I am bereft. And spent. So this was my first five-day week at work since coming back from mat leave in December. LORDY. I am the human equivalent of a deflated balloon; prone on the party floor, covered in fag ash, a little bit of vomit and specks of glitter. Now all I want to do is flop onto the sofa and have my mind numbed by bad TV. Possibly whilst drooling on my own chin and necking wine like it’s juice. How do people do this every week?
It also feels so weird to not spend Friday with my little toddler buddy. Fridays were like all the best bits of mat leave condensed into one day per week. A shot of maternity leave or maternity leave lite. On the weekends every play area is teeming with 50 different versions of Conan the Rampaging Toddler. You take your life into your own hands if you venture into the ball pit. Who knows what is lurking in the depths? Definitely e-Coli. And lets not get started on watching 50 toddler-divas try and share one plastic rocking horse (because of course they all want the same one). Formal hostage negotiation skills are needed. On the weekend it’s Lord of the Flies. But on Fridays everywhere was empty. We frolicked round the soft play venues and parks of SW17 with gay abandon. It was nothing short of fabulous.
Going back to work five days a week has also prompted a hefty dose of mum guilt. As mothers we not only get to push our babies out of our vaginas, forever ravaging our bodies, we also get mum guilt, forever ravaging our minds. As you tiptoe the fine line between your needs and your child’s needs it can raise its head at any given moment. And putting Bella into nursery for five days has unleashed THE GUILT (Caps Lock required). My rational brain tells me that she is really happy there. In fact she cries when we come to pick her up now (which is dispiriting in a whole new way). My rational brain also knows that as nice as our flat is, we don’t have 20 different baby dolls (THANK GOD, TERRIFYING), a bubble machine, a host of dinosaur toys, or daily singing time (well technically I sing, but it could also be classified as inflicting ear torture). In the blue corner we have the rational brain, in the red corner we have mum guilt. And mum guilt wins every time.
I also now feel a pressure to make the weekends EXTRA SPECIAL, as we only get those two days with her. And that means not just sitting in front of the “TV babysitter” watching back-to-back episodes of Hey Duggie and Justin’s House. (Incidentally, Justin, AKA Mr Tumble, seems very asexual, like an aggressively cheerful Ken doll. I am positive that if I took his clothes off there would be a plastic mound where his man-bits should be). However, thinking about it, extra special is all relative these days. Bella is a cheap date at the moment. I am an exceptionally cheap date. So extra special can be nothing more than going to the playground and letting her go on the slide 500 times in a row. And then the swings. 500 times in a row. And then the roundabout. 500 times in a row. Whilst I watch on, taking the millionth video of swing-time, and devouring all her rice cakes (the apple ones are JUST delicious). So that’s where I will be every Saturday and Sunday from now on. It’s a done deal.
The other day we were in the local supermarket, doing a routine shop in what passes for a fun day out nowadays. I gave Bella a carton of soup to hold, because the outstretched arm of demand was reaching for it. I thought to myself “how helpful of her, carrying that when my hands are full”. Idiot. Then we had to pay, so I had to remove said carton from her grasp. THE. TANTRUM. THE. TEARS. THE. SCREAMING. This incident is now known as “Soup-Gate”. With the terrible twos looming on the horizon like a malevolent thunderhead, Bella is warming us up with an array of tantrums. These come on like tropical storms. They appear from nowhere at a moment’s notice, leave a path of devastation and lobbed toys in their wake, and then are gone as fast as they arrived. Here are six of the classic toddler-diva tantrums:
The “exit” tantrum
When you need to leave the playground/softplay/park/shopping centre (insert scene of japes), because they have been on the slide 100,000 times and it’s gone dark and you feel like time has actually stopped. So you pick up your toddler diva with hope in your eyes, praying that this time, this time, you will get away with it. No. Never. Cue epic tantrum as you wrestle your FURY-FILLED, biting banshee into the pram.
The “strapping in the pram” tantrum
Similar to the exit tantrum, but this one can occur whenever the toddler-diva feels like it (which is most of the time). They generally want to walk by themselves and do not appreciate having their freedom curtailed. So putting them into the pram becomes quite the feat, akin to an obstacle course. You frantically BUCKLE, BUCKLE whilst you toddler turns into a rampaging bronco, all arching of the back, bucking and ramrod legs. A parental double act is recommended here.
The “how dare you give me beans again” tantrum
So yesterday beans were fine. Yesterday beans were delicious. Yesterday there were not enough beans in the world. Today they cause abject hysteria. Today they are thrown back in your face with all the force of jet propulsion. This is one of the messiest of all the tantrums, think one sided food fight. You end up peeling dried bean-juice off the walls a week later.
