Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The age (old) question

I was 32 when I had Jess. I hadn’t wanted kids in my 20’s, but once I hit 30 my body clock kicked in with a vengeance. I didn’t feel old, I barely felt ready to be in charge of a child, so I was shocked when my health visitor referred to me as an ‘older mother’.

I started attending antenatal classes and quickly realised that the average age of the class members was around 22, so by those standards I suppose I was on the old side to have my first child. Once Jess was born, I started going to various baby groups and found the same thing; only one other person was in her 30’s, and I was the oldest there.

I used to have a bit of an issue with younger mothers. How do you raise a child when you are barely out of childhood yourself? I was convinced older meant better. After all, there are a lot of advantages to being an older mother. You’ve seen a bit of life and are possibly more financially secure. You may have travelled, lived it up, be more ready to settle down and lead a slightly more sedate, less selfish life. You may have more qualifications, and are more used to being independent. You may have more experience with children or are more able to advise them as they grow up. You may be married or have a steady partner and therefore more support. You are more likely to have planned your pregnancy and to actually want your child.

Younger mothers in contrast, want to go out every night, have no money or job, and are more likely to be single mothers. Their pregnancy might be a mistake and they plan to dump their child on their parents most of the time while they continue their life. They’ll be getting drunk or high and won’t know how to look after themselves, let alone a baby. Won’t they?

Once I got past my ridiculous preconceptions and got to know some of the younger mothers at the groups, I realised just how stupid I’d been. Of course the occasional parent was irresponsible and had little interest in their children, but for the most part they were lovely people and terrific parents.

As often happens, since I have become a parent, the demographic of my friends has changed, and most of my closest friends are now mums of children the same age as Jess. All of them are younger than me. Most of them fall well within the ‘younger mum’ category. I tend to forget their age until they invite me to their 21st birthday celebrations! Some are single, some are not, some work, some don’t, some are well educated and some aren’t. One has lived in several countries, has an excellent and well paid job and is married with a huge house. Another is a single mum in a council house on the breadline. Without exception they are all amazing mothers with terrific kids.

I think the media has a lot to answer for. I don’t believe everything I hear, but when every other program features loudmouthed young yobs boasting about the fact they only feed their children on fast food or saying they’ve had three children put into care, and every other night the news is running stories about children being left alone for days while their teenage parents go on holiday, it colours our views somewhat.

We need to remember that these cases are the minority. For every terrible young parent, there are loads of great ones. And for every terrible young parent, there’s a terrible older parent too.

Most parents, no matter what age, are neither brilliant nor terrible. They fall somewhere in between, tending towards the good most of the time and trying not to make too many mistakes. Most of us are just stumbling through, trying to feel our way and not to mess up too badly. I for one am going to try and be a little less judgemental and to remember: when it comes to parenting, age is just a number.

Monday, 29 October 2012

A Day Off

I have a day off tomorrow. Not just a day off from work, a day off from everything. “WHAT?!” I hear you cry. Yes, really. Jess has gone to stay with her grandparents for half term, and my partner is going to visit his family overnight. I could have gone with him but it would have meant he couldn’t leave until I got back from work today, and anyway, I’m looking forward to having time to myself for once.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore my family, of course I do. I count the hours until I can get home to them, and if they were away for long, I don’t know how I’d cope. But I doubt I’m alone when I say I occasionally long for a day where I don’t have to think about anyone but myself.

I’m going to ignore the mountain of ironing that looks like the north face of the Eiger. I’m not touching the washing, the dusting, the general tidying, getting the hoover out or washing the car.

If I can leave the housework alone, I’ve got so many plans. I’m going to start with a lie in. Remember those? I don’t care if I wake up at 6am as usual; I’m still going to stay in bed until at least 9, just because I can. I’m going to have a lazy breakfast, then go into town and window shop, gather ideas for Christmas and maybe pick up a few stocking fillers. I might meet a friend for coffee. I’m going to visit the library and choose a film that I fancy but which the rest of the family would hate. I’m going to take myself out for lunch. Then I’m going to tramp through the woods and collect some bits and pieces to dry for my Christmas crafts.  

Early evening, I’m to have a long, hot bath rather than the 60 second shower I normally get. I’m going to give myself a manicure and a pedicure, and cuddle up in my comfiest pyjamas. I’m going to break out the chocolate and watch my film. I’m going to have an early night with a good book. Ah, it makes me feel relaxed just thinking about it.

Of course, it wouldn’t take long to put the washing in. And I really should hang it out before I go into town. And there is the grocery shopping to do. And I could just pop the hoover round. Now, where did I put the iron?

10 Things I Hate About Being a Mum

There is a lot of stuff I love about being a mother. Having someone I adore no matter what and who loves me unconditionally. Having someone to spoil, someone I can watch growing up. I love seeing her become a proper person, with her own thoughts and ideas. I love having an excuse to go and visit Father Christmas, and an excuse to cuddle up on the settee and watch cartoons when it’s cold out! And I love seeing her eyes light up when she sees me.

