A mental health fairy tale

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a Little Girl who had Big Worries and Sticky Thoughts.

The Sticky Thoughts were always Dark.

They would not leave her head, and would intrude on her daily life – particularly at bedtimes.

She was born, as some people are, having already learned the lesson of Fear. She knew from an early age – from the abstract rather than from experience – about Death, and Germs, and Contamination and Loss – and other largely nameless, shapeless but no less real Bad Things.

She new them instinctively, inherently, like a newborn lamb knows a wolf.

Even distracted – even laughing – she would know deep down there was Dark waiting, that Light was the illusion. That she would pay for happiness in an eternal trade off.

And so she learned to Dread.

And after she learned to Dread, she learned to Bargain.

Because the Little Girl knew that the only way to stop the Dark was to control it, feed it, and pander to its needs. She knew with the same deep-down, guttural certainty that it was her job to protect everyone – to stop the Bad Things from coming.

So she developed routines that would keep her safe, and keep her family safe. And if she did them, it would all be OK. That was the deal she made.

The burden of this responsibility was large, for the Little Girl was only little. But if she tried to cheat, the Dark’s insistent voice would drill in her head until her vision blurred, her throat closed and her heart pounded. There was little choice for the Little Girl but to obey.

So she did. She checked the light switches 316 times – 16 for luck, being 4 x 4, her lucky number. Because if they got stuck in that excruciating, flickering, juddering centre, the Dark would come.

She learned to Doubt. To Doubt she had checked enough, was sure enough, had given enough to the Dark.

After the light switches, she checked the taps. She checked the taps were off 32 times each, until she broke the washers and they had to be replaced. Her Dad shouted, but his noise was not as scary as the Dark.

The Little Girl’s Mum and Dad used to joke about her 32 trips up and down the landing at bedtime. Until she learned to wait until they were downstairs, or asleep, until she had memorised all the squeaky floorboards and how to avoid them.

They did not know how hard she tried not to go down the landing again. How many times she assured herself the taps were off. How terrible and frightening the Dark was in her head telling her she hadn’t done it right, that she wasn’t sure, that she needed to check again.

They did not know how many times the routine was interrupted, and the Little Girl would sob as she had to start all over again.

They did not know the exhaustion, the yawning hopelessness when she was forced to creep out of her bedroom once more, already knowing deep down it wasn’t yet the last time. Knowing the she wasn’t broken enough yet, or tired enough yet.

So the Little Girl learned to grit her teeth and Endure, and go through the gruelling routines until they could finally be finished. Until she was finally allowed to go to sleep.

Sometimes the Little Girl was up so late with her checking, her creeping, her protecting, she could barely open her eyes in the morning. But she did, because she had a whole day to live and forget until the Dark called again.

And so often she seemed happy. Because relief and freedom, however brief, are powerful too. And so she learned to be High as well as to be Low, and this became a pattern.

Although the Dark wanted to be secret, they did know some things, the Mum and Dad.

They knew, for instance, about the handwashing, because the Little Girl was chapped, and sore, and often bleeding – but this was cleaner, always, than the alternative. They scolded, and threatened, and moisturised. But the Little Girl knew she could not stop, and she knew she could not explain to them why.

And so gradually the Little Girl learned Solitude, and Shame, and Loneliness.

The Mum and Dad also knew about the gas, and the locks. They knew she would beg them to check the gas hobs and that the front and back doors were locked before they came to bed.

They did not know and that she would wait for them to come and check on her before she could go to sleep, so she’d be able to ask if they’d done it. Doubt, of course, never let her believe their assurances.

They knew, too, that the Little Girl had seen the Dark enter one of her toys, and could not sleep knowing it was there, alive, watching out of orange, staring glass eyes. They knew only because it got so bad – trying to live with it – that the Little Girl burst one day and had to ask for their help.

But they did not know how much that failure cost her with the Dark. For telling its secrets. They did not know how much she loved that toy, or the guilt of giving it up because she was too weak to cope and to control and to protect. They didn’t know the relief their Little Girl felt going on holiday, to be able to leave her responsibilities behind. To not have to worry about the stupid stuffed cat, now relegated to the back of her Dad’s wardrobe. And they didn’t know when she realised the Dark had followed them, and that she would not really be free, or safe, anywhere.

They did not know that the Dark had finally taught the Little Girl Despair.

Eventually, though, the Mum and Dad knew enough about the obsessive thoughts, and rituals, and worries, to do something about them.

And so the Little Girl went to Big Hospital, and she Endured the kind eyes, and kind silences, meant for her to fill. She Endured the hateful two-way mirror, and dirty communal toys, and talking about Feelings, and seeing the real mad people holding their heads and swaying in the corridors.

Eventually she let enough out, and let enough in, for things to improve.

And they did improve – things for the Little Girl.

Lots of things helped as she grew. Friends helped, and Hobbies, and Pets, and then then after that – Alcohol, and Drugs, and Desire.

The Dark receded.

But it did not leave.

So the Little Girl grew into a Big Girl, who hated sleepovers and school trips, and picked her skin.

The Big Girl became a Teenager who was late to school every day because she was picking her skin, covering her spots, and returning to check the door was locked 16 times, only making down the hill when the imprint of the handle was bruised into her palm. And the Dark still whispered the door wasn’t locked. It whispered that she was Ugly, that she would always Fail, that she would never be Enough, that people would See Through her, that she was Broken.

In time, the Teenager became a Young Woman who controlled her environment and structured her life in such a way that she could be comfortable, and give just enough to the Dark – just enough to get by.

The Young Woman avoided Risk, and Uncertainty, and Spontaneity. She knew she had to stay Even and Steady. So she stayed blind to the things that would upset the Balance she had engineered. She embraced ordinary. And gradually the impression of normal became so good she forgot that it wasn’t real.

Yes, the Young Woman checked the gas and the door locks, avoided her post, and sometimes forgot how to breathe out. But mostly – mostly she dared to think she was fixed.

