How To Talk About Not Talking

I wrote in December about Little T and his language delay. Since then there have been some big changes – he started going to nursery two mornings a week and seeing a speech therapist on a regular basis. He’s had no problems settling at nursery and his therapist is amazing (I can only admire a woman who walks into my home, takes one glance at me with my hair unwashed and snot pouring from my face and says without hesitation, “You look awful.” My kind of person tbh).

One crucial thing hasn’t changed though; he still doesn’t really talk. I mean, there’s been some improvement and it’s been awesome to see, but with every month that passes the developmental gap between him and his peers grows and grows. And since he turned 3 he’s passed through an invisible threshold and is now considered to have special educational needs (SEN). In some ways that’s been a positive thing for us because we don’t feel so much like he needs to magically up his game in time to avoid the SEN label (why that was a worry for us I have no idea), but in others… Well, labels. And “advice”. SO MUCH ADVICE.

So on that note, here’s my (very personal) guide of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ when it comes to my non-speaking child –

  1. Don’t say “Have you tried reading to him?” (or “You could use flash cards!”or “Just don’t give him what he wants until he asks properly!” etc) Honestly, I’m not a horrible person. I know that when you say this you’re trying to offer help and support and you have no idea how so you just come out with the most benign suggestion you can muster. I really do understand the mindset of wanting to offer solutions, believe me I do. But these aren’t solutions. At best they’re conversational filler, at worst they’re downright hurtful. And given that he has a speech therapist, it’s likely we’re already exploring different approaches. And for the record, we’ve been explicitly instructed never to withhold things from him until he asks. So suck on that.
  2.  Do listen. The uncertainty, doubt, guilt and worry is hard work, especially alongside the day-to-day drudgery and stress of maintaining a marriage, parenting two kids, paying bills and stopping the house falling down, so it’s sometimes nice to be able to say, “This is shit,” to a trusted friend or family member and have them pat me on the head and feed me cake without trying to fix my son or change my feelings. I love my beautiful boy with all my heart and I have 100% got this, but it’s not always easy and it’s great to let my guard down around the people I care about.
  3. Don’t tell me he could be autistic. I’ve got news for you – I know! It’s a very real possibility and not one we’re frightened of. But at this point in time we’re not pursuing an assessment for him. Just because my son has delayed speech it doesn’t mean he owes the world anything. He doesn’t owe the world an answer, and that would be the only reason for us to seek a diagnosis. And yes, the answer could be that he’s autistic. But it could also not. We may find out definitively one day, but while he’s happy and there are no other “problems” with his development we want him to enjoy being a young child with as little scrutiny as possible. That’s our choice and it’s the right one for him. Remember, we’ve got this! 🙂
  4. Do speak to him. His hearing is fine, and while he often doesn’t appear to be listening, I promise he is. And it’s okay to ask him questions, just don’t expect an (obvious) answer then let the “conversation” dry up because you don’t know where to go next. Observe him, talk about what he’s doing, engage in his play. With a child like Tristan you need to get inside his world. Sit on the floor with him, pick up a toy, connect with the child inside yourself and go on wonderful imaginative adventures with my son. He may not talk but he isn’t quiet and his universe is bright, bold and colourful. I promise you it’s worth finding it.
  5. Don’t assume he’s unintelligent. No he doesn’t talk much yet, but try to remember that in all other ways he’s just like any other 3 year old. He loves Pixar movies, being outside, climbing things, small world play and splashing in puddles. He found a ladybird at nursery a few weeks ago and proudly showed everyone. He’s learning to share. He has tantrums. He likes chicken nuggets and chocolate. He loves novelty and trying new things. I don’t really know how smart he is, but it doesn’t matter! Don’t make assumptions either way. Just enjoy him and take him as he is.
  6. Do ask questions. After everything I’ve written above it might seem like it’s a bit of minefield and it’s best to keep quiet and ignore the speech delayed elephant in the room but that elephant is my son and perhaps surprisingly, his development isn’t something I’m ashamed of. I love talking about my kids, and nothing makes me love a person more than when they embrace the subject of T’s speech and ask about it meaningfully and rationally. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask about his hearing or what our plans for his education are should his communication not change much by the time he reaches compulsory school age. Ask away. Just don’t be a dick (see #1).
  7. Don’t tell me about Susan’s nephew’s goddaughter who didn’t speak til she was 5. Truthbomb time – I don’t care. And I know about Einstein. And Mark Rylance. It’s not that these examples don’t make me feel better in the moment – they do. But I want to let go of the need for Tristan to meet certain expectations of ‘normal’. He didn’t meet the goal of talking by 3 so now people try to helpfully move the goalposts for him. Einstein means he has til he’s 4! Mark Rylance didn’t talk until he was 6! The point is that I don’t want goalposts for Tristan at all. What happens if he reaches 5 years old and still isn’t talking, what then? Will he have failed at normality? Why does it even matter? That’s what I’m trying to let go of. He probably will talk one day and catch up with peers, but he may not. Changing goalposts isn’t helping to embrace him as he is now or as he could possibly be in the future, it’s just another arbitrary mark to potentially miss.
  8. Do tell us we’re doing a good job. Okay, so this is more than a little vain, but as I said above this isn’t always an easy journey. I have blamed myself most days for not doing enough to help my son communicate, resented Leo because he gets in the way of me interacting with Tristan, and sometimes had to make do with five minutes of reading at bedtime as quality time with my eldest. It’s crap and I beat myself up for it every day. So if you have a compliment spare, send it my way. My mummy guilt needs it.

