Sh’Bam! Girl power n all that…

It’s International Women’s Day. I’ve marked that by wearing purple. I also got up and insisted that Jamie have a lie in, and hoovered the living room, cleaned the kitchen, sorted the washing and filled and ran the dishwasher all while entertaining Adam. Perhaps not the most feminist way to spend IWD but in a sense I feel it was quite fitting.

I’m inspired to write because of IWD – the idea of empowerment and self-fulfillment is appealing at the moment. I have recently realised that I have not felt empowered to participate in things that make me feel good, and benefit me and my family.

After having a baby you (the new you – the mother) slip down your own list of priorities. You used to be near the top, maybe even number one on the list. But now there’s a little person occupying first place, and that’s the way it stays.

Next to that, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about my family and hoping things will all work out for the best. My folks are planning to sell their house (the house I consider to be my family home) and move to Scotland and it’s an uncertain time for us all – will the house sell? Where will they move to? Will we see more of them or less? Is it the right decision? How will I ‘go home’ and visit friends in Northern Ireland? Questions without answers vex me, and always have. I have avoided asking these questions for fear of not having the solutions.

Another big priority is family balance – as in Jamie and I juggling everything we need to juggle so that we can have a flat, a car, a baby, our jobs, some sort of social life and precious precious time to relax. We’ve learned to be incredibly accommodating towards one another and for that I am so so grateful. Well done me for marrying such a great person. Seriously.

And then there’s work – wow, work takes up a lot of my energy despite only being 21 hours a week. It’s a very busy time at work so I am flat out from the moment I arrive til the moment I leave – tethered to my childcare commitments meaning I just need to get it done in the hours I have. Lunch? I’ll eat it at my desk, thanks. And no I don’t have time to ask you about your weekend, in case you decide to tell me.

And hovering in various positions on my priority list: trying to keep in touch with friends; making sure bills get paid; wondering about whether we should move to a suburban starter home and abandon city-centre-living; thinking ‘must lose weight in order to regain some self respect’; feeling guilty about not keeping in touch with everyone I know…

Where’s the bit where I get to feel independent, empowered, nurtured and looked after all at the same time? I forgot that it was important and crucially, that it’s actually MY responsibility. So after a couple of days of fairly sullen soul-searching I decided to take back control. I need to be a priority sometimes too!

I still haven’t lost the ‘baby weight’ (AKA weight) I put on when I was pregnant. I’m not someone who is naturally thin, but nor am I always hopelessly fat. My weight has yo-yo’d since I was in my teens, and my relationship with food and exercise has changed depending on where I have been and what I’ve been doing.

Unsurprisingly, the times in my life when I have been most physically active have been the times when I’ve been thinner and felt better about myself. I think I’ve made two mistakes since putting on weight with Adam:

Dieting. I love food, but I don’t live on junk food. My diet is varied and I enjoy treats as treats, not as my normal food. So dieting merely makes me obsess about food and I ultimately feel like I have to deprive myself, while also making a huge effort to cook things that taste ok without having any calories. Dieting doesn’t work for me for the long term – I get bored and I fall of the wagon, feel bad about it, beat myself up, and reach for the crusty loaf. Conclusion: I need to stop dieting.

Exercise. Since Adam’s birth I have rarely made time to exercise. I assumed that hours of walking around with Adam asleep in the pram would just offset all the tea and cake I was having with my mummy-mates. Nope. There have been many, many weekends where I could have asked Jamie to watch Adam so I could go and do some activity. I went swimming a couple of times but it was more about relaxing and enjoying some ‘me time’ back then. I needed that badly so it took priority. And hey – I was f*cking shattered most of the time anyway. Conclusion: It’s time to get a proper amount of exercise. 45 minutes, three times a week. That’s a start, but I think it’ll help.

Not only will I (hopefully) change shape a bit and lose weight, I look forward to enjoying the endorphins as well as the me-time.

This week I’ve done 100 squats (big mistake – walking was difficult the following day!) three 20 minute yoga sessions, and a 45 minute dance class yesterday. I can’t be sure, but I think I feel distinctly more energetic as a result. Is this directly linked to the exercise, or is it just a feeling of taking pride, of empowerment? I have taken control, and I have taken some time just to be, to focus on where I am and how my body feels (creaky).

Yesterday’s class deserves some comment too. I chose the most random class I could find on a Saturday morning at my local leisure centre. Classes have names like ‘Insanity’ which put me off, but I chose Sh’Bam because it instantly made me smile, and I instantly knew what it would be like. And I was right.

I won’t say much more about Sh’Bam, other than the fact that the instructor was hilarious. He was really nice and encouraging with a good sense of humour, and when things were gong well he’d shout “C’mon ladies SH’BAM!” which made me laugh out loud. At one point he said “That’s why I love Sh’Bam!” with all the cheese and air-punching energy of an American evangelist. The dancing itself was fine, I did my best, and felt great afterwards.

So watch this space. I really hope I can change my lifestyle to include more exercise, enjoy being more active and reap some benefits – mainly weight loss – to feel happier about myself. Life is great at the moment and I love being a mum – but I also love being me, a woman – with all my faults and strengths, and I would do well to remember that more often.

