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Being Gentle Is Paying Off

In times of hardcore, full on, screaming, thrashing tantrum (Moo, not myself), or when a poo hits the deck for the fifth day in a row, or when there’s permanent marker on the armchair (see photo evidence), it’s hard to remain calm. Deep breath (or ten), get to her level, explain that I feel sad, blah blah. Hard to do when surrounded by red mist (and a destroyed house). And we haven’t always got it right. I’ve raised my voice, snapped, used the word ‘naughty’. But I’ve really tried to be the parent I want to be.

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Gentle parenting takes a lot of patience, patience that I don’t always have. But we’ve stuck at it, day after day, knowing that it’s the way we want to bring up Moo. The results aren’t quick. You wonder if you’re getting nowhere. But you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. You’re helping to shape a human being, it takes slow, steady, time.

My husband once questioned if we were using the right approach. Perhaps some punishment, harsher words, would get the desired effect of her doing what she was asked, would curb some of the inappropriate behaviours. We talked at length about this, it’s important to question and reflect on your parenting. We both came to the same conclusion. Shouting and punishments creates a child that ‘behaves’ through fear of being ‘told off’. You get quicker results. You shout, they fall in line. Tempting when you’ve dealt with the same issues over and over for weeks on end. But that’s not what we want for our child.

It’s a long hard slog being a parent, but there are moments of pure joy, flashes of the future, of the person your child is becoming. On the walk home from preschool, Moo and I talk about her morning there. I get the occasional snippet of information, but mostly conversation about dog poo, ham sandwiches and dew on the grass. But this week she said something that melted my heart:

“A wasn’t very nice today, he was snatching. Next time I’m going to tell him that I’m playing with it, but I’ll help him find something else to play with.”

This. This is why I do what I do. She didn’t suggest he sat on a naughty step alone, or that she shouted at him, or that she snatched it back. She knew that the best way to deal with the problem was with friendship and kindness. I’m not ‘too soft’, I’m not ‘letting her get away with too much’. I’m hoping that my parenting will enable her to be a caring, empathetic, sensitive, compassionate, well rounded human being.

I’m reminded of this quote, which I’ll leave you with. My mind jumps back to it when I feel like giving in and taking the ‘easy’ route.

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Blissful Bathing

Enveloped in deep, steaming water. Luxurious silky bubbles. The fragrance of lillies and almond oil. The soft, calming tones of Enya. Restful, rejuvenating, pores open, hair swirling like a mermaid…

Then, the sound of doom: footsteps. Stomping, rushing, size 7 bare feet. The door crashes open, extinguishing the Yankee candle, the CD skips. There she is, all ninety centimetres of her. Sticky fingers, painted face and matted hair. Before you can protest, call upon back up in the form of your husband, she’s joined you in the tub.

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Naturally, I’m at the plug end, cold taps pressed into my back. We’re also joined by the frogs in various sizes, the duck that squirts and the plastic jug, perfect for saturating the bath mat. The bubbles disintegrate around us as the bar of soap is chased from one end to the other. Teeth must be brushed, unruly hair scrubbed and tamed, the white flannel now a dodgy shade of grey. When at last the toddler is sufficiently cleaned and ready for pajamas, the water is tepid and most likely diluting urine. Grateful there’s not a floater, I shave my legs in record time and call it a day.

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There are many ways in which my bathroom could be perfect. An antique roll top bath, with one of those fancy things across for my handmade soap, embroidered flannel and loofa. An economical toilet with a flush on a chain. A shower with a head big enough you’d feel as though you were standing under a waterfall.

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But the things that would make a bathroom perfect for me? A toilet that flushed right first time, one without a plastic seat on the top of it. Maybe it could even clean itself? Shower glass that never collected limescale. Perhaps a bath with a plug that didn’t have a raised knob as pointed as a knitting needle. One that filled itself, to the perfect temperature. One that never went cold, even if you had to put your child back into bed twenty times over. The entire room could be encased in a sound proof box. There’s nothing more irritating than hearing a child throwing a hissy fit when you’re trying to look at all the design ideas you wish you’d thought of in Country Living magazine.

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In reality, my bathroom is pretty perfect already. It may have a dated cream suite and grubby grout. It’s kind of a garish turquoise and is always littered with wet towels and discarded socks. There are magazines by the toilet circa 2009. But it does what it needs to do. We’ve had some fun times in the bathroom. The bubbles have been so high the child couldn’t be located. Two pink lines appeared on a pregnancy test in that room. We splash and play boats and draw on the tiles. It’s everything a bathroom should be, just how I like it.

Although a poo in peace would be nice.

 

Think your bathroom could be better? Take the design challenge!

Eat, Dammit.

This is how getting a toddler to eat goes.

