Sunday, 31 August 2014

10 things that surprised me about breastfeeding *this* one-year-old

1. That it's an entirely different experience to breastfeeding my older daughter, who I weaned at nine months. Hence this is ten things that have surprised me about breastfeeding *this* one-year-old not *a* one-year-old. Because every child is different.

2. There are no thought processes involved at all. I don't think about how much she feeds, when she feeds or why she feeds.

3. I have no idea how often she feeds. Somebody asked me this a couple of weeks ago and I was genuinely completely stumped. This is because, as per point number two, I give it no thought whatsoever. She asks, I feed. She doesn't ask, I might offer. I have no idea when, or how often, or for how long, or how much she takes.

4. It's not about 'giving her milk'. Breastfeeding Violet isn't an act. It's a relationship. It's a two-way thing. At her one-year review the HV asked 'does Violet drink milk at all?' and I immediately said 'no', because she drinks water or occasionally juice. Then I understood what I was actually being asked!

5. It doesn't 'interfere' with my life in any way, shape or form. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say I have readjusted my life, and myself, so as not to interfere with breastfeeding a one-year-old. I don't drink alcohol any more so that's not an issue. We co-sleep most nights so night feeds aren't an issue. I can be away from her for hours on end and my breasts will feel full, but I think this has happened twice in the last year. It's just not an issue because I have chosen not to separate myself from my children for any length of time other than on very rare occasions. This comes back to breastfeeding being a relationship not an isolated act. It's part of the whole.

6. She has eight teeth and has bitten me frequently, usually when another tooth is coming. And yes, it hurts! Cherry had no teeth when I weaned her so the experience is completely new, that said, V cut her first tooth at four months so I've had plenty of time to get used to it.

7. Having done it before with another child doesn't necessarily make it 'easier' second time around. I've had more issues to overcome feeding Violet (blistered, cracked nipples at the start due to incorrect latch, nursing strike due to thrush, those teeth!) than I had with Cherry.

8. I have no idea for how long I will continue to breastfeed. As long as we both want to, is my stock answer.

9. I loved breastfeeding Cherry and expected to love breastfeeding Violet too. But when I think about it 'love' isn't really the right way of putting it, because that implies breastfeeding is something of a 'bonus' or a 'treat'. I think lovely Adele at Circus Queen really sums it up in her post here when she says that breastfeeding is 'our joint right'. It's our right too. Do you love your rights? They're more fundamental than that.

10. Nobody else seems to think it's 'weird' that I'm breastfeeding a one-year-old. Even if they did, I probably wouldn't notice. You don't tend to pay much attention to what others think of your rights.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


She has it!

And she almost has it!

Do I have it? Oh god no. It's been a year and I am still struggling to balance the rights, wants and needs of myself with those of my children.

Our rights are, as I see it, equal. Their needs have to come first - of course, this is without question. Their wants, however, cannot and should not always come first. That I genuinely believe.

That said, neither can or should mine, or mine and Noel's. It's all a balance.

I cannot pretend to be close to having it right all or even most of the time. There is so much joy, but I also have periods of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and quite despairing. Much of this relates to my own internal balance - or lack of it.

Putting two young children and even a very minimal amount of work on top of this, not to mention wider family, friends, and it's often game over for my wants and needs.

(That's not to say it's particularly a win for anybody else, mind. It's just often how life is.)

Of course without due care and attention to my own wants and needs I cannot be the parent I want to be, the mother my children deserve, and the person in whose skin I feel comfortable.

But I do have it right some of the time, and that's something I can, and am going to, feel good about as my younger daughter prepares to turn one.

I can look back on a year of two children, four months of it with the notorious TWO UNDER TWO, and think that while this has been without question the hardest, sometimes the most soul-destroyingly relentless, year of my life, there are many times in which I really have got it right.

Yesterday afternoon I took both girls to the park. Sometimes I feel I need to be free of both children physically for a short time - just to have a few moments to myself without one or both of them clambering over me or asking me to lift, carry, push, move or generally assist them physically.

