The cocoon

It was never my intention to update this blog all the time, or turn it into a ‘thing’, chiefly because that would’ve entailed finding out what a ‘thing’ is, and then doing it. It’s more a place for diarising life with young kids (because I am extremely forgetful), sharing the funny stuff (because I don’t have colleagues), and venting (because I usually do that quite angrily and out loud while I’m having a shower and I’m not sure if the neighbours can hear me through the wall – this is quieter).

I’m finally sitting down to write this post about life as a stay-at-home parent slash freelance journalist slash can you be a stay-at-home parent with a job slash no not really. It’s been percolating in my brain for a while and, unlike any notions I’ve had over the years to get tattoos, hasn’t gone away. It’s about the overwhelming blanket of nothingness that can drape itself over you when you stay at home with kids, and what it feels like to be under it.

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Coping/not coping

There are certain moments in life that come with their own handy phrases and clichés, and it’s only when you live through them that you realise how apt they are. Heartbreak, for example, is a throwaway term until you’re jilted, sobbing and clutching at your chest thinking, ‘Ouch, bloody hell, they weren’t joking!’ Even when the physical ache dies away, the conviction that your poor heart has been stomped to pieces can linger for years.

There are plenty of jolly little clichéd phrases, images and expectations around motherhood, too. Fraught mum reaching for the booze or the meds – mother’s little helper! Frazzled mum with banana in her hair, mum putting her purse in the fridge, calling the children by the cat’s name, mum reversing the car into a post box, wiping baby spew off her best blouse before a party and hoping nobody notices. Mum on a spa break having her ‘me time’ with cucumber slices on her eyes, mum in her mumsy bra and big pants with her ‘mummy tummy’ and ‘wobbly bits’, sobbing at NSPCC adverts and nativity plays, whooping with delight because her toddler did a poo in a potty then sending little Jimmy off to school with his sister’s ballet bag instead of his PE kit. Mums!

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Don’t go changing

Browsing the chatrooms of a mums’ forum recently, I came across a post from a distressed pregnant woman. Not about dealing with labour or whether or not to test for Group B Strep, but something else that she was really dreading; not being able to shower when she had a newborn to take care of.

This lady was horrified after friends with kids told her she’d only be able to shower every few days after the baby was born and should count herself lucky if she managed a monthly hair wash. Loads of mums piled in to the discussion, some reassuring her that she’d manage a quick frisk with a damp flannel of a morning and others proudly revealing they hadn’t set foot in a bathroom since the birth of their first child because their baby’s needs came first and honestly, they didn’t mind smelling like an old fridge or having blackened stumps where their teeth used to be – DH prefers them that way!

What poor old NervousNewMummy81 didn’t know is that she has nothing to fear: in all probability, her friends just don’t mind not showering. If she, like me, has a neurotic compulsion to shower every day and can’t even go to the gym without first completing top-to-toe ablutions, the protestations of a foot-long human aren’t going to stop her. Nearly two years after the birth of my first baby, it seems blindingly obvious that your parenting will reflect who you are as a person, and responses to the challenges of motherhood will be as individual as you are. Militant about healthy food? You aren’t going to end up piling face-first into that cliched mountain of cream cakes. Love your job? You’ll work out a way to do both. Get tearful at the thought of having to drive to the doctors with an unwashed neck? You’ll find time to have a shower. Secretly see no reason to wash more than twice a week? Here’s your chance!

There is an accepted notion of the standard issue mum: a baby-brained creature putting her keys in the toaster and accidentally calling the supermarket cashier ‘Mummy’, cheerfully juggling children’s schedules from a bulging filofax, nipping off for ‘me time’ spa days, picking banana out of her hair.

And as we approach motherhood, we feel that our hard drives are about to be wiped and replaced with Mummy 2.0. Of course, motherhood shakes life up and there is a lot of change. But at the heart of it all, you’re still you.

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