There you were

When it was 2am and I’d not had any sleep yet for the fifth night in a row, there you were.

When it was 6pm and they’d both refused their dinner and watched TV instead, there you were.

When it 10am and we’d missed playgroup because of tantrums and I couldn’t get the timing right to leave the house, there you were.

You were the commenter on this blog who made me realise we all fed our children chocolate spread on toast for dinner sometimes.

You were my best friend who poured me a wine at 4pm and assured me that everyone, looking at their two screaming children, just wanted to cry sometimes.

You were on Skype, promising me that no-one was judging the mother who was using the television as her babysitter sometimes.

And when I told the story about how Jasmin was sick in the car and I had to carry her round the shops naked, there you all were.

And when I told the story about how I forget my friends’ birthdays these days, there you all were.

And when I stamped my feet and said I’d had enough and I couldn’t do it anymore because it was too hard, there you all were – thank goodness.

It’s not just me, is it then? That felt once like it was hard to see through the sleep-deprived haze, that stared at her crying children and wondered how to make everything better, that wondered how it was going to be possible to get up in the morning and do it all again…

It’s not just me, is it then? Who can now look back with clarity on those damn hard few months of life with two babies while we all learnt about being a new family. It’s not just me who appreciated so greatly those precious moments of laughter and cuddles and straightforward happiness while knowing that tomorrow might be tough again.

Up. Down. Up. Again. This is motherhood.

Tonight, when my children ate their plain, buttery spaghetti (no veg, no meat, no fish) for dinner in front of the TV and I sang along to the theme tune of Topsy and Tim, there you were. All of you, with the tele on in the background, cooking dinner with a wine in your hand, while the kids ate their unbalanced meals in front of the screen, singing along to children’s TV – there you were with me.

Thank you.

Thank you for telling me you were singing the words too. Thank you for reaching out to tell me that you know them so well because they are the soundtrack to your new life too. Thank you for telling me you also sing the Wheels on the Bus when you drive somewhere alone. Thank you for telling me you point at buses and exclaim ‘bus’ when you walk to the shops. Thank you for telling me you hide in the toilet with the door shut for longer than necessary because it is a little space to yourself, briefly. Thank you for telling me you haven’t washed your hair yet this week.

We all have those moments, you showed me, that we’re not proud of. We all have those hours that are hard. And we are all, also, the luckiest people in the world because we know a happiness like no other. We know what it is to love no matter what and to be beloved without conditions. There you were, helping me to see that.

We are mothers, we can do this together.

motherhood

Dream big, little one

‘Mummy when I’m big I will touch the trees.’

Milin is two and a half, and this is what he imagines will happen when he ‘grows up’. He will be so tall that he will be able to reach the branches currently overhead.

‘Mummy when I’m big I will touch the sky.’

This is another thing he tells me. He is dreaming big, you see.

This pondering of what life will be like when he is ‘big’ is something Milin has been doing a bit of recently. Perhaps it’s come about because we often mention that he will ‘get big’ (or not) if he eats all his dinner (or not). Or perhaps it’s just what two year olds do – they think about growing up.

The first time he told me he would touch the trees was when we were in the car. We were driving down a road lined with very old and very tall oaks. I replied with something along these lines:

‘Erm, no Milin, you won’t be able to touch the trees – they’re very high.’

And as soon as I said it, I knew I’d made a mistake.

Just like that, without thinking, without planning what I was going to say before I opened my mouth to my bright, never-forgets-a-thing boy, I told him he couldn’t do something. In one little sentence, I’d cut off his dreams.

I tried, hurriedly, to fix things. Maybe one day you’ll climb a tall ladder and be able to reach them, I said unconvincingly. Even Milin knew I was back-tracking about something. He didn’t reply.

When he told me he would touch the sky when he was big one day, I was ready. I didn’t tell him he wouldn’t be able to. I didn’t even tell him that maybe one day he’d go on a hot-air balloon ride and poke his fingers up at the clouds. Nope, I didn’t put my foot in it this time. I said something like this instead:

‘That’s amazing Milin, you’ll be so big and tall then.’

