Do you just want your body back?

January was six months ago, so it’s kind of weird to talk about New Year’s resolutions, but this year mine was quite simple really. I just wanted to be happier, so one of the first things I did was that I quit my gym membership.

If you enjoy going to the gym then I am genuinely very happy for you. Some people really do, but for me I just felt it was something I was doing for some kind of end result rather than because I actually liked it in any way.

Also, it was just a waste of money because with two young children I hardly had anytime to actually go. I joined thinking I could do crazy things like getting up super-duper early and going before the school run, but that never really worked out because my husband can’t do any morning school runs. I went a few times in the morning before work or on my way home if I’d done an early shift, but I was just totally exhausting myself. Squeezing a knackering workout into the edges of my day was not making me feel good and I think mainly because I was not having fun, at all, in any way while I was there.

I even tried a session with a personal trainer to try and help motivate me a bit more. It was slightly humiliating at the initial assessment. We went to a little corner of the gym where there were some scales and a battered looking desk in an alcove. On the wall of the alcove were several motivational posters with pictures of muscly looking men on them, jogging next to flaky looking women wearing full make up and a push-up sports bra.

She weighed me and I winced at the number. I was at least two stone heavier than before I started having children.

I think she may have measured me a bit around the belly and the thighs as well and also we had to go through this massive form together about what I eat, how much alcohol I drink and how active I am during the day. She asked me if I already did any other sports.

‘No,’ was the answer.

‘I mean, I used to go running quite a bit,’ I said. ‘I wanted to try rugby a while ago but I was always pregnant or breastfeeding so I thought it might be a bit dangerous for me and I used to do long distance running, but I don’t really have the time now and it’s just difficult fitting it in around the kids and stuff so . . .’

I looked at the picture of the wall of the woman jogging. She didn’t look like she made any excuses about not fitting runs in.

She also looked like a total knob.

‘And what are your aims?’ The personal trainer asked me. ‘What do you really want to get out of coming to the gym?’

‘Mmmm . . . well . . . I just want to feel like . . . sort of . . .  I just want to feel a bit better I suppose. I want to feel stronger and just like I am moving around a bit more. I dunno.’

I stared off into the middle distance. I couldn’t quite say what it was that I wanted to achieve.

‘Do you just want to get your body back?’ She asked me.

I looked at her.

She was so young and slim and beautiful and her eyes held the brightness of the kind of human being who gets at least seven to eight hours unbroken sleep a night on a consistent basis.

‘My body back?’

‘Yes, you know?’ She sort of motioned towards the extra weight I was carrying around my middle. ‘Do you just really want to get your body back? Like . . . erm . . . do you just want to look like you did before you had kids?’

‘Erm, I dunno. I don’t think I can really do that and also, I just . . .  I just want to be stronger and just feel better, you know? Like, when I am running. It’s just . . . I just feel happier.’

‘So you don’t really want to work on your problem areas?’ She asked as if I was completely insane.

I thought about my ‘problem areas’ and what they had been through over the last few years of pregnancy and miscarriage and childbirth and breastfeeding. I thought about my body and what it has done in the last six years of my life, how it has grown and birthed and fed and held and washed and dressed and chased and tickled and played with two new human beings who have come into the world and have been sustained in this world through my body. My body which has swelled and shrunk and contracted and drooped and got up again and again and again

and again in the night to the sound of crying.

I looked at the personal trainer and realised that the gym just totally, absolutely sucked.

‘Okay, I said. Let’s work on my problem areas.’

A few weeks later I stopped going to the gym. It was boring and knackering and the music was the worst and most annoying music you have ever heard in your life. I just couldn’t fit it in around the kids and eventually it became a real waste of £25 a month.

So for my new year’s resolution I did something that I had been meaning to do for ages. I phoned up and quit. It felt great.

So, what if I told you that now, six months down the line, that I am more into sport than I have been in years? That actually now, some of the best hours of my week are when I am exercising and that those are the days I look forward to the most in the week?


We got my daughter some roller skates for Christmas this year. She didn’t ask for them, she just wanted surprises, but I remembered a few times when we had been to jumble sales and she had seen sets of second hand roller skates she could have bought with her pocket money but they had never been the right size for her.

I also remembered how one night when we had been on our summer holiday, this kid whizzed past us on a skateboard with light-up wheels and it just totally blew her tiny mind.

I kind of knew that she was going to love the skates we had got her, even though she hadn’t asked for them. I shopped around and found some good quality ones, the best that we could afford, with light up wheels which flashed different colours when you rolled on them. I found a kid’s skating class I could start taking her too and watched you tube videos about how to roller skate.

When she opened them on Christmas day she was over the moon. She put them on and immediately fell over and cried.

But we went out to the local parks on dry days and to some local kids skating lessons and slowly but surely she found her balance and picked it up. Soon I was jogging to keep up with her and realised I’d probably have to get my own skates too.

