Becoming

Not to be confused with Michelle Obama’s masterpiece (sorry Mrs O) but I needed a big old “B”title because this is a big old post…

Apologies for the radio silence for the past few months. I haven’t stopped parenting or writing imaginary posts in my head, I still have two very energetic, charismatic littles and a hefty, full time job: I went into serious survival mode and had to reduce screen time, and increase sleep and sustenance (beige food) time. That’s right folks… we have some news: we are in the process of becoming the FFF. The FF Five. Or FF cinq if you want to ruin the alliteration. You read correctly, ‘we’ have launched into the journey that is growing another little (and final, insofar as my manufacturing unit is concerned) addition to our family. And let’s be honest, by ‘we’ I, of course, mean mostly moi.

Anna Lewis the Sketchy Muma extraordinaire, also responsible for the Feature Pic. Love her work.

Why?! Mon dieu! Are you CRAZY? People have already asked when, at about 2 minutes pregnant I looked about 6 months gone… THREE!! Yes, we are cognisant that 2 + 1 newbie takes us to the momentous number of 3… but just as a quick refresher of the incredible journey we’ve been on, there was a time, not that long ago in the grand scheme of our lives, that we thought we might never be parents. We were not going to have our own babes and we were seriously exploring whether we could be candidates for taking care of someone that didn’t already have what we hoped we could give. That feels like a lifetime ago. Look at us now. Grateful and blessed doesn’t even begin to cut it… Anna Lewis nails it every time:

The amazing Sketchy Muma Anna Lewis

Chaos shall continue to reign supreme in our house for another 5 years or so. Nappies shall be strewn everywhere, along with odd socks and milky-smelling muslins. And we clearly don’t care for the environment … cheers for that HRH Sussex family. By the way we really do- and as a side note question to you parents out there: how do you communicate environmental responsibility to small kids? No matter what I say, Big Bro doesn’t understand that there isn’t an infinite supply of bath water, toilet paper and food in the world for him. “That’s a tree!” I cry in despair as he puts half a roll of toilet paper into the toilet. “No it’s not Mummy?! It’s toilet papier. Trees are much bigger. And green. Silly!” Ok “but where did that paper come from?” “The shop. Next question please.” Smarty pants. Any tips or book recommendations would be very welcome.

Anyway, back to being pregnant and slowly starting to contemplate the practical logistics of 3 under 5s. Panic face. It seems we need a new car? Or a bus? I’ve seen there are some sort of magical car seat inserts for most types of car, but anyone wiser and more experienced than me on this business, I would appreciate any guidance…

I can’t even contemplate a triple buggy! Is that a thing? Big Bro is going to have to deploy his most walky of walking legs at all times going forwards.

We’ve had a few incidents in the past weeks that just make me feel waves of panic about next year. Simple recognition that I don’t have enough hands. Or body strength to lift 3 humans. And what sort of gargantuan energy reserve can I call on to survive sleepless nights plus the intensity of the conversation topics we have these days around the table. How on earth will we get them all to go to bed? Bedtime has a tendency to be like a circus performance at the moment, minus the jazzy special effects, and plus an exhausted Mama who isn’t exaggerating when she offers to switch places and climbs into bed instead of the kids. Bedtime is question time in our house, and questions can come in thick and fast “why is two minutes too many Mummy?” Literally no idea what you’re talking about Big Bro. “But if a whale is swimming and you touch it’s nose, and then, well, a fish might go past.” Right. Then “but Mummy how does the baby come out? Is it from your belly bottom?” Can I save the answer until later? “Aii aiii aii blanky mulk, ans Bababaaaa blahb sheeeeep.” Bebette’s input.

By the way, this pregnancy journey has been hard so far. Wow I’ve been so tired, so so sick, and despite my very best intentions to be a fit and healthy mama to be, trying to maintain some semblance of my former self like the pregnancy unicorns out there that continue their regular exercise habits in their normal leggings… no chance. My maternity ones already look like they are ready to give up. The first three months I just about managed to get to the toilet, the kids beds, my computer to get my job done, and then the sofa. I was useless. I was unpleasant to be around. I was vomiting all the time. More than ever before. And I really didn’t know if I would make it through each day. Madness now to think that, as I feel so much better. Those first months are so all consuming. And you just have to keep every part of you crossed that you will get the opportunity to see it through.

This is not my first rodeo (ok I’m not technically qualified to say that as I’ve never been to a rodeo – Texas friends help a girl out)- but I have been pregnant a few times. I should know how to handle this. But seriously, I struggled. I am struggling. The backlog of 3.5 years of exhaustion, the ongoing physicality of toddlers and working, plus co-running a house, was almost too much. Almost. Why? Monsieur FF pulled me from the edge of my cliff of despair, and took on the lion’s share of whatever he was able. I know if he could he would co-carry this babe with me. Kudos, again, to you Mr FF. You put the “TEA” and most of the “M” in TEAM – and I appreciate it, even if it was a struggle to shout it from the toilet.

We have also been extraordinarily lucky to have extra hands from our respective parents, and despite them being far afield, they’ve stepped in to offer extra care for the kids, and ensure we are nourished and enjoying basic survival during those first tough months of pregnancy. Thank you and Merci if you are reading. We are so so lucky to have our parents and sisters and brothers.

Things I had forgotten about the early stages of pregnancy, just as a quick recap:

  1. Every morning feels like you have a massive hangover. It is not remedied with a Burrito. And at no point are you pleasantly tipsy.
  2. Within seconds of peeing on the stick, I start to bloat and nothing fits me. For some reason, my babies start growing in my upper arms and thighs. And then spread to my whole legs and don’t even start on the derrière.
  3. I am acutely aware of my expanding shape and spend a lot of time rounding weeks up until my size feels proportionate to pregnancy level. So around 8 months I’ll be fine.
  4. I’m not exactly body confident at the best of times but pregnancy often has me avoiding my own reflection. It’s a shame as it’s such a huge honour and so blinking amazing, but I struggle not to see a pregnancy rhino. This is not helped with comments from friendly persons who remark on size of bump, and the age old “are you sure it’s only one?” – yes nowadays the scanning technology is pretty accurate. Thank you. After highlighting boys tend to be neat little bumps, “It must be a girl!” Cheers.
  5. Everything feels heavy. Especially my eyelids around 5pm.
  6. The smell of coffee, the thing that usually has me jumping out of bed in the morning, is enough to trigger a toilet dash. Going to Starbucks is like the equivalent of going to the Jorvik Viking Centre also known as Britain’s smelliest attraction. Perfume has me choking and any smell is too much smell. Which makes it hard to function with little people who walk around with pee in their pants and my own body struggling to adapt to the newly expanded bat wings and associated heat retention they bring.

You get the impression. That’s it for now folks. I’m back in the game, so more to follow soon. Meanwhile please do share with me any hints, tips or sanity checks you can as we toddle onwards into the heart of the chaotic storm that is FFF!

Boyzilla – the story of a threenager

A few weeks ago I thought about starting this post and simply didn’t know where to begin. I was truly starting to wonder if we had a serious problem. I don’t know, because I haven’t done this before, but just how naughty can little boys actually be?

Big Brother has been playing up, and down, and all around. He’s been causing havoc, and chaos, and red cheeks all over the place. The naughtiness scale has been exceeded multiple times. Per day. Even the wondrous human beings that dedicate their days to caring for him and his comrades have been getting to the very, very end of their tethers. Never have I had to apologise so much to so many people for things I genuinely didn’t do and had no input into whatsoever.

How big is the apology today!?

Where to start… the funniest and most ridiculous recent example of his cheeky character was when I put him in the naughty corner for being rude and not listening; after a tirade of various poo-based insults and tongue waving at me, interspersed with wild giggling, he looked me right in the eye, swung around, stuck his bottom out, wiggled it at me, and then – after a dramatic pause – actually did a fart. Genuinely. I really struggled not to split my sides with laughter and most importantly keep a straight face. It can be so hard. It takes some attitude and character to come up with some of his retorts, and his quite extensive energy levels really add something to the mix.

