24. What if Captain Hook had kids?

This week I stepped down as El Capitan and my co-pilot stepped right up. His chest may be missing mammaries, but he’s got a clean license, broad shoulders and the constitution of an ox. He’s been waiting in the wings for some months now and he’s ready. Daddy Day Care is open for business.

When I was pregnant I knew I wouldn’t be taking my full maternity leave from work in order for Saint Luke to take time out with our impending offspring. It made total sense to us then, and even more now Freddie is actually here. It still surprises me exactly how surprised people are by this arrangement, it’s almost as though they don’t realise Luke had any part in creating our son and heir. Shared Parental Leave isn’t some sort of kooky alternative dreamed up by madcap employees who have a Zen Den and free Vegan lunches. Since April 2015, SPL has been an option at all companies because Nick Clegg made it so; so why should Luke’s leave be at all surprising? Perhaps it’s because only 1% of new daddies have taken up the opportunity, and I’ve been trying to work out why…

Maybe it’s because a lot of mums don’t want to give up any of their Maternity Leave, because it’s a bit like giving away your last Rolo – really really hard? Perhaps it’s because dad earns more money than mum or doesn’t know the words to Bah Bah Black Sheep? Or maybe it’s because men are so used to being told that they’re just not as good as women at parenting, and now they’re not as keen to try?

In a café last week, a lady who had been cooing over Freddie (as he attempted to eat his fist), remarked that I must have Luke ‘well trained’ when he sniffed a poo and quickly carted our bundle off for a costume change. Well trained? I don’t think so. If he was well trained he’d be a Michelin starred Chef, a master masseur, or a dog. And I’ve lost count of the times people have marvelled at how ‘hands on’ Saint Luke is. Of course he’s hands on, his hands are very clearly attached to his wrists thank you very much, he’s not Captain Hook. Luke doesn’t want to be trained by me or receive patronising pats on his back from admiring strangers (unless that stranger happens to be Emma Stone.) The fact is, we’re both piloting this parenting plane, trying to be the best we can be and doing almost anything we can to get a giggle from Fred. Of course there are things that I can do better, like breastfeeding and Luke’s better with explosive nappies (due to the strong constitution I mentioned earlier). Luke likes to carry Freddie like a rugby ball and fling him up over his head, whereas I prefer to count his creases and snuggle him in bed. Freddie thinks his daddy is hil.ar.i.ous but I’ll never forget his coat. You see the three of us are in this together; there’s no i in Team, and no gender specification in Parenting. Surely this isn’t revolutionary in 2017?!

But on Luke’s parental leave, every day he will be faced with a societal leaning towards women taking the parenting helm, from the Mother and Baby icons in the Sainsbury’s parking bays to the Mum & Me massage oil at home. And I wonder what awkward conversations he’ll be faced with in ladies loos because that’s where the majority of nappy changing facilities are? Despite daily messaging that reinforces Stepford-like stereotypes, Saint Luke is man enough to man-up in a ladies loo and do what he’s got to do.

I’m not judging people who have chosen to stick to more traditional roles if that’s what works for you (there’s a lot to be said for tradition, like booze for breakfast on Christmas morning). I’m suggesting that we should all start this journey on a level flight path, whether you are a man and a woman parenting, or two women, or two women and a man (you kinky buggers). We are all parents, and should stop feeding the myth that men are inferior to women in the rearing department, or that mum’s owe a debt of gratitude to dad’s who dare to do.

So although I can’t fathom why only 1% of men have opted to take Shared Parental Leave, I do know that Saint Luke is the best co-pilot I could possibly hope for. I’m not especially grateful because he’s a man, I’m grateful because he’s mine. And when I skip into a job that I love, I have the warmest feeling inside knowing what a precious time my boys are having together – I know this because I’ve been lucky enough to do it too.

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Lady bays in Sainsbury’s

23. Taylor Swift and my mermaids at sea.

Over these past months, I don’t know how I would have kept my head above water without Saint Luke hoisting me up over his shoulder, and my family inflating lifejackets close by. They’ve blown the whistle when I’ve been drowning not waving, and kept a warm towel on standby. I will be forever grateful for every breath of support they have given me whilst riding these wondrous waves. But today I’m pondering on what could be the greatest romances of my life -the flotilla of females that have helped me find my way.

