Swinging Naked

Yesterday’s casual breakfast conversation went something like this:

 

Me: You know that day spa voucher I got for my birthday?

Rob: Yeeeeeeees???

Me: I’d like to use it.

Rob: When?

Me: Today.

Rob: Will you be back in time for lunch? (Note: the man dislikes doing solo meals with the girl… something about the time it takes and the mess it makes.)

Me: No.

Rob: Will you be back in time for dinner?

Me: Yes.

Rob: OK.

 

Now that’s just the answer any girl wants to hear and positions my husband one step closer to sainthood. I love spontaneity; not least of all because it doesn’t leave you time to overthink matters, but rather propels you to just get on with it. Thankfully it also doesn’t leave Rob time to ponder the implications of looking after little monkey all day while mummy goes splashing in the hot tub. So before anyone can change their mind, I grab a few essentials, mainly a swimming costume and a travel magazine, and head for the train.

 

Turns out I need not have bothered with the swimwear as the brochure proclaims the Covent Garden spa’s apparent tradition of swimming naked. Nobody does, of course, except ‘a few of our older members’ as the lovely pedicurist reveals while painting my toenails the same shade of bright pink as my flip flops. In the absence of those trend-setting seniors on a quiet Wednesday, I frolic in the water and coyly flirt with the famous Atrium pool swing before deciding to get up close and personal for a bit of that playground feeling. I jacuzzi and steam room and lounge and lunch and daydream. On my own. For a whole day. It’s heaven.

Now of course we all want to believe that one day out is enough to leave you feeling recharged for, say, the next six months. I know Rob does. Turns out though that the girl is a bit miserable today. Bad night’s sleep, streaming nose and just a wee bit sorry for herself. I empathise and cuddle but there’s only so much constant clinging to I can take over the course of the day so inevitably I lose my cool once or twice. Ok, twice. Never my proudest moments.

But even so, I’m sufficiently refreshed not to beat myself up about it for hours afterwards. Instead more hugs, cuddles and letting her know that I wish I hadn’t scared her by taking my frustrations out on the potatoes and chopping board while she was balanced on my hip.

A friend on Facebook posted about a similar challenge, and I duly commiserated, only to be delighted by someone else’s comment:

‘I haven’t seen any wings around lately, perhaps that means none of us are angels’

Exactly. Not a carte blanche to be impatient all the time but a timely reminder that even mothers are only human. So I again thank my daughter’s self-proclaimed fairy godmothers for an amazing day out, and look forward to the next time.

At which point I might just follow that tradition of dispensing with the swimwear. And get on that swing in the buff, C-section scar and all. I mean really – why wait until you’re over 60 to drop those inhibitions and have some fun?

I may be German, after all.

Image: blog.spafinder.co.uk


Stigma of the Stay-At-Home Mom

Right. I’ve been avoiding writing about this but it keeps cropping up in various guises.

Before I start, a few disclaimers:

  1. This topic has been already written about a gazillion million times. Not by me, obviously, but still.
  2. All I have to offer are my thoughts. They may clash with your thoughts. That’s ok. Just because we have different thoughts doesn’t make me right, and you wrong. Nor the other way round.

 

So, what on Earth am I talking about, then? (pretend the title hasn’t given it away already!)

It’s this whole working vs. staying-at-home-as-a-parent business. Or, more precisely, staying-at-home-as-a-mum (or mom, whichever you prefer!).  I come across this a lot now that Lilly, at 14 months, is considered to be past that ‘baby-stage’, and old enough to be taken care off by someone else so that I can return to work and be a so-called responsible and contributing citizen. Hmmm…

Now, for starters, I’m not of the opinion that employment is the key to any of these qualities, nor to maternal fulfillment and happiness. I know mothers who work and are unsatisfied. I know mums who take care of their children at home and are blissfully happy. I know mums in between those two extremes trying to find a healthy balance (i.e. me!).

I struggle defining myself as a stay-at-home mum, because

a) that’s by far not ALL I do and

b) the stigma attached to the term really irks me.

I generally get the impression it’s seen as ‘the easy way out’, especially by those without kids; although my trusted mummy friends who have returned to work ensure me that it’s anything but a lazy cop out.