The “Changing Mat” tantrum
The toddler diva obviously does not tolerate being sat in shit for long (and very sensible too). But if one should have the temerity to try and CHANGE the soiled nappy then this can often cause one of the most ferocious of squalls. In fact the mere sight of the changing table seems to turn Bella into Baby Jekyll.
The “other child has the thing that I wasn’t interested in until they picked it up” tantrum
Bella is generally pretty good at “sharing” (I know this is not really sharing, it’s more she has no longer any interest in the thing she has given away), but the other day we were at soft play and there were two IDENTICAL rubber rocking creatures (it definitely wasn’t a horse) next to each other. Both her and a boy toddler wanted the same one. Natch. Coordinated tantrums ensued, like an orchestra of angst.
The “Who the f**k knows” tantrum
It could be because you put the dolly in the buggy the wrong way (trick question, there is no right way), it could be because you put the toy cow next to the toy sheep (WTF), or it could be because you TOOK A SOCK OFF (call yourself a mother). There is no point trying to guess the cause, just get into the storm shelter and wait this one out.
It’s Mother’s Day. I am a MOTHER. Sometimes I still double take at that, like I am playing in the dress up box and someone is going to tell me to take the costume off soon. The last seventeen months have sped by so fast. I can barely remember those early days of bleeding nips and brushing my teeth with Sudocrem by mistake (and WHAT. A. MISTAKE). Looking back now on my motherhood journey, here are ten things I would tell my newly mummed self:
The emotional rollercoaster of oxytocin driven euphoria immediately followed by sleep-deprived despair is totally normal, especially when you first get home from hospital. It’s normal to feel a tad emosh. You are at the mercy of a powerful cocktail of progesterone, oestrogen and anything else your body can throw in there (the hormonal equivalent of a Long Island Ice Tea). You aren’t going mad. You will even out.
It’s OK to feel trapped, like the walls are closing in on you and your squalling newborn. Having a baby in the darkest, dankest depths of the British autumn, when you can’t go outside or you’ll end up with a gangrenous trench foot, is hard. Expect cabin fever and don’t fight it, instead RELISH the time you have to lie prone on the sofa watching every Netflix boxset going. This won’t last forever and you’ll wake up one day and realise you haven’t watched Say Yes to the Dress in months. (PS I love the US version of this because it’s always clinically obese brides trying to squeeze into ill-advised, strapless fishtail dresses, whilst their skeletal and “angry because they are hungry” bridesmaids tell them they look great whilst secretly smirking behind their skeletal hands. Car crash TV.)
Don’t turn to Dr Google for everything. It is a false friend, where all roads end in cancer or a rabbit hole of barely disguised parental despair.
Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks ALL the time. On one hand it’s great that we live in a world where we can access information at the tap of a finger and where we can see how everyone else does it, all laid out on a rose-tinted grid. But on the other, it means we constantly judge ourselves against yardsticks that really don’t matter. All that does matter is that you do what’s right for you, and you get through it all with your sanity intact and your little one intact.
Hug Bella all the time. Hold her close and breathe in that lovely baby-biscuit smell (that somehow heady combo of pee, milk and sweat). For she will soon be a rampaging toddler, aka “Conan the wrecker of living rooms and chaser of cats”, and will only want cuddles when ill.
Physically, birth is like getting hit by a truck (slowly). Expect to feel like your vagina has run a marathon, and don’t try to do too much too soon. Enjoy. The. Sofa. (I realise a lot of these centre on the joy of a nice sit down).
Take care of your relationship as well as your baby. You will be cross with your partner at the beginning, for sleeping more than you, for not having leaky tits full of milk, for not having to wear an adult nappy, for not smelling of milk and sick…the list goes on. (And let’s face it you will be cross at EVERYTHING on two-hour sleep increments. You may even find yourself kicking the Hoover just for being, well, a Hoover: guilty.). But don’t let things fester, men are not mind readers (thank god) and you need to keep talking.
Travel anywhere and everywhere whilst she is small. When they are tiny you can strap them to you and off you go. And you can sit in cafes for hours, knocking back flat white after flat white until your eyes bleed and your hands start to tremble, with them slumbering on you. When they get to rampant toddler age, and the PRAM RAGE kicks in, suddenly you are confined to the vicinity of your immediate postcode.
Don’t be afraid to talk to other mums (AKA don’t be so British). Maternity leave will be lonely, so you need other mothers around you. Don’t be scared to say hi, no one will tell you to piss off (let’s face it, we are too British for that too).
Eat more cake. You need it. You deserve it. Eat it all.