My first true love came with matching pink poof-ball skirts, pinky-swears, prank phone calls, and games of make-believe. We were young enough for it to be effortlessly uncomplicated and naive enough to believe it would always be that way. But then came boobs and boys and booze in Stoke Park and a complex social hierarchy that repositioned on a whisper. Contributing to the gossip mill had the power to propel you into new heights of popularity. Having an attractive older brother could buy you into elite echelons, and a ‘free house’ made you cooler than the Arctic Ocean. Competition was fierce in the face of delicate egos that took but a breath to bruise. Insecurity ran deep as we all desperately tried to work out who we were and who we wanted to be. We loved passionately with BFFs sworn into the sisterhood with friendship bands that couldn’t be broken, and fought viciously with evil eyes that could tear them apart. Growing up is impossible to navigate unscathed but it’s those battle wounds that mark and make us.

Thank goodness for those uniformed years, during which the greatest lesson learned was how to be a friend (and sometimes, how not to be.) I’m grateful that social media did not exist to exacerbate and document all the mistakes I made en route to adulthood.

At University the waters were deeper, but it didn’t take long to fish out my kindred spirits. Under one roof there was nothing we didn’t know about each other through shared dreams and GHDs. Leaving playground tactics behind, these girls lovingly challenged me and inspired me, shaped me and threw shapes with me on Hooch soaked dance floors until time caught up with us and it was time to grow up and grow on. And although we now live cities apart, there’s no distance that a hilarious joke can’t cover and via the wizardry of Whatssapp we’re able to remind one another daily that we’re there and care. I loved them then and I love them still.

As we venture out in the wider world of unchartered waters, the depths are deeper still, yet fresh friends have risen to the surface like mermaids. They have come to light at work over laptops and lunches; at book clubs and in blogs; in coffee shops and on holidays; through friends of friends and friends of boyfriends and friends of their friend’s wives. Emerging like Poesidon from the sea, these wonder-women have taken shape through common ground that is mutually inclusive, with enough similarities and disparities to make for an interesting chat. True friends want the best for each other, see the best in each other and bring out the best in one another.

The newest recruits to my crew came bearing baby bumps and NCT membership. Seven months ago we were six strangers in a hot room learning about labour. Over warm squash in plastic cups we spoke about perennial tears, peccaries and pethadine; about post-natal depression, miscarriage and meconium in your waters. We whispered with tears about our fears and laughed about them too. We decided we’d meet again once the babes arrived and sheepishly swapped numbers…

I’ve since learned that there’s nothing quite so bonding as pavement sweeping pelvic floors, and that I do not know how I would have coped over the past months without these girls. They’re there with 3am wisdom when it feels like the rest of the world is asleep; always ready with advice, moral support and a calming lack of judgement akin to Buddhist monks. We’ve talked without limitations about what our bodies have endured and the darker places our minds have meandered. We’ve shared in each other’s joy and wonder, bound by an experience that has so profoundly changed us. Where would we be without our girl gang? What a true romance.

Taylor Swift has a Squad, my mum has a Sewing Circle, and there’s probably not much more than crop-tops that differentiate them. With or without babies or books, or tapestries or work, or whatever it is that pops you in the same boat, we all need to keep our friends close so they can breath wind into our sails. So take this post as a little reminder to give your pals a text to say thank you, because without them you might just sink at sea. (And Taylor, give me a call yeah?)

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22. The Guilt Game

At 2am last night I took a moment to ponder this latest role of mine. Once upon a time I would be unlocking the front door about now, my ears still ringing with music and my heart still skipping with joys of the night just passed. But tonight I am clutching Freddie with one arm whilst frantically Googling ‘infant insomnia’ with the other. My right foot is waving manically in front of the nightlight to create shadows that might just entertain him for a minute whilst my left foot thumps blindly at Ewan the Dream Sheep to kick-start his sheepish beat. I’ve been ‘shhing’ and rocking with limbs flailing for two hours now, like a possessed one-man-band, and I’m thirsty but my glass is out of reach – that’s ok, I think, I’ll just drink next week. Everything is fine. Freddie is fine. I am fine. This is Motherhood.