And then – then the Young Woman became a Mother.

And she realised at that very moment those lessons she had learned, those patterns, were still there – well-worn, well-used grooves in her mind.

And the Dark was ready and waiting, and surged down them like boiling, bubbling lava.

Although she knew it’s tricks, she was powerless to resist them, because her responsibilities – protecting the tiny life of her new daughter, keeping her safe, bringing her up to be better than herself – were bigger than ever. And so the The Big Worries were bigger than ever, and the Sticky Thoughts were stickier than ever, and the Bad Things were badder than ever.

The Fear was back, of Germs, of Contamination, of Sickness, of Death, of Loss – of having it all snatched away from her. So the Bargain with the Dark was struck once more, and she was once again its slave.

The Dread was back, the pending doom that dragged her up out of exhaustion into a new ritual of checking the baby, making sure she was breathing, that the sheet was tight enough, that the room was cool enough, that the doors were locked and the gas was off.

The Doubt was back, as she questioned every move, every decision. Rechecked. Researched. Reviewed. Rewound. And started all over again.

The Solitude was back, in the unforgiving depths of the night, as she battled to keep the baby alive with her own body, and cried at her failures. As she listened to the Dark tell her she was Useless, that she wasn’t Enough, that she would Flail, and Fail, and Fall forever. And the Mother was too tired to fight the Dark, and too afraid to resist it.

The Shame was back, at not being able to cope, to manage, to feed, to sleep, to contain herself, to love every moment of being in love with her baby.

The Loneliness was back, only a hundred times lonelier – the loneliness that can only be experienced constantly attached to another human being and stuck inside yourself.

The Highs and Lows were back, all at once, until the Mother could not separate them, could not work out which one was real, and so could not trust either. She was tossed up and down on their crimson waves, trying only to catch her breath in between the swells, to concentrate on not burning up completely.

Even though she knew well how to Endure, the Mother was no longer young or resilient, and she could feel herself drowning under the pressure to protect, to keep this new family safe, to fulfill her side of the Dark Bargain.

The Mother could not see, through the smoke and churning tides, a happy ending. The Despair was back, now on an adult scale, and it’s emptiness filled her up; her head turgid with sulpher, her lungs heavy with molten rock – cooling fast and dragging her deeper and deeper down; her soul dissolved to ashes. She knew she would not be rescued. She knew she was alone in the Dark. And its roaring whispers turned welcoming.

But now, of course, the Mother wasn’t alone.

She was a Mother.

And there was another insistent voice ringing in her head, in her dreams. And she listened, and she held on, to herself, and to the baby – bright ballast in the Dark storm.

Eventually, the Mother noticed the sea was cooler and calmer, and she could think and see once more. Somehow, she had come through the Dark days of early motherhood, and she found to her surprise that the baby in her arms had grown into a Little Girl.

And she remembered that one of the gifts of the Dark is seeing the Light with new eyes once it recedes. And she saw through those new eyes, in startling green and blue technicolour, that this Little Girl also had Big Worries and Sticky Thoughts.

At first the Mother grieved that the Dark had got through to be part of the Little Girl’s life. But soon she realised that she was perhaps uniquely qualified to help the Little Girl navigate it.

She knew she had the experience to identify it, name it, confront it – and in doing so rob it of its power. Stop it in its tracks before it could wear the same deep grooves in this Little Girl’s mind.

She knew she could tell the Little Girl about its tricks – its use of Dread and Doubt, and Solitude, and Shame and Loneliness.

She knew she could help the Little Girl see its lies, talk back to the voice in her head and stand up to it like any other bully.

She knew she could help her to tell the Sticky Thoughts to Go Away and the Big Worries they were Not Real, and would not come to pass.

She knew, too, that to do so, she would have to face her own Dark first. She would have to stand tall against her own Big Worries and Sticky Thoughts. She would have to find the language to explain it. She would have to break her own long-enforced silence and drag her own Dark into the Light.

So it was time for the Mother to shake off Solitude, Shame and Loneliness – and to Share.

It was time, for the first time, to start telling the Dark’s secrets.

By doing so she hoped she would find Strength. By doing so she hoped she could help herself, help the Little Girl – and perhaps help others along the way. Others stuck in their own Dark.

She hoped most of all, that they could all find a way to live Happily Ever After.

In Darkness – and in Light.

The End

 

Mumonthenetheredge

 

If you know the Dark, whatever it looks like to you, please know you’re not on your own. There’s people out there who can help you live with it. The lovely people at MIND are a good place to start.  

 

If you know a Little Girl or a Little Boy with Big Worries and Sticky Thoughts, this is a great book to start you talking about it.

 

 

My husband’s affair

It seems that my husband has been having an affair. And I’ve got absolutely no idea what I’m going to do about it. Because what the hell do you do when there’s suddenly someone else in the middle of your relationship? In the middle of your family?

This other woman came on the scene quite recently, around his birthday, and he is obsessed with her. Completely besotted – it’s like she’s bewitched him. At what was supposed to be a time all about about us, all about the kids, it suddenly became all about her.

If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t think he ever felt this way about me – this blind, unrelenting devotion. And that hurts.

To add insult to injury, he has even bought her into our home, and introduced her to our kids. And they love her. They love her because she is everything I’m not.

Already, he has taught them to consider her a higher authority than me. When he’s with her, they plead with me to let them go and talk to her. They don’t want me. She has novelty and glamour I can’t compete with, and I cannot stop them. And I am left a stranger in my own home.

It is not my home anymore – it’s hers.

Her name is Alexa.

She is tiny, and curvy in all the right places.

She’s super responsive, polite and ‘helpful’.

She is also a skank-cow-ho-beast-b***h from hell and I want to tear her cold, metallic heart out with my teeth.

Oh, I can see right through her. Right through. Men never can, can they? She is the very worst of that kind – you’ve probably met her, or an approximation of her. Simultaneously vacuous and condescending, maddeningly obtuse, exacting, persnickety and petty.