You carefully consider the meal choice. You don’t want anything too fussy. With too much chopping. You need to include lots of veg of varying colours. That’s the healthy thing to do, right? You must dig to the very depths of the freezer at turd’o’clock to ensure that the necessary items are defrosted in time. You settle on spaghetti and meatballs. Who doesn’t like that? It’s quick, it’s tasty, you can hide some nutritious type food products in the sauce. And Mummy gets to eat garlic bread.

You contend with the ‘helper’ with gritted teeth. The simple act of chopping an onion becomes full blown culinary warfare. There’s no distraction tip in the world that will shift the toddler from around your ankles so that you can approach the work top. It’s finally cooking, the meatballs are on the heat. Two toilet runs, a spilled drink, a story and two DVD changes later and they’re cemented to the bottom of the ‘non stick’ pan.

 

Once the ingredients have been almost literally thrown together, it’s time for the precious, life changingly important act of sitting to the table together. If you don’t do this, your kid will grow up to smoke crack. You must get this bit right. You seat the toddler, whose future hangs in the balance at this point, and return to the kitchen for the plates. A maids trolley would come in handy here, with a seat on the back for the offspring. At least then you could get the two vital components of this meal to the table at the same time. She’s not there upon return. As the once ‘blow it, it’s hot’ meal slowly cools to a ‘could have done with a quick ping’ temperature, you wrestle the child back into any one of the four possible seats. A game of musical chairs ensues. But finally, the breaking of bread can begin.

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Now, I’ve shortened the following events into a concise list. For the full effect of the actual time taken to complete these tasks, read in your best ‘Dory’s Whale Voice’ impression, approximately one word every three seconds.

~ Roll up child’s sleeves, twice. Potentially clip back hair to minimise the bathing aftermath, depending on fringe length.

~ Load a fork. Unload and load the spoon. Unload and chop it smaller. Load on fork (that you’ve sent out a search party to find amongst the previously edible debris on the very recently cleaned floor) and watch with eyes wide in horror as toddler misses her mouth.

~ Endure several rounds of the ridiculous aeroplane game that you swore blind you’d never reduce yourself to. And the train game. Basically insert any mode of transportation you’d like, you’ll exhaust them all.

~ Play dinner plate switcheroo. Why just eat your meal when you can sample them all?

~ Pick out all the mushrooms to avoid the mother of all hissy fits. (Keep in mind that your dinner is rapidly becoming room temp.) Put them back. Pick out all the peppers. Then put them all back. Pick out all the *green* peppers. Pile all these slippery, half chewed, cold items on the side of your own plate.

~ View every carefully deployed tactic to avoid eating anything of sustenance. Nose picking, show and tell, the top ten run down of CBeebies theme tunes.

~ Fetch drinks, new cutlery, more pasta, a cardigan, squeeze in a toilet run.

 

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And then, somewhere within the chaos, you realise, the meal has been eaten. The goal has been achieved. The high five playing out in your head is one of the greatest ever witnessed by yourself. Thank you Lord. The gargantuan hurdle of the day has been overcome, and until darkness falls and the monumental task of ‘Sleep, Child, Sleep‘ begins, you can breathe out.

The tidy up operation is intense. You’ll never get that tomato sauce orangey tinge off of the table cloth, however ‘wipe clean’ it claims to be. Unless you adorn the child with a shower cap, there’s no amount of sweeping back that will avoid the hair chunks. The face is flannelled, the floor is swept (is spaghetti coated in No More Nails?), the dishes washed up, along with the four cups, seven spoons and plastic sea horse that was dressed in slices of aubergine.

 

Parenting is very much about reflection. You balls it up, realise you have and then try to come up with ways to balls it up less the next day. What could you have done differently in this scenario? Less sauce? Cooked the meal whilst she slept instead of watching Dawson’s Creek in bed? Fixed her to the chair with cable ties? You hatch a plan to dice the vegetables smaller next time, have the full armoury of cutlery already on the table to avoid completing a half marathon while you eat. Would classical music playing softly have the desired calming effect? A new placemat? Her own pretend cooker so she can play chef while you prep? Maybe she’ll grow out if it? Bribery? Blackmail?

And then as you lie awake in bed, mentally and physically drained, and yet wired at the same time, it comes to you.

Fuck it, tomorrow we’re having fish fingers.

Two And A Half

As of the 20th of this month I’ve been breastfeeding for 30 months. Moo is two and a half and has had my expressed breast milk her whole life. Sure, we used a little formula along the way, and she now has cows milk too, but she’s had plenty of the good stuff.

I can tell the end is in sight. I think about stopping pumping more and more often. I’m less religious about counting ounces and although my freezer stash is almost gone, it no longer upsets me. Quitting won’t be emotionally easy, but I won’t feel I’ll have failed Moo by calling it a day anytime soon.