There you have it. In short, love me and my son, and don’t be an arsehole. 🙂

When You Speak

My darling boy,

In a few weeks it will be three years since I first saw your scrunched up face and your serious eyes. Three years since you grasped my heart in your tight little fist and changed it forever. We’ve been through so much together already, it’s hard to believe you’re only three years old. How have you not been here always?

You amaze me daily. You are so kind and quirky, imaginative and playful. When I’m sad you always come to me and gently stroke my arm until I look up and smile. You are cuddly and sweet. You love pesto and play-doh – you’ve been known to eat and play with both. Your favourite film is Monsters University, your favourite book is your pop-up version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and your favourite place is the woods, or maybe the pond with all the ducks and pigeons. You still wake most nights but your face lights up when you see us next to you in the morning and it makes the disrupted nights completely worth it. You are headstrong, stubborn and frustrating; you do things your own way, but you rarely tantrum. I’ve seen you hurt and angry but able to pick yourself up and move on happily. You eat grapes by the tonne. Your best friend is the cat and thankfully it’s more than mutual. You are adaptable, excited about everything, gentle and rambunctious in equal measure. You are every season rolled into one.

But I don’t know what your favourite colour is, whether it’s constant or changes every day. I don’t know what you dream about. I don’t know whether you know you’re starting nursery next month, even though I’ve tried to talk to you about it. I don’t know what adventures your toys are on when they’re jumping round on the table and diving off the sofa. I don’t know where you want to go on your birthday. I sometimes don’t know what you want when you whine and look up at me pleadingly.

You have a speech delay and there is so much I don’t know.

I don’t know why you don’t really talk. I don’t know if it’s something we have or haven’t done (you’ve certainly had less one-on-one time with us since Leo arrived). I don’t know if you have a developmental disorder, or a hearing problem. I don’t know if you’re just taking your time and you’ll suddenly start speaking in full, grammatically correct sentences and reading the Financial Times over breakfast.

But the whys don’t really matter. I don’t want you to be anyone other than who you are, and who you are right now doesn’t talk. I want you to know that’s okay.

I just wish I knew whether the decisions I’m making are the right ones for you. I wish you could communicate to me somehow that, yes Mummy, keep going, this is what I need.

Because I’m clueless.

And yes, I wish I could hear you tell me you love me. Heck, I’d settle for you saying my name more often. And I admit I’m jealous of all those parents of children the same age as you sharing their stories of the latest funny thing their little one said.

But please understand I’m not jealous because I’m disappointed in you, or in any way ashamed. You are perfect to me. I would never ever change you, not for anything in the world.

