Author, Blogger, Mother, Procrastinator.
Big fan of honesty.
Not a Dicky Bird
Last month, an advert came on telly for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Henry, who has never previously shown much of an interest in wildlife, surprised me by saying, "I want to do that! If you phone up, they send you a pack to count the birds! Can we do it, Mum?" Of course we could do it, I told him. I’d phone up and get us the pack. After a longer than anticipated call to claim our free pack, where I tried to justify why we weren’t about to sign up on the spot to become RSPB members for a year (‘I’ll see how we go with the Big Garden Birdwatch, Karen, then take it from there’), a pack was on its way to us with all the info we needed to take part. The Birdwatch was taking place over the weekend of 26-28 January and to join in with the survey, we simply needed to make a note of the number of birds we could see in an hour of our choice during that time. There was lots of excitement from both Henry and Jude in the run up to Birdwatch Weekend. Where would we sit to count the birds in our garden? Who would hold the pencil? Could they have a pencil each?! I, too, was excited. It felt like a nice, wholesome activity for the boys to do, away from playing video games or watching other people play video games on YouTube. I have no idea what we were up to on the Saturday of that weekend but the day came and went without us remembering that it was Birdwatch time. Most of Sunday also whizzed past, with the pack sitting unloved on the kitchen counter, until Henry said casually at 4:30PM, just as it was starting to get dark, "When are we doing our birdwatching then?” Shit. I knew we still had a third day, the Monday, to take part but he would be at school for most of it and I’d be at work until 5PM. It was a ‘now or never’ scenario so we decided to go for it, though I had to delay the start by a further five minutes to stick some jacket potatoes in the oven. We chose the boys’ bedroom as our watch-spot as it has the best view of the back garden. They made themselves comfy on Henry’s bed and I handed over pencils, explaining what we needed to do. It was quite simple. We needed to count the number of birds we saw, of each type, on our scrap paper. At the end, we’d write the final totals on the form and I'd enter those results online. We had a beautiful leaflet with pictures of the different birds on it to help us identify what we were seeing and for the first thirty seconds it was lovely watching the pair of them scan the garden, pencils poised. It was from there that it all went a bit downhill, really. The biggest and most fundamental issue was that there weren’t any fucking birds. Not one. I had read that in terms of the survey results, even a zero-score would be helpful data but it’s not helpful when you’re six and four and have been excited about counting birds for weeks. The lack of birds was, at least in part, my fault. I hadn't managed to put out anything by way of bird feeders in advance to entice the buggers in. I imagine birds fly over our garden talking to their birdie mates, saying, ‘fuck all down there, Barry, you're better off heading to number 25.’ It was also getting increasingly dark and we were squinting to see. I suggested we widened the search outside of our own garden, to include our neighbours’ gardens on both sides and those gardens we could see in the distance, which at one stage got very exciting until we realised the ‘blackbird’ we’d spotted in a tree was, in fact, a dog-poo bag that had been slung high up into the branches. I gave words of encouragement about not giving up and the importance of persevering for the hour, sensing their fidgeting, then I asked them to keep a close watch while I quickly went downstairs to check on the potatoes. Quite remarkably, by the time I’d returned, I was informed that there had been a flurry of bird-based activity in the garden (in the dark). They’d seen five blackbirds, a wood pigeon AND a collared dove! Henry also thought he might have seen a long-tailed tit and Jude pointed at the goldfinch picture to tell me he’d seen two. What a busy two minutes! As I tried to explain the importance of being precise about what we’d seen and not recording things we weren’t certain of, we ended up with a slightly scaled-back total of three blackbirds and one wood pigeon, which I still suspected were about as likely to be found in our dark, barren garden as a unicorn but I could hardly tell them I thought they were making it up. As I later recounted the experience to James ("a collared fucking dove!"), I wondered if it had been a waste of time. It had certainly felt like a bit of a pointless exercise and I’d no doubt screwed up our chances of success by failing to put food out and not encouraging the boys to get up at the crack of sparrows to see some actual sparrows. However, a few days later when they heard someone mention the Birdwatch, Henry and Jude were quick to say, ‘We did that! Didn’t we, Mummy? Mummy sent in our results*’ and I realised it hadn’t all been in vain. We had a go. We tried. All right, the reality fell way short of the expectation, as it so often does, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth doing. We joined in and who knows, next year, if I get a bird feeder sorted, we might see some actual birds that aren’t dog-poo bags in trees. I'm glad we tried. I hope the boys remember it. *I did submit our results, as I promised them I would. However, if anyone from the RSPB is reading this, I would suggest reducing the overall total by three blackbirds and one wood pigeon.
