Holidays: social media vs reality

I have just finished putting together a photo album from our recent holiday to Malta. In the hope that one day my son will want to look back at photos from his childhood holidays in a book, rather than try and locate them in a cloud, I have decided to make him a photo book for each of our holidays.

Whilst reminiscing about the week we had in Malta, I also thought about the photos we had put on social media whilst we were away and when we returned. The holiday was with two other families, our “NCT friends”, friends we originally met through our NCT classes but who are now firm friends (not just NCT friends!). We had booked the holiday almost a year before we went, with many people close to us asking if we were doing the right thing, worried that our new friendship may not survive a week abroad with our 3 toddlers. When we booked it, none of us really knew how the week would turn out. We didn’t even really know what it was like to have 2 year olds, so it was hard to imagine at the time what it would be like to take a 2 year abroad – to somewhere new, somewhere hot, sleeping in a different room, sitting on on a plane for hours, eating in restaurants 3 times a day. We also didn’t know how the kids would interact together, we had hopes that they would love playing together all day every day, but we didn’t really know. A few things we did know for certain – we would get more value out of the ice cream cart than the bar, we wouldn’t get the holiday lie ins we had all grown used to, we wouldn’t get to leisurely enjoy our lunch with a few beers sitting in the midday sun, we would go through a lot of factor 50 and seek out shade wherever we were and we wouldn’t read the handful of books that we chose to pack anyway.

We spent a lot of time choosing where to go with simple criteria of – sun and a beach. The plane journey had to be a sensible length because we were only going for a week (and for our general sanity and those who were on the same plane as our 3 toddlers), we had lots of discussions around villa vs hotel and we all had our own opinions of where we wanted to go and where we didn’t want to go. We eventually, after weeks of WhatsApp messages, chose Malta. A 3 hour plane and an all-inclusive family friendly hotel.

The photos attached are ones I picked off social media which show all of our friends and family the ‘edited’ version of our holiday. I put a handful of photos up on Facebook, I shared a lot more with the Grandparents privately, and I have even more stored on my phone (and now in my photo album!). Between the 3 families there were a lot of photos which went on to social media, all showing our beautiful, well-dressed, clean, smiling, happy children having fun on their first holiday together.

I say ‘edited’ because the photos show all the fun we had – all the smiles, giggles, playtime, pool time, disco time, the interesting parts of the day trips and the nap times (when the kids look really cute (and we have the chance to get our cameras out!)) And all of that is true, obviously, as you can see in the photos. And overall we did have a fantastic and fun time, with lots of playing, lots of laughing and (by the end of the week) some pretty well-timed (i.e. all kids at the same time) naps.

But what the photos don’t show is: the tantrums, the screaming, the running away, the refusal to eat at the table, the snatching toys, the hitting, the arguments, the tellings-off, the tears (both adults and children!) or the sheer exhaustion of a week with 3 toddlers. I looked back through my photos to see if I had any of the tantrums, but I don’t. Despite only have one child between every two adults, we simply didn’t have the hands or the inclination to capture those moments. When there is something cute, like the kids holding hands or jumping in the pool, we reach for our phones immediately. When there is a full blown tantrum, or we are running to stop a toddler falling in the pool or escaping through the hotel doors, we don’t think to reach for our phones (luckily!) Automatically we have edited our captured version of the holiday. So then when it comes to sharing those photos, they are also the edited version of the holiday. It’s not just that we don’t think our friends or family want to see those things, or that we want to paint a picture that our holiday was “perfect”, it’s just that we don’t have those photos to share.

Looking back, the holiday was awesome and our photos capture all the fun and laughs we had with the kids. Hiding in amongst those memories are also the memories of the reality that every parent who has travelled abroad with a toddler will know.. it’s pretty tough, there is a lot of organisation, a lot of logistics, a lot of packing and unpacking the changing bags, so many snacks, a lot of tantrums and crying, and some pretty frayed tempers.

But, despite all of that, it was still much more fun than not going on holiday and our photos are a record of the amazing memories we made.

Always on time?

I never used to be on time all the time. There are those people, I know a few, who will be there on time no matter what. I know people with toddlers that still manage nine times out of ten to be there on time, I have absolutely no idea how they do it! It is an unwritten rule amongst my friends with children that when we say a time, it’s just an approximate guideline for us to aim for. The chances are that in reality we will end up getting to a place at the same time, it’s just between 15 and 30 minutes later than the initial suggested time. We may message each other to explain the reasons why we are running late or we may, mostly, just shrug our shoulders when we see each other as we understand that we tried our best to get there earlier than we did.

It’s frustrating though. Frustrating when you think today is the day you’ll get there on time. You’re up a little earlier for example, your toddler is still asleep so you get to have a peaceful shower and can get dressed and bags packed before he wakes. Or, whilst your toddler naps, you get yourself and everything else ready to make a swift exit from the house post-nap. All the time, thinking in your head, we are well ahead of schedule – we may actually be on time today!