When I say have to, the truth is that helping her learn to skate had really made me want to put skates on my feet again too. I hadn’t been on roller skates since I was about seven but it just looked like so much fun.

I started looking around for some kind of adult skating lessons to go to or something so that I could learn how to roller skate without holding hands with (and possibly taking down) a five-year-old at the same time. In my googling, I found out about a local women’s roller derby team; the Kent Roller Girls. I had no idea what roller derby actually was, but I was vaguely aware that there was a film about it with Ellen Page in and that it was mainly a female dominated sport. From what I could gather looking online, it seemed to be a cross between a race and a rugby scrum but on skates.

Yes, I thought.

This is something I am going to try.

I went along to a recreation league session on my own. I had emailed ahead and found that it was ok to turn up to this as a total beginner. At the recreational league they teach you all the minimum skating skills that you need to be able to play roller derby. Once you have passed these you can try out for a team. I didn’t know anyone there and none of my friends wanted to come with me.

I’ve got to be honest and admit that I felt like a bit of an idiot. Just before I went into the leisure centre I thought,

‘What the fuck am I actually doing? I am an overweight mum in my thirties in a pair of leggings that have holes in and one of my husband’s old t-shirts and I am about to go and learn a sport which looks a lot like knocking people over whilst on roller skates. It is obviously going to be only for 19-year-old sports science students with a background in speed skating or something.’

Also, I remembered this time when one of my husband’s friends found out about parkour and decided he wanted to give it a try and so found out about a local group on the internet, but when he actually turned up to do parkour with them they were literally all twelve-year-old boys who wanted to leapfrog over concrete bollards and stuff.

I was a bit worried I was going to look like a twat.

Luckily for me, I don’t find looking like a twat to be that devastating though. I mean, just in this last week I have ended up accidently going out for the morning in my husbands slippers and turning up for the school run one afternoon with a piece of human poo smeared across my knees (it wasn’t mine btw) so it’s become a sort of default for me.

Anyway, I went in and people were really friendly and said hi and they were not all fifteen years younger than me. Someone got me kitted out with some skates, a helmet and various pads. I had to sign a waiver, put in my gumshield and then I could get started.

Within the first five minutes I was having a lot more fun than I had ever experienced at the gym. The first thing they taught me and the few other newbies who were starting that day was how to fall over. We didn’t even have our skates on yet we just had to run and then kind of knee slide across the floor on our pads. It was awesome.

We did some fitness stuff and got our skates on and then by the end of the first session we had learnt how to (kind of) stay balanced skating forwards and how to stop a little bit. We had also laughed a lot and fallen on our arses loads. I’d had a really good time. I enjoyed myself which is kind of weird considering I had been exercising.

I’ve met some of the loveliest people at roller derby. We all love knocking each other to the ground so much. That’s me bottom left with the red top and the black gum shield.

The thing is, how often is exercise just sold to women as something they need to do in order to look a certain way or lose a certain amount of pounds. How often is it just a punishment rather than a pleasure?

Often, what’s sold to women is a way of exercising that has nothing to do with sport and everything to do with making women feel like shit about themselves.

Roller derby to me is the opposite of that. It’s about being a strong and powerful team of women working together and even in the recreational league that I go to, people are always so encouraging to each other and willing each other to do well and to progress.

I felt hooked from my first session of roller derby. As an adult who rarely gets a chance to switch off, messing about on roller skates feels just as much fun as it did when I was seven and me and my friend would skate up and down the pavement outside her house. It has given me a reason to spend some time away from my house and partner and children for a couple of hours each week. It has been awesome to try something totally new and to learn to do something as a total beginner.

I couldn’t quite get out what I wanted to say to that personal trainer all those months ago but I think I am starting to get it now. She asked me if I wanted my body back and I guess that I did, just not quite in the way that she meant.

She wanted to know if I wanted my body back looking like it used to but I just wanted my body back to feeling good again, feeling strong and well and doing stuff.

I don’t really want to work on my problem areas or lose weight. God knows, it’d be great if someone could wave a magic wand and make me look 21 again as opposed to a knackered and overweight mum of two in her thirties, but the thing is, I am a knackered and overweight mum of two in my thirties and if my ‘problem areas’ aren’t that much of a problem for me than they’re not really problem areas anymore are they? They are just ‘areas.’

It was bewildering to the personal trainer to encounter a woman who was not at the gym with the main intention of altering her appearance, of slimming down and smoothing over the ‘problem’ parts of her body.

At roller derby I don’t feel like my body is a problem, not at all. In fact, I’ve been amazed at what my body can actually do when I give it the chance and at what it can learn even though I am not in my teens or my twenties anymore.

Me being a blur.

Sport doesn’t have to be about changing your body or looking a certain way, but unfortunately this is the way that it is so often packaged up and sold to women. Perhaps that’s the way a lot of people enjoy exercising, I dunno. All I know is that it got to the point for me where looking different was not important. I wanted to enjoy myself. I wanted to have fun. I wanted more happiness in my life, not more self-punishment or guilt.

