Hello friends, I’ve decided to move my blogging activities over to Substack, so you can now find me writing all my usual Nothing good rhymes with Charlotte-style posts on a new blog I’ve called While I’ve got you. I’ll still be sharing all my thoughts, feelings and stories about motherhood, marriage, creativity and more, just on a different platform. You can read my first post here.
Current subscribers, I have taken the liberty of transferring you over to the new blog as I hope you will still want to read what I have to say over there. Thanks to everybody who’s read and supported by work so far and I can’t wait to continue our conversation over on Substack. See you there!
I tell myself I’m not going to cry when we sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and then I absolutely do every time. It’s obviously a happy occasion, I just get overwhelmed when I think about the day she was born. Don’t worry, I didn’t get any tears on the cake.
I learnt a lot that day. About love and fear and what it feels like when the epidural wears off after a c-section. (Like someone has set your stomach on fire, FYI). And I’ve been learning ever since. Not all of the lessons have been as painful, but they will stay with me as long as the scar.
I’ve written before about the things I’ve learnt about motherhood. Now I want to write down some of the things I’ve learnt from my daughter. Because though she probably doesn’t realise it, I learn lessons from her everyday. Here are four of them.
Perseverance pays off (if I don’t get in the way)
A few months ago, our daughter decided she wanted to do a cartwheel. I have nothing to offer in this arena except tales of childhood embarrassment, so I couldn’t give her any support beyond words.
But she was determined. Every night, she’d throw herself about on the landing, never letting a near miss with a door frame put her off. As time passed, she started looking more and more like a star rolling across the carpet.
And now she’s nailed it. Through sheer determination she’s become a little cartwheeler. She can do it because she decided she wanted to, and she worked hard to get there.
I love her for being such a lovely little case study for why you should never give up. She also taught me a valuable lesson about just letting her give things a go.
Because when she first mentioned it, one of my least favourable parenting instincts kicked in. I started assuring her that it didn’t matter if she couldn’t do it. She’d barely tried and my brain had already leapt to a negative outcome and started trying to protect us all from it. But what was I saying? That I didn’t want her to be sad that she couldn’t do it, so she should stop trying? This is not who I want to be – and it’s the opposite of what she needs.
I got two lessons in one there. 1. Keep trying and you will succeed in the end (even if you do fall face first into the carpet along the way). And 2. When she wants to try something new, be supportive and move out of the way. (And clear the landing of breakable items).
If you get the chance to have a good time, have a good time
One of my favourite sights is my daughter’s face at a birthday party when an entertainer is doing their thing. They’ll pretend they can’t find the birthday boy or girl, or that they think they’re turning 56 instead of six, and she will laugh her head off. She is 100% in the moment. I am blown away by her commitment to having the best time possible.
When I go to a party, I’ve spent so much time thinking up reasons to feel nervous about it that I’ve cut my ability to enjoy it in half before I’ve even arrived. I’ll find myself looking forward to it being over so that, best case scenario, I’ll have a nice memory to look back on. I think my daughter’s way might be better.
And it’s not just her approach to parties, but to getting the most out of a day. She has thrown my idea of what can be done with five minutes wide open. I’ll say there isn’t time to dance to Gangnam Style or to play Jenga before her bath and she will always prove me wrong. Unless we have a specific appointment or we will be late for school if we don’t leave RIGHT NOW, there is generally time for a touch more fun.
It’s hard being the one that’s in charge of the schedule – especially when you have two small children who have no idea what day or time it is. But it’s also handy to have them remind you to chill out when you can. I love her for teaching me this, and for being the reason our two year old son loves Korean pop so much.
Wear it today
If I buy my daughter a new top or a dress that she likes, she puts it on immediately. In 2020 she wore a gorgeous little bridesmaid’s dress to her auntie’s wedding, and then she spent weeks wearing it to the park, to nursery and wherever the hell she wanted because she loved it.
At first my instinct was to stop her – you can’t wear something that special to run around in the mud, can you? But then I thought – why not? Because she was going to grow out of it soon anyway, regardless of whether it got dirty.
Children don’t do saving stuff for best and I think they’ve got the right idea. Clothes were made for wearing. I look forward to throwing on some sequins for the supermarket shop because who says the cheese aisle isn’t worthy of a little sparkle.
Write more love letters
My daughter’s been learning to write for the last year or so and it’s been incredible to see her discover how to communicate on paper. She produces multiple notes, pictures and cards everyday, and what stands out to me is that they are packed with love.
She writes ‘I love you’ in pretty much every birthday card she sends to her friends.
She draws pictures of our family and surrounds us all with hearts.
She creates notes for her cousins to tell them she can’t wait for them to come and stay.
And she sits across from me in cafés, passes me secret folded messages, and beams when I scribble a reply.
She’s taught me that if you get the chance to express love on the page, you should take it, so here I am.
Our children come into this world to show us who we can be. We just have to try and find the time between endlessly hoovering the lounge, scraping food into the bin, and asking them to PLEASE STOP DRAWING ON THE SOFA to notice.