Lately! (Life, Kids, Work, Stuff).
It has been nearly three months since I last wrote a blog post and for that I am truly sorry. I’m not sure I can even call myself a 'blogger' these days. However, this afternoon I felt the urge to write something by way of an update so here we are. Back in the game. I have missed it. The problem with being shit at blogging regularly is that I now don’t know where to start by way of an update, so I’m going to approach it as though we were having a chat in Tesco. One of those bullet-point type chats where you attempt to summarise everything in your life that’s happened lately, before the kids kick off. Let’s start with the boys. Henry is now in Year Two, really into his football and can generally be found ‘hype’ dancing or ‘taking the L’ around the living-room (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, these dance crazes haven’t found your children yet. Protect them at all costs). Jude doesn’t yet share his brother’s love of football and instead prefers playing Lego and singing songs from The Greatest Showman which is really cute and everything but loses its edge when he bellows, “FROM NOW ON, THESE EYES WILL NOT BE BLINDED BY THE LIGHTS!” next to our heads at 6am. He will join Henry at school in September and I’m not sure my heart will cope. That said, he already walks around the playground at pick-up like he owns the place so I’m hoping he’s going to be just fine. Wilf turned one in December, is walking (albeit unsteadily) and in all honesty, is a complete fucking menace. Seriously, we have excelled ourselves with this one. He’s high achieving on the adorable front, gives us lots of giggles and cuddles, however his sleeping at thirteen months is still hit and miss and he screams if we do any of the following: change his nappy, put him down, put him in the pram, put him in the car, take his empty food bowl away, force him to wear socks, stop him from licking Henry’s wellies. He also shits every time we strap him in his car seat. Every time. If it happens to be a day with lots of car journeys, you’re looking at a ten-poo total. It’s almost a skill to squeeze that many out but he’s up for the challenge. It’s been five months since we moved house and took on the mother of all fixer-uppers. Despite the testing moments so far, including squashing my arse into a 60-litre plastic storage tub full of water when we had no bathroom for three weeks, I’m still glad we bought it. I can’t say it’s the ‘forever home’ because forever is a very long time but it’s most definitely our ‘very long term house’ (not got quite the same ring to it) and it feels like home already. I am two thirds of the way through writing book number three which will come out later this year! I keep switching between 'I think people will like this' and 'I'm certain nobody will like this,' though I think I remember this stage from the last two. I am working in a proper co-working office a few days a week now and it’s amazing – I can pretend to be all professional like the other people with real jobs and nobody shouts, “finished!” at me then expects me to wipe their bum. I’ve also lined myself up a job (working for somebody else) to keep me busy in the months between handing my book in and it being published, as it turns out I miss going out ‘to’ work and hanging about on social media doesn't tickle my pickle enough for it to be my job. (Also Instagram won't give me a blue tick so evidently I'm not enough of an influencer to make it. I could act all nonchalant and tell you I don't care but I did apply three times, which makes me even more of a loser than I first feared). I think that’s about the measure of it. The actual bullet-points would be:TiredBusyHappyUnverified Book 3 on its way, hurrah! Until the next time (apologies in advance if that’s 2021). S xx