So I have been back at work just over a month and am really enjoying speaking to adult humans all day. I was vastly out of practice at first. Turns out shouting at TV’s “Loose Women” doesn’t count as actual human interaction. For the first couple weeks I crawled home exhausted, nay spent, at the end of each day. I would lie in a foetal position on the sofa, drooling, staring at the wall, unable to cope with any stimulation at all. But now I am acclimatising and I am glad to be back using my brain on a daily basis. I am also getting used to compartmentalising my two lives, work me and mum me. (I sound like a really dull, domesticated double agent, who goes from the thrilling world of Powerpoint to the equally thrilling world of changing nappies.) And actually having both lives makes me appreciate the other one more. HOWEVER, saying all that, there are four things I have not enjoyed about leaving mat leave life behind, four thorns in my side, four constant niggles.
The mum guilt is the hardest thing. It’s always with me, like Quasimodo’s hump, bowing me low by the weight of my own expectations. After a year spending every day with Bella we have effectively achieved an emotional symbiosis, where we are like two halves of one person. So when I left her for whole days at a time it felt like I had torn off my right arm and left it in the sand pit. I can’t think about her when I am at work or I would just break down and slowly weep, like a leaky tap. And mum guilt is such a strange beast. I feel bad for leaving her, even though she is having the BEST time. Let’s face it we don’t do singing time, story time, bubble machine time and light display time at home…we put the tele on and hope for the best. I also feel bad that I actually enjoy myself when we are apart. So it’s a tenacious double hitter that keeps on giving.
So when we were little we had a hamster, called Hammy (yep, see what we did there). Most of the time Hammy was trying to gnaw our fingers off with his razor sharp needle teeth, but when he wasn’t doing that, he was on his tiny hamster wheel. And on that wheel he raced, his little feet moving so fast we could barely see them, his eyes bulging, his expression one of delight and stress in equal measures. And he thought it would never end. This is me. I am Hammy on his wheel. Being a working mum can feel absolutely relentless. Although I love both parts of my life, I feel like I can never get off the wheel to just have a little rest. And maybe a Jaffa Cake.
The thing I loathe most about being back at work is the commute. The northern line between 7.30-9am is like the start of an Armageddon movie. “London was saturated, BURSTING at the seams, when one day an evil corporation tried to get numbers down by turning them all into zombies. The end.” I did not miss being squished into several armpits like human Tetris. I did not miss folk standing so close that I could feel their breath on my skin. And I did not miss getting buffeted by the dirty breeze, which surely carries the dead skin cells from all Londoners since Victorian times. And don’t even get me started on the commuters who have what must be Tuberculosis and cough into their hands and then PUT THEIR HANDS ON THE POLES. Patient Zero, keep your mucus-covered mitts to yourself. (And I can say this as someone who has had a non-stop cold since September thanks to living with the human petri dish that is Bella.) Last gripe. Since when did trains start stopping three times between every station so your ten stop journey becomes thirty, inching forward at a jerking yet glacial pace.
Nursery drop off and pick up
So yea, commuting is NOT fun. Nursery drop is also not fun. Not because Bella cries, on the contrary she now leaps from my arms into the waiting bosom of her favourite carer, Odeffe, with gay abandon. But they keep the nursery at sub-tropical temperatures at all times. So you arrive all freshly coiffured and with your face plastered on, and leave sweaty and dishevelled and smelling slightly of the dish of the day. And the pram room. The pram room. Which is basically a “how many buggies can you fit in a cupboard” challenge, where if you snooze you lose. Last in ends up having to construct some kind of winch out of their scarf and the rain cover and hoist their prams onto the ceiling for safekeeping. Nursery drop off also has its challenges. Bella is apparently fine there all day, doesn’t sleep too much as she is TOO EXCITED to close her eyes and miss anything, (ahhh I have a FOMO baby). But she eats everything, plays with everything and generally romps around after the other kids trying to gum their heads. But the moment I get there….BOOM….floods of tears, prompting a fresh bout of mum guilt for leaving her. So racked with sweat in the morning, racked with guilt in the evening. Great.
So a bout of mega anxiety snuck up on me a few weeks ago. I was merrily plugging along, eleven months in, adjusting as I went to the ever-changing task that is looking after a baby. I wasn’t smashing it by any means but we did have some great days. One day we discovered Babease food pouches for 4p (4p!) in Boots. Another day I caught (not literally caught) a giant turd JUST before it leaked all over her clothes, the new pram liner and probably me. Things were ticking over. Things were good. Then all of a sudden I turned into an anxious mess.