Taking them to the playground doesn't often solve this problem as both instantly want to be pushed on swings. Which I did, because this is their right to want, if that makes sense.

But it's also my right to want to prioritise my needs once in a while. So after ten minutes, I got both of them down from the swings and said 'I am not pushing, carrying, lifting, moving or helping either of you for the next ten minutes.

'I am going to sit down and I am going to watch you and drink my coffee.'

Off they went, Cherry going round and round and round on the climbing frame with that ferocious toddler concentration, Violet crawling about in the sandpit bashing sand and saying 'did did did' a lot, smiling her head off.

I watched them, and I drank my coffee. Every last full-fat drop.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Just wait until… What I know about mothering

When Cherry was a baby I never felt able to legitimately talk with any authority about motherhood because I would be met with indulgent laughter and 'just wait until….'

Just wait until she can crawl. All hell will break loose! Just wait until she's walking. You'll never sleep again! Just wait until she's talking. You'll break all your vows about not shouting at her or using punitive discipline!

Just wait until she's 35, THEN you'll know how soul-destroying parenting can be….

It felt like there would never be a time when I would be qualified to talk honestly and openly about mothering. I couldn't talk about it when Cherry was a baby because what did I, a judgemental and starry-eyed new mother of The Most Perfect Baby The World Had Ever Seen, know?

But the sense always was that I would 'forget' how she was as a baby or 'rose tint' it so therefore I couldn't talk honestly or reliably about it as she grew.

'Oh, you've forgotten,' replaced 'just wait until.'

Now Cherry is to turn three at the end of the year and V is nearly one. I feel a bit more qualified to talk about mothering. I have not forgotten what it is to have a baby nor am I unaware of what awaits when my baby grows into a walking, talking, infuriating, exasperating, incredible toddler.

(If you 'just wait until she's a threenager' at me I swear, I WILL END YOU)

Here's what I know about mothering:

Mothering isn't a job - a role. It's a state of being. We can 'do nothing' all day and have still mothered our children. This is not 'doing nothing'. This is active. Even passivity is active. Sitting feeding a newborn. Cuddling a hysterical toddler. Lying next to a two-year-old who is afraid of the rain, soothing them to sleep, stroking their hair, holding their hand. Carrying a teething baby up and down the stairs at night because it soothes them. This is not work. It is mothering.

It is hard sometimes - I have found the last year in particular relentless - but this is not to say it is bad. On the contrary it is life-affirming. Easy is good too, don't get me wrong! But hard is good because it is purposeful.

If it's too hard, it's not the child that's at fault, or usually the mother. It's the support networks around the mother or more accurately, the lack of support around the mother and the lack of respect for her status.

Just wait until your baby grows into a toddler! It gets better and better and you will love it more and more.

Judge less and understand more. Other than in very, very unusual circumstances, there is no such thing as a 'bad' mother, only a mother who does not have enough support.

It really, really, really doesn't matter when your child crawls, walks, talks, reads, writes. You can no more 'teach' a baby to roll over or stand up than you can 'teach' a goldfish to dance. Your child will meet all the milestones, with very few exceptions, when he or she is ready.

If all of your friends' babies are sleeping through the night AND eating everything put in front of them AND talking AND walking at six months, all or at least some of your friends are, I'm afraid, lying. People lie a lot about their children. Often they don't even realise they're doing it. They just stretch the truth because they're proud and they care what you think.

If your friend's baby really is sleeping through the night OR eating everything put in front of them OR walking OR talking at six months this doesn't mean they are a better mother than you or that your baby 'should' be doing what their baby is doing. It means they are a different mother who has made different choices with a different baby who has developed at a different rate to yours.

If it's YOUR baby who is sleeping through, walking, talking and eating everything at six months this does not make you the World's Greatest Mother and qualified to dole out advice to those lesser than you. It means you have a different baby and have made different choices to your friends.

If it does get hard and you do complain this doesn't mean you're a failure as a mother or hate being a mother or hate your children or should do something else with your time. It means you're human and have given birth to a human child, not a robot.

