Nakedness Dens and Food

My life with four little boys

The Great Big Pink Elephant In The Room: An honest chat about gender disappointment

“Yes they are all mine…  No, we didn’t keep going to get a girl… Yes, a girl would have been lovely… No, I wouldn’t change them for the world….” I’m getting quite good at saying these things now. These exact. Same. Things. Over and over. Mostly to complete strangers when they first discover that I am a mum of FOUR little boys. And people often accompany their questions with a look on their face which is a mixture of sympathy and respect usually reserved, I would imagine, for those who have survived some sort of cancer… or bereavement… or natural disaster. In fact, “natural disaster” could be the perfect way to describe how some might view carelessly ending up with not only FOUR children, but four MALE children! And yes, if I’m completely honest, I never thought that if we had four (we did plan to have four by the way. I know you’re curious) that not a single one would be a girl. If I’m being even more honest with you, I would have loved one. Yet here we are. So I’m going to level with you.

 In my head, being a mummy was supposed to be full of laughter and fulfilment and wholesome activities like reading and baking and craft projects and finger painting. And do you know what? It is. It really, really is – a lot of the time, even if not all of the time. Well, maybe not the painting so much. That’s what nursery is for. Anyway, the point I’m making is that I totally appreciate that being a mummy is full of so many things that I wanted it to be, for which I feel truly blessed. But… here comes the” but…” it is also bereft of some of the things I had secretly hoped for. Although, I’m not really sure how conscious I was that I was in fact hoping for them until it became apparent with the birth of boy number 4 that I wasn’t going to get them. I guess I just assumed that being a mummy would include at least a few dresses, a smattering of pink and a couple of pigtails somewhere along the way.

Losing my own mum at 19 left me yearning for that mother-daughter relationship I was now lacking. Reflecting back on it, part of the process of healing after her death was the thought that I might one day know what it felt like to sit in that relationship again. But then I had boys, four of them. Boys, who are happy to share story books, as long as they can do so standing on their heads or whilst pretending to sit in a rocket going into outer space. Boys, who might engage in some craft activity, as long as it doesn’t take longer than about 10 minutes and they can run around with whatever they have made pretending to shoot each other afterwards. Boys, who can’t do anything quietly or delicately – my old doll’s house which I hoped to pass on remains in my dad’s loft. And it’s not because they are boys. It’s just because they would have broken it when they were really small and by the time they have been old enough not to, they have decided that playing dolls was not for them. Although I have one more shot with boy number 4 who is only 3 at present so could potentially prove a fan yet when he is a little older.

Whether you believe it’s by chance or design, the inescapable fact remains that I am a mum to boys; four grubby, boisterous, wind obsessed boys. Truthfully? I mean, really, really truthfully? Sometimes, that’s disappointing. Not that I’m disappointed with what I have. I mean, how could I be? My children are amazing and perfect and wonderful and full of life-giving, life-nurturing soul food for my journey. But sometimes, sticking with the honesty thing, I’m disappointed with what I DON’T have. No party dresses and tights and brushing long hair in the now. No girly shopping trips, mother-of-the-bride moments or hand holding through having their own babies in the future. Then there is the pain staking truth to accept, that one day, I will probably not be the most important woman in their lives any more. (Yes I know there are other possible scenarios but these are not relevant when you’re having an emotional outpouring of imagined probabilities!)