And physically, I wanted to be stronger, faster, and more able to chase my two-year-old around the park. After years of hardly any sleep and sitting down for hours feeding babies I wanted to feel less like a sack of aches and pains at the start of each day and less out of breath when I go up the stairs fifty million times a morning looking for stuff my daughter needs to put in her book bag for school.

I’m sure there is a place for the kind of approach of the personal trainer that I had a session with, you know, starting off with what you want to change about your appearance and then exercising accordingly, but can you imagine how much more fun it would be to play an actual sport instead? What about a dance class? What about hockey or football or netball or rugby? What about roller skating or rock climbing or basketball or anything really that is actually about enjoying what you are doing and champions what you are able to do as opposed to just trying to be slimmer?

Anyway, if you can relate to what I’m saying then I’d encourage you to try something new like I did. You always feel like a knob turning up to something for the first time but it can be so good to have a crack at something new. Trying roller derby has been just what I needed and I have met an amazing group of women too. Women of all ages, shapes and stages of life.

I thought I’d be the only Mum there when I first turned up. I thought I’d definitely be the only person over 30 and overweight. I thought that since I couldn’t even roller skate at all I would be laughed at and people would wonder why I was even there. Walking through the door for the first time was hard, but now I wouldn’t miss a week’s training.

And I was wrong about who else would be there. I wasn’t unwelcome or out of place. It’s such an inclusive sport. From what I have seen so far, there’s a space for every type of body shape on a roller derby team.

Anyway, I could go on about roller derby for ages and I’m not even going to attempt to explain the rules of the game or the fact that there isn’t even a ball. You should watch this video instead about women in sport. It’s got roller derby in it and an awesome poem by Maya Angelou.

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Sometimes the hardest thing to do as a mum is nothing at all.

It is Tuesday night as I write this. The last time I left the house was Sunday afternoon. For the last two days I have spent at least 70 per cent of my time in close physical contact with my vomiting two year old, only peeling myself away for ten minutes here and there to make a meal for the non-vomiting members of my house or load the washing machine or tumble dryer. I have watched The Gruffalo’s Child at least seven times and every episode of Paw Patrol we have on demand at least twice.

Actually, let me just stop there to ask what the actual fuck is going on with Paw Patrol?

I just can’t understand why my kids like it so much. There’s only one female rescue pup and that annoys me for starters, but aside from that there’s just the fact that none of it makes any sense. What the fuck is wrong with Mayor Goodall and why is she so fucking incompetent? Why does she carry that chicken around in her handbag and talk as if she is always on the edge of some kind of psychotic meltdown?

Fucking pull yourself together Mayor Goodall. You are a disgrace. Leave the chicken at home in a chicken coop and just fucking get on with your job, ok?

Also, Ryder is such a smug little bastard isn’t he? I just . . .

I swear to God if I have to watch anymore of it I just . . .

I think I have watched too much Paw Patrol today, ok? That’s all I should really say about that.

The thing is, when your kids are ill, it’s kind of like you are too. I mean, apart from you also getting their vomiting bug which is another layer of hell I don’t even want to think about right now, but when they are ill, especially when they are toddlers, you are right there with them. Normal life just stops.

Yes, of course I want to take care of him. Of course, I see it as my responsibility and I’m lucky that I can do that, but this thing of being stuck in the house. I just find it so hard.

Sitting on the sofa, in front of yet another episode of Bing, his hot little head is on my lap and I feel as if I might lose my mind stuck in this house for another day.

And yet, I’m glad that it’s me who gets to be such a comfort to him.

Doing nothing is sometimes the thing that you need to do. Just be there. Just stay here. Just put another load of washing into the machine. Just give another cuddle

And outside, the world goes on. People are going to work, people are going out with their friends, people are creating art, people are resisting trump.

Would you like to know what I achieved today?

How I am being a mover and shaker within my spheres of influence?

Well, I found out that if you turn this knob on the side of my shower head then it sort of goes into a jet and that is really the best thing for hosing vomit of off the towels before they go into the washing machine so now it takes even less time to de-vomit stuff than before, especially those really thick towels.

That’s what I achieved today.

How about you?

When someone tells you that you should not have been a mother (plus a shameless plug for lovely clothes from Well Grounded Kids)

‘I think that if you had really taken the time to think about it before you’d had kids then maybe you would have chosen not to and maybe that would have been the right decision for you. I don’t mean this in a bad way or anything or a nasty way. I just think you should have made a different decision.’

‘You are lucky to have husband with your sour, mean spirited rant.’

‘What I don’t understand is how these ‘yummy mummies’ can spend so much time jogging, having their nails done, sipping coffee etc and then say they have no energy to run a house, especially as practically everything is mechanically aided these days.’