But, like most parents, there are things I don’t enjoy about being a parent. Here are my top ten – I’d love to hear yours!

10. Losing friends who don’t have kids.
I have friends that I’ve know for years. We don’t see each other that often but when we do catch up, it’s like we’ve never been apart. At least, it was. Then Jess came along, and suddenly my nights out clubbing, going to midnight cinema showings or chatting until the small hours became a snatched hour after work and dashing home to relieve the babysitter, cancelling plans at the last moment, and telephone calls interrupted by “Mummy! I need the toilet!” I suppose we would have developed different interests over time anyway, but it still seems a shame that I’m losing touch with people who were a major part of my life for so long.

9. Animated films.
You know that great thriller that came out last month and was an overnight hit? I don’t. If it’s not a kid’s film, then I haven’t seen it. I’ve seen Ice Age 1, 2, 3 and 4 a hundred times and I can quote Tangled by heart, but anything else is out. I could technically watch something when she’s gone to bed, but to be honest, I’m too tired to concentrate by then! And while animations can be good fun, by the fifty-first viewing the shine has worn off them a bit.

8. Planning days out around toilet stops.
It’s a minor thing but once Jess was out of nappies, trips became that much harder. Wherever we go, I have to note where the toilets are. If we are on a car journey, you can guarantee that the minute we are stuck in traffic or passing a sign saying ‘no services for x miles’, Jess will announce loudly “Mummy, I’m desperate!” Ditto for seeing something like a circus or settling down for a film. And I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been crouched behind a tree holding Jess and hoping no passersby come to glare at us when we’ve gone blackberry picking or for a walk in the woods.

7. “Hello Jess’s mummy.”
I no longer have a name. Jess has been at nursery / preschool for three and a half years now. She changed to a new one a few months ago but before that, she had been at the same one for three years. I took her in most mornings, I picked her up most evenings. I chatted to the staff, I learnt their names. So why can’t they learn mine? I’m not mad keen on ‘Mrs X’, but it’s better than just ‘Jess’s Mummy’. I know they have lots of kids and therefore parents to remember, but when I taught karate, I had over 250 members and I knew all the kids, most of the parents, and half the aunts, uncles, grandparents and assorted others who would drop the children off for their class. I may be Jess’s Mummy but I do have a name – please use it!

6. I’m not allowed to be ill.
A few months ago, the whole family got flu. My partner lay on the settee looking like death warmed up. Jess curled up in a ball listlessly. I, however, went to the chemist for medicine, got groceries, cooked meals, did the washing, dished out countless doses of flu treatment, warm drinks, tissues, sympathy and hugs, and got up a dozen times a night to soothe Jess. If you’re a mum, you lose the right to be ill in peace, particularly if you dare to get ill at the same time as the rest of the family.

5. Being a packhorse.
When you are young and free, you go out with a tiny clutch bag just big enough for your mobile, your keys, your credit card and your lippy. When you have kids, you go out with a bag the size of a suitcase which is stuffed with nappies, wipes, several changes of clothes, snacks, drinks, extra bottles, Calpol, toys, tissues, sun cream, sun hat, gloves, nappy cream, nappy bags, and several other things which you can’t work out why you would possibly need them but know you’ll regret it if you leave them behind. If you are really lucky, you might be able to squeeze in your keys. As they get older, it gets slightly better but you still need so many changes of clothes, extra snacks and favourite toys, that you really need a trolley to carry them all. I’ve never forgotten being in a meeting at work, putting my hand in my bag to find a pen and pulling out a nappy!

4. I am my mother.
I love my mum, of course I do, but I have no wish to become her. However, it seems like it’s too late. I hear myself saying the exact same things my mother says: be careful, you’ll hurt yourself, because I say so, sit nicely, in a minute, the list goes on and on. I even use some of her facial expressions and several times lately family members have said “Oh, I thought you were your mother”. I’ve cut my trademark long hair because it’s not practical and I no longer paint my nails because the upkeep is too high. I’m the one that has to be sensible, that has to tell Jess that it’s bedtime, that has to ask my partner not to get her over-excited, the one dressing her in sensible clothes and ensuring she eats properly. As mothers go, I’m pretty lucky if I’m turning into mine I suppose, but does anyone really want to become their mothers?

3. Pregnancy.
Some women bloom in pregnancy. A friend once told me that if raising children was as easy as pregnancy, she’d have 50 kids. Her skin glowed, she was full of energy, she relished every second. Not me. I had every unpleasant symptom going. Hyperemesis (constant morning sickness and yes, I mean constant. Forty times a day. I lost two stone in two months.) SPD. Spotty and itchy skin. Lank hair that fell out in patches. Crippling heartburn. Brittle nails. Eventually I even developed HELLP syndrome, which can be fatal. “Ah,” I hear you say, “but wasn’t it amazing when you felt the baby kick?” Nope. It felt like an alien in my stomach, every time she kicked I felt sick. Of course it was all worth it in the end, but the ‘joy of pregnancy’? Not so much.