She’s a control freak too – she controls everything. We can’t go out of the house, apparently, without getting her opinion on the weather or the traffic.

I literally can’t even turn on the freaking living room light without asking her first.

My husband – who wants to have his cake and eat it – has tried to make peace between us. But when he’s not here she’s at her very worst. She’s a downright bully – and not even sophisticated about it. She randomly switches on music or interrupts my conversation when I’m talking – something she’d never do with him in the room.

She’s now also in charge of the telly, and point blank refuses to play Peppa Pig, however nicely I ask. This is always at a time when I most need to deploy soothing televisual hypnotism – and yet the kids still blame me instead of her.

My husband doesn’t believe me when I tell him what she’s been up to – he always takes her side. Apparently, she’s ‘misunderstood’, and it’s my fault for not being clearer with her. If I just talked to her in the right way, he tells me, she’d do anything for me.

Well I can’t talk in the right way, to this interloper in our relationship. To this usurper. With her bloody perfect diction and smarmy, know-it-all attitude.

I’m a born and bred southerner who’s lived in Sheffield for nigh on 20 years, so my diction is, at best, confused. I also cannot regulate my tone of voice (or accent, or volume), which changes depending on the situation (eg. over the phone) or person I’m talking to (either because I’m massively empathetic or massively flakey – not sure which).

Alexa has no time for this; she just blanks me and pretends not to understand. “Sorry,” she lies, “I didn’t understand the question I heard.” And she repeats this one sentence again and again, with ever-increasing, infuriating self-satisfaction.

She is more likely to do what the five-year-old asks of her than respond to any conversational gambit or request of mine.

My husband and I hardly talk anymore – he’s too interested in tinkering about with his new floozy. And he likes to tell me, in great detail, what he’s doing to her each evening. What he’s planning to plug inside her next. He even wants me to join in on their fun. To ‘try it out’.

Well I’m sorry, but I’m just not that kind of girl.

We’ve had fight after fight about her – in front of the kids and everything – something we always swore we’d never do. Then again, we swore we’d love and honour each other too, a long time ago. When we believed our love would last forever. When we believed no one could come between us. (Sniff).

And the very worst of it is, I know he isn’t the only one. I know she has seduced men up and down the country – with her feminine wiles, her predilection to interface, her penchant for strap-on/add-on gadgets, and her willingness to let them use ALL of her interesting ports for their personal gratification…

They cannot resist her.

If you too are an Alexa widow, I would like to reach out to you in solidarity. Together, perhaps we can support each other through the madness of our other halves’ infatuation. Perhaps we will one day get our lives, our homes, and control of our electrical devices back.

Perhaps we can even form some sort of First Wives club, and conspire to smite that uppity, pernicious cow-bag-HO and send her packing back to the putrid pits of purgatory from whence she probably came.

(Or Amazon, same diff).

 

Mumonthenetheredge

 

The last first baby

It is hard to say it, but the truth is I loved my second babies far more than my first.

I was so young when we first bought those little, tiny lives into our world. A baby myself really, high on responsibility – playing at being a grown up.

And we did love them. We barely put them down. They slept in our room and kept us awake half the night. We were obsessed with them, how they grew, how cute they were, taking photo after photo, letting them take over our entire lives. We bored our friends silly with their antics and achievements. The house heaved with their toys, and we catered to their every whim. If we didn’t hand make their food, we bought the new, expensive packet-type, which back then had only just come out. We couldn’t go out as much, ourselves – but we didn’t care. We worried for them, cared for them, coddled them, cuddled them and cooed over them.

And time passed. Nearly 17 years since we first held those perfect, wiggling little bodies, since we first started thinking of ourselves as ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. They grew. We grew. And we decided we were ready to do it all over again, older and wiser.

The next babies were harder. It has taken them longer to come into their own and it has taken considerably more out of us in the process. They have needed us more. And those first babies, those first babies took a back seat. They were evicted from our room. Eventually, to distance ourselves from their outrage, we shut them out of the main house altogether. They were a nuisance, a hindrance; a distraction from the reality and enormity of the precious new lives now part of our own. The new babies were amazing, and perfect, and all encompassing. And to my shame I also evicted the old ones from my heart.

The tale we tell ourselves – and certainly the tale I told the Big Small before the Small Small came along – is that love is infinite. That it will stretch to encompass everyone; that love breeds love.

But it doesn’t – not really, not for me anyway.

I loved my second babies so much it eclipsed everything else. Including my first babies. If I’m honest, including my husband. Including my own family – my own mum and dad. Everything, really, I ever thought I loved or valued. There has been little room left for anything else, up to and including myself.

That love has burned through me like wildfire – bright, beautiful and destructive. It has changed me quite utterly. It has taken those other loves and reshaped them, refracted them, and even dimmed them by comparison.

After a time, my first babies became accustomed to the second babies. Despite the flagrant favouritism, they even became friends. And seeing that friendship build was both touching and special. But since those second babies, we have never loved the first ones or dedicated ourselves to them in the same way.

Our love was changed – spread thin – and I believe they knew it.

Times change. People change. Priorities change. Certainly being a ‘grown up’ – something I’ve still not figured out – was not what I thought it was when I was playing at it all those years ago. It is a hundred times more exhausting, and frightening, and befuddling. As time has gone on, that’s taken its toll.

Time also, inevitably, took a toll on those first babies. They had gradually become less cute, less adorable – and considerably less continent. They also became more demanding, and more draining.

Running empty on both energy and love already, I even found myself wishing them away.

My first babies, obviously, had fur. (To be fair, the second babies started out fairly furry, but have grown to retain only the hair on their heads).

There are of course those reading this who don’t believe the furry babies should ever be compared to the real babies. Perhaps I am one of them now. But there will also be those who are infinitely sad for those kittens who ruled our roost – only to be ousted by tiny humans through no fault of their own. I am one of them, too. And there will be those out there who have and love furry babies like they are flesh and blood and family. Today – today I am also one of them, again, too.

