7 self-care ideas make you a happier mum

When I became a mum, the first thing that went straight out of the window was looking after myself. In the early days, there just wasn’t any time. If I didn’t have time to sleep, no way did I have time to paint my nails. Putting your children first is natural and right, but it’s very easy to get in the habit of ignoring what you need to feel like you. The list of things to do is so long that mum’s needs fall off the end of it.

It took me getting into a very stressed and unhappy state to realise that I absolutely deserve to spend time on myself. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. So over time I have slowly been developing little habits that make me feel just a little more content, a little more calm, and a little more me.

I thought that sharing my list of things might provide others with some food for thought. Doing even just one, in my opinion, will help you feel less stressed, angry, sad, anxious, or any of the other feelings that we’d like to feel less of. When doing these things means taking time away from my kids, I don’t feel guilty because I know that doing these things makes me a better mum when I am with them. If I’ve had my needs met, I’m less likely to shout when they wind me up. So it’s a winning situation for everyone.

1. Buy yourself little treats that help you slow down and appreciate life

For me, I started spending more money on buying nice shower gel and moisturiser. I used to use whatever was lying around or on offer at the supermarket. But more recently, I realised I really love that ‘spa’ scent you get from certain products, particularly ones with a lavender, rose or bergamot scent. I bought some for myself and now every time I take a shower I can close my eyes and pretend I’m in a spa. It seriously sets me up for the day.

For you it might be nice throw cushions, candles, flowers or posh chocolates. You don’t need to wait for someone else to treat you. It doesn’t need to be super-expensive. But find that one little treat that will give you a moment of contentment in your day.

2. Carve out kid-free time whatever way you can

I’m lucky because I do have time alone in my house when my kids are at school or nursery, and I also have a supportive husband who spends an equal amount of time looking after them. But even if you are a full-time mum and single parent, I think it’s worth going out of your way to find kid-free time and then treating yourself. For example, save your shower with the nice smelly soap for after they’re in bed (or before they wake up, or after they go to school). This way, you can spend a little longer at it, and no one will barge in and have a poo during it.

3. Style your hair, do your nails, wear perfume, makeup and nice clothes whenever you want (or not)

On days I stay home with the kids, I have previously had a habit of slobbing about in sweats with my hair sticking out in funny directions. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But more recently I’ve realised that I’d gotten in a frame of mind that said if I was just going to be at home there was ‘no point’ in me looking and smelling good. I kind of thought I was wasting time if I took the time to do my hair. I only wore perfume and clothes that made me feel pretty if I was going out somewhere.

More recently, I’ve decided to wear perfume every single day. Because I like it. When I spritz it on, I feel happy and beautiful. It’s not a waste to put it on if no one else is going to smell it. It’s enough for me to smell it. I’ve started taking the time to style my hair and wear my favourite clothes on the weekend. I’ve let go of the notion of ‘saving things for best’. Life is short and I want the best every day. 🙂

But sometimes I can’t be arsed with all that and I don’t do it. Which is also a-ok.

4. Have reassuring rituals and routines, but break them sometimes

Our house is pretty big on routines. There are bedtime routines for the kids, and I have a bedtime routine for myself as well. We have family Saturday morning rituals (like snuggling in bed watching Paw Patrol) and Sunday dinner rituals (we always sit down for a proper meal with pudding). I find these rituals comforting. Everyone knows what to expect and what to look forward to.

But sometimes, we throw it all out the window and go out to eat or have a floor picnic instead of a proper meal at the table. Sometimes, in the summertime, I let the kids stay up until it’s actually dark out and then put them to bed only when they’re ready to drop. Sometimes we go out to a friend’s house and let them run wild while we socialise and drink a beer.

Rituals and routines are all the sweeter when we aren’t tied down by them.

5. Use your skills for something other than parenting

Parenting is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and there are definitely many skills involved, some of which I don’t have. Like sewing and ironing. But all of us have skills that have absolutely nothing to do with parenting as well, and it’s important to keep using these.

In my case, I love my paid job. The skills I use there sometimes dovetail with parenting skills (like dealing calmly with difficult people), but for the most part I’m using a totally different part of my brain. If you don’t have a paid job, or hate your paid job, find a hobby or some volunteer work.

Some people write poetry or, erm, blog. Some people are good at arts & crafts. Some people play a sport or get involved in another group such as a choir. Some people are really fab at helping out at their kid’s school, or they spend a few hours working at a charity shop or keeping people company at a care home.

It is really important to use the skills that make you who you are – and in most cases, you’ll be making a contribution to society at the same time.

6. Exercise. Seriously, this is non-negotiable.

You wouldn’t have heard me say this a few years ago, but exercise is absolutely essential to life. I’m not saying it has to be high-impact or hardcore, but you need to move your body.

After having a breast cancer scare last year, I was seriously shaken up about my health. I realised how fast everything can be taken away by bad health. As the evil six-fingered man on The Princess Bride once said, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.

Soon after my scare, I came across a news article that had a doctor saying exercise should be approached just like other aspects of personal hygiene. If you would never skip brushing your teeth, you should never skip exercising.

But equally, I realise how hard it is to fit exercise into a busy life of parenthood, work, housework and a social life. For me, I’ve started using an exercise video streaming service. I wake up at 5:30am and sneak downstairs to do aerobics and weight-lifting in my dining room before the kids are awake. The streaming service is great because there is loads of variety (unlike old-fashioned workout DVDs). I also make the choice to walk whenever I can instead of taking the bus/tube/car.

I think everyone should make exercise a priority in life. Put it in your diary and treat it like a real appointment. The kids can entertain themselves for an hour. If you have a newborn, stick the baby in the buggy and go for a walk. Basically everything in life can be put off for an hour (or even just 30 minutes) for you to get healthier.