Perhaps one day she’ll get to read this blog and understand that she’s been the making of me. She’s taught me so much and we’re only six years in. I can’t wait to see what else she has in store.
Here’s to more years, more happy tears, and to as many notepads as we can fill with all our love.
I am on the face of it, but I know there’s a percentage missing. I can’t quantify it exactly, but the longer the gap between writing stints, the bigger it feels. It’s got too big for comfort recently, so I pencilled the last two Wednesday afternoons in to fix that, and this post was the result.
People talk a lot about losing their identities when they have children. About feeling detached from who they were before. And it certainly is a journey. I remember being on the bus not long after my daughter was born and seeing a young woman walking down the road by herself and thinking: How dare you be so free? Who do you think you are?! (I was very tired).
One woman, many titles
But I guess the real question was: Who did I think I was now? The titles are easy enough to work through. I’m a mother, a wife, a copywriter, a daughter, a sister, a friend, my local confectionery counter’s most loyal customer, and more.
But what am I to me? A woman who loves books. Who’s always on the hunt for a bargain. Who likes to eat a Cadbury’s Boost in peace every now and again thanks very much. Who needs to write to feel sane.
I don’t miss who I was before my children were born because if I’m her, I’m not their mum, and I’m not interested in that. There’s a clear line between who I was before they showed up and who I became that day in the hospital back in November 2017. It is the privilege of my life to have stepped across it.
But yes, of course I miss the freedom sometimes. I miss knowing that the toilet door will stay shut when I’m in the bathroom. I miss watching TV shows on a Saturday afternoon that don’t feature animals turning into superheroes. I miss drinking cocktails without fear of the horrific consequences if I’m pulled out of bed at 5am by a child demanding CBeebies.
But I can (and do) live without such luxuries. That was me several versions ago, before I underwent a full systems update that blew my mind (and left quite the scar too). To go back isn’t what I need, I’d lose all my changes.
Rather than a loss of identity, I try and see it as my next iteration. I’ve been reprogrammed to cope with what it feels like to live in my body now. With a heart that lives outside my chest, in the form of two small children. Sometimes it’s cartwheeling across the landing, sometimes it’s drinking fistfuls of water from the toilet bowl. (I have an almost six year old girl and a two year old son. I’ll let you guess who enjoys which activity).
Still you, just with less free time
It’s not my identity that’s gone, but the time to engage with all parts of it. When parenting is proving tricky, which it often does, days can last years around here. But the rest of the time, they speed by inexplicably quickly. Where exactly has 2023 gone? Why isn’t my son tiny any more? Why do I make that sound when I lift him up? I want more time, but that’s not an option.
Because it’s time that allows us to connect with who we are, and to do the things that give us strength. Moments when I get to do my own things – however simple and trivial – make all the difference.
I’ve had ‘Wash make up brushes!’ on my to-do list for months now, and I have finally done it. It’s a tiny job that took about ten minutes. The effect it had on my wellbeing was unexpectedly huge. I became the kind of woman who has clean brushes. And, more importantly, the kind of woman who has time to have clean brushes. I look forward to being her again some time next year.
The problem is that the hierarchy of items on my to-do list is non-negotiable. I don’t even want to shift it particularly (though if somebody else could figure out what we’re going to serve up/scrape into the bin for dinner that would be great). I just want the day to become 30 hours long so I can fit more in, and rest usefully too.
I can tell when I’m feeling detached from my hobbies and positive habits because my social media scrolling goes through the roof. I’m searching for something I won’t find. Some kind of answer or real connection. Some peace (which will NEVER be found in a phone). I’ll give myself mountains of small-scale admin to justify all the scrolling, but what I’m actually doing is ignoring the problem: I need a break.
Hobbies can feel like a holiday
Creativity gives me that. I consider myself lucky that my chosen form of creativity involves writing down what’s in my head as it’s wonderfully therapeutic. It makes me feel calmer too, which has got to be good for the household.
I keep buying and asking for notebooks, despite having more than enough. I think I believe that the more I own, the more time will magically appear in my diary to sit down and be great on the page. It’s not really worked so far, but if you think that will stop me popping Moleskines on my Christmas list, you’re wrong.
I’m doing my best to grab time to connect with my brain beyond my main, beautiful, exhausting job as MUM. To take an hour or so here and there to put pen to paper for the sake of it. I write a lot for work (which I love), so it’s a treat to get to tell my story just for fun.
Mum guilt is real (and unhelpful)
This topic comes up a lot for me in my free writing and my blogs. And I think it’s because I still need convincing that this use of time really is justified. That I am permitted to do something just for me.
My husband goes to the gym and I never question the value of physical fitness. But the things we do for our brains are just as worthwhile. I don’t owe my family every single moment of my time, I owe it to them to model what it takes to be a fully rounded, happy person.
I’ve written it down and I know it’s true, but really truly believing it without guilt is still a work in progress. Perhaps it always will be.