Then there is always something, late naps (because toddler won’t go down when you hoped they would), overrunning naps (because of all days, the day you want to leave the house is the day he decides to sleep for hours), tantrums, untimely poos, spilt food and a change of outfit (if it can’t be wet-wiped), demands for snacks or drinks, tantrums, tantrums…

By way of an example.. I had planned to go to my friends last week, no set time as such (because, you know, what’s the point?) but I wanted to leave the house at 2.30, that was my aim. My son was napping so I had everything ready for when he woke up, including his lunch ready made and sitting on the table. I woke him up with plenty of time and he sat him down for lunch. He didn’t want lunch. It was “yukky”. (I love that my phone autocorrects that to “yummy”… that was not his choice of word!) He wanted to see his friends, which is what I had promised him when he went for his nap. Parenting technique 101 pulled out of the bag.. the bribe. No seeing friends until lunch is finished. He picked up the sandwich put it to his mouth, and then put it on the plate. “Yukky.” It was now 2.30. We weren’t leaving the house on time. Again. I pretend to call my friend to say we can’t come as my son hasn’t eaten his lunch so no play date today. Still no eating and now a major tantrum on the kitchen floor because he thinks he’s not seeing his friends. At this stage I know I had messed up, as any parenting book will tell you, you should always follow through with these threats so the child knows that you are being serious and will understand for next time. Thing is, I really wanted to see my friends too, and desperately needed to get out of the house. I renege on my previous threat, pack the sandwich in a lunchbox (in the hope he may actually eat it in the car..) and leave the house. Closer to 3 than 2.30, with a screaming (hungry) toddler.

On the scale of things, being late for a play date isn’t too bad, especially when it really would be more of a surprise for my friends if I was actually on time. Being late for other stuff, especially work, is more frustrating and stressful. When I lived in London I could leave my house for work on time, 5 mins later or even 10 mins later and I’d get to work, about the right time as I only needed to rely on the tube. Now I live out of London and rely on Great Northern to get me to work I have to be at the station at a set time. At the moment Great Northern may or may not decide to show up but I still have to get there. As the trains currently are, if I don’t get to the station on time, I’ll be at least 30mins late for work if not more. Leaving the house 5 or 10 mins late is not an option like it used to be. Throw a toddler into the mix and you have yourself a pretty stressful morning. With nursery drop off times and new train times, I now have 12 minutes to complete drop off and get from nursery to the station in the morning. It’s a 7 minute walk and I factor in 2 minutes to buy a ticket. That gives me 3 minutes from when the nursery doors open to drop off my son. This is usually plenty of time, as he runs off, sits down for breakfast and I shout bye at the back of his head. But there are days, like today, when he is just not happy and does not want to be left. We left home in plenty of time this morning (instead of running out the door like sometimes happens) and were waiting outside nursery with a few minutes to spare. I thought this was going to be an easy drop-off. My son clearly had a different agenda and did not want to be left at all once we got inside. Having to weigh up in my head staying for cuddles against running to get my train is tough. Not knowing why he is upset on this particular day, when most other days he is fine, is heart-breaking. Leaving him to seek comfort from someone else is really upsetting. Its made worse by that feeling of optimism when I left the house draining away as I try to check my watch whilst comforting my son without the nursery staff seeing me (and feeling like the worst parent). My antidote on those days is a phone call when I get my desk to hear that my son is “absolutely fine”, which is always the same.

So far I haven’t been missed the train. But that doesn’t change the fact I am constantly late for almost every other event in my diary. I know I shouldn’t really blame my son but I see no sign of any change any time soon!

How are you two?

“The day before you turned two, we flew back from our holiday and you sat on my lap for most of the flight home. You were just short of having a ‘paid-for’ seat on the plane, so whilst that sounds like a good thing, having a squirming, wriggling two and half stone toddler on my lap for most of the four hour flight was not actually that much fun. It wasn’t your fault, you didn’t understand why you couldn’t get up and play or go and find your little cousin a few rows back. But then you fell asleep on my chest, and stayed there for almost 2 hours, and I enjoyed every second of it as you never do that any more. The photo Daddy took of you whilst you slept was almost identical to the dozens of photos I have of you from the early months when you would fall asleep on my chest, usually after a feed, except this time you were much much bigger.

The day after you turned two, I took you to nursery as normal but I had to take you to a new room, for the 2-3 year olds. We walked past the room where you had been before and you put your nose up to the glass and peered in. We walked to the new room and it was full of new children, new toys and a new team to look after you. I thought about how I felt when you moved from the baby room to the toddler room several months before and reminded myself how quickly you settled and how it was a good thing for you to be mixing with children older than you again. Luckily some of your friends have also moved to the new room, and your face lit up when you saw them at the breakfast table.

Returning from holiday to the wet, miserable weather in the UK, heading back to work after 12 days off, on top of you turning two and moving to a new room at nursery was an emotional start to that Wednesday. I remember feeling similar when you turned one. I didn’t understand why other parents got emotional when their babies turned one, until it was your turn. It’s a similar feeling now. You’re no different to the day before your birthday, really, you change so much all the time anyway, the fact you are now two doesn’t physically make a difference. Except, I now have a 2 year old. You have aged 2-3 clothes, you don’t get in free to stuff anymore and I can’t really count you in months now.. for the next 12 months, you are two – just turned two, two and a half, and then almost three.