Since I’ve committed myself to exercise, not only have I gotten fitter and healthier but I am happier all the time. I used to scoff at the idea that exercise would give you more energy instead of make you tired but it’s absolutely true once you get yourself into a routine that works for you. And the science says you’ll probably live longer too.

7. Don’t sweat the petty things

An old friend of mine used to say ‘don’t sweat the petty things, pet the sweaty things’. Which was a vaguely suggestive way of saying you’re better off doing something that’s a bit of a laugh than worrying about something that is pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Are you worried you said something stupid or rude to someone recently? Unless that person is noticeably cheesed off at you, you probably didn’t. I tend to worry I put my foot in it all the time, when I totally didn’t. Don’t ruminate on things you said or did and worry whether they were right or wrong. It’s such a waste of time.

Are you worried because you’re not a domestic goddess? Did you take store-bought cakes to the school bake sale? Do you have a mountain of washing in your house that threatens to take on a life of its own? Do you have last week’s sandwich crumbs littering the floor of your kitchen? Or perhaps toothpaste smears in your sink?

Don’t sweat it.

Nobody ever laid on their deathbed and said, ‘I wish I’d kept a cleaner house’.

Play with your kids, read a book or magazine, watch trashy TV, do your exercise and enjoy your life. You’ll clean when you feel like doing it and that’s often enough. You’ll bake if you fancy it … and if not, everyone loves Mr Kipling’s anyway. Get your neighbour to sew that hem on your son’s trousers and save ironing for weddings, job interviews and funerals.

That’s what I do, anyway. 🙂

Mission Mindfulness

 

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When you feel like you don’t have any friends

When I was growing up, I had two very close girlfriends. We did everything together. After spending as much of the school day together as possible, we’d hang out after school and then at the weekend as well. We were all as different as chalk and cheese and armadillos.

I was obnoxiously extroverted, boy crazy and didn’t give a toss what anybody else thought. One friend was as quiet as I was loud, which made her a sharp observer of human behaviour with a wicked and delightfully absurd sense of humour. The other friend was sensible, passionate and kind. She gave me a hug the moment we were introduced – who couldn’t be besties with someone like that?

I’m not saying we didn’t have our disagreements and falling outs, but those girls were my sisters. We had no secrets from each other and lived in each other’s pockets. When I recently went back to visit after not seeing them for 15 years, it was like we could pick up where we left off. We’d all changed so much, but the basic connection was still there.

It was a wrench for me when I moved across the world from those friends, and inevitably they were no longer such a big part of my life. But a few years after leaving I fell in with another kindred spirit. She and I did our PhDs together and during that time were practically inseparable. Although we both had boyfriends, people used to joke that she was my other partner.

However, student days ended, and we both got married and had kids. We kept in touch but no longer lived particularly near to each other so the relationship became less intense. Then she moved overseas, and our main interactions now are very occasional phone calls, lots of fb tags and a weekly Fitbit competition. Not bad – but not hanging all day telling each other our deepest secrets friendship either.

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I’ve been thinking about the wonderful friendships that I was lucky enough to have, because lately I’ve heard from more than one person how they feel like they don’t have any good friends anymore. Like, they don’t have anyone who would help them move … let alone help them move bodies.

And I get where they’re coming from. I have many people in my life who I’m happy to call friends, but since my youthful best friends, I’ve never been able to quite find friends who I would admit murder to (disclaimer: I have never murdered, nor do I have any intentions of murdering – this is a metaphor based on a popular saying). I also don’t have any group of friends that I hang with on the regular like I did when I was in my twenties.

I remember looking forward to the chance motherhood was going to give me to meet a whole new group of people. I’d make some new besties at baby groups and since we were all off work we would totally hang together all the time. That did not happen for me. It was actually a bit crushing. I tried to make some good friends but slowly realised that the only thing I had in common with these people was that we had sex during the same year.

I’m not saying I’m friendless. I actually have some lovely friends. I now have two close mum friends local to me (they would probably help me move but secretly resent me for moving away). Those friendships took several years to get to the great stage they’re at now and I hope they continue to grow. I’ve also met some very fun mums at my eldest son’s school. We have boozy and inappropriate nights out and I love hanging with them. I also have some wonderful friends who I used to work with or study with, who I see only rarely but when I do see them it’s a fantastic time.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because I’ve come to the conclusion that friendships change when you start to trot towards ‘middle age’. So many people have been telling me that:

  • They’ve lost touch or fallen out with old friends that they valued
  • It’s difficult to make new friends
  • They don’t have time to invest in their friendships
  • They feel bad about not having close friendships or regular social engagements
  • They miss the security and enjoyment of their old friendships and groups of friends

And it’s not just mum friends who’ve told me this. I’ve heard it from at least two different childless male friends as well. They think there must be something wrong with them because they don’t have ‘enough’ ‘good’ friends.

So I want to tell you that, if this is the case for you, it’s not your fault. There’s nothing wrong with you for not having the quantity or quality of friends that you feel you should have. My extremely unscientific anecdotal research shows that it’s perfectly normal for friendships to change and become less intense as you get older.

These days, I don’t have one friend who I do everything with. I have different friends for different occasions. Some I see weekly, some I see every few months, some I might only see once a year (or less). They all bring joy to my life in different ways. There’s the friends I talk about my kids with, the friends I go out on the town with, the friends I talk about work with, and the friends who will join me in contemplating the true meaning of life.

So if you’re missing your friendships, step back and consider how you might be having unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. It’s okay to play bit parts in each others lives. The time you spend together is still valuable. If you have a laugh together, if the interaction is effortless once you’re together, then these are your people – even if you don’t see them often or know everything about their lives, the way you did with your youthful besties. Life is, after all (as a random motivational speaker once said) ‘just a collection of happy moments’.

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Mission Mindfulness

Feeling stressed? Just look up.