It has been standard for him to be screaming PooPooPants in response to just about anything, except when it actually relates to the state of his pants, he has been refusing to sit down, refusing to get in the car, refusing to get out of the car, hitting and kicking and dribbling profusely, shouting NOOOOOOOO at most everything I ask or offer except if I tried to, dare I say, trick him (unexpectedly, do you want… chocolate??) and then he picks it up straight away and demands the chocolate and nothing but chocolate forever more, because I offered it didn’t I?? merci beaucoup.

Plotting and planning to get all the chocolate

In fact he has been so ridiculous of late, unpredictable, opinionated, playing parental politics, I was fully anticipating a call from a certain president of a few States to recruit him as the next VP…

But just when I thought we were calling in the riot police, we turned a corner.

Suddenly we have a little boy in our midst. A boy who asks to get down from the table. Please Mama. A boy who tells his mama she is his best mummy and she looks “pretty” (and then says it to Papa and slightly ruins the moment). A boy who wants to be a daddy when he grows up. A boy who wants to put his own socks and pants on. A boy who can almost go to the toilet himself. A boy who can read himself a story and nod off to sleep. A boy who waits outside his Grandma’s room until she’s ready to see him.

And then, of course, he shouts POO POO PANTS at the top of his voice, because that, it seems, does not expire at the ripe old age of three.

Big Brother has come up with some absolute corkers of late. One of my favourites is the inevitable obsession with the fact he has a “willy” and Bebette has a “pajina”. He concentrates hard furrowing his brow when he wants to remember the magic word. It sounds a bit like a pyjama and makes me laugh every time he says it. He also talks a lot about what he will do in the future “when I’m a daddy”. He obviously wants to be taller and stronger and we often have to test his muscle growth during dinner time to ensure the spinach is going exactly where it’s supposed to go. He likes us to check his elbow as that has a particularly strong feel to it.

Muscle levels: off the scale

He’s getting wiser to the world, so curious, and has so many questions. Not a sentence goes by without a probing look and a big old “why?”. And when I return the favour and ask him a clarification question, he comes up with some sort of genius comment. “Mmmm! yummy pain au chocolat! Where do we normally eat delicious, fresh pain au chocolats little guy?” Withering regard: “At the table Mummy.”

Number of pain au chocs mummy ate earlier

Brilliant. He’s just as cheeky as ever but taking the chat up a notch. He wants to help with everything, mix up the eggs, carry the plates to the table, and if you dare to even consider opening the door before he gets to it when the doorbell rings, well then prepare for a meltdown of exponential proportions. One does not simply open the door at the FF house. Non non non.

‘Didn’t get to open the door’ face

And then, just as we start to get our little smirky faces back, the ones we had right before the terrible twos set in, when we thought we had somehow ‘avoided it’, before we started to experience real toddlerhood, we hear a little rustle from the other side of the room. Like the horror films that end with the final survivor furtively peering out into the empty road, and then closing their door behind them, locking it, multiple times, and as they walk down the hallway towards peace, and you breathe a sigh of relief, you suddenly catch sight of a little, knife-wielding-blood-splattered-monster grinning from the stairs…. we have another terrible twoer fresh on the heels of her Big Bro and, judging by the temper tantrums and crocodile tears, we are in for a ride.

Fasten your seatbelt Papa FF.

EEEeEeseeeeee

BB is fast asleep, time to blow him a little raspberry of sibling love

Baby brain – true fact or un peu de bull?

I’ve been back at work for a few months now. I’ve been juggling like a … clown (that could work both ways) and I’m officially a parent to two littles who are getting larger. Time is flying and life is happening far too quickly.

I mostly get sleep, I mostly get sustenance and I even, sometimes, now and again, get a snippet of time to myself. Life still feels entirely chaotic, but we are living our best life. Right?

Bebette tempted to agree

I can shower in relative peace, and Monsieur FF and I have at least a couple of hours in the evening, theoretically, to eat, drink, discuss washing, holidays, education, food shopping (yes) other shopping (no) how cute the kids are, how funny when Bebette started to give the floor the naughty pointy finger when she fell over and how BigBro came to her rescue with a “Pah Patroll” plaster.., occasionally, we even decide we don’t need to talk and we get to browse Netflix (once we find the remote) hoping to stumble across something that meets both of our immediate requirements, and needs to fit in to the allotted, rather limited, timeframe before we hit the sack.  

Anyway, all of this to observe that we are out of “la folie” that is the first year of new babedom, we are no longer “new” parents, and we are almost out of the time where we can complain about lack of sleep and unpredictable behaviour (*almost*, this week has been a great demonstration that we are not actually there yet). From here it’s onwards and upwards towards threenagers and another very optinionated Boddlerette joining our chatty, energetic crew. We are just about surviving, we are happy and we are extraordinarily lucky.

BUT, there is one pretty major thing I haven’t quite managed to retrieve since giving birth (aside from my sanity): my brain function. I don’t know for sure, because my brain function was questionable to start with. When I say ‘retrieve’ it suggests I had something to go back for – really I mean I’m looking for any semblance of grey matter to revive.  I must have had something, once upon a time, because I have managed to get employment and a few qualifications under my (expanded) belt. However, I am concerned that something up there has changed. I can’t weigh my brain, but it feels a little lighter. Slightly less energetic. Un peu perdu.

I am no detective, but I strongly suspect that motherhood has impacted my brain. How? To my mind ~ can i say that when I’m actually talking about my mind?! ~ there are two big things that are different. One good, one bad.

Let’s start with the bad.

I don’t seem to be able to do simple mental arithmetic anymore. Even spelling that was a challenge. I used to be able to quickly “tot” things up, as the Mothership would say, as I went along in the supermarket or on a restau bill, calculate time differences or switch across currencies without too much effort. Dollars into Renimbi; sure. A conference call with Singapore and a New Yorker joining? No probs. Hit me.

Today there is a problem

I take in the question, the challenge, I focus, I try not to think about the other million things floating around in my head…the washing I left in the machine overnight… the yoghurt that needs eating by tomorrow, the hundreds of single socks that are littered around the house and the fearful sock-eating creature that must have stolen the other ones,… and then all I can see is a little egg timer in my mind slowly turning, s-l-o-w-l-y ticking away, and the more I focus on that the more I realise “wow, I literally don’t know where to start… this is really taking me too long, I’ve got no time, quick! think! THINK …”

NOPE. I’m never going to work it out and then I’m lost. I’m hunting for the Calculator app on my phone and I’ve forgotten what I was even adding up in the first place. Basically, anything that requires me to go past head count of my children I’m going to struggle. I now need an app to get me through. Or an abacus.

As I write, I wonder if part of the “blame” for this could go on our smartphone generation, and not on the kids. But it does feel like the difference is more marked now than it was pre kids. Did I give them my arithmetically stronger brain cells when I was giving them all the other magic stuff?! I’ll tell myself that is the case until I can work the grey matter back into shape.

You owe me… but I don’t know what

According to scientists in Australia, baby brain is a real thing, especially during pregnancy. It affects memory, general and executive cognitive functioning. There is no indication how long post-partum it can last. Surely it is to be expected when your own body is busy constructing a whole new one. Not so sure it should still be an issue once the babe is released. Here is a question from me: did that research also factor in the additional brain power of the little bean?!

Now for a huge positive: increased time management and organisational skills.

In exchange for basic maths, I have acquired a mega, Filofax-worthy capacity to plan and organise the day.

This new skillset includes getting my two little humans to and from somewhere, dressed in something, with accoutrements as required, navigating the complex quagmire that is Monsieur FF’s schedule, and then factor in my own, full time job, which involves project management and multi-jurisdictional coordination skills in and of itself. The schedule allows little time for “free time”, and limited “on time”, but if we all get to where we need to be and back round again at some point in time, I would say that is a pretty epic achievement. Others might say it is just being bossy

It is very much a skill to use to your advantage. I read a great article written by a superstar twin mama who was taking a moment to highlight that maternity leave isn’t all about tea and cake, and forgetting your career; there are real learning and development opportunities (patience being high up there!), a chance to get new perspectives, and to really use the desire to be with your children to help you focus. Don’t waste time, but make every moment count. This also resonates with some of the mantras I took back to work with me the first time I went back to work as a mama.