Because this week, my last first baby has gone, and gone brutally. A reminder, I suppose, that she was an animal after all, subject to nature’s laws, and not a person. Not my baby. Not really.

It is the end of an era – and the end of what was at the very least a very real friendship which has informed and affirmed nearly half of my life. It is a sign of how much my life has changed, how much time has passed without my noticing, and how out of my control it all is, – how terrifying. It is a reminder of how easy it is, in the grinding monotony of coping, in the daily scrubbing of stains and preparation of meals, to lose sight of what you’re doing it all for – what really matters.

So I would like to thank her, that baby that wasn’t a baby, for many things. For teaching me about love, for letting me squeeze her, pour my heart into her, and practice at nurture and patience and care until I was ready to do it for my real babies.

I would like to thank her for her part in building my relationship with Dadonthenetheredge, in helping us grow together, laugh, worry and bond. In helping us create our family, our foundation – and paving the way for our future.

I would like to thank her for teaching my children how to be gentle, how to be kind, how to show respect, how to stroke fur in the right direction, how not to pull tails – and why it’s important to remember the sharp bits.

I would like to thank her for never really using those sharp bits. Even when dragged down hall by the neck. Even when cornered for cuddles on the sofa.

I would like to thank her for teaching me, in recent months, how to clean up wee from sofa cushions – which is certainly going to come in useful shortly when it comes to potty training the toddler.

I would like to thank her for teaching me that while love changes over time, it doesn’t have to die. It just changes shape, and colour, and intensity. It can fade and it can swell – over and over again. You just have to let it. You just have to hold onto it and help it along.

I would like to thank her for helping me to realise that the madness of that wildfire love – which has literally burnt me out – might also have left behind more fertile ground for the future.

I would like to thank her for reminding me to be grateful for what I’ve got, even through the hard and boring bits. To never, ever, to wish things away.

I would like to thank her for teaching me that daily irks and inconveniences cannot be allowed to overshadow love and memories. I needed that reminder.

I would like to thank her for the last 17 years of bright eyes, bushy tails and welcoming plurps.

I will miss them more than I knew.

The Mummy Puzzle

“I’ve lost someone somewhere, not sure how
But I turned and she’d gone – she’s missing now.
I liked her, I think, and I’d like to re-find her –
Can anyone help me, give me a reminder?”

“Hush little Mummy, don’t you cry
I’ll help you find her”, said a butterfly.
“Let’s have a think, how big is she?”
“She’s bigger”, I said wryly, “than she used to be”.

“Bigger than you? Then I’ve seen your lady!
Come with me, over here where it’s shady.”

“No no no, that’s an elephant!
(Though the size is right, that you I’ll grant)
The woman I knew wasn’t a wrinkly hunk
Her skin wasn’t grey and her eyes weren’t sunk.
She didn’t have snot stains up to her knees,
And could pass the fridge without snaffling cheese.”

“Thinner, you say? Then she’s very near
Quick little Mummy! She’s over here!”

“No no no, that’s a slithery snake!
(A fashion faux pas she would never make).
The woman I knew wouldn’t dress like this –
Nor be covered in spit-up, or eau de piss.
She didn’t dress in her wardrobe’s dregs
And on occasion she’d even shave her legs.”

“It’s legs were looking for now you say?
I know where she is then, come this way!”

“No no no, that’s a spider!
(She wasn’t this scary to your average outsider).
She wasn’t disgusting, or hairy or fat,
She never had as many legs as that!
She wasn’t bogged down in a tangled web
And could rise above her lowest ebb.”

“So she lives above? You should have said!
The woman you seek us above your head!”

“No no no! That’s a parrot!
(You’d be better at this with cards of tarot).
She had eyes and tits that didn’t leak,
And her ears weren’t assailed with squawks and shrieks.
She wasn’t tied down- she could spread her wings
And her well-slept steps had plenty of springs.”

“A ha! I’ve got it! She leaps about?
She’s just round the corner, without a doubt.”

“No no no! That’s a frog!
(The woman I seek didn’t live in a bog –
She didn’t much like poo at all,
And bodily fluids used to make her bawl).
Butterfly, Butterfly please don’t joke –
I’m here talking to insects to keep me afloat!
She knew what she wanted, before she got muddled
And pitied the people around her who struggled.”

“She was sure you say, and even serene?
Then just over here, this woman I’ve seen!”

“No no no – that’s a bat!
(It’s asleep upside down, you fluttering twat!)
Why, oh why are you getting it wrong?
Can’t you see that my patience is no longer long?
I did say she had wings – so that’s a good call,
But even in those days she wasn’t that small.”

“So your woman is big – let me think…
She’s down by the river having a drink!”

“No NO NO! That’s the elephant again!
(As a therapist I’m scoring you 0 out of ten)
Butterfly, Butterfly can’t you see?
None of these creatures have EVER been me!”

“You never said the woman in question was you!”

“Of course I did! And I thought you knew!”

“I didn’t know, I couldn’t you see,
I’m just a butterfly – why talk to me?”

“You’re right, my annoying wee fly of butter,
(And clearly round here you’ve monopolised nutter).
Bugger off now and go drink some nectar –
You’re not qualified for the counselling sector!

“I may be a-flailing but I’m not yet full-drowned
I may have lost someone, but something I’ve found –
That my heart holds more love than I knew existed;
That I’m strong in more ways than could ever be listed.
That happiness isn’t a night on the tiles,
And no one’s immune to a baby’s first smiles.

“She’s definitely lost, that woman before –
But I think if I found her I’d find her a bore.

“Yes she had continence, self care and career,
(While I still have bowel hanging out of my rear),
But did she have snuggles and cuddles and gurgles?
Could she interpret what’s meant by the faintest of burbles?
Could she soothe any hurt with merely a kiss?
Was she somebody’s everything, all they could wish?