He gave me a cuddle, which is basically the best thing in the world.

Why did he do it? Because I’d told him to dream. I’d acknowledged what he said, validated his ambition, and encouraged him to set his sights high.

dream big little one

As adults, we no longer believe we can reach the trees or touch the clouds. We fail, even, to imagine how easy these things would be to do with the right tools. We refuse to imagine that with a little magic we could make them happen. Our lives, as a result, are lived within boundaries. We confine our experiences and limit our dreams. We don’t think big enough.

I want Milin and Jasmin to grow up believing that one day they will touch not only the sky, but anything beyond the sky that they set their sights on. I want them to strive high. What will all of this mean if they’re doing this? It will mean they are believing in themselves – and that will be a gift.

I want it to be a long, long time before Milin and Jasmin give up on themselves in the way I fear we come to do as adults. I want them to dream big and keep on dreaming, even when they start to realise the basic laws of physics might curtail some of their plans. I want them to take that imaginative ambition and solid self belief and use it in a way that takes them to wherever they really, truly want to go.

I mustn’t tell Milin again that there are things out of his reach. If I help him dream big, there is no reason why he can’t do those things his two-year-old self imagines. And then, one day, I’ll watch my little boy touching the trees and reaching for the clouds. I’ll watch my little girl pinning her sights on the stars. I’ll watch their dreams and their self belief take them to wherever they want to go, and into a place without limits.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Hat and Scarf giveaway with Buy A Kilt

It’s become impossible to ignore that autumn is knocking at the door – and I’ve already started thinking about new winter woolies for the season. So, it seems like the perfect time to announce a fabulous new giveaway I’m running with buyakilt.com – I’ll be giving one lucky winner a ladies lambswool hat and scarf set of their choice. This is a truly lovely prize – the sets are fantastic quality and will make beautiful gifts – for youself or someone else! .

stthg

As you can tell, we’re big fans of Buy a Kilt at our place. I love their tartans and the lambswool is incredibly warm. And, while tartan never goes out of style, it’s definitely particularly on-trend again this year.

sthos

All you need to do to enter is leave a comment below saying why you want to win. The winner will be able to choose a ladies lambswool hat and scarf set of their choice- perfect for a special Christmas present, or perfect for a present for yourself! One entry per person and entrants must be over 16 and UK residents.

buyakilt hat and scarf giveaway

(And, just because this giveaway has taken me on a trip down memory lane – here is a picture for cuteness factor of Jasmin earlier this year, rolling around on our beautiful and warm Buy a Kilt rug. She still loves it!)
productsNow, get entering and good luck! The winner will be contacted by email and announced on the Mummy Says Facebook Page. The competition closes at 10pm on October 3.

 

Visiting London Zoo

Visiting ZSL London Zoo is one of my favourite things to do with Milin and Jasmin. They both love seeing the animals and both have their favourites. Milin can’t get enough of the giraffes while Jasmin loves the squirrel monkeys.

I have an annual membership for the zoo which allows me into Whipsnade Zoo too – and for us this yearly pass has been great value. Children under three go in free, and members get free offpeak usage of the carpark. It means that if I’m organised and take a packed lunch – the outing costs us nothing on the day! (That is, if I don’t give in to buying super-cute toys from the gift shop…)

It’s less than half an hour in the car for us to get to, and I usually try to time journey in with Jasmin’s nap. They both always fall asleep on the way home – because seeing animals is tiring!

When we lived in New Zealand, we got Milin an annual pass for Wellington Zoo not long after he was born. Although it took him some time to appreciate it, he really did enjoy being there from a younger age than I thought he would. Children love animals from such a young age, and so zoos are fascinating places for them even as babies. They’re also lovely places to visit on days out.