When you have a baby there is always a base level of “what the fuck” and “shiiiiiiiiit” as you adjust to the weight of first growing another human inside you and then continuing to grow that human outside you. You gradually accept that responsibility whilst at the same time thinking “pretty sure this is not what I signed up for”. You agree to make sure they are fed, watered and developing into a well-rounded person who doesn’t want to set fire to ants and turn them into necklaces to sell in the school playground (I have gone a bit Silence of the Lambs meets Richard Branson there, sorry.) And you start to get into a unique rhythm, where you bumble along constantly searching for reassurance but at the same time growing more confident. So I was shocked when I suddenly turned into a gibbering wreck of a human.
I think it was triggered by Bella’s nursery insisting on FIVE WEEKS of settling in prior to her official start date. That meant that my head, which had been firmly and happily planted in the sand, was suddenly wrenched out and made to face real life. Nursery was not happening in five weeks, it was happening now. My sloping, lazy days of going to budget supermarkets and sitting in fetid ball pits frantically wishing I had a Michael Jackson flu mask were ALMOST OVER. And I desperately wasn’t ready to give them up.
I also wasn’t ready to think about Bella going to nursery. Her stranger danger radar has been fairly aggressive thus far, which gives me scant hope that she will settle smoothly into nursery life. I fear that she will be one of those babies who cry from the moment I leave to the moment I return, with brief breaks to pull her own sock off and gum the floor. All you want as a mum is for your baby to be content and the thought that leaving her will upset her so much is hard to stomach. I say this even though my rational mind knows nursery is the best place for her. She needs to socialise and get the stimulation that trained professionals will provide (let’s face it, she doesn’t like This Morning and there’s only so many Cup and Cushion obstacle courses I can create before she fires me for being incompetent).
So how did this anxiety manifest itself? Well I was suddenly overemotional at everything, like the worst case of PMT but with no “M” in sight. Even TV adverts sent me into floods of tears, “but the meerkat was left by himmmmmmself” I would wail. I sat in the diseased play areas of SW17 with tears leaking down my cheeks like a broken tap for NO REASON. And I felt too nervous to eat, which let’s face it has NEVER happened before. There is no bad thing that a tub of Nutella and a dessertspoon can’t fix, but this time, nada, I just wasn’t hungry. And I found myself getting really scratchy at night time, again for no discernable reason. I was also supposed to go and visit my parents up t’north but had a borderline panic attack at the thought of the journey (well, Northern Trains do prompt that reaction in a lot of people). And more than all this, I just didn’t feel like me. I am known as a “glass MORE than half full” kind of person, not a person who questions the very existence of the glass.
According to the Royal College of Midwives up to 20% of women experience perinatal mental illness during pregnancy and/or the first year of their babies lives. Whilst many people are aware that you can become depressed after giving birth, it’s less well known that many women experience anxiety. Yet it is so reassuring to know that others have felt the same way. When I realised that this might not just go away I slowly started to talk about it, even though it wasn’t easy to admit something was wrong because that made it real. I also felt embarrassed that I was feeling anxious at this stage, almost a year in, when surely I should be taking everything in my stride. As well as talking, I created lists; lists of what triggered my anxiety. This helped, as when you put shape and structure to overwhelmingly amorphous bad feelings they become more understandable and less daunting. I also started counselling two weeks ago, and plan to write more about how that goes. I selected a counsellor from an Awareness Centre near me who uses Behavioural Cognitive Therapy, which, as I understand it, is a practical way of helping you cope with anxiety.
I wasn’t sure I should share this as I have never experienced anxiety before and was a little afraid to let people under my mental ‘hood’. But I do believe mental health is as important as physical health and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it. I also want Bella to grow up in an environment where she is free to share how she feels. And if MY teenage years are anything to go by she will have plenty of feelings to talk about; adolescents practically make anxiety an art form. (I remember in my teens I used to chat to the Paul Nicholls poster on my wall when I felt down. Yes Paul Nicholls. Circa 1995 he was F.I.T.) So apologies, this story has no conclusion right now as I am at the start of a journey and I am not sure where it will go. But I will write about this again because it has definitely helped me. Turns out a “problem shared is a problem halved” isn’t just a nice sounding idiom after all.
One of my first blog posts was about how my three-month-old baby had more diva requests than Mariah Carey. Celebrity demands to ban vacuuming (Jay Z), have only cylindrical vases (Kanye), be lowered onto a sofa (Mariah), have 20 white kittens (again, Mariah) or 28 bottles of water at room temperature (Lady Gaga), were nothing compared to my tiny new-born diva. As Bella has grown up she has maintained her J-Lo ‘tude, it’s just the demands have changed and woe-betide any mother (read rider) that doesn’t keep up.
So here are her current top 12 demands:
1. Do not leave my sight, even for a second. With the advent of separation anxiety Bella wants me within arms reach at ALL times. I can’t even leave her side to go to the bathroom. Ahhh to pee alone without a miniature voyeur. One sweet day.