Most people’s lives are busy. In my case, lately, incredibly busy. I’m working full time, commuting to London every day, learning a completely new career and getting to know a whole new group of people. It’s lovely and exciting, but it is very hard work and my brain is bursting at the end of each work day. After which I usually rush home to look after my children, and attempt to look after my house and myself.

At the end of the second week of my new routine, I sat on the train and just cried all the way home. I tried to make it look like runny allergy eyes, but they were real tears. I wasn’t crying from sadness – not exactly. Part of it was just the realisation of what a huge change I’ve made in my life. Part of it was missing the support I had from my colleagues at my old job – relationships that took years to build – and the fear that I might not be able to build strong relationships with the new people. And the rest was just pure exhaustion.

However, two things happened that put things into perspective and made me feel better.

That evening, as I walked home from the train station, I took my headphones out and looked up at the sky. It was cold and crisp and the stars were out. I could see Orion with his belt. (Also, the dangling bit of stars hanging off his belt … have you noticed that? My husband likes to giggle about it when he’s had a few drinks. I informed him it was Orion’s sword but that didn’t stop him giggling).

Anyway, maybe it sounds a bit stupid, but looking up and noticing the everyday beauty of the night sky made my stress and fear melt away, for a little while at least. So often we trudge along with our eyes on our feet, headphones in, mind racing ever forward to the next task, the next problem, the next tripwire to avoid. When we look up, we’re reminded how small we are. How small all of it is. I stopped looking back at my day or worrying about the change I’d made and just enjoyed the quiet stillness of the evening.

I know, I know. So far, so cheesy cliche. Gazing at the stars. What a load of rubbish.

But since that happened, I’ve been thinking about how “looking up” can lead us in unexpected ways to just the things we need and have been looking for, consciously or no.

The next example happened early the following week, when I decided to kill some time in the library at my new workplace. I wasn’t looking for a book – I already had one with me. But I didn’t rush doggedly towards a chair to sit and bury my head in my book. I lingered, I looked around. My eyes fell on a book called The Mind Gym: Relationships. It wasn’t the sort of book I was expecting to find in a subject specialist work library.

The book is basically all about how to build successful relationships with people and get them to like you. This is a thing that makes me sweat bullets. I might be able to look and act normal(ish) while I’m talking to people, but afterwards I’m always worrying that I said something wrong. I beat myself up for being a socially awkward weirdo that everyone merely tolerates rather than actually likes.

The first chapter of the book, called “Right mind” asserts that the way you think about yourself and others, from the outset, can determine the way your relationships will go. It calls this “I’m ok, you’re ok”. You should think of yourself as “ok”. You are normal, you are likeable, you are a good person. You should also assume that the other person is all those things, and has no wish to dislike you or judge you. Whether or not that’s true is anyone’s guess. But if you take a positive attitude to yourself and the other person, you are setting yourself up for success.

There are lots of other chapters about various aspects of relationships, but at the heart of most of it is the belief that you have to power to decide how you look at things. Choose the happy. Tell yourself you’re ok and don’t beat yourself up. Listen to what others are actually saying rather than worrying about what you just said or what you will say.

This third very tricky week at my new job, I’ve been repeating “I’m ok, you’re ok” in my head whenever I was nervous about speaking with someone, and it’s stopped my emotions from running away with me. I’ve focused on listening instead of being insecure, and it’s helped me so much.

So next time you feel as though you’re so busy you don’t know which way is up, or you have too many stresses and worries to cope, or that nobody likes you and you can’t do anything right … look up. Look up and be open to the unexpected wisdom to be found in everyday moments and everyday things. And remember that, really, you’re ok.

Mission Mindfulness

When you find a lump in your breast

Not long ago, I got another year older. I’m still pretty young, less than 40, and I’m not totally afraid of that number. When we were in highschool, my best friend and I used to say, “When we’re 40, we’ll be absolutely amazing”. It was a joke. We thought it was a silly thing to say. My best friend had heard it on TV or something and just kept saying it.

But now that the year is coming close, I think it might be true. I’m more in control of my life than I have been in a long time. I do feel like I’ve grown up a lot in the last decade or so, and have made so many changes for the better. But musing on those is for another post.

This post exists to assert that nothing makes you fear getting older more than finding a bloody great lump in your breast on your birthday!

That’s right. It wasn’t there when I woke up in the morning, but when I went to bed that night, it was there. It was big and it hurt. WTF.

So I went to the doctor the very next day, expecting to be told it was nothing. Instead, they referred me to the breast cancer clinic at the hospital – one of those urgent referrals, where they have to see you within two weeks. Well, that’s enough to put you off your prosecco for a few days. (Disclaimer: my jokey tone in this post is just my personality – my way of dealing with scary stuff. I am not being flippant about this very serious topic.)

Just a cyst?

I duly went to the breast cancer clinic, once again expecting it to be nothing. Dr Google, as well as several friends, had assured me that these things were usually cysts. I thought the consultant at the breast clinic would be able to perform a procedure called Fine Needle Aspiration, which means they draw the fluid out of the cyst with a needle. I was hoping that she would simply drain the cyst and the damn thing would go away.

But instead, the consultant felt my lump and did the doctor thing where she said “hmmm”. Then she sent me to another part of the hospital to have an ultrasound. Okay, so it was not a cyst.

At this point, I was glad that I’d brought a friend along with me. At first I had told her I wanted to go alone when she offered, but she convinced me that I shouldn’t. If this ever happens to you, please bring someone you trust along! And don’t expect to drive yourself home after. Get someone to drive for you or take public transport or a cab.

So, as I waited nervously for my ultrasound, I believed it could still be a cyst. The ultrasound technician came in and brings a picture up on the screen. “Oh no, that’s not fluid, that’s tissue,” she says. And then immediately sends me for a mammogram.