This is motherhood and it is more than fine – it is beautiful and bewildering. For the most part it’s joyful and for moments it can be devastating. It’s almost always exhausting and exhilarating and sometimes, it’s just a bit boring. It’s tiptoeing like a ninja at nap time, and singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ 52 times. It’s poo up to your elbows and wee in your eye. It’s hilarious and hapless and a thousand kisses before lunch. It is a bubbling hotpot of love. ‘Oh look, he’s just blown a raspberry!’ Love in abundance. ‘Oh wow, he grabbed the brown bear!’ Love beyond compare. ‘Incredible, he rolled over! Our boy rolled over!’ Love X Infinity2. Our home is now home to an orgy of lashings of love because we’re just so damn pleased with who we created. I had three hours sleep last night but who cares?! Let’s all sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ again! Hooray!

But alongside the warmth of lovely Love comes its mean spirited cousin, Guilt. Guilt seeps into the generous open pores that Love has created and breeds bile under the surface, like acne. Yes, guilt is like acne on a Disney princess. And right now, an abundance of guilt plagues me in a way I’ve never known before, despite my Catholic school training.

I feel guilty for co-sleeping and subsequent sleepless nights. For failing to set a routine, setting a routine and failing at said routine. Guilty for longing to go to Sainsbury’s on my own, and losing myself in the condiments isle to buy more time. Guilty for air pollution. Guilty for not knowing the real words to any nursery rhyme and having to wing it in Baby Sensory class. Guilty for not signing up to more classes. Guilty for Freddie’s boob addiction, bottle phobia and that second glass of wine. Guilty for putting on Peppa Pig so I can go to the loo. Guilty for the donut crumbs on his head. Guilty for counting down the minutes until bed then scooping him up too readily when he stirs. Guilty for the sirens that wake him. Guilty that Saint Luke gets up with Freddie at 6am and guilty for resenting Saint Luke who sleeps through the night. Guilty there’s only a few months left until I’m back at work and guilty for uttering the words ‘child’ and ‘minder’. Guilty Freddie has a cough. Guilty for dressing in the morning, pretending I can’t see the faint splatter of sick on my jeans. Guilty for not brushing my hair. Guilty for not being as glam as the ‘Mum’s Who Can’ on Instagram. Guilty he’s too hot or too cold, he’s bored or overstimulated. Guilty I haven’t made the most of my maternity leave and written a book. Guilty I haven’t had time to make the bed. Guilty I forgot to ask Saint Luke how his day was. Guilty for daydreaming about the holiday we’ll be able to take in eighteen years once Freddie’s left home. And guilty for never ever wanting him to grow older, grow up and away from me. Guilty for writing that bit before about it being a little bit boring. Guilty for never wanting to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bloody Bus’ ever EVER again. Guilty for not feeling guilty enough!

And breath.

I don’t suppose I’m the only parent who’s dabbled in the guilt game and maybe that’s not a bad thing? Perhaps we’re guilty just because we care? Because we’re learning and we’re trying our very best and maybe if we stopped feeling guilty then we’ve stopped interrogating what is and isn’t best for our babes? So if you see me traipsing naked down Clapham High Street, thrashing whips across my back, shouting ‘shame, shame, shame’- it’s probably because I forgot Freddie’s hat. And that’s ok! I’m not sleeping at night anyway.

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I’m guilty as a girl can be.

19. Mother Lush

A funny thing happens when you give birth, quite a few ‘funny’ things I should imagine, but one thing above all others, scares me the most. I’ll get over the pain, I’ll brush off the blood and gloss over the grisly details of labour, but I will be undeniably changed the moment I am re-labelled a ‘mother’. Mother; a title so recognisable, so powerful and so all encompassing for those who wear it. Am I woman enough to don such a title? Can’t I be a demi-mum instead? Or a mother-in-training? Surely I’m not worthy of the same title as my own materfamilias. I can’t possibly be Mum, because my Mum’s taken that crown and wears it better than I could ever hope to.

It’s true, I’ve known her all my life, but Mother Lush surprises me every day with her undeniable brilliance. I lay naked on her chest the day we met, alongside the pulmonary embolism that left her gasping for breath. Heroically, she looks fondly on this time we had together, cocooned in white sheets and hospital bleeps. Just the two of us. Mother and daughter, forming a bond as fierce as fire.

Growing up, I believed Mum to be the font of all knowledge. Why have I got freckles? ‘They’re fairy kisses.’ Why won’t Jamie Emsel love me? ‘Because he’s obviously very silly.’ How do you spell queue – the kind you stand in? ‘Cue.’ Somehow Mum’s know everything, even when they don’t.