2. Boredom.
I’m sure there are parents who live for playing make-believe with their children. They are probably the same parents who throw themselves into soft-play, look forward to days out at kiddy theme parks and can’t wait to go to the park and push their children on the swings for hours. I envy them. It must be nice to enjoy the same things as your kids.

I do look forward to taking Jess out because I love seeing her so happy, but I find most of the activities she enjoys interminably dull. I tend to take a book with me and while she’s playing I sit reading and calling out the occasional word of encouragement or caution. When she’s playing at home, I’m cooking or browsing the net or ironing. I feel rather guilty that I’m not down on the carpet playing cars with her or dressing her dolls but she’s happy enough playing at my feet, and I do feel that entertaining herself is an important skill to learn, especially as she’s an only child. Every now and then I’ll feel bad enough to grab a blanket and suggest we make tents, but I always feel that Jess would actually be happier if I left her to it!

1. Sleep.
There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. When you’ve slept well everything is easier to cope with. Tantrums are one of life’s little annoyances, a broken down car is a minor nuisance, and a large bill is just one of those things. When you haven’t slept properly for weeks, spilt milk can be the end of the world.

As a baby, Jess wasn’t a great sleeper. She had one whole month where she wouldn’t sleep for more than thirty minutes at a time, day or night. I was a zombie. I was working at the time and more than once I fell asleep at my desk. Somebody only had to look at me to reduce me to tears. I remember sobbing over Jess’s cot and yelling “What do you want from me?” before walking around the garden to cool down. And this was with one kid, how on earth do people manage with twins?!

Thankfully we got through it – Jess started sleeping through soon after and I managed not to have a nervous breakdown. But it was a close run thing.

Now of course I can look back on it calmly (at least until Jess has a bad night which still happens from time to time). And I have a couple of words of advice. If you are lucky enough to have a child that sleeps through, don’t boast to your less fortunate friends. Gloat quietly if you must, but don’t sit there beaming and saying smugly “well Annabella slept through at two days old” while your more unfortunate friend falls into an exhausted coma. If you want to help, do so. Don’t make vague offers, take the initiative – turn up, look after the baby, and send your friend to bed. If you are the one with the sleepless child, be open to trying anything and everything and don’t beat yourself up for using techniques you never thought you’d resort to. Controlled crying, rapid return, feeding to sleep, co-sleeping – if something works for you, go with it. Sleep whenever possible. There is nothing wrong with going to bed at 6pm if the baby is settled – it isn’t forever. And if all else fails, keep telling yourself: this too shall pass.

A bit about me

I’m Jai (short for Jaime), I’m in my 30’s (I’m not embarrassed about my age but it means I don’t have to remember to update this for a while!) and I live in Cornwall. I have one child, Jessica, and we live with my partner. I work part time. I’ve done a number of jobs from mystery shopper to librarian to karate instructor and I have degrees in English Literature and Law. I love crafts of most kinds, reading, cooking, and spending time with my family. I’m emotionally close to my parents but they live a very long way away so I don’t see them much. Although I grew up in Cornwall, I spent almost half my life in Essex until I moved back ‘home’ recently, so most of my friends are either hundreds of miles away or ‘virtual’, i.e. online friends. I love living in Cornwall but it can be lonely and I don’t have the support network here that I’m used to. It does have advantages here though; spending lots of time on the beach and not having to barricade my door at night for starters!

Welcome to my blog. You probably ended up here because you know me, but if you’ve found me by accident, hopefully you’ll get to know me a bit too. I don’t have a particular theme; it’s just my vague ramblings and it will cover whatever interests me at the time; craft projects, recipes, parenting, reviews, my opinions on pretty much anything!

So come on in. Pull up a chair and I’ll put the kettle on. I have some delicious homemade cookies and the house is cosy, so put your feet up, make yourself at home and enjoy.

Just a Mum

I’m a mum. The day Jess was born, my life changed forever. Being a mum is the biggest part of my life, no question. But it’s not my life; it’s merely a part of it. A huge part, the most important part maybe, but just a part. I was a person before my daughter was born and I’ll be a person after she’s left home, has children of her own and is too busy criticising my child-rearing skills to tell me about her life.

What defines us as people? Is it our children? Our jobs? Our beliefs?

If someone asked you to describe yourself, what would you say? Blonde, tall, slender and rich? (Or if you are me, red-headed, short, with too many lbs and too few £s?) Or would you start with “I’m an accountant / teacher / road-sweeper / housewife”?

