Through 2 year old eyes

A long time ago I wrote a post about seeing the world through my friend’s 4 year old daughter’s eyes. We had a magical evening with her and I had a real sense of seeing things differently as a result of her excitement and enthusiasm.

Now we have our own (equally) delightful 2 year old and I get to see that magic every day. It’s an honour and a privilege to be with her as she learns things, and understands things and figures things out and I am constantly amazed by the speed her little mind works as she puts things together and works out life and the world.

She has recently become very interested in the sky and loves to see all the different colours in the sunrises and in both the sunny and the grey, cloudy days. We told her that one day she would be able to see the black sky at night time and if there weren’t any clouds she might even see some stars. For days she would periodically jump up on the sofa and look to see if the sky was dark, saying hopefully, ‘see black sky, see stars, no clouds’ before shaking her head and getting down again.

On a recent journey home in the evening, the sun set as we were on our way back and so we were able to point out the black sky to her from the car window. I wish I could do justice to the open expression of wonder and amazement that took over her little face as she stared transfixed out of the window. Occasionally saying ‘black sky, Esther see black sky!’

She saw some lights in the sky from the car and said ‘lots and lots of airplanes’. I was delighted to be able to tell her that they weren’t airplanes, but they were the stars we were telling her she could see at night. And her face lit up with joy. She stared and stared and was completely taken over with wonder.

She still talks about seeing the black sky and the stars and I feel a mixture of a deep joy at seeing how special things are to her for the first time, as well as a slight sadness that I no longer squeal and kick my feet with excitement because of the stars.

The world can be a magical place through a 2 year old’s eyes.

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Oh it’s because he’s a boy

I seem to have come across The Gender Issue a few times recently. Whether in conversation, or material I’ve read, or comments I’ve overheard.

It seems especially significant for me at the moment as I am looking at my little girl and the world around us and wondering what her future will be. What kind of girl will she be, what kind of woman?

The other day, as I was leaving the doctors surgery, there was a mum with her little boy- I would guess he was around 2 and a half. And he had the cheekiest little face and was running around from side to side of the waiting room. His mother held him firm as I walked past with Little One and said to him ‘look how good the little girl is, not running around.’ I smiled at her.

As I walked out, however, I heard her say to someone else ‘why can’t he be good like that?’ And the answer she got was… wait for it… ‘oh, it’s because he’s a boy.’

I wanted to march straight back in there and challenge her. Did she realise what she was saying??? I was offended on behalf of my daughter that it be assumed the only reason she was quiet and good was because she was a girl. And I was offended on behalf of my friends with sons, the implication being that boys are naughty and wild.

I was asked recently if I thought that males and females are essentially the same? And I answered that no, I don’t think they are. I think that men and women are completely equal, not not necessarily the same. I’ve been mulling over this a lot in the weeks since then and maybe I want to change my answer. Maybe it’s not that males and females are intrinsically different but society conditions them to be so. Or maybe that conditioning has arisen because there are some generalised differences between the sexes. I’m not sure.

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It’s the old ‘nature or nurture’ debate, but essentially I think that regardless of which it is, there are serious problems that occur when boys and girls, and men and women are treated differently.

I heard a brilliant talk by Reshma Saujani this week (here) entitled Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection. She talks about how little boys are taught to run, jump off things, climb high. Little girls are taught to sit, smile pretty, colour, make things. And in that one simple difference, boys learn to take risks, and girls play it safe. Girls don’t do anything unless they know they’ll be good at it because girls are expected, by themselves and society’s conditioning, to be perfect and not to fail.

I know this is true because it is me. I am not brave. I struggle constantly with perfection because I can’t stand to fail. I can’t stand for people to see that I can’t do it, and I can’t bare to admit to myself that I’m not good enough.

I think about all of this, and I talk about all of this, because I want to teach my little girl to be brave. I want her to climb high, and try things just to see what it’s like- whether she succeeds at them or not. I want her to know, deep down inside, that she has nothing to prove. It’s a tricky one, because I was encouraged to run and jump and reach as high as I wanted. I was told that I could do anything, and yet still I have this struggle and this need to be perfect.

I read a great statement this week from the singer and entrepreneur Clare Bowditch (and I’ll omit the profanities!)

“We can torture ourselves with, I’m not enough, I’m never enough. I don’t have this bit together, I don’t have that together. What if we’re already perfect? What if we’re completely, exactly where we’re meant to be and the only challenge is to have the inner courage to be ourselves, to be real?”

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It is complicated and very not simple to raise a boy or a girl without any of the stereotypical influence from our society and our history. But I think that if it all boils down to growing children who become adults who have courage to be themselves then that’s half the battle won.

Don’t judge me, I’m doing my best.

I’ve been thinking recently about how parenthood (and perhaps more specifically motherhood) makes everything you do open and vulnerable to comment, opinion and judgement. I’ve had strangers stop me and tell me off for one thing or another and I wonder what it is about babies that makes people feel like they have the right to open comment?