 

So if it’s supposed to be all about choice, then why do so many mums feel the pressure of having to return to ‘work’?

Well, there are the obvious rewards of a job – recognition in monetary terms, and otherwise. Don’t get so much of that at home.

And then of course not everyone feels like they have a choice.

I’m especially thinking about countries with scarily short maternity leave, such as the United States or South Africa, where you are expected to be back at your desk after a mere four months. That’s a very short span of financial compensation before you have to decide whether to put your brand new tiny person into someone else’s care, or relinquish your right to your previous employment. You may feel like you don’t have the ‘luxury’ of not working without impacting your current lifestyle (although lifestyle, by the way, is also a choice). You may be a single parent needing to provide a stable income.

In all of this, I do have to own that many of my assumptions are coloured by my ‘middle class’ background. I recently came across a study suggesting that the stay-at-home moms who are most unsatisfied are those with previous low-income jobs where their paycheck doesn’t cover the cost of the childcare needed in order for them to work. Not much talked about, that.

Equally, I need to recognize that I am currently only writing from one perspective so I can’t comment on things like mommy guilt due to being away from your child, although I do know about the needs of said child happily interfering with what you might want to get on with, like capturing that important thought about your writing, or putting up that post you are just dying to share. Or being too tired at the end of the day to do any of that.

Some people of course love their jobs, and need some sort of fulfilment beyond fulltime parenting. I do too, and in my world feeling fulfilled is not a luxury problem (as it has recently been put to me) but an absolute necessity. My definition of responsibility and contribution doesn’t necessarily look like going to the office from nine to five. I believe the choices we make don’t have to be an either/or scenario – there are many options in between if we look for them.

There’s ever so much more to write about choice, so look for that in a future post. I could also say a lot more about the responsibility and contribution of bringing up content and socially adept children, although I am not saying that staying at home is the only avenue to make that happen. I’m quite certain that Lilly will be taking care of by someone outside her immediate environment at some point, at least part-time. But I will be carefully choosing whom to trust to provide a setting that mirrors the values we hold for her.

The scary thing is, though, that in work as in motherhood you tend to get promoted just as you get good at something. I just got good at providing three daily meals, doing laundry, maintenance cleaning , girl/dog walking and having regular writing time. As I graduate into more active toddlerhood, I foresee steep learning curves. God help me when she starts to talk all day. And worse, drops the daily nap. Except more maternal meltdowns here…

 

Image: www.momlogic.com


Curiosity Killed The Cat

There’s an exciting week of birthdays ahead in the Hargreaves house. Namely, the short one is turning one and yours truly is turning 40. To her credit, Lilly had the sensibility to choose her own birthday and not muscle in on Mummy’s. Still, having back-to-back birthdays means we’ll be keeping Daddy on his toes for years to come!

 

Lilly’s special day is giving me good cause to revisit the rituals of my own childhood birthdays, and to consider which ones I want to keep up with her. A birthday table is a definite must, and I am delighted to have tracked down a special candleholder, apparently called a birthday ring in English, as the centrepiece. You add a new candle every year, and I even found the exact ones I remember having as a child, each imprinted with lovely little images that I used to study for ages. Having only been graced with this nocturnal inspiration last week, I am keeping my fingers crossed that my find arrives in the post on time. There’ll be cake, naturally, and we are planning a family day out.

 

My own big day, however, is entirely in the hands of the husband. And despite having carefully scanned the environment and prodded for clues, I am rather left in the dark. I feel a bit like Inspector Clouseau, or even worse, Inspector Clueless, since the former usually does end up solving the mystery by chance. As for me, I know that we are going away but the buck stops here.

Seriously, nobody’s talking. This secret is watertight. Important friends that should be included in potential celebrations keep telling me all about their plans for this weekend. Even if one or two have hinted with a casual shoulder shrug that they might be in on something, the best I’ve gotten are random comments such as ‘You’d enjoy clay pigeon shooting, wouldn’t you?’ Yes, that sounds like a grand plan. I am sure I would have a blast.