I think half the battle for parents is figuring out what we need to do to connect with ourselves beyond our children, which will then help us connect better with them.
Everybody’s thing will be different and equally valid, and it can take time to determine what it is. Leon likes working out. I like sitting down to work out what on earth my handwriting is supposed to say and then typing it up here.
Both are solid uses of time. Here’s to squeezing a little more in, when the toilet bowl patrol schedule allows.
What makes you feel more like you? I’d love to know.
The problem with not having written for a while, is that getting started again feels like a big deal. But, like anything, the only way to get started is to start, so here I am.
I realised that part of the reason I haven’t prioritised writing, is because I’ve been feeling quite overwhelmed for the past six months or so. Not by anything bad, thankfully, but nonetheless overwhelmed by life as it currently looks and feels for us. I’ve spoken to friends and it sounds like everybody feels the same way. The reasons may differ, but the general sense of permanent overwhelm seems to be the norm for us all now. Adulthood’s a right laugh, isn’t it.
But then I realised that, for me, writing is a great way to help deal with overwhelm. It’s how I get my thoughts in order, and it also gives me a precious slice of time to myself. So, during the last couple of weeks, I’ve started taking ten minutes every evening after the children have gone to bed, to write whatever I like.
It feels so good to re-establish a healthy habit. It’s really helped me work out where my head’s at, and it led to this – a list of my top four reasons for feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps you can relate. What would your list say, I wonder?
THE IMMENSE AMOUNT OF LOVE CHILDREN HAVE TO GIVE
Oh yeah, I’m starting big here. We talk a lot about the immeasurable amount of love we have for our children. About what it feels like to have your heart smashed across the floor the second they’re born, and how you never recover. But we talk less about what it feels like to be loved by them. About how they come into this world BURSTING with love to give us. About how I’ll be innocently going about my day, tidying up after breakfast, and then I’ll suddenly stumble upon a picture my daughter’s made at school of a rainbow, with ‘To Shareloot, I luve you’ written on it, in her gorgeous five-year-old handwriting. (And yes, I am tempted to change this blog’s name to ‘Nothing good rhymes with Shareloot’ now).
I find lists of all the people she loves, notes telling us we’re the best, and teeny tiny stick babies added into scenes to represent her little brother. I have piles and piles of the purest, most colourful, misspelled love, and neither a heart nor a home that can cope with it all.
She doesn’t even hand these things to me. I think they’re forgotten as soon as they’re drawn. But it’s knowing that we’re always on her mind that I find so incredible and overwhelming. I’m both touched and terrified because what if she doesn’t know that I feel it? What if she doesn’t believe the love is truly received? Perhaps I should draw her a picture myself to let her know.
And her brother’s the same. He can’t write or draw yet, but he shows love by wanting to sit with us. By singing to us. By pointing us out to other people and saying our names, in case they didn’t realise we’re his parents. By shouting his sister’s name from the minute he wakes up in the morning until the moment he finally gives in and goes to sleep again at night. I’ve never met a boy who asks for cuddles so regularly. I hate that I can’t always say an immediate yes.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Adele, and there’s a line in ‘I drink wine’ where she says ‘Everybody wants something from me / You just want me’ and it overwhelms me every time. I’m not sure if she was writing specifically about my family, but MAN it feels like it.
It’s the most amazing thing, to be loved by these little people. Such a beautiful thing can also be overwhelming. It contributes to how much your heart weighs, wherever you might be, and whatever you’re doing. It holds me up and gives me more purpose than anything ever has, and it also leaves me breathless out of the blue, when all I thought I was doing was clearing the dining room table.
THE SHEER AMOUNT OF ADMIN INVOLVED WITH BEING ALIVE
I noticed that I’d quit resting (despite specifically writing at the start of the year about how important rest is). There’s just so much to do all the time – and we’re only a family of four, and I work part-time.
The level of washing involved with having a family is absurd. I am grateful for every hour of summer we get because I can put it outside and create some much needed space between me and our collective sheets/t-shirts/pants. Just when I think maybe I’m getting on top of it, something or someone will explode, and I’m back to square one. I do so much of it, I almost wonder if I’m a bit obsessed with it. Like, when a new stain appears, I’m excited to see if between us, the sun and I can make it disappear. It’s pathetic, but also a method for dealing with the overwhelm. The pile’s not going away, so I may as well get a sense of achievement from tackling it.
And beyond the laundry, there’s everything else. All of the things we need to remember for school, the birthdays, the parties, and the general management of my daughter’s social calendar. The buying of food, the making of food, and the throwing away of rejected food. The deep sense of failure I feel when I hear people talk about how much their toddlers eat, when our son only really eats croissants. The insane cost of EVERYTHING. The effort involved with finding a date in the diary to do anything with anyone. The volume of crumbs we live amongst. Bathtime, bedtime, and the irony of being the only one these activities seem to tire out. The bins. The cleaning or lack thereof. The bit where I strip the bed at 7am and only remember that I need to remake it at 11pm…
The list is long – as it is for everyone – and it makes my head a very noisy and cluttered place. I’m trying to stop more often, to avoid burnout or resentment. Perhaps putting ‘REST’ on my to-do list is the answer because that’s the only way anything gets done around here.