My first mammogram

As I am not yet 40, I had never had a mammogram. Those who have had them have helpfully (italics denote sarcasm) described them as the sensation of slamming your breast in a door. These sort of comments meant that I awaited my sudden mammogram with no small amount of trepidation, especially because my breast already hurt from the bloody great lump in it. It didn’t help that I had no more than 5 minutes to mentally prepare myself for the procedure.

So allow me to reassure anyone who hasn’t yet had a mammogram that it is NOT like having your breast slammed in a door. It was very slightly uncomfortable but actually not too bad at all. The woman who performed the procedure was very professional, gentle and kind about all of it. She knew I was worried and upset and did her best to reassure me.

The way the mammogram works is that your breast needs to be compressed between two plates so they can take a picture of the inner tissue. The technician gently helps you position your breast on one plate, and tells you where to put your arms and legs. Once you are positioned, another plate comes very slowly and gently down to push your breast against the other plate. Each breast had pictures taken from two angles, which involved compressing between top and bottom plates, and then between two plates on either side of the breast.

It did not hurt, even in my breast that was already sore. It mostly just felt a bit awkward, as one would expect in any situation where you’re naked among strangers and in a confined space. When you are invited for a mammogram, please remember that it’s nothing to fear. Undetected breast changes are much more scary than a mammogram could ever be, so never miss your mammogram!

And then we proceeded to the ‘b-word’

The b-word is biopsy. After the mammogram, they looked at me on the ultrasound again and decided they definitely needed to perform what’s officially called a Core Needle Biopsy. They have a special needle (which I didn’t look at to avoid passing out) that draws out the tissue, and in my case they needed to take 3 samples but I think that varies depending on the size/position of your lump.

I do not like needles.

But it also wasn’t as bad as it sounded. They put a local anaesthetic into the area first, and that small needle stung only slightly. After that I couldn’t feel a thing. The biopsy needle makes a popping noise when it (I assume) goes in and then pulls the bit of tissue out. The noise is slightly alarming and you feel pressure, but it really is nothing to worry about. I had a lovely nurse there who held my hand. (BTW I love the NHS, just saying.)

Afterwards, it will be sore for a while and your entire breast will be bruised. Make sure you wear a comfy bra with no underwire. I rolled my old maternity ones back out. Good thing I’m not organised enough to have gotten rid of them! Anyway, a month later I’m feeling and looking back to normal from the bruising.

The hardest thing after the biopsy for me was that I had to wait over Christmas for the results, and Christmas involved an overseas trip to visit family that was very stressful. I just about managed to cope, but the timing of all of this was crap. However, I suppose no time is a good time for a breast cancer scare.

The results

When it comes to biopsy results, the old phrase “no news is good news” is probably apt. If you don’t hear from them after waiting two weeks, give them a call and they should be able to tell you good news. If it were bad, they wouldn’t be waiting around.

In my case, I’m very happy to say that my lump turned out to be benign. I have a rather less alarming condition called Fibrocystic Breasts. It means my hormones are going a bit wonky as I approach the menopause years, and that’s caused my breasts to grow funky lumps. My lumps are totally harmless, although I do need to get any future lumps checked out anyway, as the condition could cause complacency about future lumps that could indeed be cancerous.

Lessons learned

I thought I would share a few things I learned from this experience. I was frantically googling everything I could find about breast lumps after I found mine, and it was good to come across reassuring information, which is what I aim to offer here. There is also some scary stuff on breast cancer support boards. Don’t read those before you know the results of your biopsy. I’m sure they’re a great source of support if you do have cancer, but before your diagnosis is set, they’re only going to make you worry more.

A few other words of humble advice:

  • Check your breasts regularly, and go to the doctor IMMEDIATELY if anything changes or worries you. Don’t wait to see if it goes away. Don’t bury your head in the sand. You have nothing to lose by getting it checked out, and everything to lose by ignoring it.
  • You may end up being poked and prodded and going through some uncomfortable procedures, but none of them are as bad as they sound.
  • TELL trusted friends or family about what’s going on with you. Don’t go through the worry alone. In my case, I went ahead and told all my Facebook friends, who responded with an enormous outpouring of support and wisdom.
  • By sharing my story with friends, I also learned that more women than you think go through this stuff. Cancer or not, this is difficult but you are not alone.
  • If it turns out to be fibrocystic breasts like I have, try taking a supplement with Vitamin E, Evening Primrose Oil and/or Starflower Oil. They have not been fully clinically proven to work, but some studies have shown they’re effective and not potentially harmful in any way. In my case, I’ve been taking supplements for a month and my lump has disappeared.

 

Mission Mindfulness

Regrets, fear and the comfort zone

Have you done things in your past that you regret? I’m sure many people have. I’ve done a few stupid things, but I’m not sure if I entirely regret them. I feel like some of the ridiculous pickles I’ve been in through naivety (or pure stupidity) are actually sort of fun looking back on. Wouldn’t it be boring if we didn’t have any embarrassing stories to tell our friends?

So I don’t really regret things I have done. But I do have regrets. I regret the things I haven’t done. I regret that first day of high school when I was too scared to go and talk to a boy I really wanted to talk to. I regret the camping trip during which I was too scared to try white water rafting, and so I stayed behind and missed out. I regret not making the most of a summer fling when I was young, just because I knew it didn’t have a long-term future. These are just some of the small things that I’m willing to share with the internet.

What my regrets amount to are that I regret letting fear hold me back from making the most out of life. There are times when fear is sensible – when there is an actual likelihood that something will harm us. In that case, fear does us a service. But in many cases, it simply holds us back.

Maybe you’d like to change jobs, or even careers, but you’re afraid to move on. At your current job, you feel safe – you know where you stand. What if you changed jobs and then it didn’t work out?

Maybe you’re stuck in an unhappy relationship, but you’re afraid of the upheaval that ending that relationship would cause.

I’m not saying these things are simple to face. Making a huge life change requires thought and planning. But fear alone should not be the reason we don’t do things.