2. I will allow no one but mother to pick me up. Bella of course has a wider entourage of lackeys to attend to her every whim, but she has assigned me the job of chief-picker-upper. If anyone else tries to get in on this act she will swiftly make her displeasure very clear and they will be fired immediately.
3. My food must be yellow. Bella was a very enthusiastic advocate of baby led weaning at the start, but she hit ten months and suddenly would only put yellow food in her mouth. Mangos, cheese, bananas, bread and porridge are top of Bella’s list of demands. And she KNOWS when I try and trick her. I can’t coat a courgette in cheese so it looks yellow. She knows that there is GREEN food hiding under there.
4. I will not sit in the high chair for more than fifteen minutes. The high chair rage starts for seemingly no reason, other than she has finished eating and therefore must be taken somewhere more fun immediately. It is usually prefaced by a series of epic ‘mic drops’, where left over food, spoons, wet wipes and socks are all dumped onto the floor with increasing force.
5. I will under no circumstances wear a bib. Bib rage also occurs on a regular basis. She will not be constrained by such a mundane piece of clothing.
6. And ditto for socks. No sock lasts on her foot for more than five seconds. I am seriously considering making some with ties attached, “Socks on a String TM”.
7. I need a separate room, nay wing, for all my toys. Currently Bella’s toys have turned our once calm, dare I say chic, lounge into a budget version of the Fun House. There are Day-Glo instruments of fun lurking under every cushion and I am using the Jumperoo as a coffee table.
8. I will NOT SIT IN THE CAR SEAT. This one gets full caps lock. We don’t have a car so we don’t have to put her in said seat very often, but when we do she unleashes full throttle squalling banshee diva, which no amount of distraction can placate. It’s like we have Naomi Campbell strapped in the back seat.
9. I must never be allowed to become bored. This one just gets worse as they get older. Bella needs to be constantly rotated round our weapons of mass distraction. It’s basically a parent powered merry-go-round, where you are the horse.
10. How dare you keep me out of cupboards and bins. Now she can only zombie shuffle at the moment, but it’s enough to get her to ALL the places she really shouldn’t go: the bin, the cupboard where wires and batteries go to die, the cat litter, the cat food dish, the laundry basket…the list is endless. Try and dissuade her from attacking said hazard and the result is not pretty.
11. I will not sit in my own filth. This one hasn’t changed, and is still fair enough. Neither would I. But at the same time…
12. How dare you expect me to stay STILL whilst you change my nappy. Bella does not want to be restrained by the the changing table so it’s like trying to wrestle a nappy onto a wriggling piece of angry custard.
Last week we went to see my parents back up t’north. It was just lovely to be welcomed back into the warmth of the familial bosom, and I am not going to lie, it was even better to have someone else clean the high chair (the high chair is officially my nemesis, constantly crusted in the concrete that is dried Weetabix). But what wasn’t so good about being with the ‘rentals was that they couldn’t pick Bella up and cuddle her any more. In the six weeks since they last saw her she’s developed full on stranger danger and separation anxiety. My parents aren’t complete strangers, but they live so far away that they are definitely on the “stranger spectrum.” So every time they tried to lift her she would look back at me with confusion brimming in her eyes and then switch to full on red-browed squall within moments. This is sad for them, as they just want to shower her with affection, especially my Dad, who turns from gruff northern gent into PUDDLE OF GOO whenever Bella smiles.
I have found separation anxiety really hard to deal with over the last couple of months even though I know it is JUST A PHASE and I know it won’t last forever. Part of this is frustration that it’s so traumatic to hand her over to other people, when she used to be so happy to be passed like a parcel around a group of big cooing adult faces. People don’t seem to be very understanding of this behaviour in a baby. Some take it as a challenge. It’s like when you go out with a playa and you think you will be THE one to change him. “He just hasn’t met the right girl,” you say as he tries it on with every Lycra clad vagina in the immediate vicinity. People also think they will be THE one to change Bella, THE one she won’t cry on, so they keep on trying to pick her up. And trying. It turns into the oh-so-fun game of who can make my baby cry the most. Or they back off so fast they trip over their own feet, with a look of horror in their eyes, like she is a wild mustang to be feared, and ask me if she’s always been this difficult and clingy.
The separation anxiety has also made me start to ask what kind of person Bella will become, and wonder if she will be introverted or shy. Now, there is NOTHING wrong with this, nothing at all, but I am nervous because I used to be introverted and found it very difficult. “WHAT?” I hear those who know me cry. “Introverted! YOU? You could talk wallpaper off the wall.” And that is true now, but this wasn’t always the case.