All new mothers will be starry-eyed and slightly judgemental, just as we were. They will learn, just as we did, that nothing around mothering is as clearly defined as it first appears.

It is wiser to be kind than it is to be 'right'. So if a mother does change her mind, or change her approach, or change her views - as I have, as we all have I don't doubt - it is kinder to support her choices than to crow 'I TOLD YOU you wouldn't stick to it!'

Another mother's choice is not a reflection, criticism or judgement of your choice. It's just her choice.

As with marriage, mothering is best practiced with great kindness. Kindness to ourselves, kindness to our children, and kindness to those starry-eyed new mothers whose romantic ideals we may want to laughingly dismiss with 'just wait until...'

Monday, 11 August 2014

Now what?

I keep thinking of Buffy the Vampire Slayer - I mean, who doesn't? But there's one scene in particular I think of. At the very end of the last series, when Sunnydale has collapsed into the hell mouth (oops SPOILER ALERT!) and Buffy and the Scoobies stand at the edge of the precipice. And Dawn and Willow ask Buffy 'so what are we going to do now?'

'Yeah Buffy, what are we going to do now?'

And Buffy just smiles.

I don't want to directly compare having two children in the space of 20 months to a fictional town collapsing into a hellmouth, so I'll leave it to you to make that association. Violet turns one in a few weeks time. Here I am, a mother of two children.

I have a family. We have a family. We are a family. Our family is complete.

Now what?

This is a strangely bittersweet time. My baby isn't a baby any more. My other baby definitely isn't a baby any more!

There are no more newborns in my house, there isn't a little crib set up at the side of my bed (admittedly there's an eleven and a half month old usually IN my bed or in the travel cot at the end of my bed but still), there aren't muslins all over the house.

There are no more tiny sleepsuits - just HUGE sleepsuits and pyjamas. There is no more helpless infant mewing at my breast, nuzzling into my heart, blinking into my gaze, wrapping tiny, soft fingers around mine.

There's a gigantic squirming nearly one-year-old wriggling and chattering and turning herself upside-down gymnastic nursing, and a two-year-old who laces her fingers through mine as she falls asleep - but there's no more baby.

Now what?

There is much to look forward to, this I know. But there is deep sadness. A couple of weeks ago I took a pregnancy test and I was as desperate for it to be positive as Noel was for it to be negative. It was negative.

I will probably never again experience the glory of a positive pregnancy test. I will never pee on a stick in ecstatic anticipation, if I do it will always be tinged with 'oh god, REALLY?'

My breasts will probably never again explode with life-giving sustenance on the third day. My perineum can rest assured it will not once again have to separate itself giving birth to yet another gigantic tiny one.

I will never know the awe-inspiring, primal beauty of childbirth again, the irritating, frustrating, exhausting joy of pregnancy, the blissful bubble of those first few days and weeks, falling in love with the tiny person you have created.

I will never know what other combinations of Noel and I could meld together to form another entire person, distinct and different from him and me and their two sisters, but curiously also the same, and very much of us, all of us.

Noel absolutely adamantly doesn't want another baby. I absolutely adamantly do, but I think it's quite telling that I wanted two children, and now I have them I want another baby.

When I think about it it's not even a third baby I want. I want my children as babies again.

I want Cherry so helpless and tiny and huge all at the same time, so noisy and sensitive, so vibrant and emotional, so frustrating and forgiving.

I want Violet so loving and gentle, her tiny beautiful blue eyes peeping out at us, entirely peaceful and tranquil, sure all was well with the world if I was near.

I want myself as a new mother again but with the confidence and knowledge I have now. I want to go back and do it all again with the experience I can only have gained by having done it before.

When I was pregnant with Violet a part of me was already looking ahead to now. Violet at a year old, Cherry to turn three in December, the baby days gone, the toddler and pre-school days full of fun and energy and exasperation and chaos just around the corner.

My body my own again, my breasts are Violet's for as long as she wants them but the rest of me is all for me. My brain capable of taking in snippets here and there that don't involve my children.

Now I'm here I'm not emotionally ready at all.