You have achieved so much already in your two years – much more than most grown-ups achieve in two years. You have learnt to feed, crawl, walk, run, jump (almost (who knew how hard it was to learn to jump?)), to speak and to make us laugh, and your cheeky little personality shines through every day. You have learnt to throw the most epic tantrums and I am learning how best to handle them. I question my actions and words every day – not always at the time, but often afterwards, when I reflect on a situation and consider if I made the right move. Should I have shouted? Should I have left you on the floor or tried to pick you up? Did I grab your arm too tightly? Am I “that parent” in public? Should I tell you that you are naughty? I hate it when you say “Isaac naughty” or you say sorry when you haven’t really done anything wrong. The balance of trying to care for you, keep you safe, educate you and discipline you is really tough. I know you don’t mean to be naughty sometimes but that you are just frustrated or tired or fed up, or you don’t know what you have done is wrong, but if I don’t tell you it is wrong how will you learn? If I don’t say no sometimes, how will you know what’s right and what’s wrong? I get it that sometimes you don’t understand, or that we are having fun playing and then you get over-excited and your actions become dangerous and I have to tell you to stop – I understand that must be confusing, to go from laughter to serious so quickly. I try to explain stuff to you but I know it’s a lot to take in. I know my expectations of you are high when it comes to speaking to you about what’s wrong or why you’re crying – I wish you could always explain what you are thinking so we could work it out together.

I still haven’t fully worked out my “parenting style” yet, I don’t want to always say no and I don’t want to wrap you in cotton wool, but equally I have to do everything in my power to keep you safe and teach you. I want you to learn from your experiences but I also have to protect you and respect others around us.

I know you know mummy and daddy get on the train almost every day to go to work and you know it’s called London. I don’t know what you think London is but I love that you can say it. You also tell Daddy that I work at Tesco across the road which makes us laugh. I know I spend a lot of time in there but it’s not actually my job! I love your understanding of things and I wish I knew how you build ideas and thoughts in your head. I love listening to you ask questions, you ask things like “who’s that?”, “what’s that noise?”, “what’s that?”, “where’s Daddy gone?” and I help you understand things by giving you the answers. I know that over time the questions will multiply and multiply some more and I will try my hardest to not lose my patience with you and will always try and answer you honestly or find the answer if I need to.

Some days when I drop you at nursery in the morning, like today, when we are in a bit of a rush and the first time I have a chance to think is when I am sitting on the train to work, I regret that I didn’t hug you or kiss you at the nursery door. You are already so independent, that you just run in and sit yourself down ready for breakfast with your friends. I get a wave sometimes, but barely a hug anymore. Some days I wish I could turn around, pick you up and take you home again and we can spend the whole day playing together. It would have to be trains as you are completely obsessed by them. Other days, especially those tough days, when you get easily frustrated and I can’t work out why, I’m grateful that I can spend the day at my desk conversing with adults doing a job that I love. I am glad that I enjoy what I do, it makes it easier for me to go to work and leave you – easier but not easy.

I can’t believe you are two already. Thank you for being an amazing little boy, we are truly blessed to have you as our son. I can’t wait for the next 12 months of adventures with you.”


I love Mondays. I know not everybody can say that. But, for me, Monday is the day of the week I get to spend with my son. I work 4 days a week – Tuesday to Friday but Monday is my day “off”. (It makes me laugh when people refer to it as a “day off”!) Mondays are for just me and my son and we can do whatever we want! Some weeks we have a day packed full of seeing people, playing with his friends (aka me also seeing friends and having a range of half-finished conversations..) or finding another farm to visit; other weeks we spend the day with Nanny; and sometimes it’s just him and me and we hang out at home, go for a walk and/or visit a local coffee shop for coffee, cake and a babycino (I still can’t believe I order babycinos!) Sometimes a Monday without a plan can feel pretty daunting, especially during the winter months when it’s not as easy to find something to do with a toddler and the thought of staying in the house all day is mildly more acceptable than heading to soft play! Although over the past year the pressure I used to put on our Mondays has faded, I still feel a huge responsibility to make sure Mondays are fun and toddler-focussed and not taken up with chores, life admin and catching up with work.

I often get asked if it’s hard to switch off from work on a Monday. Thinking about it I think it’s only ever people without young children that ask this.. For me, it’s not really a case of switching off, more that I just don’t have the time or brain power to switch on! Sometimes my work phone doesn’t even leave the house with us, as once I’ve packed the changing bag full of nappies, snacks (so many snacks..), drinks, spare clothes and books and in my other hand hats, gloves, coats and wellies, my phone can often get left behind, and I realise at the end of the day I have the task of working through a day’s worth of emails.

The reason for this reflection recently is that I have a new job. In the time that I have been back from my maternity leave, it is an idea I have flirted with on and off, but never made the move to start interviewing. My biggest concern was my part-time hours. Law firms are not known for being the most flexible employers and I felt “lucky” to be working a 4 day week at my current firm. What were the chances of moving somewhere else on 4 days? Why would someone hire me when they could get someone else who was willing to work 5 days? My thinking for a long time was that I was better to just stay put. I certainly didn’t want to put my Mondays at risk at all.

When I found what looked like a fantastic opportunity to move, one of my first questions to HR was whether the role was open to part-time hours. At the time I thought it’s better to shut down this opportunity now, instead of going their go an interview process and then finding out 4 days wasn’t an option. My husband has recently been through that process with a flexible working request and 3 interviews later, he had to reject the job offer and start again. The response to my question from HR was “absolutely.” In my first interview I was asked if I currently work flexible hours, the partner interviewing me picking up on the fact that I had returned from maternity leave earlier that year. I explained my current work pattern and said (nervously) that I felt strongly about keeping my Mondays. The response “that’s absolutely fine.” It was a never a problem, throughout the whole process, and my contract came through “Tuesday – Friday” (i.e. keep your crazy, busy, exhausting, fun, soft-play and farm packed Mondays with your son!) I was thrilled. When I met the team I found out someone else also worked part-time hours and when I asked the rest of the team how that worked out within the team, someone replied that, as she had been off on maternity leave anyway it was more a feeling of gaining a person for 3 days a week instead of losing them for 2 days. I couldn’t have felt happier.

