Saturday, 4 January 2014

On being a supermum

There's a chap at our church who calls me Supermum.  He's married with grown children; he means it kindly, not creepily.  He admires the fact that I bring snacks and drinks and toys for my two to play with during the service.

I have some lovely friends who have, from time to time, also called me Supermum.  And again, they mean it as a positive.  A term of admiration and encouragement.

Can I let you into a little secret?  Well, two actually but they're inextricably linked.

1. I hate the word.  Hate it.  With a firey passion.  Well, at least with as much passion as I can summon for anything right now.

2. I'm not.  Not in that sense anyway.

I want to say right away that I love the people who use it.  They are good people, who see into my life and want to applaud me for what I'm doing.  We all need a cheerleading squad from time to time.  Even if you know what you're doing and why, there are still going to be hard times and moments of doubt when you need someone else's reassurance.

The problem I have is the separation.  The notion that 'she', whoever she happens to be that day, is Supermum or Superwoman.  She has something that sets her apart, something I don't have.  She is more than I am.  She is better than me.  It separates us when I think of her as 'Super' because the corollary is that I am ordinary (no capital letter for me).

The reality is that each one of us is an individual, creating our individual families in the best way we know how.  I am the only wife of my husband and the only mother to my children.  I was purpose designed to love and serve them at this time and in my own, unique way.  No one else can do precisely what I can do.  And the same goes for you.

I have some internet friends.  Even my husband finds this a bit weird but stick with me.  Somehow, over social media, having only ever met 3 of them in real life, I have managed to evolve a community of mutual support and reassurance.

One of them has just become a mummy for the second time.  She worries about doing the best for her boys.  What she doesn't see is that she bakes yummy treats and creates fun crafts with them more than I ever have with my two.

One of them worries about her son's eating and sleeping.  And yet she's managed to make something by hand for every baby she knows that was born in 2013.

One of them has just moved house and I cannot believe the speed at which she and her husband have tweaked the decoration to be just to their liking.  (Also, I'm jealous of her table-setting arrangements, it's a gift, I swear!)

One of them is a babywearer; I (and my back) salute her.  She gets herself and her two girls out of the house every day (weather permitting).

There are more examples.  Examples of how doing what comes naturally is creating a beautiful lives for them and their children.  Of choosing the best thing for them, at that time and place.

That's the positives.  So here comes the balance.  My confessions.

  • I love to cook, especially savoury food but in some seasons, the idea of deciding what to feed my family every night wears on me.  And the children have chicken nuggets again.
  • I don't see the point of children's crafts.  It seems like a waste of materials to me.  So I also can't throw away anything that the children have made.
  • I don't clean.  I vacuum only when the carpet is crunchy.  I recently cleaned my sink for the first time in months.  I wiped down some mirrors about a month ago and was astonished at how clear the reflections could be.
  • I don't exercise.  Really, honestly.  I walk around at work, I push a buggy around the shops and I occasionally go swimming with my family.  But I live in a village so I jump in the car for almost every trip we make, including taking my son to pre-school.
  • I have piles of organised chaos all over my house and garage.  They never quite make it all the way to wherever it is that they are supposed to be going.
  • I wash our clothes when we start running out of things to wear.  And then take 3 days to get things folded and another day to actually put them back into drawers.

I could go on.  And on.  And on.

The reality is that I cannot do everything and that actually I don't want to.  So I choose the essentials (for example getting carbs, protein and vegetables into my children, having clean clothes to put on them most days) and the things that make my heart sing (taking photos, documenting our lives, reading, laughing with my children, sitting quietly with my husband) and I try my hardest to let the rest of it go.  That's the limit of my abilities right now.  And every single person I know is doing exactly the same.

Supermum doesn't exist.  She's a myth.  She has no special powers or abilities.  She's a mirage.

Reality is a lot more reassuring.  Supermum is me and you and your friend next door and your work colleague and your sister.  She loves her children and tries her best.  At the end of the day, that's all anyone could or should ask.

Friday, 3 January 2014

On New Year's Eve

Some traditions are intentional while others just evolve over time until it's natural that they occur when they do.  Our New Year's Eve celebrations are the latter; it only occurred to me this year that we have one at all.
Early on in our relationship, I had some major medical school exams in the first week of January and was studying hard.  Instead of heading out on the town or getting drunk with friends, we stayed home in my student house and ate dinner together.  I know, we were rock and roll back then.
This year, I'm heavily pregnant, we have 2 small children and we had just got back from our time away.  We needed to get the children back into their normal routines and organising a babysitter seemed like more trouble than it was worth.  Instead, we had our usual quiet evening at home.  We bought ready-prepared food from Mark & Spencers (real food that you just have to chuck in the oven for the prescribed time? Yes please!) and settled down with the Homeland season 3 finale.  I had a 'mocktail' and Andy had a glass of wine.  We were in bed by 11pm and fast asleep for the New Year.  Which was fortunate given that the children were awake, as usual, at 7am.
Life changes when you have children.  Your priorities shift and you have to streamline activities to those that really do bring value to your life.  And for me, a quiet evening with good food, good tv and a good man is the perfect way to end the year.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