I feel I have changed fundamentally, and that I cannot go back to the life, career and world I lived in before.

But I don't really know what my new world is yet, because it's been full of pregnancies and babies since March 2011.

Now there's no more pregnancy and there's no more babies. Now there's toddlers and fun and splashing and running and shouting and jumping and cuddling - but there's no more babies.

Now there's possibly, even, at some point not too many million miles away, a bit of time for me.

Now what?

Friday, 8 August 2014

Teaching a child to ride a bike the very, very slow way.

I get asked a lot about teaching kids to cycle, which isn't something I've really felt qualified to comment upon as my children are very young.

(I actually wrote the vast majority of the Girl's Guide to Life on Two Wheels before I had Cherry, and the remainder while Cherry was very young and before I became pregnant with V, so the book itself doesn't cover cycling with kiddies. Expect the follow up The Mum's Guide to Kids on Two Wheels imminently!)

I now have a bit more of an idea around how to go about getting your children on bikes. Here's my advice.

Get them a bike, ride your bike lots - and do nothing else.

Trust me, they will do the rest when they are ready.

About a year and a half ago we were sent an adorable little Frog balance bike. After the initial novelty, which lasted about half an hour, it has been largely ignored by Cherry.

If there's one thing I know about my daughter it's the more I push something onto her, the more emphatically she will dig in and refuse to entertain it. So I have done nothing, just left the Frog conveniently situated, and I have waited.

And waited…..

Cherry isn't the most physical of children, she's quite reticent and it took her ages to become more physically outgoing. This in itself used to concern me as I watched far younger children throwing themselves around playgrounds while Cherry screamed to stay on the swing and seemed visibly terrified of any kind of physical challenge.

But I tend to opt to trust my children rather than try and train them out of what I perceive as undesirable characteristics, like fearfulness.

Sure enough she's become much bolder in the last year, wanting to climb and jump and 'run run run!' and generally exert herself much more.

All I've done to 'encourage' her to take an interest in the bike is to ride MY bike. She's also watched Noel ride off on his bike to work every morning and seen him return home on it.

She used to ride on my bike a lot when I was pregnant with Violet and on the odd occasion I've managed to spend one-on-one time with Cherry, we've gone out on the bike together with her in her seat. She spent quite a lot of time asking to 'ride on Mummy's bicycle' and this naturally slid into 'I want to ride MY bicycle.'

For a while she just wanted to shunt it up and down the garden and would usually call me to help her turn it around. I found this a bit tedious and was tempted to just run her through the basics of bike handling, but I'm not a huge fan of explicitly 'teaching' children something they can, with time, learn themselves. So I'd turn her bike round for her, and off she'd shunt again.

She seemed to find the agonisingly slow, unsteady process quite mesmerising after a while. Watching her was certainly mesmerising, in the same way watching paint dry is compelling. I could easily have nodded off to it.

Somehow in the last few weeks, probably while I was sleeping, she's learned to turn it herself. At her request the bicycle has become a regular feature in our daily routine. If we go out for walks, the bike comes. V naps mid-morning so this is the perfect time to pop her in the sling and take Cherry for a 'bike ride' up and down our cul-de-sac.

We don't get very far. Particularly when she insists on hopping off every ten seconds to sit on a wall 'like Humpty Dumpty' or talk to snails.

It's a long game with Cherry - with cycling, with everything. There are children out there who would undoubtedly have graduated onto a 'big boy/girl bike' with pedals by this age, and be happily whizzing about. Her younger cousin, not yet two, can already hurtle about on the Frog at high speed. Perhaps if I'd made more of an effort to 'teach' her she too would be an aficionado by now.

But that's not our way and I have time. I'm a full-time mum, what else am I going to do with my day? So we continue with our slow, stately progress. One day very soon - ages away, but very soon - she'll be hurtling ahead with me panting and puffing on my own bike, struggling to keep up. I won't have taught her to do it. She'll have learned it herself and that's something she'll have in common with no less than Sir Chris Hoy.

What could be more empowering than that?