‘Preposterous self-serving ‘modern woman’ feminist tosh.’

‘I feel sorry for your children.’

‘I decided I needed to write you an email after what you wrote. I read your dumb poem and it fucked me off so much.’

‘Who is the idiot writing this stuff. Is she just totally fucking stupid?’

‘You obviously don’t give a shit about your kids or their happiness.’

‘Maybe moaning and being ungrateful and angry is your main problem?’

‘Just be grateful for what you have. Moaning doesn’t help anyone.’

‘Why did you even decide to have children in the first place? You obviously don’t want them, the poor things.’

‘I had seven children. Each one was a joy and I never complained once. I just got on with it. I didn’t even mind the sleepless nights. I don’t know what is wrong with mothers nowadays.’

‘your rant on the blog, is nothing more than a first world mom complaining how hard it is for her not getting spoon feed support from the government on breast feeding….taking the easy way out with formula’

‘What society needs is less mums like you, who obviously should have thought better of their decision to have kids.’

‘you should have just closed your legs’

‘Maybe you should spend less time writing this dumb blog and more time looking after your children?’

‘You are obviously just feeling guilty about your failings as a parent. It makes me laugh to think about you writing this and pretending you are ok with your kids watching tv when they should be outside engaging with nature. Perhaps you just don’t care about their development?’

‘I hope your husband leaves you soon. It sounds like he deserves better.’


The longer I write a blog, the harder it is to get to my keyboard.

It’s quite wearing having to wade through shit like this over and over.

Generally I deal with comments like this pretty well but I think that ultimately it is quite draining and that it sometimes has an accumulative effect. How many times can you read about how much of an awful, lazy parent people think you are before it bothers you? Even though the comments come from strangers and are a very small percentage of the kind of feedback I get, even though I know that it shouldn’t bother me, sometimes it just does.

Some of the comments above are from my blog comments, some are facebook comments, some are excerpts from emails that people have sent me or direct messages on twitter. I have improved the spelling, punctuation and grammar in most cases as a little service to my haters because I have found that it’s quite common that people who send horrible messages to you on the internet have trouble with these things.

I do a lot of my blog stuff on my phone which means that I have a device in my hand, or at the bottom of my changing bag or on the work top in the kitchen or on the lounge floor which occasionally pings and tells me that I am an idiot or a terrible mother or that my husband should leave me.

God knows I’m not writing for any particular moral cause. I am no martyr. Even so, I have felt at times like my blog has been a good thing and a support for some to hear a similar voice to theirs dealing with some of the issues around becoming a mum and looking after babies and toddlers.

These days can be so long and hard and we need to have a laugh sometimes right? Or at least hear someone else say, this has been really tough today.

I haven’t written anything for ages because writing on the internet is wearing. People say awful things to you in messages and blog comments all the time. They think nothing of telling you how sorry they feel for your kids or that you should really not have had children at all because you obviously can’t cope with them. Generally people are lovely and obviously this kind of crap should just be ignored but it is wearing and I haven’t felt like dealing with it for a while.

Maybe I should also say that I have also decided to disable comments on this blog. I’ve thought about it for a while because I can’t seem to find the time to moderate them properly alongside comments on my facebook page and sometimes it’s just better to do one thing well than two things pretty badly. I figure that most people are happy to comment on facebook so I’m sticking with replying to and moderating comments there instead. There are details of how you can email me on my ‘about’ page here if you don’t do facebook, but would like to get in touch. However, if you are some guy who wants to email me a long essay about how much you hate me and my blog and all the ‘kind of mothers’ who read it (all of these things you could simply choose not to engage with) I advise you that your time might be better spent writing your essay onto a large piece of paper, awarding yourself a few gold stars for effort, screwing it up into a more compact shape and then shoving it right up your arse.

I have never really written about dealing with negative comments before. I didn’t really want to be a blogger who writes about blogging, but maybe it’s wise for me to share how I’m feeling and it might be a bit of an eye opener for some on what it’s like to write on the internet, especially perhaps, what it’s like to be a woman writing on the internet. In particular, a woman writing about motherhood who dares to say anything apart from how much of an amazing, magical, perfect time they are having being a mum.

Being a mum is everything. It is perfect in one moment and in the next, everybody is crying. It is the most love you could ever feel and on some days it is the most alone you have ever felt. It is the most fun and the most boring thing. It is the most satisfying and the most frustrating way to spend your days. The thing is, often people don’t want to acknowledge this complexity. Often people only want to hear how the good bits feel or to say that those bits make the harder parts not exist.

I have often chosen to write about those bits; the bits that are a little harder to share. Unfortunately this is not easy for some people to hear. Often all people want to hear from mums is how happy they are. It makes some people angry if they read something where a mum has written about how tired they are or how isolating motherhood can be. Rather than just ignoring something that they don’t want to read, they have chosen to get in touch with me and let me know exactly what they think of me.