 Whilst I’m not what some might call a typical “girly girl” (whatever that might be… but that’s a subject for a different post) I nevertheless see myself as someone more at home with sparkles than dirt, more drawn to making fairy cakes than mud pies and more able to engage with play acting “going to the hairdressers” than “rescuing the mutated alien from the grips of the evil ocean monster who needs to be wielding various weapons of mass destruction whilst making appropriate sound effects”. Suffice to say, this “boy stuff” doesn’t always come easy to me! And yes, I appreciate the gender stereotypes don’t always apply. For all the boys who like sofa diving, there are others who appreciate the quiet puzzle making on the living room floor. And for all the boys who are obsessed with bogies and bottoms, there are others who are quite happy to blow their noses without mentioning the glistening goo on their sleeve. And for all the boys who are loud and bouncy and fidgety there are others who like nothing more than sitting still with a good book. It’s just that I have not given birth to any of them! So whether my experiences really would be that different with girls I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it’s the genes we have passed on and nothing to do with gender at all! But I can’t help wonder. And I do have to admit that I sometimes fantasise about would it be like to have a world with leotards and ribbons and pretty clothes… well ANY clothes really… what IS the thing with boys and the need to be naked the whole frigging time?! 

When I pictured family life before having children, I think I probably pictured (quite possibly in an incredibly sexist, stereotypical manner) that any boys would spend their Saturday mornings down the football or rugby pitch with daddy and me and the girls (in cute matching dresses probably) would do “bonding” over shopping and cakes…. And possibly hair braiding… Although anyone who knows my inability to cultivate a decent hairstyle on myself might reasonably doubt my abilities to do something acceptable for anyone else, especially a little wriggly “anyone else”, which perfectly exemplifies the predicament. My pipe dreams of how it was going to be when I had children are just that. They are dreams. The reality of actually having children is often out of kilter with the dreams we held on to prior to the real thing, regardless of gender specifics. For the record, none of my boys play football or rugby on a Saturday morning. And on the few occasions a little girl in my care has presented me with a bobble to put back in her hair, I have failed miserably

The reality check in parenting which comes to us all, can take the form of many things. Apart from gender disappointment, other surprise companions on my journey have included post natal depression, the mind numbing boringness of being a stay at home mum, parenting with a chronic illness and the idolising of small portable screens to buy myself 5 minutes – oh alright, 45 minute – peace. For others it might be the health of their children. Or the fact staying at home isn’t a financial option. Or maybe despite initial circumstances you now find yourself parenting alone. Or perhaps the daughter you envisaged in a tutu is more at home in a boxing ring – or vice versa. Whatever it is that is different to how you imagined it would be, I want to offer these miniscule insights from what I have learnt over the past 11 years of mummy-ing my boys :

1.     Firstly, it’s O.K. It’s totally normal to have these mixed feelings when trying to align what we hoped for with what the reality is. They are allowed. Nothing is off-limits when it comes to our emotions. They don’t make you a bad parent. It’s not a deal breaker for the good parent awards. You are still good enough.

2.     You are allowed to grieve for the unrealised dream. In fact, you MUST grieve in order to stay emotionally healthy. Bring it all into the light. In my experience, feelings left in the darkness of our souls find a way to hurt us more; valid grief can turn to bitterness, anger, doubt and self-pity if it doesn’t find a healthy route. Find someone you feel safe with to let it all out. Talk it out. Cry it out. Laugh it out. Run it out. Do what you need to. Just get it out! One of the things I do is to write. (Below is a poem I wrote about some of my feelings regarding all this not-having-a-daughter stuff. I’m a novice poet. But I find it helps. It also means that if you are reading this, you are part of my therapy by the way. Just so you know.)

3.     BUT, ask yourself the deep, hard questions which are born out of the grief (or anger, or disappointment). Dig a little as to why you might be feeling the way you are. For me, clearly the loss of my own mum has a lot to do with how I feel about the lack of a daughter in my life. And since realising my emotional responses tell of a desire for what that kind of relationship brings, I have found great healing in lots of other places –  In the company of wonderful female friends, many of whom “mother” me in various ways when needed, sometimes despite of, and sometime because of, their age; in the cherished moments with big sis,  like the time we spent discovering the world of body sculpting underwear which was a solely woman-to-woman deal!; In the soaking up of wisdom and spirit from female authors, campaigners, bloggers and poets to nourish my soul for the female journey; And in the buying of “girly” presents for charities giving to children at Christmas, to meet my need to purchase pink plastic tat once a year! So asking the harder, more searching questions about why you might be feeling the way you do can light a pathway towards some action you can take and some healing you can find. Counselling is an excellent space for working some of these feelings and solutions through. But a good friend might be able to help as well.