In six years with the husband, I’ve normally been able to glean some sort of indication as to what might be going on for special occasions. This of course is a classic girl’s dilemma – the delicate balance between desiring to find out whilst being utterly delighted by the prospect of a surprise. Still, it’s almost like we can’t help ourselves – we want to be swept off our feet and yet that damn curiosity gets the better of us and we wonder if we can figure it out.

To be fair, there are times when it’s great to know about plans ahead of time. Like going on our magical honeymoon in South Africa, or visiting my favourite niece for her High School Graduation. Both occasions were supposed to be surprises at one point or another, but knowing about them beforehand had the definite benefit of everyone involved having something to look forward to.

Sometimes the fun is in the knowing. This isn’t one of those times. This time, the fun is definitely in the suspense.

 

Nevertheless, I’m sure my inner cat has given up a few quality years by now.

From Simon Bond's hilarious '101 Uses for a Dead Cat'

Desperate Housewife

First of all, let me say it’s a HUGE personal challenge to stick up a post with a title like that, even though it’s kinda tongue-in-cheek. Secondly, I know nothing about the related TV series, but the heading sounded catchy enough.

So, it’s been one of those weeks. Except it’s going on two weeks now. The munchkin is miserable. First teeth, now a streaming cold. Sleep has been a huge drama. As a result, she’s shattered, and quite frankly I am too.

Of course running on empty is one of those things that mums are not supposed to do. It says so in the fine print. And whenever you disobey the fine print, there’s an inbuilt punishment called guilt. Mummy guilt. You basically beat yourself up for not being perfect, or for losing your cool. Even if it was just once that day, for about a nanosecond. A nanosecond is plenty of time for mummy guilt to set in.

But this whole beating-yourself-up-business gets a bit tiresome, especially when you know that it’s an unhealthy thing to do. So I’ve been doing some thinking. I know the whole teething/cold combo (no, I wouldn’t like to supersize that, thank you very much) isn’t the real story; it’s more like the camel’s hopefully temporary spinal misalignment.

Of course I never lose my cool when everyone’s all smiles. I also know that when something has rocked Lilly’s little world the wrong way, she actually needs me to be resourceful the most. But sometimes it just feels like I’ve got nothing else to give. Or, more accurately, I need that nanosecond or two to give voice to my own frustration before I can truly focus on what she needs.

I also came to the conclusion that what really bugs me underneath it all is the attitude that the whole mothering thing includes the ‘doing all the housework’ thing too. Now, for someone who has never been particularly domestic, this concept basically sucks (I know this is not necessarily a universal notion, but I am only tackling my own experience here). So it came to me that maybe part of the reason I am occasionally running on empty is because I am spending a significant amount of my time doing something that is not my thing. Writing is my thing, not washing. And I don’t even have a particularly tidy place! Yes, it’s only small but when the life of three people and a canine is contained inside a one bedroom flat, messes accumulate with great alacrity. Leaving three errand envelopes lying around can look like clutter.

If nothing else, the realization that the washing and cooking and cleaning up routine is a greater energy drain than being with Lilly made me feel better. That’s not to say being present with her all day most days doesn’t add to it all. But at least it alleviates some of that mummy guilt.

Now I’m aware that I am opening myself to a lot of judgment here. Especially since I am choosing to stay with Lilly (honestly, some days a paying job and childcare sound like a fine alternative!). As a matter of fact, if I was reading this on another mum’s blog, I’d probably be judgmental too. But that’s life – someone will always have something to say about why what you are experiencing is ‘wrong’. And how they would do it better. 

Some time ago, I was told I shouldn’t be using this blog for ‘therapy’. For that, read I should be dealing with what ails me privately. Sure, I don’t need to go public every time I break a fingernail. But I am writing about my experience writing and mummy-ing, and I’d be lying if it was all plain sailing all of the time. That’s not authentic.

And yes, writing of all sorts, whether private or public, is indeed cathartic. And significantly more accessible than a camelid chiropractor…

 

Oh, and the picture? That’s the first hit you get when you search for ‘mum running on empty’ on Google Images. ‘Nuff said…

 

The Cot

 

Dear Mum & Dad,

 

We need to talk about our sleeping arrangements. You see, it was all lovely when I first came to stay. You had this cozy thing called a co-sleeper, like a three-sided cot that attached to your bed. I could see you; you could see me. I was in touching distance for emergency cuddles and nocturnal dummy insertion. I could give you that big smile first thing in the morning, and even reach out my hand for you.