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Gingerbread and self-esteem

Yesterday Cherry wandered over to me brandishing a small rolling pin. 'Look Mummy! Look what I got.'

Without thinking I said 'We need to bake some cookies.' Her eyes lit up. When Cherry wants to do something, she really wants to do it and Cherry likes cookies. 'Bake cookies! Shall we bake cookies, Mummy? Shall we bake cookies?'

So we baked gingerbread. Only the recipe we used called for golden syrup and I didn't have any, so we used honey instead. And we used wholemeal flour instead of white. As we mixed I opened my mouth to warn Cherry that our gingerbread might not be as nice as the gingerbread men we get from the bakery.

Then I thought better of it and closed my mouth again.

I think often about the things I do with my children and how it affects their self esteem. Apparently I'm incapable of even baking out-of-season sweet treats without pondering the impact upon their emotional development.

It occurred to me I bite my tongue a lot these days rather than surrender to my natural impulse which is to apologise in advance for the perceived inadequacy of what I am producing.

Cherry asks me to draw with her a lot. I'm really, really bad at drawing. Whenever she asks me to draw for her - usually a helicopter - I want to warn her that it won't be any good. I want to say 'this won't look much like a helicopter I'm afraid'. Or, 'I'm sure Daddy could draw you a much better helicopter than this. Mummy's not very good at drawing.'

But I don't.

SHE thinks my helicopters look great. But more importantly she thinks HER helicopters look great too. I can see the pride in her as she shows me them. She takes pride in many things, my girl. The size of her poos (seriously, she's entitled to. That child can SHIT.) The songs she sings, fudging the words as she goes. 'Playing' her piano as Violet drones into the accompanying microphone, creating a cacophony that only a mother could love.

The more I observe my children the more convinced I am that self-esteem comes from the process of doing, regardless of the quality of the outcome or the praise received. Traditionally praise was thought to raise self-esteem. Tell your children how brilliant they are, frequently. Concentrate on something they are good at and lavish them with praise when they do something 'well'.

Except I tend to believe that children find praise insincere and creepy, and rather self-serving, because it often is. Instead I use the classic 'say what you see'. Tell me about your picture. You've drawn a helicopter! It's green! You look like you really enjoyed that! Are you happy with it? And so on.

I want her to take joy in doing, just for herself.

If I begin every one of our creative sessions by apologising, it will only be a matter of time before she does too. Modelling is one of the most powerful parenting 'methods' there is.

If I apologise and draw attention to my perceived failings, and point out the flaws in everything, she will learn to do the same.

Instead I want her to learn that it doesn't matter if she doesn't have all the ingredients in her cupboard. If she thinks about it and she wants to badly enough, she can still make gingerbread men.

And when they're fresh out of the oven and in lovely shapes dusted with icing sugar, all tempting on a plate, they will still taste just as nice and nobody will know she used honey instead of golden syrup.

Sunday, 3 August 2014


The concept of 'me-time' is one of the many, many things around which I have had to change my perceptions since having a second child.

I found 'me-time' fairly easy with one child, from about nine months onwards. Noel and I are committed to co-parenting, a fancy way of saying we split parenting duties wherever possible and Cherry settled just as happily for him as she did for me.

With a second child strangely 'me-time' wasn't an issue until later on. In the first three months I didn't expect any. In the middle four or five months I curiously had a bit more than I anticipated, here and there. It wasn't reliable, but it did happen. The girls frequently napped in unison for two hours or so. They settled quite well at night at 7-7.30pm. Some weeks were good, others were bad, but there was time.

I don't really know what's happened in the last two or three months but it has been utterly relentless, with both children going through huge amounts of development, being unsettled at varying times and to varying degrees, and often at exactly the same time. Me time? Does the twenty minutes in between going to bed straight after my children, and falling asleep before being woken by V an hour later count?

There is one thing I have continued to eke out the time to do for myself though, and that's make green smoothies for breakfast every morning.

Quite how blending a heap of fruit and veg together into a remotely appetising-looking mulch then pounding it down in place of a couple of slices of toast with chocolate spread and peanut butter counts as 'me-time' wasn't immediately apparent, I have to confess. But thanks to the interest and support of some lovely friends who have joined me along the way, #greensmoothieclub is now a THING. It's stuck.