4.     At some point, we all need to let go of our ideals and pre-conceived ideas. The only task we have as parents is to parent the children we HAVE in the ACTUAL circumstances we are in. I have no obvious idea as to why I have four boys and someone else might have four girls, or a mixture. In much the same way that I don’t know why some become parents through giving birth and others only can through adoption, why some have healthy babies and others have poorly ones or why some wonderful parents end up having to do it alone when they hadn’t planned to. All I know is that the children we have are ours and they are a gift. In oh so many ways (and trust me, there are many) my experience of parenting is not quite like how I thought it would be, or even long for it to be at times. But I am so blessed. I have four beautiful, amazing, healthy and very different children. They all happen to be boys and don’t care too much for pretty dresses. It’s no biggie. I can buy the pretty dresses for friends’ daughters… or even for myself!

Do I sometimes still wish I had a little girl in my life? Yes, of course. But I have found ways to keep it all in perspective. I’m working on plans for my she-shed. When it is done you are all welcome. I promise not to try to braid your hair. But I might want to do nails and watch chick flicks… you in?

Helen –x-


A Poem For A Daughter….

I’ll never hold you in my arms, or put ribbons in your hair

I’ll never plan your wedding day, or buy you pretty things to wear

I won’t spend hours with a nit comb, running through your lovely long mane

We won’t watch chick flicks together, or talk about period pains

I’ll never mend your broken heart, when boys start to let you down

Or reassure you about babies, and they’ll be no girly chats in town

No one will play with my doll’s house, as I did three decades ago

No Disney princesses, glitter pens or floaty dance costumes to sew

I’ll never have tights on the airer or leotards on the line

I’ll never paint your bedroom pink or spot the shoes you have on are mine

I would have really loved you, we could have had such fun

But I need to let you go now, because God has given me 4 sons!*

(*who are absolutely brilliantly awesome and fun and the best thing ever, but not the point of this poem!)

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Black paint, sunblock and the importance of laughter

Jonathan Marsh. 3rd year juniors (year 5 in new money). Black paint. That’s when I knew.

I will never forget the way, by excessive mixing and a bit of deliberate pouring, Jonathan Marsh (cretin) decided to cover me from head to toe in thick oozy black paint. And I’ll never forget my mum’s reaction when she opened the door to me, still largely covered in said thick oozy black paint after school. First reaction of my darling, supportive mother? Laughter. That’s right. Before she even let me over the threshold of the front door, she took one look at me and laughed. Right there. In my face. Straight at me. And with no apology. She did of course eventually let me in, cleaned me up and made me feel better. But that’s when I knew: children are clearly a source of great amusement for their parents.

I must have lodged this somewhere in my consciousness because years later, as a parent myself, I often think of my mum’s gut reaction to her dear daughter in a sorry predicament, whilst I react in the same way to my own children in their different but equally sorry predicaments. I can’t help it; I find my children funny. When boy number 1 fell head first into a toy box at toddler group whilst overreaching…. I laughed first and rescued later. Much to the horror of on looking helicopters*. (*As in “helicopter parents”. Not *actual* helicopters. Obvs.) When he was older and taking part in school street dance performances I could never get a decent photo because my hands were always shaking too much from the stifled laughter brewing within. Seriously. In a world of his own. But having a great time anyway so bringing the joy all the same. When boy number 2 told me very seriously that “it really really hurts if you get your willy on the radiator” I laughed first and enquired about his, er, personal health second. And when boy number 3 at aged 4 started heckling the Pastor of a church we were visiting I struggled to stop laughing at his comedy timing long enough to tell him off. Seriously, great comic value that one. Not to say I often stand and laugh in their faces. Or in fact all of the time. But these days I have definitely learnt to laugh just enough to balance out the tantrums and boredom and boundary testing and all the stuff that’s difficult about parenting.