Now you bought into this idea of a proper cot. With four sides, and BARS. Now I understand I’m more mobile, and you don’t want me crawling all over you in the middle of the night. I even concede that I may have overstepped my boundaries on one or two occasions. But ONLY because I wanted to be close to you. Or climb over you and be close to Daddy. I kinda get that you like your sleep more than I do, especially when it’s dark (you call that nighttime?). But a full-blown wooden prison is a bit harsh, don’t you think?

Yes, it’s still close to your bed but I can’t get out at will anymore. I’m all caged in, HELP!

Yes, yes, yes – I know you made it all nice for me with new sheets and a cotbumper. I know Daddy drove a long way to pick it up. And blah blah blah… But the fact remains that it’s a cruel and unjust curtailment of my basic right to freedom, which I demand. Loudly.

And it’s really not all that it’s cracked up to be for you either. I only let you put me in there when I’m asleep. And you now have to lift me up, and down into this prison thing without me waking. I ain’t getting any lighter, you know. Last night I woke up when you tried to lock me in and created havoc for a few hours, hee hee. Just to prove a point. And to keep you from watching that silly Euro football game, mummy. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like the thing alright for daytime naps. I do my time, you let me out. But at night it sucks! I don’t get parole because you want me to stay and sleep some more! Besides, when I wake up, you can’t reach me from your bed anymore. And when you put me back in, you heave me over the railing like a sack of potatoes.

It’s not all happy like in the Mothercare catalogues. Have you noticed how they actually never have any real babies in their product pictures? There’s a reason for that. Besides, don’t you miss me being closer to you?

As I said, we need to talk.

How does 4am sound?

 

Love,

Lilly

 

Freedom and Friendship

On a recent girly night out, we did ‘words’ before dinner. This involves going around the table and selecting a word that describes your day, feeling or current experience. I love words, not least of all because Rob picked the word marriage during a romantic dinner in Paris and proceeded to produce a shiny, sparkly ring.

That evening, I chose the words freedom and friendship (you can cheat and have more than one). Freedom because it was the first time I’d been out all afternoon and evening, leaving Rob and the girl to fend for themselves through dinner and bedtime, which they managed beautifully. Another friend chose expansion, which I also loved because mum or not, you continually expand to be all sorts of things.

I was still pondering those words walking back over the Embankment footbridge on my way home. I love strolling over the Thames at night, seeing all the lit up buildings and their reflections in the dark water. It occurred to me that now I have Lilly, I have a whole new appreciation and mindfulness for the time I get to spend alone.

Even that simple walk turns from ordinary to extraordinary when it ceases to be something you do all of the time. A solo cinema trip; a prowl in the fields with the dog all take on greater significance when they are no longer everyday events. And I am really paying attention to what’s going on around me, whether it’s St. Paul’s at night, or the sounds of the wind in an empty field with Jack.

I find I am now placing much greater value on the time I get to spend with myself, as opposed to treating it as a commodity. Coming back refreshed, even after a short time, allows me to consciously appreciate time with Lilly more so than if I didn’t have a break to focus on me.

I also guess part of the freedom is not so much freedom from being with Lilly as freedom from some of the limitations that can come with traveling with a little one. A prowl in the woods is not easily accomplished with wheels. It’s nice to not depend on lifts as you do if the girl’s in the buggy, or to use stairs without clinging to hand railings when she’s in her sling.

The side effect of prancing around in muddy fields is of course that the canine gets rotten filthy from all the mess he rolled himself around in. That gets me in trouble, as the master is not fond of a stinking dog.

 

Freedom or not – if it’s not one kid, it’s the other!

