Good boy

I’m just on my way back home from a gorgeous wedding of close friends, Jake and Ash.

It was lovely to have a few hours away from parenthood as my husband and I danced up a storm and didn’t have any parental responsibility for an afternoon.

But despite being away from my little poppet, I was still thinking about him.

More specifically about the phrase ‘good boy’.

I’ve heard Jenson’s nursery workers use that phrase when praising him for something he’s done and I’ve heard others tell him that he’s a ‘good boy’ for similar circumstances.

But it sticks in my throat when I hear someone say ‘good boy’ to him and it’s not something I say to him when he’s shown skill or kindness or compliance.

Because I want to know that he is intrinsically good.

Regardless of his skill, kindness or compliance with my desires.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I’ll give him a free pass to do whatever he likes or that I don’t acknowledge what he’s done well.

If he does something out of line, I’ll say ‘that wasn’t nice’ or ‘be gentle please’.

And I say ‘bravo’ (I speak to him in French, this isn’t a reflection of my gentleman’s english!) or ‘bien fait’ – well done when he’s done something well.

I say the behaviour is out of line instead of saying he is out of line for doing something I disapprove of.

And I say the behaviour good instead of telling him he is good for doing something I approve of.

It’s semantics, but I think it’s important nevertheless.

Because I want him to grow up knowing that he is good.

Regardless of what he has done or not done.

Words do not do justice to the strength I feel for these words and the intensity of desire I have for him to know that he is good.

Because I believe this is a foundation – the belief that he is good – which is key for him to stand strong in life.

To feel able to follow his heart instead of hustling for the approval of others.

To not overly question his decisions but to trust his instincts.

To be happy in his own skin knowing that he is ok just as he is.

Part of me thinks ‘is this really important enough for me to raise this with his nursery?’

It’s just semantics.

And it’s not the only thing that will decide whether he has good self-esteem or a knowledge that he is fine as he is.

It’ll be Gregg and I showing him that we love ourselves, trust ourselves, believe we’re intrinsically ok.

It’ll be us respecting him and giving him enough freedom as he makes decisions for himself.

It’ll depend on us engaging in dialogue when he questions our boundaries.

Not to bend to his will, but to show him that he has a voice, is important, is intrinsically worthy of love and respect.

But stopping the ‘good boy’ comments seem like a good start.

And my gut tells me to raise it with his nursery.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, dear friend.

Driving home for Christmas

We’re en route to Chesterfield for Christmas with the Shemwell family and I’m feeling nostalgic about the trip we made last year to Bristol for festive celebrations and the birth of Jenson.

I’ve got a mix of excitement for the big day with my bubba and sadness at not being with my parents and sister for Christmas Day.

This is no slight on my parents-in-law who show me nothing but kindness. It’s just sad to think we won’t be with my sister for her last Christmas before starting a new chapter in her life over in Australia.

I so wish I could split myself to be with her to get wrapped up in Christmas excitement, give each other a sneaky Christmas present before church, sing the descant to carols together (her like a boss, me voice semi-squeaking at the high notes), wait in anticipation for presents post-lunch (which always seems an age away).

My sister means the world to me, as you may have guessed!

But with this melancholy is a real excitement for Christmas Day as a parent – my first one.

I can’t wait to get up early as a three on Christmas morning, excited at the day ahead.

I can’t wait to dress Jenson in a reindeer onesie for the day.

I hope we’ll go out for a walk in the crisp daylight, wishing ‘merry Christmas’ to others out on a similar stroll.

I look forward to feasting as a family, giving Jenson new food to try and sneaking him a bit of my pudding to enjoy.

I’m looking forward to Jenson’s interest in all the wrapping and none of the gifts!

I can’t wait to mark the first Christmas milestone as a parent.

Relief

I’m part laughing to myself writing this – as soon as I took the pressure off myself and said that I wouldn’t be writing to you until my Christmas break, I have something that I want to get off my chest…the relief I’m feeling about Jenson’s feeding.

I’ve been fretting for a while now that he isn’t eating enough. He just doesn’t seem that interested in a lot of food and isn’t fitting into the pushed mantra that he should be eating three meals by now and two snacks.

We’ve seen a nutritionist partly due to Jenson’s vegan diet and partly due to the small variety of food that he’s eating…and it’s been on my mind more than it should.

Why won’t he eat?!

In my head, every other baby I know is eating. I see babies stuffing their faces with roasted vegetables, full-blown meals and fruit pieces when Jenson is just not there.

He eats a massive breakfast and then picks at this and that throughout the day.

It had got to a stage where we were almost forcing food into him (despite the alarm bells ringing in my head that this was not respectful to him as an individual) and were putting so many thoughts on him:

  • He is mistrustful of the new food we’re giving him
  • He’s holding out for sweet food
  • He isn’t open to trying new food
  • He’ll never get better at eating

But then a few things happened.

My good friend, Charlie, recommended a book called ‘My Child Won’t Eat’ which has been so interesting and a real relief, talking about the realities of childhood eating.

She shared with me that eating is not always easy for her with her son – making me feel not alone in this.

Another good friend, Jess, talked about how her son doesn’t fit into the NHS approved regime. She’s spoken before about how her son loves pasta (something that Jenson has no interest in) and I’d envisaged him eating it by the bucketload and eating everything in sight while I’m at it. It turns out that it’s not the case – he’s a bit particular too.

I suddenly felt not alone and saw the ‘three meals and two snacks a day’ exactly as it is – a framework, a guideline, a theoretical model which will not fit every baby.

What a relief!

And so I’m sharing this for all the mamas and papas out there who are maybe worried about their baby’s weight (or future mamas/papas) so you know that you’re not alone if you go through this.

Privilege

I’ve just listened to a podcast – dear sugar – and their episode on privilege. Both male/female privilege but, more difficult for me to hear, white privilege.

My throat is sticking, like I’m struggling to get the words out, as I try to write about how I’m immersed in a bubble of white privilege. Less of risk of being suspected of misdeeds, with more chance of being interviewed for roles, treated better than my sisters with black or brown skin.

I’m not saying this to berate myself, although I do berate how I have acted in some instances, but as a general opening and noticing of how life is not the same for me as it is for others. How I get more opportunities just due to the colour of my skin. Skin determined by luck rather than merit.

This noticing happened a while ago, before I listened to the podcast episode, when I was feeding Jenson at the side of the road. Caught short, away from home, I lowered myself onto a step to feed him with my bag beside me. I was speaking to a friend at the same time – multitasking at its finest! – and found myself suddenly pulling my bag closer to me as a black man wearing a hoodie walked closely by me.

Many others had walked on by, some just as close to me. But it was him, a man minding his own business, who had me reacting instinctively. He was unsafe. He was not to be trusted. And it’s really stuck with me.

I had revealed my propensity to judge others based on the colour of their skin. My racism in action.

It has provoked something in me – a reckoning of who I am and who I want to be. But I didn’t know what to do until I heard Catrice M Jackson, guest on the podcast, speak about the importance of changing this white privilege in our children by acting differently.

Not locking my car doors when we go through an ‘unsafe’ (usually black-dominated) area.

Buying Jenson toys that are diverse in showing the whole human race.

Choosing books to read with Jenson that have a variety of protagonists.

I’m left with lots of food for thought and the knowledge that if we are going to have a world with less injustice in the future, it starts with me. It starts with us.

Tender

I shared with you recently about a lot going on in my life. Connecting so strongly with the grief in my heart, feeling the call to more, returning to work after the life changing event of becoming a mum, learning all the lessons in store for me about mothering my beautiful, spirited son.

I was lying next to him tonight, feeding him and missing Great British Bake Off (thanks, my little joker. You knew I was wanting to watch it, I’m sure!) and once I accepted the reality that I was going to miss it, I stopped fighting the frustration and tapped into what I was feeling.

