A Bit of Background…

I’m a mum of two beautiful children; one boy (I say ‘boy’ but he is more of a man-in-progress) who is slap bang in the throes of teenage angst; and a new baby daughter. They both make me so proud every single day. There is no denying that parenting is exhausting, draining and one huge worry-fest but I genuinely feel so privileged to have been chosen as their mum.
I run my own business and balancing that with being a (very average) wife and mum is a huge challenge. As a working mum I battle with the infamous ‘mummy guilt’ on a daily basis but on most days I am able to combat those pesky feelings by remaining focused on the end goal: building a better life for my family.
As I’m sure is the case with most working mummies, I can often be seen in a zombie like state, with bigger bags under my eyes than Sainsbury’s and a keen eye on the clock internally debating at which time in the day is it socially acceptable to give in to temptation and finally pop the cork in the fridge. It isn’t easy. But when was anything easy worth doing? I love a good challenge, which is pretty damn handy because life is full of them!
Who Am I?
A thirty something mum and wife from the North East who vows to restart a diet every Monday morning, gets way too emotionally involved with the characters in TV dramas and on a miserable day, loves nothing more than to cuddle up on the sofa, light those ‘white linen’ scented candles (that make your house smell like you’ve been a domesticated Goddess, doing laundry all day when in reality you haven’t even so much as looked at the dirty wash basket), watch trashy TV on the box and watch the rain beat against the windows from outside. ‘Duvet’ and ‘Day’ are my two favourite words.
Life is made a little bit more challenging by the presence of Rheumatoid Arthritis but I try not to let it grind me down. On many occasions the chronic pain does eventually grind you down; it can be exhausting. BUT (and it’s a big ‘but’ hence the capitals..) there are many others dealing with much worse than that; perspective is everything. I have the love of a good family and a solid circle of friends to support me when those bad days do land (and failing that, there’s the opiates.) (Prescribed, obviously!).
Things I Love
My children and my hubby are my faves, obviously. Prosecco comes a close second. I love coffee and cake dates with my lovely friends, I love a cracking TV drama (don’t get me started on box sets….my hubby and I have been known to prioritise ‘the next episode’ over sleep), I get a buzz from a cracking day at the office, I love that I love what I do, I like to see nothing more than women absolutely killing it in business, I believe in the power of positivity and that anything is possible with the right mindset and finally, writing. I quite like doing that. With a nice pen.

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Raising a baby fashionista in Autumn/Winter 2017

Here’s a truly scary thought: my Little Miss is almost one! I’m going to swiftly move on from that thought before I start wildly crying clutching a G&T in one hand and her tiny baby clothes in the other. She’s only been in her 9-12 month sized clothes for a couple of months but I’ve noticed that in some brands she is running out of room fast! The jump up to the next size seems huge. I think I’ll be doing a lot of turning up trousers and turning back cuffs for a couple of months while she fills out a bit! One good thing about Little Miss needing the next size up, though, is that it is the perfect excuse to shop! Before she came along I used to go straight to the ladies clothing floor in every shop we went in – now I don’t even look at where my stuff may be at, it’s a case of quick sharp to the childrenswear department where I could literally lose entire days to the art of ‘oohing and arhhing’ at all the pretty girls’ clothes!

Autumn is well and truly underway and it’s getting a little chilly out there. Little Miss definitely needed a wardrobe upgrade – the sort of upgrade that involves thick tights, long sleeves and cute cardigans! After fifteen years of the jeans and hooded sweatshirts that comes with raising a boy, I have to admit, I really enjoy picking out outfits for my Little Miss; my husband always jokes that I only pick outfits for her that I would wear myself. Secretly, I think he’s probably right! In a few years time, Little Miss is going to wake up one morning, roll her eyes at the outfit I’ve picked out for her and she’s going to tell me where to stick it (politely, respectfully and age appropriately, of course.) so I’ve got to make the most of the fact that she’s got no choice but to wear what I choose right now!

I love autumnal colours – in fact, autumn and winter is my favourite time of year for that reason. I love the mustard yellows, the burnt oranges, the warm reds and leafy greens. There is a huge range of beautiful autumn winter baby and childrenswear on the high street right now. Zara Kids, Marks and Spencer and Next are just three stores that are absolutely rocking the autumn winter range. I could have spent hours browsing the M&S babywear (if I hadn’t have had a screaming baby with me, obvs.); I loved in particular their dress and tights two piece sets. There were some beautiful knitted dresses with contrasting tights as a set and as someone who can never lay their hands on a pair of tights that are an exact match for the dress my Little Miss has on, these sets are absolutely perfect. I fell in love with a three piece set made up of tights, a knitted jumper and little dark red velvet shorts – absolutely perfect as a Christmas outfit.

As with every winter, the trusty old fair isle theme is out in force across kidswear ranges up and down the high street. You won’t hear me complaining about that, seeing all the fair isle jumpers and woolen dresses out and about gets the festive feels going! It might be two months away but my baby’s first year has gone in the blink of an eye so a couple of months is nothing! Christmas will be here before we know it!

I noticed a lot of applique and embroidery going on across the baby and kidswear ranges; there’s some lovely autumnal themed embroidered dresses and blouses available. Zara Kids have got some absolutely stunning embroidered blouses – if they did them in grown up sizes I’d wear them myself without any hesitation! Their mustard yellow corduroy shorts are worth a mention too. I would pair them with a navy jumper and some navy tights for a beautiful autumnal feel. I absolutely love Zara Kids – they sell some gorgeous pieces that border on being ‘quirky’ which is exactly why I love them. I think sometimes you see children and babies wearing the same styles, the same colours, the same fabrics – I love that there are high street retailers that are willing to push the boundaries a little and throw some quirky items in to the mix.

I was really pleasantly surprised at Primark. Usually I go to Primark for the staple items you need in volume with a baby – bibs, vests, socks and the like – but while we were there I spotted a number of gorgeous autumn winter outfits. I’d struggled to find tights in autumnal colours but Primark had a number of three pair sets including one set that included a cream pair, a grey pair and a burgundy red pair too. I’m a firm believer in the idea that you can never have too many pairs of tights when you’ve got a little girl. I mean, let’s face it, the washing machine seems to eat them, they never seem to come back from nursery and seventy percent of the tights in our house are constantly on rotation in the dirty wash basket. So we bought a couple of packs. I haven’t really ever dressed my Little Miss in jeans, I’ve always opted for leggings or tights, but Primark had a number of different coloured jeans and I came across a pair of burgundy ones that I bought to try her in. I also bought a twin pack of long sleeved polo necks – these have already proved really useful to match with little skirts and underneath pinafore dresses.

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There’s a lot of faux fur going on right now on the high street too – a sure sign the festivities are on their way if ever there was one! I fell in love with a pinky coloured faux fur gilet I saw in Next and I spotted a few faux fur jackets in the babywear / girlswear range too. The soft feel of the faux fur is appealing, particularly with my Little Miss still being very little, I like to think of her wrapped up as snug as a bug in a rug in something soft, warm and furry!

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I love the range of hair accessories available for baby girls these days too. I’m one of those dreadful mothers that had a bow on her baby’s head within a few hours of being born! I had waited ten years for her though, so I’m allowed! I particularly love this crocheted headband in the mustard yellow colour; it looks good and it keeps her ears warm! Win win or what!?!

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With it getting chilly outside, it’ll be time for woolly hats, scarves and mittens I no time. Whilst we’ve got the milder weather, my Little Miss is having fun wearing a beautiful pink pom pom hat we bought from M&S. She never fails to get complimented on it when she wears it out and about and I love that it’s a bit of a statement piece that stands out.

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Finding the time to do ‘us’.

I left my full time teaching job almost three years ago. I absolutely loved my job but it left no time for my family. My son was already in to double figures and I was really starting to notice the absence of family time and quality time together. I would drop him off at Breakfast club at 7.30am, hot foot it along to school for meetings at 8am, do a whole day at school, returning to collect him from after school club just before 6pm. By the time we got home, it was a case of shoving something quick in to the oven whilst we’d hurry through his homework, then after dinner I would have to start marking books and planning lessons ready for the next morning. It occurred to me that as much as I loved my job, and I really really did, my life was becoming more about other people’s children and less about my own and that didn’t sit comfortably with me. I still believe to this day that if teaching had remained about the children and less about the paperwork, it would still have been possible for me to maintain my teaching career and raise my family in the way I felt was important but unfortunately teaching is not what it used to be and teachers are now under immense pressure with ridiculous workloads.

Three years ago I decided that the only way I could invest the time I felt my family needed, was to go self employed. My Husband, before this, had worked shifts and so we had done our fair share of him missing the important times as a family – Birthdays, Weddings, weekends away, Christmas and the like. We made a decision together, as scary as it was, for both of us to establish a family business so that we could work in a more flexible way that better met the needs of our family.

I’m not saying that we have the perfect work life balance because we don’t. Being self employed is not an easy road and it is by no means an easy way to make a living. We hadn’t fully appreciated the hours upon hours of work that would need to be invested to establish a successful business and at times it was all-consuming and physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting and there were a lot of times where I thought we were even worse off as a family but the more the business grew, the more we were able to relax in to it and find our momentum.