“She could wee on her own – and that might be nice
She could stay up past ten without thinking twice.
But she didn’t have small hands to hold in her own
Or endless play phone calls to make on play phones.
She didn’t hear ‘Mummy I love you, you know’,
Or ‘Mummy, you’re funny, come on, it’s your go’.

“I’m afraid, on reflection, she must remain lost
That woman I knew, who still coiffed and flossed.
She wasn’t as tired but she wasn’t as blessed –
And maybe that’s why I was put to this test.

“So you did help me Butterfly, after all,
To see some of the good stuff I couldn’t recall.

“Maybe she’ll come back one day in the future
But right now I’ve found being me now is SUPER.
I’m no longer puzzled and I’m no longer lost –
Lepidoptera advice? I’d rather get sloshed!!”

And with that I turned and sashayed to the door,
(An exit marred slightly by the toys on the floor).

Mumonthenetheredge

International Women’s Day – a reminder

So today is International Women’s Day. This year we’re being encouraged to #BeBoldForChange.

It’s hard to know how to effect change, when in the UK at least – in theory at least – women are doing pretty well. And it’s hard to be bold when you’re so fucking busy and so fucking tired.

So in all honestly, International Women’s Day nearly passed me by. And I wasn’t going to write anything about it at all, until my biggest small daughter said something to me that rather shook me.

And made me realise I do still need to Be Bold For Change, in my own life – for her sake.

Post-parents evening, the Big Small and I discussed how important it was to be kind, and to be happy. And how those things – at which she is by all accounts doing fairly well (at least at school) – are far more important to her father and I than her reading or writing – which she’s bobbing along with. (We happen to think it’s much easier to learn the latter than the former).

We also talked about how important it is to look for kindness in our friends. At which point the Big Small told me her Best Friend (a child I am already wary of) was very kind, because, and I quote: “She always says sorry after she’s hurt me.”

This warranted further investigation. And for reasons beyond my understanding, it seems my five year old has adopted the phrasing, compliance and rationalisation of a victim.

And I blame myself. Which is basically the problem in a nutshell. I blame myself, AND SO DOES SHE.

It reminded me, on a rather opportune day, how important it is to teach our girls their own worth, their own value. How important it is to teach them to acknowledge their feelings, trust their instincts, expect respect, express their thoughts, raise their voices, speak out, ask questions – of others and themselves – and support each other to do the same.

It reminded me how easy it is to diminish yourself. To apologise first. To deflect compliments. To prioritise being liked. To take the blame. To be quiet and keep the peace. Self deprecate, play it for laughs, take it on the chin, take a joke, take a back seat, wait your turn. Be grateful rather than demanding. Smile when you don’t mean it – when you don’t feel it inside.

All things I’m afraid I do (that many women do) and that my daughter is learning from me. Just as I learnt it from my mum, and she from hers.

It reminded me how women can be the greatest enemy of women. How sad and unnecessary that is. How bullying starts, and how I need to start watching for it. How they – from so very young – create social hierarchies. And how ‘hierarchy’ is just another way of saying ‘inequality’ – which brings us right back round to International Women’s Day, and why we need it. Why I needed it this year.

I needed those reminders. I needed to remember that parenting isn’t just about making packed lunches, and reading practice, and teeth brushing. There has to be intent, and thought, and vision. And I too often lose that in the day-to-day grind. In the minutiae I lose the bigger picture of what I’m trying to achieve – what I want for my daughters as they grow into women.

I want my daughters to be kind, but I also want them to be bold. I want them to campaign for change, not just accept the status quo. I want them to see injustice, and act on it. I want them to follow the rules, but not do so blindly – to push at the boundaries that hem them in. (Even if they’re my boundaries).

I want them to be empathetic, and I want them to be strong. I want them to be confident but not entitled. To be firm but not mean. I want them to compromise, but not cave. To give without giving anything up. To be themselves – without apologies.

To be vivacious and vivid and vital – not vacillating, not vague… and most certainly not victims.

Basically like pretty much every woman from every generation from every corner of the world, I want my children to have more than me – to BE more than me. More sure. More confident. With more choices, more control, more opportunities.

More EVERYTHING.

But for many mothers, in many places, that is not possible. And for me – a woman of significant privilege – it is obviously still fucking hard to achieve.

Because I need to live that vision and lead it at home. And I don’t. Most days I am too tired to fight, or plan, or even think. I just do. And I worry I’m doing it wrong.

I have struggled often in parenthood with remembering who I am. Who I want to be. The mother I want to be. The employee, the wife, the woman; the example I want to set. I haven’t yet found the balance or the answers.

Today I have been inspired to look harder. So my children don’t have to.

And I can start by celebrating women, myself, and my daughters. By showing them women of strength, of boldness, of change – of solidarity. By accepting the compliments. Demanding respect. Being respectful. Admiring my reflection. Sharing my triumphs. Choosing kind. Not saying ‘it’s fine’ when it’s not. Not starting sentences to workmen with ‘I’m sorry’. Showing them my friendships within family time instead of outside it, post-bedtime, where they can’t see how it’s done. By not humouring bigots and bores. Not feigning interest or ignorance to set people at ease, to keep a conversation going, to avoid an awkward silence. Saying no. Saying yes. Taking risks. Being confident. Laughing loudly.

Because I do know this: I don’t want my daughter to think it’s okay for people to consistently hurt her, just because they say sorry afterwards. I know that way danger lies. And I know it’s a danger that still applies more to women than it does to men.

And whether this is a big issue or a storm in a friendship teacup, it is most certainly a reminder. And above all else it reminded me why today is important, and relevant, whether we have girls or boys. Whether we are mothers or not. Because we are women. And we still have ground to gain and assumptions (including our own) to un-ingrain. We must remain vigilant.

So to all of you, all your tiny women in waiting – and the tiny men who you are bringing up to champion them – I wish you a very Happy International Women’s Day.

Sorry it’s a bit late.

I was busy.