Nowadays there is no dilly-dallying in shops and bars, limited chitchat at the water dispenser (more likely to find me near any form of coffee, even just sniffing the beans), and no more spam emails with pictures of cute puppies – I am officially efficient. Every moment counts. Every second I’m not with the kids I want to be doing something useful. Every second I am with the kids, I want to be doing my best to enjoy it, and to focus in on what’s important versus what can be dealt with later. You know, in that two hour slot after bath time and bedtime…

On this last part it’s a continuous journey. It is really, really hard not to be overwhelmed by a pile of washing or full sink of dishes, to think about the food that still needs to be cooked and the bedtime schedule that needs to be followed. When we occasionally stray, as we did this weekend, everything went up in smoke as BigBro simply could not cope. Our babes need a certain amount of sleep and any disruption to that has serious consequences.I’m still working on it. I have many mum friends who have admirable juggling skills, whether around jobs or other commitments, or interests. They have brains in abundance. It is possible. It takes time. And your brain is doing just fine. The trick, as we are slowly learning, seems to be not to over face yourself. Take you time. Stop worrying about your cognitive function and enjoy 🤘🏼💖

Balls (and the juggling thereof)

Given my lack of blogging recently, you might fairly assume that I have gone into hibernation, like an old hedgehog, OR perhaps that my embarrassing parenting anecdotes have run dry. Mais non! ‘Edgehoggin I am not (I wish). I continue to embarrass myself and my family on a frequent basis. The only thing that’s run dry is my energy. I’m struggling with time management. Really struggling. It turns out that the juggling of deux children, busy job, a marriage, a relatively new home, family, friends and “other” (blogging) is actually quite the challenge (*imagine “challenge” pronounced in a dramatic french accent*).

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I’m not exactly sure what it is about having two little people as opposed to “just” one that makes daily life 359% more complicated, clearly the maths do not stack up, but it’s a parenting truth.

One —> two does not equal double the work. It equals there is no end to the work.

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The ball juggling skills required are next level magician standard. Quite often you are required to juggle with one hand behind your back, because one of the parenting duo arms are out of action (at work/ at social event/ hiding in toilet… not mentioning any names…). Or, you’re challenged in some other way like being exhausted, or hangry, or both of the above in a cafe with irritable children and you realise your wallet is not where you had hoped…

The balls you are juggling aren’t those cool squishy beany clown ones that bounce back if you accidentally drop one, they are fragile like eggs (smash eggs in shopping whilst trying to carry and grab Big Bro making a break for freedom), and hard like rocks when they hit you in the head (subjected to various head kicks and other bodily abuse with whichever child failed to find comfort in their own bed so came to occupy ours). The balls you are juggling aren’t easily replaceable (can’t readily replace child or house or car if I fail to protect and maintain them…probably best to lock them up then.)

Like most people, our day starts with getting up. That simple task that once used to mean exiting bed – to shower – to kitchen – to door – to commute – to work, with multiple coffees. patisseries and pleasant perusal of interweb en route. Then with Bebe FF I could just about manage changing and dressing and feeding him before myself and, with the help of Mondeiur FF, getting us all where we needed to be, but now, with two, it feels that little bit more like mission impossible. Unless I’m barking orders (which goes down a treat as you can imagine) the chances of both children having everything done plus the adults being anything close to ready are similar odds to Brexit ever making any sense…. It’s like we’ve got an egg timer above our heads and it’s constantly on “one tiny drop of sand to go! Hurry the F up!”

If I’m not jogging through the shower and putting my pants on whilst applying makeup and managing my hair (whatever that means, usually rubbing it against something to maximise the backcombed, never-washed look) then I am unlikely to leave the house on time. ‘On time’ means at any point. Certainly I won’t have coffee or food, and most likely I will forget some element of the necessary equipment for the day (wallet, keys, eco-friendly repurposed coffee recipient….) And that’s on the days when Monsieur FF does the drop. I know. The days that I drop, I’m lucky to have any semblance of warm clothing on my body and there’s little to no chance of the “nice to haves”. I have that slightly dazed, chaotic appearance about me that means the carers at nursery approach with caution. “Do you need a hand?” they kindly offer as they glance furtively at my dishevelled appearance and the children attached to my legs and arms. YES PLEASE you absolute wonder women and menfolk! I am rubbish at the “drop” because it’s more like a reluctant, slow and painful pulling at a plaster, twice, because I have to drop one child in after the other, and on a bad day we are all just clinging to each other. I truly enjoy my job, but it doesn’t make it any easier to be parted from the kids. I don’t like dropping them off.

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But look how cute they can be!

Short interlude whilst I work and juggle a few more manageable balls: load some washing, identify food required, have a hot hot drink, etc. Strangely, work time can be some of the calmest time of the day, especially when I don’t have to commute; I’m relatively in control, I am achieving small things without it causing me or anyone else to have a meltdown, and when I talk people (sometimes) listen, as opposed to having a loud chorus of “I want AN ICE CREAM” screamed at me whilst I explain how good vegetables are for you. Especially runner beans which make you run fast FYI. Btw you can’t have ice cream when it’s blinking freezing outside?!? I digress.

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When the end of the working day comes, it’s another mad rush to get to the kids before they hit the ‘extremely tired and unreasonable’ stage. For the avoidance of doubt, I’ve not worked out when that starts exactly, but it’s almost always well underway by the time we get home. I make food whilst the kids are playing (even though they’ve already had about 5 meals at nursery) and then watch them both spray it around their clothes, faces and the floor, chairs, and anything else within a 2 m radius, excluding their mouths, before I give up. Inevitably a “big boy cup” of something will by now be splashed across the table. I try to “whizz” around with the handy little Dyson and it immediately gets clogged with pasta. Should I wait for it to solidify?! I clean away, to make it look semi-passable for the rest of the grown up evening (lol!), and as I hoist the children out of their seats *merde* another portion of pasta falls from their laps and onto my semi-clean floor.

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Gimme gimme gimme 

Next is bath time which entails reservoirs of water, eczema-friendly bubbles and enough bath toys to amuse half of the United Kingdom. That’s not to say one doesn’t need to add some more, as Bebette did when she casually took some apple into the bath last night. Pourquoi pas. Of course then Big Bro desperately wanted to play with the apple and none of the other purpose-built jouets.

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Pretty much bathtime every night in our house… 

Big Brother generously offers to wash Bebette’s hair but isn’t so keen on doing his own, so we have a small battle/dance trying to get his hair clean whilst Bebette looks on in amusement, nibbling her bath-apple. Then we’ve got to exit both children, dry, cream, nappy-up, PJJ on and all trying to maintain some level of calm and pre-bed tranquility. One of the two-person gang (if we are fully armed) needs to disappear to locate milk/ water and sucking devices, as well as ensure beds are ready to receive children.  Stories are told, multiple rounds of Burglar Bill, “Grandma wolf”, Tabby McTat, and then a negotiation that any further reading is solo. “Ok but I want the big book Mummy!” Obviously the most ginormous book of vehicles is the final literature of choice before sleep time, and sleep is signalled by the dulcet sound of that huge book hitting the floor. ONE DOWN! Bebette has decided she doesn’t like to go down at the same time as Big Brother; I’m not sure if she’s cottoned on to the fact she gets all the attention in the evening or she genuinely just finds BB to be too noisey but she ain’t got time for bed with him. So she nods off eventually with us downstairs as we continue to attempt to nourish ourselves/ render the floor passable for another 6 hours/ catch up on any work that is outstanding and urgent/ generally not speak to each other or relax.