The thing is, that somehow, whether you want to or not, you end up being forced into one or another parenting ‘type’ based on your every decision about looking after your baby. Decisions which, by the way, are usually somewhere between educated guesswork and complete stabs in the dark, because no parent has a clue what they’re doing and don’t let anyone fool you otherwise.

The bottom line is that every baby is unique and not like any other, every mum is unique and not like any other, and every family is unique and not like any other. So comparison is not only futile but actually laughable. No-one but each individual family knows of the specific details and circumstances that have led to each decision.

But all the same different ‘camps’ of parenting seem to exist and I certainly can’t help sometimes feeling like I’m being ‘boxed’ into one or another.

Do you breastfeed or bottle feed?
Is your baby in disposable nappies or cloth ones?
Do you baby wear or have a pushchair?
Do you wean baby-led or parent-led?
Do you go with sleep training or gentle sleep?
Does your baby watch TV or are there no screens?

The list goes on. And I don’t think it’s just my general dislike of being pigeon-holed that makes me struggle with all these distinctions.

When it comes to babies I think most parents feel so unsure and unsteady at each step. Are we doing the right thing? Is this the best thing for our child? Is doing this/not doing this going to give the childhood we want for them?

And the added difficulty is that on top of all these big, big questions, parents are often coping with being emotionally and physically exhausted, which of course has a huge impact on decisions that are made and remade.

It’s all very well confidently and absolutely stating that you will never, ever use the TV as a babysitter and that there can be no greater evil in a child’s life. But when you’ve had a grumpy, clingy baby for an entire week and you’re sick of desperately trying to cook meals, do the dishes, hang the washing out, hoover the living room and empty the dishwasher with a small person crying and hanging off your legs, there is no greater relief than the 7.43 minutes offered by ‘Hey Duggee’. Or better yet, the 18.75 minutes that Mr Tumble so happily gives.

This video illustrates this quite well, albeit rather cheesily* 🙂

I know that I have been so blessed and fortunate with a group of ‘mum friends’ with whom I can be completely myself. We don’t have to all do the same things, or be in the same categories for parenting, but we can still openly, rawly and honestly share our successes and failures without being judged or boxed.

It’s the most freeing place to be because I know that no matter how much I feel like I’ve failed, or how worried I am about making the right decision, that I have friends, mums, who are walking along beside me, just trying to do their best too, and not making any pretences to the contrary.

And so I say to any other mums or dads: don’t let anyone judge you or label you. And don’t let yourself ever judge or label anyone else. We’re all doing our best, and that’s the best that a little one could ever need.

*But clearly she should have put the brake on before letting go of the pram. Rookie error…

 

 

First Shoes

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I took the little one to a big grown up shoe shop today, to have her big grown up feet measured for the first time and to buy her big grown up first pair of shoes.

Whether it’s clichéd or not it feels like quite a milestone. My baby can walk. She loves to wander around the living room bringing me story books to read, and she loves to climb the stairs on her way up to bed. She loves following me through to the kitchen for her lunch and she loves to toddle across the landing to the bathroom for her bath.

But these gorgeous little shoes symbolise that she will soon be walking away from me. She will walk away from me and towards others- friends, nursery, school, job and beyond. I hope and pray that she will always walk back, but every day she’s taking steps, both actual and metaphorical down her own path.

Last week we were shopping in town and she was getting fed up of being in the carrier so I set her down to walk back to the car alongside me. She giggled and chattered away the whole way- and refused to let me hold her hand. It turns out my little one isn’t going to have difficulty finding her own independence, with or without new shoes!

It’s a bit soppy I know, but the box that her new shoes came in has the following poem written on the underside of the lid:

This is the box that carried home your very first pair of shoes.
The shoes that took care of your soft, squidgy feet.
The feet that took those wobbly first steps.
These are the shoes that will remind me of how cute you were then.
And how proud I am of you today. 

Keep walking little one. I’ll always be here when you come back.

10 Things I Thought I Would Never Do…

… and probably secretly mocked other people for doing until I had a baby:

  1. Pick someone else’s nose- bogie diving can be so rewarding!
  2. Change baby’s nappy and then smell it- even though I know it stinks because we had to evacuate the room she was sitting in at the time
  3. Lick my finger and rub food off someone else’s face- and no, I don’t just mean the baby here
  4. Lick the spoon when baby refuses that last mouthful- pumpkin, prune and apple puree isn’t actually that bad…
  5. Reheat a cup of tea in the microwave. Multiple times
  6. Leave the house wearing sick/snot/biscuit smeared trousers because I haven’t got the time (or clean clothes) to change
  7. Wipe a dribble of food from baby’s chin and then lick my finger clean because I don’t have a wipe or cloth nearby
  8. Discuss at length the shape, size, texture, smell, consistency and frequency of not only my baby’s poo, but that of all my friends’ babies
  9. Take baby to the bathroom with me when I go to the toilet. It feels a bit odd to be watched while weeing but better that than a screaming baby because I’ve left the room without her
  10. Sit and watch my baby sleeping because in that moment there is nothing else more important to do in the whole world.