THE RELENTLESS PASSING OF TIME
I talk about this a lot, I know. But I continue to be overwhelmed everyday by how quickly time goes by.
Our son is about to turn two, and our daughter is just a few weeks away from finishing Reception. They remain very young children, but still, they are growing up at a faster rate than I was prepared for. It is unlikely that we will have more babies, and so every stage our son goes through is probably happening here for the last time. The babygrows have gone, his little bath seat is now in the garage, and we all know his highchair’s days are numbered.
You think this stuff will be part of your world forever, and then it gradually makes its way to the tip or the charity shop. It’s all so fleeting. I’m overwhelmed by the need to make the most of the many, many good bits. I’m also still floored everyday by how confusing it feels to find yourself wishing away the tough moments that happen during your child’s youngest, cutest years.
And it’s not just the years with our children that are shooting by, our years with each other are too. It’s 20 years this summer since I left school and started university. I’ve known some of my dearest friends since long before the internet was invented. Leon and I will have been married for ten years in September, and together for 18. These are some seriously grown up, long-term relationships we’re all in now.
When we were planning our wedding, it felt like that event would always be part of our lives, we couldn’t imagine life after it. And now a decade has passed and that day is just one of hundreds we’ve lived through together. A beautiful one, but one of many beautiful ones. A lovely memory to look back on, ten years into this glorious, busy, surprising, and overwhelming life we’ve built since.
THE AGEING PROCESS
Mothers have an interesting challenge to manage. On the one hand, we need to promote body positivity with our children, and make sure they’re nothing but kind to themselves and to others. And on the other, we have to navigate the reality of our own ageing and changing bodies, and the vast array of emotions that come with it.
I feel nothing but kind and gentle in the face of my children’s bodies, of course. But when it comes to my own, it’s more complicated. It’s changed a lot in recent years. I’ve been pregnant and given birth twice, and I’ve stepped further and further into my thirties. I feel fortunate to have been through it all, but I’ve found the acceptance process overwhelming, particularly this year. No matter how high the waistband or how effective the eye cream, there really is no going back.
I’ll turn 38 in a few weeks’ time, and I’ve definitely hit the reflective period Caitlin Moran talks about in her book ‘More Than a Woman’. She describes how you find yourself looking back on pictures from a decade ago, when you thought you looked bad, and wondering what on earth you were on about, you looked great!
I don’t speak unkindly about the way I look in front of my children. When they see me put on make-up and they ask why, I say it’s because I want to. When my daughter says she likes my clothes, I say thank you and accept the compliment. I will not let her hear my internal dialogue, because that wouldn’t be helpful to either of us.
I think it’s OK to feel how you feel and know that it’s normal to go through ups and down in your relationship with your appearance. I think it’s also important to remember why we use such kind voices when we talk about our children and how they look. Because everybody deserves to feel happy in their skin. And that includes us.
Life is a series of chapters. I’m sure many people feel overwhelmed by the transition from the Baby Carrying chapter into whatever we call the next one. The Gradually Greyer chapter, perhaps?
As always, it’s ours to write. And I look forward to writing mine, more often, right here.
Ever since our daughter started school, our son started nursery, and I went back to work, my mental to-do list has felt longer than ever. Every time I tick something off, three more items somehow appear.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy. I like all of my life’s component parts very much. 2022 came to teach me that you can feel both happy with your lot and overwhelmed by the logistics of keeping it all ticking over. I believe this is called adulthood and I was not ready for it.
So I’m in no position to set ambitious New Year’s resolutions. I won’t be learning a new language or running a marathon any time soon. But I do intend to stay upright and continue moving forwards, which is all anybody needs from me anyway.
Rather than setting goals for 2023, I’m setting more of an approach to it, hence: Keep what’s working, bin what’s not.
Because some of the stuff I’ve been doing over the last year has made a positive difference to my life. And some things… less so.
Things for the bin
For example, the length of time it takes me to fix simple things is ridiculous. It took me more than two years to glue a toy back together. The job took less than five minutes when I finally did it.
I was given a photo frame for Christmas 2021. It took me 11 months to have two pictures printed for it. I am still yet to put them in there. WHAT AM I WAITING FOR?
This quirk can definitely go. Taking advantage of quick wins might make me feel more productive too – bonus!
Another habit that’s been doing me no good, is feeling guilty if I stop and do nothing. Ah yes, the classic trap of the overwhelmed! You think that if you just keep going and going forever, you’ll magically feel on top of things.
But guess what? None of us will ever conquer our to-do lists without rest. And sitting on the sofa feeling bad that you’re not folding laundry does not count as a break. I need to do proper, mindless nothing at some point everyday. It’s really not too much to ask.