And this is the hardest of truths: with two small children and two full time jobs, the main thing that suffers is your relationship. The “leisure” time to unwind and politely converse about the highs and lows of the day is gone, for now. There is barking of further orders, refusal to follow orders, frustrated unclogging of Dyson, emptying of bins, cleaning of kitchen area, and then it’s time to hit the sack because otherwise there is a real risk that hours of sleep may total less than one hands’ worth. The absolute minimum for healthy survival is really 6 hours. Of late, with sickness and excitement and any other excuse they can come up with we’ve been receiving nightly visits to our bed. BB can wander in and just clambers over us and adopts a comfortable position such that he can headbutt one of us and kick the other. Bebette starts mewing when she wants to join the party and also has a magic ability to adopt the most bizarre positions to minimise the available space for the “growmops”. Real life:

 

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This matin

We wouldnt have it any other way. Of course. We are so super lucky. But jeezlouise, this is not easy! Mega hi5s to all parents out there, as always my understanding and respect levels of all that our parents have done, and all that those around me have been doing (don’t even go there with multiples) you are absolutely AMAZEBOOBS. Now to keep it up!

Awesome photos by the talented Clare Long Photography 💕

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Bossy

It has been brought to my attention recently that I am bossy. Bossy! Moi? Shut the front door!!

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Boddler learning my facial expressions masterfully.

You are too fricking right I am bossy. I own bossy, and about 20 million pairs of bossy boots to go with it.

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Just as a quick reminder, I am the eldest of four girls; my mum saw fit to add more kids to the mix as a childminder when we were young, so there were literally hundreds of us. She was our boss and I was the (self-appointed) deputy boss (~Dad sensibly mostly took a pew in the quiet corner of the house). Throughout school and university I jumped at any opportunity to lead and to manage; games, teams, events, projects… I may not always win, or be the best, but I do always do it with a large dose of enthusiasm. And, the very reason I’m writing this and my biggest challenge of all: I’m a mother. I’m a mother of two strong-willed, energetic, feral and fantastic little children. Part of the mum job remit is to be “bossy”, otherwise you simply ain’t gonna get out of the house. You ain’t gonna get kids to bed. And you sure as heck won’t get anything productive done.

Oh please Boddler would you be so kind as to get your little lovely chubby feet into your sandals because we really must go to the shop to get you some milk, don’t you think, wouldn’t that be lovely?” Said no mum ever.

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SHOES ON! COATS ON! STAND BY THE FRONT DOOR!  The command still resonates with me and even as I write it I have to resist the urge to make a mad scramble to the front door, grasping for any stray sister I can en route. That command is how the Mothership got us all to school every single morning, and it mostly worked a treat. Only now am I starting to appreciate the #skillz required to do that.  She bossed us and she got the job done.  Go Mothership!  (Sidenote: for context this was shouted from the top of the stairs, whilst she was still in her nightgown, slowly approaching the bathroom, whilst hoovering and trying to sew a name badge on to something, slurping a cup of tea).

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“Mum, your baby is crying!” I was helpful, even in pint size. Perhaps holding screaming sibling under my arm like a loaf of bread not so helpful.

It is a such a shame that the use of the word “bossy” in this case, by my better half, wasn’t intended to be congratulatory. Or encouraging. He wasn’t telling me I was doing a good job moving a seemingly impossible mountain aka whining children around. It was pejorative (although still palatable with the French accent) and he meant to tell me to calm down and stop being “aggressive” (also his word).

What was it that made my behaviour a negative type of bossy exactly? There are a few factors: (a) Possibly I was hangry.  Fine. That is often the case, I need energy all the time.  I will do better with ensuring I have food supplies.  (b) I was giving instructions without a smile. Maybe. I do sometimes forget to say please and smile when I’m asking for someone to grab a nappy bag, and I am sorry about that. I’m working on it. But most likely it was (c) because I’m a woman. I’m a mum and I was giving instructions about things pertaining to the kids, and clothes, and food, and packing, and family logistics. “Boring mum” stuff. If I had been giving instructions to move a team of army officers, or dealing with an urgent response to a corporate crisis, or something, anything to do with driving a fast car whilst being chased by blokes with guns and dodging bullets (think The Rock), perhaps I would have been told I was leading like a boss. I was being assertive. Winning.  But navigating four people from A to B to C with bags and buggys and food supplies and beverages, on trains and in taxis, in seemingly impossible (sweltering hot) circumstances, simply doesn’t cut it. That’s not a real challenge.  And it doesn’t require bossing.  Apparently. Yes, I physically need help to do it all, I can’t carry a million things and clingy humans, but mentally, I’m juggling it all above my head. Solo.  There simply isn’t room for two people to juggle simultaneously, unless you can mind read, and we certainement can’t, so one of us has to take the command lead.  In this case, me.

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Anyway, it got me thinking again about the clear gender divide, the inherent sexism in the way we use language, still, today; the negative connotations that certain adjectives carry, versus the complimentary and empowering connotations associated with others.  Not surprisingly, the former tend towards women and female “characteristics”, whereas the latter tend towards the men of the world.

By way of example, the Cambridge Dictionary working examples for the word “bossy” (online version) are still largely focussing on an imaginary woman’s behaviour:

“My older sister was very bossy.” <was she indeed.  I hope that wasn’t you reporting me, Fawcett sisters!!>

“Girls of that age can get quite bossy.”  <what age exactly? today age?>

“Stop being so schoolmarmish and bossy!” <what is the male equivalent of a schoolmarm?>

Let’s compare to a few more positive, macho adjectives and their working examples:

Leader: “He’s a natural leader.” <Shocker.>

Powerful: “I get the impression Sheila is the powerful one in that relationship, not her husband!” <Wow. Go Sheila. Perhaps we ought to call the police and a schoolmarm to sort you out?>

Confident“His confident leadership inspired his followers”.  <Presumably referring to our friend Mr T and his twitter team….>

I recently saw a clip of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking at the Chatham House London Conference. Aside from being an eloquent speaker, and a fantastic author, she is also a strong feminist. Strong, I should note, and not “angry” as she finds she is often described:

“In our world, a man is confident, but a woman is arrogant.

A man is uncompromising but a woman is a ball-breaker.

A man is assertive, a woman is aggressive.

A man is strategic, a woman is manipulative.

A man is a leader, but a woman is controlling”

<and I would like to add: BOSSY>.

Well said.

So, what can we do about this?  Ladies, gents, let’s all make an active attempt to think twice before we describe someone’s behaviour using a pejorative adjective.  Let’s also work to take the perj away.  Be gone negative connotations! I want my children to be proud that they are bossy.  Being bossy is good.  I want them to look back, as I am today thinking of my mum, laughing and dashing to the door all at the same time, and be proud of all that we achieve together.  And also to be grateful.  Thank you Mothership for sorting us all out. Thank you for getting us to so many places and giving us so many opportunities.  Often times, it wasn’t in easy circumstances, and I’m sorry that I didn’t give you more credit for it all. Thank you for doing it and keeping it all together, 24/7.  Let’s be honest, most people would struggle getting out of the door with four children, I can confirm I struggle with a mere half the quota, so hats off to you.

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Mumming isn’t something you can dip in and out of, or that you can turn to mute when you’ve got a banging head or there’s something better to watch on TV.   When you are MumBossing, it’s usually against a backdrop of limited sleep, and questionable sustenance. That alone should render the “bossiness” respect to the highest levels.

I am going to try to be more pleasant as I boss, but I sure as hell won’t stop bossing, and next time Monsieur FF starts to tell me I’m being bossy, I shall thank him, highlight the wins of the day, which may or may not include exiting house and cleaning poo up, and look forward to a congratulatory glass of bubbles.  Go Mamas!  Cheers! X

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cake reward / bribe for all those achieving high boss levels

Boisterous

Boisterous is a word I use frequently to describe Boddler. From my perspective, it’s no coincidence that the word sounds like a hybrid of “boy” and “monstrous”. Boisterous actually means cheerful, noisy, energetic, like “a boisterous group of lads”. That’s a particularly apropriate example in this context.  Lads.

The terrible twos are hitting hard over here in BlablaLand. We’ve gone from cute, monkey-like mischief to full-on kicking, thumping, “go-away”ing madness. Madness because it is actually making me mad. As in, I almost can’t control my temper. It’s one thing to shout “Go away, wee wee!” into the toilet, whilst we frantically wave the little piddle away, but quite another to scream “GO AWAY!” at me when I’m trying to get the little man into bed, accompanied by the odd slap on the face, or worse, to shout it at some poor relative who is trying to say “goodbye” nicely.  Testing boundaries. That is what is happening, it’s normal. But it is hard. I don’t appreciate attitude, especially when it is coming from someone who is a third of my size and 1/17th of my age.  I’ve had to engage in some deep breathing, counting to 3 – for myself – and I can confirm that “Jaymie daddy” has been receiving some of my most deathly glares in the past weeks as we navigate co-parenting this little character.

