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
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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.

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Petite Pudding

An exercise in thankfulness

This week it’s Thanksgiving in the USA, where I lived until I was 22. It’s a day every year where people come together to eat ridiculous amounts of food and then fall asleep in front of the TV. It’s sort of like an extra Christmas without the presents or the religion. I won’t go into the full history of it here, but if you want to know more, then this article in the Telegraph is pretty informative.

For some, Thanksgiving is just about having a good time and they don’t think much about what it really means. However, for many, we like to take a moment and think about what we are grateful for in our lives. And a cursory Google search on the term “being thankful” brought up numerous articles explaining how gratitude can actually make you healthier.

But it’s not always that easy, is it? Children need looking after, houses need cleaning, work needs doing, family members need help, you get health problems, you have a bad day, people are jerks … all of the things that happen in a normal life can pile on top of each other and weigh you down until you forget to look up and remember what’s good.

I’ve been feeling a bit weighed down lately myself – so much so that I’ve started having heart palpitations and even panic attacks. My doctor’s only suggestion was to “give up coffee”. Oh right, like that’s going to make me less stressed!

But I have decided that as it’s Thanksgiving, I’m going to make an effort. I don’t bother with the turkey and all the fixings now that I live in the UK (I get enough turkey at Christmas, thanks), but I do think taking time out to be grateful is time well spent. So here is my exercise in thankfulness. I’m going to tell you some of the things that are pissing me off, and then find something related for which I’m thankful. Some are serious – some less so – but hopefully some of you will get where I’m coming from.

I’m not happy about…

…the fact that my older son is still not getting on well at school. He screams at the teachers and runs aways down the halls. Yesterday the teacher actually called home to tell me what he’d been up to. His behaviour at home has gone downhill as well. This is despite a recent visit to a paediatrician who basically thought he was fine. I’m at a loss as to how to help him right now.

But I’m grateful for…

…my son. We are having these issues but he is still my child and we love each other. There’s nothing better when I hear him say “I love you” in his little voice. We can play and giggle and have a laugh. I am not the perfect parent and I need to learn how to work with him to improve his behaviour, but we will always be a team.

I’m not happy about…

…having lost a friend recently. He passed away and I’d not made the effort to see him for a while. And so I felt grief but also guilt. I messaged him just before I found out what had happened, but it was already too late.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fun times we had together. I’ve spent some time looking at old photos and remembering, and enjoyed a pint of Guinness (his favourite) in his honour. Remembering the good is the only way to move forward. I’m also grateful for the lesson I learned about keeping in touch with people. Next time I think of a friend, I will message them straight away, while I still have the chance.

I’m not happy about…

…being sore and weak while recovering from the hernia surgery I had recently. I haven’t been able to pick up my kids or even leave the house for the last week and a half.

But I’m grateful for…

…the prospect that this will improve my long-term health. Plus, the leaflet they sent me home with says I must not do the washing or hoovering for 6 weeks! It’s right there in black and white. I’ve shown it to my husband.

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I won’t be doing this for 6 long weeks!

I’m not happy about…

…my lack of interior design skills. My house is so cluttered, with my main decorating accents being brightly-coloured plastic toys. I look with envy at beautiful lifestyle blogs and their owners’ skilled arrangement of attractive scatter cushions. I have scatter cushions that my neighbour gave me after she bought some nicer ones. It was my house or the bin for them. Appropriate – since at my house they are often covered in cat hair and biscuit crumbs.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fact we’re nearly finished building an extension to our house. It’s been hard having builders around and everything in upheaval for the last 5 months, but soon we will have more living and storage space. Hopefully I will then be able to cut the clutter. I doubt I’ll get any better about scatter cushions though.

I’m not happy about…

…being rubbish at Instagram. This is a blogger gripe. I know good bloggers are expected to take fabulous photos and share them on Instagram. But I just don’t really “get” photography. To me, it’s what the picture makes you think about, rather than the aesthetics. And I hate the shallow “great feed” comments you get.

But I’m grateful for…

…the people who follow me anyway! Why anyone beyond my close friends are happy to look at a poorly-lit photograph of my dinner is beyond me. But they do. I even got 30-odd likes on a shot of my messy living room full of packages of laminate flooring and plaster dust. So I’ve decided to keep it real on Instagram. I’m going to post pics of my real life and just be happy with the followers who want to see it.

I’m not happy about…

…what I like to call the Christmas conundrum. I’ve been working hard to get fit and be happy with the way I look for a school reunion I have coming this summer (don’t we all want to be fabulous when we see the people we grew up with after a long time?). The surgery has set me back a bit, and now we’re getting into Christmas. How can I eat ALL the mince pies without compromising my fitness goals?

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I need to try all the different brands. Let’s call it blog research.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fact that I can choose to binge on pie or not. Some people can’t afford to buy all the pies, or can’t eat pies for other reasons. I’m thankful for the very existence of pie. And wine. Let’s not forget to mention wine.

But really, why bother?

Being thankful often gets a bad name. Insensitive people try to cheer up a person who is grieving or having a bad time by pointing out that they have things to be thankful for. But it doesn’t work that way. Everyone needs to talk about things that are making them unhappy, and being thankful can’t always fix things. It’s also important to be honest about our own feelings.

But forcing myself to write down some of the things that make me happy – thinking about what’s funny, what’s serious, what’s poignant and what I have learned – has already made me feel calmer and more in control. I’ve taken a break from exercising my body, but taking some time to flex my thankful muscles has helped me lose some of the weight I’ve been carrying on my shoulders.

What things are you stressed out about? What are you most thankful for? Let me know in the comments.

Tammymum
mumturnedmom
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