We are now in a position where we work Monday to Friday, office hours and any work that is needed to be done at home on an evening is done after the children have gone to bed. My son is almost 15 now and he is already choosing to spend a lot of time on his own in his bedroom and I do feel bad when I think of all the time I wasted during the years where it was actually semi-cool to hang out with your mum! But we have made the right changes now, even if I do regret not doing it sooner.

We now have a daughter who is almost one and the lessons I learned with my son are definitely holding value now. I am privileged enough to be able to have lazy mornings with her instead of having to get her changed, stick her in the car and race her to nursery for breakfast and often I get the chance to collect her early which gives us valuable time to play together.

I will never ever take weekends for granted. If you ask anyone who has previously had to work awkward shift patterns or weekends before, I am certain they would say the same. Weekends are just everything to us. Having to work full time may mean that we only have weekends to cram in quality family time but I am very grateful for that, some families don’t even have that. Having weekends means that we can make exciting plans through the week and those plans keep us motivated all week long. There is no better feeling than getting home on a Friday evening from work and school, knowing that we have the weekend together to make up for us all having to be elsewhere and busy during the week. We all feel that excitement, even our (sometimes) grumpy teenager!

 

Having two full days to just do ‘us’ is so important. During weekends we always make the time to be together. Whilst I do promote the importance of our teen socialising outside of school and building friendships away from school, I do think it is really important for us to reserve as much time as possible for us as a family. I am very fortunate that he doesn’t (yet!) view family time as a drag or a bore. I love that he loves spending time together as a family. I really do hope that his view on family time never ever changes.

 

I’ve always said that it doesn’t even matter what you do as a family or where you go – it’s the being together that really counts. So whilst we love to go on day trips or visit places of interest, see extended family and so on, there is also beauty in just being able to be together doing absolutely nothing. We call those days our ‘Duvet Days’. We love having duvet days together – sitting in our Pjs all cuddled up on the sofa, watching movies and eating treats.

 

We like to eat out together if we can on a regular basis too so we’ll often head out on a Sunday for Sunday lunch. Getting the kids out of the house, particularly for the little one, gives them a change of scenery and gets them away from the distractions at home – the noisy toys, the laptop, ipad, phone, television etc – and we can just focus on us. It’s then we can have uninterrupted conversations, discussions, giggles and fun together.

 

That family time keeps me sane. I know that when I was working round the clock, I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for not spending time as a family and I really felt sad for not having that one on one time with my boy. Now we have that time, and my husband now works ‘normal hours’, it is so lovely to know that at the end of every working week, we have two days dedicated to just doing us. I suspect that some stay at home mums would consider two days not enough. And I would totally agree with them; it isn’t enough. But, I have no choice but to work. I hate that I see my children for all of a couple of hours before school and nursery and a couple of hours afterwards Monday to Friday but right now, that is just the way it has to be. However, because I miss them with every bone of my body whilst at work, I make every single minute on a weekend count with them. I value every memory we make. I feel lucky too. I am lucky that we have jobs that assist us to look after our family; I am lucky that I am now able to work on weekdays only, giving us that precious family time we need on weekends. Finally, I am lucky that I have children that value family time as much as I do. I really hope that never changes.

 

For advice on how you can spend more time as a family, check out this fantastic article! wooden-furniture-store.co.uk/family-first

World Mental Health Day: Let’s talk about it.

When I was 18 (which, frankly feels like a whole lifetime ago) I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression, sometimes referred to as major depression or major depressive disorder. I rarely think about that period of my life for obvious reasons – it’s a time I don’t care to remember but as today is World Mental Health Day, I found myself reflecting on my experience of depression and took time out to give consideration to those who are experiencing the same.

 

Almost twenty years ago, there was a huge stigma surrounding mental health. People didn’t talk openly about mental health and this only further compounded the situation I was in. I believe that my poor mental health was triggered when I made the very premature (and rather silly) decision to leave home at 17 and move in with my boy friend at the time. I found myself trapped in an abusive relationship; he had manipulated me in to giving up college, moving further away from my family and friends and I was incredibly isolated. Talking openly about mental health just wasn’t the done thing then. The only person I talked openly with was my Community Psychiatric Nurse and GP. I was isolated and I experienced crippling loneliness, stuck within the confines of the four same walls day in and day out.

 

It affected me in many different ways – and probably in more ways than I can even remember – but I certainly remember becoming so bad that there was no Monday to Sunday and there was no day or night: I simply existed. From one hour to the next. I didn’t have a routine. I didn’t get up at 7am and go to bed at 10pm. I simply slept as much as I possibly could because being awake was just too painful. Every day became the same because I had nowhere to go, nobody was expecting me anywhere and I had absolutely no purpose and no reason to get up and go out. I didn’t even have a reason to shower let alone get dressed.

 

I distinctly remember one night in particular. I had argued with my boyfriend and I had overheard him speaking to one of his ex girlfriends who had suddenly come back on scene. I had such a low opinion of myself that I could not see a world where he would choose to remain with me over her. I’m not even sure why I even wanted him. He was pretty damn awful. The truth is, he didn’t make me happy. In fact, he made me distinctly unhappy. But as isolated as I was, I felt I had nowhere else to go. My Mum was supportive and would’ve welcomed me home within an instant but having left home at 17, I felt like returning home would be like admitting I was wrong. And I thought I knew it all at 17 so admitting I was wrong seemed almost worse than staying with a man who contributed towards making me mentally ill.

 

That night I remember standing at the front door of the maisonette I was living in. It was dark and it was cold. I can remember the shape of my breath as I sharply inhaled and exhaled the bitterly cold night air. I felt like the world around me was spinning and whilst it spun around me at such a speed, I was unable to process my thoughts. I couldn’t make sense of how I was feeling; I just knew I felt bad. Really bad. Worse than ever before. I had become so upset that I was hysterical. I tried techniques my CPN had advised me to use when I felt situations were getting out of control, such as breathing exercises, but it was almost as if it was far too gone for those sorts of things to work. My heart pounded so hard I thought it was going to thump through my chest and my whole body was violently trembling. I had lost my grasp on the world. I couldn’t think. I just wanted it all to end. I could not see a world in which I would get better. I could not see a world in which I would be loved. I could not see a world in which I would not be lonely. With each and every thought I took one more unsteady step towards the railing on the balcony.

 

I remember looking down at the ground and trying to make some sort of vague calculation as to how likely I was to die if I threw myself off. I didn’t want to just hurt myself. I didn’t want to wake up in hospital injured but alive. I wanted to die. I did not want to be there. There was nothing about my life that gave me any hope for a better future. I hated my present and my awful present made me think I had nothing but an awful future ahead of me. It feels wrong to speak of suicide so flippantly now, but back then I saw suicide as my ‘get out of jail free’ card. I would reassure myself that if things got too bad, I’d always have suicide. To think that that idea gave me comfort back then makes me feel sick to my stomach.

 

Luckily for me, a complete stranger was passing and instantly recognised the struggle I was having. They talked me down. They calmed me down.

 

Fast forward just two years later and I had got out of that relationship. I had moved back home. I had got a job and built up a network of new friends and, most importantly, I had met my soul mate who is now my husband. When I say that the life I am living now was completely unimaginable to me when I was in the depths of depression would be an understatement. I had absolutely no hope that my life would change, that I would regain control over my own life, that I would be happy again. And yet I was wrong.

 

If I could give two pieces of advice to anyone going through a similar experience with their mental health, the first would be to breathe through the bad moments, the ones where you feel crippling pain, fear or anxiety. I always say to anyone going through a bad time to ‘do whatever gets you through the day’. If that means sleeping, sleep. If it means listening to music, put some tunes on. If it is writing, then get scribbling – you do whatever you need to do to get through those crippling moments. The second would be to always view your present as temporary. I lost myself in my depression the day I convinced myself that this was to be my life. There was no getting out of this alive. Never ever forget that what you are experiencing is a moment. It is one moment in time. It is not forever. This time will pass. It will get better. Breathe through it. Do whatever you need to do to get through it. Things will get better.

 

To think that I may have jumped that night and may have ended my life over the life I was living at the hands of an abusive man, who quite frankly wasn’t even worth crying over, makes me shudder. The thought that I may have deprived myself of the opportunity to meet my husband and fall in love, bring my two beautiful children in to the world, make precious memories with my family and friends and lead a life that brings me such happiness and satisfaction, makes me feel physically sick to the stomach. I love my life now.

 

Just keep breathing. Do whatever you need to do to get through it. This is temporary. It is not forever.

4 Time Saving Beauty Products for Busy Mums!

Now I don’t know about you, but on the days I actually find the time to apply a full face of make up, it is usually a case of only applying products that can be applied with one (very shakey) hand because I am usually holding a baby on my hip with the other. My Little Miss is going through a very clingy phase (please please let it be a phase!) at the moment so she almost always wants to be with me when I’m getting ready and she’s pretty impatient, hence the need to apply a face of make up in nought point three seconds whilst she wails like a banshee beside me.