We are strong supporters of zoos which are committed to education and conservation – and ZSL London Zoo, like Wellington Zoo is exactly that.

Take a look at our little video of our trip there earlier this week. If it looks quiet – it’s because we were there first thing Monday morning after the schools had gone back. If it looks like fun – it was. Milin and Jasmin loved every second- from the treat lunch in the cafe, to getting up close to the butterflies, monkeys, and penguins, and to peering up at the beautiful giraffes. It was an amazing morning out.

Super Busy Mum

 

Silent forests, mining paradise, and saving the earth

Tata Beach, Golden Bay, New Zealand

In an unimaginably beautiful gorge on the other side of the world, a small group of locals gathered this weekend to protest against it being spliced open for mining. A week before New Zealand’s general election, the protestors wanted the country to look closely at that stretch of paradise, and see that it was about to be ripped apart for the right sum of dollars and cents.

A few years ago, while I was working the environment beat at a national newspaper in New Zealand, I would have done my best to see that protest splashed all over the front page. Today, I still can’t resist writing about it – but for different reasons.

At the paper, I wrote frequently about the New Zealand government putting a price on paradise. I wrote about the country’s clean, green image being – at times – a farce, and the erosion of stringent environmental policies to protect one of the most pristine nations of the developed world. I wrote about rivers of shame, turned toxic by the effects of dairying, I wrote about once-protected mountains being cut open for the sake of mining. I wrote these stories filled with a sense of injustice – nature was losing its voice. For the sake of lining the pockets of multinational corporations, entire species and their habitats were being wiped out.

Today, I write not as a news journalist. I write as a mother.

I write as a mother on the opposite side of the earth who lived in New Zealand for eight years before returning to London. I write as a mother who now understands something else about the value of the natural world. That value is not based on the amount of coal stored in the ground. That value is rather based on the land being protected, on the biodiversity being maintained, and the habitats and species that exist within it being retained.

I write as a mother of two young children who regrets their limited experiences of the natural world. I write as a mother who dreams one day of taking her young to jump with her into the icy crystal clear river of a deserted gorge. I want to show my babies the forests Tony and I explored in the company of native birds. I want to see them grow up and bury their toes in the sand of my favourite wild, empty beach and realise they are visiting a very special place on earth. I want them to see the skies we slept under every night – scattered with millions of stars. I want them to hear the silence of the mountains.

Tata Beach, Golden Bay, New Zealand

Yes our lives are in Britain, but one day, I want my children to know this life we lived. We lived it simply in a land protected so far by its geography. It had been too far away for much damage to be done.

That’s changing. I fear my children will return with us to forests silent of birdsong. I fear we will find mountains where the sound of heavy machinery echoes around us.

What upsets me still though, as it did some years ago, is the underhanded way in which nature is being made into a business. This time, it’s the Karangahake Gorge in the Coromandel – opened up to a gold mining company to extract 600 tonnes of ore a month. Again, permission has been granted without residents feeling like there was adequate consultation. There are always sweeteners too – funds given to other conservation projects, promises to make the site good. But these are surely second-best to protecting the environment in the first place.

New Zealanders, I hope, will go to the polls next week knowing it doesn’t have to be this way. It is in their power to protect their land. For them, for their children, and for something in the end far greater than us all.

Golden Bay, New Zealand

What are little boys made of?

On the way home from the park one day, Milin got off his scooter and knelt down on the pavement. He’d found a slug in the middle of the path.

He wanted to make friends, but after realising the slug wasn’t going to do much with him, he pretended to play with him for a little while and sang him a song.

Then we went home.

And just like that, he showed me that you don’t have to look far to make friends and have fun when you’re two. If you believe in the people (or animals) around you, and imagine that life is just the way you want it – that’s how things will be.

Have a look – it’s a short clip – and I promise it’ll make you appreciate how wonderful life is when everything is looked at from an innocent and simple but imaginative viewpoint.