The thing with toddlers is they are hard to control. There. I said it. I like to be in control and I can’t control my two year old. In fact he is already outsmarting me. That doesn’t say much for my smartness levels, but this really is sinking to a new low.

“Do you want to go straight to bed with no dinner?!”

“Yes”.

Hmmmm.  Plan foiled.

“What did you do at nursery today?”

“I hitting <insert victime name>!”

“Oh no! That makes mummy feel very sad!  That must have made <victim> unhappy.”

“I laughing.”

“Did you say sorry?”

“I say sorry.  I kicking football and played rugby BAM and…I kicking <victim number 2>.”

Nightmare.

“I want a ice cream.”

“What is the magic word?”

“…..”

“Please?”

“Peeeeeeezzzzz I want a ice cream.  MUMMY! I want a ice cream!  MUMMY!!!!!”

“Ok, there you go.”

“I want more!  Mummy, MUMMY!!! MORE!! Mummy, what is that?”

<mummy is discretely trying to eat her much more exciting chocolate covered ice cream…>  darnit.  I can’t even get my sugar hit!

Unfortunately with Boddler, he knows the right things to say. He says his sorry and duly gives his apologetic cuddle, once his crime has been committed.  But what then?  He just keeps repeating the same behaviour. It’s impossible to tell if it is improving as when he stops one mechantise he launches into another.

We have spent some trying to justify his actions as resulting from him being (a) confused – he wants to rugby tackle, or hit a tennis ball, how does he know that you shouldn’t tackle a small baby, and that you only hit tennis balls outside with a racket, and ideally balls that are actually tennis balls and not wooden fruits … (b) disturbed by the arrival of his younger sister… except she just sits there grinning at him… (c) hangry / overtired… well that’s everyone in this house right now (d) a boy… the most likely problem.

Toddlers have a lot to learn at this age, they are absorbing everything like sponges, and the main things they need, as I understand it, are patience, love and support.  And possibly a naughty step.

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Casual meltdown en route to the plane. Papa is on it.

A major problem I have when I’m entertaining both kids is how to look after them both, protect and teach them, at the same time. Sounds obvious but it’s much harder than it sounds when they are little. A kindly health visitor suggested that when Boddler is playing up, or looking for attention, I should “take him out of the situation” and let him calm down.  Sadly I don’t have hundreds of different places that can accommodate a kicking, flailing, aggrieved child, and I don’t have a back up care-giver to keep an eye on him when he’s “out of the situation” and on the naughty step/ in his room.  In fact, I have to abandon a sobbing Bebette (who has likely been man-handled by her brother after giving him a big, toothy grin), take her brother away from her, but put him somewhere safe and secure (?! limited options) and then rapidly return to sobbing sister to give her excessive and loud moral support (that Boddler can hear from wherever he is) “OH POOR YOU SISTER, OUCH THAT MUST HAVE HURT!” – in theory I’m trying to show him if he is doing things to get attention, well he won’t get any attention. The person subject to the wrongful conduct (Bebette in this case) will get it all, and some.  Except in practice, I just have two screaming children, a beeping washing machine, and nowhere to hide…

What should one do when the terrible twos are getting the better of them?

  • first, stay calm.  Most of the time, the issue is that they are two.  That’s it.  The less you react, the quicker they lose interest in their naughty ways.  You can’t do anything except take a deep breath, be consistent in your approach and persevere.  So I am told.  *deep breathing*
  • second, purchase numerous books about child rearing entitled “how to talk to a two year old”. Because you clearly can’t do it so you need a dummy’s guide on how to get there.  Generally snort into the book and ignore most of the confusing guidance (“do not punish your child, do not say “no”,  do not say “naughty”, do not shout, do not reward your child, do not congratulate your child, do not say anything after the event as they won’t remember…do not actually speak to or look at your child for your own well-being.” Ok, these ones are quite good: how to talk so little kids will listen (for parents) and the “< body parts > are not for” series which we read on a daily basis, and they also use at nursery.  Any other recommendations welcome!

Reading quietly whilst someone causes pant-wearing chaos

  • third, consult with all the older wiser more experienced people you know, who will not miss an opportunity to remind you that, actually, it’ll only get worse and the kids will eventually hate you anyway. So, enjoy it! Yikes….
  • fourth, hang out with other parents and children and try to mentally note all the things they are doing that seem to work. Your notes might end up looking like this:
    • Offer choices, but not too many choices: your toddler wants some control but has the attention span of a gnat. Would you like vanilla or strawberry yoghurt?  Oui.  C’est bon. Would you like a yoghurt with fruit, or a french set, or perhaps a fromage frais with a little sprinkle of… zut, you’ve lost them.
    • Do praise your child. Do it quite often.  But not all the time. Not too much praise. Cancel the praise, limit praise to exceptional circumstances. Praise for sitting on bottom. Praise for eating carrot. Do not praise for eating toilet roll.  Praise for tidying up toilet roll.
    • Have a reward chart. Offer stickers for good behaviour. Try to keep stickers on the chart and avoid getting them stuck awkwardly to your bottom.
    • Distract your child. When they start to display signs of terrible twoism, rapidly locate an alternative activity / food type / person to play with.
    • Consistent consequences – actions have consequences and your toddler needs to know this. Bad behaviour means you have to say sorry, you make people sad, and you lose a privilege or you have to tidy up your mess.  Think about consequences that are realistic and practical (no more dinner ever again, for example, is not going to fly.)
    • Try to explain your feelings.  Tell child you feel happy, or sad. Demonstrate to child using dramatic facial expressions. Explain to child you are trying to show your feelings and not actually crying. Comfort child that thinks they have made you cry.  Everyone is crying. *Help*.

Ok, well that’s some food for thought. For me, writing this has helped me to see I need to really stay calm, try not to be triggered myself, and appreciate that Boddler is just being a two year old and probablement isn’t destined for even more terrible things.  However, minor shiver down the spine thinking of the threenagers that lie ahead…

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Usually I send love and strength to you all at this point, but this time I’m asking for a little bit of strength and love back! Merci bien ❤

 

 

 

Bittersweet bifurcating

I was flicking through some trashy magazines at the hairdressers last week (first time I’ve been solo since pre Bebette days – the hot tea and trash was amazing) and I couldn’t help but notice the number of distressing stories about couples with new babies whose partnership is “on the rocks”.  The story goes like this: they had a baby, they thought it would be fun; they got a cool LV-monogrammed buggy, Dior booties, and a Chanel high chair for consuming petits fours, then the baby arrived and they rapidly realised it was pretty hard work – no – actually bloody exhausting, the baby wrecked the booties and pooped in the chair, so one half of the couple decided they needed a break, a night out, and to let loose. Sadly for that half they went a tad overboard, momentarily forgetting about their other half and bundle of Dior-enrobed joie at home, paps got a pic, and *shock horror* the other half wasn’t too happy (and then rapidly sold story to aforementioned trashy mags). You can probably guess which half was maman and which was papa.

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We are all familiar with the story.  What I didn’t really appreciate until recently is quite the extent to which we women-mother-folk are in a bit of a no win no win situation here.  Aside from the bebes themselves, which is obviously the most gigantic win of our lives, when you are a mother, particularly a new mother, you quickly realise that juggling motherhood and your previous life as wifey / partner / daughter/ sister and friend is, well, slightly impossible.  Most often not only is it not physically possible to do everything you want to be doing, it is also an emotional minefield…exhaustipating is a word I use frequently.

Emotions emotions, so many of them flying around when you are avec bebes.  I’ve been thinking about all the things that swirl around in my hormone-filled head recently and have distilled into two key mots:

First, bittersweet.  