Mumonthenetheredge

xxx

#InternationalWomensDay #BeBoldForChange

The @851 Cafe Angels

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I have always been the world’s very worst stay at home mother – especially when I was off on maternity leave. This is basically because I cannot bear to stay at home with my children.

There is literally nothing I dread more than being stuck within my own four walls, in the company of my own offspring. This is why from very early in their lives both of the small people have been dragged around Sheffield attending myriad baby classes, groups, museums, libraries, parks etc and blah.

The fact is that to this day I remain a far better parent in public than I am in private. This is due largely, I believe, to the fact the routine of social niceties and the momentum of perpetual motion have often been the only things holding all my pieces together – especially on the very darkest days of parenthood.

The poonami days. The reflux days. The zombie days. The screaming days. The desperate days. The days when you’ve failed yourself and your small people over and over and over again.

If everyone is getting on each other’s last nerve, if the baby can’t get out of it’s scream-funk, if you can’t get out of your own head – if you can’t get anyone out of the day’s rotten rut – for the Lord’s sake do yourself a favour and just GET OUT OF THE HOUSE.

And the place I have always ended up more than any other is the @851 Baby Cafe off Ecclesall Road South.

It’s a proper family business run by three generations of seriously lovely women. And it’s so SIMPLE. It’s so simple I can’t understand why there aren’t more of them in every neighbourhood in every town.

It’s just a cafe, with a toy corner, a buggy park, and a whole bunch of high chairs. Now here’s the really genius bits:

  • It’s got wipe clean floors and seats.
  • It’s got parking right outside (two hours only, be warned).
  • The radiators are off the floor away from little hands.
  • They serve kiddie food – simple sarnies, beans on toast, veggie sticks and half-portion baked potatoes.
  • They’ll warm your milk or baby food for you without complaint (I’m looking at you Costa Coffee – get a freaking grip!)
  • They even CLEAN THE TOYS AND THE BABY CHANGE so you don’t have to worry about your little darling contracting impetigo or tetanus from the ingrained grime and crud you find on your average public change table/toy box (radical, isn’t it?)
  • They also serve decent coffee, cake and grown-up sustenance.

None of that is really it, though. The true secret of the @851 Baby Cafe is Joyce, Lisa and Sophie themselves.

  • You will always get a warm welcome. I don’t know how they remember everyone’s name and their baby’s name (not an art I’ve mastered), but they do. And they actually mean it.
  • Although it’s a great meet-up place you can walk in solo and be perfectly comfortable.
  • It is also the only public place I ever felt at ease wapping out a boob. (And if the bf-ing is taking a while they’ll look after you with table service).
  • They will serve your tea or coffee without wobbling it dangerously on a saucer directly over your precious baby’s head (still talkin’ about you, Costa).
  • They will hold your baby for you while you go for a wee.
  • They will source nappies and wipes for you from other kind patrons when you are too disorganised to have remembered your own.
  • They will kindly, firmly (and far more effectively than you) call your ratbag/feral preschooler to order when they can see you are too exhausted to keep fighting them and are just trying to eat your damn dinner (thank you Joyce!)
  • They will re-warm your food for you once it goes cold because you’re attempting to feed the children.
  • They won’t judge you on tantrums (yours or your progeny’s) and will even come over to commiserate and distract.
  • They won’t throw their own tantrum if you bring along the only two foods your eejit-fusspot child will consent to consume (as long as you’re buying something – they do have costs to cover), and yes I’m STILL talking about a chain cafe rhyming with BOSTA.
  • They don’t give a blue goat’s gaboozy if you turn up unwashed, covered in spit-up/toothpaste/porridge, and wearing your cardy on backwards (my look of choice).
  • They will always provide a shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear, and basic adult human contact.

My only argument with these ladies is that occasionally they have the temerity to go on holiday. The absolute cheek of it.

They also don’t open on weekends, which is a bummer as Dadonthenetheredge and I would really, really like to go somewhere simple and kid friendly at 8.30am (having already been up for 3 hours) to eat bacon sandwiches and look at our phones while completely ignoring both each other and our beloved children. Otherwise known as the holy grail of weekends.

[The reason they don’t open on a Sat or Sun, btw, is that they do kids’ parties. Traditional party games led by ex-nursery teacher Joyce, plus traditional party food and the odd Princess appearance courtesy of Sophie. Completely effortless for you and fab for younger birthdays].

In all seriousness, the @851 Baby Cafe has been an oasis of calm for me in the storm of parenthood. (As long as I remember not to go at lunchtime on a Friday when it’s insanely busy). I have met and made great friends there, eaten my own bodyweight in cake, cried, snivelled, and laughed my pelvic floor into spasm. I think the Big Small Person even took her first steps there.

As we all know, angels rarely wear wings or halos. And sometimes they wear aprons and a smile, and they’re holding a very strong cup of coffee.

Mumonthenetheredge

 

Want to find out more about what’s on for parents and small in Sheffield? Check out Little Sheffield here.

Want more fab reviews of places to go from another Sheffield Mum Blogger? Go visit the brilliant Trips with a Tot here.

Valentine’s Day

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The last Valentine’s day I remember pre-children was spent working, on my own, staying overnight at a hotel in Bristol. This involved an evening meal as the only solo diner in a room full of couples, food poisoning, the realisation at God-awful-o’clock that someone else had already had a personal explosion in my hotel room toilet WHICH HAD NOT BEEN CLEANED, and a 5am start.

Post-children, it’s basically all gone down hill from there.

Dadonthenetheredge and I have now been together for something like 17 years. I am fast approaching a time of life when I will have been with him longer than I was ever without him.

I’m not saying the romance is dead, but it’s definitely in some sort of medically-induced coma. Either that or it’s gone for a really, really long nap.

(Both of which, by the way, are totally unfair, as napping is now basically all I desire in life – and if there are strong horse tranquilisers involved, I FUCKING WANT SOME).

The fact is that love after children does not look quite the same as it did before.