When I was at school I was a figure of fun. Why? Well, because kids can be mean and I gave them plenty of fodder, a) I was aggressively tall and skinny, all elbows and knees, with snooker player spectacles (prompting the nickname “stick insect”), b) I had a MULLET and I only washed it once a week if it was lucky (prompting the nickname “chip pan head” and c) I was introverted…and introverted was always said as if it was a VERY BAD THING. At one point my teachers even had a quiet word with my parents about this. So it always seemed to me that my self-contained way of dealing with the world was just wrong, and that I should be trying harder to pass myself off as an extrovert. All this pressure was dumped on a poor adolescent riddled in hormones who looked like a cross between Billy Ray Cyrus and Timmy Mallet.
Over time I learned to adapt and change how I interacted with the world (and lost the mullet), but the idea that being quiet is a stigma has stayed with me. Even now I find it hard to leave my entire personality spread eagled on the table at first meet. So with this pedigree I worry about Bella. I keep descending down my own private ‘what if’ rabbit hole. What if she can’t talk to anyone at school, has no mates, and spends her time locked in her room listening to mournful EMO music, with too much eyeliner on, wearing waistcoats with small mirrors sewn onto them (flashback alert)? What if she LIKES REM?? What if she ends up getting called Big Bella? I mean she’s going to be tall with us as parents. You can’t fight genes. What if she never leaves her own bed,not even for custard creams, having to be winched out aged 30 as I look on wringing my hands, clutching my pearls and wailing “if only…”
Before I reach for the gin (read as I reach for the gin), I need to have a strong talk with myself. Why does it matter, so what if she is quiet? Apparently over a third of the population are introverts. Not only that, we need introverts. They are some of the most creative and powerful people driving society forwards, and that’s a whole different blog post in itself. Whatever Bella ends up becoming, all I can do is support her and love her. I will save her from strangers until she is cool with them again. And I pledge now to never make her feel wanting or guilty for how she is. Unless she is listening to REM, then judgement will be passed and words will be had.
Today we got ‘baby-bombed’. Again. This is when a total stranger approaches at great speed, usually cooing loudly, and GRABS, or in more extreme cases, KISSES your baby without asking. On this particular occasion it was an older lady, hunched over double, so she advanced unseen below my eye line. Her gnarled hand, long nails painted a venomous red, reached out for Bella’s (let’s face it) generous thighs and she gave them a vigorous squeeze. Then she went for the classic one-two manoeuvre. Her rouged face came closer and closer to Bella as if in slow motion; I could see the saliva frothing at one side of her mouth, a thicket of wiry hairs on her sagging chin and a light dusting of dandruff on her shoulders. Then came the moment of truth. She KISSED Bella on the cheek. KISSED HER. How is that OK? Would you go up to another consenting adult on the street, jiggle their legs then plant a smacker on them, whilst making unintelligible noises only dogs can hear? No. You’d get punched or possibly shanked. Definitely told to f**k off. So why is this OK with a baby?
Baby bombing is an all new hate for me, and since having Bella I have found a host of new things that either annoy me or please me that never did before. Things that never even got onto my radar pre baby. Admittedly this is probably exacerbated by my emotions being somewhat closer to the surface than ever before, “mum-motions” if you will.
So, my new HATES:
TOP of my list, especially since Bella has developed stranger danger and separation anxiety. The typical M.O. of a baby-bomber is to swoop in all loud and high pitched, grabby fingers outstretched. On one hand I am pleased that complete strangers find Bella so cute they can’t help but touch her. But on the other (and this one wins) I also hate it because you don’t know WHERE THEY HAVE BEEN. And she regularly loses her shit during the thigh jiggling. Who wouldn’t – if someone came up to me and started pinching my (also generous) thighs I would weep for a week.
There was a period when Bella would not nap in the house. We would put her in her lovingly prepared, warm cot in her painfully expensive sleeping bag and she would shriek like she was lying on a bed of nails wrapped in a cat o’ nine tails. During this period she would JUST get off to sleep when inevitably the postman would ring the doorbell. ARGHHHH. Cue rabid squalling from the nursery. Eventually I disconnected it.
Now the Underground has never been a favourite, it’s not like if asked what I was doing today I would answer “oh just ride the Bakerloo line for a few hours, maybe jump off for some quality time on the Jubilee, feel the dirty breeze in my hair – BOOM”…but with a baby the tube is beyond tedious. There are a handful of accessible stations (stations that are entirely useless for any normal journey), no one stands up for you even with a passive aggressive British DEATH STARE directed at them, you develop guns of steel carrying the pram up 1000s of stairs and it is always hotter than an actual circle of hell.