Again, I feel “lucky” to have found a firm willing to accommodate my requirements. I keep trying to quash that feeling of luck and convince myself that it is absolutely ok to work 4 days a week, and to be offered a new role on that basis. I shouldn’t feel lucky or grateful.. after all I get paid 20% less for doing 20% (or thereabouts) less work!

My reasoning for requiring part-time hours when I returned from maternity leave is the same as it is now – give me my Mondays with my son and my week already feels so much more balanced. 3 days at home, 4 days in the office. During those 4 days I have 2 nursery drop offs and 1 nursery pick-up; my husband does the rest. I’m guaranteed 4 bedtimes a week, including the weekend. The other 3 evenings, I can work late, go to events that I choose to go to (always weighing up in my head and heart these days if the outcome of the event is worth missing a bedtime for) and see friends and colleagues after work. My husband has the reverse. My part time hours mean that I don’t begrudge working late when I need to and I don’t clock watch when I’m in the office to get home. My Mondays keep me balanced. They mean I have more to give on a Tuesday and for the rest of the week.

I am proud that I have made my part-time hours work over the past 15 months in a sector that comes with a lot of opposition to the idea. I was brave enough to test the market in terms of moving and I am extremely happy that I can carry on working part-time hours in my new role – happy, not lucky!

Toddler Talk

We all communicate every minute of every day when we are around other people, from the obvious – when we speak – to the way in which we smile, use our eyes, stand, sit, cross our arms, nod or any other non-verbal cues; it is all communication. Women in particular, I think, are conscious about there non-verbal communication, especially in corporate settings. We are constantly told that they way in which we stand, sit, walk or hold ourselves are all constantly judged and are used by others around us to form opinions of us. We are told to mirror those non-verbal cues used by men to come across as more confident and knowledgable. Anyway, my opinions on women’s communication skills compared to men’s are for another time, but I do enjoy contemplating at times how different a business meeting may progress if we all communicated a little more like toddlers. I’m not talking about the unreasonable, throw yourself on the floor and scream type of communication but just the blatent, no hidden agenda, kind of language which means you know exactly where you stand!

My son’s first word was “daddy” (if we discount when he said “hi” at 6 weeks old as not an actual word but just a noise that sounded like a word). His first “sentence” was when he was just over 18 months old and he told my husband to “sit down Daddy” when he got up in a restaurant. Since then (he is now a couple of weeks off two) his language is improving daily and I find it absolutely incredible. The moment he said “love you” at bedtime resulted in me yelling downstairs to my husband with such urgency that he actually thought there was a real emergency! And the most recent comment which made my heart melt was him saying “bless you mummy” when I sneezed. There is no denying the amount of pride I have every time he says something new – I love it. We have also had a couple of mishaps.. the first of which was a few months ago when Isaac said “s**t”.. I knew he said the word, but it was originally in place of “sit”, so he would stand up by the sofa put his arms up and say it – he just wanted putting on the sofa to sit. It was funny but fine, I couldn’t knock his efforts. But.. he also had the ability to use it in another context too. One day he dropped his toy and it rolled under the sofa. He said “oh s**t” and bent down to pick it up. It was hilarious, I can’t deny it. The responsible mum inside me knew that I had to hide my laughter and completely ignore what had happened, at least that was my instinctive decision as to what a “responsible parent” would do in the moment, but there was a bubble of laughter that escaped when my husband and I looked at each other and realised what he had said. Fortunately he hasn’t said it since.

Isaac’s communication didn’t start with that first word though. It started the moment he was born. Those first few weeks were full of crying, but also, squeezing my finger, turning his head towards me and sticking out his tongue when he wanted feeding – all communication, even if not verbal, and parents quickly learn how to interpret this new language. He then moved on to gurgling, smiling and giggling as well as still crying (a lot). We then got to the stage when other people would start saying that babies had different cries for their different needs – and their parents would be able to tell which cry meant what. At the time I totally agreed, but I can hand on heart say I still have no idea whether Isaac had different cries – the only difference I could tell was the volume and the length of time between the cry starting and my husband or me being able to identify and fix the problem (nine times out of ten milk fixed it!).

My mum has told me several times that I didn’t start speaking until I was about 3. I could never really put that into context; I mean, it sounds late, but I didn’t really have any idea if that was a problem or not. I kind of then assumed Isaac may start speaking late and was preparing myself for that. Isaac being able to speak was one of the developmental milestones I was most looking forward to – surely it fixed a lot of issues? If he could speak, I could ask him what was wrong and he could respond. If he was crying, he could tell me why. If he was hurt or poorly he could tell me what hurt, and if he had a complete meltdown we could have a conversation and fix it together. For anybody that has a child over the age of 2, I know you are laughing at me by this point. My complete naivety as to the power of speaking to a toddler is overwhelming, I know. I know that now. I know that after the last couple of months of trying to balance my expectations of being able to hold a conversation with Isaac, against the fact that he is a toddler.