Before I had Jess, my focus was my work. Everything was about the next promotion, the next move. Even when I was doing dead-end jobs (and believe me, I’ve done a few), I was always looking to improve, whether that was a pay rise, a better job or just getting the most sought after shifts.

Once Jess came along, as with most parents, my priorities changed. Work became a means to an end. I still look for promotion and new opportunities, but not in the desperate, work-or-die way that I used to. Different things have become important to me. Partly jobs with better hours, a better work life balance, but also jobs that mean something to me. Jobs that make me happy, that I enjoy, jobs that MATTER.

You know the ones I mean. I don’t care if you are wishing dishes for a living, as long as you don’t hate it and you get something from it. I don’t just mean money, I mean that intangible stuff – ‘job satisfaction’. For me that involves helping people, even if it’s in a disconnected way; if you are washing dishes in a cafĂ©, then you’re helping people have a nice experience (hopefully!). Sweeping roads? Well, you’re improving the streets for everyone.

A housewife, or ‘just a mum’? Any parent will tell you there’s no such thing as just a mum. A mum is a thousand things. Chef, cleaner, chauffeur, entertainer, nurse, you name it. And obviously you are contributing to bringing up another human being, which I hope brings satisfaction of a sort, even when you are scraping dried mashed potatoes off the ceiling or getting up for the fourth time that night to deal with a nightmare while somebody else snores away peacefully.

But this post isn’t about the hard work that parents put in. We all know that parents have a difficult job, but that’s what we signed up for isn’t it? For the most part, we made a decision to be parents and we live with that decision. We knew it would involve sleepless nights, changing nappies and endless readings of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, although any parent who says it is exactly the way they expected is either lying or deluding themselves.

What I’m trying to talk about, albeit in a rather roundabout way, is why we insist on defining ourselves as one thing, why we tend to lose ourselves when we have kids, why we think of our own needs as less important than everyone else’s. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I work for a number of reasons: money, to set a good example to my child, to keep my identity, and (blush) occasionally to escape my darling daughter. What actually happens of course is I just spread myself thinner; I now have more people’s needs to put ahead of my own. Everyone wants something, my boss wants more work done, my partner wants his ironing done, my parents want to visit, my daughter wants dinner, ice cream, a story, a new DVD, the latest toy, a pony. Where do I fit in? What about what I want?

What do I want? I want my family to be happy. I want Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to have no calories. I want two hours more sleep a night. I want to win the lottery. I want someone else to deal with the housework.

Maybe that’s the problem. Everything I want is either impossible or not something I can control. I can cuddle my girl, I can read her a hundred stories and buy her the latest toys, but if she wants to run into the road, or kick another child or whatever, I have to say no. At which point she isn’t happy. I can cook my partner’s favourite meal, buy him a gadget, hang on his every word – but if he’s had a rotten day, I can’t always make him happy. (No rude comments please!). It’s not my responsibility to make him happy either, just like it’s not his responsibility to make me happy all the time. We need to start taking responsibility for our own happiness and stop beating ourselves up when we can’t make everyone else’s life perfect.

The thing is, I can think about stuff I used to enjoy PJ (pre-Jess) and I can promise myself more me time, but where is the time supposed to come from? I used to do loads of crafts, take dance classes, go to the cinema, go to the gym, and read constantly. Crafts now involve ‘painting’ with Jess (also known as three minutes of daubing paint on the paper, 30 minutes of cleaning up). Exercise is a walk to the park or an occasional snatched class. Reading is two or three pages before I fall asleep or repeats of The Gruffalo to Jess.

Jess has finally reached the age where I don’t have to entertain her personally 24/7. I can settle her with some toys or put a film on and she will play quietly for a while. I suppose this is when I should be fitting in my ‘me’ time, but there’s always so much else to do. I can barely fit in any housework as it is, if I neglect it much more the spider-webs will take over! Plus I’m realistic. I don’t want to risk getting out all my jewellery making equipment in the hope of grabbing a few minutes because Jess will want to explore it – tiny beads everywhere and trying to get to the hot glue gun before she burns herself does not equal relaxation!

My solution has been to develop hobbies that I can pick up and put down easily (this blog for instance) and to find things I can enjoy that I can share with my daughter at the same time. For instance, I used to love scrapbooking. Whilst I don’t fancy letting Jess play with my irreplaceable family photos, I’m planning to buy her a kids’ scrapbook and let her loose with the stickers and glitter. Although some of my hobbies might need to take a backseat for a while longer, unless anyone can think of how to put a child-friendly, creative spin on Texas Hold ‘Em poker?

I think it’s time to take a stand. I’m no longer going to think of myself as ‘just a mum’, a ‘worker’, or even a rather rotund red-head. I am more than that, I am more than one thing. I am me, with all my faults and neuroses, and I am doing the best I can. Take it or leave it.