There’s a few products I’ve been using recently that have been saving me valuable time on a morning so I thought I’d share them for anyone who, like me, has limited time for this sort of thing.

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  1. STYL’s Siligel Blender

I’d been using a blending sponge for a long time, particularly to apply foundation and to blend when contouring. It doesn’t take hours to wash the sponge through but when you’ve got a screaming baby throwing the wobbler to end all wobblers, it can feel like an eternity. So, when I saw that a Siligel blender had been brought out to rival the blending sponge, I was interested to try it. The main benefit with this is that it is much easier to clean as it doesn’t absorb the product, a quick run under the tap and it is cleaned of all product. Another benefit of using this style of blender is that because it doesn’t absorb the product, you use much less of it. My products are lasting much longer than usual with this blender, which is a significant advantage in itself. It did take me a while to get the technique right with this blender as it applies very differently to that of a sponge blender but once you get the hang of it, it’s fab.

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  1. Pixi by Petra Eyebrow Gel

I need to ‘fess up. I don’t have the time I used to have to make sure my eyebrows are suitably tamed. In fact, I got my fringe cut back in once I’d had my baby girl to hide the bloody things! But this product definitely helps keep them looking neat and tidy. It’s not an expensive product but it is a very effective product. I’ve tried eyebrow gels that have felt heavy and claggy but this is a light and airy gel that does its job well. You only need apply a little bit of this gel to keep your eyebrows looking tidy and it keeps them that way all day. The applicator is a handy brush so you can actually brush through your eyebrows as you apply the gel making it even easier to get the neat and tidy look you are looking for. It is quick, it is easy and it works – what is there not to love?

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  1. Bellapierre Banana Powder

If I could climb up on to the roof of my little semi detached house and scream from the rooftop about this product, I would. I absolutely LOVE it. I have gone from never using any sort of setting powder to using this banana powder every single day without fail. I have read that there are many different ways you can use this sort of product but I’ll tell you how I use it. The silky powder is a light yellow colour so it is a really good product to use to lighten and highlight. I use my usual cream concealer under my eyes, then I apply this powder generously underneath my eyes, dipping my sponge in to the powder and blotting it on top of the creamy concealer and then I leave it for a good few minutes whilst I do my eye make up. I also apply it down the centre of my nose and I apply a small amount across the bow of my lips. The idea is that you apply the powder generously and just leave it sitting there for a few minutes whilst it ‘bakes’. I then use a fan brush to remove the excess powder and ensure it is all blended in properly. I have never received more compliments about my make up than since I started using this powder. It is a product that saves time and saves product because it sets the make up in place for hours. It ‘bakes’ the products and ensures that they are fixed in place effectively. I used to have to re apply my concealer and highlighter half way through the day before I discovered this product but now I can forget about my make up knowing it will last all day.

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  1. NYX Matte Finish Setting Spray

I LOVE the matte look. I always wear matte lipsticks for that very reason, I just love the finish you get with matte products. This spray is very effective. Once I finish my make up, I hold the bottle a few centimetres away from my face and spray a couple of times, ensuring the product is evenly applied all over my face. Once I’ve done that, I never give my make up another second thought for the whole day. It is the perfect partner to the Banana Powder because the powder sets the make up in those key highlighted areas and the spray ensures the rest of the face is completely set too. This was not an expensive product and using it right, it lasts a considerable amount of time; it is fantastic value for money and it yields the kind of results you would expect from a much more high end product. It even sets my lip colour. I usually have to reapply my lip colour a couple of times throughout the day but if this spray is properly applied in that area, I have found that the lip colour lasts a lot longer too.

Dear Perfect Parent,

Dear Perfect Parent,

I see you. But you already knew that; you wanted me to see you.

I see your posts on Facebook, Instagram and the like. Whether it be the perfectly poised photographs you post or the self indulgent status updates you put out there, they always leave me drawing comparisons. I try not to. I tell myself I’m a good mum, secure in the knowledge that my children are clothed, fed, clean, loved and happy, but sometimes your life appears to be so dramatically different to mine that I can’t help but compare.

Sometimes the comparison is even laughable. I read your ‘Yay! I’m back in to my size 8 jeans three weeks after giving birth!’ post whilst sitting in my maternity leggings almost a year after my baby was born. I saw the selfie you took in a nightclub mirror looking all glamorous with a full face of flawless make up, holding a pretty looking cocktail whilst I nursed a cup of tea in my frumpy pyjamas watching a boxset at home with the day’s mascara smudged across my eyes.

I see your ‘she’s only 7 weeks old and she’s sleeping through!’ posts too by the way. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting ‘mummy wins’ as, let’s face it, we all know that parenting is a tough gig but when I’ve had all of about twenty minutes kip in three weeks, I don’t feel much like celebrating with you. On that subject, where do you find the energy to go out on a night time? I’m in my PJs by 4pm. I don’t blame you, though. You should have a social life. I’m glad you do. It’s just my eldest is almost 15 and I haven’t actually regained my social life yet. So it just makes me wonder where I’m going wrong.

Then there’s the mummy video’s. You know the one’s – the video clips of your child playing the violin on one foot whilst reciting the alphabet backwards. In French. You certainly make smart babies. If they carry on like this, one day they might run the country. I can’t even begin to imagine how many posts would be dedicated to announcing that on your social media if that happened.

And then there’s the photographs. Gah. The photographs. The ones where your kitchen looks absolutely immaculate bar some carefully placed icing sugar sprinkles across a home made cherry pie sitting proudly on a hand carved wooden chopping board or some jars of home made jams with hand written labels and gingham checked cloth lids. Your kitchen looks like something from the Bake Off tent whilst mine more resembles ‘the morning after the night before at Glastonbury’ type look. And the fact that you have your shit together enough to make homemade jam impresses me on a whole new level. My kids are lucky if they get offered a spoonful of Hartley’s for their toast. Not a single gingham cloth lid in sight.

The truth is that I admire you. I admire that you are doing such a sterling job of raising your family whilst keeping an immaculate home and I admire that you have a baby who sleeps through, an exciting social life, the energy to make home made jam and the time to document and video every one of your child’s talents. And so you should. That’s totally your prerogative.

But on the days where I am feeling really pushed. Pushed for time, energy, lust for life or whatever else, seeing someone making such an amazing go of being a Mum can only serve as a stark reminder of what I could be doing better.

So when I see the photograph of your family sitting around a pretty looking camp fire at the beach roasting meat on the barbeque to go with a side salad made up of organic vegetables you’ve grown yourselves at home, I compare it to what I’m seeing; my children, most likely sitting at my very chaotically laid dinner table, stretching their necks to see what’s going on on the television ,whilst they eat their very average pasta and cheese.

BUT (and it’s a big ‘but’) does that mean I love them any less than you love your children? Absolutely not. That’s one thing that is simply not up for debate. But it is part of my genetic make-up to be hard on myself, be self critical and continuously feel guilt at not being a good enough mum.

I do think that a lot of that guilt comes from being a working mum. By the time work is over and the nursery pick up has been done, it’s very usually a case of throwing whatever is quick and easy in to a pan for tea whilst running a bath for the baby whilst helping the big’un with his homework whilst trying to reply to five and a half work emails (and usually whilst pouring a sizeable G&T) all at the same time. It gets too much some times. In fact, it gets too much a lot of the time. And yet in the same vein it never feels enough. It doesn’t matter what I do, I always feel that my children deserve better than what I can give them.

So when I see your photographs or your posts on social media sometimes they serve as a reminder of the mum I would love to be one day. But one thing is certain: I may not have an immaculate house all the time, and I might not grow my own organic vegetables in the back garden and a year on I might not be back in to my pre-pregnancy clothes (there’s no ‘might’ about it actually, I’m definitely not.) but one thing is for absolute sure: my children know they are loved. They are loved to the ends of the earth and beyond and I’m sure if they were asked they’d say their mummy does her best by them. And that’s enough for me.

I have no doubt I’ll hear from you soon (via your chosen social media outlet),

Keep going Supermum! You’re doing an awesome job.

 

Mamma_B x

Family fun and frolics in Florida.

We’ve been promising our Big Lad a family holiday in Florida for years. He has, for years now, spent countless hours on youtube watching home videos following families as they experienced the theme park rides and water parks. It has been his ultimate dream to go there for so long. Not that he would admit it, but I think his love for the US was ignited when he was an avid viewer of Hannah Montana at the age of five or six or something. I distinctly remember getting cross at him for saying ‘Sweet Niblets’ to me in an appalling country-bumpkin accent every time he got in to trouble. I banned him from watching Hannah Montanna for a month but hell hath no fury like a child deprived of Disney Channel so we lasted all of around three episodes. He’s not quite an avid Disney Channel fan these days but he never lost enthusiasm for going to the US to experience Disney and everything that comes with it.

For years, a big trip to America just hasn’t been possible due to being self employed with a number of businesses and not having the staff to leave them with but when our circumstances changed, we took advantage of the situation and got booked up. Little did we know that months later we would discover that we would be visiting Florida as a family of four and not the family of three we had initially booked for. I have to admit that once I found out I was pregnant, I did have my reservations about taking a ten month old baby on an eight hour flight to a place so busy and so hot but we had promised our Big Lad we would go so that is exactly what we did.

