Shiny happy things

I like stuff. I really, really like stuff. I know it’s materialistic and shallow. I know it feeds the capitalist regime. I know that buying objects won’t fill a void in the way that, say, meditation, or charity work, or reading a good book should, but fuck it, I like stuff, and I like buying that stuff. My best friend and I used to genuinely lament that shopping was seen as too vacuous to list as a hobby in our Record of Achievements. 

I’ve never bought into the idea that giving presents was better than receiving them. Sure, it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling to see somebody’s face light up when they open the perfect gift. But you know what else gives a warm fuzzy feeling? Somebody giving you that perfect shade of nail varnish you didn’t know you needed. And that feeling happens every single time you use it. 
Then I had the little man. And, like everything else, my core belief on selfish buying has slowly but surely faded. I prefer buying him clothes to buying my own shiny things. If I’m being honest, some of that is because I don’t feel as shiny. Buying a size 8 shift dress that shows off my legs is not comparable to buying a wrap dress that hides the mum-tum. But on Christmas Day, one of my best friends bought the boy a Thomas the Tank a Engine pillow toy. This thing is gorgeous: soft, fluffy, big-eyed and lovely. I saw it before the boy did (waiting for him to unwrap his own gifts make me want to gnaw off my hand) and I almost had an actual fit. I was close to actual tears. At a fluffy, TTTE (see, I’m so down with the pre-schoolers they I know the acronyms) toy that doubles as a pillow. The boy does love it. But he didn’t cry at the thought of how much he was going to love it. 
I haven’t even looked at the post-Christmas sales this year for me. I’m watching a bread-maker. I’ve bought TTTE wellies and an all-in-one puddle suit (bloody Peppa and her muddy puddles). I clicked on a link in an email from Topshop and immediately felt like a frumpy, disapproving grandmother. 
What the hell has happened to me?! 
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All these lives

Some mornings my life feels completely alien. I leave the nursery and can’t believe that somebody else is looking after my child for the day. He’s so little: how has he already got a part of his life that is so separate from mine? I’m already drafting emails for work by the time I get to the gate of the nursery: I worry that it’s unnatural to flick from one life to another so quickly and easily. 

The run up to Christmas is tough. I did the first settling in nursery sessions this time last year, and hated it. The children are run down and snotty. The carers are run down and snotty. The sun never comes up: the perfectly bright and airy room that Rhys is in looks dull and oppressive in this half light of December. I should be hibernating with my little boy, making Christmas decorations and biscuits and singing carols. 
 
Back onto what’s tough about mornings: it’s lovely when I have evening plans. A few hours of not being a mother, an employee, a wife, of just being me, re-sets me. Calms me, stills those itchy feet. But the thought, as I walk through those nursery gates at 8am with my blackberry out, that it’s the end of my parenting for the day, is impossible to process. Becoming a wife was straightforward: it sat in the background of my other roles, as friend, sister, daughter, colleague, warm and comforting and wrapped them all up. Being a mum at the moment feels absolute: either I am cuddling the boy, changing nappies, negotiating mealtimes, or I am something else. Motherhood is not background noise: maybe it will become this as the boy grows up, but right now it is either foreground or forgotten. 
These lives really are competing. 

Good days

First day in the office for over a week, and my personal black cloud was nowhere to be seen. No compressed hours, no crushing deadlines, no staff, no disheartening management meetings today. A little bit of praise, a little bit of progress, Indian snacks from a colleague. A view through the fog. I can’t remember if my feelings towards work were this volatile before I became a working mum (working dads unite…where are the working dad groups?). But today was mainly work, and today was good. Yesterday was mainly family, and yesterday was good. 

Language matters

My parents praised my husband for changing his working hours. He does the nursery pick ups, takes Wednesday afternoons off so he gets an afternoon just him and the boy. People we’ve just met tell me how lucky I am to have a man that is so involved.

Nobody congratulates me for taking a year off. For working 4 standard days instead of my preferred long 5. The boy is ours; the choices are ours. The language is decades behind; the language exactly reflects how it feels to be a working mother. Not a working parent: men are expected. 
When we were young and silly, my husband’s friends would put an arm around my shoulder, march me away, call to him that he’d done too well for himself. Striver and settler roles were laughingly established. He used to complain, but his pride was visible and smug.
Now women look at him greedily on days he does both halves of the nursery pick up. He sometimes cooks; he half heartedly cleans. 
I am lucky to have my husband because he is amazing. He is a rock, my companion, my best friend. But we are decades behind in our language. 5 years ago he was the lucky one because I was young and pretty; now I am the lucky one because he enables (or allows? My first word was allows…) me to have an almost equal partnership in the work side of the work/life balance. 