On New Year's Resolutions

I wish I could say I was resolving to blog more, but I've got a busy year ahead of me.  I've learned over the last few years that there's a natural ebb and flow to motherhood so I hope there'll be time for blogging some of the topics floating through my brain.  Going back to having just one baby at home for three days a week is going to be an interesting change for me!

I love our house; coming home after 10 days away over Christmas reminded me just how much.  Unfortunately, some parts of it just aren't working for us right now.  We have a couple of big projects planned but it's the little ones and all the decluttering I have planned that are going to make the biggest difference I think.
  • Finish decorating the nursery
  • Replace bathroom
  • Decorate hallway and staircase
  • Mammoth decluttering project!
I have an assortment of unfinished yarn projects hanging around our living room.  I'd like to say I'm going to complete them all before starting anything new, but that's never going to happen.  So instead I'm going to be realistic; finish those I love and junk those that I don't.  I'm carrying on my Project Life approach into 2014.  I've enjoyed completing a side a week, usually working in retrospect over about a month.  I also want to get more 'proper' scrapbook pages into my albums.  I also need to finish the blind for our kitchen (started the last time I was on maternity leave!) and make a quilt out of the fabric I bought for the purpose before I had Isaac.
  • Rationalise yarn projects
  • Project Life 2014
  • Scrapbooking
  • Finish kitchen blind
  • Make patchwork quilt.
I'm so pleased and proud of my family; I honestly believe I married the best man I've ever met and that we made the most wonderful children in the world together.  I've learned a lot about prioritising and structure over the last few years.  Children like predictability and, it turns out, so do I.  We have some concrete routines in our home that work really well and we've been able to adapt them to our needs as time has passed.  These simple sequences of activity performed daily (e.g. our bedtime routine) or weekly (e.g. attending the same toddler group every Thursday morning) make life happier and smoother round here.  Another real positive is our approach to discipline; we aim to be calm, consistent and developmentally appropriate.  I've realised lately that I've been letting Anna off the hook too easily, not noticing that she's growing up so fast.  We've entered a defiant phase and she needs firm boundaries with consistent consequences.  The thing that surprises me it how often I'm able to avoid taking their misbehaviour personally.  I'm a short-tempered and grumpy person by nature, especially when I'm tired or hungry.  You'd think I would lose my temper often with the children but actually, I find it reasonably easy to understand where their behaviour is coming from and how best to deal with it.  Enough self-congratulations, there has to be a cloud, right?  Well, we're in the trenches of child-raising right now.  Neither of us has the time or energy that we would like to devote to our marriage.  So my aim for the year is to strengthen our marriage, making sure we purposefully spend time together without our children.
  • Continue to build a strong and long-lasting marriage; regular time together, without the children!
  • Continue to consider the children's temperaments, developmental stages and natural tendencies 
  • Continue with our daily and weekly routines
  • Provide consistent discipline for the children
  • Go on a family holiday
  • Spend time with our extended families.
You'd be forgiven for thinking I could let this one slide for most of the year.  Actually, I really enjoy my career and recently I've become more aware of my responsbilities both to my patients and my colleagues.  I've become involved in a management group, which will mean some meetings and maybe some email-based work.  I've also been given some data for a project by my educational supervisor and the direction to "make of it what you like".  Added to professional development activities, that makes for a pretty full list.
  • Attend trainees committee meetings
  • Read Archives monthly
  • Complete allergy data project
Maybe this should have been higher up?  These items are going to seem slightly frivolous, but I'm ok with that.  I was looking back at photos of me when I was pregnant with Isaac, goodness how I've aged since then!  I'm still following the beauty regimes I had when I was a teenager (i.e. none!) and I think it's time to accept that I'm now in my thirties.  So the first step is an anti-ageing face moisturiser and then, woah, maybe some eye cream?  The main thing for this year is remembering the importance of seasons.  I remember the enforced inactivity of the newborn days, the frustration of the nearly mobile baby and the constant watchfulness when they finally do start to move.  Some days I'll get a lot done, some days it'll be enough that we're all alive and fed at the end of the day.  So taking it easy on myself is going to be key for 2014, which I guess puts everything above it in perspective.  It's good to have a to-do list but it's also go to let it go from time to time.
  • Use an anti-ageing moisturiser and consider an eye cream
  • Moderate my expectations to fit the season.