Like most people, I spent too much of 2022 on my phone. You shouldn’t beat yourself up for it as so much of our lives happen on them. But it’s when I’m scrolling late at night that I do myself damage. I end up feeling hungover the next day. So I’m trying to establish a more healthy boundary around that. WhatsApp will still be there in the morning.
Things I’ll keep
But it’s not all bad news. There are plenty of things that are working for me, so they can come with us into 2023.
2022 was a horrible year for some of the people I love. I learnt more about what it means to be a friend in the last 12 months than I ever have before. I check in with people now more than ever. When you can’t help in any other way, you can at least stay in touch. They may not have it in them to chat back right now, but if they know you’re there, they will when they’re ready. So, friends, expect to hear from me in 2023!
The only reason I’ve survived the last few months is because I’ve started writing down every single thing I need to do. Whether it’s a deadline I need to meet, stuff I have to buy, or messages I want to reply to, it needs to go on the list. I realised that I can’t focus unless I can see on paper that I will eventually get to everything.
And before you ask, yes I do also add on unanticipated tasks after I’ve done them so that I can still tick them off – because I know how to have a good time.
Speaking of lists, I’ve mentioned before that I like to write a quick list called ‘Today’s good things’ in my diary at the end of each day. It’s a chance to stop and notice the high points of even the most exhausting days. I adore the simplicity of it. I did this almost everyday in 2022 and now I have a book filled with notes on nice moments I might otherwise have forgotten, and reasons to be grateful. This habit is 100% staying. I’d love to find more time for longer, just-for-fun writing in 2023, so I’ll be on the lookout for suitable windows.
After I write each night, I read before I go to sleep. Not for long. Sometimes it’s just a page, but it always makes me feel calmer. I think I also love it because this time belongs to me, and so few minutes do these days. Perhaps I’ll be able to grab more moments with a book this year, who knows.
In the spirit of taking time for myself, I’ve been investing a bit more money, time and energy in my skincare over the last few months and I like it. I’ve no idea if it’s making a difference to the way I look, but caring for myself feels good, and that’s worth just as much to me.
Anything that increases your confidence is worth having really, isn’t it. And I’ve realised that reframing how you boost your self-esteem is key. Somebody told me that doing things that scare you is really about expanding your comfort zone. So yes, they may make you nervous, but that’s just a normal part of embracing opportunity.
I’ve tried to keep this in mind when driving to new places, meeting new people, and saying yes to new work, and it’s helped a lot. Here’s to more comfort zone expansion for all of us in 2023.
I was standing in the garden hanging washing on the line when I heard the sound of a fork being stirred around a glass in the kitchen. And I realised that I knew without looking exactly was happening in that room.
I knew that Leon had cracked two eggs into a glass to make an omelette. I knew which pan was on the hob, and that there was a tortilla wrap warming in the microwave. And I knew that in a few minutes there would be grated cheese absolutely chuffing everywhere.
After almost 17 years together, there’s not much that surprises us about each other. Some might say that’s a bad thing, but I don’t think it is. I take great comfort in the predictable. It’s taken us years to build a life we can depend on, and that helps us handle whatever surprises life throws our way.
It occurred to me how many unknowns we’ve had to face in order to end up here. How many risks we had to take. All the times we had to be brave. How much of life starts with walking into a room, telling a bunch of strangers your name, and seeing what happens.
I found myself thinking about all this because our daughter starts school this week. A whole new chapter of unknowns is about to begin. I’m excited for her and I believe she will flourish. But I’m also nervous as there’s so much I don’t know. Who she’ll be friends with, what she’ll like, what will make her feel happy, sad, and every emotion in between.
So big and yet so small
One of the things I’ve found hardest since having our daughter is how little I can control. Like any mum, I want an easy, happy life for my children without even a moment of turmoil. But of course I can’t promise that. We created life, and life is unpredictable.
But what I can do is let her know what she can depend on. That we believe in her. How loved she is. That she can talk to us about anything. And that if she asks if she can watch an episode of Hey Duggee I’m pretty much always going to say yes because I LOVE Duggee.
I’ve been quite enjoying going through the multitude of administrative motions that come with preparing your child for school. Buying the uniform. Participating in class WhatsApp groups. Having her feet measured. Printing name labels. I like getting organised, and I also like distracting myself from my emotions with tasks. Don’t we all?
But then I found myself putting a little name sticker inside her school shoes and suddenly felt the need to cry.
Our little girl is simultaneously so big and so small. Big enough to wear a pinafore and carry a book bag and head off for a busy day in Reception. Small enough that I’m worried she won’t know which shoe to put on which foot after P.E when I’m not there to show her.
A new pattern awaits
I don’t doubt that she is ready for a new environment, to learn, and to form new friendships. I’m just not sure that I’m ready to accept the pace at which children grow up.