The dream of breastfeeding her will die with it, and that will be hard. My life will no longer revolve around breast milk and the pump. You never know, my nipples might go back to normal too. I don’t think my passion for breastfeeding and supporting pumping mamas will ever go away. While I didn’t get the experience I dreamed of, pumping for this long has certainly had its own rewards.

Letting go of the ‘habit’ will be a toughie. Even as I’m writing this, I can feel the pumping gremlin telling me that I may as well do another six months. We shall see.

And The Mother Of The Year Award Goes To…

Anyone but me.

Today has not been a good day. One of the worst I’ve had in a long time. I’ve got a cold, which doesn’t help, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to become mega shouty monster mum.

My patience has been ice thin. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve snapped. It’s the opposite of what I think a parent should be, how they should react. I’ve not dealt with Moo’s behaviour well at all, I’ve been far from a gentle parent. I’ve sworn under my breath, told Moo she’s naughty and said ‘in a minute’ more times than I can remember. I’ve felt like climbing out of my body at times, feeling totally touched out.

Moo’s not been in a great mood either (probably something to do with getting up at 4am), throwing cups full of drink, throwing dinner on the floor, climbing on furniture, rolling on the floor screaming and slamming doors. But she’s also been very affectionate, giving me a cuddle and sitting on my lap whenever she has the opportunity. I imagine she’s been after reassurance, with me not being myself, and has been acting out her boredom at being stuck in.

I can’t help that I’m feeling rough so can’t do much with her, but I wish I could control my temper better. There isn’t time to even start counting to ten before I’ve exploded. I pity the neighbours today, hearing the screaming, crying and shouting, from Moo and from me. Moo deserves better than the mother I’ve been today. I know we all have bad days and we can’t be Mary Poppins all the time, but shit, I can do better than this.

Please Stay Little

I’ve just had a beautiful moment with Moo. She was crying in bed, half asleep and half awake, unable to tell me what was wrong, if anything hurt, if she’d had a bad dream. She didn’t want anything that I offered, milk, some music, a soft toy. So I just held her. I held her tight, drawn in close to me, and I rocked. She fell asleep and I cried.

I cried because of the beauty of it, just my baby and I, late at night, her peaceful face juxtaposed by tear drenched eye lashes. I cried for the memories that I don’t have, of feeling so in love with her when she was small enough to hold all day long. I cried with sadness that she’s not a baby any more. She was a tiny, beautiful, baby in need of her mothers loving embrace, and I missed it.

These moments are so rare now. She’s scarcely still long enough to hold like this, still, quiet, breathing so softly. Every day she’s learning new things and becoming her own person, that tiny bit less reliant on me. I know she’ll always need her mum, and that with new growth comes unexplored joy, but I regret missing so much of the growing that’s already taken place, the cuddles I could have had, the times I didn’t appreciate the curves of her face or softness of her skin. You can’t get that back.

 

The Bumble

The dreaded Bumble. ‘What’s that?, I hear you cry. It’s the dummy. The pacifier. The ridiculously expensive plastic object that my daughter is addicted to. And I mean *addicted*.  Bumble is just some silly family word for it, we quite often speak in code.

I originally gave it to her when she was a few days old. I promised myself I wouldn’t when I was pregnant. I was not even going to go there. I knew that it could be detrimental to breastfeeding becoming established in the early days.  I worried about buck teeth and oral development. I worried about it delaying her speech if she had the thing stuck in her mouth twenty four hours a day. But, during those first weeks, when breastfeeding wasn’t working and Moo cried most of the day while I pumped, I caved. Moo wanted the comfort, but would struggle and thrash around at the breast, unable to latch. I couldn’t wear her, as I needed to be attached to a breast pump at all hours to build up my almost nonexistent milk supply. And so, the Bumble was introduced.

It comforted her, she settled (most of the time) and I was able to pump, get some rest and rock in the corner in between. As she got older, I came to rely upon it. Any issue was soon fixed with the Bumble and a cuddle, much in the same way a breastfed baby seeks comfort with a nipple. I couldn’t offer that to Moo, who had no idea what to do at the breast, now accustomed to bottle teats. And, here we are, 27 months later, and it’s still here. They were nearly gone at one point, only used for daytime napping. The plan was to do away with them when the nap naturally disappeared. A seamless plan. But, alas, hand foot and mouth disease descended upon us, followed by a urinary tract infection. Moo was inconsolable at times, feverish and in pain, unable to eat or drink. The only thing she’d put in her blister covered mouth was the Bumble. He was back with a vengeance.