And as life would have it, we’ve both grown older. My hair has dulled and my forehead creases. Mum’s hands have bent in peculiar ways to mark years of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. She’s grown older, but has managed not to grow up with the resilient spark and spring of Peter Pan. Her limitless energy and lust for life is fuelled entirely by love for her family.

I can confidently say that I’ve never encountered anyone more awe-inspiring, although admittedly I’ve never met Beyonce or the Dalai Lama. (In fact, the Dalai Lama could probably learn a thing or two from my mum, like how to freestyle a victoria sponge without a recipe).

Awe inspiring, because mum displays levels of selflessness unfathomable to someone like me who has never before been responsible for keeping someone else alive. Awesome, because when I moaned about tidying my room, she never once reminded me that her internal organs rearranged themselves so she could carry me. Inventive, because she’s created text-speak such as ‘C U SN, PTS’ (call you soon, popping to Sainsbury’s.) Devoted, because when her brood arrives home, she’s never happier than dancing amidst the chaos we bring. Hilarious, because she sings along with no idea of the words, and really doesn’t care. Devoted, because she’d drop anything (but a chocolate) at any time or hour to be there if we needed her. Formidable, because her love for her family is endless, and she asks for absolutely nothing in return. And for all these reasons, plus a trillion more, I need my Mum now as much as I did the day I was born.

I apologise for this saccharin post, particularly since I’m aware that not everyone is lucky enough to have a role model quite like mine. If it’s not Mum then I hope there’s someone else that can help you on your way. I promise that I’m as grateful as I am lucky to be able to learn from the best and in two months time, I’ll be giving it a good go. I’ll be taking the lead from my Mum who is every bit the Mum I hope to be. How I can begin to say thank you for that?

For a start, thank you for carrying me in your tum for 9 months mum, I owe you one. X

 

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Happy Birthday mumma x

18. The importance of being unexceptional.

Does anyone aspire to be average? Nobody hopes for a mediocre meal or a moderately good night out. When your friend goes on holiday, you don’t wish them a fond farewell and a fair to middling time. When you jump on a rollercoaster, you won’t find anyone screaming for it to ‘Be Mooore Ordinaaaaary!’ But this week, I’ve found myself applauding unexceptionality* (*not a real word, but it should be.) According to the docs, my pregnancy is distinctly unremarkable, run of the mill, every day, average. They’ve pulled me out of the ‘high risk’ club and into the dime a dozens. Hallebloodylujah!

Aside from a few very minor appearances, Lucian Lupus is sulking in the wings as something adorably average has stolen the show. I’d argue that there’s no better performance than that of my own tummy jerking and jilting into peculiar shapes, as my baby pirouettes, kicks and flicks. I want to stop strangers in the street and demand they watch. I grab my friend’s hands and force them to feel. Films are paused, conversation is stopped and dinner burns whilst Saint Luke and I stare endlessly at my tummy as our offspring weaves and schemes inside me. Seriously, someone needs to make a reality show about my tummy, because as bonkers as this might sound, there’s a human being growing inside it! It’s got eyelashes and taste buds and fingers! TEN of them!

But as enthused as I am, strangers don’t like to be stopped, friends are unmoved to touch, and Saint Luke is hungry and wants to know what happens at the end of Peaky Blinders. In truth, there’s nothing at all remarkable about my ever so average pregnancy (although I’d argue that it would make a better reality programme than any of the Kardashians.) Ladies get pregnant and babies are born -that’s exactly how the evolution of the human race works you see. And life goes on.

But what if it doesn’t? What if it can’t? What if this beautiful baby that is growing and moving and delicately developing wasn’t in such an ordinary body, in such an ordinary world? This week I read about a pregnant refugee who slit her wrists after failing to stop her makeshift home in Calais from being demolished. Not just a refugee, but a woman – a woman like me with a baby like mine who knows nothing of the world and how cruel it can be… for now.

And as I sit in the comfort of my corner sofa, I wonder what was going through her mind as masked men in riot gear arrived to tear down the only shelter she had – did she feel her baby kick inside her? As they propelled tear gas into the squalid surroundings she called home – did her baby weave and scheme? As the crowd of activists barricaded behind the police, screamed for them to stop – did her baby pirouette and stretch? As her husband who stood beside her was beaten with batons, was her baby dancing inside her even then? With no dignity or hope left, was it the life inside her that led her to want to end her own? Her beloved baby, under stretched skin, kicking and dancing, weaving and scheming – no different from my own.