Bittersweet is a word that resonates with me in my current situation. Bittersweet because whatever I do now when I’m not with les petits, wherever I am, whoever I’m with, there’s a part of me that feels sad, bad, even, that I’m not with them.  I am missing them.  I am missing them achieving a milestone, or needing support, or some comfort or perhaps just pure selfishly missing them. If I am not with both of my bebes at the same time, I feel guilty, worried, sometimes nervous; I miss one, feel bad for wasting time missing one when I’m with the other, and then I’m just anxious to have them both in my sight and my arms again. If I’m not with Monsieur FF, I feel guilty, especially if he’s looking after the bebes and I’m out; I worry – does he have everything he needs, can he find the nappies, will he know how to distinguish a vest for Bebette and one that’s for Boddler? (*not always, it turns out, luckily Boddler survived being squished into 3-6 months, except his VP(N)L was pretty epic )…

I’m often counting down until we can all be reunited, trying to check everything is ok, trying to be present from afar, but failing.  Even when I’m with my family, we are safe and happy, I think of the people I haven’t seen, our families and parents and siblings and their own little bundles, the people I’ve not spoken to, the birthdays I’ve missed and the time that is flying by….and, you guessed it, I feel guilty.  I’m usually grumpy, and tired, because despite my best efforts, everything is tainted by a feeling deep down that I’m going to miss a moment, even as I’m living it.  Basically, I want it all, all the time.

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Try to make it a positive said the man

Bifurcate is the second mot du jour.

Bifurcate means split into two branches.  When I became a mother, my self, the person that I was, split.  There is the mother part, and then the rest. The split was uneven.  The mother branch is mammoth. It’s the main road, the M1 of my life right now.  There are “service stations” for nappies and washing and food preparation. The Rebecca that used to exist before mamahood is a little tiny, windy country road with trash-filled hairdressers, frivolous frolicking, wine bars with half drunk wine glasses, casual cafes and rainbow clubs with glittering disco balls littered along it.

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Bebette remembering the good old days for us, before everything was covered in a layer of slime.

I like to think of myself as an independent woman, I don’t need anyone or anything, although I’m very lucky to have plenty of both. I was incredibly fortunate to have an amazing, happy, relatively relaxed parenting duo who gave myself and my sisters everything we needed growing up. They taught me the value of love and education and money. I worked hard to get a job and before long I was able to support myself. I liked knowing I could fend for myself.  Then I met Monsieur FF, my partner in crime, and we decided to embark on marriage and a family.  That was back when we both had the ability to speak to each other reasonably, and rationally, without screams of “DAAAADDDDEEEEEE AI DONE A POO” and lentils flying around in the background.

Becoming a parent and a mother is something that transforms you overnight. Physically, one night you’re going to bed, a normal, slightly bulbous human being, with an almost equal share of a bed, and the next day (ish) you have somewhat reduced in size and in your shaking arms you hold a little mewing ball of bebe. Once you get over the shock (if ever), and the realisation that this is the new you, that there’s a little person who is entirely dependent on you (and no you can’t “give it back”), that’s it. There goes your independence (and your half of the bed). Because now you’re reliant on people and you can’t entirely rely on yourself. Your partner, your parents, your siblings, your friends… you need them all, more than ever. You need help, you need support, and you need a boost.

You also don’t feel particularly fierce when you’ve just given birth.  Of course, you’ve delivered a child, fricking amazeboobs, you deserve a medal, but for some reason, the saggy, wobbly vehicle that did all that hard work suddenly seems very ugly. Even when it produced something so beautiful.  It is not fair. But that is the way our minds work. I would speculate there are few women who truly feel they can strut around in the giant pads and with mammoth leaking breasts in those first weeks post-partum and feel like they are owning whatever it is they want to own.  Your self-confidence takes a massive hit. And let’s be realistic, if you don’t feel great about yourself, it’s hard to imagine someone else is feeling great about you.  

Herein lies the problem: it’s a bit of a vicious circle.  We don’t need to be told we are loved 24/7, but it certainly feels nice. We don’t need to be told we are beautiful and we are nailing it in order to do our mothering jobs, but it sure does give you a bit of a boost when you are covered in someone else’s snot and poo, and you feel a tiny bit broken.  The times we have low confidence are the toughest times on our relationships because we need so much and we can give only a little.  Our partners need more, because someone else is in the picture now – where before it was one on one, now it is one on four and attention and energy levels are at an all time low – your partner in crime is suddenly way down the list of VIPs, in fact they are waiting over on the lay-by on your little B road, whilst you hurtle along the Motherhood M1.  The lower they go, the further down the B road, the more likely they are going to get, well, fed up.  And then they are off and next time you see them is in the hairdressers on the front cover of your trashy mag.  Doom.

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So what do we do? What about trying to find that little piece of ourselves that is not mumming, from time to time.  Is that the solution?  Is that even possible?  What about the little, winding B road?  Can you switch off from mothering mayhem and turn back into that vivacious lady that used to totter around in mad heels and go dranking? (sidenote: if this is me then “totter” should really read “violently clomp”.) Can you be a mother AND a woman, a wife, a nice partner?  Can we be mothers and still be FUN??

The trash magazines would suggest we had better bloody try! However much our partners and husbands might be nodding politely, the reality is this, mumming is a 24/7 job.  In the early days it’s more like 25/8.  It sucks you dry, literally and metaphorically.  There isn’t much of you left to spare.  If you are lucky, like me, your partner understands that you are giving your all to the little ‘uns and accepts that, for a while, “fun” has to be redefined as a glass of wine on the sofa whilst falling asleep to Netflix.  “Talking” means a couple of text messages during the course of the day.  And when the kids go to bed, you are likely to follow closely behind.  Our better halves may well need to go out and blow off steam.  This is certainly a change of pace.  They don’t need to recover from childbirth or adapt to their new bodies. They usually have a better chance of a complete night’s sleep.  Their bodies don’t start leaking when they hear a baby cry.  Their days may be structured differently and they also have plenty on their plate.  Lucky for them they even have a plate…. and it probably doesn’t have congealed egg on it.

Sometimes it would be nice to blow off steam and unwind too, although the logistics usually render the whole process of “unwinding” redundant.  The truth is, you can’t really “unwind” from mumming.  And honestly we probably don’t really want to.  By the time you’ve organised the kids and the various complexities of the milk/food/bedtime routine, you barely have time to get your own trousers on.  It’s just a lot of hassle and then, refer back to bittersweet section above.  However difficult it may be, you actually wouldn’t change it for the world. So, for a little while, we want different things.  And we just have to find a happy middle ground.  And also try to ensure we get a bit of time to veer off the M1 ourselves, and remember that little B road that was everything before everything changed.

 

 

Boys who (dress) like girls who (dress) like boys who (dress) like boys…

Gender neutrality. The hot topic of the moment. The words that scream equality and seek to avoid discrimination. In the world of bebes, this “movement” (for want of a better word) is increasingly reflected in the way we choose to dress our children, the books we read, the toys we give them, the way we speak to them and the activities we undertake together.  The aim: to encourage our children to think for themselves.  We want to avoid imposing limitations on our little people before they have had a chance to develop their own identity and to decide certain things for themselves.  Like who they are.

The considerations seem, simplistically, to start around colours and their association with sex: blue for boys and pink for girls.  Yellow, it seems, is the safest of neutral colours, excluding ‘non colour’ white, and its close friends grey and cream (and black, but that seems slightly sombre for a little ray of light).  Now where did those colour associations come from?  All those years ago, did someone from up high declare that “those colours deriving from and the same or similar to PINK  shall strictly be reserved to those of female disposition, and those colours deriving from and the same or similar to BLUE shall be strictly reserved to those of the male disposition.  Thou can use YELLOW if thou art not sure.” Hmmm doesn’t seem quite plausible does it.  This got me thinking, and by thinking I obviously mean googling because, let me be honest, I rarely actually think much anymore, I just ponder how best to get an answer quickly.  SO.  Google and my dear friend Wikipedia tell me that:

“Since the 19th century, the colors pink and blue have been used as gender signifiers, particularly for infants and young children. The current tradition in the United States (and an unknown number of other countries) is “pink for girls, blue for boys”

The leading expert on the topic seems to be a Ms Jo Paoletti, a (now retired) lecturer at the University of Maryland. She said, when interviewed on the topic for Smithsonian:

“It’s really a story of what happened to neutral clothing,” says Paoletti, who has explored the meaning of children’s clothing for 30 years. For centuries, she says, children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6. “What was once a matter of practicality—you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached—became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted” Paoletti says.