(Milin also reminded me of that ditty…. “What are little boys made of / Slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails / That’s what little boys are made of.’ But I could write an essay on the inherent sexism of nursery rhymes, and that wasn’t the point of this post)

 

 

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

ordinary moments

Working mum guilt – what about the sadness?

Everyone tells you about working mum guilt – but what about the sadness? Everyone tells you that it gets easier, and yes, I can believe that you might learn to handle the guilt over time, particularly if you accept where it’s derived from. But what about the sadness? Does it diminish? Do you feel it any less?

I returned to work a month ago. My two-and-a-half year old son and my 13-month-old daughter met this change in our lives with confusion. When I told Milin I was going to work, he simply said: “Why Mummy?”. Jasmin’s reaction was more visceral. On that first morning, she eyed my made-up face with suspicion. I wasn’t wearing jeans. I picked up my handbag and she held out her arms to me and screamed. She has, since then, stopped sleeping through the night. She wakes hysterical – only I can soothe her.

I feel happy, though, with the arrangement we have for the days when I’m working. Milin has nursery in the mornings, but Jasmin stays at home. My mother looks after Jasmin all day and Milin in the afternoons. On the third day, Tony is home to help her and they share the load.

I love that my children are with their grandparents and father on the days I’m not there. I am, too, enjoying being back in the workplace. I’m regaining some sense of identity separate from my children. I’m finding the enjoyment again that I once had from the challenges of work.

I do feel some guilt – and this is guilt that I have put upon myself, not guilt I feel because of the heavy expectations of society on working mothers. I feel guilty that my daughter, who at 13 months needs her mother more than anyone, doesn’t see me all day for three days of the week. I feel guilty when I think of her teething and just needing a cuddle from me. I feel guilty when I think of how confused she must be about me not being there. Does she know I’ll always come back? I feel guilty I’m not there to play with Milin in the afternoon when he gets home from nursery. I feel guilty about not being there when he’s over-tired or had a fall and just wants me.

I know I’ll never get this time back. The children will never have these days again.

I feel guilt because of my own expectations of what I want to do with my children. While they are so young, I wish I could be with them all the time. The guilt though is eased by the knowledge that when I’m not with them, they are still happy.

And so, more than guilt, I feel sadness.

It comes from missing them all the time, it comes from the knowledge that I’m not there to see what they’re doing, or hear what they’re saying. It comes from knowing that I might miss the first time Milin eats all his dinner. I might miss the first time Jasmin takes a step. I might miss the way the play together on the trampoline one day or I might miss the way they fight over the trains.

It’s a dull ache, the sadness. But it’s different from the guilt.

Most of the guilt we feel about going to work stems, I believe, from the overblown expectations of what working mums can do. If we don’t epitomise supermum, we feel guilt. If we don’t arrive perfectly presented without even a hint of porridge smeared on our silk shirts, we feel guilt. If we don’t work late in order to get ahead, we feel guilt. If we work late and miss bathtime we are not perfect mothers, and we feel guilt.

Shunning the expectations that have been built up around the ideal of the working mother will help us go some way towards resolving our guilt.

I can’t find a way, though, to shift the sadness.

Working mum sadness

 

 

The Reading Residence
*Sadness is my word of the week

Two under two: The reality

Two under two.

It wasn’t always pretty. It wasn’t the airbrushed photograph of a bright-eyed young couple and their babies. It was greyer than that, apart from the bursts of laughter and the endless, uncomplicated love from a little boy and girl born 18 months apart. They made it all ok. Because it was harder than I could ever have imagined.

When I was pregnant, I tried to explain it to one-year-old Milin. He was starting to talk. He still needed me to lift him into his cot at night. I don’t think he understood that a new baby was coming.

I missed him more than I’ve ever missed anyone during those two days in hospital. And then I came home with his baby sister Jasmin. Our little family of three had become a family of four.