As well as learning to speak he still continues to develop his other forms of communication too – his physical movements tell us so much – he shows us his feelings when he runs towards us with a smile on his face, by pushing his plate away during dinner, by taking my hand and pulling me to something he wants me to see or by arching his back if he doesn’t want to go in the pram. He has recently learnt to say sorry and that always comes together with a cuddle when he understands that he has done something that he shouldn’t have done. His strongest form of communication, however, is still to cry – he cries when he is hungry, when he is tired, if he can’t do something for himself, if he wants me to get something for him, when he is frustrated, hurt, upset, scared, he cries if he doesn’t want to go to bed, he cries at the slightest mention of the word nap, he cries when he wants to play with his trains instead of eating his dinner, he cries when he doesn’t want his dinner but I try to take the plate away, he cries if I can’t produce juice or raisins within 3 seconds of him asking for them, he cries if I refuse to let him wear his wellies inside the house, or if I try to put on his wellies outside the house. It is his greatest tool for communication. The problem however, as it has been for the past 2 years, is that it is non-distinctive. Sometimes the source is obvious from the situation we are in and can be fixed, other times, I am completely in the dark. Or, I know what the problem is but I don’t have the tools to solve it.

The reason why this is a greater frustration for me now than it used to be, say 4 months ago, is my expectations have shifted. I now know he can use his words, it’s one of my most used phrases at the moment.. “Isaac, use your words..” He can tell me if he’s hungry or thirsty, or if he doesn’t want to do something, he sometimes even tells me if he wants to go to bed, so I know he can use his words. But he also has a million and one things going on inside his head at any point and sometimes telling me what is wrong just isn’t his priority or he doesn’t have the skills to do it. Sometimes, maybe he just doesn’t know what is wrong either. Other times, he actively chooses to ignore me. The most common of these is when he is watching television or playing with his train set and I will call his name over and over and he will just sit and completely ignore me like I am saying nothing. It is incredibly frustrating but there is nothing I can do other than turn the television off or pick him up away from his trains (cue a potential screaming fit which, when weighed up against whatever I wanted to tell him / ask him, is not worth it, so I just resign myself to the fact I am being ignored!)

I absolutely love having our little conversations and the interaction that we can now have as a result of Isaac learning new words. His most used form of communication, however, is still to cry / scream / throw a tantrum, and I have no doubt that that will continue for many years to come. I am trying to shift my expectations in terms of what he can and cannot tell me whilst at the same time starting to learn the lesson that as a parent I need to focus as much on the non-verbal communication as I do on the talking!

Breathing Space

A couple of months ago I packed my bag, met my friend at the airport, hopped on a plane and spent 3 nights by a beach, drinking wine and eating copious amounts of patatas bravas. It was pretty amazing. My friend and I had full conversations (you know the ones where you start at the beginning and end when you’ve both finished what you are talking about, rather than when a toddler demands your attention); we woke up at whatever time we wanted; left our apartment within 15 minutes of waking up with nothing more than a towel and a book; ate whole meals, sitting down with no sharing (except the tapas); and we enjoyed day time drinking with very little to worry about except where to head for dinner that evening. It was a treat, for both of us, but I’d like to think more for me as it was the first time I had been away from my 18 month old son for more than one night.

I obviously agreed it with my husband before we booked the trip. He was, after all, going to be in charge that weekend. And as the weekend crept closer I had to battle the feeling of being incredibly excited against a feeling of apprehension about whether I was doing the right thing. A full long weekend away is a luxury not every parent gets, especially not in the first few years, and my friends and I have had many many conversations about what the right age is to spend a night (or two or three) away from our children.

I knew my son would be absolutely fine, my husband is as capable as I am to look after him for a weekend, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t even notice me not being there as long as he was being fed and someone was paying him attention (my son that is, not my husband!) But that still didn’t allow me to go into full blown excitement mode on the run up to the weekend, like I would have done a few years ago. Excited? Yes. Worried I would miss my son too much? Yes. Sad that I couldn’t explain to him (or more, he wouldn’t understand) that I would be back on Monday and I hadn’t just disappeared? A little. Concerned what others thought of me? Unfortunately, yes.

But, here is my revelation.. it was amazing! And I don’t feel too bad about it! So, the run up to the weekend was not what I was used to; instead of just pure excitement to be away for a few days, I also had a nagging feeling of whether I was doing the right thing. My son seemed to get increasingly more clingy (I’m not sure if he really did or if it just felt that way) and I had to suppress some of my joy as my husband kept highlighting the fact that it felt like I was excited to be leaving them both behind. The night before my flight, after I packed, I reflected on the fact that my bag was full of dresses, make-up and shoes instead of nappies and snacks and yet was still smaller than the bag I take on some day trips when I’m with my son!

I read a poem a while ago which I thought contained the perfect advice for a new parent. The poem is called Fire by Judy Brown. From what I have read it was not written with parents in mind but, to me, it really emphasises the importance of trying to gain balance between family and you. The poem starts by saying “What makes a fire burn is space between the logs, a breathing space.” The fire is family and the space is your space, your time away. I spend time away from my son almost every day; I work 4 days a week, 3 of those in London, so I have that time on the train, in the office and whilst drinking a coffee or eating lunch, away from family life. But this isn’t breathing space, it’s just time when my head is full of other stuff. The poem goes on to say “…building fires requires attention to the spaces in between” – something I think most are parents pretty terrible at. My mini-break was my space in between. It was my space to be me, and to be a friend (a fully engaged friend!)

My son and I had a FaceTime date every day and my husband sent me photos of what they were up to at home. I wasn’t worried about them, I missed them but not prohibitively so, and I loved my space in between. Whilst I know weekends like this one will be few and far between now, I’ve proven to myself (and my husband) it was absolutely fine and my friend and I have already optimistically pencilled one in for next year! I am a strong advocate of working hard to find the balance between spending time with my son and time apart. I think it’s healthy for both of us and the step up from a day or a night away to a long weekend away was a success!