After she was born, I took a year’s maternity leave and I’ve had every Monday and Tuesday free since to spend with her. They’ve been quite the rollercoaster as we’ve moved from the baby years into toddler town, from lockdown chaos into life with her baby brother in tow. I thought that time would last forever, but here we are. Now it’s her brother’s turn to join me for playgroups and park trips while she ventures out into the world.
I am aware that she’s not moving out, and that we’ll be together a lot of the time still. I’m just a bit stunned that the pre-school period of her life is over already. What they say is true – the days are long but the years are short.
I’m looking forward to what a new routine will bring. To school drop offs and pick ups. To wandering back down the hill at the end of the day, holding her little hand and asking what she learnt. And to bringing her back to our house that contains everything she knows – home comforts, people who love her, and a kitchen that’s somehow always coated in grated cheese.
Is it normal to kiss your maternity bras goodbye? Because I did.
I’m no longer wearing maternity clothes, I haven’t for months. But I kept them in the drawer anyway. Because if I let them go, I’d be making a statement I wasn’t ready to make. That the pregnancy/tiny baby phase of my life is over.
But I put them in a bag this week to take to the charity shop. It hurt but it was time to say goodbye and move to the next chapter.
And that chapter sees our son turning one, and then starting nursery three days a week so that I can go back to work. And in a matter of weeks, our daughter will be starting school too. No wonder I’m a bit emotional at the moment.
When I started maternity leave a year ago, it felt like I had infinite time ahead. But it’s slipped through my fingers, just like it always does. We only brought that little baby home from the hospital a few days ago, I’m sure of it. And yet somehow he’s about to have a birthday.
So much about the past 12 months has been different from my first maternity leave. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been easier. I’ve felt more able to enjoy the smallness and cuteness of him, rather than worrying that I’m doing everything wrong. I realise now that I wasn’t bad at it the first time, just inexperienced. It’s been nice to rewrite that story in my head.
Just as my first maternity leave revolved around our daughter, my second one has mainly revolved around her too. Nobody really warns you about that.
Sure, you have to feed the new baby multiple times, change them and keep them safe and happy. But in many ways that feels like a side hustle. Managing the contentment, snack consumption and social life of our four year old has still dominated most of my time and brain space. First children are clever like that.
I’ve definitely felt much more at peace with myself this maternity leave than I did the first time. I haven’t felt desperate for company and activities like I did before. I don’t feel phased by a quiet day at home. I’m so busy that I really don’t need much more in my life. It’s definitely overwhelming, but I like it too.
A woman walked past us in the park the other day and said “You don’t realise it at the time, but days taking children to the park are some of the best of your life.”
I keep thinking about that. I can see myself looking back on this period of our lives and wanting to do it all again. Yes, I am tired all the time, but the second the chaos stops, I’ll miss it.
That sense of nostalgia kicked in almost immediately after our son was born. Knowing how insanely quickly the time passes made me determined to savour his early stages. They don’t stay little for long.
And now after so much precious time together, this next chapter will see us all spending a bit more time apart. It will take a while to adjust to I’m sure. There are things I’m looking forward to, and things I’m worried about.
I’ve learnt that it is entirely normal to think and feel a multitude of things at once when you’re a parent. For example:
I can want to go back to work, and also feel sick about being away from our son.
I can foresee the benefits of time to myself, and feel guilty about having it.
I can imagine our son enjoying time with other children and teachers. I can also find it unbearable to imagine him wanting me when I’m not there.
I can believe our daughter will enjoy primary school. I can also feel panicked at the prospect of her having anything other than a good time.
My son isn’t the only one celebrating a birthday this week, I am too. I’m turning 37, which my daughter assures me is “really old”.
The older you get, the less anyone – including you – really cares that it’s your birthday. And now that I have a son with a birthday so close to mine, this time will be all about him, and that’s fine with me. He’s the best present I’ve ever had anyway.
This has been the most hectic year of my life. We moved to a different part of London. We took on a house requiring way more work than either of us realised when we looked around it for 10 minutes during the thick of the pandemic. We moved our brilliant, brave daughter to a new nursery. Oh and we had a baby five weeks after we moved in.
It has been exhausting, overwhelming, and a constant rollercoaster. It’s also been one of the best years of my life.
So what I want to take with me into my 38th year is a reminder to keep appreciating when I feel lucky. To acknowledge happiness when it’s happening. Because time is going to absolutely fly by anyway. And hard things will happen. So when it’s good, I want to stop and notice.
I guess that’s why I felt the need to give my maternity bras a little kiss on their way to the charity shop. It’s been quite the year and I’m grateful to everything and everyone that’s been a part of it.
So now, onto the next one. And I can’t deny that it’s rather nice to have underwire back in my life to help me through it. With this much going on, I’m going to need all the support I can get.
I am woken up every morning by our son chatting through the baby monitor. I don’t always love the hour but I do love the sound.
I am willing to hold my hand out to catch anything that needs to come out of any part of a child of mine. I guess that’s love.