Here are some of the things I have noticed as a result:

My skin. OH MAMA. My skin is perfect, and I mean that in the literal sense. I have quested for skin like this my whole life. I've tried All The Products. I've tried the expensive products. I've tried a strict skincare regime. Turns out all I needed was a daily dose of fresh fruit n veg, blended for my delectation.

My energy levels. In the context of the above utter relentlessness, I have not fallen apart. Some nights V still wakes every 45 minutes. I have got up every day and done what I gotta do. I've had the energy for both of my children. Nothing else, mind. But I have had the energy for them.

My odour. Well, start the way you mean to carry on, this blog will be well-peppered with TMI. I don't know what's happened to my digestion since having a second child but let's just say I can only eat lasagne if I take it with a side-order of gas mask. Refined sugar and red meat are particular 'no-go zones' if I want to retain any sense of dignity. Which I do. Somehow the daily green goodness has made me less unfragrant and generally repulsive.

My state of mind and sense of wellbeing. Even if I have the worst day ever and inhale nothing but chocolate biscuits, chocolate ice cream and chocolate all day long, I've still had my five a day, still nourished myself (and through that, V) and still done something healthy for myself.

My shape. I can't really pinpoint the smoothies here as this is dependent on a range of factors, including me having the time and energy to work out. But I don't look dreadful in a bikini. See?

Even on the greyest day, the most relentless grind, when the sheer intensity of my two incredible, beautiful children has utterly overwhelmed me, I've made my green smoothie every morning, and it's just a little thing that has made me happy.

(If you're reading this thinking 'that's all very well but don't you need one of those fancy pricey superblender things?' can I just say now you ABSOLUTELY DO NOT. Until quite recently, of which more another day, I made my green smoothies with a stick blender. I can't say they were velvety smooth, green bitties would be a more accurate description. But they were FINE, entirely drinkable as long as you don't mind chewing and stirring with a fork as you go.)

Why Chasing my Village?

It takes a village to raise a child, so the old saying goes.

With my first child I thought this was complete nonsense. My husband and I had chosen to have a baby, why should we expect anybody else to help or support us?

For 20 months I combined a very successful career as a freelance copywriter, creative, journalist and author with raising our little girl Cherry full-time, slapping myself on the back as I did so largely without any childcare, help or support other than from my husband.

Then along came baby V, 8lb4oz of straw that broke the camel's back.

I largely missed the shock and awe of becoming a parent first time around. I was determined not to let new motherhood overwhelm me - and through sheer force of will, not to mention falling hook, line and sinker for modern parenting and all the associated scaremongering about IF YOU CUDDLE YOUR CHILD TO SLEEP THEY WILL DEPEND ON IT UNTIL THEY ARE 95, it didn't.

But as it turns out it got me all the same. It was waiting for me, lurking in the wings. A hippy, green, earth-mother outlook, a principled mentality, an attachment-based approach, a longing for a community, an awareness that in my current state I was mentally and emotionally incapable of being the kind of parent I deeply wanted to be.

An abrupt realisation that it does indeed take a village to raise a child, and here's why.

We are all responsible for the shape of our future. Children embody that future. Our own children and other people's children.

If we don't nurture it - every single one of us - then we have no future as a species.

My two children opened my eyes to the possibility that if I didn't do something about it, I would be unable to give them the childhood I so wanted for them.

We aren't made to parent alone or in couples. We do it, because we do a great deal of things we aren't made to do. But it's hard, and as Robin Grille so astutely identified in his amazing work Parenting for a Peaceful World, Westernised society is one of the only societies that considers parenting stressful, exhausting and disappointing.

If we raise our children stressed, exhausted and disappointed then we will end up with stressed, exhausted and disappointed children. If we raise our children joyfully, we will end up with joyful children.

We need support, so our own needs are met, so we can meet the needs of our children joyfully, not resentfully. We need each other. We need a village.