Money can buy friends 

Anyone who has signed up for NCT antenatal classes will know how true this is.  As soon as I started telling people I was pregnant, the most common response I received (after congratulations) was “you must join NCT”. It, I was told, is the best way to make new friends. My initial reaction to these comments was to think I don’t need to make new friends, I’m pretty fond of the ones I have. I am in my 30s and didn’t really think I even had the time for new friends, especially not with a baby on the way too. (I am not saying I have hundreds of friends but I have some very close special friends who I love spending time with and my weekends were already pretty full!) My second thought was that my husband and I had recently moved out of London and we were one of the first of our friends to have a baby. Maybe we did need new friends. Maybe I needed some new friends with whom I could speak about babies, breastfeeding, poo and nappies just so I didn’t p*** off my “real” friends!! 

I cant believe that it’s now been almost 20 months since my husband and I, together with our bump, went along to our first NCT antenatal class. It was a full Saturday in January and I remember feeling excited, but also a little nervous. Nervous because I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to know about the labour (I thought I might be better off just going in blind!) but also nervous about these other expectant parents we were about to meet! I remember that I got up a little bit earlier that morning and put a little more thought into what to wear, how to wear my hair and to put some make up on (which by this stage of my pregnancy was becoming a rare occurrence!) It sounds so silly now but there felt like there was so much expectation on these people becoming my new friends, I wanted to make sure I made the right impression. And whilst I know we were really there to learn about all things labour and parenthood, everyone who had told me about NCT talked about the lifelong friends they had made.. and if this was true, this was the first time I was meeting them! 

I think it’s hard, if not impossible, to really prepare a couple for labour and the time after their little one arrives (i.e the rest of their lives!) Our NCT teacher told us that they only teach us what to do and expect in the first few months and I remember thinking, well who is going to teach us the rest of it? Is there another class we can go to in a few months? Looking back, and having had discussions about it with my “NCT friends”, there are things we wish they had told us and other things we should have been more prepared for. But then, how do you really prepare? Out of 5 couples in our NCT group only one person had a “normal / natural (unassisted?)” birth. Out of 16 hours of NCT classes I think they spent no more than 10 minutes talking about induction, c sections and assisted births.. It just doesn’t correlate! This isn’t a criticism of NCT at all, I am just highlighting the fact that it’s impossible to prepare anyone, especially when there are a group of people in a class and the only thing that is certain is that every single one of those couples will have a different birth experience.  

Our second Saturday was a bit more relaxed, and we realised that we had a good bunch of people! We undertook the mandatory swapping of numbers (as everyone said we would) and set up a what’s app group straight away. The girls were sensible (and kind) and set up a mums only group; there is no way the men needed to read some of our early messages, and the Dads set up their group too. And then off we were sent! 

Since that first and second meeting, we have been through so much as a group. The pre-baby maternity leave, birth (and the detailed stories that followed), the NCT official “reunion”, meeting each others babies for the first time, maternity leave coffees, endless play dates, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, weaning, thousands of WhatsApp messages at every hour of the day and night, invaluable advice and incredible support, girls’ nights out, boys’ nights out, couples nights out (with babysitters booked), returning to work, choosing to stay at home, choosing childcare, juggling work with family life, adjusting to our new lives and all the challenges they bring, and most recently tantrums, talking and potty training are on the agenda! But we have also shared the most amazing moments together – watching our toddlers hugging each other and trying to say their friend’s names is worth every sleepless night! 

And now, as most of us are back at work full-time or with only one or two days a week off, our play dates are few and far between, girls nights are harder to plan and couples nights are put in the diary months in advance. WhatsApp has a lot less traffic and replies aren’t as instantaneous. But we see each other as often as we can and message regularly. We want our children to grow up as close friends and I feel committed to the thought of watching them grow together. Their relationships are already blossoming and it is awesome to watch. 

So whilst it is harder now than it was a year ago, when we had nothing to do but care for our babies (and drink coffee and eat cake whilst they slept!), we now make a real effort as a group to see each other, fitting in play dates when we can and with whoever is available that day and booking other plans in plenty of time. And 2018 also brings “NCT on tour” for some of us with a holiday abroad for 6 adults and 3 toddlers (are we completely mad?!)

I can, hand on heart, say our NCT subscription was the best money my husband and I spent in the months before Isaac was born. The people I met back in January last year are no longer my “NCT friends”, they are just my friends. 

We did it (do we get a lie-in now??) 

My husband said to me as he left for work this morning that he was looking forward to a lie-in tomorrow morning. I laughed, obviously.. I thought he was joking! We have an 18month old, and whilst he is a really good sleeper, I don’t class 7am as a lie-in by any stretch! However, thinking about it further I realised what was really meant by that comment was that 7am is better than 6am; 7am with a toddler in our bed watching Peter Rabbit (or, if we really have to, Teletubbies) is better than 7am standing on a cold station platform; and breakfast all together a little later in the morning is better than coffee at a desk in front of a computer screen. So, whilst our expectations have shifted dramatically it’s still the weekend, and a weekend morning (whatever time it starts) is more enjoyable than the mid-week dash to nursery! 

