Big Girls DO cry

Sometimes, life is just a bit too much. Sometimes things are a bit crap. I’m not going to define what crap is. It might be catastrophically crap; it might be an everyday, yet relentless sort of crap. But it happens to all of us.

My current sort of crap is the type that is little things piled on top big things that all conspire to crush me.

The big one, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, is that my grandmother is dying. She brought me up when I was little and is one of the people I love most in the world. She has been unresponsive for months now and we’re finally moving her into hospice care. It has been difficult: missing her already but not feeling I’m allowed to grieve until she’s truly all-the-way gone. And I have yet before me the task of learning how to exist in a world without her in it.

The second biggest one is that I keep having these weird episodes in which my heart pounds and races. The other day one of the episodes lasted a full 10 minutes and my Fitbit said my heart rate was 194 bpm. I ended up spending that night in A&E, but they didn’t find anything wrong beyond a slight arrhythmia – which is apparently pretty common. So I’ve been worried about my health. Do I have a heart problem or is a stress/anxiety thing? I don’t know yet.

And then there are lots of other little/big things. Getting called in by the headteacher at school to meet about my son’s “behavioural issues”. The mum that snubbed me at the school gates. Running behind with work deadlines. Feeling emotional at work and fighting back tears at ridiculously inappropriate moments. Feeling fed up with blogging and yet not truly wanting to quit.

I’m sure all of you can relate to some of this. Big problems, little problems, 1st world problems – whatever. There is no hierarchy of problems. The fact is: if they are upsetting you, affecting you, making it difficult for you to function as you would wish, then they are significant.

Ignoring these things, downplaying them and telling yourself to get over it is not going to help. You need to confront these feelings head on. To say, “this is the way I’m feeling, and that’s okay”.

But at the same time, we all have a lot on our plates. I know there have been days when all I wanted to do was curl up on the floor and wallow in my grief. But I didn’t. Because I couldn’t. I’ve got small people to look after. And if I lay down on the floor they are going to jump on top of me and demand to be flown around in the air.

I have a job that needs doing because I have a mortgage that needs paying. I have other friends and family that need me to be there for them. As much as I’d like to, I just can’t give up. I can’t mentally check out and take a holiday from all of my responsibilities.

And so the pressure of all of my troubles weigh on me and are compounded by my need to keep on going even when I want to quit.

But the other day, after I’d spent the night in A&E – when I felt tired and lost and lonely and sad and fed up – I had a revelation. My husband was at work. My kids were at school and nursery. I’d called in sick to work because I’d been awake all night in hospital. And when my grief pricked me in the eye, I let it. There was no one there to see.

So I cried.

But I didn’t cry like a grownup. I didn’t cry the way you cry at a sad movie, with tears running down your face quietly and the odd little hiccup. I didn’t cry the way you do in front of other people, when you are desperately trying to stop – trying to hide it – apologising for your crass display of emotion.

I cried like a child. I screamed. I moaned and groaned and probably sounded much like a cow giving birth. Nobody could hear me. So I let every messy feeling pour out in tears and great wracking sobs.

And when my tears dried up and I was tired of railing against the universe, I simply stopped. And it was like a great weight had been lifted.

I’ve since been doing a bit of googling about crying and apparently there is scientific evidence that crying releases stress. Tears actually contain stress hormones that are leaving your body when you let them go.

Ever since my big cry, everything has seemed easier. I’m not crying at work anymore. I’m not feeling as tense around my family. I’m able to keep doing what I need to do while I weather my personal storms. I had thought if I didn’t cry, I was being strong. But really I was stifling all of the emotions that scared me, instead of facing them. When I didn’t let them out, they festered.

So I’m not going to start making crying one of my big hobbies. But it’s comforting to know that I can – and should – cry when I need to.

Crying is okay AND it helps. So the next time it’s all a bit (or more than a bit) crap, send the family out of the house, close the curtains, put the kettle on, and let the tears flow.

Advertisements

Mum Hacks – a book to boost your confidence

I remember being pregnant with my first son and stocking up on parenting books. I was going to crack this parenting thing. I read up on all manner of baby and child care, and had plans in place to totally smash any parenting challenge I might possibly face.

I was such an idiot.

There wasn’t a book in the world that could have prepared me for the onslaught of new information, overwhelming responsibility and lack of sleep that came with my first son’s arrival. I was a quivering mess before he was even finished being born, and it got a lot worse before it got better.

I read books on parenting theories. I read books with pictures and diagrams on how to change a nappy or give your baby a bath. I read books on how to schedule every minute of my baby’s day (you know the ones). Seriously, it might make you feel good to read them, but you don’t need them. You will be too tired to care whether you’re doing the nappy right. You will learn by doing. All the diagrams in the world are not going to prepare you for reality.