During the nano second it took my mum to choose her reaction to me on the doorstep covered in paint, I’m assuming she applied the “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” logic. And I honestly think that is a great antidote to some of parenting’s more challenging moments. Like when, unbeknown to me, boy number 2 aged about 3 had got hold of the sunblock whilst watching some Doctor Who and was using it to “Ex-term-in-ate” the Daleks on the TV… and all over the carpet and sofa and curtains as he went. I walked in, took one look and had a choice: a meltdown, or… something else. I chose the something else. I chose to give a little laugh, acknowledge my mistake at leaving the sunblock in reach, admired his ability to engage in role play whilst exploring a range of materials available and set to clearing up – whilst giggling to myself about the boy’s somewhat genuis misdeamnours.

There were a few contenders for my final “parenting word”- Rest, Community, Honesty…. just some of them. But I do think the most valuable one to include in my top 3 is “Laughter”. Sometimes, when I’m standing in the middle of mess and chaos and noise and what feels like a take overbid from a herd of elephants on acid… if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry. And honestly? The crying might never stop!

Quite clearly I am not alone in this pursuit of humour in the parenting arena. The rise of blogs like and are testament to the fact, I think, that if nothing else, we just need a ruddy good laugh about it all. Raising children is a serious business, but it needn’t be an unbearable burden. That burden can be lifted, just a little I reckon, by remembering to laugh. Obviously this needs to be balanced with seriousness when appropriate. To my shame, there have been a few times I’ve had to leave a room because I’m finding a boys’ misadventures quite amusing actually when a genuine telling off is more appropriate. We kind of tag team the response when I can stifle my laughter no more. And Steven is MUCH better at visibly frowning on poor behaviour at times. Unless it’s to do with bodily functions and then the toilet humour gets the better of him and I have to step in again. Team work in parenting – another great tip!

You know, bottom line, with all of my words, is an acknowledgement that basically we’re all just trying to find something that works, in a way that won’t damage our children – or us for that matter – for life. Steven and I are still making it up as we go along really. But I also like to think we have learnt a bit by now as well. As I’m sure all parents do along the way.

So to conclude this mini-series (which possibly breaks some kind of record for taking the longest time to complete!) my three words, the three main notes in my parenting mood music are (see introduction to my parenting mood music here):

Forgiveness (more on that here)

Patience (more on that here)

And Laughter.

I’d love to know what yours are. Perhaps together there is a symphony to find. A funny one I hope. Possibly involving kazoos. Now *they’re* hilarious….

See you one the front line

Helen -x-

PS. Just a side note on laughing post babies: Pelvic floors. And avoid trampolines. #justsaying

PPS. I literally have *no* idea why the font has changed in this bit. But life is way too short to try and figure it out before publishing. So there we are. #technophobe #noviceblogger


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Patience: Getting through the drudge

One evening this week I listened as boy number 1 and boy number 4 played together in the bath. I led on my bed whilst they giggled and wriggled and whilst they shrieked and splashed and my mummy heart couldn’t have swollen to a bigger size. Later the aforementioned boy number 4 came into see me and began by saying “mummy, I have discovered a problem. No wait; there are actually two things that I need to tell you. Well they’re not really problems. They’re just sort of things that we need to discuss and sort out. You see, what I have found out is…” And my mummy brain thought, “For the love of all that is Holy, will you GET to the point!” Of course I didn’t SAY that. I THOUGHT that. In fact I often THINK that. Parenting for me is absolutely definitely full of the swollen-mummy-heart moments. But my goodness, there are an awful lot mind numbing life sucking ones to drudge through as well. Enter my second “parenting note” (see the first one here): Patience.

I don’t think there is a more impatient creature on the planet than a toddler. My Mr. