If you can cope with bringing up kids, anything else is easy in comparison

I’ve been working at my MSc Occupational Psychology for nearly 6 months now, and it is hard, but actually easier than I thought it was going to be. On my course I am the only student to have children, and I have received nice comments like “when I am struggling to fit it all in I think if Dilly can do it with 2 kids then I can do it” but in actual fact I really believe that being a mother of young children has helped me manage this course, for the following reasons:

I already have no life
Some of my student friends are struggling to fit studying in with all they things they usually do in their free time, and the endless weddings and hen nights that take up the weekends of those of a certain age. Maybe it’s not even age, I don’t think I’m the oldest, but I happen to be in a situation where most of my friends are already married. I think some of the students are finding it a shock that they have to sacrifice nights out and weekends away for sitting down and studying. Well, I have kids so I’ve already sacrificed those things. I have already been through the pain of feeling my freedom restricted. Iris isn’t really reliable enough for a babysitter, and even if she was we couldn’t afford it anyway. So for me, most of my evenings are a toss up between studying or watching the West Wing and crocheting on the sofa. Some things have had to go. You can see that my blog is a bit neglected, and I’m having crochet withdrawal, but I have experienced the feelings of sacrifice already and I know it isn’t forever.

Every second counts
What the hell did I do with my time before I had kids? Obviously I worked full time (but I’m not far off that now), but it’s not like I was writing War and Peace. I wasn’t even reading it. We had dinner parties with friends, did a bit of jogging, but again I still manage that now. All those child-free hours, I could have spent doing something useful but with the naivety of youth I just frittered them away. Now every hour is accounted for, and if I am lucky enough to have “free time” every minute is squeezed dry. Because of this when I sit down to do my work I’m very conscious of time. I know how many hours I need to spend on my studying, and how many hours I have available in the week, and there is little slack. If one of the kids is sick for a couple of days that writes off a few evenings of work that I can’t afford to lose so I know I have to keep on top of things.

Less pressure to be top
I did really well in my first two degrees, a First and a Distinction. Anything less in this one is going to feel like a step back. Academia is my thing. I nearly cried when I got 55 in my first assignment. But what with combining a nearly full time job, two kids and other activities with this degree, everyone is just going to be impressed if I pass. I’m nearly coming around to that view myself. Nearly.

It’s not the hardest thing I have ever done
I survived 10 months and more without a full night’s sleep. I have breastfed while suffering from an excruciating migraine, delatching the baby to go and vomit, then returning to resume a prone position while a tiny baby sucked the life force out of me. I have driven through the night to get a baby suffering from chicken pox to stay asleep. I have cared for a sick husband and toddler a week after giving birth. I have given birth. Twice. With no drugs. I have gone to work leaving my children in the care of virtual strangers for the first time. I have raised two charming and clever children. In terms of the hardest things I have done, a part time degree is not even up there.

Everyone thinks I am doing an amazing job
There is nothing quite as motivating as praise from other people, and lots of people have expressed their admiration at what I am doing. My mum and dad have both said how proud they are, as has my husband. And my step-mum went so far as to give me a significant chunk of money towards my course, because she felt I really deserved it. When really, as I have just explained, in some ways it is easier for me than everyone else, you know, what with having no life and all. Blown that myth now haven’t I?

And on top of all that it helps that I love psychology, really want a new job, and am fortunate enough to be fairly bright. My reason for writing this post is really to inspire other people out there to push their boundaries, especially other parents. I worried for ages about whether I could cope with doing this course. Yes I’m a bit grumpy sometimes, I feel like I have no time to decompress, but it will all be worth it in the end. And as with most things in life, it hasn’t been as hard as I feared. So if you are thinking of taking something on, and are wondering how you would cope when you have children, my answer is this – having kids: probably the hardest thing you will ever do. Whether you are thinking of doing a degree, starting a business, writing a book, it’ll be easy in comparison. And by virtue of the the skills you will have picked up just from having kids, you will be even better equipped for whatever you take on.