Nicely put in the usual direct, and brilliant, American way.  As I read on I’m told that, as well as world wars and women’s liberation movements, another major factor was the advent of prenatal testing, meaning people would find out what bebe they were having before it arrived.  This presented an enormous opportunity for businesses to sell their gender-specific wares, and – true fact, per Paoletti – the more individualised the clothing became, the more was sold. This quickly extended beyond clothes to all the bebe paraphernalia required (which itself continued to develop to take us into the realms of new car purchases when it comes to transportation devices) and – low and behold – those fortunate enough to be able to equip themselves with all the “must haves” bebe items, AND to have bebes of different sexes could then buy everything, twice.  Extreme consumerism. That does not sound familiar to me at all…not in the slightest. AHEM.

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NOT GUILTY.  I don’t even dress my children in clothes, let alone gender specific clothes.  Right, Bebette?

Right, ok so we’ve determined there is nothing set in stone, well not literally, on the colour gender signifier.  So we don’t have to get our knickers in a twist about girls wearing blue.  But the simple issue of colour/gender association has today, in a world of consumerism, intense advertising and new waves of gender expression, extended to all that we do with our children, like how we talk to them and what they play with: should a toddler girl drive a tractor or pretend to be a plumber? Can a boy wear nail varnish and play at being a midwife or a ballet dancer? Then the considerations spiral into personality and even sexuality: are all little girls “bossy”? If a girl wants to behave like a boy is that a bad thing? Are little boys that like dolls and dresses and pink going to be *whispers* gay?  Mon dieu.  Suddenly this topic seems a bit overwhelming.

We have a boy and a girl. The boy, Babbler, wears every colour under the sun, and up until recently his favourite toy was a microwave.  Now it’s a pink hoover. He has long “girly” hair and when we were on holiday, in his green and orange t-shirt and shorts, he was frequently mistaken for a girl. When he’s wrapped up warm and people can only see hair and big eyes poking out from under his hat, they ask if he’s a girl. Not literally, obvs, they say, with that wonderful hesitation “what a lovely… little person… is… sh-he cold??”  I have no issue with it. It doesn’t offend me, why should it. He bombards around “exploring” and discovering, smashing and crashing and hitting as he goes. He likes splashing, and throwing and kicking and shouting. He is loud and shy and cuddly and boisterous all at the same time. He seems, for now, to be quite the little lad. But what do I know.

We also have a baby girl, Bebette, and she’s displaying, one might say, classic characteristics associated with, dare I assume, being a baby girl (highly opinionated, slightly sensitive and lover of soft, snuggly things). Although perhaps those are just characteristics of being a bebe… again, what do I know.  She has already been subjected to tutus and hair bands. She has flowery dresses and pink tights. There are not so many questions about what colour baby she is when she had a big pink bow on top of her wild fluffy, lopsided hair tufts.

I’m a feminist.  By that I mean I recognise that men and women are different, and equally fantastic in their own, special ways.  I believe men and women deserve equal levels of respect and, in some circumstances, should be treated equally.  Not always, that is a very simplistic way to view the world.  But they should be treated fairly.  Women are not secondary to men.  Men do not bring more to a party.  Women can do things men can’t, and vice versa.  I also believe that men and women bring very different things to the table and those differences should be embraced.  Finally, I truly believe that women, in today’s society, are not always recognised for the incredible jobs they do, not least in circumstances where they are juggling careers and families.  It’s not always the case that it is women that deserve to be recognised, but I just highlight that as an example. Anyway, why am I harping on about this? I want my daughter and my son to grow up respecting each other, and believing they can both do whatever they want to do in life.  Whatever they have under their clothes should not hinder that.  Just because one of them, potentially, has a momentous task of building, ejecting and nourishing another human being should not render that one incapable of fulfilling other career goals, or achieving the same as male counterparts. Subject to a few caveats (not really keen on either of them being lion-tamers), and any obvious physical limitations, the world is their oyster.  I don’t want Bebette to feel that, because she’s a woman, a delicate little flower, she can only do some jobs, whereas Babbler who is big and strong and macho can do anything and everything he pleases.  And vice versa for Boddler.

So with that in mind, is there anything I should or should not be doing right now, as they are in the early stages of development? It seems hard to imagine, but is the way I am behaving with them now going to affect that mentality?  Is the way I speak to them affecting their perceptions of themselves and others?  Am I inadvertently rendering them weak and subordinate by dressing them one way or another?  Is Bebette a little fluffy, cuddly doll?  Do I need to get her into bebe power suits???  Why am I worrying?

Jo is already on it:

Some young mothers who grew up in the 1980s deprived of pinks, lace, long hair and Barbies, Paoletti suggests, rejected the unisex look for their own daughters. “Even if they are still feminists, they are perceiving those things in a different light than the baby boomer feminists did,” she says. “They think even if they want their girl to be a surgeon, there’s nothing wrong if she is a very feminine surgeon.”

Exactly. Good.  I’ll put a placeholder here to consider further…

But finally, just a note: as Bebette and I break back into the under 1 social sphere and start an array of jazzy baby classes, I realise that more and more people are dressing their babies “unisex”, or more often, dressing their girls with “traditionally” boyish clothing. This creates a world of worry for me as I strike up conversation. Now I’m the one with the awkward hesitation in my voice, the slightly panicked glance at the child searching for any clue about it’s gender. Dummy chord. Green. Shit. Toy attached to pram; fluorescent yellow. Crap. Can I make an assumption or should I just go with strategic, noncomital conversation starters: “gosh what beautiful eyes!” “That’s such a cute onesie” “how old is your little …. one?….”  Silly.  It doesn’t matter does it.

So, I’ve dabbled in this topic but there’s a lot more to read and to say.  For now, here’s my closing gripe: baby girls are dressed in traditional boy clothing. Where are the baby boys dressed as girls?

BBQ, Boots and Bucees: Texas baby! (Part 1)

You may remember that last September, aka a lifetime ago, we went on a long haul voyage with Bebe FF (aged 7 months) to Mexico. It is fair to say we were somewhat apprehensive about the trip, navigating the journey, the heat, the bottle sterilisation… but it went swimmingly (literally 70% of the time spent in water) and we came away thinking “we should do this more often!”. Of course we didn’t because we are not made of money, but it gave us the confidence to book another long haul holiday; we were feeling empowered. We are parents and we can continue to travel!

Being in the very fortunate position of having our own Lone Star State family that were long due a visit, we decided we could do Texas. “Do Texas” we did… but boy was it a different experience with a boddler!

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Challenge un: finding out you are pregnant with Bebe #2 shortly after booking. Que?!! I will blogulate separately about the mind-blowingness of falling pregnant after a long journey of fertility drama, and when your first bébé is still… well, a bebe. For the purposes of this blog, you just need to imagine a tired, bloaty, nauseous, shocked Mama FF, at that stage of pregnancy where you are incapable of thinking beyond the end of the day, let alone for a 2+ week tour of the great Lone Star State. I would just like to sidenote that I was particularly looking forward to some giant margarita action with my Texas crew, which naturally had to be sidelined….*liver sighs in relief* …. I did however manage to maximise all my food dreams including eating TexMex for approximately 10 days straight and ordering multiple sides and additions “for the Bebe” (either the one on the outside or on the inside, and in any case all ending up in my belly: #win). Our Texas family started and ended our trip with Papasitos and we are still dribbling thinking about it.  SO GOOD.