What is it about parenting that turns us all into our own worst critics, more so than in any other area of our lives? When it comes to the other stuff, we generally forgive ourselves for having the odd 'off day'. The occasional unproductive day at work, when you have a list as long as your arm of tasks that need completing but somehow only get around to completing a Facebook quiz to find out what your Game of Thrones character name would be. Days when your mojo goes AWOL. Days when you had one too many the night before. Days when you drop the ball and send an email slagging off Brian from sales, to Brian from sales. In relationships, too, there are times we screw up. Forget to send a friend a birthday card. Do or say something hurtful to a partner in the heat of the moment and owe them then apology. Sometimes we feel bad about it for a while after but rarely do we allow ourselves to live under a doom-cloud of remorse indefinitely. That’s because we don’t assume that those days are a fair reflection of our overall standard as an employee/friend/lover. We just had an off day. An off couple of days, perhaps. It happens. When it comes to parenting, however, we rarely allow ourselves the same slack. Or indeed any slack. On those hurried mornings when we forget that it’s Jeans for Genes day at nursery and arrive to a sea of denim and a sinking feeling. Or when, after enduring hour upon hour of sibling scrapping, something snaps and we end up shrieking like a fishwife in the park, before dragging the offending children home by their coat hoods under the judgemental glare of other parents. The better parents. I know, or at least I do now after having been unconvinced for a long while, that I am a good mum. Sometimes it feels good to say it. I am a good mum. (In my head or quietly to myself, I mean, not out loud at the school gates as that might make me sound like a bit of a tosser). I do my best for my boys; they are safe, happy and loved beyond measure. I also know that there are days when I am not such a good mum. When I’m exhausted or frustrated, or a bit under the weather. When I'm preoccupied with work or just feeling a bit low. Sometimes I am all of those things at once. When that happens, it is hard not to beat yourself up and very easy to find yourself falling headfirst into an I’m-not-good-enough vortex where you question your parental capabilities and say, ‘I just can’t do this today.’ The thing I have come to realise about being a parent, however, is that you do do it. On those days when you don’t think you can, when for whatever reason you’re not firing on all parenting cylinders and are in desperate need of a break, you still show up. So no, your children might not always get the best of you but that's only because the best of you isn’t always there to give. And rather than those 'off days' signalling that you are a bad parent, maybe just maybe it's the giving of whatever you've got, when there is next to nothing left in the tank, that makes you a bloody good one.
Top 5: Really Bloody Useful Baby Products (not an ad)
1. White Noise MachineI could probably dedicate an entire book to our White Noise journey. When we had Henry (over six years ago now, time flies when you're having fun!) we started with the very best of intentions. We'd researched what we should and shouldn't do to encourage healthy sleep patterns and associations and certainly weren't going to allow our bundle to become dependent on white noise to help him settle - that would be ridiculous! All our baby would need would be a little dab of essential oils massaged into his feet and then we'd be able to 'put him down awake' while chortling smugly at all the other silly billies who were making a rod for their own backs by blasting the hairdryer for twenty minutes or putting the Moses basket next to the tumble dryer. I think it was approximately two days before we cracked under the strain of relentless colicky crying and zero sleep and decided we would trial a spot of white noise ('as a one-off') played through our phones. It was, quite simply, a revelation. It didn't solve all of our problems, of course, but it helped a tiny baby Henry to fall asleep and stay asleep and from there began our love affair with low frequency vacuum cleaner noises. The problem with playing white noise via YouTube/iTunes/Spotify, was that we were constantly reliant on our phones or the iPad being next to the baby. We had a bash at using speakers connected wirelessly to our phones, but fell out of love with that option the day I forgot the two devices were paired and blasted the audio from a horror movie trailer (playing on my Facebook timeline) straight up to the nursery. Not recommended. This was followed by us panic purchasing several white-noise bears and other cuddly creatures with sound boxes hidden inside them. Ones with cry sensors that would 'kick back in' if the baby stirred, or play your chosen noise for a certain number of minutes. Between our various noisy bears and smartphones we managed just fine to keep up with our hoover-audio