I feel sick with the injustice of it. I feel angered by reports of ‘migrants’ whose label has stripped them of humanity. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I didn’t have to hide for three months in a lorry to find a ‘safer’ home for my unborn. I feel guilt for the Mamas and Papas catalogue that lives under my bed, whilst there are women living without running water and babies below their hearts.

So forgive me if I stare at my tummy a little longer. Forgive me for pausing the TV to seek silence that allows me to savour my baby’s every move. I have got so much to be thankful for, the list is endless. But every day that I wake up cocooned in my pregnancy pillow, I’ll be sure to cherish the fact my decidedly average baby is able to grow within its decidedly average world (and that I wasn’t born a Kardashian).

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16. A surprising Spring story…

My dearests, I apologise for my tardy blog post. I promise I didn’t forget about you, I just needed to wait for the right time – I needed to find the right words. You see, something quite wonderful has happened.

Let me set the scene. (Forgive me if this reads like an episode of Game of Thrones.) Two tiny ovaries were sleeping. Without command they slept for six months, protecting their owner’s body from itself, until one day, one ovary (the left one, which was by far the bravest) woke up. The weather outside was bitterly cold, but inside the ovary was warm and happy; it beamed with brawn. And as chance would have it, at the very same time an army of tens of millions were venturing on a hunting trip. They fought their way through dangerous obstacle courses that claimed many lives; some lost track and took the wrong path, some got caught in the treacherous terrain, some simple gave up the fight. Of the one hundred that remained, only one had strength, stamina and luck on its side and so it was crowned the winner. This was just the beginning of the champion’s fearless adventure…

Five tests, four months, three scans later, here I am today, harbouring one tiny miracle – a baby. Our baby!

My body has betrayed me in many ways since last summer and this is by far its most wickedly wonderful trick. For now, Lucian Lupus has retreated into the recesses, petrified of my ferocious womanly wiles. How could such a duplicitous villain possibly enter into battle with a body that’s preparing a new life? How could it stand in the way of a mother giving her unborn all the goodness it needs to thrive? BACK OFF LUCIAN LUPUS, I’M MAKING A HUMAN BEING IN HERE! And in the very act of doing so, I feel superhuman… I feel quite magical in fact.

In the first four months of pregnancy that are characteristically plagued by sickness and fatigue, my body has danced a merry jig! I feel better than I have in months! When my Super Doc reflected on my super test results, he mused ‘you’ll just have to keep getting pregnant’, at which point Saint Luke fainted into my arms.

My darling baby, I can’t quite believe I’ve got to wait until September to meet you! I’ve got so much to tell you, and so much to thank you for. You’ve already changed my life in many marvellous ways. I need to tell you that you came in the darkest of days when I was struggling to find any light. I want to thank you for casting the brightest of sunshine to warm my beaten body. I want to thank you for my re-born love of chips and revived repulsion for spice; for the excuse to buy new underwear and ask for seconds (twice.) I need to tell you that your Dad will be a rock that you can always depend on, and I’ll be fantastic at organising themed birthday parties. I want to thank you for allowing me to bring joy to so many people we have told about you; I wish you could see the look on their faces and sparkle in their eyes. I want you to appreciate the support you’ve bought from surprising places; you are so incredibly loved by a chorus of people who haven’t even met you yet. I want to thank you for putting my every ache and pain into perspective and for making me feel more empowered to fight than I’ve ever felt before. I want to tell you that I’m still a little bit scared and sometimes I can’t sleep at night because chocolate cake doesn’t count as 1 of my 5 a day (not even 5 slices). My brave little one, I want to thank you for standing up to my archenemy when you were only the size of a kiwi fruit and for putting the skip back in my step. Gosh you really are incredible. I’ve got so much to thank you for my darling, and I’ll spend the rest of my life making sure you know how much I love you (which doesn’t mean you don’t have to tidy your room.)

Even in my most inspired / medicated creative moments, I couldn’t have written a plot twist quite like this. Like the most fantastical stories, mine has come with a spectacular change in fortune. Except unlike Game of Thrones, this story is true. And it’s our story Luke; our baby is the story of me and you. To be continued…

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Wind swept and blown away.