Challenge deux: getting ourselves and our shizzle to the airport. You may be masterful at packing but I challenge you to pack effectively for yourself and a boddler when you are tired, fat, and from a country that is notoriously rainy going to a country where it’s insanely hot.    Turns out I’m truly terrible at packing expandable, hot, decent clothes and also not so great at packing for my Bebe. Mr FF did a pretty strong job on his side, but he hasn’t doubled in size and his wardrobe choices are approximately 0.3 of mine. For Bebe FF, even though he’s little, he needs a lot of paraphernalia and you kind of think the more of his own stuff you bring, somehow the more familiar it will seem and, therefore, he *will* be happy. Yes we need to take his cups, and bedding, and towel, and those 3 extra large teddies he once played with, 15,000 long sleeve tops (air conditioning is cold!) and every variety of Ella’s pouches *just in case*…. So all of this to say we basically had a shed load of stuff. We also have the actual Bebe.  Bebe FF is now getting big for carrying on me, and I also have a growing barrier to front carrying, aka Bebe #2, so we for sure needed the Babyzen yoyo (best thing ever). I’m also not enormously helpful as a bag carrier nowadays, so whatever we took, Mr FF essentially had to single-handedly get it from A to B and then to TX.

We decided on the basis of the  simple drama of packing that we would need to get to the airport in the car, and in that case we might as well just get a hotel by the airport the night before to give us some leeway before travelling. It was an excellent (and very grown up) plan (Mr FF gets full cred for that) and meant we had some sleep before our morning flight. Mr FF also got to enjoy loading and unloading the baggage a few extra times… trooper. Naturally Bebe FF was keen to show us what joy lay in store so decided he probably wouldn’t sleep in the hotel bed and would instead make loud banging noises throughout the evening. So “some sleep” is an accurate description, not all the sleep.

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brothers from another mother

Challenge trois: flying. I’m one of those people that doesn’t look forward to stuff until it’s pretty much happening. For holidays, I only get excited when I’m actually on the plane. However, that experience has recently changed. Once on the plane I suddenly realise the scale of the potential unknown that lies ahead… perhaps it’s the look of fear in people’s eyes as they glance in my direction, just at the moment Bébé FF loudly catapults out of my lap and onto the floor in a cloud of snot and food particles. Ten hours with that little monstre?! TEN HOURS. Even for a “normal” human being that’s a long time to sit relatively still. But we don’t have time to think about ourselves: Bebe FF doesn’t do sitting. He actually doesn’t do any one single thing for any extended period of time. He has recently realised that sitting still is for statues, and actually the best way to use every ounce of energy is to wriggle endlessly around, up and down, shaking his head whilst simultaneously making loud noises and – if possible – also pointing his finger. If you’re lucky he also throws in a slap.

The only distraction that is even remotely effective is food. The prospect of feeding him non-stop for 10 hours did occur to us and we ensured that one of the 17 carry-on bags we had was stuffed with copious amounts of relatively odourless and colourless “food”. Probably the best tip in this whole blog is the following: take Rice Krispies and other small cereal with you to travel. Take plenty. Fill little pots and even toys with the things. Watch with joy as your little one puts all their concentration into picking up a single one of those beauties and remind yourself there are 27,459 to go. There’s no stickiness or staining and they eventually just melt away, they aren’t bad for Bebe and shouldn’t hurt his teeth or belly. Voilà. Those ten hours quickly disappear into… erm eight. Ahem.

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Another important tip is get the bassinet friendly seats at the front. Get them, whatever you have to do. I wasn’t sure if Bebe FF would even fit in the seat still, but he did (didn’t look very comfortable but he was secured at least and not trying to squish Bebe #2) and he managed to nod off a couple of times much to our delight. Four more hours gone! The only annoying thing was when there was turbulence we had to get him out and back onto the lap – mildly traumatic when you’ve just spent the best part of an hour encouraging him to sleep.

Anyway, all in all, the combo of snippets of sleep and Rice Krispies saw us through and we got off the plane with smiling fellow travellers, including a grandmother who was fully prepared to take Bebe FF away with her, after he graced her with numerous cuddles and dribble-kisses.  This was in slight contrast to the return, where we were slightly less popular with the chaps who had opted for beds for the night flight, Bébé FF having missed the critical indication it was a “night” flight…

Challenge quatre: Getting three.5 tired bodies into a car and somewhere safe in Texas. We are going to a place where the roads are quadruple normal European size. They say everything is bigger in Texas, they are right.  So as relatively average-sized Europeans (pretend I’m not pregnant for a moment and ignore Brexit), the natural choice for a vehicle is the Suburban.  You can fit about 20 Europeans in there, plus the 95 bags that we have, with enough space for a couple of giant US portion drinks.  Mr FF was delighted with his monster truck.  Bebe FF immediately snuggled into his car seat of joy (which by the end resembled a giant Rice Krispie) with endless space to kick and throw water. After a few difficult discussions with the Sat Nav, which was in fact a human person kindly trying to provide directions, we were off towards Houston, our Texas friends, and a place where the sun shines and we, for a short while, don’t have to worry about the dramas left back home and can simply observe the drama around us.

Well, I haven’t even got into the juicy stuff yet: you will have to wait for the next instalment…. Bises x

 

bye bye boddler, hello toddler

Jeez what is happening with time? I know everyone says it flies, but this is like an extended wedding day on steroids! You blink and you’ve not only missed it, but there’s a trail of destruction to show you just what you missed.  We are 14 months in and Bebe FF is now a demi-man. That’s right. I can call him boddler to hold on to that baby “B”… but really he’s a toddler. I could even say he’s heading rapidly into terrible twos, based on the face-slapping I received last night…Ok it was couched either side with a bisous baveux (dribble kiss – sounds fractionally nicer in French right?!) but still. It has begun. He has a mind of his own and he’s not afraid to let us know about it.

So now is the time for discipline. According to wise ones (aka grandmas) this has to be done by the age of 2 -otherwise you’re in trouble. Right. How hard can it be to say “no” to a little person?? Presumably he can’t outsmart us? We adults are in charge, obviously! Right? Wrong. Actually it is quite hard to discipline it turns out. And this in my limited experience so far. Heaven knows what lies ahead. Mais why is it so hard?

1. You say “NO” *all the time*. It gets boring. No you can’t touch the charger, no you can’t have my phone, no you can’t throw your food on the floor. No! please don’t stand up in the bath! Stop! Do not eat that dirt etc. I vaguely recall once reading something that said “don’t say “no” too much, find a different way to send the message.” But which way? Absent some kind of telepathic skills I don’t possess, I can’t find any other way to communicate “No”. “Errr not really?” Or “maybe don’t do that” are not quite as effective. And tbh “no” isn’t exactly 100% success rate… Any tips gratefully received!

2. You sometimes kinda want to say “go on then, just do it” … but that would be irresponsible. Go on then, eat the dirt, and the little worm, in some places that would be a delicacy. But you can guarantee that will be the moment he starts to speak… “mummy said I could eat the dirt!” Or that there is a cat turd right there in the dirt and then, well, irresponsible.

3. It’s so hard to keep a serious face. There are so many exciting things to eat and lick, and if you go at the toilet bowl with your tongue hanging out, making a deliriously excited Gaga noise, I obviously don’t want you to lick it but it’s kind of hilarious that you even want to. No, you should not try to eat a tissue but it’s funny that you will have a go (and yet not eat mummy’s homemade yoghurt surprise?!).  Saying “no” without laughing is particularly tough. Grandma F tells me I have to adopt a strict tone. A strong “NO BÉBÉ!”. But what I actually do is “bebeeeeeee…. nnnn…. pleurghhhffhhh ….. Monsieur FF have you seen this little monkey?!!” It doesn’t help that Bebe FF has rapidly developed a very cheeky grin which he usually gives us as a quick warning he’s about to do a naughty – but being kind, he will give us rookie parents a chance to react. He goes for the phone charger, dangles it alluringly infront of his tongue, then turns to us, with that grin. “Hey, guys, just checking you’re watching me? Ok good. Here I go!”

4. You love them more than anything and don’t want to be mean. I knew this would be hard but never anticipated quite how hard. When you love a little person you don’t want to make them cry. You want to give them everything they want. Chargers and phones and dirt galore. You want to be the best parent ever. But we know that to be that parent, the Bebe has got to understand there are rules and appreciate who is in charge, for now at least. But it’s hard. Those eyes …

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