Coulda woulda shoulda

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It occurred to me the other day that I spend a lot of my life ‘shoulding’ myself. There are all manner of things I think I should do or should be, area in which I am not living up to expectations (mine? Who knows.) The following list is not even nearly exhaustive. I should:

be thinner

ride my bike, especially with the kids on the back

have my own crochet business

be a better read feminist

in fact be better read altogether (the list of books I should read would merit a blog post of its own)

run 10k

only feed my family home baked bread

have a tidier/cleaner house

be a better parent

be greener

eat pulses

be more well groomed

have better hair

know more history

be more frugal

write beautiful hand lettering or just have better handwriting

be able to touch type

remember everyone’s birthdays and send them all cards

make presents for people

write real letters to my friends

blog more often

have cooler fashion sense

understand politics

grow my own veg

speak another language properly

stop buying things at the supermarket and Amazon and buy local instead

be better at my sewing machine

write a book, have already written one preferably

be funnier

take my kids on nature walks

have a finance spreadsheet and keep to it

be cool enough to carry off a wink

customise my clothes

The list goes on…There are a whole heap of things that I feel like I should be doing. The ‘shoulds’ come from a few sources, the main one being me and my perfectionist, aspiring personality. Combine that with a distinct lack of completer-finisher in me, and well, you have a recipe for disaster, guilt, and of course dilettantism. The second source of shoulds come from the mass media. I very rarely by glossy magazines any more, but do indulge in a spot of Psychologies, and craft magazines. Even they, rather more benignly contribute to the idea of doing more, being more and having more. Whether that is £145 face serum (thanks for the recommendation Psychologies) or my own off beat craft business (Mollie Makes). Having children is no longer an excuse not to be successful either, thanks to the rise of kitchen table businesses, where mothers of young children create business from nothing, selling too-cute-for-words accessories or cupcakes with a nattily dressed baby on their hips. Do you detect a little envy in this post? Damn right you do! I’m unashamedly envious of these people, and attribute my lack of similar success to just not trying hard enough.

The third source of my attack of the shoulds is social media. Social media I love you, but you show me glimpses of worlds I can only dream of. By nature social media is very self selecting. I follow people, through blogs or twitter etc., who do stuff I am interested in. And I order for me to follow them and be interested they probably do it quite well. Hence with my varied interests I am following writers, journalists, psychologists, crafters and artists, and wondering why I am not as successful as all these people. Social media is also rather deceptive. It gives the illusion of reality, following people’s real lives, seeing their homes, their studios and their work. However it is barely more real life than a magazine spread. Of course people are selective about what they post. They leave out the bad bits, and we never see homes with laundry spilling out of the basket or kitchen tables still covered in this morning’s breakfast paraphernalia. Despite my awareness of this, my illogical brain just notes how much better everyone else is than me.

I also need to remind myself of the financial and time constraints of my life. If you devote yourself to a single cause or career you are going to be better at it. My problem is I want to devote myself to lots of causes, careers an activities.

In concerning myself with all the things I’m not or that I don’t do I forget all the things I am or that I actually do. So I am going to list them, to prove to myself and to everyone else that my life is actually full of value, even if that value is not equal to everyone else’s.

So these are the things I do and can do:

Raise 2 young children, who are polite and sociable (to other people anyway!)

Speak passable French and Spanish

Create home cooked meals for my children, they even eat some of them

Bake nice cakes for my family and colleagues

Run 2-3 miles about twice a week

Study for a part time Masters Degree in Occupational Psychology

Work 4 days a week

Have 2 degrees in psychology with the highest grade in each

Crochet

Take Betty swimming every Saturday morning

Run a crochet class

Bake bread occasionally, by hand

Write a blog

Yarn bomb

Know all the names of the New Testament books (I learned them at Brownies)

Make cakes for the school fetes

Sit down an eat dinner with my kids everyday, and ask them how their days were

Find the end of the sellotape without fail, within seconds

Ran a yarn bombing workshop

Make my own granola (sometimes)

And do you know what, even if this list was half or as third as long it should still be enough. I work enough so that we can afford to live (just about!) and raise 2 kids, who are only semi feral and are usually fed and dressed (even if fed does mean Coco Pops for breakfast, and if dressed means wearing Buzz Lightyear and pirate outfits).

I am slowly coming around to the realisation that I can’t do everything, and should stop comparing myself to others. I’m not quite there yet, but this post a step forwards.

Do you have a list of shoulds and how do you get past them?

From Ridiculous to the Sublime

I made it out of the bedroom without disturbing the Target. Mission complete once again, and once again I find myself contemplating how ridiculous some aspects of parenting are. From the silent escape from the bedroom, to the times I find myself blowing raspberries to the tune of “The Animals Went in Two By Two” round Sainsbury’s.

 

Anyway, for the brief moments that I find myself with time to concentrate on my hobby I have recently taken delivery of some delicious yarn. Now, I’m not usually a yarn snob. Yes, I can appreciate the lovely silky touch a of a ball of Rowan Cashsoft, but my budget usually only stretches to acrylic blends like Stylecraft DK, and that does me well enough. There are a nice variety of colours and it’s cheap enough that it doesn’t sit around waiting for a project special enough to use it. But Black Sheep Wools have a sale on and I bought some lovely Sublime Organic Cotton with which to make some children’s toys.

The cream yarn below is Sirdar Balmoral, a mix of alpaca, wool, and silk. That’s going to be a Christmas blanket for my mum’s partner. The Sublime Merino I periodically buy and snaffle away for use in an afghan for my own bed which I have planned for one day. And I also got a lovely ball of Noro DK which I could never normally afford, but this was all on sale, and this is going to become some fingerless gloves.

Right now I am in the middle of a birthday gift for a 3 year old. Got to be done by Monday – last minute as usual!

Ridiculous

I tell you no lie. I am currently squatting behind the desk chair in the baby’s room. She is quiet in her cot but not sound enough asleep that I can risk opening the door to get out. I am very uncomfortable. This is ridiculous.

Dentastic

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I’ve been supermum today while DH was at work (we only get one day off a week together now I’m back at work). Betty and I made cakes while the baby was asleep and then I made her a den. It can only be accessed by the tunnel which means that I can’t get in it without destroying it. It also deters Iris who prefers instead to climb the stairs while no-one is looking.

The cakes are just a simple 4-4-2 recipe, though I halved the sugar and added a mashed banana. Betty did the decorating. Green is her favourite colour, which is actually rather nice, although like most 4 year olds this tends to take more of a priority than it should. She can have hour long tantrums over not having a green straw. An assistant in Lush gave her a bath bomb recently and instead of saying “thank you” she said “why didn’t you give me a green one?” Ungrateful wrench!

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Hobbycraft: the Tesco of the craft world. But not as cheap.

Urgh, disastrous morning chez Tante. I am at home with the Tantettes today, DH doesn’t get back till half seven tonight. 11 hours with the little cherubs…. I really needed some craft bits so I thought I would combine a trip to Hobbycraft with a visit to Toys ‘R’ Us. There is your clue as to how my morning has gone.

After a short negotiation with Betty, in which she threatened a tantrum and I compromised, we agreed Toys ‘R’ us first, then Hobbycraft. That was a mistake as once we were out of Toy ‘R’ Us I no longer had any leverage. I managed to dissuade her from buying poxy Moxie Dolls and Dora The Explorer tat, and she settled on some clothes for her doll Rupert. I also wanted to get a doll for Iris as she has taken a bit of a shine to Rupert, much to Betty’s chagrin. Let me tell you, it is practically impossible to find a soft bodied doll which doesn’t walk, talk, cry (why, why would you want to buy your child a doll that cries, just when you are coming out of the endless crying stage of parenting yourself?). At the last minute I managed to find one that didn’t cost £40 (no Baby Annabel for us.)

I then dragged Betty past the hideous fibre glass ride on toy where you can pay 50p to be rocked back and forth on Iggle Piggle’s boat with the man himself for a total of 27 seconds. Into Hobbycraft, hissing at Betty that if she whinges or complains after I’ve spent an hour in Toys ‘R’ A Fecking Rip-Off then I would take her newly purchased toys away, which of course she did, and I didn’t. It wasn’t worth the tantrum.

Hobbycraft is a necessary evil in my life. It’s crafting by numbers. It’s the Tesco of craft supplies, selling just enough of a variety of craft supplies to get you to go there for convenience, but never that one product that you need. In my case it was chalkboard fabric. I asked one of the assistants who didn’t take my making a request of her very well and looked at me like I had asked her to sacrifice her first born child. I was well ready to sacrifice mine at that point. Suffice to say they didn’t have any, so I picked up a couple of wooden embroidery hoops; stood in front of the embroidery floss for a while, overwhelmed and not really sure what I wanted; then realised that it’s a friend’s birthday tomorrow and wondering if I could cobble together a necklace for her with some jewellery making supplies and my non-existent jewellery making skills. Before I knew it I had spent half an hour growling at the kids (well, they were growling at me first), spent £23 and not really got anything I needed.