I’m jealous because of all those I don’t knows. I want to hear your thoughts because I want to know you better and drink in all of you before time changes you, as it’s meant to do.

Like how sometimes you hug Toru and squeeze too hard because you want to love as much of him as you can, but then he swishes his tail and jumps up so you can’t reach him anymore? You feel sad that he moves away but you’re not angry with him, you just want to keep loving him, don’t you? Mummy feels a bit like that when you don’t talk.

But it’s really okay. You can keep swishing your tail as much as you want, my sweet boy. Keep on being you, keep on conquering the world, keep on laughing at random dogs in the park, keep on dancing to the music you sing to yourself, keep on shining with that beautiful smile of yours. You are doing just fine.

And I promise you that when you speak, I will listen.

tristanmyheart

Family of Four

So I’m back after my unplanned and largely baby-led hiatus. My firstborn consumed my sleep which I’d thought was bad enough, but now his brother has dramatically swooped in and eaten time itself. Not that it isn’t wonderful and fulfilling – it really is – but I do spend my evenings staring into space, scraping bodily fluids out of my hair and gazing upon the day with the awe, pride and incredulity of someone who’s woken up next to an empty wine bottle, an alpaca and a return ticket to Peru.

Our smallest family member is now the grand age of 5 months, from my experience a time in a baby’s life when wakefulness and screaming for increasingly elusive reasons become firm priorities. Also hair pulling. Between Leo and my postpartum loss there’s enough hair embedded in the carpet to weave actual-size replicas of the cats, which will be handy when they inevitably pack their bags and move out because they’re done reaping the consequences of our decision to procreate. (“We stuck it out after the first but then they did it again and I’m too old to be run over with a Cozy Coupe.”)

So to compensate for my absence here I thought I’d take the chance to share a snapshot of our new(ish) life as a family of four via the things I’ve learned over the last 171 days –

1. It turns out my children being within a metre of each other is the BEST THING. Not for them, you understand; Tristan has virtually no interest in his brother, and I get it – objectively Leo is not exciting. He doesn’t have wheels, he can’t play and he wasn’t created by Pixar. Bor-ing. But for me seeing them together makes me positively giddy with joy. The two creatures I love more than anything in the world INTERACTING. My heart explodes every time. It reminds me of the feeling I had when my best friend and boyfriend (now husband) became friends and I’d watch them chatting in the pub and beam across at them like an over-earnest kids’ TV presenter, except with my sons that feeling is even bigger and the smile even more creepy because I love them more than life itself. My attempts to create these moments have led to photos like this –

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And this –

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2. All babies are different, I knew that. But I naively thought fate would be generously selective about those differences when it came to my own children. NOT SO. First time round we had a sleep thief, who at 32 months still hasn’t learned the mythical skill of ‘self-settling’, is rocked to sleep, has milk during the night and doesn’t sleep alone. Fine, I thought, the next one will be easier. We’ve earned it, I thought, and the first time I placed Leo gently on the bathroom floor so I could pee and he instantly drifted off I believed I was right, and that perhaps there was a god who’d seen how tired I was and figured I deserved a break. WRONG. At five months old Leo has never napped lying down (apart from that one time on the bathmat). Never. He only sleeps on Big T’s shoulder or with a boob in his mouth. Suddenly my pram loving, sling loving, dummy loving toddlebeast seems like something off a Mothercare poster. Leo will not go in a pram for more than ten minutes at a time. He quite likes being in a sling, but not for too long and he WILL NOT SLEEP IN ONE, which seems like a matter of principle to him, especially when his eyes are half closed and he’s chain-yawning. And as for a dummy, not a chance. Why settle for silicone when the real thing is available? Suddenly my well stocked parenting arsenal is looking a little sparse. I have boobs and that’s basically it, and those boobs aren’t even his primary food source. I feel like a total novice. I thought I had this! I should be a pro by now!