A recipe: baby friendly flapjacks

I’ve finally got this recipe right and these flapjacks are going down a storm with the under-twos. A few friends have asked me for the recipe and since it’s super easy, here it is!

You can of course customise this to the nth degree; we sometimes make pear and ground almond, apple cinnamon and raisin, or banana and peanut butter – what matters is the consistency so I suggest you follow this once and get a feel for the quantities, then get creative. You are also welcome to use non-tinned fruit, obviously, but once I ran out of frozen fruit purée from the early weaning days I realised this is much easier. NB when making these with banana you just use fresh fruit and mash it.

Easy apricot and coconut flapjacks

You will need:

  • 400g tin apricots (in juice, not syrup)
  • 30g butter (you can also use coconut oil, yummy), melted in microwave for 30 sec
  • 1/3 cup desiccated coconut
  • 2.5 cups porridge oats

Method:

Drain the tinned fruit and blitz in a blender or smoothie maker. Adam hates this bit.

Melt the butter or coconut oil in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the fruit and stir together.

Add 1/3 cup of desiccated coconut, followed by the oats.  I add a cup of oats at a time and stir so that I can check the mix isn’t getting too dry. As my lovely friend Angela says, you can always add more ingredients, but you can’t take them away. The mix looks like this:

Ingredients mixed together

 

Line a baking sheet with grease proof paper *THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT* and squidge the mix onto it, flattening to about 1cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave for another 15 min.

Remove from oven and cut into bars or squares while still warm:

IMG_2121

These keep well in the fridge for a few days, probably up to five days but ours have never lasted that long. These are great for a snack on the go, as part of breakfast or any meal really. They’re very portable and full of oaty fruity goodness!

Tips: if swapping out the coconut just add 3 cups of oats e.g. to a tin of apple, and add a handful of raisins to the mix along with a teaspoon of cinnamon. For pear and almond, sub the coconut for ground almonds. I also add a drop of almond extract just because I have some in the cupboard. Vanilla is nice to add too. For banana and peanut butter mash 2 or 3 bananas and add about half a cup of smooth PB, then add oats a cup at a time until the mix comes together.

Thats it! I would love to hear your suggestions for other variations too!

The blind leading the blind? Who’s in charge here?

Since when did I become the one dishing out parenting advice? This morning I found myself ending a message with the legend ‘You can never have too many muslins’ while wishing a friend good luck on leaving the house with her newborn baby girl.

A few hours later it dawned on me just how far we’ve come from that point.

I still remember Adam’s first trip out to the Broughton Deli (still a regular hangout now; he has his regular highchair and we share lunch). He was snuggled into a stretchy wrap and we fussed about whether he was warm enough/too warm, if he would suffocate and if we had enough spare nappies etc for the 200 yard walk. I was all at sea, and my enduring memory is of a sense of ordered chaos. Its a fond memory now but seems like decades ago. A different me, a different Adam.

And what a learning curve it’s been. I want to caveat any advice I give you, should you be a new parent in my company: feel free to ignore me. Advice gets hurled at you from each and every direction in those first few weeks and months. Take on board the stuff that you like the sound of; that sits well with who you are; that suits the way you want to live. The rest is entirely redundant and belongs to another sort of parent.

What would I have done differently? Not much, actually. I believe you need to make your own mistakes to learn independently – something I’m trying to pass on to Adam now as he goes through some massive developmental changes.

I’d maybe have avoided springing out of bed to lift Adam as the first sob rang out of his cute wee bake; he’d maybe be able to settle himself to sleep by now (at 10 months I’ve still got to be in the room for him to nod off). Meh, he’ll do it eventually. I never heard of a three year old who couldn’t fall asleep on their own.

I’ve read a few articles about child development and been interested to find that independent learning is really important for babies. We’re conditioned to intervene almost constantly to keep babies doing what we want them to do, and stop them doing what we don’t. We engage them in structured play and games, songs and stories. We take them to classes and playgroups. We get disappointed when they don’t listen or take part, and allow ourselves to feel guilty or inadequate for that.

Since I stopped worrying about this (along with the sleep, the pressure to do baby led weaning, and the eternal fear that he will be emotionally damaged by something I must be doing wrong) and started letting him ‘free play’ I’ve seen how much fun babies can have when they just use their imagination.

We have a story at bedtime – most of the time he grabs the book (which has a cut out hole on the front cover) and opens it so he can ‘peep’ at me through the window. Once the hilarity of that is over with he will tolerate me reading to him because its a habit now. I know some babies love books and it used to vex me that Adam’s main interest involves trying to eat them.

But then I see him crawl over to his toybox and pull himself up to stand peering into it. He will carefully select what he wants and then spend a while interacting with toys, cruising around different parts of the room, overcoming physical obstacles and whooping with delight at inanimate objects. He doesn’t need any input at all! What is lovely is that he frequently comes over to me to ‘touch base’, give me a toy or pull me down for a cuddle, to make sure I’m watching. He knows I’m there and he feels secure enough to play independently – learning all the time.