Me, my baby and I

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I wouldn’t usually put photos of our baby on the internet. She’s going to grow up in a world so different from the one in which I did, and I don’t want her to get to 18 and feel like she’s had no say in how many people in the world have seen images of her. I want that to be her decision.

But, I hear you say, you’ve gone and said all that right beneath a photo of your baby.

I know that. I was just explaining why I wouldn’t usually put up photos. And you’ll notice that this picture doesn’t show her face. That’s deliberate.

But I really like this picture and I wanted to share a thought about it.

This baby has had a really difficult week. She’s right in the middle of a growing phase, she’s getting frustrated by all the things that she can’t do, she’s been teething badly this week and she’s got a bit of a virus that might just be making her feel a little more miserable about the world. So while this has all meant that I’ve felt very maternal and loving towards her, wanting to take away her discomfort, wanting to help her to learn and wanting to soothe her pain, I feel like I too have had a difficult week. Or at least my ear drums have, because they’ve suffered the seemingly non-stop screaming and whinging.

A few days ago I decided that I couldn’t face going home where I knew everything I did would result in a little person throwing herself back angrily and shouting at me at the top of her lungs. So we went to some local gardens for a little walk. I bought a coffee and we sat in a quiet, secluded grassy area in the afternoon sun.

And as I sat among the peace of the trees, and smiled at the odd bumble bee bouncing between the clover, I looked at my baby girl and was hit again with the enormity of her existence. She tapped on the grass with Sophie (if you don’t know who Sophie is, ask someone with a small child) to see if it could be trusted and every now and then turned to me and grinned. I marvelled at everything she can do, at how much she has grown and changed in less than a year. I so often have to pinch myself to believe she is actually real because it all just seems too wonderful, too precious to be true.

It seems to me that it’s an important thing to do every now and then- to sit down together, away from everything and everyone else, and to be reminded of the joy and wonder that is my little girl.

Stretch marks and squishy bits

One of the thing that you are completely unprepared for when it comes to having a baby is the body that you get left with at the end of it. All I had ever thought about was what it would be like to gradually get bigger during pregnancy.

We care a lot about how we look. I think that I, along with thousands of other women across the country, struggle with Reflectionitis. This is a genuine affliction. If you don’t believe me then look it up for yourself. (Actually no, don’t do that.) But for all intents and purposes it could be a real thing.

Reflectionitis essentially refers to the condition where a person looks at themselves in a mirror and hates what they see. Other symptoms can include self-deprication, being overly self-critical and an assumption that when someone pays a compliment they are either lying or blind. I’m sure many of you will be able to associate with this.

Our society and our world constantly bombard us with the image of the perfect body. It is tanned, hairless, flat in all the ‘right’ places and curved in all the ‘right’ places and can most often be found on the cover of a magazine. In fact I don’t think there is anything more than a handful of bodies that naturally fit that description in the entire world, if any. Plunging the the rest of us into a permanent state of Reflectionitis.

So, having set the scene, we now come to a body that has produced another human being. Growing a baby is a really big deal, and when I began to produce a solar-eclipsing bump some of my lovely close friends asked me if I was feeling ok about my changing shape. I was delighted to be able to reply honestly that I really was ok. I loved my growing bump because of the life that was inside it.

But fast-forward almost 1 year and I will admit that I don’t love my changed body so much. Reflectionitis has reared it’s ever so perfectly made up head again. In place of the pride I felt at my huge bump, I now feel self-conscious about the new droopy and wobbly bits that have appeared. I had never known before, nor ever had cause to think, that growing a person and then transferring that person into the outside world would change my body in so many ways. It feels noticeable in how many of my clothes sit differently on me now that I have larger boobs, wider hips, a bigger waist.

I was lamenting my feelings of roundness to my husband recntly and he reminded me that my body is different now because it grew a person. I feel like you should read that last sentence again because it’s really important. My body was built with the capacity to grow another human being (with a little bit of help of course). I have spent the last few days trying to focus on that.

So when I look in the mirror and I start to feel the symptoms of Reflectionitis creeping back in, I try to deliberately look at the squishy bits, and the stretch marks and all the bits that are different now and I tell myself that these are souvenirs, trophies and awards. I bet my daughter thinks my body is great- it made her, grew her, sustained her, nurtured her and it continues to do so. Without my squidgy bits she wouldn’t be here.

So I propose a challenge, as much to myself as anyone else, to stop holding up an airbrushed model as our ideal body. It isn’t realistic, it isn’t natural and it actually seeks to erase all the beautiful and mysterious reminders of how amazing a mother’s body is in producing new life. I invite you to join me, whether you’ve had a baby recently or not. Let’s try to look in the mirror and smile.