habit when baby Jude joined the party three years later. This year, after becoming the proud owners of our third baby, we (or rather my husband) felt compelled to Google 'white noise machines you can plug in' after one of the cuddly options yet again ran out of batteries in the middle of the night. Step forward, the Avantek White Noise Machine, which plays 2o 'soothing natural sounds' continuously or for as long as you want (it has timer settings) and is mains-powered, The Dream. I posted about it on my Instagram Stories a couple of weeks ago and have already had loads of messages from mums and dads who have followed suit and are reporting back to say, "OMG it's brilliant!!!" so this is me simply sharing the love. It doesn't look as pretty as the cuddly ones but it does its job and I CANNOT RECOMMEND IT ENOUGH. It's nice to imagine a time in the future when our family won't be reliant on the background hum of a fan to drift off to to sleep but until then, this bad boy is the bee's knees. Price: £29.99Available from: Avantek, via Amazon.Did I pay for it? Yep! 2. My Friend Goo As I type this, I have just put a very cross baby Wilf down for a nap (with the white noise blasting, obvs) and MY GOD he has been hard work today. I know it's not his fault, I know he is never deliberately 'hard work' but his teeth have been causing him no end of bother and Jesus, don't we know it! I'm pretty sure he has been teething since the moment he came out. We have trialled loads of teethers since and the best one by far is My Friend Goo, a lightweight natural rubber beauty. For Wilf, the charm comes from the fact that Goo is super easy for small babies to keep hold of (a triumph where many others have failed), which makes him a a great chewy companion for the pram or baby bouncer. We (or rather Wilf) really recommend Goo. Price: £10.99 (reduced packaging) or £12.99 (gift packaging)Available from: Cloud and Cuckoo. Did I pay for it? No, it was gifted (thanks Jenna, who designed it!) 3. Leka Play MatWe're big fans of the IKEA Leka range and this mat has been a gem. It looks good, can easily be machine washed (absolutely essential when you have a refluxy baby) and is also really good value. We also bought the wooden baby gym for £20 from the same range, which, compared to other baby-entertaining apparatus on the market, takes up a lot less space! Price: £25Available from: IKEA Did I pay for it? Yep. 4. Etta Loves Muslins I love the story behind these. Etta Loves founder, Jen Fuller, said she wanted to create muslins that were 'functional, developmental and stylish' after noticing that her 4-week old little Etta was staring at the pattern on her top. So, as well as being soft and absorbent, these muslins have been designed with input from an early years visual expert, to ensure that they stimulate babies' visual and cognitive development. What that means in real terms is that baby Wilf is very often transfixed by their patterns AND they’re extra large, which is oh-so-useful when you have a sicky baby who easily saturates a small muslin in one sitting. They look amazing, too - I've been asked several times about the leopard print one when out and about (you know you're a parent when you're having a muslin chat in the Co-op). Price: muslins from £19.95. super soft bamboo sensory washcloths start at £7Available from: Etta LovesDid I pay for it? No, we gratefully accepted these as a new-baby gift and have used them loads since. 5. Shnuggle baby bathWhen I was pregnant, I saw trillions of people raving about these baths. To be honest, it was a real case of 'Instagram made me buy it' but I'm glad because it's been ace! It has a bum bump to help with Wilf's posture plus a foam backrest which is much softer against his head than the old baby bath his big brothers had, and he doesn't slip and slide around as much. Really well-designed, would definitely recommend it. Price: RRP £24.95 (have previously seen it for £19.99 when shopping around)Available from: Shnuggle (we bought ours from John Lewis but currently out of stock there)Did I pay for it? Yep. That's all for now! xx I have not being paid to write this post, the above links are not affiliate links (no commission) and I've noted whether we paid for the items ourselves or whether they were gifts. These are purely my recommendations based on what we've found helpful this time around (so far!)
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