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.

FullSizeRender

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?)

Unknown

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.

img_2919

I’m guilty as a girl can be.