will also be pleasing. If indeed it happens).

4. I can do loads of things single handed….. For the healthy minded readers of this post I mean that I am rather surprised that I can, for example, open bottles with one hand. I hope to have my eyes open to the possibility that I will discover new skills at work too.

5. I have rediscovered things I had forgotten. I am a right hander, but do certain things left handed such as pulling pints, and am ambidextrous with others such as using cutlery. I had forgotten this until I started to eat food with a fork in one hand and a baby in the other. Again, I’m rather hoping I will remember other skills that I had forgotten on my return.

6. I have more patience than I thought I had.

7. Other people have hidden talents too. They just need to be confronted with a new situation for them to be revealed. My husband is, for example, great at bathing and massaging our baby. Let’s see if I get any people to manage who I can test my theory on.

8. I’m more comfortable than I used to be with my competitors- who aren’t actually competitors at all. I’m perfectly happy with the kind of mother I am and with the way my daughter is progressing. The same will apply to my career- I will worry about me and my job rather than other people and theirs.

9. I am far more chilled out than I used to be. A former manager once told me in my annual appraisal that I needed to “change my face”. When I asked why she said it was because I “look stressed and unapproachable sometimes”. Perhaps, therefore, having a baby has given me a motherly and relaxed look that will encourage colleagues to come hither….

There will be more, I’m sure/I hope. I don’t want to go back to work; I have to. And leaving my little girl at nursery makes me feel sick. But knowing that I can bring great new skills to the workplace gives me some professional comfort after 8 months off in a climate where jobs aren’t secure, not to mention the fact that because of Hannah I will always have the best job in the world anyway.

Who am I?

The other day I asked my husband if he thought that motherhood had changed me.  He said “yeah, you’re calmer and more patient”.  That doesn’t sound like the stresshead I though I was. Am I still me? About 18 months ago, if you asked me to describe my life I would have said it was pretty free and easy.  I had a job that was interesting and fulfilling, I had lost a load of weight and physically at least felt great, I had long highlighted blonde hair.  Evenings were spent cooking something yummy or, if we were tired, in a local restaurant.  We’d spend weekends in the pub or watching a good film on TV after a long lye-in, and the rest of the time was spent gazing at the beautiful view from our little flat.

If was to describe it now I would say that I look like, and often feel like, a sack of spuds.  The highlights are pretty much gone (I would worried that maintaining them would harm my unborn baby); the food I eat is wolfed down on-the-go, a lye-in is now 7am, and weekends are spent alternating supervision of our little girl while we catch up on sleep or do the various jobs that need doing around our new house (our view is now of a huge roundabout).  Watching a film only happens by accident and, though we do occasionally go to the pub with our daughter, there’s no room for the 6 or 7 pints that I could down in one sitting before.

I certainly don’t want to sound ungrateful.  I passionately wanted this baby and I am thankful beyond belief that I have been blessed with this wonderful little person in my life.  But it does get waring sometimes when I don’t seem to be able to find time to pluck my eyebrows, and it would be nice to be able to have a glass of wine of an evening without wondering whether it will stop me from breastfeeding later (sometimes, I admit, I take the hit and just give her a bottle – though I know that I’ll pay for it with a reduced supply the next time I want to feed…).  And it would be nice to look in the mirror and not see rolls of fat and clothes covered in sick (I’m doing something about both, by the way). Continue reading

I’ve been sleeping with another woman….

It’s my wedding anniversary today and while my husband was at work I slept in our marital bed with someone else for the first time.  It was Hannah.  We both have colds and yet I decided that this would be the week that I would train her (not that she’s a dog) to sleep in her cot (and no she isn’t 6 months old yet) DURING THE DAY.  She’s not having any of it, at least not for more than 15 minutes at a time.  Anyway, after an hour of bargaining (which basically involved me rubbing her nose and her screaming) I agreed that she could sleep in my bed with me (I SERIOUSLY needed to sleep).   I was s***ing myself.  I barricaded the edges of the bed with pillows, put her in a low tog sleeping bag, grabbed the bottom of it and wedged it under my backside so that she couldn’t actually move, and stayed awake watching her sleep for about 25 minutes because I was too scared of rolling over and squashing her.  I did drop off in the end but it’s fairly clear who won that little game.

The thing is, when I was in hospital the only way that I could get her to sleep was on my tummy.  And I did it when I got home.  To be honest I grew to love what I call “naughty nap time” – and still do.  The problem is so does Hannah, and I need to convince her of the benefits of sleeping on your own pdq – she starts nursery in 2 months!  Wish me luck.