3. Gender disappointment is real, but in my experience doesn’t last very long.
A year ago, early on in my pregnancy, if someone had told me I could choose what sex my secondborn would be I would have said, “GIRL,” without any hesitation, due in the main to a natural preference for variety. I’m usually a ‘little bit of everything’ kind of gal so it stands to reason that at the buffet where all the chromosomes hang out I’d go for the XX since I already had some XY on my plate (babies-as-hors d’oeuvres metaphor ftw!). Another, much smaller reason is that clothes designed for children with vaginas tend to have more rainbows on them, but that really is a minor issue since Tristan definitely doesn’t have a vagina and still wears clothes not ‘made’ for him because, y’know, his genitalia doesn’t predispose him to liking tractors, football or the colour blue. But I digress…
So we had a preference, albeit not a particularly strong one. And yes, when I saw Leo being born and he was presented to me balls first (seriously) there was a shock of disappointment that lasted all of one second, a sort of lightning strike to illuminate a path I’d never follow. I was the mother of boys. We had boys. And with no other children planned I’d never be a mother to a girl. And what surprised me was how completely okay that felt. Better than okay, it felt good, like it was exactly how things were meant to be. I held my newborn son in my arms in my hospital bed and a new piece of my heart bloomed that I hadn’t known existed before. Where his brother had brought me alive, Leo had made me complete.
And it’s nothing to do with which box is checked on his birth certificate.

4. There is nothing worse than seeing your child sick in hospital. Nothing. Nothing can prepare you for the powerlessness, the frustration, the guilt. But you get through it. You manage, somehow. You don’t sleep, you barely have a chance to eat – but you cope. And you come out the other side more fiercely protective of your tiny human than you thought possible, and with a quiet but steely belief in yourself as a parent.

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5. I found out who my true friends are, and they aren’t all the people I’d have guessed when I started my parenting journey more than three years ago. Some have been in my life for many years, others are new, but they are all very dear to me. They are the people who came round with supplies when we had a new baby and didn’t care that we weren’t dressed and our house was upside down. They held Leo so I could take 10 minutes to finish a cup of coffee. They brought gifts for me rather than him, at a time when I felt all I was was a baby feeding machine, and a failed one at that. They offered to donate breastmilk for my son when I was desperate and spent and had nothing more to give. They sent messages in the middle of the night telling me that I had this. They talked to me the same way they always had, as though I was still just Lindy, not Mummy, not a parent, not a breastfeeder or bottle feeder, babywearer or cloth nappy user. Just me. I don’t see these people every day, or even every week or month – some never – but they are my tribe, my village and they have my gratitude and friendship for life. They are part of why I didn’t suffer with post-natal illness after having Leo. They are why I’m still holding it together. They are fucking awesome. ❤

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6. I understand now why my own mother never had new clothes or shoes, why she mended her old things and why it was a Big Deal when she bought anything new for herself. I had a taste of that when we had just one child, but now we have two I understand more the need to nurture my babies at the expense of myself. Kids are expensive and while we aren’t poor by any means, with only one of us in employment we do have to make sacrifices to give our children the lifestyle we want them to have. If that means I have to sew up a hole in an old dress or Big T has to buy his jeans second hand, that’s more than fine. We’re proud to do it. Seeing Tristan pick out his own shoes for the first time is a gift far greater than having new shoes myself.

7. There are different kinds of love, we all know that. We don’t love our grandparents the same way we love our 6ft hunk of husband, for instance. But I wasn’t prepared for how different my love for my two sons would feel. It’s as individual as their personalities. My relationship with Tristan was more fraught, more tempestuous when he was a baby. Harder. And that shows now in the affinity I feel with him, the sense that we battled something together and came through it even stronger.  With Leo the beauty in my love for him is its simplicity. He is my precious baby, and I am his mother, and there’s a purity about us, a bubble we live in that remains untouched by the outside world, as though he’s still in my belly. Nothing prepared me for the difference. Everyone told me I’d love them equally, and I do, but it absolutely isn’t the same.

8. You can absolutely watch The Land Before Time too often. Trust me. You can try to appreciate the racial subtext, the beautiful artwork and James Horner’s deeply moving score, but ultimately you will want to take Littlefoot and his pals and feed them one by one to Sharptooth just to get the film over and done with sooner. Luckily Tristan isn’t aware of the numerous sequels yet, though at this point I’d be grateful for the variety even if that means singing dinosaurs.