And here’s what I felt – a tenderness inside me like a bruise.

Being bashed around so much with exponential personal growth, changes to everything I know and the uncertainty and unpredictability of being a mother and not knowing what the future holds for me.

I am tender and a bit battered and a bit bruised.

There’s no denying how I feel – if just is. And there’s no real changing what’s going on for me – it’s my journey.

What I do know is that I need to show myself kindness and gentleness. I need everyone around me to show me the same gentleness and kindness too as I live this season of my life.

I know if won’t always be this way. But it’s this way at the moment.

There’s no great reveal or revelation about what I can do about where I am. But just expressing it – sharing it with you, dear friend – lightens the load and helps me walk the path that I’m on right now.

It’s not the easiest of roads but I’m sure it’ll lead to somewhere great.

What he’s teaching me…

My little peanut is almost eight months old. I can’t believe it! He’s nearly been out in the world for longer than he was inside me growing. At times these eight months have seemed like a life sentence (sorry Jenson, but it’s true!) with sleep deprivation, inexplicable crying and endless rounds of nursery rhymes and distraction techniques to soothe him. But at times I look back and think “how can he already be two thirds of his way through his first year?!”.

One thing is for sure – he’s my biggest teacher. One I didn’t know I needed and couldn’t have planned for when he made his appearance known to me.

I was lying in bed yesterday morning, looking at my sweet boy as he slept next to me and I thought of all the things he’s teaching me…and here are the three things that spring to mind most keenly.

Patience

Oh I’ve had to be patient so often with my little one in these first eight months. When he’s up at 5:30 on most days and I want to shout to the heavens “why will my baby not sleep past daybreak?!?”. When he’s crying and I can do nothing to settle him. When I’m feeling a bit under the weather but have to bring it for him. When I cook a lovely meal for him only to have it rejected. When he wanted to be held in my arms to sleep for the first six months of his life.

Patience, he’s teaching me to have a bucketful of patience.

I’m sure there will come a day when I snap at him, yell with frustration and scream to who-knows-what about what a difficult life it is to be a parent, but for now I feel like my little guy is teaching me slowly what it means to have patience. The importance of taking a deep breath, the ability to look at the bright side of things I’m finding challenging (never have my days been so long with the early starts!), the joy of having him which makes up for all the inconveniences of parenthood.

He’s teaching me to go with the flow and let go of every notion of control I had before.

Presence

I’ve always been a planner. I’m first in line (or maybe a high second place) to plan my sister’s wedding when she meets Mr Right. I know where I’d like to be in 3 years time. I’m always looking ahead.

Too much sometimes.

And I quickly discovered that my little boy is the medicinal tonic to my future focus. He calls me to stay firmly in the present with him. Especially when I’m on my phone – how he hates it when I’m glued to the screen!

He drags me firmly into the land of now as we explore the world around us. Time speeds past as we examine our reflections in a doorknob, splash around in the bath, laugh at games we play together. When we’re together, there’s no thoughts of work or relationships or anything other than being with him.

And it’s beautiful.

Sometimes it’s frustrating too (see above for the patience he’s building in me!) as I want to gallop away to plan future stuff. But for the most part, being called to be present with him is a reprieve from how I’ve learnt to (dis)function and it’s brought so much peace to my life.

Some people pay hundreds of pounds on a retreat and in yoga or meditation classes to learn how to stay present…but I’m learning it from my baby who seems to be a natural, my own little mindfulness guru.

A different path

Becoming a mum has shown me what is truly important in life – my family, having a job that stretches me, being able to travel and explore this world. But it has also thrown so much up in the air for me as I question how I can contribute more, how I can leave this world in a better state for my boy and those who are growing up with him.

I can’t just go to work and return to be with him. It’s not my path to just do my job and return home to pour everything into my son. I feel the call to contribute more.