I know you’re thinking this happens every week, why does she seem so happy to have reached the end of this week? Well, this week has been a little different. This week is the first week since Isaac arrived that both my husband and I have been to work all week; 5 days for Chris, 4 days for me. This is our new routine. Until now one of us has been at home – first me whilst I was on maternity leave and then Chris whilst he took some time out to look after Isaac and try something new by setting up his own business. When I went back to work in January it was tough, looking back on it now, I think it was harder than I even recognised at the time. But it was absolutely made easier by the fact that Chris was at home. He was working but he was there. On Mondays (my day at home) he was there to watch Isaac whilst I had a shower, I could leave Isaac at home napping whilst I did the weekly shop, he could sneak a couple of hours with us both on some Mondays to do something fun and he could eat dinner with us every Monday. It was then boys days on Tuesdays and Fridays and we supplemented Isaac being at home with 2 days a week at nursery. Until 3 weeks ago, I could work as late as I needed, go in on my days off if I chose to, go to the gym in the evenings, see friends or go to client events without the feeling that I was planning some kind of military operation. The default position was Chris was at home. I recognise that this made my transition back into work at the start of this year so much easier for Isaac and me. 

Now, as Chris has started a new job, we have a new ‘normal’ and it involves a lot of team work and organisation. After two 4 day weeks for Chris this was the first week where we truly tested our plan. And whilst we are both extremely tired, and Isaac is not the happiest he’s ever been, we have got to the end of the week. We both got to work every day, Isaac got to nursery, he got picked up on time and the house is still standing (note, I didn’t say tidy!).

Things have changed and we are adjusting to our new normal but this week has proved that it is do-able. And with both of us at work, there is already a shift in our expectations of each other. I don’t expect Chris to have done all the jobs around the house when I get home (which I was terrible at when he was working at home) and tidying the house, doing the washing, cooking dinner are all shared responsibilities now, and whoever gets a chance (or has the energy) first, does them. We both still have the opportunity to work late or stay in London to see friends on certain evenings of the week and the other will be responsible on those days for getting home for Isaac. 

Things have changed a lot. Isaac has noticed and is letting us know he knows. Crying at nursery drop-off (which he has never done), and being either very clingy when he’s at home or, in Chris’s case, completely the opposite and shouting “no” at him. This is the hardest bit. I know we will all get used to it soon but it’s proving to be tough. 

In the meantime, whilst we are getting our heads and hearts around the emotional side of the new plan, we are continuing to learn little tricks that make our lives easier on a practical level. One major perk of having two salaries again is that we have our cleaner back (which I love) and we have gone back to online shopping (which I do once a week and Chris unpacks..) Life admin happens on the train on the way into and home from work and catch-ups take place whilst we cook dinner and before we fall silent in front of the latest season of Grey’s. And whilst I can just about still get away with not ironing Isaac’s clothes (the creases are so much smaller on small clothes..) I hold one piece of advice from another mum close to my heart – you don’t need to iron. Absolutely right. 

Times (better) forgotten 

Three things have happened in the past couple of weeks that have prompted me to write this blog.

The first is that I read the chapter in The Unmumsy Mum Diary where Sarah Turner sets out the pros and cons of having baby number 3. It may have just been the way she wrote it but it appeared to come across that the cons outweighed the pros. The cons were sensible concerns, like going through the birth, the fact kids are expensive, they require more room (in your house and your car) and another baby requires you to divide your attention by another multiple. On the other hand, children are pretty awesome (I’m summarising the pros!). The irony is that I read that chapter shortly after Sarah Turner (the Unmumsy Mum) revealed that she was expecting her third baby. Clearly heart overruled head. This also coincided with the announcement that William and Kate were expecting their third baby, the news of which was reported widely and sparked many conversations and debates on social media around the decision to have more children. I assume Kate and William don’t have the same “cons” list as many of us, I’m sure they are ok for both money and space, but it did make me reflect on the list put forward by the Unmumsy Mum. 

The third thing which happened was that a friend said to me that whilst a mutual friend was telling her how hard having a newborn was, she said two things: firstly, she didn’t realise it would be “this” hard, and secondly, she didn’t think I (meaning me) had had it so hard. I laughed. Not at her finding it hard (obviously) but the fact that it is so easy to conceal how tough it really is. I hadn’t done it on purpose, it’s just the way it happens, especially when you don’t see or speak to people so often in those first few months after having a baby. Those you see regularly, which (to be honest) was only parents, very close friends and NCT comrades, know most of the lows as well as the highs, but other than that, the stories are censored.

Even my husband and I have censored certain days in our own heads. I asked Chris if he remembered the time we left Isaac on the floor in his room and shut his door to drown out his crying. I sat next door on our bed and sobbed. Chris doesn’t remember. Also, in those early days, whilst Chris was out of the house for 12 hours at a time at work, there were so many tears even he didn’t see. We both remember the day when I rang him and just sobbed down the phone, unable to even string a sentence together, because I couldn’t do anything to stop Isaac crying. We remember (although I’m sure we no longer fully appreciate) the torture of sleep deprivation in the early days, and despite what every book and healthcare professional said, we would fall asleep on the sofa or in our bed with Isaac on us, not out of choice but just because we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer. These things stand out but most of those first 6 months were a blur. Days and nights just blended into one, there was no real concept of bedtime, and waking up at 10am didn’t feel like a lie in when it was preceded by a night of broken sleep. I find it unbelievable that I can no longer tell you how often I fed Isaac in those early days or when he napped or for how long. I remember people saying “is he feeding again? Surely not?” a lot, but if it stopped him crying I didn’t care. I remember that he didn’t nap (at all!!) for a very long time but now it feels like there was never a time when he didn’t nap for a set amount of time in his cot like he does so well now. I can pinpoint when he started to sleep through the night, although I didn’t realise at the time that that was the start of a new routine. The reason I can put a month on it is because we went away a week or so after he started sleeping through and I was absolutely petrified that being away would ruin what we had appeared to have achieved (so much so that I briefly contemplated cancelling the holiday all together!). 