The pavements of SW17
So I have spent many a day pounding the pavements of Tooting and surrounds, and have come to the conclusion that they are not in the least bit pram friendly. They may even inspire me to write a STRONGLY WORDED EMAIL. For a sleeping baby they are the equivalent of a new fairground ride: The Baby Boneshaker. It is effectively like going off-road, I need me a Land Rover not a buggy.
My new LOVES:
Smell of Baby Poo
This will sound weird, and it’s not at fetish level, but I love the smell of baby poo. Why? Because it means she has BEEN. This is what six weeks of constipation did to me, six weeks of watching Bella strain and strain, her face puce, her eyes watering, her little hands shaking, all simply to produce a series of dry dusty rabbit pellets.
Before Bella I was well on my way to becoming a coffee snob. I didn’t feel safe unless my coffee came from an independent establishment where Barista was a PROPER job, where there were ironic captions from lesser known beat poets on the walls and where everything was made from burnished wood, even the cups (yes I would put up with lip splinters to feel confident in my cortado). I even once trialled a bean that had passed through a weasel first (yes pooed out and turned into a latte, yum). But now I am all about a simple Costa. It has baby changing as standard, it has room for a battalion of prams and you can stay for hours without being evicted. What more could any mum want?
Actually any animal print. I always have been a fan, but was never entirely convinced I could pull it off. But now I am obsessed with it, for both Bella and me because it is the best pattern for covering up a multitude of food based sins. Those grubby little avocado hand marks don’t even show up on a leopard print blouse, and the sweet-potato vom just blends in to the tiger print onesie.
Bella was born with a LOT of hair; I would go as far as to call it a shock of hair (I certainly didn’t expect my baby to enter the world sporting a mullet.) Since then she has been through quite the barnet journey. So knowing full well she will HATE me when she’s older, welcome to Bella’s Hall of Shame.
She was born with a party at the back and short at the front, emulating many an 80s tennis player. I should’ve expected this given my history. I too had a mullet in my early teens, a large reason why I suffered low-level bullying at school (I compounded this problem by washing it once a week max, prompting the moniker “chip pan head.” Kids are so mean).
P.S. Apparently the word mullet as we now know it was coined by none other than the Beastie Boys in the 1994 song “Mullet Head”. Fact for a pub quiz right there. You are welcome.
The monk’s tonsure
All babies seem to get a bald patch in a halo where they rub their heads as they sleep. Bella added this Spartan patch to her glorious long locks, looking like a monk with an identity crisis. We will definitely save photographic evidence of this particular hair atrocity to unveil when she is eighteen. We will probably turn it into a slide show for when her new squeeze comes round to meet us. That and pics of her in the bath with her feet in her mouth. Parent revenge is a dish served cold. Cannot wait.
The comb over
For a brief period she looked like a cast member from Last of the Summer Wine, with several long strands slicked across the top of her head. We’ve all met a coiffure-clinger before, the kind of person who thinks that seven strands has got to be better than none and all you want to shout is SHAVE IT OFF.
The Mohican 1.0
Then those seven strands came together into the world’s tiniest, shortest Mohican, making her look like a milk drunk punk.
The 90s boy racer
That then grew longer and longer and the start of the summer heat wave left her bonce slick at most times. As a result she had the same fringe as THAT guy you knew in the 90s who still went to raves, drove a car with a blue light under it, wore those trousers with the poppers down the side and tried to grope you in a McDonald’s car park whilst simultaneously chowing down on a pack of 20 McNuggets.
The Mohican 2.0
I have just discovered that I can style her quiff into a Mohican. This will NEVER get old.
When I first started this parenting gig Dr Google was my lifeline. Not only was I desperately sleep deprived, existing only on Hobnobs and a prayer, but I also had ALL of the questions and they came up constantly, day and night (especially night). I was in uncharted territory without a guide and worried incessantly about every move I made. The “Week by Week” book was good, but it couldn’t tell me WHY HER POO WAS GREEN. Reassuringly Dr Google was always there for me, a mere tap away. I didn’t have to wait for a reply or make an appointment. It was there for me at 4am whilst I lay awake with a baby strapped to my breast. It allowed me to wrestle a modicum of control back at one of the most unpredictable times of my life. And most importantly Dr Google never looked down its nose at me. It did not give me a condescending smile and enquire if I was a first time mum in such a way that I knew what it was actually asking was “were you dropped on your head as a child?”
But what you realise after about four months is that Dr Google is a false friend. We have all had false friends in our lives. At university I must have spent half my student loan on those dust-like cereal bars that look healthy but have more calories than a McMuffin. And don’t get me started on the pantsuit I bought that, whilst excessively comfortable and lunge-friendly, gave me a giant camel’s hoof that couldn’t be taken out in public.