Life was lived in a sleep-deprived haze, from which there was no let up. I felt, often, like there wasn’t enough of me to share between my babies. I missed the company of my 18-month-old son. It had, before, been just us.

Now there was also my baby daughter. To feed, to dress, to hold, to be with. My son would squeeze his way under my arm while I was breastfeeding his sister. He was desperate to be close to us, to be a part of us.

For the first few weeks he was showered with attention from the rest of the family, but it was clear he missed his mummy. He was intrigued by the baby doll who had come into our lives and seemed to be taking up so much of everyone’s time. And then, after a while, he realised she was here to stay.

There were a couple of weeks of jealousy. Tantrums, playing up, behaviour we had not seen before. And all we could do was love him and love her and make sure they both knew that we would go to the ends of the earth for them.

The months of sleepless nights seem to go on forever. The days were a fog, and lifting my head off the pillow after a broken slumber seemed almost too hard on some days.

But gradually, without me realising, it became easier.

I was no longer cajoling a toddler to eat while also breastfeeding a baby in my other arm. I was no longer spending 45 minutes on getting us out of the door. I was no longer dreading outings because they were hard to organise around two different nap and feeding schedules. Getting up in the morning became easier as we all got more sleep and my two babies both grew a little less dependent on me for everything. They knew they had to wait while the other was attended to. They cried less.

Now, they are 13 months and just gone two-and-a-half. They are best friends who love each other intensely and want above all to be together. We have come out of the other side of what was a constant logistical puzzle.

There are still hard parts to days, yes, but life with two-under-two is no more. Life with a two-year-old and a one-year-old still has challenges. But it is also easier and simpler and less daunting.

With two under two comes tiredness like nothing you’ve ever felt. But you also see a bond grow between your babies like nothing you could ever have imagined.
Then, one day, you realise that the hardest days have passed. And, maybe, you wonder, quietly, whether you could do it all again.

it does get better

Will the Royal baby save the union?

There is going to be a baby.

But you knew that, didn’t you? Because unless you’ve been purposefully avoiding all forms of communication with the outside world (real and virtual), you will have heard.

Hashtag Royal Baby.

It’s not so long ago that Britain smiled a collective cheesy grin when seeing for the first time a newborn wrapped in a shawl and carried in his mother’s arms, as she left a London hospital.

Had any other child ever been so photographed before he’d even got home? Probably not.

Will it happen again to his baby brother or sister? Probably. As will all this:

* We’ll wonder, out loud, wrongly, whether a Royal baby will save the union. And then we’ll tut that news of a baby has even entered the political discourse. Because a baby is a baby, and is above politics. Right?

* Intense speculation over a due date – this will take the form of publishing close-ups of the Duchess’ middle because these photos will, of course, tell us that all important date.

* Endless comparisons of celebrity baby bumps. Because, for some reason, there’s a belief that it’s ok to compare one woman’s tummy to another and comment on the size of both. It isn’t.

* Girl or boy? The bets are on. Given that the Duchess is again suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, speculation is favouring another boy. Same symptoms same sex, right?

* Real life stories in the papers about girls called Kate expecting her second child. Because, of course, if you’ve got the same name as a Duchess and you’re pregnant we want to read about your symptoms. Hmmm.

* Name. Once again, you could win big on this. Henry? Elizabeth? This game goes on and on and on.

*Look, it’s a door. Remember how we spent a whole day watching a hospital door for movement? We’ll do that again in about seven and a half months time. It’ll be the most photographed door in the world.

* The good mood.

Because whether you think the frenzy created by the press is overboard (I don’t by the way), you can’t deny that everyone loves a baby. Put aside your grumpiness and cynicism for a while, go on.

Everyone does love a baby. Add to this that the news is of a royal baby, and you have the story that keeps on giving while making most of the world happy.

Brace yourself.

And then, happily, after column inches on #RoyalBaby reach saturation point, one little family of four will be given the space they need to get to know each other.

Because, at the end of it all, there will be a child.