Behind all the writing is just me, just a very average, very un-glamorous kind of mum who hears her phone beep at yet another kids birthday party and fishes it out of her bag to read a message starting with, ‘You know, the problem with parents like you is . . .’

I try to keep writing.

One of the main reasons is that when I became a mum for the first time and ventured out into the world of baby groups I met so many other mums who described the early days with their baby as ‘perfection’ or ‘floating on cloud nine,’ and you know, with absolutely no sneer or bitterness, I am genuinely happy for those mums. I hope that more and more people feel like that. That would be wonderful. That’s what I expected my first few weeks with my baby would feel like.

But when I heard those words, when I heard how much of a great time other people were having in their first few months of being a mum I just smiled and nodded my head and inside I just thought, ‘what is wrong with me?’ and ‘why don’t I feel like that? Why haven’t I felt floaty?’

Because instead of floating on any clouds I felt as if I had been sinking into some kind of war zone; battling my way though sleep deprivation, tears, bleeding nipples and a general feeling of shock. I didn’t realise I was supposed to be enjoying myself. I was just trying to survive from one moment to the next. I wondered if I was going to turn out to be a terrible mother.

I write to the mums who felt like me. I want you to know that it’s ok to find it hard and to not enjoy every moment. That doesn’t make you an abnormal or an unloving mum. You are just a human being. A human being who is looking after a another tiny human being and that is a very difficult thing to do.

Anyway, despite regularly being told how much of a douchebag I am, there are some perks to blogging . . .

AD CLAXON!! This is an ad part of the post!! I know that you are supposed to make that really clear for transparency and stuff so I hope this is really clear. Have never really done this before and have turned down some offers of being paid to write about stuff that I would never actually use or whatever, but then I got sent some clothes for my kids from a mum who is just starting out with her own label and I liked them so I thought I would put some pictures up and say a tiny bit about them.

Here are the pics;

 

That face my husband is making is because I asked him to get out of the shot

The clothes are by Well Grounded Kids and they do lots of lovely bits including these awesome little bomber style jackets with various prints. My daughter is in the red arrow zip jacket with matching trousers and my son is wearing some arrow print leggings with one of their super cute racoon T-Shirts.

The clothes were really great quality; very comfortable, soft and warm and they enjoyed bum-sliding around our local skate park in them very much. Here’s a link to their website or you could check out some of their stuff on their instagram or facebook page

 

Merry Fucking Christmas

It is fucking Christmas time.

Because it is Christmas time there are eleventy million things that you have spent the last few weeks panicking about and trying to remember to get done by writing loads of little illegible lists using an almost dried out felt tip that you found down the side of the sofa.

Do not dig too deep down the side of that sofa.

There has been a lot of shit to remember to get done and generally panic about like Christmas Cards and presents and secret santa presents and nights out and whether or not you have a big enough roll of tin foil in your cupboard to cover a turkey and crap like that.

I’ll be honest with you ok.

I am not a big fan of Christmas.

The things is, there is just this horrible pressure to get, buy, do all of this stuff and because everyone else is also out getting and buying and doing all this stuff there is a sort of post-apocalyptic kind of panic in every town, supermarket aisle and car park where people are pushing past each other to get tubes of twiglets and forming massive queues and overcrowding shops which are selling loads of really pointless gifts that no one really even wants or needs in any way.

I realise I just sound like a miserable old trout, but that’s the thing isn’t it? If you’re not that into Christmas you are then labelled as a scrooge or some kind of ruiner of everyone else’s fun and happiness.

Well, I don’t care. I am going for it. Here are some of the reasons I don’t like Christmas time;

1. It is so cold.
2. It is so dark.
3. Did I mention how cold and dark it is?
4. Turkey.
5. Also, those rank dates that everyone buys and no one wants to eat that come with a bendy plastic stick which is totally impossible to skewer dates with as they are all stuck together in a rock hard, inedible lump.
6. Tinsel.
7. The overwhelming pressure to be cheerful.
8. The overwhelming pressure to buy a prawn ring.
9. The overwhelming pressure to buy lots of thoughtful special gifts.
10. Not having enough money to buy loads of thoughtful special gifts.
11. The fact that Christmas is so great if you have this normal functional family where no one has any problems or terrible crises or no one has to spend it alone or when going through a really awful time but the fact of the matter is that people are very often alone or going through a really difficult time and that Christmas only serves to make people feel more shitty about how much they are not part of a functional happy family unit.

Actually, on that note, let’s break out of this stupid list thing and take a moment to remember those horrific newsletters that everyone used to send each other in the 90s in their Christmas cards.

Jesus fucking Christ.