Maybe you’d like to do something just a little bit physically scary (like white water rafting), but you feel anxious about it. Maybe you’d like to do something a little bit socially/mentally scary (like going on a date or giving a presentation), but you are scared of it going wrong.

It is scary leaving our comfort zone. It is hard to do things that might be difficult and scary but necessary. Or to do things that are just a little bit risky, either physically, socially or mentally, but could result in huge payoffs.

As I look back at my life, I see that fear of leaving my comfort zone has never served me well. When I did do things I was scared to do (like moving countries, taking a risk on a relationship, having babies, putting myself in any situation where I was under scrutiny), I was almost without exception glad that I did. When I let fear hold me back, I later felt sorry about missing out.

So the next time you have an opportunity that you are afraid of taking … the next time you face a difficult choice … or if you simply feel unhappy with where you are right now, ask yourself: Is it only fear of the unknown that is holding me back? And if the answer is yes, throw your fear in the bin and break out of that comfort zone.

Mission Mindfulness

 

Sometimes when you’re hunting for unicorns, life gives you a goat

I took my eldest to see Despicable Me 3 recently. I thought it was brilliant – all of the 80s jokes were perfectly pitched to those of us who are now parents today. But there was also a sweet moment that stuck with me. **(Slight) spoiler follows**

At one point, Agnes, Gru’s youngest daughter, goes hunting for unicorns. She lays out a bunch of sweets and waits for hours in the woods until, sure enough, a fluffy one-horned beast appears. She brings it home and Gru is forced to inform her that it is merely a goat who lost one of his horns. He says tenderly, “Life is just like that sometimes. We’re hoping for a unicorn and we get a goat.”

And I thought, wow man that’s deep. Am I right? Think about it. Unicorns are the ultimate in awesome, sweet mythical beast. They are pure, fluffy and, apparently, poop rainbows. Why wouldn’t you want a unicorn? Goats, however, keep it real. They definitely don’t poop rainbows, they eat everything (and I mean everything) that they can get their mucky teeth into, and nobody likes it when you play the goat – even worse if you get their goat.

So, when you’re hoping for mythical perfection, you get real life. We can learn something here from Agnes’s response to Gru’s disappointing revelation (and forgive me if this is a slight misquote): “Well then he’s the best goat in the whole world!”

So, she didn’t get what she wanted. She got something that was less than her ideal fantasy of a mythical beast. But she saw the good in it and was grateful for what she had.

I can think of a lot of times in my life when I was hunting unicorns and got a goat.

I was going to be a famous musical theatre star but instead I have an office job. I was going to drive a Ferrari but instead I have a Hyundai. I was going to marry Robert Downey Jr but instead I married an IT consultant from Yorkshire. I was going to have a boy and a girl but I ended up with two boys. I was going to have ab muscles that you can see, but I never have and (I’m pretty sure) never will.

These were the dreams of an immature and inexperienced girl. They might have meant a lot to me at some point, and they served their purpose in keeping me motivated, but they were never really the right things for me. They were unicorns. My goats are much, much better.

Musical theatre would have been a hard life. Constant rehearsals, pressure to look a certain way, working late nights, moving from town to town all the time. It must be hard to start a family with a lifestyle like that. My office job is challenging without being overwhelming, has predictable hours with lots of holiday, and my colleagues accept me for who I am.

Ferraris are extremely impractical on British roads, would not fit all of my shopping, and with my driving skills it probably would have been totalled in the first month I owned it anyway. My Hyundai can totally cope with being rubbed up against a bush from time to time, and it can fit the spoils from a trip to Costco in the back.

Robert Downey Jr has bounced back from his drug problems thankfully, but I’m not so sure he’d be a nurturing life partner, and is really too old for me anyway. My husband cooks, cleans, changes nappies, listens to me spout rubbish all the time and basically puts up with me doing whatever I fancy. Who could ask for more?

Lots of people have a dream “gender pattern” for their future children, but us parents learn that that’s a load of rubbish. My two boys are everything I really wanted. They cuddle me and give me an excuse to watch kid’s movies and play with toys. They are smart and funny and have totally unique personalities. I did grieve briefly for not being able to buy pretty dresses and fix my daughter’s hair like having a real-life doll, but pretty dresses look hard to put on wiggly legs and I’m sure I’d be rubbish at combing the knots out of long hair.

Now I’m not going to try and feed you a line of effluvia about how chiselled abs are not actually all they’re cracked up to be. I can’t think of any reason rock hard abs would be bad. But we live in the real world. And in the real world, my love of donuts was never going to mesh with the visible ab muscles goal. And I’m okay with that. I don’t want to miss out on any food pleasures for flat ab pleasures. Anyway, I totally do sit-ups from time to time, so I’m pretty sure my abs are actually rock hard (underneath the layer of fat).

So there you go. My unicorns all turned into goats. And my goats are pretty awesome.

Now, I would like to recognise that sometimes life gives you a lot worse than goats. It might give you a stinking, partially decomposed and maggot infested ex-goat. I’ve had a few ex-goats in my time and things can be really, really hard. It takes time to move on from ex-goats, and sometimes a part of you never fully heals from the worst life has to dish out.

But maybe even on our darkest days we can remember the little things that we are still grateful for. If we can remember that sometimes things don’t turn out the way we expect, but that they can still turn out pretty good, then there is always hope, and something to look forward to.

Two Tiny Hands

Sick kids and bacteria bouncers (Bio-Kult giveaway)

*Sponsored Post*

Nothing makes my heart sink and stomach turn more than waking to that sound in the night. The bleurggh wahhhh noise. The sound of a young child puking. There are a few things that I can guarantee you at this point:

  • You will not be sleeping much for the rest of this night
  • You will be doing a lot of washing
  • You will want to help your little, but there isn’t much to do but ride it out

Equally heart-sinking are the coughing and hacking noises, followed by inconsolable crying, followed by panicked trips to the doctor or even the hospital, to end up with the dreaded antibiotics for tonsillitis or some other nasty infection.