Karma’s A Bitch

 

Recently, a friend invited me to his birthday dinner. The date fell on the husband’s weekly badminton night. Badminton nights are non-negotiable, and thus equal no childcare. Nevertheless, I optimistically agreed to go. With the short one in tow, after bedtime. After all, it worked in New York. (I might have also felt a tad guilty for not having gone to his birthday party in three years)

The day before, I looked into the logistics and discovered a slight flaw: the closest tube station had no lifts. Most of them don’t so this shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it definitely ruled out going with the girl sleeping in her buggy. Four flights of stairs to street level, plus a winding staircase to the birthday boy’s restaurant table, are not conducive to traveling with wheels.

Now, trying to explain to a non-parent why some adventures may after all be impractical is like talking Chinese to a Mexican. Or using sign language with a blind person. My friend frankly didn’t see the dilemma. Surely someone would help me (yes – but it’s difficult to keep bubba asleep jolting a buggy up and down stairs during the rush hour commute). In any case, he couldn’t meet any earlier and another woman would be bringing her daughter too, so what exactly was the big deal?

I knew I was speaking Chinese because I have been on the other end of such conversations many a time. Pre-motherhood, naturally. Prior to seeing the error of my non-mummy ways, I used to be the one coming up with a million perfectly logical reasons why life shouldn’t be a problem just because you have produced offspring. Most memorably I talked my best childhood friend into driving 1,000 miles from Germany to Brittany for less than a week’s holiday. 14 hours in the car with a 4 year old. In the middle of winter. It was a fantastic trip and we had great fun, including an unplanned stopover in Paris and going up the Eiffel Tower at night. But practical with a small one it was not.

Now I admit becoming a parent doesn’t mean you need to overcomplicate everything. Thankfully, Lilly’s pretty flexible as long as her requirements for food and sleep are met. And this is mostly what I try to consider ahead of time. There’s a fine line between being the sensible parent and the adventurous night owl so I guess it’s all about balance, about picking your moments. You can’t be cautious all the time, but there’s no need to be reckless either. So should I occasionally appear inflexible about making plans, bear with me – I’m just trying to make sure everyone (including Lilly) has a good time.

In the end, we did go. Just long enough to have a drink, Lilly mostly asleep in her PJ’s in a sling. It worked, although it won’t necessarily be repeated.

Oh, and the other woman’s daughter? She turned out to be a teenager. But really, from a non-parent’s view, it’s all the same, isn’t it?

 

Ladies Who Lunch

 

A whole new dimension has been added to my day: the girl wants lunch.

On the whole, the baby-led weaning thing is going really well. We’ve covered an impressive range of foods and for the most part, it’s a joy to watch Lilly eat. Yes, it’s still messy but these days, we do less face painting and more putting the food where it is actually intended (although I’m convinced sometimes she does intend for it to go onto the floor, or better yet, straight into the waiting canine’s mouth).

We started with introducing the concept of dinner, then breakfast. Now it appears we are on to three square meals a day. The whole lunch thing is temporarily traumatic because it seems that I currently spend a significant part of my day preparing food, serving it, and cleaning up afterwards. Some days, one seems to almost run into the other.

For the better part of the last month, sufficient midday magic was to hand the girl a piece of dry bread and Bob’s your uncle (well, actually Hans-Jürgen’s my uncle but it hardly has the same ring to it). Now she wants real food. Avocados are a firm favourite, with bits on the side. Preferably nutritious and quick to prepare (ok, the latter are clearly mummy stipulations).

Honestly peeps, I signed up to be a writer, not a chef. Was there something in the mothering contract’s fine print about regular food provision? And whatever next – snacks???

Ok, rant over. I know this too shall pass. Not the requirement for three meals, but the time-consuming novelty of it. After all, I thought it was hard work when we introduced one meal a day, let alone three. And I have now moaned to enough people that I am actually tired of hearing myself. Very therapeutic though. As is blogging. After all, who needs retail therapy when you can write?

But just in case you find my next post has been penned in blood orange, you know I will have taken the term ‘food writing’ to the next level.

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

I’m back and I’ve fed my travel bug.

A while ago, I wrote about the novel experience of plotting my moves with the added challenge of accounting for baby girl.

The whole advance planning thing felt a bit awkward at the time, but to be honest, it well paid off. Two trips went pretty much flawlessly, and I am relieved to have an apparently budding international traveller on my hands.