I had been dreading the flight with our Little Miss. For weeks leading up to the holiday I had built up a goodie bag of new small toys and books in a bid to keep her entertained. I was also acutely aware of the fact that she had developed quite a strong talent for high pitched squealing and I was dreading the impact that may have on the other travellers sitting around us. So much so, infact, that I ordered sixty little gift boxes and filled them with industrial grade earplugs, a few sweet treats and an ‘I apologise in advance for any crying I do’ letter from the baby. We popped these on the seats that were closest to us on the plane. It turned out that I needn’t have bothered because just over 30 minutes in to the flight, Little Miss became poorly with sickness and a high temperature. Her projectile vomiting skills within such a confined space were truly majestic. Sitting in vomit soaked clothes for the duration of the remainder of the flight (only a mere six hours or so) was a particular highlight. On the up side though (Did I really just say there was an ‘up side’ to being showered with warm sick?!) she was so poorly that she napped a lot and just cuddled in to me quietly. She didn’t cry once so the earplugs weren’t needed. I bet they wish I’d gifted them a peg for their nose though. The smell of that vomit lingered in the air for bloody hours.

My husband had holidayed in Florida multiple times as a child so he had planned our trip really well, I had nothing to do with it. We stayed for part of the holiday in a hotel on International Drive and the second part at the Disney Dolphin Hotel on resort. We decided not to accept the car that we had been offered as part of the holiday package (my husband and I argue enough about driving at home without throwing the driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road dynamic in to the mix too) and instead we have used Uber throughout the holiday to get us everywhere. We took the baby’s car seat so that we could easily and safely fit her seat inside any Uber cab that picked us up. I must say on this subject that I know that Uber has had bad press in the past but we have experienced nothing but outstanding service whilst in Orlando. We never waited longer than three minutes for a car to collect us from the point of ordering one. We always received a full description of the driver and the car that were due to pick us up so we never felt vulnerable in any way and most of the drivers we met were lovely, outgoing and bubbly people who shared with us their local knowledge and recommendations. We used them at least twice daily picking us up from International Drive and driving us down to Disney or Universal and the running total that we’ve spent so far (with only two days to go until we depart for home) is around $250 which I think is really reasonable given we have had almost had a driver at our fingertips for two weeks.

Our hotel on International Drive was pretty basic but did the job. It was in close proximity to bars, shops and restaurants at Pointe Orlando, just opposite Wonderworks, so from that perspective it was really helpful to be central. I struggle to walk distances so we hired a wheelchair from a local company who dropped the chair off at our hotel the day after we booked it. This has been invaluable, and given the usual attractions charge for the hire of wheelchairs on a daily basis, hiring a chair from a local company for the fortnight afforded us a huge saving and it meant we had the chair at all times for if we wanted to head out for a walk or go somewhere local.

Given three days before our arrival Florida was battling with Hurricane Irma, we were greeted by a hot, sunny and calm Orlando. Apart from a couple of ten minute downpours, we had fantastic weather day after day after day. With temperatures spiking in excess of 100 degrees on certain days, it was extremely hot – particularly when going around crowded theme parks. I was worried the weather was going to be way too hot for the baby but as long as we ensured she stayed cool, wore her hat, bathed her in sun block and kept her hydrated, she remained pretty happy. There are so many distractions when walking around the attractions that I doubt she even noticed she was hot anyway! I expected her to spend much of the holiday flaked out in the pushchair in the heat but she napped as usual for around thirty minutes twice daily and that was it. I suspect she didn’t want to nap incase she missed something as she loved every minute, particularly at the attractions.

If there’s one thing I despise about the reality of living with chronic disease and disability it is having to ‘give in’ and travel by wheelchair instead of walking. Call me proud, stupid – call me whatever you like but I hate it. My husband and Big Lad were amazing, one took the wheelchair and the other took the pushchair and acted like it was no problem at all but I knew I was slowing them down and it did make everything a bit more challenging at times. It is harder to navigate a wheelchair through crowds of people than it is to walk through. They never complained once, bless them. After a few days we ditched the pushchair and my Little Miss sat on my knee in the wheelchair instead. She was much more settled there as she had a better view of what was going on around her and it meant that I could easily see to her needs (and give her random cuddles and squeezes along the way!).

Disney were incredibly supportive and have schemes and initiatives to ensure disabled guests and their families are not at a disadvantage whilst in their parks. The staff were friendly and welcoming and constantly asking how they could help, and there were schemes that enabled me to access and enjoy certain rides despite being in a wheelchair. I have never been a typical Disney lover, even as a child, but you can’t help but be immersed in the magic of it all. Walking down Main Street at Magic Kingdom, with my Little Miss not knowing what to look at first, her eyes widening with wonder, and my Big Lad who left the teenage angst at the door and instead lapped up the magic and allowed himself to enjoy it as if a young’en all over again, it doesn’t get any more magical than that. Everything about the place is magical – from the dreamy fairytale-esque backdrop to the emotion evoking music, from the ‘Disney smiles’ given by the Disney crew to the smell of the cinnamon pretzels and popcorn – there is no better place on earth.

I was really worried that with Little Miss being only ten months, she wouldn’t be able to participate in the rides and things but I needn’t have worried. Disney make a very real and avid effort to involve even the teeniest of family members. Obviously there are minimum height requirements for some of the bigger rides but the majority of them were very family friendly and we were therefore able to enjoy them all together as opposed to me waiting outside with the baby whilst the boys had all the fun. Our firm favourites were the Little Mermaid ride and It’s a Small World at the Magic Kingdom, the Toy Story ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Nemo ride at Epcot and the Avatar inspired Na’vi River Journey ride at Animal Kingdom.

We were privileged enough to see a number of the incredible shows put on by the Disney cast. For me, they were some of the most memorable moments of the entire holiday. We saw the Beauty and the Beast live show at the Studios which was really well put together and had both the Big’un and the Littl’un totally captivated. Nemo, the musical at Animal Kingdom was absolutely outstanding – it was so well constructed and the cast and crew made the entire environment inside the theatre come alive through the use of light, puppetry, music and a live cast. It really was quite special. Our absolute favourite had to be The Lion King show at Animal Kingdom though. I absolutely love the theatre and have seen a number of productions in the West End and what we saw there today at The Lion King far superseded anything I have ever seen before. It was an absolute spectacle – a feast for the eyes and ears. It had everything – from gymnasts cast as monkeys to stilt walkers, fire eaters, song and dance. The show was really interactive, drawing on the involvement of the audience on a number of occasions throughout the show which made it all the more engaging. I am going to sound like a total wet mess but the whole show had me in goosebumps and I really struggled not to become emotional as I watched the kids’ faces as they watched it all unfold in front of them. The fireworks were a real hit too. We found it difficult with the baby to stay at the parks until late to see the late night fireworks but we did manage to rejig her routine a little on one night which meant we were able to see ‘Fantasmic’ at Hollywood Studios which is a breathtaking production combining water, lighting, fire, fireworks and a live cast. I would highly recommend making a point of waiting it out til late on at the park to see this show as it was something special.

Prior to coming to Florida I had been more excited about visiting Universal than I had been about Disney and my Big Lad had felt the same. My Big Lad is hugely in to his action and superhero movies, and loves Harry Potter, so he was really looking forward to seeing what Universal had to offer. We visited both parks at Universal and tried a number of the restaurants that made up City Walks, the strip that joined both the parks. Whilst certain aspects of the parks were incredible to experience – such as the Harry Potter world, Simpsons world and the like, I really felt that neither place accommodated families with very young children. We were really disappointed to find that rides that were extremely similar in style to rides that our baby had been welcomed on at Disney, had height restrictions which meant she couldn’t ride. I didn’t realise the scale of the unsuitability of the place until we got talking to a member of staff at Universal who told us that there wasn’t a single ride without a height restriction and that our Little Miss would not be able to participate in any of the rides. I was gutted for her as she had loved the rides at Disney and my Big Lad had loved us all being able to experience things together as a family. However, as I didn’t want this to ruin the fun for the Big Lad, I sat with Little Miss when the boys did rides and we did use the baby swap initiative a couple of times which allowed my husband and I to swap in and out of babysitting duties so that we could both enjoy the ride without having to queue all over again. I joined the Big Lad on a couple of rides as I felt it was really important that we had some one on one time together too but I was secretly really gutted that the four of us weren’t able to enjoy the experience together as we had done at Disney.

Based on my personal experience, Universal also didn’t seem to be as accommodating for those with disabilities as Disney had been. They do have some sort of access initiative but when we enquired about it, the member of staff wanted me to detail exactly what my disability was and how it affected me (in front of a long queue of people in earshot) despite me having formal proof of my disability with me. I’m way too proud to start shouting about my physical limitations in public and so decided to abandon our request for support with access there. As it turned out, there weren’t many things I could go on anyway so it didn’t really matter in the long run. There was a stark comparison between the way both companies managed their guests’ access restrictions though. Disney were incredibly accommodating and extremely friendly with it whereas I felt nothing but a burden or a hassle at Universal. At the end of our day at both parks, even the Big Lad remarked that he would rather spend more time at Disney than come back and finish Universal. The atmosphere and the way in which families are welcomed and looked after are just in no way comparable. I’m glad we went to Universal as it would have been a shame not to have gone along to see what it was all about but we have already agreed as a family that should we return to Florida for a second holiday, we will not bother with the Universal parks and will instead devote more time doing Disney instead.