Luckily, the worst of these bugs usually passes with a bit of perseverance and a lot of wet wipes. But often the dregs of the illness linger for quite some time. After a tummy bug, it takes a while for my kids’ to be back to normal, and often a course of antibiotics can fix the infection but bring on some unfortunate tummy-related symptoms.

At these times, I often load my kids up with as much yogurt as they can eat, because I think the “good bacteria” in the yogurt will help their tiny guts get back to normal faster. But recently I found out about a product that I can use instead of yogurt, that gets the job done faster and more thoroughly. Enter Bio-Kult Infantis.

Does Bio-Kult actually work?

Bio-Kult Infantis is a scientifically developed, advanced formula for babies, toddlers and young children, which contains 7 strains of probiotic “good” bacteria. In the party that is your child’s digestive system, these are like the really burly, yet handsome, bouncers. They kick out the baddies (the bad bacteria) and stop new baddies getting in. I’m a sucker for the Vin Diesel look. But I digress…

The specific blend of good bacteria in Bio-Kult has demonstrated positive outcomes in a number of clinical trials, for example in reducing diarrhoea from gastroenteritis, among other things. Look, I have some charts and graphs:

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Bio-Kult’s literature is full of footnotes citing an ever-growing, peer-reviewed, body of published research on the efficacy of probiotics in improving or even preventing a number of conditions. And they can also provide impressive documentation on their own research into the product’s efficacy.

So when should I use Bio-Kult?

As you can tell by my introduction to this post, I would be most likely to give this product to my kids for a boost after they’ve been ill, especially if they’ve been on antibiotics, which can kill good bacteria as well as bad. But there are lots of other uses:

  • It can be given regularly as a preventative boost to the immune system, and has been shown the improve conditions such as eczema in young children.
  • It can be given for an immune boost when you know your little one is going to face a challenge, such as when going on holiday or starting nursery.
  • Studies have also shown that Bio-Kult Infantis can help with cases of colic in infants.

The product has been proven safe for use with children from birth, but if you have any doubts, of course you should check with your GP.

Win a goody box with Lenny the Lamb comforter

If you would like to try out Bio-Kult Infantis, please enter this competition for a chance to win this goody box with a product sample including instructions, a Lenny the Lamb comforter and keyring, a cute muslin and a pen.

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Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway terms & conditions

  • This competition will open on 28 June and will close on 13 July at 12am GMT.
  • One winner will be selected at random.
  • The winner will receive the Lenny the Lamb goody box pictured above.
  • UK entrants only.
  • No cash alternative will be offered.
  • The winner will be announced on The Mum Reviews’ social media outlets, not the blog.
  • The winner will have 28 days to respond to their winner’s email.

Listed on The Competition Database and Loquax.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Take all your problems & rip ’em apart

Take all your problems

And rip ’em apart

Carry them off

In a shopping cart

Be like the squirrel, girl

Be like the squirrel

– “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes

It’s not a well-known song, but “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes is a song to live your life by. It tells the story of Janet, who has been having a tough time lately. But as she’s walking one day, she sees a squirrel storing up nuts for winter. She notices the way the squirrel brings the nuts to her nest one at a time, and eventually manages to store up as much as she needs.

Clever Janet sees this as a metaphor, and realises that if she takes the “one acorn at a time” approach to her problems, they will be more manageable.

Okay, so it’s sort of a silly song. A hard rock riff and an entreaty to be like the squirrel. And it also might be something that we all already know implicitly. Of course it makes sense to break problems into smaller pieces to make them more manageable. But knowing something doesn’t mean we always do it.

So what are the problems that sometimes overwhelm us, and how can we “be like the squirrel”? Here are some situations where being like the squirrel has helped me.

 

Grief

Regular readers of this blog will know that I keep banging on about the death of my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years. It’s been a couple months now but sometimes I’m still suffocated by sadness and I just miss her so much. I had read about it before, but now I know firsthand, that grief never really goes away. Some days are better than others. Let each moment of grief be it’s own little acorn that you acknowledge. I’ve been allowing myself to feel sad when it happens, rather than trying to just carry on, even though that sometimes seems like what everyone expects.

Work

I work part-time but I’m pretty sure I’m still doing a full-time job and then some. I never, ever get to the bottom of my to-do list and sometimes I worry that I’m not keeping up well enough and I’ll get in trouble. But actually, everyone is just as busy as me in my office, and we’re all doing our best. So I just take one small task at a time. And I try not to multi-task, because that is a way of doing lots of work but never finishing anything.

Money

I also, like most normal people, do not have as much money as I would like. I have a lot of bills, like childcare, to keep up with. And I’m not very good at budgeting or saving. If I try to impose an austerity regime on myself, I’m going to (a) be miserable and (b) fail at it anyway.

So my acorn approach is to just think a little harder about each time I want to do something that costs money. How much do I really want/need this thing? Is there a way of doing it cheaper? And each time I manage to save some money by thinking it through, that is a small success.

My house is a tip

This is one that I get pretty stressed about. We have too many toys, but it hurts my heart to get rid of things that were loved when my children were smaller! Am I the only one who gets sentimental about brightly coloured plastic?

Sometimes I start planning to get organised, but am discouraged by the enormity of the task. One thing cascades into another until I just don’t know where to start. Saying I would just do one job becomes just as difficult as trying to do it all at once.

So I’ve started taking a more novel approach and applying complete and utter blinkers to certain bits of mess. Instead of focusing on doing small jobs that might ultimately add up to a tidy house (neeever gonna happen), I just focus on the things that really need keeping up with. The dresser near the front door always gets piled up with loads of random crap. Fine, I’m ignoring it. But I’m going to keep up with the washing. Sort of.