Dear random family who I’d like to show off to a bit,

Well, another year has passed and we have had another year of wonderful holidays, promotions and achievements in our family which we’d like to list for you here. Blah, blah, blah, we have moved to a bigger and better house etc etc. Oh and little Johnny has now achieved his grade 8 with distinction on the trombone and the harpsichord and waffle waffle etc etc husband did something useful in the garden and got a new job and a shiny new salary and car to go with it etc etc etc We enjoyed a magical three weeks in the Costa del brava, oh and did we mention how Stacey achieved ten GCSE’s at grade A* or above and is soon to become an Olympic figure skater, blah blah blah . . .

All summed up at the end with a small paragraph about what they had learnt this year about the importance of family love and sticking together and how they are so rich and functional due to the blessings of Jesus etc etc

(because Jesus is probably so into people buying a third car and a fucking villa in Andalucía)

Anyway, I remember reading ones my Mum received when I was a teenager and urging her to send ones back that were brutally honest and listed all our biggest failures, arguments and housing crises over the year. I wanted to title it,

‘Another fucking year’

She wasn’t into it.

But anyway, now I am an actual grown up with children of my own and I am hosting Christmas lunch for eleven people like a real actual grown up person and having anxious thoughts about things late at night like whether or not I remembered to order mince pies and what kind of pickled onions to buy. I am queueing up in shops for fairly pointless gifts and getting all stressed out about whether or not to colour co-ordinate my decorations. There is a lot of stuff to remember and I am so crap at remembering lots of little things.

I feel this incredible pressure to have every kind of Christmas related food in my house just in case someone happens to want it on Christmas day and also to get loads of shit done like deep cleaning my house from top to bottom so that it is all perfectly clean so I can relax when it is actually Christmas and when I say ‘relax’ what I actually mean is ‘do a lot of cooking and get stressed out about my kids playing with really noisy toys or rollerskating in the lounge whilst telling my husband to fuck off during an argument about who said they were actually going to buy advocaat so that people could drink snowballs.’

And yes, I know that the real meaning of Christmas is that we all love each other and stuff and blah blah blah.

I do love my family and I am looking forward to stuff about Christmas but oh my God, the levels of stress are ridiculous.

And perhaps for some of us, Christmas conjures up more than just a little wrapping paper related stress?

Some of us find Christmas hard. We feel like we should be cheerful when it’s actually a time of year that can bring back sad memories or just highlight how un-festive we are truly feeling. For people who find Christmas hard it can be a rather dark time. A trip through town can be painful. Every shop plays music that reminds you of the ghosts of Christmases past. No matter how ‘ok’ you are now, that music reminds you of a time when you were not.

I want to write to you, if you feel like this.

Because you know what it is the worst thing about Christmas?

You know what is the most bullshit thing about Christmas?

Perfection.

It is the idea and the myth of perfection. It is the struggle to reach it and to display it for all to see.

You see the thing about those horrible Christmas newsletters that went round was that they often only told the easy pieces of news. They often only admitted to triumphs and positive feelings. But life isn’t really like that is it? Aren’t our lives full of difficulties as well? Aren’t our lives a mix of darkness and light?

And here’s the thing. I believe that it’s when we share the harder days, when we share our darkness that we really form any kind of real or close relationship with each other as human beings.

Down my road there is a house that is covered COVERED in bright white lights. It is absolutely blinding. It is unbelievable. The first time I walked past it I could hardly believe my eyes. Christmas nuts, I thought to myself. Some people really go for it at Christmas and this family must be one of those who just enjoy those perfect Christmasses together.

I found out a couple of weeks later that the reason their house is plastered in lights, apart from because it makes the local kids so happy to see it, is in remembrance of their young son, who they sadly lost around this time of year.

Isn’t it funny how it is sometimes the people who have lost the most, who have walked through the darkest of nights, are those who hold the brightest light for those around them?

There is still light.

There is hope.

Even in this darkest of months.

Even in these coldest of days.

And a friend or family member who you can cry with, who will listen, is worth a million ‘good news’ letters about a years’ worth of triumphs.

They are the brightest lights.

Lights that we often only find when we are scrabbling around in the dark.

When we have ditched the idea of perfection.

If you are feeling down at this time of year, please hold on.

Perfect Christmasses are as bullshit as perfect families, and now that we have made it into the darkest part of winter, we can surely make it out the other side.

I don’t want perfection from my family. I don’t want perfection from my friends. Give me your worst. Give me your fuck ups. Give me how your kids are crazy and they don’t sleep. Give me your sadness and your worries.

Give me that story again, you know? That one about how you got so drunk at your work ‘do’ that you had to throw up into the selection of tupperwares you found in your backpack on the train home (you classy girl you). I’ll tell you the one about the time I thought my toddler was playing so nicely with the shoes in the hallway, when in reality, he had managed to silently open the front door and go for a gleeful little walk down the street in his socks.

Merry fucking Christmas to one and all!

Here’s to another year of wonderful life,
Of darkness and light,
Of children and screaming and poo,
Of honesty and friendship and coffee.