Isaac crying every time we would sit down to eat, Chris having to cut up my food so I could eat over Isaac breastfeeding, plans cancelled, ‘date nights’ postponed, Isaac crying, me crying, the fun of baby classes trumped by Isaac’s very different agenda, sheer exhaustion, the realisation that life as you knew it had been completely turned on its head and so many tears (did I mention the tears??), and this is all without even mentioning the birth. Whilst I don’t want to erase those memories, as they form part of my son’s life, it’s clear that we just pop most of them to one side and put a lid on them. 

Writing this has brought back memories that I hadn’t thought about until now, and if I’m honest, I will gladly put back where they belong. At some point, maybe when I’m writing my own pros and cons list, they will come back up, but for now, whilst we are loving the joys of having a 17 month old toddler, I think they are times better forgotten.

Two sets of Grandparents, two lots of love (two babysitting options!) 

This morning was a break from the usual routine for me as I left my son with his Grandad whilst I hopped on the train into London. Today is usually Daddy’s day but, as he had a meeting first thing, Grandad came down super early to look after Isaac so I could get to work on time. 
My father-in-law comes down once a week but usually he arrives after I’ve left for work and leaves before I return, so I’m never involved in the ‘handover’. Handing over to Grandad involved a slightly earlier start as I made sure Isaac was up and dressed and sitting eating breakfast before I left. I made coffee for Grandad and me (mine in my thermal cup for the train) and left them both tucking into porridge and fruit. Usually I don’t need to worry about breakfast or getting Isaac dressed as my husband does all that after I leave. He even makes and hands me my coffee as I run out the door! 

As I walked to the station this morning l reflected on how ridiculously lucky my husband and I are to have two sets of Grandparents who love looking after Isaac. My father-in-law was given two days notice about today and he rearranged things to be at our house by 7.30 this morning. He is semi-retired so work isn’t too much of a problem but he lives an hour away (on a traffic-free journey) and I don’t underestimate the added stress of an incredibly early morning start to ensure that he got to us in time for me to leave for work.  
When my husband and I chose to leave London (eventually, when I was 4 months pregnant) it took us a long time to find the right place to live. The right place being somewhere between London and “home” (where we grew up and where both our parents still live) so we could both continue to commute to work but whilst also moving closer to our parents to make spending time with their first Grandchild easier. Whilst I have no doubt our parents wish we could be closer and whilst I know that would make our childcare arrangements much easier (and, of course, cheaper) we both need to be able to commute to London. Anyone who commutes knows that the journey time has to be something you can cope with day in, day out. Moving further away from London with a commute closer to 3 (or even 4) hours a day wasn’t an option for either of us, especially now I know how desperate I am to get back in the evenings before bedtime. I can’t deny that sometimes it’s really hard without having someone on the doorstep. I still remember when Isaac was only a few months old (and having a shower was an achievement!), I visited one of my friends and she mentioned that her father had ‘popped round’ in the morning so she could have a shower and tidy the house. I was unbelievably jealous, and at times like that it, it makes me question why we didn’t just moved back to Kettering when we had the chance! But I love where we live now, and I know, compared to some, an hours journey to our parents isn’t really too bad at all. 

I am writing this, not only after leaving my son with his Grandad this morning, but also on the back of a toddler-free weekend away, where my husband and I dropped Isaac at my parents on Saturday before heading to a wedding and having the absolute luxury of staying away over night (aka having a lie in!) Kids were invited but we chose to leave Isaac behind so we could properly enjoy the day, enjoy spending time with each other and enjoy seeing and catching up with friends whilst having uninterrupted conversations (except the acceptable interruption of someone asking if they could re-fill my glass!) The weekend just gone is the third time we have left Isaac over night with Grandparents and I fully appreciate just how lucky we are to be able to do that. Lucky that we have both sets of parents who are able to do it, who want to do it, who we 100% trust to do it and who we can leave with no fuss and no comprehensive instruction manual! I know both sets of Grandparents love having him to stay and relish the opportunity to spend special time with him without Mummy and Daddy hovering over them, so it works well all round! I should emphasise that Isaac also has a big role to play in this – he is so chilled out, he sleeps through the night (most of the time) and eats almost anything you give him. Although he cried when we left him on Saturday (I’m blaming those teeth!) I knew that within a few minutes, and with the help of one of Nanny’s homemade chocolate muffins, he would have forgotten what he was crying about! 

I couldn’t write this without mentioning the fact Isaac is also lucky enough to have a Great Grandma and Great Grandad. As they live further away it means that visits are not as regular but feel much more special. Mornings in Somerset are particularly fun for Isaac as we joke that his Grandma kicks his cot first thing in the morning so she gets play time before my husband and I wake up! We shouldn’t complain though, early morning playtime means a lie in for Mummy and Daddy!! And the memories my husband has of childhood holidays in Somerset are starting to be re-lived through Isaac, and it’s awesome to watch. 

For some, leaving a toddler with Grandparents is a way of life that they couldn’t imagine any other way. For others it’s simply not possible. For us, it feels like an incredible luxury that means we can go to work without relying on full-time nursery, we can enjoy regular nights out with friends or just a well-needed ‘date night’ for the two of us, and we can plan weekends away with minimal fuss. Most importantly, it means Isaac gets invaluable time with his Grandparents. And for that, we are extremely grateful.