As it turns out, traveling with a short one has its perks too. Like priority boarding and bulkhead seats (hip hip hurray for leg room!). Being personally escorted to our seats on the Eurostar (only on the Belgian side though, and after I had the audacity to sneak into the appropriate waiting area). My absolute fave was being instantaneously waved away from the snaking customs queues upon arrival in the United States and being allowed to go through the diplomats’ lane. Loved that. Just never mind we didn’t look particularly ‘diplomatic’.   

And it felt great to be going places again! Enjoyed the experience as much as ever. Yes, you do things slightly differently. You might take longer to get out the door and be home earlier to do dinner and bedtime. You may prefer staying in flats rather than fancy hotels because you like the added flexibility of having access to food whenever it suits, and a fridge that works and is bigger than your purse. But really, what you do in many ways is an extension of what you do at home, so things like dinner and bedtime are hardly novel, and wild party nights haven’t really been on the agenda for a while either.

Most importantly for us, it meant having a relaxed time together with friends and as a family, as well as doing things that we might not otherwise have experimented with at home. Like settling the girl to sleep in her buggy at bedtime before wheeling her into a busy restaurant to celebrate our friend’s birthday. Or having nights out, both as a couple and the ever-essential girly evening.

So the only thing I have to get over is the fact that I am hauling more luggage than I would have ever deemed acceptable in my previous life (cue raised eyebrows from my fabulous New York friend when we pitched up with three suitcases and three pieces of hand luggage). But that’s a small price to pay.

I have to of course acknowledge that my experience thus far is only based on two trips but I am choosing to be optimistic. After all, we’ve now covered various new modes of transportation (train, plane, taxi, tram), crossed time zones and done lots of naps and nappies on the move. It will all be a different ballgame when the girl starts moving, and wanting more entertainment than being carried around all day, but I figure we’ll cross that bridge when we crawl to it.  

Of course the side effect of feeding your travel bug is that it gets bigger. Far from being appeased with being nourished after long months of abstinence, it wants more. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either a good or a bad thing.


I think it’s bril. Rob’s still thinking…



Wife and Mother From A Dad’s View

My fabulous wife, Nette, has asked me to write a guest post for her blog, which I am only now managing to fit in between all my work, which is a great position to be in and I’m very grateful to be able to serve people, achieve an excellent result as well as a reasonable reward for doing what I really currently enjoy!

My recollection when we first got together was that neither of us wanted children, although Nette says at some point before our wedding we discussed it and she actually did then want to have children “at some point”.

After 3 stepchildren from my previous marriage in South Africa, I wasn’t keen on the idea, although apparently I “tentatively agreed” or least didn’t dismiss the idea outright. As was the case with our dog, when certain things that I’m not wildly keen upon are “suggested” I tend to say “next year” or some similar far-off future time, perhaps hoping she’ll change her mind or forget… Perish the thought! My lovely wife has an “elephant memory” and a “bulldog determination”, with the end result that she eventually gets what she wished for and I “agreed” to sooner or later 😉

Why I mention this is because my great concern or “fear” was how my (our) life would change, first with the acquisition of the dog and then on a greater scale with the “creation” of a child. In both cases, although my (our) life has changed I really love both the dog, or “hound” as I often call Jack, and even more so our beautiful baby daughter. She is a delight to be around and play with almost all the time – except at night, when only Mommy will do!

During this whole transition it’s been a privilege to watch Nette grow from not just my lovely wife, but also to an amazing Mom, as she continually surprises me with the patience, caring and love she has for Lilly on a daily basis, which I’m sure as any Mum will say, is both rewarding & tiring, often in fluctuating degrees.

It’s not always “perfect sailing” we have our disagreements and different views on things, but one thing is certain, our love and best wishes for Lilly. I will often remark how “lucky” Lilly is to have such a fabulous Mom, and I couldn’t have wished for a better wife and mother to my baby girl. I have a massive appreciation (even if I don’t mention it every single day) for what Nette does each and every day & night.

Sometimes I do feel a little like a bystander watching things unfold, and Nette will sometimes encourage me to “get more involved” with Lilly and I think right now, get involved as best I can for me while balancing my work life is a journey that will evolve as I continue to undertake it… Watch this space!