Here’s to all you mothers out there
May your Christmas be not-perfect
In the most wonderful way.

As a little extra, I thought I would ruin some festive images of robin for you by giving them sweary speech bubbles. You’re so welcome. Don’t they look like miserable little bastards though?

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We are different now.

If you had asked me before I had kids, whether I believed in equality for women I would have said that yes I did, I did absolutely believe in equality, but I also would have described myself as someone who already had it.

People don’t really like to describe themselves as feminists.

I think sometimes we are afraid.

I asked a family member if she would describe herself as a feminist. She said that, ‘yes’ she would ‘but only if feminism acknowledges that men and women have different lives.’

What she said really made me think for a minute.

Then I stopped ‘really thinking’ because my baby started to cry and I couldn’t think any real thoughts apart from what I might do to stop my baby from crying.

Before I had kids I would say that as a white, kind of working to middle class woman living in England, feminism wasn’t something that I felt I needed. I already had equality, or at least, enough equality to lead the life I wanted. I had, at least on paper, equal opportunities in education and in work and when me and my husband got together we were equal. We earnt about the same, we shared the housework equally, we were equal players.

 

When I was pregnant with my first child I could not wait for our lives as parents to start. I had longed to start our family and to be a mum. When I imagined what life would be like as a mum I imagined it in the same way that my life played out before parenthood; I imagined that I would be an equal player in a team effort between me and my husband.

My experience of childbirth with my first baby was quite traumatic. It was an induced labour that was long and hard followed by an awful third stage in which there were complications with delivering the placenta. I ended up in theatre to have the placenta removed and before they transferred me to theatre there was this truly horrible ten minutes when they attempted to manually remove that placenta with no pain relief for me. It was an excruciating bloody mess. I lost a lot of blood. Each time I moved on the bed I remember kind of splashing around in it and it spattering off the bed onto the floor, like I was kicking around in a too-full bath. When I read in my notes how much blood they estimated I lost I remember thinking that I had almost lost enough to fill up one of those family size bottles of coke.

After I came back from the operation the afternoon passed in a haze with people bringing flowers and chocolates and various checks for the baby. The whole way through my husband was amazing and so supportive and was obviously going through the wringer himself, but it was time for him to go home. Visiting hours were over. If there was a way for him to stay with us in hospital then I think he probably would have done but there wasn’t, so what happened was that he went home.

As he gave us each a kiss and walked off the ward, they turned down the lights for the night shift and I felt the divide between us open up;

We are different now. Our lives are different now.

What’s weird about post birth care is that you have to try and get your head around the fact that despite having gone through what is often very physically and emotionally traumatic, ie childbirth and all the pain and complications and sleeplessness that comes with it, you then are expected to care for a newborn baby which is something that a) you don’t know how to do yet and b) involves very little or no sleep.

Also, because you are in hospital you are effectively on your own in the experience of caring for your newborn. Apart from the occasional injection into your stomach or blood pressure check you just lie in your curtained off cubicle wishing for it to be morning again and trying to figure out things like breastfeeding and how to use an empty sick bowl to hook your babies’ cot-on-wheels over to your bedside so that you can reach her to lift her in and out despite your legs still not being moveable.

At one point a midwife took my baby so that I could sleep but brought her back fifteen minutes later because she would not settle. I was learning my new place in life. I was learning that my comfort or sleep or feelings of isolation were not important. All that was important was that I kept caring for my baby. That any other feelings I had were to be soaked up under a blanket of gratefulness and maternal love for my baby.

I did feel love for my baby. I did feel happy. The only problem was that I also had a lot of other feelings like physical pain, exhaustion, shock and a generally great sense of inadequacy and stress.

And the loneliness.

There is something about having a little person to care for that creates an instant distance in your relationship with other people, partner included.

Now, let me get one thing straight, my husband is an excellent father and husband. He does his share of the parenting and the housework, but when his paternity leave was up and he went back to full time work after a week or two at home with me and our baby, I watched him get into his car from the lounge window and thought,

‘You are going back to your normal life, but mine has changed forever.’

Not fair?

Of course, his life had changed too, right?

Yes, it did. We both became parents and would forever spend our time when not in work, looking after our children. But our lives, although both changed, had not changed each into the same kind of thing. Before we had kids our lives were the same. They were not the same anymore.

He was smartly dressed and was carrying his lunch to eat on his break. He got into the car and turned his radio on, fastened his seatbelt and gave us a wave before driving off for the day. I rocked back and forth on my heels in my sick stained dressing gown with the baby crying on my shoulder. I hummed whatever I could think of and patted her gently on her tiny back. I wasn’t sure what I would do with myself and the baby for the rest of the day, except try to make her go back to sleep somehow so that I could sleep.

I wasn’t angry with my husband, but in a lot of ways, I was jealous of him.