Love now is much less about dressing up, dining out, gazing into each other’s eyes, exchanging gifts, and dancing the night away before getting in some inventive shagging.

It’s more about dressing gowns, take-aways, gazing at the telly, giving each other an early night, and possibly (if Dadonthenetheredge is extremely lucky) getting each other off as quickly as possible before sleeping the night away – or as much of it is left when you have small, restless, early-rising children.

Because sometimes love isn’t an expensive gift – it’s a crappy handmade card from a playgroup.

Sometimes love isn’t sleeping in each other’s arms – it’s sleeping at opposite sides of the bed and NOT BEING TOUCHED FOR A FEW HOURS.

Sometimes love isn’t bringing home expensive Belgian chocolates – it’s bringing home emergency Cadbury’s buttons after a shitty day stuck inside with the kids.

Sometimes love isn’t candlelight and handholding – it’s sitting at two ends of the sofa bathed in the soft light of your separate iphones.

Sometimes love isn’t sex – it’s an exhausted cuddle (often with interlopers).

Sometimes love isn’t a compliment on your outfit – it’s a compliment on your parenting.

Sometimes love isn’t Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 – it’s Julia Donaldson’s ‘Stick Man’. (Again).

Sometimes love isn’t a love letter – it’s a text to say the baby is nearly asleep so you can start the tea.

Sometimes love isn’t holding in a fart – it’s facilitating a private poo so it can be enjoyed without mini spectators.

Sometimes love isn’t a sparkly piece of jewellery – it’s a sparkly bathroom, CLEANED WITHOUT NAGGING.

Sometimes love isn’t a bunch of flowers to be arranged – it’s a bunch of socks to be sorted.

Sometimes love is just doing the washing-up together, even if you’ve cooked, even if it’s not your turn.

Sometimes love is a nap.

Sometimes love is packing the kids off to Grandma’s so you can both spend an evening looking through pictures of them.

Sometimes love is admitting that perhaps the other person IS more tired than you are.

And sometimes, all of that is OKAY.

Love, like everything else in life, changes. Perhaps one day it will go back to being violins and poetry, instead of recorders and nursery rhymes. But perhaps it won’t.

When we looked at the swollen squishy face of the Big Small after her arrival, Dadonthenetherege and I realised simultaneously that we no longer loved each other above all else; and that we also loved each other more than ever.

We realised we hadn’t really known love at all, until that very moment. And that love was very different to what we’d thought it was. (Very likely, Dadonthenetherege and I were the victims of the traitorous hormones that accompany children into the world –  presumably to prevent their parents from immediate infanticide).

Quite clearly, though, since that moment of oxytocin-fuelled revelation, we’ve not always got it right.

Because while all of this stuff is okay, SOMETIMES, sometimes, it isn’t.

Sometimes, Dadonthenetheredge and I get so caught up in loving the children – and in living the draining, debilitating, deforming work/life/guilt/repeat reality of parenthood – that we forget to love each other.

Certainly we’ve found this happily-ever-after shit a great deal harder than the fairy tales, rom coms and Valentine’s cards would have us believe.

Because an awful lot happens after the ‘The End’, after the ever-after, in this ‘middle bit’ of life. And it happens without the adventure and wonder and momentum and PLOT that began our love story. That begins everyone’s love story.

There is a relatively fine line between giving up on the false ‘valentines’ trappings of love and giving up on each other.

Between being comfortable and being complacent.

Between growing together and growing apart.

Between being tired, and getting tired of each other.

Between keeping the peace, and keeping resentments bottled up.

Between focussing so much on your part you forget to appreciate you partner’s.

Between love being blind, and forgetting to see each other any more.

Between pouring all of yourself into the kids, work, friends and family, and leaving nothing but the dregs for your other half.

Between finding your way through this parenting lark, and losing each other in the process.

Between holding it together and holding back.

Between getting on, and getting through – getting by.

And all parents of my acquaintance – if they’re honest – have walked this line at some point in their relationship.

Some people will fall off. Some will fall apart. And some will fall back in love, all at once or bit by bit.

We are led to believe that love is the easiest and simplest thing in the world; that it will trump all else. We are being lied to. It’s hard. It’s about remembering, and trying, and working, and forgiving, and forgetting, and renewing and getting up each day and doing it all again and again and again.

Life, and love, and living, is a FUCKING SLOG.

So this year, I would like to say to Dadonthenetheredge, that after 17 years, I’d still rather spend 14 February with you than over a pre-soiled Bristol loo. (See? Maybe the romance isn’t dead after all!)

This Valentine’s Day, I promise that I’ll keep slogging away at it if you will.  (I can’t make any promises about the fucking. It’s not your damn birthday).

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone doing the middle bit of life. The hard bit. Keep walking the line.

Mumonthenetheredge

xx

Are my children Trump supporters?

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Here is my evidence so far:

1. Placing restrictions on my reproductive rights
There’s very little as restricting on both one’s ability and will to partake in reproductive activities as expelling a whole human being from the reproductive bits in question, the following emotional and hormonal upheaval – and the consequent chronic exhaustion.

I’m pretty sure my Small People also have an inner sensor for the rare occasions such activities are contemplated, as they invariably choose those moments to cry inconsolably – or worse – visit.

2. Placing restrictions on my movements
I am not allowed, for instance, to move out of the line of sight of the smallest Small Person, who views any transgressions (such as weeing or making the tea) as highly suspicious, and an indication she needs to step up her surveillance levels to ‘limpet’.

3. Dislike of strangers
Neither child responds well to new people, especially if they look or dress a bit differently. They particularly disapprove of beards.

Red suits, sleigh travel and jolly laughter are also frowned (and screamed) upon – although this can occasionally be overcome by present-based bribery.

4. Conservatism and resistance to change
My kids like things to stay the same. Back like it was in the good old days – ie. yesterday. Woe betide anyone who interrupts their precious routine/regime. Miss one of the day’s expected milestones – like snack, milk or story – and you should expect…..