We had to take a couple of ‘rest days’, or ‘chill out days’ as we prefer to call them, during the fortnight as doing the parks can get exhausting. I would highly recommend spending a day at the International Premium Shopping Outlets which is situated on International Drive – it is an excellent place for shopping. The place is huge and it is filled with huge global high street brands such as Gap and the premium designers such as Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren. Most stores offer a minimum of at least a 30% discount on the ticket price so there are huge savings to be had. As we visited in late October we took the opportunity to start a bit of Christmas shopping and took advantage of the discounts to buy nice Christmas gifts for the family. We are, at this point, not entirely sure how we will get all the shopping home again but och, we’ve got two days to figure that out. We’ll not concern ourselves with that just now!

Staying in the Disney resort is an experience like no other. Everything is just so easy when you are staying on resort. There are complimentary shuttle buses to all the theme parks running every 20 minutes from the hotel and the hotel itself offered fantastic activities such as children’s clubs, special activities and celebrations etc. There are some fabulous dining options on resort, including a character dining experience which we went for a couple of evenings ago. This was really magical, with characters such as Goofy and Pluto joining our kids for their evening meal. Instead of the ‘photo and run’ you usually get when queueing to see the characters in the parks, the characters really spent a lot of time with the kids during the dining experience, communicating with them in their own way and stopping to play peek-a-boo with the baby and fist bumping with the Big Lad. It was really lovely. The restaurant was airy and spacious with a beautiful big tree in the middle and there were only a few other families eating at the same time so the characters just made their way round from table to table, meeting and greeting the families eating there. I think this sort of thing is offered at all the Disney hotels but we experienced it at The Swan Hotel.

What I loved about The Dolphin and Swan Disney Hotels was that it offered a really nice standard of hospitality and service to us as adults. Naturally a lot of the Disney thing is aimed at the children in the family but these hotels were beautifully presented and the rooms so beautiful that it didn’t feel like we were staying in a themed hotel whatsoever. It felt like we were staying in a high end boutiquey hotel and this really appealed to me. I’ve been called a ‘Hotel Snob’ before, and in fairness, whoever said that was probably bang on the money as I do like my little luxuries when I am away from home, and this hotel really delivered. It was fantastic for the kids as there were numerous pools with water slides and kids clubs galore but also nice touches for the adults such as cocktail pool bars, an on site spa, spa bath and so on.

The food is worth a mention. I’ve really struggled with the food. Like, really struggled with the food. The choice and range of food available over here is nothing short of outstanding. Want steak? There’s a steak house over the road. Chinese? No problem, there’s a Chinese restaurant round the corner. You fancy going to an American Diner? There’s five at the complex across the road. You want pizza? There’s a Dominoes within a two minute walk from here. You prefer Pizza Hut? Well, you’re in luck! There’s a Pizza Hut next door! Literally, you name what you want to eat and I’ll bet you there will be somewhere within a very short walking distance in Orlando that does it. You might ask what my problem was then in that case. My problem wasn’t the choice of food on offer, it was the sheer how much of it that is on offer. Everything seems fried or bread/dough based and the portion sizes are indescribable. Many a time over this holiday my husband and I have been reluctant to order two main meals between us because we knew that sharing one between us would be more than enough but it never seemed very fair to take up a table in someone’s restaurant and share one dish between us! At first it was a novelty – we followed the smell of pretzels and churros and fried dough-nuts and we filled our faces with the most delicious tasting treats ever. But after a few days we really felt it. I felt sluggish and bloated and in desperate need of eating something green. It hasn’t been too easy finding something green based and balanced to eat as meals, particularly at the theme parks. It tends to be fried chicken and chips or pizza on the menu. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love fried chicken and pizza as much as the next person but after almost two weeks on the diet , it doesn’t feel so good no more. It’s things like when we ordered an ice cream each to get us through the mid afternoon slump in the peak heat and we received an ice cream as big as our face (and I’m not even exaggerating), I literally felt like crying at the sheer challenge of getting through it all. Americans know how to do food. They definitely do. Everything I have tasted has been so yummy, I just don’t think the scales are going to be too happy when I get back home, I’ve actually reached the point in the holiday where I am now actually pretty sick of the sight of food to be honest and I’m looking forward to getting back home and regaining a better balanced diet.

We are yet to try a water park as yet but I think we are going to give Volcano Bay or Blizzard Beach a try over the next couple of days. I don’t expect there to be much for the little one there but she loves the water so I am sure she will be just happy to splash about in the pool.

All in all we have had the most magical holiday ever. I can’t believe that in a couple of days we will be back on the plane to fly home but it has been just the most amazing holiday from start to finish and I would recommend it as a destination for anyone with a young family. Our Big Lad is almost 15 and he lapped up every second of the magic but I do sort of wish we had brought him over when he was a little younger. Before we came here we kept referring to the holiday as being a ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday. Within days we were no longer calling it a ‘once in a lifetime’ because it became very obvious that we loved the place just too much to only visit it once. We are determined to return as quickly as possible and have already decided that we will stay on resort in a Disney hotel for the entirety of the holiday next time.

We have made the most amazing memories with our beautiful family; memories we will hold dear to us for many a year to come.

How many minutes a day do you dedicate to yourself?

What does ‘me time’ look like when you are a mum?

Being a mum of a boy who was hurtling through his teens saw me regain a huge amount of time that I could dedicate to myself so when I fell pregnant (incidentally I hate that saying – who ‘falls’ pregnant? Like, woops, I tripped over your foot. Bam! I’m expecting!’) I knew that going back to nappies, night feeds and colic was going to have an impact on the amount of time I found for myself.

In fact, for the first few months of my daughter’s life, ‘me time’ wasn’t even on the radar. At no point did I have time for me; at no point did I make time for me. But actually, at no point did I even register that I was having no time for me. That was the scary bit. Once my husband was back at work after paternity leave, there were many days where I didn’t even find the time to get changed out of my PJs or take a shower. He’d come home from work around 5pm and find me in exactly the same way he left me eight hours previous – hair not brushed, not showered, not changed. I would think ‘how do people do this? How do people have a baby and still manage to shower, get dressed, have a hot cup of coffee, chat to friends?’ I felt like I was failing at life.

Of course the reality was that whilst I was sat there in a zombie like state, my baby girl had been bathed, massaged and dressed immaculately. She had milk in her belly, clean nappies on, she’d been cuddled, winded, rocked, shushed, read to, sang to and played with – she had had my undivided attention all day long (and all night long most of the time too!) so I’d clearly had the time to do all those things; I had simply chosen to dedicate that time to my baby rather than myself. I thought that made me a good mum.

I think she was around the five month mark when I started to feel more than just the ‘I’m tired from the sleepless nights’ type of tiredness. Little Miss was having a rough time with reoccurring chest infections so sleep was at an all time low and I was constantly in a state of panic, checking her temperature, watching her breathe for any signs of struggle. I was not only physically exhausted but exhausted in every meaning of the word. I felt drained. I remember sitting in her nursery for hours, holding her upright on my chest so that she could get some sleep without coughing. I sat there for as long as I possibly could, ensuring she was in a deep sleep, before trying to put her back down in her cot again. I crept up to the cot and gently laid her down, as if she was fine glass. I held my breath and said a prayer internally that she would remain asleep so I could get to bed.

And she did. Until I laid my head on my pillow and closed my eyes and then the coughing started, and then the crying resumed. I sat up and felt so emotionally fragile. I cried. I was so desperately in need of some sleep. But not only that, I was desperately in need of time for me. I felt drained, physically, emotionally and in all other ways. This was more than just tiredness; I felt like I had lost myself almost.

I felt guilty for thinking about ‘me’ when I was so blessed to have a beautiful baby daughter that needed me but in five months I hadn’t left her side once. I hadn’t met a friend for coffee as adults, I hadn’t spent any child free time with my husband, I hadn’t so much as had half an hour to read a trashy magazine or a book. This wasn’t for the lack of offers either, whilst we don’t have a massive family network, we have family members that had offered to look after her, but I had not wanted to leave her. I don’t know whether this was because she had had such a traumatic start to life or whether I’d have felt the same regardless, I don’t know. I had waited so long for my beautiful baby girl, spending time away from her just hadn’t occurred to me.

It was only during a chat with my Reiki Healer about how rubbish I was feeling that I fully realised that I had really done myself an injustice in not ensuring that I had time for me. She asked me ‘what do you do for you?’ and I couldn’t answer. I had a small baby, I thought. I don’t have time for me. She asked me to identify one thing I had done out of sheer enjoyment just for me in the last week and I couldn’t answer it. I hadn’t read, I hadn’t written, I hadn’t sat in the garden and enjoyed the peace and quiet, I hadn’t met a friend – nothing. She told me (in friendly but no uncertain terms) that it was absolutely essential that I find time for me in every single day. I almost laughed. Time for me? Every single day?! That was going to be impossible. She maintained that it was essential for my wellbeing though. She told me to start by reserving one ten minute period for me every single day. It was acknowledged that we all need more than ten minutes of ‘me time’ a day but we needed to be realistic here or it just was never going to work.