But one book I wish I had read before I had my children was Mum Hacks by Tanith Carey. When I agreed to review this book, I thought I might find some new tricks of the trade for me to add to my repertoire. And I have found a few (examples to follow in a bit). But where this book really excels is in laying out a blueprint for the sorts of things you actually need to worry about as a mum.

  • How to cater for your kids’ needs in the kitchen while avoiding it looking like a bombsite.
  • How to entertain your kids without getting buried by a toy tsunami.
  • How to get ready in the morning without shouting like a banshee.
  • How to get your kids to do anything without shouting like a banshee.
  • How to vaguely enjoy a holiday with young children.
  • How to keep your house sort of clean with minimum effort.
  • How to keep yourself sane by looking after yourself.

Now, I have to be honest. Some of the tips, to me, felt sort of obvious. For example, buy a good bib and a massive wipeable plastic highchair. Yep, weaning is a messy business – it’s not a secret. But upon reflection, I realise that tips like that are only obvious to me because I’m on my second toddler now. I’ve figured out a lot of stuff already, and often only by trial and error or blind luck. It actually would have been cool to have known some of these tricks beforehand, instead of googling them at 3am while I fed the baby.

So that’s why I’m recommending that this book is best suited to someone new to the entire business of parenting. It offers that sense of control that I was desperately looking for when I was pregnant with my first. It would have helped me think about what things were practical to buy. It would have helped me organise things in my home while I still had time to organise them, making it easier for me to cope with my little whirlwinds when they arrived. It would have given me a clearer sense of what to prioritise in family life and what is less important.

However, there were a few gems in this book even for the seasoned mum. There’s a bunch of really quick ideas for lunchbox contents that I never would have thought about. I now know how to make pretty pinwheel wrap sandwich thingys (although I clearly still don’t know what to call them).

And every mum should know that you can cut up an apple and then hold it together with a rubber band to stop it getting brown! I also liked the quick makeup tips. I’d never even heard of primer, the use of which apparently makes your makeup stay on better and longer.

So if you’re already a seasoned parent, this book might not change your life. But it is a well-written, amusing read that might add a few more tricks to your repertoire. Even better, buy it as a gift for a first time mum-to-be, and save her a bit of early morning googling.

Mum Hacks: Time-saving tips to calm the chaos of family life by Tanith Carey is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions. I received a gratis copy of the book for review purposes.

Family dinners aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

Before I had kids, I was adamant that we would always sit down together for family meals. In the typical manner of a person who doesn’t have kids judging actual parents, I thought it was silly to be serving your children a separate meal. I also had this beautiful wholesome image in my head of us all sitting round the table and having a civilised conversation.

But now that I actually have to share my mealtime with my little anklebiters, I understand why some would rather not.

A dramatisation of dinner in our house

Dad: It’s teatime.

There is no response. The TV drones on in the background. 

Mum: It’s teatime! Come sit down at the table, please.

4yo: In a high-pitched tone No! PJ Masks is coming up next! I want to watch PJ Masks!

Mum: We’ll record it then. Presses record button on TIVO with intention of surreptitiously deleting PJ Masks after child is in bed. Turns TV off. Okay, now sit down!

4yo slowly and reluctantly walks towards the table. 2yo continues to play with his Ninky Nonk toy. If you don’t know what a Ninky Nonk is, lucky you.

Mum: Come on! It’s teatime.

2yo: NO! Catch the Nonk!

Mum picks up 2yo who does his best imitation of an angry cat in a bag, noises included. She places him in his highchair and attempts to put on his bib as he morphs from cat-in-bag to enraged Kraken. She passes him his food and he merrily starts eating it.

4yo: wiggling around in chair, not eating. MI, MI, MI-MI-MI. I’m being a Pontipine!

If you don’t know what a Pontipine is, lucky you.

Mum: Please be quiet and just eat your food.

4yo: NO! MI!

Mum: If you don’t eat your food, then you can’t have any pudding.

4yo: BUT I WANT PUDDING! MI MI MI!

Mum shrugs, gives up and attempts to eat her own food while 4yo continues to make irritating noises.

4yo: Need the toilet!

Mum: Well, go then.

4yo: But I need you to watch me.

Mum: …

4yo stands there holding himself and refusing to go to the toilet on his own. Mum gives in and follows him to the toilet and watches while he goes, thoroughly losing appetite in the process. After the deed is done, 4yo returns to his chair and starts happily munching his broccoli. 

Dad (to 4yo): So who did you play with at school today?

4yo: Everyone.

Mum: And what did you eat for lunch?

4yo: I don’t remember.

Mum: What was your favourite part of the day?

4yo: Everything.

CRASH.

2yo: FINISHED!

2yo had finished eating and so he had launched his cup onto the floor. 

Mum: Okay, hun, but you need to wait until the rest of us are finished.

