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.

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.

 

Tea party and bumpdate

As I no longer indulge in late night boozing, I was in bed pretty early last night. We were out for my husband’s birthday and went to a gig with some good mates, and I surprised myself by staying alert and happy til well after the band finished!

It may have had something to do with Jamie calling the venue to reserve us a booth at the gig, so I wasn’t forced to stand about getting jostled; instead I had space to sit and get brought soft drinks by all our lovely friends. I really enjoyed getting dressed up in a lovely black and white dress (given to me by a colleague) and putting on some thick eyeliner and red lippy. Everyone told me I looked great, and even if they were just being nice it felt brilliant! Jamie’s been so great, I couldn’t ask for a more considerate husband.

Anyway after bailing about 10:45pm I was up with the lark this morning -Jamie’s actual birthday (and my Mum’s too funnily enough)- to wrap a pressie, blow up a few balloons and pin a birthday banner to our fireplace. It wasn’t the biggest gesture but Jamie was really touched when he finally surfaced, a little rough round the edges.

We invited his mum and dad round for a birthday tea, and I really enjoyed putting together a high-tea style ‘spread’ of sandwiches, cakes, tea, juice and strawberries. I love an excuse to use some of my vintage tableware and my lack of hangover meant I put in 100% effort!

In between housework, catering, blowing up balloons and paying attention to my hung over birthday boy I found the time to take a bump pic too. Am now collapsed on the sofa and Jr is pulling back flips – I can SEE it moving! I thought that was a myth – I was wrong!

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