I thought about what I could do in ten minutes. I could (probably) drink a small coffee (whilst hot maybe!), I could read for ten minutes, I could meditate or listen to some music, I could pamper myself or you know what? I could just lie down in a dark room and drink in the peace. Ten minutes isn’t long but when you have deprived yourself of any time for you for several months, you’ll take it with open arms and you’ll run with it. Fast.

I scheduled these ten minute periods. I mentally popped them in the diary for when my husband got in from work and could take over on baby duty, or for when I got Little Miss down for one of her naps. Instead of opting to get the bottles cleaned and sterilised or hoovering or being in a rush to do something practical like changing the beds, I took that time and thought ‘this is for me.’

Happiness is created through our enjoyment of things. I enjoyed my baby so much but there needed to be an acknowledgement that I had a right to enjoy something for me too. The Reiki Healer was right, once I started to dedicate time for me, doing something I enjoy, even if for just ten minutes, I felt happier. I felt more balanced. I felt stronger. This had a hugely positive impact on my ability to be an upbeat all-singing-and-dancing mum too.

Those ten minutes each day may not be much but they are a nod to the fact that us mums are people in our own right. We shouldn’t need to accept that every minute of our day should be dedicated to doing things for others. It’s Ok for us to be selfish some times and say ‘this is what I’m doing for me,’ not for the husband, for the dog, for the kids, the mother-in-law or the neighbour down the road – for us. For me. In fact, that isn’t selfish at all. It’s doing what is right for us. What is healthy for us.

When that Reiki Healer asked me what I did for me, I was confused. The fact that I found that question so confusing is exactly what was so very wrong. In my head somewhere, I subconsciously believed that as mums, our whole lives should be dedicated to our little people. And for all we love our little people and for all they make our world go round, it is not good for our health, our state of mind or emotional wellbeing to neglect ourselves in the process.

Ask yourself the question, what have you done for you today? If you can’t answer it, I hear you. You are probably just as exhausted as I was. You may be thinking it’s not possible to have ‘me time’ and be a mummy but please, give it a try. Reserve ten minutes out of your day tomorrow and find something to do that you enjoy, do something that makes you happy. See the difference it makes to how you feel.

I know that having time for me makes me a better mum. I’m more patient, I’m more energised, more balanced and I’m happier.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Have you found the right balance?

My Dad died and I feel nothing.

My Dad died and I don’t feel anything.

I had another post planned entirely for this week but as is the way, life hurled at me an unexpected curveball and so I’m dealing with that first.

I was enjoying some lovely quality time with my brood at the weekend when I received a message from my Aunt telling me that my father had died. He had drank a litre of whiskey and taken a stonking dose of Fentanyl so there is absolutely no doubt that he intended on dying. Nobody could have survived what he had put in to his system.

It’s been two years since I spoke to him and even then, those conversations only took place in light of my Nana, his mother, passing away. You see, for as long as I can remember he has drank and prioritized his drinking over my sister and I. I remember being aware of it even as a kid; I would get up on a morning and he would be sat with a mug watching morning television, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was sipping his morning coffee. Only I knew better than that. I’d found the bottle bank hidden underneath his clothes in his wardrobe and I’d smelt it on him. He could have pickled me with one breath of the intoxicated air he breathed out. He’s made poor decisions throughout his life and many of those poor decisions impacted on his daughters yet there was never any remorse or apology. He had every outside agency and support service provider involved with him and he was given plenty of opportunities to turn his life around but he continually chose not to. I had given him chance after chance after chance to change and re-build our relationship and each time he bitterly let me down.

He was a compulsive liar, too. I’m not sure whether it was the drink responsible for these lies or whether he really was, inherently, a person that simply could not speak the truth. In adolescence and beyond, this was ok because I knew not to trust what he said, but as a child, it was devastating. I remember when Disneyland Paris (or Euro Disney as it was then) first opened. My sister and I were desperate to go and during our scheduled contact with our dad, he promised us he would take us. He said he’d booked the tickets and he informed our mum, who was estranged from him, when he would pick us up to take us. We were so excited. We counted down the sleeps to the day of our flight across to Paris. The day finally came and we were left sitting on our suitcases at the front door waiting for him. We waited. And waited. And waited. He never showed up. He had never booked the trip. It had all been an elaborate lie. I’m not sure what his motive was to lie about something like that. He could have easily have said to us something none committal like ‘I’ll take you one day in the future’ or ‘It’s too expensive to go there, let’s think of somewhere else you’d like to go’ or he could, of course, have said absolutely nothing on the subject. Instead, he promised us we were going and continued with the elaborate lie as we counted down the days to our long awaited holiday.

This may not sound like a big deal, but as kids we were devastated. We had told our school friends we were going. Hell, we had told anyone who would listen that we were going. I vividly remember sitting on those suitcases waiting to be collected and with every half hour that passed, I was more and more submerged in disappointment. I thought it was bad enough back then but as a parent now, I really can’t understand why anyone would want to get a child’s hopes up for something special knowing all the time that those hopes won’t turn in to a reality. My heart physically breaks if I mentally trade places with my children and think of them sitting on those suitcases waiting to go on holiday, so excited and on cloud nine. I don’t understand why he did it.

To remove all doubt that something maybe ‘came up’ outside of my father’s control, he continued to lie about everything and anything. In fact, just a couple of years later he surprised me with front row tickets for me and a friend to see my favourite boy band in Wembley. I stupidly hadn’t learnt my lesson and allowed myself (and my friend) to get excited. Everyone at school was jealous. They didn’t have tickets and we did. Only, we didn’t. Obviously. The front row tickets at Wembley didn’t exist. They never did. He had never booked them.

The lies went on and on. They ranged from promised quality time together that was never pulled off, to day trips, holidays – gifts at Christmas – the lot. He lied about EVERYTHING.

It must have been the biggest relief for my Mum when I finally became old enough to realise that he knowingly lied to us time and time again. I can’t imagine what she went through whilst watching her two children be let down time and time again. Once old enough, I eventually voted with my feet and decided not to see him anymore. My sister continued to have some contact but I think that was only the case because she was younger than me and hadn’t quite worked it out for herself yet.

Years passed and second, third and fourth chances were given but all of those chances were shortlived as he continued to consistently demonstrate that he had not changed one bit. The final straw was when I took my little boy to visit him. My boy had just learnt to sit up unaided; he was wobbly but so pleased with himself. I remember him sitting on the floor in the living room, playing with his toys. It was early morning and breakfast TV was on the television. My father staggered in with his “morning coffee” and slurred a good morning to us. As he passed my boy he staggered and tripped over him. He wasn’t hurt, but he got a shock and was upset and crying and that was enough for me. It suddenly dawned on me that I was allowing history to repeat itself by allowing him contact with my child. I was no longer willing to have my child in that environment and I certainly didn’t want my son to build a relationship with a man who had shown me nothing but disappointment after disappointment all my life.

If there was ever any question about whether he’d changed over the years, it was confirmed when I regained contact with my Aunt and cousins from my father’s side of the family via Facebook. I hadn’t been in contact with them for years because when my relationship broke down with my father, he led me to believe that nobody from his family wanted any contact with me. I was pleasantly surprised when my cousin sent me a message asking me how I was. Straight off the bat I sensed a sympathetic tone to the message and I couldn’t make sense of what I was reading. It was referring to something that had happened to me that I had no knowledge of. It was like she’d sent the message to the wrong person. I sent a confused message back to her asking for clarity and it turned out that my father had told his side of the family that I had got sick and that I’d been told that I only had three months to live. This was, of course, just another elaborate lie of his to gain attention of some sort from them.

I felt sick. As a parent I can’t even imagine where you would need to be in your head to lie that your child is terminally ill when absolutely nothing of the sort is going on. I never saw my father after that. We had a few strained telephone conversations, usually when there was some family news to deliver, but that was it. I never got an apology. On the one occasion I felt brave enough to challenge him about what he had said about me, he couldn’t have cared less that he had upset me. He certainly didn’t apologise. He didn’t even explain why he had said those things.

I last spoke to him two years ago. He had got my landline telephone number and he continued to call me on a number of occasions. I don’t know whether this was a weak attempt at building bridges but those bridges were irreparable as far as I was concerned. I actually pulled the landline out to avoid the calls and having to listen to the numerous voicemails – and it remains pulled out to this day.

So when I read that he had died I didn’t know what to feel. My body reacted in a way I didn’t expect. I couldn’t stop shaking and although I fought the tears with every ounce of my strength (because I absolutely refused to cry over the man), I did cry. I’m not sure why. I felt suffocated with confusion. Maybe it was the shock, I don’t know. I focused on the practical matters of letting my sister, and then my mum, know, but the more we spoke about it, the more upset I was getting, and the more upset I was getting, the more angry I was getting at myself for being upset over him. What was it I was feeling and, more importantly, why was I feeling that?!