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

I bloody love Christmas. I love the tinsel, the fairy lights, mulled wine, soppy films, christmas carols and Christmas number ones, selection boxes and sherry.

I love it so much that every year I perfect the routine of getting over-excited in November, leaving December open to a long series of small to large disappointments. I have possibly spent the last 26 years trying to take back the conversation I had with my mum where I tested the idea that I didn’t believe in Santa Claus. I was an over-imaginative child who loved believing in everything – if my mum had defended the big red man, I may still believe in him now. 
Christmas with a newborn last year was the toughest yet. Why is “Baby’s 1st Christmas” even a thing? They have no idea what’s going on. And us parents don’t get a break from the sleeplessness or relentless feeding: what we do get a break from is the steady routine that makes it all work just fine. 
But, you know, November came along, it got cold, and I got excited. And you know what? So far, it’s gone about half right. Planned to take the little man to see Santa’s grotto, the switching on of the Christmas lights, the carols in town: massive fail. He was coming down with a chest infection, and he cried and cried and cried. Planned to get him excited about picking out a tree? Massive fail: he fell over outside the christmas forest before we chose the tree, cried through the choosing, then fell over after we chose it and bruised the hell out of his head. 
Yesterday, his response to turning on the fairy lights on our enormous tree? “Wow…” 
I religiously followed the Recipe Rifle blog (now finished, but amazing, and you can find the old blogs here http://reciperifle.blogspot.co.uk/), which introduced me to the idea of parenting being all about moments of glory. Everything is tougher than it used to be. Everything. But the highs are so much higher, and they are the memories to talk about, to cling to, to absolutely relish.
So today was my Christmas moment of glory. The little man woke up happy after sleeping through for a glorious 12 hours. He cheerfully went to nursery for the first time in over a week. The husband and I worked from home and then went to the nursery mid morning for carols. My beautiful little boy sat on my knee, singing away, waving his home-made star and giggling. We chatted to the other parents, cuddled the boy incessantly and then left him happy as we went off Christmas shopping. Bought everything we had planned, had a glass of champagne, came home for movies and pizza and more cuddles. 
This December, that’s enough for me. I have a perfect day in the bank. I have, today, a healthy child and, always, a lovely husband. It doesn’t take a lot of wins to make it all worthwhile: after the rubbishness of last week, today has put my world back to rights. Merry Christmas to my little boy. And Merry Christmas to my 8 year old self: maybe parenting will bring back that magic. 

The grass isn’t greener

I have been having a tough few weeks (months? Could it be months?) at work. Fridays off with the boy are easily the highlight of my week. The relief I feel as I leave the office on Thursday is physical and immense. I crave more than just that one day pottering around the house together, giggling and singing and building elaborate train tracks.

Day one at home with snot dragon was delightful. He was placid and cuddly and I started dreaming of a different life. I could do this: I could find a job where I worked from home for a couple of days a week, and then have the boy for the other days. Dabble enough in the workplace to keep my mind active, but mainly just be at home with my lovely toddler. 

At the end of day four of our self-imposed house arrest I wanted to chew off my own face. My little man stared at me sullenly and silently across the bubbles as I bathed him in silence. Electronic parenting to make up for the sleep deprivation had worn off. His bedtime screams when I left him in his cot were brief and token: he was clearly as pleased that I left as I was to be out of there. 
I know this is not typical. I know that I would build up a bigger team of mum friends, find the playgroups, get out of the house each day. But I also remember the isolation of maternity leave. The days where I would realise I’d forgotten to talk for half an hour, and we’d just sat in silence. Where I would speak to the mailman, the neighbours, the mum that I’d met once in passing but decided I would pretend was my friend. 
Working some of the time suits me. It really suits me. I am a great mum in the mornings, the evenings, for our three day weekend. I am mediocre at best when I do it all the time. If I stop to think about what that says about me, about my suitability to be a mum, there is a black hole inside me that threatens everything; but if I work, I’m too busy to look at it and itch at it and make it grow. 
It is not the working that is the problem; it is the job. 

Little things

I taught my little man what eyebrows were this morning. Stroking them makes him blink his eyes and giggle. I should be writing a presentation for our executive committee to either argue about or ignore. 

He’s napping now. I should be logging on, or cleaning. Instead I’m watching him sleep, and counting his breathing rate as he fights this chest infection. 
Tomorrow I should be travelling with work to present at a big team event. I might work on left and right with the boy instead, in our warm, cosy home. 
Going to the office every day feels more and more like it’s all about the money. I’m sure it used to be for the love of it. I’m sure my resilience didn’t need to be this high. This fucking government. 
Time for change.