The weight of responsibility of being his mum has made me discover the responsibility of being a citizen of the world and has started me questioning what this means to me. Whether it’s playing a part in reforming local government and politics, the medical system, the environment or the education system, I feel something developing. A path just out of sight beyond my vision that I know I’m going to tread at some point in the future.

He has shifted my priorities and shown me a new path I never thought possible.


So here’s to my boy as he’s on the cusp of eight months old. I can’t imagine my life without him.

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Six months

I’ve been a parent for six months…bloody hell! How did that happen and how did this time pass both at a snails pace and in the blink of an eye?!

From a sleeping, crying, mewling little baby to a little being looking more and more like a toddler with each passing day. It’s incredible to see how much he has changed and how much I’ve changed during this time.

He now stands (sometimes unaided when he’s holding onto something), sits with such core strength, grabs anything in his reach, beams for us, strangers and for the camera…and yet some things don’t change. He’s still as determined as ever to sleep curled next to me, to feed or be rocked to sleep.

And he’s still as spirited as the very first day when he screamed the hospital down. The loudest, most determined baby on the block.

What about me? My changes are less perceptible, more internal but life changing nevertheless. My ability to be patient has increased, I now know I am stronger than I could have ever believed (from pushing his 4 kilo heft out of me to surviving on little sleep and getting twice done what I would have before), I have less tolerance for bullshit and for getting involved in those silly games that people play in life (psychological ones, not things like buckaroo or uno 😜).

And I feel a new steeliness inside me. If I’m going to leave my little person in someone else’s care, it better be for a job I am passionate about – something that lights me up. Otherwise why would I leave my little one?

And my decisions have more weight than before. Staying binge free and dealing with what’s going on underneath the surface is not just for my own good but for him too. So he doesn’t take on the practices that have been so harmful to me in the past. Sure, he’ll have his own struggles, but as much as I’m able to, they won’t be passed on from me.

And I’ve found joy in the small things. Seeing him smile, making him laugh by singing silly songs, watching Gregg being a better father than I could have ever dreamt him becoming, seeing the love of our families for Jenson.

I’ve also learnt to reach out and ask for help, to maintain boundaries and say no. To ask for what I really want instead of just wishing people could read my mind.

All in six short months.

And I find myself asking what the next six months will bring for both myself and my little half-Birthday boy. Adding in work to the mix for me, him spending most of the time with his father who will be on shared parental leave…

What I do know is that it will go by in the blink of an eye and that I will share what is happening with you, dear friend.

Returning to work

I’ve had a few dreams recently about going back to work and they weren’t the nicest. In one, my husband, Gregg suddenly wouldn’t look after our son. I had to get a friend to look after Jenson at the last minute and spent the whole of my first day at work worried about how he was doing and not concentrating on the tasks at hand.

I’ve had another similar dream about leaving my son recently and it’s made me think about what is going on. I mean, I want to go back to work and have Gregg spend quality time looking after him.

I know a lot of it is the unknown. I’ve got no clue how Jenson will be without me there to comfort him. It’s all he’s known and it’s all I’ve known – the thought of Gregg doing this task, my task, of comforting our son, makes me feel a bit apprehensive (what if Gregg can’t calm him easily) and sad (I love bringing him comfort, will this change the bond I have with him?).

There are also questions in my mind about how I’ll be at work – I used to give my absolute all to work but with less sleep and a baby I’ll be keen to get home for every night I’m unsure about how I’ll adapt back in the workplace. I know I’ll give my all, but my all might be less than before and this makes me nervous. It’s the reason why I’ve committed to fortnightly coaching sessions as I navigate this new reality of working full time and being a devoted mother.

I know there’s also something in this anxiety about control. During these past five months I’ve taken most of the decisions about Jenson’s care and have taken what’s known as an attachment approach focused on ensuring that Jenson feels secure and safe even if this means allowing him to feed to sleep on me and not forcing him to sleep in his own bed amongst other things. But with Gregg in charge, I’ll no longer be the main decision maker. About what Jenson eats, how he sleeps, what activities he does, how his time at home is spent. I trust Gregg and, as 50% his guardian, he has the right to have an opinion about how Jenson is raised. But I like being in control and this will take that control away from me.