It’s a weird one. When you lose someone you love, you respond in exactly the way you would expect to respond. You cry. You’re devastated. You’re lost. You grieve. But when you lose someone that you are supposed to love and cherish, but you are estranged from, there is no protocol. There is no ‘natural way’ to respond. There is no right way to react. My body was feeling one thing, my heart another, and my brain something else entirely.

My Aunt had passed on the details of my father’s Support Worker, who, incidentally, had been the person to find him after he had overdosed. She was a lovely lady who very patiently explained everything that had happened to him since I last spoke to him two years ago. Some of the things she told me were very unexpected, some of the things she told me were very sad and some of the things she reported that he said about my sister and I took me by surprise. I ended up a wet mess on the phone but still feeling utterly confused about how I felt about it all.

I cried so much that night that I could barely open my eyes by the time I went to bed. It was only when I talked at length about it with my husband that I was able to recognise what it was I was feeling. I wasn’t grieving for him, the man that drank 24/7 and lied in the most cruel way. I wasn’t grieving for the father he was; I was grieving for the father he wasn’t.

I was devastated. But not in the way people may think. I was devastated that my father had died and due to his poor decisions and poor behavior, his death meant very little to me. I felt nothing. I felt numb. Like someone had told me about the death of a man I never knew. I was sad that someone had died. I was sad that someone had felt so low that they had resorted to suicide. I was sad that someone died without any family around them. But that’s as far as my feelings go.

Two days on and the dust is settling;  I haven’t cried today. My tummy does a bit of a flop when I think about it but that is it. I am sad that he wasn’t the Dad I wanted or needed him to be. I am sad that because of what he did, I am not utterly heartbroken and bereft by his loss. I won’t allow the ‘what if’s’ to creep in. The ‘what if we had got things back on track?’ ‘what if I had forgiven him?’ ‘What if I hadn’t pulled that landline out?’ thoughts have no place in my head. I’m not going there. I refuse to feel guilt. He had the capacity to change his life around. He had the capacity to buy in to the support services around him. He had the capacity to apologise. He didn’t. That was his decision and it was those decisions that led him down the dark path that resulted in his death.

Although ‘ashamed’ is a strong word, I do feel almost ashamed that I share the genetic make up of a man who valued life so little that he thought it was easier to throw his life away rather than work with the support he had around him to improve his life. I am sorry that he could see no light at the end of the tunnel and I can appreciate that that must have been an extremely lonely and painful time. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, regardless of what they had done.

For all I feel nothing, I’m sure that, when I least expect it, the numbness will wear off and I will feel something. I’m not sure what that something will be. For all I had no relationship with him, I’m sure a part of this will remain with me for the rest of my life. Even if it just serves as a reminder to hold my family close, make the right decisions, be honest and be the best parent I can possibly be to my children.

Going away with your baby soon? Read these top tips to avoid a whole load of stress!

In the last three weeks we have been away twice with our brood in tow. Each time just for a few nights in this country, either to see family, or to just get away and spend time as a family somewhere a bit different. We go on our proper holibobs in a couple of weeks so it was a bit of a test run if you like. Boy did it test us, at times. Here’s my top tips for taking a baby away:

 

  • Plan your packing and only take what you need.

From someone who literally packs a suitcase of baby stuff just to nip to Asda for some bread, I struggled with this. We were travelling by train for one of our trips away so it was essential that we travelled as light as possible as we had the pram and travel cot to carry also. I over packed ridiculously, packing an outfit for every sort of weather you can imagine. Not sure why I thought my little miss would need a summer romper in Birmingham during the British summer time, but I packed it anyway. I also packed ‘dressy’ outfits for her in case we went out for dinner on a night time (It had totally escaped my mind that you can’t really do ‘posh dinners’ on a night time with a baby.) It turned out that instead, we ate at Nandos in the middle of the afternoon, each of us shovelling in our food as quickly as possible whilst the other entertained the baby. No dressy outfits were required. Not one.

We bought some sterilising tablets that you use with cold water and these were a godsend and allowed us to sterilise her bottles and dummies in the bathroom sink at the hotel – much easier than trailing the steriliser with you.

We packed items that were really not needed such as calpol, in case her teething got bad, pouches of food in case she didn’t eat what was on offer at the hotel/restaurant, a hundred and one nappies just in case we had unexpected nappy explosions and enough packets of baby wipes to sink a small ship. What we had totally lost sight of was the fact that we were staying within the UK and that there were a wide range of shops close to where we were staying. We could have gone and bought food pouches, extra nappies, calpol or wipes if we’d needed them. We really shouldn’t have trekked them all the way there on the off chance we’d need them – because, as it happened, we didn’t.

 

  • Do some research on where you are going and the facilities on offer where you are staying.

This is something we didn’t do. I wish we had, in particular, researched the facilities available at our hotel before booking. They were only little things but things like not having a bath in the bathroom and only having a shower, made things tricky as our Little Miss is used to having a bath every night as part of her routine. It was hard for her as it was, to be in an unfamiliar environment so not having a bath made it difficult for her to wind down for bed on a night.

We also failed to take our gro anywhere black out blind with us (which was a monumental sized error, by the way) and as the hotel curtains were not the best, our Little Miss was waking a lot earlier and as we were all staying in one room, she then awoke the teen (who, incidentally, does not do ‘tired’ very well) and it made for very long days.

Researching things like the times the restaurant is open on an evening or if there are restaurants near the hotel that open quite early would also be very useful and would avoid you being left in a situation like we were with a hungry baby whilst trying to find somewhere we could all go to eat together.

 

  • Relax the routine.

I’m a huge advocate for routines with a baby. I think they are so important. But, trying to maintain that routine when you are miles away from home, in an unfamiliar place, will only result in massive stress. I spent a good couple of days stressing over nap times, meal times, bed times and in hindsight I wish I hadn’t. I worried that if I relaxed the routine while we were away, our Little Miss, who is an absolute creature of habit, would never get back into the swing of things again when we got home. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as I relaxed the routine a little, I was able to enjoy it better and so was she. Yes she stayed up later some nights and yes some days she didn’t nap until tea time (which would usually put the fear of God in me) but going with the flow allowed us all to spend some relaxed time together as a family without constant clock watching and that was really important not only for us and Little Miss, but more importantly for our big Lad too. And, as it happens, as soon as we got home, she relaxed back into her usual routine absolutely perfectly.

 

  • A baby crying is not the end of the world.

Both on the train and when in the hotel, there were times where Little Miss was screaming and crying and I felt really aware of the strangers around me. I worried that we were bothering them, keeping them awake, disturbing whatever it is they were doing. My husband, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. He firmly believes that we should never have to apologise on behalf of our crying baby because, let’s face it, we have all been there and done it at some stage or another (even if we can’t remember it!). The further the trip went on, the more I realised that if Little Miss cried, she cried. Yes I would attempt to console her, distract her, offer her cheese puffs and rusks, give her whatever ridiculous objects we had to hand to play with such as random water bottles and car keys, and give her cuddles, but I soon realised that sometimes babies just cry. And when you’ve used every trick you can think of to distract them, there’s very little you can do to stop them crying. It’s just as simple as that. As much as I was very sorry for any discomfort the crying may have caused fellow passengers or hotel guests, it really wasn’t the worst thing to happen in the world and it was only ever temporary. It shouldn’t be a massive deal.

The more stressed I was getting about the situation, the more upset Little Miss was getting and the worse the situation felt. I have definitely learned that I need to relax more and roll with the punches. Of course, I remain sorry if my baby’s crying does cause any distress to complete strangers but, there needs to be a realisation that babies cry. That’s what they do. Sometimes it’s crap to listen to but she’s just a baby, it’s not her fault. And it’s not mine either. Us parents do our best but we can’t raise a brood of muted children just to ensure that strangers around us have a peaceful day.

 

  • Be Realistic.

This final tip is a biggie. When you plan your trip, don’t romanticise it. Don’t allow yourself to envision yourself lounging around the hotel spa sipping on Mojitos or having lazy lie ins on a morning with breakfast delivered to your room so you can remain in your hotel dressing gown whilst watching morning TV. Whilst, yes, you’re going away for a few days, you have to be realistic about what to expect when going away with a baby/children. It’s not going to be a romantic rose-petals-on-the-bed and double-rain-shower type of trip. Those days may return (if you have a very kind babysitter!) but it certainly isn’t going to be like that with a baby.

Yes your trip will be stressful -even chaotic I suspect – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Our trip was totally full on (and to be honest, I could have slept for a week when we got back and still would have been exhausted) but I honestly would not have had it any other way. It was wonderful to relax the routine, go with the flow, visit new places, do new things and experience all of those things as a family of 4 with our Big Lad and Little Miss.

 

I’ll admit I am a little apprehensive about taking our Little Miss on an eight hour flight for our holiday in a couple of weeks but I am so, so, very excited to spend more quality time as a family. Even if it is sure to be total chaos most of the time.

 

 

 

 

I’m Late. Again.