That’s the other thing about this crafting business, it’s blooming expensive! I know  that shopping at Hobbycraft doesn’t help. It pains me. I really want to be one of these thrifty crafters who knocks something up from supplies they found for 20p in a charity shop, but really, who has the time to shop in charity shops? I do love them but I just don’t have the tenacity for them, especially when I am dragging around my children. I also don’t have the eye to spot something cheap and hideous that I can magically make into something lovely. Nor can I make 1970’s kitchen crap look retro. I just can’t pull off retro chic. Or shabby chic. Or even handmade chic. That’s why I’ve always avoided all these (admittedly wonderful) blogs. They make me feel dazzlingly inadequate. Still, maybe if I read them enough some of their magic will rub off on me.

Only four and a half hours till DH is home…

Let's see if I can make these into a necklace someone might actually want to wear

People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one

I went back to work today. I could tell you what I do but I’d have to kill you. Actually, you’d probably just die of boredom. Anyway, back to work, part time, after ten months. I’ve been having work nightmares for a few weeks now. Last night it was that I accidentally took the baby into but when I tried to call DH to come and get her I couldn’t remember my home phone number and couldn’t work how to use the phone. It proved to be strangely prophetical, well, apart from taking the baby in. It was fine though, felt like I’d never been away, which was sad and a relief in equal measures.

In anticipation though, Iris picked this time to launch Phase 2 of Operation Teething Nightmare. Yesterday she was hot, crabby and very clingy, and early this morning she was awake between 4 and 5am, it’s like she knew…

Sleep has never been great with darling child number 2. For 3 months she would only sleep on me. I eventually managed to get her to sleep in the baby hammock, though she would only go down after 11pm. Even up until 9 months she was waking 2 or 3 times a night. “You need to put your foot down” people would helpfully say. “Have you tried XYZ?”. I’ve had a non-sleeping baby for 9 months – yes, I’ve tried everything! Yet somehow, without really changing anything, she started sleeping though. She’s still a bugger to get down though. She is still up now at 9pm, but I’m letting her off as it was my first day back to work. Trying to get her down at night is like fricking Mission Impossible, it goes something like this (click here to set the mood – warning audio!):

Step 1 Start feeding baby, at least 40 minutes in anticipation of sleep time
Step 2 Spend 20 minutes being kicked getting teeny tiny baby pinches
Step 3 Baby appears to be asleep, don’t be fooled, it’s only been 20 minutes
Step 4 Baby starts vigorously feeding again
Step 5 Baby appears to be asleep once again
Step 6 Do the arm test: lift arm and see if it drops. If test fails you will have to go back to Step 4
Step 7 Try to remove sleeping baby from breast. If this fails you will have to go back to Step 4
Step 8 Nope, too soon, she’s rooting around again. Go back to Step 4
Step 9 Try to remove sleeping baby again, good baby still sleeping
Step 10 Stand up with sleeping baby
Step 11 Wait for 3 seconds to ensure baby still asleep
Step 12 Lower baby gently into cot, taking care not to let any part of the baby slip causing a startle reflex
Step 13 Hang over cot with hands still on the baby, contorting body into unnatural position
Step 14 Gently remove hands, hovering over baby for immediate replacement if necessary
Step 15 Sleep established, prepare for exit
Step 16 Oh no! Her eyes are open, replace hands, avert eyes, DO NOT LOOK HER IN THE EYES!
Step 17 Eyes shut, stand up and move away from the cot, baby stirs
Step 18 Stand still, do NOT move a muscle, do not attract her attention
Step 19 Tip toe towards the door. Wish thighs didn’t rub together, how can they make so much noise when I walk?
Step 20 Side step a ball, and step over crinkly book, phew, that was close
Step 21 Ow ow ow, fucking Peppa Pig toy, muffle cry of pain
Step 22 Head back towards door, crap, stirring again, duck down behind the chair, stay still
Step 23 Open door gently. Why, why does DH keep his guitar behind the door of the baby’s room?
Step 24 Crawl out on hands and knees, hoping the crack of knee caps doesn’t wake her – why is my body so noisy?
Step 25 Back out into the hall, stand up again
Step 26 Downstairs for wine and Hagan Daaz until she wakes up in an hour and I have to repeat from Step 1

Mission accomplished!