But I know it’s right – I know we’ve done the right thing for our family by sharing the leave. So even if I’m anxious, I’ll continue to remind myself that this is an active choice we’ve made.

  • A choice that is right for me as I love my job and don’t want to slow down my development as I enter motherhood
  • A choice that is right for my husband so he can form a strong bond with our son
  • A choice that is right for Jenson so he learns that both males and females can be carers
  • A choice that is right for our society to normalise dad’s taking a more active role in the family care.

So even though I feel anxious subconsciously and may continue to have these dreams until my return to work, I know I’m doing the right thing.

We’re off!

So here we are at Gatwick airport, just over an hour away from taking off on our family adventure in Asia.

Over 33 days we’ll explore and travel through Cambodia and Vietnam and I’m feeling a mixture of joy, exhaustion (I’ve been up since 4am with a certain someone!) and nerves at how this will all go.

Because this is new and scary to me in so many ways:

  • Taking a long-haul 17 hour flight with a baby
  • Caring for Jenson in the heat and humidity
  • Having time in Vietnam where we’ve got no firm plans (so we can go with the flow and plan a few days in advance instead of being stuck with plans if they don’t suit Jenson)
  • Travelling with my husband for over a month and being out of our comfort zones together
  • Having to barter when I don’t have much patience in me or fight to stand up for a fair price (at least not when I’ve been awake since 4am!)
  • Being out of a routine and far away from friends and family

And yet it’s also right for us as a family:

  • Starting our family as we mean to go on – full of adventures
  • Reconnecting with Gregg when so much of motherhood has involved a laser focus on Jenson and not much else
  • Learning and growing and exploring a part of the world that I have not yet seen
  • Making the most of our shared parental leave – a rare time when we can both be off work and still have money coming in
  • Exposing Jenson to difference at an early age
  • Learning to live with less – we’ve just taken one travel rucksack with us that weighs less than 18kg
  • Coming back with so many memories to treasure for a lifetime

And so into this adventure I leap.

Hesitant, full of anticipation but sure that this is the right step for me and my family

Perfectly proportioned

I’ve written a lot on this blog about breastfeeding, specifically my troubles producing enough milk and worrying about my baby boy’s weight which started off in the top 25% of baby weights but then sunk quickly to the bottom 9%.

I’ve spent hours expressing milk to top up what he’s getting, taken so many supplements and medication, researched at all hours how to increase my milk fat or general supply.

But no matter what I did, he stuck in the bottom 9%.

I worried that it was me – had I not eaten enough at the start to get my supply going? Were the TV shows I watched too stressful and curbed my supply? Was there something wrong with my diet? Was I to blame?

And then I got angry. At the messages that I heard about needing to breastfeed or failing as a mum. At the high standards I hold which means that if I can’t do something 100%, I view myself as failing. At my body that was not doing what it should be.

And then a few things happened –

1. I went to see a paediatric doctor, who explained that a baby’s birth weight is linked to how efficient the mother is at growing the baby and after the birth, it’s down to ow good the baby is at putting on weight/finding their natural weight.

2. I came away on such a wonderful holiday with close friends and I relaxed. Whether it’s the hearty meals or the wonderful company but I seem to be producing enough milk, more than I’ve done in ages.

3. A break away from routine and the generously helpful hands has given me a bit of space and perspective about Jenson’s weight.

My son is beautifully chubby, with little sausage links and dimples on his arms, a cute round bottom and little double chin.

He’s also petite – he’s not as broad as his little best friend – but he’s perfectly proportioned.

And over the past four months he’s kept on the 9% track. Whether he’s been fed more or less, whether I’ve expressed more or not. He’s doing his thing, growing at his pace.

And so I’m going to remind myself of this if I get home and start to worry again about how he’s doing.

He’s doing fine. He’s doing his thing. We both are doing enough.