2yo: FINISHED!

2yo picks up his spoon, extends his arm, makes eye contact with Mum, and ever so slowly opens his fingers and lets the spoon fall to the ground. Giggles hysterically. Then, he picks up his plate. Mum grabs it before it ends up on the floor.

2yo: PLAY PLAY PLAY! CATCH THE NONK!

4yo: I CAN’T EAT BECAUSE IT’S TOO NOISY!

4yo suddenly falls off his chair from all the fidgeting. Screams at the top of his lungs.

2yo: PLAY! PLAAAAYYY! AHHHHH!

Dual screaming continues.

Dad quickly serves the children some cake.

Silence. Mum and Dad drink wine.

2yo: dropping cake bowl on floor FINISHED!

Are family dinners civilised in your house? Do your kids respond to your efforts at conversation? Do they always need to take a poo halfway through? Let me know in the comments.

Petite Pudding
Tammymum
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
The Pramshed

Taking a holiday from parenting

I’ve been having an unusual time lately. First, I had a minor surgical procedure which meant I had to rest and not pick up my kids or do housework for at least 2 weeks. Now, this week, my “day job” sent me to work at a conference. I’m on the train home now after spending 3 days in a resort hotel. I’m not sure if you missed me, but as a result I also haven’t blogged all week. I have had a proper holiday from parenting and from my normal life.

The conference was actually hard work. I was watching and taking notes at one session after another, and in the breaks I was working at an exhibition stand. There were evening events too, with which came an obligation to “network”, even if such events were pleasantly abundant with good food and booze. So I found myself waking up at 6am and going to sleep after midnight every night – it was hardly a chance to catch up on sleep.

But it wasn’t as difficult or exhausting as parenting.

It got me thinking about how rarely most parents – especially mums – get any sort of holiday from the work of parenting. Stay-at-home parents must experience this particularly intensely. Those of us who work outside the home greatly value our quiet commutes, civilised lunches with colleagues, and hot cups of tea.

While I recovered from my surgery, I was at home but was officially required to rest. I didn’t have to jump up when somebody needed to be fed or changed. I didn’t have to wrestle the 2yo into the bath. I didn’t have to cook or clean or even do the school run. It was pretty amazing to be honest, and I caught up on some neglected Netflix series.

But there were difficult moments as well. I was at home with my children, but not able to pick them up when they cried. I saw my husband struggle with not having enough hands, and wasn’t able to offer him any help (yes it was hard, even if it was also funny). I was not even able to get on the floor to play with my children when they asked me to.

When I recovered from the surgery and was able to do these things again, I was incredibly grateful. I found that even though it can feel like drudgery when you’re doing it every day, I enjoy doing things for my family. I revel in the critical role I play in their lives. My children in particular need me intensely, and I am aware that that is something that will not last forever.

Now that I’ve subsequently been away from my family completely for a few days, I find that there are other things that I take for granted when I’m at home.

For example, at home, I often feel “touched out” at the end of a day after constantly cuddling my children and being climbed on, poked and prodded by them. I am so tired of being touched by others at the end of the day that I just want to be left alone. However at this conference, I have had the opposite situation. I haven’t really touched another human being (beyond the odd handshake) for 3 days!

I am suffering from touch withdrawal. I can’t wait to go home and feel that close connection to other humans again. The more I think about it, the more I actually can’t bear the thought that some humans live all the time without anyone else to touch.

Also, I have had 3 days of completely uninterrupted adult conversation. And most of it was to do with work, so it was also either extremely intellectual or just awkward small talk. Luckily, there were some friendly people there too with whom I could talk utter rubbish, otherwise I might have felt a bit lonely.

That sort of adult conversation is what I normally crave. But having an abundance of it for a longer period of time has made me grateful for the simple and real interactions I have with my family.

Tomorrow morning, I will start my day with cuddles and Paw Patrol. I will deal with poo. I will have protracted conversations about what to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I will break up fights. I will calm down tantrums. I will kiss it better. I will repeatedly pretend to eat plastic food, lovingly prepared by my children in their toy kitchen. I will explain for the 5 millionth time why the radiator makes a funny noise. And I’m looking forward to it.

When I tell you that I had a real parenting holiday, and that I found it hard sometimes, I’m sure you’ll be getting out the world’s smallest violin to play me a tune. And I know it’s popular to point out all the hardest parts of parenting. It’s important too – so that people know they’re not alone. But it’s also good to remember that in exchange for all the sleepless nights, the times we’re covered in poop, the endless washing and cleaning, and the downright boredom, we are getting something pretty wonderful in exchange.

I think it was John Lennon who said “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. So I will try to remember, when I start to get frustrated or bored, that these simple moments are the cornerstone of family life. And importantly, the hard times that we go through as parents are the price we pay to live a life filled with love.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Petite Pudding