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9. I’ve said before that motherhood for me is a wicked combination of joy and guilt. Since becoming a mother-of-two I’ve had a healthy dose of the former and a less healthy onslaught of the latter. My eldest watches too much television (see #8). He uses his Kindle too much. He goes to bed too late. He doesn’t eat well enough. He never gets enough time with me. He doesn’t socialise enough. My youngest never gets to nap undisturbed. I’m not expressing my breastmilk enough. I put him in the jumperoo too often. I clock-watch. I sleep in on weekends. I scream into a cushion when things feel too much just so I don’t have to scream at my kids. I see photos on Facebook of my childless friends on far away holidays or nights out and I envy their freedom. I sometimes wish I could go back in time and tell myself to calm down with the procreation and live a little. I have ALL THE GUILTS.
But my children don’t need me to feel bad. My guilt doesn’t help them grow or feel loved. All they care about is that Mummy and Daddy love them beyond words and that we keep them safe, which we do. The rest is filler. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make things better where we can, but instead of letting my guilt cripple me I have to thank it for reminding me I have more to give and then let it go. I don’t want to raise my two beautiful boys in a world of not enough. That shit is toxic and it doesn’t belong here.

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10. Further to #9, and somewhat paradoxically, I’ve learned to try to let go of perfection. I don’t have to be the perfect vision of parenting. When Tristan was a baby I was very hung up on doing everything exactly as the attachment parenting guides told me. I felt guilty if I used the pram, tore my hair out over BLW, wished the earth would swallow me whole when I bottle fed in public. PND and a desire to feel like I’d done something right led to that originally, but Leo’s birth and all the healing it brought gave me the perspective to see how ridiculous it was. Parenting isn’t a sport; I can never be the ‘best’ at it. All I can be is true to myself and try to parent instinctively. When I stop checking boxes I find my values don’t change but my flexibility grows, and I enjoy my children more without the pressure of being the poster girl for all things AP. Looking after two kids doesn’t leave time to worry about how I come across on Facebook, or whether it’s been too long since I carried my kids in a wrap, or whether I can be arsed washing nappies this week. Those things are superficial and I don’t need them to prove to the world what kind of parent I am.

In lots of ways life has carried on as it always has. My boys change and grow all the time, and we grow with them, sometimes not quickly enough to adapt to their needs in the way we want to, but we keep trying. We juggle, we struggle, we love and learn and fill our home with laughter, and the occasional frustrated, cross word.
Our days are as changeable as our current sleeping arrangements, but we’re happy, and while we may not be the perfect parents to our imperfect children, we are all perfect for one another.

(Except for the cats, poor things… But four out of six ain’t bad.)

I’ve Got This

It’s rare that I have nothing to say, particularly when there’s so much happening, but the fact is I’ve entered a strange late pregnancy isolation. My brain feels tightly locked up, as though it’s shutting down all but essential functions. There’s lots to do to feel fully prepared for this baby’s arrival but I’m moving at a snail’s pace, physically and mentally. Somehow though we’ve managed to get the house looking acceptable, hospital bags are packed and I’m choosing to have faith that my husband still remembers how to fasten in a Maxi-Cosi Cabriofix car seat. We’ve got this.

I went to the hospital for my pre-op appointment today and it was a really strange experience. The last time I walked those corridors I was in a daze. I was desperate to be out of there. It was like an out-of-body experience, I don’t remember my feet ever touching the floor, though I have plenty of memories of the sounds of babies crying, alarms ringing, new mums whispering to their little ones, and the pervasive smell of chlorine. I was hit by it all again today and at first it sent me spinning. I was sat in a waiting room surrounded by photographs of smiling parents and I wanted to hide. Every instinct told me to run away.

But I didn’t. I stayed, and gradually the fog lifted and I saw it for what it was; a normal hospital ward, bright and warm, filled with smiles, laughter and the sound of brand new voices making themselves heard for the very first time. I saw a woman being wheeled in her hospital bed to her place on the ward, baby in her arms, and I immediately recognised her expression; exhausted, confused but oddly tranquil. I recognised it because I experienced it once too, more than two years ago, and it was a beautiful reminder that despite everything, despite the traumatic labour and pain that followed I was still a new mum riding the wave of love and hormones. In that moment I was no different from anyone else.