And why is Dr Google such a pernicious false friend?
Firstly it has a penchant for all queries leading to diagnosis cancer. It also takes you down bottomless rabbit holes. Because it’s online where every opinion is welcome, you never get resolution, just seventy different, completely opposing views. You also find yourself wading through a baffling new acronym lexicon, including DH – dear husband, DD/DS – dear daughter/son, AIBU- am I being unreasonable (probably yes), DML – dear mother-in-law (I suspect the dear may be heavily laced with sarcasm in this case), and so on and so on. You start out with one question and end up with ten more, convinced you are an awful mother. Ultimately turning to Dr Google becomes an exercise in self-flagellation.
Here are nine things I turned to Dr Google for and apologies in advance, a lot of these are poo related.
1.Why is her poo green? This will happen at some point, probably at 3am, when you can’t even see the nappy properly. Dr Google will direct you to the Poo Pantone; yes, a spectrum of baby poo swatches, from Honey Mustard to Vivid Khaki to Wild Charcoal. As reassuring as this is, when you are trying to colour match in the middle of the night and don’t see your particular shade on there you can easily spiral out of control.
2.Why is she grunting like a wildebeest in her sleep? No one tells you that by about four weeks old your baby will start to sleep-grunt like an unholy combination of the Predator and Beavis/Butthead. Dr Google provided a host of potential solutions; elevating the bed, a reflux wedge, Infacol, colic water, vaporisers, earplugs (for us not her), howling to the new moon at midnight whilst rubbing yourself down with heather. Nothing worked, it just stopped at about eight weeks old, because it was (let’s hear it) JUST A PHASE.
3.What’s the longest a baby has gone without a poo? Reassuringly Dr Google told me they can last a couple of weeks, although if that actually happened I think I would lose my mind and start chanting to the gods of baby bowel movements.
4.Why did she just do a RABBIT PELLET? A rabbit pellet! And the turd queries just keep on coming.
5.How do I get a baby to drink from a bottle? We had an epic battle of the bottle with Bella. Dr Google provided a smorgasbord of potential solutions for this. My favourite was the suggestion that you should start breastfeeding and then sneak the bottle teat in half way through. I tried this and Bella stopped drinking, looked up and laughed at me. Mama didn’t raise no fool.
6.When should I start a routine? Here Dr Google directs you towards two opposing camps of parenting gurus. There are those who believe you should get your baby on a strict schedule the moment they pop out of the womb (perhaps to prepare them for a timetabled world of Outlook and Skype meetings) and those more laissez-faire experts who believe in going with the flow. With SO much to read you just end up ping ponging between the two until you are more baffled than when you started (if possible).
7.How do I get her to self-settle? There is a point when you think self-settling is the holy grail of parenting; you believe it exists and the idea of it gives you hope, but you’ve never seen it personally. Thanks to Dr Google I quickly learnt that I was doing EVERYTHING wrong here, and that Bella would still be either sucking on a boob or a dummy aged 21 in order to get to sleep. In the depths of the blogosphere I did find one thing that worked; replacing the dummy with a strip of cloth that I rubbed all over my chest like some kind of milky dance of the seven muslins.
8.How do I get my baby to nap – IN. THE. HOUSE? After they learn to self-settle they should be able to nap in the flat, in a bed. But no. Apparently at four months old she should’ve been sleeping for circa two hours at lunchtime and waking up refreshed and delightful, not sleeping for 30 minutes max before waking up a raging red eye-browed beast.
9.What can you do to help teething? Baby teeth seem like a pointless waste of time. All that protracted pain only for them to fall out and be replaced. Babies should just gum away at things until they hit adolescence. That or baby dentures. In the absence of mini falsies, I have spent TOO MUCH time Googling teething remedies and TOO MUCH money buying teething remedies, from devilish powder that gets everywhere and resembles class A drugs, to an amber bracelet that got stuck in Bella’s fat folds, to delicious tropical smelling gel that I want to eat as well, to a plethora of toys designed to be GUMMED to death all of which last about ten minutes before being lobbed out of the pram (literally toys, out of the pram).
Raising our little humans will always come with questions because looking after a baby is like nailing soup to a wall. They change constantly and just as you think you have it figured out the bar moves and you have to start all over again. But now I am saying NO to Dr Google. NO to the rabbit hole. NO to having 40 tabs open on my phone. OK even writing that scared me, so maybe it’s not NO, it’s sometimes. Dr Google will be my occasional friend, my once a month for coffee and cake friend, but no longer my bestie. What’s changed is that I am slowly learning to trust my instinct. Now my instinct is definitely not always right, but I am tired of Dr Google telling me I am always wrong.