I am amazed by how much laundry two small people can create. My first maternity leave was all about joining baby groups. This time I’ve mainly just tried to stay on top of the washing.
I am completely and totally in love with them both and even more so with how they are together.
I am desperate at times for my lap to be clear but then lost when I’ve nobody to hold.
I am pleased and relieved that our baby has started sleeping through the night. I wonder if my bladder will ever let me do the same.
I am almost always either feeding a child, preparing food for a child, or thinking about what I’m going to feed a child.
I am not sure anything gives me a greater sense of achievement than managing to make them both laugh at once.
I am now aware that if I’d known when we had our daughter in 2017 what I know now, I’d have been so much kinder to myself.
I am amused to find that looking after two children tricks you into thinking that all the years you had with just one child were easy.
I am always in the midst of fighting a losing battle with an orange stain. Carpet cleaner wouldn’t make a very exciting gift for a new parent, but believe me they’d get through it.
I am letting myself enjoy watching rubbish telly with our baby on the sofa when we get the chance. He won’t always want to sit with me, so I’m making the most of it while I can.
I am the mother of a girl who was predominantly formula-fed, and a boy who was largely breast-fed. Here’s what I’ve learnt: both methods are difficult in their own way, and absolutely nobody else’s business.
I am occasionally out without my children and can generally be found smiling at other people’s children because I miss mine.
I am getting through more cheese strings than I should probably admit.
I am prone to spending too much time on my phone. It tends to be a sign that I’m feeling overwhelmed. A 24/7 job will do that to you.
I am a gardener now. I took it on as a maternity leave project. I’m planting stuff, watering it, and hoping for the best. It’s a bit like parenting really, but with less of the backchat.
I am anxious at times and trying not to let it rub off on them. But I’m also trying to show them that every feeling is OK.
I am walking as much as possible because it helps.
I am conscious that just because our 10 month old baby is now the littlest member of our family, it doesn’t mean our four year old isn’t still small too.
I am up for sitting on the floor to play, as long as I have a back support. Otherwise there’s a chance I might never get up again.
I am in my late thirties, yes. What gave me away?
I am unable to remember the last time I added a contact to my phone without including whose mum they are after their name.
I am extremely reliant on TV to entertain my children. I am not sure how anybody does this without it.
I am never ready for the Baby Race episode of Bluey. It gets me every single time.
I am sure our son will settle into nursery before too long when he starts there this summer. But I’m still sad at the thought of being away from him. Our year together has slipped through my fingers.
I am going to be the mum of a school-going child in September. I’m excited for her and sure she’s ready for change, but I also don’t know where those precious years went.
I am forever in demand and I do complain about it sometimes, but the truth is that I love that they need me.
I am grateful for all the moments that remind us what we have. Like when our babies are splashing about in the bath and laughing their little heads off. Yes we are tired, but it’s worth it.
We bought a house in June. It’s great to be here, there’s just lots to do to bring it up to date.
Ever since we arrived we’ve been having rooms decorated and bathrooms renovated. And I noticed early on that when a project has such an endless to-do list, it’s tempting to let your own impatience prevent you from feeling happy with progress.
I had to stop myself thinking ‘If only we could get the bedrooms painted, then I’ll be happy’ and then as soon as that was done ‘Ok, now we need the downstairs loo done, then I can be content’.
If I sign up to that way of thinking, I’ll deny myself happiness… forever? Houses are never really finished, are they.
No, I cannot wait to get the eighties kitchen out and modern fittings in. And yes, toilets made this century will enhance our lives. But I’m not going to hate my house until it’s all done. I refuse to lose sight of how much I love how far we’ve come.
To keep celebrating the little things
For the first six months of 2021, I wrote a list everyday in my diary called ‘Today’s good things’. (We then moved house and had a baby. I’ve hardly had time to go to the toilet since then let alone write anything down).
I’d pick out a handful of reasons to be grateful for the day we’d just had. I did it to boost my morale during lockdown, and to remind me that even when life feels tough, there’s always good stuff going on too.
I felt quite emotional reading it back. I’d noted down so many little things that meant that, despite the context, we were lucky and happy. Fresh air featured a lot, as did cuddles with our daughter. On one day I ended with ‘Just how much we love her’. Aside from mentions of life changing stuff like house move progress and baby scans and kicks, most things were small, everyday moments I wanted to cling to.
It helped at the time and it’s a lovely thing to look back on. So I’m going to do it again for 2022. Our son is already growing up too quickly so I want to write down all the ways he brings me joy. As long as he lets me sleep I’m sure I’ll have the energy to pick up a pen again.
To speak to myself more kindly
Anxiety and I will live alongside one another forever I’m sure. But when my inner dialogue and I work as a team, that’s when I get to win.
I haven’t done so well on that front lately. I found a note I wrote whilst trying to work through a worry which said “Anxiety makes you feel small and insignificant but also massive and in the way”. And that’s the problem. It skews your view of yourself and the world to such an extent that it makes it difficult to have the rational, helpful thoughts that would make it go away.