So, here’s the thing. I am late for everything. Like, EVERYTHING. So it will be of no great surprise to those who know me well that this blog post is late. It was Birth Trauma Awareness week last week and this little ditty was in the diary to be written to coincide with it. So, basically, now this post has absolutely no common relevance whatsoever. But I’m going to write it anyway. Because, if nothing else, I think it might be quite therapeutic. For me, that is. Not you.

I’ve had the pleasure (and absolute privilege) of bringing two beautiful babies in to the world but neither births were easy. In fact, they were pretty traumatic. My memory of both is really quite limited. I wonder whether that was the drugs pumped into me or whether it is some sort of self defence move my brain has pulled.

What came out of both births is that I do not take for granted that I now have two healthy children. Yes, it would have been nice to have a romantic water birth surrounded by scented candles and whale music whilst being held lovingly by my husband but the reality is it all went a bit Pete Tong. It was crap. But, you know what? I’ve got two healthy and strong children. As much as it was traumatic and I felt the effects of it for a while afterwards, I am now able to move forward and look upon the births as a difficult journey that we had to embark on to get my babies here. A bit like a turbulent  long haul flight to get to some idyllic tropical island: the journey was hell but it did its job, I’m now relaxing on golden sands with a frozen Margarita and all was worth it.

I’m not going to attempt to re tell both births in this post. I think recalling them both may result in me becoming a fragile, wet mess. So, let’s talk about my little lass. Chosen purely because it was the least traumatic (and the most recent so my memory is a bit sharper!).

The whole pregnancy with Little Miss was difficult. Whilst I floated on air for several months after finding out I was finally pregnant, it wasn’t an easy ride by any means. I didn’t expect one mind so I was kind of prepared. I had severe morning-noon-and-night sickness until around 18 weeks and at around six months I became really itchy. I itched literally from the highest point of my scalp to the sole of my feet. It was worse at night and it literally drove me insane. I would never have even clicked that it was linked to the pregnancy had I not read an article in my local paper the week before about a lady who sadly lost her baby due Obstetric Cholestasis. If I hadn’t read that article, I am not convinced I would have ever even mentioned the itching to my midwife. Maybe I am completely lacking in intelligence and common sense but in my mind, I wouldn’t have even connected itchy skin to something more sinister surrounding the pregnancy. My heart breaks for the poor family featured in the paper and I only wish I knew who they were to thank them for sharing their story as it most definitely saved my baby. It just shows how critical it is to raise awareness of these things.

So I mentioned it to my midwife or sent me for a blood test. It came back straight away that there was an issue with my liver and I was sent up to the maternity department at the hospital. We were met by a consultant who explained I had Obstetric Cholestasis. He was really patient and thorough but it was a lot of information to take in. We were already considered a high risk pregnancy due to the sheer concoction of drugs I was on to manage the pain of my chronic disease so this was just another risk to worry about. He told us that our baby would need delivered early as the longer the pregnancy goes on, the higher the risk of still birth. He advised that 1 in 200 women with OC go on to have a still born baby. 1 in 200 may not sound scary but when you’re sitting there, nursing your bump as your baby kicks and moves inside of you, so full of life, the even remote mention of your baby being stillborn is about as scary as it gets. A C-section was booked in at 36 weeks and they organised a care plan, I was to visit the hospital every week to have blood tests, to monitor the baby’s heart rate and movements and I was given medication to try and reduce the levels of bile in the blood. I was also prescribed this amazing menthol cream (which I literally bathed in for the next two months!) which was great for reducing the itching. It still itched like hell but I got a couple of minutes of relief at least when the cream was applied.

We were already aware that our baby was going to be born dependent on morphine due to my medication and that was scary enough so when these risks were factored in too, it was a really anxious time. Every week we’d trek up to the hospital in the city and I would have bloods taken and whilst waiting for them to return from the lab, the midwives would hook me up on a monitor machine which measured the baby’s heart rate and recorded the movements I felt by a button I had to press. Most weeks I was kept on the monitor for longer than standard because either she wasn’t moving a lot, or she was sleepy, or her heart rate dropped. It felt like those appointments went on forever. In fact, we headed in to the city today and took the same road we always took for the hospital and I instantly felt that sick, anxious twisting-of-the-stomach feeling that I felt every single time I went up there. I always expected the worse. I’m not sure whether that was a self preservation tactic or what, I was just constantly paranoid that something was going to be wrong with my baby. My precious baby.

We got all the way up to 35 weeks and I was due to have my final monitoring appointment before the section that was literally scheduled for days later. That’s when things didn’t start going to plan. The midwife kept coming back to the monitor and looking at the scan on the paper it was printing out. I could see from her face that something wasn’t quite right. You know when you get sent in to a little side room closely followed by a suited up consultant that things aren’t going to plan. They told me they weren’t happy with baby’s heart rate. I kept dipping and wasn’t recovering as quickly as it should. They said that, ever so matter of factly, they needed to deliver the baby that day via an emergency section. Cue an onslaught of ‘my hospital bag, it isn’t here! What about the big lad? We haven’t organised childcare for him! I’ve not eaten yet! I’ve not shaved my legs yet’ ya-da ya-da ya-da. It turned out that my hubby could actually throw things together in a plastic bag, arrange childcare, prepare eldest child for the premature arrival of his sibling and get back to the hospital in time for the section (even if he did bring a hat aged 6-9 months for the baby to wear upon her birth…). My legs remained hairy but the surgeon didn’t seem too arsed. Either that or I was too blotto to notice. Whatever. I’m sure he didn’t go on his break in the staff room and say ‘You should’ve seen the baby I’ve just delivered, her mum had the hairiest legs I’ve ever seen!’ to his fellow surgeon mates whilst they dunked their digestives in their tea. Or maybe he did. Frankly, I no longer care.

So, my hubby was gowned up and they took me in to theatre. I remember it being so brightly lit and not at all like the theatres you see on the TV. There was a radio playing and the staff were joking about how bad the Healthcare Assistant’s singing was. The Anaesthetist struggled to get the spinal block due to my spinal condition. She had told me that it may have been necessary to have a general if she couldn’t get the spinal in. I pleaded with her to keep trying. I desperately didn’t want to miss the delivery of my little girl. She worked like an absolute trooped getting that spinal block and she made it happen. I will forever be grateful for that.

I had a great medical team surrounding me, with a Baby Doctor on call ready to give our baby girl help if she needed it. It turns out she was an absolute trooper too. She was delivered ever so perfectly, with Daddy catching the moment she was pulled from me on camera (we’re saving that one til she brings her first boyfriend home). Every last ounce of her 6lb 12 weight was absolute perfection. You wouldn’t even know that she was born early, or born dependant on morphine.

But as I was obliviously coo-ing over the beautiful baby girl that was tucked inside my hospital gown, being held tightly against my chest, the rest of the surgery was not going to plan. The nurses did their best to reassure me when the machines started making extra beeping noises and they called the Registrar to come down, I knew there was something wrong. It was written all over the atmosphere in the room. It had gone from a jubilant, celebratory ‘Yay! It’s a baby girl!’ atmosphere to a everyone-looking-scary-worried atmosphere.

The Registrar came down and spoke very quietly with the Surgeon then came and explained that I was suffering Uterine Atony, my uterus had failed to contract after the delivery and it was causing quite a lot of blood loss. She was very upbeat, attempted to distract me with small talk whilst keeping one eye firmly on the developing surgery at the bottom of the table. It took the surgeon, what felt like, an eternity to get things under control. I did nothing but look at the faces of the medical staff, the way you look to air crew staff when you’re on a bumpy flight to see if they look worried, because if they look worried, well then it’s time to worry that the plane may be in trouble.

I tried to focus on my baby girl, my husband – anything other than the beeping of those bloody machines. The more I nestled my beautiful baby in to my chest, the more I worried that I wasn’t going to get out of that theatre alive to enjoy her. I felt cold and my hands were trembling as I tried to hold my baby close to me.

What felt like an eternity later, the Registrar finally looked at me, relieved and told me that I had lost quite a bit of blood but that the situation was under control and that I was now being stitched up ready to go in to recovery. The machines stopped beeping, the jovial atmosphere resumed with the Healthcare Assistant continuing with his rubbish singing and the room literally breathed a sigh of relief.

It turned out that our little baby girl wasn’t out of the woods unfortunately. We had a wonderful first 12 -18 hours with her before the drug withdrawal symptoms started taking hold and sge got sicker and sicker. I have promised myself I will write about our experience as parents of a baby with a drug dependency one day but I don’t feel quite ready to do it yet so I will come back to that another day.

One thing I must say on the subject of both her dependency and the birth is that I am so grateful for the incredible medical team we had looking after us both. Not once did we feel that we weren’t in safe hands. They were nothing short of outstanding. I know sometimes the NHS gets a bashing, and if I’m being honest, I have had my own frustrations with them in the past, but we could not fault the care given to either of us during our stay in Maternity.

Phew! I got through it! Apologies for its total lack of relevance due to my poor time keeping but posting anyway in the hope that one day it may raise awareness in the same way that newspaper article did for me. I owe the family in that article the world and then some.