I finally realised today that I can change the story. I’m not the same person and my life doesn’t follow a script. I can make things different and if I’m strong enough to get through all that happened with Tristan I can be equal to this too, no matter how it goes. I’ve got this.

What I’m most aware of is how much things will change for T, and that he seemingly has no idea that it’s coming. I’ve explained but he has an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality that’s common to lots of toddlers. I don’t know whether he really knows what it means that Mummy has a baby growing inside her. I’ve explained that I’ll be going in to hospital and that when I come home he’ll have a baby brother or sister, but there’s no way of knowing how much he’s absorbing as he still isn’t very verbal.
I hate feeling that I’m taking something away from him. I try to remind myself that in doing this I’m augmenting his life, giving him something in the way of friendship and socialising that he could potentially lack with two introverted parents. And when I doubt that I have the strength to do it, to raise two tiny humans, I ask myself what do I have in infinite amounts, what resource will never run out that I can give to my son indefinitely?

I have love. I have so fucking much of it I feel as though it’ll burst its banks and come flooding out of me in a great tidal wave that’ll drench everything in sloppy kisses and glitter. That won’t change for him, he will always have that. And I know my heart well enough to know that there’s a bottomless reservoir tucked away for this baby too, building up and up, ready to carry me off on a new journey of motherhood.

Perhaps PND will be part of that journey. Perhaps not. It’s funny how of all my fears, that one isn’t the loudest or strongest. I’ve beaten it before, I can do it again. I’ve learned how to talk and heal, how to be vulnerable and how to put my adult face on and get on with the day. I helped nurture my son this far and PND was part of his story too, and he is this incredible little person, and all the testament I need that I can do this. I’ve got this. 

This will be the last time I post here before my life changes forever. I’m scared, excited, jittery and oddly calm, and the funny thing is that it doesn’t feel as though I’m going in for a C-section; it feels as though they’ll be operating on my heart, opening it up and pumping it full of new emotions and experiences. I’m terrified. But I’m also happy beyond words.

I’ve got this.

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This Time Is Ours

As usual I’m most able to write when Tristan is asleep, and right now I have the joy of having him curled up next to me with his brow furrowed slightly and his little hands clasping his toy cat to his cheek. I stay with him after he drifts off, even now he’s two years old and perfectly capable of sleeping alone, and I do it because I won’t always be able to.  Soon there’ll be another little person in need of my attention, and more laundry to wash and more mess to tidy up. These quiet moments could all but disappear in 9 weeks and I know that I’ll miss them, and if the ache in my chest right now is anything to go by it may hurt a little bit too.

I worry about what this new arrival will take away from T, my darling boy whose existence was all I ever wanted from the moment I knew what babies were. Whose name was chosen two years before his birth. Whose short life has been the greatest gift and steepest challenge of mine. We have created a shared bubble, a space only he and I occupy together. I know a version of him no one else ever sees, not even his Daddy. From those early days of PND, to my slow healing, to our time spent now talking and cuddling and playing – he has been my constant companion, the person I share my heart with. And soon we’ll both have to open our bubble to someone else, or at least share the time we spend in it.

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He will have less one-on-one time with me, that’s an undeniable fact. But I try to remind myself that while he will lose one thing he will be gaining another – the companionship and social interaction a sibling will bring. He will learn about love, he’ll probably learn about jealousy and frustration, about sharing, about anger, about friendship. Those are gifts having a sibling gave to me when I was very young and I know without them I would have grown into a very different person.

At 25 months Tristan still isn’t very verbal. He doesn’t speak in sentences yet and most of what he says are one or two syllable nouns so it’s hard to gauge what he understands. I’ve explained to him that there’s a baby inside Mummy’s tummy and he gently pats my bump (or my boobs, which is fair given their recent expansion). He is sweet and sensitive, stroking my arm if he sees me sigh or rub my eyes, instinctively knowing if I need some peace and quiet, but I don’t think he comprehends the tidal wave of change that’s coming. How can he when I can barely grasp it myself?