So I want to keep working on that inner voice.
My excellent friend Alexa Radcliffe-Hart wrote this great blog about selecting a word to guide you through the year. I think I’m going with ‘Deserving’ for mine. Of space, kindness, rest, choice. It’s what I want my children to believe about themselves, so I need to model it myself.
To be truly present when I can, and kinder to myself when I can’t
The combination of being a worrier, planner, and a parent means I find it hard to live in the moment. But I’m definitely happier when I do, so I’m trying to make it more of a habit.
I’m learning to spot opportunities to let go and just play with my daughter or walk at her pace or cuddle the baby. We don’t always have to be moving towards the next thing.
…but we do sometimes. So when I have to keep half my head in the future, planning for the next snack/meal/nap/absurdly large load of washing, I need to forgive myself for it. I’m doing my best.
To read more
This will be my goal forever. I think I read about seven or eight of my books in 2021 (plus 4000 children’s books). It’s not a contest, just something I enjoy so I intend to do more of it. Even just a page a day is worth having.
To keep writing what I feel like writing
If it brings value to you (and it doesn’t hurt anybody) there is value in whatever you feel like producing. That’s what I tell myself every time I sit down to write.
I get so much from writing – whether it’s in a notebook to clear my mind, or published here. So I’m going to keep doing it when I can.
It occurred to me at the end of the year that this blog started as a simple creative outlet, then it became a series of what are essentially love letters. To my husband, my friends, my family, myself, and, more recently, to my children.
I look forward to writing many more.
I hope you will do more of what you love in 2022. Happy New Year, and thanks for reading.
I’d decided on a girl’s name before I was even pregnant, but the boy’s name took time, debate, discussion.
We thought we’d better have it nailed down before I went into theatre, just in case all those people who said I was definitely carrying a boy were right. Good thing we did.
The fact that I’d had a c-section before only made me more nervous about it. I knew what was to come, which bits I liked, which bits I didn’t, and that you never quite know what your body is going to do after a human being is removed from it.
I also knew how incredible it is to be presented with your baby. I didn’t dare let myself look forward to it until we were on our way there.
There were two of us on the surgery list that morning. Two second-time mums who knew everything and nothing about what was to come. We wished each other good luck. She may well have been in the bed next to mine for the next few days, but we never saw each other again. Maternity wards are funny like that. I hope they’re all OK.
So much of the prep felt familiar. There were the same gowns and compression stockings for me, the same fresh blue scrubs for Leon. The same paper bracelets on my wrists.
But some things had changed. They give you little white netted knickers to wear now, so the surgeon can just cut them off when they’re ready to start. No more wondering whether you should walk down to surgery pantless like we did in the good old days (2017).
I was first on the list and before we knew it, they were ready for me. Time to go.
I took my last pregnant waddle down the corridor, wearing the same flip flops I bought for our stay when we had our daughter almost four years ago. Where on earth did all that time disappear to?
From the moment we got into theatre it was ON. This is a room full of people who bring babies into the world everyday. They know what they’re doing and they know the pace required to make it happen. The momentum alone carries you through.
I tried to take it step by step, ticking off all the little bits that scare me. Cannula – done. Spinal – done. Weird lie down on the bed with a quickly numbing lower half – done.
The radio was on and Lewis Capaldi was playing. The anaesthetist asked everybody to say their names and I confirmed mine, she read out my NHS number and it began.
I kept a tight hold of Leon’s hand and my eyes on the flowers painted on the ceiling. I like this bit. When there’s no turning back and I couldn’t run away even if I wanted to.
My blood pressure dipped and I panicked. The anaethetist worked her magic then got back to chatting to us about our house move, our daughter, our jobs. I almost forgot that people had their hands inside my body. Almost.
She peered over the sheet shielding us from the procedure and said “It won’t be long now”.
I started to cry because this was it, what the last 39 weeks and three days had been building up to. When you’re cut open on the operating table, pumped full of drugs and awaiting the arrival of your child, you’re allowed to feel a bit overwhelmed.
‘Gooey’ by Glass Animals came on the radio. We weren’t organised enough to arrange a birth playlist, but later agreed that was more perfect than anything we could have come up with anyway. The second I hear it now it takes me right back to that room.
All of a sudden the surgeon said “Good morning!” and we realised that somebody new had come into the room. He was talking to the baby.
I looked up at the light above where they were operating and I could see a head in the reflection coming out of my body. I could see his hair. Before I knew it they were holding him in front of us. A boy! A beautiful boy!
I remember my mouth was wide open in amazement, my face soaking wet. They whisked him off to clean him up and sort him out. He screamed, as you’d expect, and I could hear Leon telling him everything would be OK.
They brought him over, placed him on my chest and he calmed right down and closed his eyes. Like you do when you get in after a long day, take your shoes off and lie back on the sofa. Nothing to worry about here, you’re home.
I hope I’m always that place for him. For them both.
Someone said “I think he likes that.” And so did I, so very much.