I wish I had more close friends

Becoming a mum changes your social life forever. I used to constantly be with friends, and I had a different friend for every situation. I could call up my “going to the theatre friend”, my “going on holiday” friend, or my drinking buddy. When I had my kids, I grew apart from some of these friends, either because they had kids too and also had no time, or because we were now living such different lifestyles.

I have found it difficult to make mum friends in my local area, and only have a couple ladies who I consider real friends and not just acquaintances. I sometimes feel pretty depressed that I can’t find a group of friends to hang out with at a moment’s notice, or even just that I feel so socially awkward  and isolated among groups of mums on the school run.

But you know what, it doesn’t even matter. Quality over quantity. I’m putting more energy into the little acorns I’ve already collected (the genuine, proven friends). And every time I feel awkward on the school run, I’m just going to carry on saying hello to people even when they don’t respond, and smiling at them all like some sort of maniac.

I’m a shouty sweary mum

When I get stressed or worried or upset or hurt, I shout and swear. That is my reaction. It’s something I’m working on. But I still sometimes step on a bloody lego brick and then turn the air blue in front of my children.

Or when my 5yo is completely ignoring my entreaties for him to stop chewing on a fidget spinner before he chokes on it, and the 10th time I ask him I shout, FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP CHEWING ON THAT BLOODY THING OR YOU’LL END UP IN HOSPITAL!

I am aware that this is not ideal parenting. Judge me as you will.

But I’ve also gotten better and better at showing more empathy with my children. When they get upset about something like misplacing a small plastic junky toy, or because one brother knocked over the other’s tower, I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry honey, I know you worked hard on that tower”. Instead of what I’m thinking, which is “get the f**k over it already”.

So every acorn of positive parenting, every time I offer some extra praise, is one to add to the pile that is making up for the fact that my eldest definitely knows all the swears and how to use them. I’m also working on replacing my swears with rubbish replacement words too. Like “oh FFFidget spinners” or “GoddaaaaarNit”.

Do life’s little problems sometimes get you down? What problems could you add to this list, and how do you deal with them? Here is the song, btw:

Tammymum
The Pramshed

Tired eyes, high BMI and loving every inch

Someone quite close to me sent me a rather rude email the other day, stating their disapproval of a photograph of me that I’ve posted on social media. This one: Me

When asked what was wrong with it, I was told that I “look tired” in it. My initial response, understandably, was to feel hurt. My next response was to send a snarky email back with an equally rude comment about that person’s appearance in a recent photograph. Not very mature of me.

I wrote again to apologise for responding so rudely, and pointed out that this person hasn’t seen me in the flesh for a while, and that I now “look tired” all the time. You see, the thing is, I have these things called kids, and they like to wake me up several times in the night before waking for good at the crack of dawn.

Then I often have to carry on and go to work the next day because, you know, I have a mortgage. Or I spend the whole day looking after my sweet sleep-stealers and catering to their every need. If I have any time to spare between work and childcare, I try and do a bit of exercise, or clean my house, or have a social life, or I blog a bit because it makes me feel happier when I’m sad or stressed.

If this person had seen a full-length picture of me, they no doubt would have commented upon the size of my arse as well. I’m well aware that my youngest is two-and-a-half and I haven’t “lost the baby weight”. I have some clothes in my wardrobe that I’m still hoping will fit me again some day.

So we’ve established that I’m tired and overweight. And when I look in the mirror, or hear/read someone’s cruel comment, I’m reminded that by society’s standards, I’m not the hottest thing going. Perhaps my milkshake wouldn’t bring all the boys to the yard.

But then again … maybe it would. Because I think I look better than I ever have in my whole life. Wrinkles, grey hairs, stretch marks, cellulite thighs and all. And that’s saying a lot because I fit the society bill when I was 21:

Nicole in Seattle 2001

I was young once and effortlessly thin. But when I look at old pictures of myself I think “what a waste” because I was beautiful but I didn’t appreciate it. I see a girl who was desperately insecure. Who didn’t appreciate her flat stomach because the skin still bunched into folds when I sat down (now I know the only way to stop that is to have no skin, or Photoshop). Who didn’t appreciate her cellulite-free thighs because she was all stressed out about how to remove every trace of hair from them. Who despaired of a head of hair that stubbornly refused to emulate that of a Disney princess.

I also see a young woman who was actually pretty selfish a lot of the time. Who was astoundingly ignorant of the world around her. Who would call in sick to work at the drop of a hat. Hey, former self … there is no such thing as a sick day when you have kids around. Prepare yourself!

But this post is not about bashing my former self. Except to point out that youth is utterly wasted on the young. I can’t necessarily be blamed for my former insecurities, but I can learn a lesson from them.

Because when I look in the mirror now, I really, truly like the way I look. I love my tired eyes.

There are little lines around my eyes from selfless nights of caring for my little ones when they were sick. There are lines from mourning for lost loved ones. There are lines from stress and worry.

But there are other little lines around my eyes from fun nights out with my friends. There are lines from laughing with my husband and kids. Those tired eyes have watched my babies grow up. When I look at them, I see someone who I am proud to be and who knows her worth.

I still don’t have Disney princess hair, but I have hair that is easy to style and that makes me feel confident and professional. I chose this hair after years of being too insecure to have it cut shorter than shoulder length, and now I’ve finally done what I want, I love it.

My stomach sports a healthy shelf of fat hanging over my c-section scar, liberally decorated with silvery stretch marks. Above, my breasts don’t quite point skywards like they once did. But they still look pretty darn good to me. I used those breasts to feed my babies. That stomach carried them for 9 months.

And when I put my hands on my own body, it feels like a woman’s body. It’s the body of someone who loves to eat and drink and have fun and I wouldn’t trade a single moment of that enjoyment for a flat stomach. It’s part of who I am today and I like that person.