There’s a chance that with the birth of this baby old wounds will be healed, and I’ve held on to that possibility through the doubt that’s regularly swept over me. The only thing that truly scares me now is how my relationship with my son will change, so I am treasuring each moment. We aren’t going out much because SPD makes it hard for me to walk for long, but instead that gives us lots of quiet moments – warm hugs on the sofa, puzzles and stories with him sat contentedly on my lap, watching Frozen together while he sings along to all the songs and flamboyantly pretends to be Queen Elsa building her ice palace. I’m drinking in every second with him and in doing so I’m finding our relationship is closer than ever and I want April to arrive slowly so I can have as much of this precious time as possible. I desperately want to meet this new little one, of course I do, but I know there won’t be enough of this time just me and my tiny sidekick, no matter how much we do together or how long this pregnancy lasts. It’ll never be enough.

And on that note I’m going to put my laptop away and lie next to my boy and fall asleep to the sound of his breath and the smell of his curly, sweaty, sleepy head. Because right now it’s just him and me, and this time is all ours. 🙂

Little Mountains

You hear it a lot this time of year – “What day is it?” – as though the arrival of Christmas sends shockwaves through everyone’s calendars, a sort of annual festive Millennium Bug that apparently no one learns from. I get it myself of course and it frustrates me because the days of the week are basic Reception age stuff and I generally operate at at least a Year 3 level.

Parenthood does much the same thing to time as Christmas does. Today is my son’s 2nd birthday and AS IF HE IS TWO YEARS OLD WTF YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING SURELY HE’S STILL A FLIPPING ZYGOTE.

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There is no way I birthed this little grub two years ago. Not a chance.

And yet for all the ways the last two years have felt like a tornado blasting through my house and my soul, I also can’t really remember a time when he didn’t exist. Children have that effect, they carve their impressions in the landscape, and like the tallest mountain or the longest river they become a part of your world, a part that’s eternal and timeless and a backdrop for all of history, whether they were truly there or not.

So today for me feels a little like being stood at the base of Mount Everest, having just been told it’s only existed for two years. Whatever the Nepali is for, “Shut the f**k up, you’re drunk,” is basically where I’m at.

Something I regularly marvel at about my baby Everest is his capacity to teach me things. Considering his intelligence more closely resembles that of the average dog than an adult human it constantly surprises me how much wisdom he has to share. For example, did you know that you can use board books as stepping stones across laminate floor? And that spacemen sometimes work part time in toy shops? And that pesto tastes great with fruit custard? Of course none of these things appear to be clever or profound, but on closer inspection what they are are lessons in creativity, flexibility and imagination. He shows me a world without boundaries, a place where anything is possible (and where clichés aren’t clichés at all because there’s no one there jaded enough to call them such). He shows me how it’s okay to be dirty, and it’s okay to leave half or all of a meal, and okay to say no to unwanted affection. He teaches me to laugh with abandon and fart like a child, giddy with the realisation that the best punchline to any joke is a sound gifted to us by biology. He shows me over and over how gender expectations are meaningless by not giving a shit whether his toys are pink, blue or multicoloured or whether the characters in his favourite books and films are male or female, and by excitedly embracing a new train set as well as a new doll that he tenderly and lovingly pretends to breastfeed despite having never seen Mummy do it herself.

He teaches me how to be a real person away from societal rules and the accumulated debris of a life clumsily lived. He’s helped me find a part of myself I didn’t know still existed until he invited me in to his world of play and freedom. He’s taught me the cliché of all clichés – how to be a child again.

And so to you, my darling boy, I wish you the happiest of birthdays. I hope you’ve enjoyed every second. Know there’s no party big enough, trip out long enough, or cake sweet enough to equal the joy you bring to me every day.

There’s nothing we could give you that could match the gift you are to us.

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Equality of Life

I haven’t been feeling well recently for one reason or another, and naturally haven’t felt up to getting my Nigella on every night, or trying to coax my sticky, sweaty toddler into or out of the bath. Even attempting the super-wordy-rhymey works of Julia Donaldson has been too much at times, and don’t  mention the cleaning of cloth nappies… Just nope.