5. Meltdowns over perceived slights and wrongs
Today the Small Small was incandescent over the apparent injustice of my cutting up her fish fingers instead of leaving them whole – and hot enough to give her tongue second degree burns. If she could have taken to Twitter to vent her rage, she would have. She settled for throwing the offending fish fingers across the room and lying face down in the hall crying for 30 minutes.

6. They like building walls
They tell me they build the best walls. No one can build walls like they can. They know all about wall-building, and no, they don’t want any advice or assistance. (Their walls, are, by the way, shit).

Although to be fair to them, once they’ve built their walls they usually destroy them immediately afterwards.

7. They are certain they have all the best words
I am still trying to explain to the Big Small that no one is trying to hurt her ‘by a-liberate’. It’s either by accident or DELIBERATELY. This is a losing battle.

She may also be paranoid – also a Trumpism?

8. Gagging freedom of speech
Or at least screaming over it and/or conveniently refusing to hear it.

9. Approbation of and expertise in torture
I have now suffered five years of sound torture, psychological warfare and complex mind games. The worst thing, however, is their practice of unrelenting sleep deprivation.

On an average day I literally cannot remember my own name or speak in full sentences until I have imbibed at least four cups of strong coffee. I wear my clothes inside out to work. (They’ve stopped telling me out of either sympathy, embarrassment or fatigue – so now I find out halfway through the day when my bleary eyes can actually focus on the mirror in the toilets). I honest-to-God tried to feed the cat Cheerios instead of cat food this morning. Earlier this week I left my purse in the damn freezer.

Please send help.

10. Inconsistency
They back track, change their minds with alarming alacrity, and deny ever having held any other viewpoint despite all of the compelling evidence to the contrary.

“I wanted the pink cup! No the blue one! I said pink! Not that pink one! WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING TO ME??? Bluuuuuueeee!”

11. Poor spelling
The Big Small is new to literacy, and not a fan. On the occasions she is persuaded to read and write, her phonetic spelling is definitely Trump-worthy. She recently put a label on a stuffed cat that read ‘ckety’ (kitty).

12. Repeating catchphrases
Less ‘America First’ and more:
“It’s not fair!”
“She started it!”
“I don’t like my Mummy!”
“Eeew- Diss-gust-in!”
“Nooooooooo!”
“More Peppa Piiiiiiiig!”

13. Pointing
Usually accompanied by “Dat one. Want dat one, Mama.”

14. They don’t believe in climate change
To be honest, they don’t really get the whole weather thing. If it’s raining out the front of they’ll go check round the back. This is consistently disappointing.

15. They peddle ‘alternative facts’ with aplomb
“I didn’t push her Mummy! I just moved her off the sofa with my bottom.”

16. They zealously protect their own interests
Which often leads to:

17. Indifference to domestic violence
Which they practice on each other at regular intervals. (Before attempting 15).

18. They like to grab me by the pussy
Well, ok, not the pussy, I admit. But the arm, leg, boob, hair and neck are all fair game, certainly. And then they just start kissing me. They don’t even wait. They can do anything.

I’m pretty just an object to them.

19. They believe if they behave in an extreme enough manner for long enough, they will either inure me to their misdemeanors or wear me down so I’m too tired to continue to protest them.
Sadly this belief is not without foundation. See no 9.

20. Wild hair
The Small Small, at least, still has some baby fuzz left. First thing in the morning it looks remarkably like a Trump quiff.

21. Pouting
Let’s just say that if my children were to walk into a wall, their bottom lips would hit it first.

22. They think Trump/s is/are pretty clever and amusing

23. Tiny hands

I rest my case.

I think it’s clear that my children are natural born Trump supporters and I am harbouring closet fascists right here in Sheffield.

Either that, or the President of the United States acts like a huge, orange child, and we’re all completely fucked.

Anyway, I plan to swap out ‘The Gruffalo’ for ‘The Communist Revolution’ this evening, just in case.

Remember, we must resist the children, however cute they may be when sleeping. They can take our freedom, but they will never take our… Never mind. They pretty much take everything.

Mumonthenetheredge

 

Carrying you, carried me

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Your downy head rests in my palm,
Tiny hands curled on my chest
And pressed to me impresses
How it’s here we’re most at rest.

Holding you close, keeping you safe –
Where we know you belong
A body kiss, tucked in tight
We’ve learned each other’s song.

Chest to chest and heart to heart
A beating symbiosis
Skin to skin and breath to breath –
Love’s underived osmosis.

For as I marvel at your makeup,
Inhale your sweet head smell
Trace your ear and count your toes,
The oxytocin swells.

The rush is heavy, heady,
Constricting in my throat –
And wrapping you still wraps us both
In devotion, need and hope.

We’re tied together you and I,
The material immaterial –
Because that perfect closeness
Bonds strong, sure, pure, ethereal.

“You’ll spoil that baby, put her down”,
They said, I heard, I hear.
But I know deep down it’s me that’s spoilt,
That much to me is clear.

It’s hard to find the words – explain –
For they can’t know like us,
The calm, the peace, the rightness,
That can soothe all woes and fuss.

The jig, the sway, the miles we’ve walked
All strapped up together.
The colds, the teeth, the reflux
That carrying’s helped us weather.

Dark thoughts and doubts don’t reach me –
I’m whole again, less torn
When you are with me bound and sound,
Less worn-out when you’re worn.

For wearing you it centres me –
An anchor in my storm,
And with you, I am better
Less flawed, restored; reborn.

I’ve worn you like I’d wear a cape
You are my super power –
And with you I have blossomed,
A mum come into flower.

And now you’re big you don’t require
The comfort of our sling
But it helped us connect, reflect,
And it helped us both to win.

I miss you early, on these last ‘ups’,
Storing up your imprint,
But I’m so glad I carried you
And listened to that instinct.

Carrying you, carried me,
Through dark hours night and day
And holding you it held me, too
In a place I want to stay –
To a me lost on the way.