So the next time someone makes you feel small for the way you look, remember the journey that took you there. And if you love the life you live and the person you are, then whatever body you have is part of that.

So next time you look in the mirror, find the love lines, the laugh lines, the great night down the pub folds, the cuddling my baby while eating biscuits wobbles. And just love every inch of yourself.

The Pramshed
Tammymum

Keeping track of your health for busy parents

From time to time on this blog, you will get to catch incredibly fascinating glimpses into the wild days of my teens. Oh yes, we were craze-ay.

I gather that many English teens spend their free time in parks drinking really rough booze straight out of the bottle. But I do wonder how the “geeky”, “goody-goody” ones – more like me, perhaps – get their thrills. I grew up in the USA, and while I gather that some of my classmates might have been living it up with Budweiser and bongs, my friends and I didn’t. We didn’t drink or do drugs at all. We got our thrills from hanging out at malls.

Our favourite one, for the warm days of summer, was a sort of open air one. We would go to the garden centre and put our hands in the birdseed (you should try it sometime; it feels nice). We would push each other round on the giant trolleys you’re supposed to use to transport your giant potted plants, until the staff would yell at us and we would run away giggling. And we would hang out in the pharmacy, taking our blood pressure and trying out all the free beauty product samples.

So when I recently attended the LloydsPharmacy Showcase, it kind of reminded me of the crazy carefree days of my youth. It was actually a small exhibition of all of the fantastic free services that LloydsPharmacy offers, along with a selection of some of their health and beauty products. All of this was presented in a lovely central London venue complete with smoothies, prosecco and canapes.

My regular readers will know that this blog is just as much about parental health and wellbeing as it is about the business of being a parent. If your health isn’t up to scratch, it’s difficult to do all the things you want to do with your kids. But at the same time, it can be difficult to find time to check on your health concerns, when you’re busy with your kids all the time.

That’s why I’m sharing this information about LloydsPharmacy, which offers some free time-saving services that can help you check whether your health is ticking along okay and help you deal with those niggling ailments or inconvenient routine doctor visits.

You might not be aware that LloydsPharmacy offers such services as:

  • Type 2 diabetes check
  • Asthma treatment & advice
  • Blood pressure testing
  • Pain management service
  • Skin analysis service
  • Online Doctor service

I got to try out or talk to people about all of these different services at the event. All of them (except the online doctor) are totally free, and you can book an appointment in advance or just pop into one of the larger stores when it suits you (although you might have to wait or come back later if it’s busy). Here is a little run-down of some of the services I learned about.

Type 2 diabetes test

It was kind of funny having a diabetes test with a glass of prosecco in my hand. You might not be aware that the way they test for this is by pricking your finger with a special little machine and then testing a small drop of your blood for sugar levels. Mine came out a bit higher than recommended, but it was probably down to the prosecco and the fruit smoothie I’d downed shortly beforehand. If you had a high result during normal circumstances, they recommend you come and try again after having fasted for an hour or more, to make sure it wasn’t just something you ate rather than a real blood sugar issue. If it turns out there is cause for concern, they can counsel you on what to do next.

Asthma treatment & advice

I don’t have asthma but the gentleman who was talking at this section of the exhibition was very interesting and knowledgeable. I was not aware that many people use their asthma inhalers incorrectly, by breathing in the medicine short and sharp instead of more slowly. Doing it the wrong way means that less medicine absorbs into your system. The Lloyds asthma guy had all sorts of neat contraptions that could tell you whether you’re taking your medicine correctly, and other contraptions that could help you improve your technique or perhaps just be more comfortable for you to use.

Blood pressure testing

You can pop into Lloyds anytime to have a quick check if you are wondering whether you have healthy blood pressure. Another feature of this service is that it can work in tandem with their online doctor service to help you get your contraceptives without having to go to the GP’s office. You have your online consultation with the doctor, and then pop into the pharmacy so they can make sure your blood pressure is at a safe level for your type of contraception.

Pain management service

This is designed for people who have either short-term extreme (acute) pain, such as headaches or a sprained ankle, or longer term (chronic) pain lasting more than 12 weeks. You can book a private one-to-one consultation with a pharmacist who will take you through a “pain control test”, which will help them give you personalised recommendations as well as ongoing support for managing your pain.

Skin analysis service

I got to try this out during the event as well – it really was a bit of fun if nothing else! There is a machine with a little probe that they run along different parts of your face, and it measures how dry your skin is, how much sebum it produces, and what its pH is. All of this info then feeds into a personalised recommendation as to the types of skin care products you could use to improve your skin. For example, I have very dry skin (apparently), and they recommended a gentle cleansing milk instead of the exfoliating scrub I currently use. It was a neat way to think about what products you use and if they are the best ones for you.

Online Doctor service

This service is great if you are very busy and find it difficult to get to the GP for routine prescription refills, or for minor “embarrassing bodies” type ailments. There is a small charge for this service. As mentioned earlier, you can use it as a convenient way to get your contraceptives re-prescribed, or you could have a consultation about other sexual health concerns. If you are already prescribed certain routine medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or for controlling blood sugar, the online doctor can sort out your repeat prescription. You can also get a free assessment if you are going travelling and not sure which vaccines you might need.

Looking after yourself

I think it’s really easy to ignore minor ailments or bury your head in the sand about potential common health issues such as high blood pressure, but it’s great to know that there is a free (or very affordable in the case of the online doctor) service that can make it easier for you to get help and look after yourself. This can free up your time for doing what you want to do, and free up your mind from worrying, so you can be the sort of parent you want to be.

Do you ever wonder about your health but don’t want to “bother” the GP? Did you know that you could do all this stuff at the pharmacy?

Disclosure: I was invited to the LloydsPharmacy Showcase and did drink a fair amount of their prosecco, but I was not required to write this post. I’m doing it just because I want to and all opinions are my own. 

The Pramshed