But of course this is okay because I have a ready, willing and able husband to almost 100% take over and sort out dinner, bathtime, laundry and a bedtime routine that involves more running around and screaming than two out of three of us would like.

There’s a slight problem though.

This is a typical exchange after Big T has put Little T to bed while I relax with a book or endless lost lives on Farm Heroes Saga –

Husband: Finally asleep! Just couldn’t switch off as usual.

Me: I’m sorry…

Husband: Why are you apologising?!

Me: Because you had to do it.

Husband: I didn’t have to do anything, I love spending time with him at bedtime, especially if I’ve been at work all day.

Me: Are you sure?

Husband: Positive. Relax, you deserve some time off.

*five minutes later*

Me: …I’m sorry.

Now I don’t know precisely what it is that makes me apologise and set feminism back 50 years in the process. It could be that being a mother and looking after my son is my ‘job’ and Big T taking over feels tantamount to me going into his office and designing a thingumy on the whatsajig while he puts his feet up with a magazine and farts the Game of Thrones theme music (I’m not entirely what he does for a living which makes the analogy tricky, but you get my meaning). I couldn’t do that and nor should I, but when he gets home it’s expected that he should roll his sleeves up and dive head first into the dribbly ocean that is parenting. And he should, I know that, but in a modern society where mothers often work to provide for their families I feel that as a stay at home parent I should be working just as hard, giving 100% even when there’s only a trickle in my tank, to keep up with these amazing women who do it all, and the men like my husband who pick up where they left off that morning with rarely a second to themselves.

There’s also an element of my upbringing at play. When my parents were still married they each had their specific, often stereotypical, roles within the family. My dad went to work and earned money, my mum stayed home and cooked, cleaned and wiped the snot from our noses. It wasn’t inherently a bad thing; roles were clearly defined, no one seemed bent out of shape, and although I’m certain my mum wished for more help I doubt she was surprised that it wasn’t forthcoming. Things just were and that was mostly okay. Within the white, middle class, suburban community I grew up all the families I knew looked much the same.
Fast forward 30 years and, at least on paper, my relationship with my husband mirrors that of my parents. He earns money while I stay home and bake cakes and make stuff out of shoeboxes and dried lentils. It’s hard then to separate our situation from the one I grew up in, where all expectation fell on my mother to take care of absolutely everything, from shopping and nit removal to bedtime and diarrhoea. I’m in a 21st century marriage but I feel all the pressures of my mum’s 20th century role, and because I do less than she did, and rightly so, I sometimes feel as though I’m getting a free pass and my struggles aren’t valid.
It’s not specifically about my parents of course, they’re merely the nearest example; I see the same dynamic in many couples their age. Lots of wives and mothers I meet from older generations are often keen to point out to me how wonderful, caring and involved my husband is, how rare that is and how lucky I am to have him.  The problem with that kind of rhetoric is that all it serves to do is convince me that what T does is somehow above and beyond what is expected of him, yet again reinforcing my belief that I should be doing more.

I’m not blaming other people for my reactions to any of these influences, that’s all firmly on me, but it’s an internal battle I rarely feel like I’m winning. I find it hard to shake the sense that T is doing me a favour by parenting our son. How messed up is that?

In taking on all responsibility for Little T I’m not only denying myself the support and help I need, I’m also impeding the partnership that defines my marriage to my husband, and perpetuating the outdated idea that men aren’t capable of being exceptional parents. No one wins. T is an excellent father, objectively, without my input, and more importantly he should be, because the decision to bring another human into the world was 50% his. And what kind of example am I setting to my son by openly modelling draconian ideas of female roles? Hearing me apologising and gratuitously thanking his father will not help nurture him to be the man he deserves to become.

It’s time to let go of the apologies and the guilt. It’s time to respect my husband’s role as a parent as well as a provider, and it’s time to congratulate myself on the mostly-great-but-sometimes-just-okay job I do as a stay at home mum. And it’s probably time to sit back and eat cake, just because.

I owe it to my son to show him the meaning of equality.