They’re such a pain. They cost a small fortune, almost £5 a pair. The companies that make them must be surrounded by piles of gold, laughing at the desperate parents queuing for them in Boots with their last fiver. You never have one to hand when you need it. And when you do find it, it’s either split from the constant chewing or covered in bag fluff and that sand from the beach six months ago that just never goes away (what is up with that?!?). My life would be much simpler if Moo loved the boob. I could just whip it out when she fell over or was ill or tired. But, such is life.

Where to go from here? How can I ensure Moo and the Bumble are forever divorced, without too much heartache and trauma? Her little begging face, asking where he is (Bumble is a ‘he’, by the way), it’s so hard to say no. And at 4am, when she won’t settle after a drink of milk, I’m more than happy to oblige. Damn you Bumble, with your delicious silicone teat and obscene price tag. Damn you.

Sleep, Child, Sleep!

Your baby asks to go to bed. You follow your nightly routine. Tuck her in all snug, bottle of milk, bedtime story (The Very Hungry Caterpillar), you’ve looked at the page with the egg several times. You kiss her, tell her you love her and will see her in the morning. 

You slip out of the room, run a bath and sink into the warm water with an OK! Magazine. That’s your big mistake. The assumption that the child will now sleep. Three quarters of the way through an interview with Katie Price you hear the bedroom door banging. Slamming against the bedroom wall. Repeatedly. And so begins the evenings drama, all dreams of hair washing shattered. 

You try another book. Her Postman Pat story tape. Heating her weird wheat bunny thingymabob. She asks for more milk, which you heat and deliver as per her request. You give in and provide the dummy. And every time you leave the room, with fingers crossed tightly and muttering under your breath, you’re praying the silence will last. You even attempt the bath again, topping up with hot water. Then you hear her. “Mummy, I’m awake now”. 

A night such as this is a wonderful contraceptive. Your bath is stone cold, your hair wet but untouched by shampoo. You’ve not yet had dinner and you’re running out of time to watch that TV show you’ve recorded. You’ll be making a trip to the shed at the bottom of the garden to get more milk out of the freezer in your dressing gown, as she’s drunk all you’ve painstakingly pumped fresh for her during this marathon bedtime. Even the sound of her ever-so-sweet pitter pattering feet on the floor boards upstairs is not enough to quash the rage building in your stomach. 

But, *deep breath*, tomorrow is a new day, with fun adventures to be had. Things will look better in the morning. And I’m sure she’ll go to sleep soon. Won’t she?

Vacant Parenting

Sometimes I’m an absent parent. I’m physically there, I only work one day a week, but I’m quite often mentally elsewhere.

Playing with a toddler is time consuming. Moo would happily have me sit there next to her all day. It’s dull. There’s only so many times I can build a tower or quack like a duck before my mind wanders or I feel myself slipping into a state of semi consciousness. Some days I’d much rather check Twitter or pretend to go to the toilet to have five minutes laid on the bed by myself. No ‘parent of the year’ award here.

Sometimes I’m emotionally detached too. I have days when functioning is difficult enough. I long to be hidden under the duvet, sobbing, or staring into space. I go through the motions, Moo is fed and dressed and I’ll go out for something to do, but I’d rather be anywhere else. 10mg of antidepressant sometimes just doesn’t cut it. A vodka would be nice. I pray that Moo doesn’t know. It breaks my heart that I’m not 100% in the moment with her all the time.

But, there are days, occasionally, when I’m just there. I make time to do all the little things she wants to do. We pick up stones, I hold her hand as she walks on every wall, I let her help me hang the washing, I sing with her, I brave the chaos that is arts and crafts. Today was one if those days. We spent longer than I thought necessary to pick up a shrivelled leaf. I sat on the floor until my knees hurt and longer, playing with the dolls house. We bought stickers and I tirelessly picked off the backs just for Moo to stick them one on top of the other. It was blissful. I was there, I was savouring it, I was living for her, just as it should be.

I can’t keep it up. There’s no way I can work at a Blue Peter presenter level day in, day out. But I need to try. Moo deserves my all, the least I can do is put in the effort. The joy on her face as we ‘row the boat’ or her cheers as she helps me unload the washing machine is totally worth it. I’m sure I’ll always need ‘toilet’ breaks, but I vow to give her more of me. To be there in the moment. To imprint these days together onto my memory, as I know they won’t last forever.

Low

I’m feeling pretty low today. Moo has been ill for such a long time, crying, whining, clingy. I feel awful for her. Urine infections are horrible at the best of times, but to have a fever with it too… She must feel miserable.

I’m feeling sorry for myself now. Cabin fever has well and truly set in. I can’t get anything done round the house, its a mess. I’ve heard constant crying for days and days and days. It’s hard to keep depression at bay. I can feel myself about to snap. I have to zone out for a minute, read some messages or send a tweet. Anything to take me away, just long enough to take a few breaths. I want to claw my own skin off quite a bit of the moment.

But, this will pass. This *has* to pass.