So can’t a new parent learn this way too? I feel like I struggled to follow advice from books and websites and peers, to the point where my brain began to fizz and I found myself feeling quite down – as though I was a bit of a failure for not managing all the things I felt I should.

No one was harder on me than… well, me. And yet I’m still rushing to suggest stuff to new mums. I’ve reflected on this today and while I know its just out of a desire to help, I want to be mindful about it. Unsolicited advice can be helpful but can also weirdly make you feel under pressure, like you’re a sandwich short of the full picnic. I don’t want to perpetuate that so I’ll stick to answering questions I’m asked, and making sure my proverbial door is always open.

If I want Adam to learn anything from me, its that he can be confident and have faith in himself. I think I have been on an amazing journey over the past ten months, and have learned a huge amount – most of it just simply through experience. There is just no substitute for ‘on the job training’.

But it IS true, you really cannot ever have too many muslins.

I let him go and do what he wanted at the Mela. Turned out he wanted to join a Senegalese drum circle.

I let him go and do what he wanted at the Mela. Turned out he wanted to join a Senegalese drum circle.

 

the blank canvas

Progress. Time marches on, and we are busy. Busy getting rid of stuff and accumulating new stuff. Busy growing a new human being. Busy decorating the spare room, which is now a gloriously pale white cube. It’s a blank canvas just waiting for us to put our stamp on it.

A bit like our baby I suppose. 

I must confess I haven’t stuck religiously to my desired ‘make do and mend’ path during  the preparations. I’ve certainly given away lots of things to be reused, or sold valuable things to fund our progress. Very little has gone in the bin, and this Sunday I’ll be at the omni centre at 7am to try and flog what’s left of my frivolous, baby-free life. The ‘misc’ if you will. The white elephant in the room.

My plan was to stick to this ‘reuse’ ethic when decorating and furnishing the spare room, and gathering what we need to be ready for the baby. I’ve done quite well with the small stuff – as with maternity clothes I have been really lucky with friends and family donating baby clothes, toys and cloth nappies. I have enough sleepsuits to avoid doing a single wash in the first three months (should I decide that this is appropriate).

Our pram (or ‘travel system’ as they’re now called) is made up of a kindly donated car seat and a £70 Gumtree steal – worth the trip to deepest darkest Penicuik and the imminent prospect of steam-cleaning it. Likewise some larger stuff like a crib and a baby gym have been generously given to the cause by friends and relatives doing their own clearouts. 

And of course we’ve received some lovely gifts of new things – bedclothes, baby-gros and even a little tiny pair of baby crocs! 

Where I’ve failed to stay on the low-impact bandwagon is the big stuff. Now, if you know me you’ll know I adore old furniture. I have been wittering on about mid-century sideboards and art deco dressers for years now, and I’m quite good at finding spontaneous bargains – the problem is finding furniture to order. And then getting the bloody stuff home, up the stairs and suitably cleaned up and (if necessary) decorated within the next few months, with no van and an increasingly unforgiving ‘condition’ that denies me the fervent energy needed to complete even one upcycling project.

No, forgive me Kirstie Allsopp for I have sinned. I have been to IKEA and drunk from the well of flatpack furniture with free delivery and assembly. So we’re getting a new ‘daybed’ and some drawers, a wing chair and our cot from the Swedish wonder. It wasn’t plain sailing either, but took a lot less time and energy than browsing for shabby chic items that meet our needs as a family. I shan’t apologise, of course, because it’s hardly a crime, but I can’t help feeling a wee bit sad not to have fashioned a nursery out of one-offs that we ‘just stumbled on’ at car boot sales or found in a skip.

In a way it feels appropriate to buy some new things (as in really new) as a gesture that this baby is a long term investment. 

Another area I didn’t achieve the green flag was the decorating. I contacted the community repaint project who sell fantastically cheap paint second hand (it’s remixed from leftover and unused paint and sold by this cool project) to see if they had any white emulsion and white gloss. Alas, they didn’t have at the time. I would have happily traipsed to Glenrothes for some but we opted for good old ASDA who had an offer on instead. But you should check out that paint project next time you’re decorating… it’s very cool.

So I’m not beating myself up – we have saved a fortune in cash and carbon by buying second hand where we can – where its safe, easy and really economical. I shall recline on my pristine virgin IKEA mattress and feel the luxury of having splashed out on something really nice for my growing family – in a few short years it will be our son’s or daughter’s first bed too.

So that’s how we’re getting on – our old spare room has been totally vapourised; the remnants of it’s contents are now lurking in corners waiting to be car-booted. The clearout continues apace, and this Saturday a new carpet will be fitted to replace the absolutely skanky navy thing that somehow went like a proverbial hotcake within hours of going on gumtree freebies. When the carpet is in and the furniture arrives, I think that’s when shit will get real. 

The blank canvas won’t stay that way for long.

Obligatory bump pic. 28 Weeks and having a huge day (I swear I look smaller today than I did yesterday):

(bonus shot of cat mid-fucking-off)

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