He was going back to something straight forward really. He was going back to a job that he knew how to do where he would work in a team and chat to people. He would have a lunch break and read a book and eat a sandwich. He would end his day at work with a few frustrations but generally would feel that he had achieved something. He would feel good for it. That would be his life for the bulk of his day and the bulk of his week and the bulk of his years.

But work is also hard, right? Work is hard too.

I had spent years putting in 50, 60+ hour weeks as a chef. I knew hard, long, stressful, relentless, work and I was soon to know looking after babies and young children.

Work is easy, being a mother is not.

Being a mother is utterly consuming and exhausting. Part of that exhaustion is that the overwhelming love you have for your children squeezes every last ounce of effort out of you as you strive to be the best kind of mother that you possibly can be for them. I believe that this is why we beat ourselves up about every little thing some days and feel we are not doing a good enough job. We want the very best for our kids and we will throw ourselves under the bus in an attempt to push ourselves to be the best carers we possibly can be.

So let’s talk about choice now because this is something that I hear a lot of. Well, if you don’t enjoy looking after children then why did you become a mother?

mmmmm yes, good point

Why don’t I just stop whinging?

Why don’t I just get on with it like I’m supposed to?

Would you believe me if I said that I actually love children and that I love my own children more than life itself?

They are my light in every struggle I have gone through in my attempt to adjust to this thing called motherhood and to do it right.

I write this blog to give a voice to the difficult feelings and struggles around being a mum and at times readers have responded by also sharing their feelings in comments either on my blog or on my facebook page. Inevitably a bloke called something like ‘Geoff’ who has a bulldog with an England flag in the background as his profile pic will wade in with a comment like,

‘Why didn’t you all just shut your legs if it’s so hard having babies?’

Thanks for your input Geoff.

Let’s look into that option for a minute.

Having children is as hard as it is wonderful and at times the hard bits can feel so overwhelming. At times when we are overwhelmed we might like to talk about how we feel. So mums, if you talk about the hard stuff, do you not deserve to be a mum and is it a choice you should not have made? If it is hard for everyone at some point then maybe we should just all ‘shut our legs’ right?

So, in a world where women just stop having babies because no one can handle it when they say they are struggling or are feeling overwhelmed what would that look like?

If women just ‘shut their legs’?

Eventually there would be no babies or children anywhere. For some people like Geoff this would be a massive bonus as there would be no crying children or breastfeeding mums ruining his experience of enjoying a gingerbread latte in starbucks. When Geoff goes to the supermarket there are no badly behaved threenagers threatening their mothers with French sticks for him to complain about on social media later when he gets home, which will be responded to by thirty-three comments from his friends and family calling for children to be hit more often and agreeing that in ‘their day’ children would never have dared to threaten their mothers with a bread roll, wouldn’t have been able to sit down for a week etc etc ad infintum

Anyway, if women stopped becoming mothers, stopped having babies, eventually there would be no children. There would be no teenagers. There would be no students. (Geoff would be very pleased about that) There would be no professionals, no doctors, teachers, nurses, accountants, politicians, chefs, roadworkers, train drivers, footballers, aid workers, writers, cleaners, bar staff, police officers, firefighters. There would just be the elderly, with only other elderly people to look after them.

One thing we often fail to recognise is that women having babies is the key to everyone’s future. It is the very existence and survival of the human race. Our children are not merely for our own pleasure. We bring them up to be their own people who we hope will go out into the world and continue making it a better place for everyone long after we have gone.

If women stopped having babies we would cease to exist.

To say, ‘well you chose to have children,’ whenever a woman voices difficult feelings about how hard it is to be a mum only really means ‘shut up,’ because do women really have a choice as a collective group to just stop having children? If it’s something that we all did then eventually there would not be a human race.

So, I guess that my point is, having babies and becoming mothers is something women do that is a service to society as much as it is a personal choice for our own pleasure and fulfilment. It is something that makes our lives irrevocably different from the lives of men, even from the men who have become parents with us. The world of paid work comes with more respect, monetary gain, appraisals, promotions, intellectual stimulation and a bit of a free pass to less housework, more sleep and more ‘me time’ even if that ‘me time’ is just being able to do a poo without anyone trying to get onto your lap or getting to eat your lunch without having to simultaneously feed it to someone else.

It is almost six years since I left the world of full time work to become a mother. I still work but on a part time basis and like the many women that have gone before me, I no longer do the same job as before I had children. It didn’t work with the kids. I have found other, less skilled and less paid work to fit around my life as a mum.

I do not earn the same as my husband anymore.

Not by a long shot.

I still have choices but I feel like I am navigating a different landscape to my husband.

I don’t know if we are really equal anymore.

We may be to each other, we may even be when it comes to the division of labour in the home (outside of work hours) but our actual lives; what they feel like and the choices we are each faced with, no, they are not the same.

Our lives were the same once, we were the same once, but now?

We are different now.

When I write stuff there is sometimes a toddler on my shoulder.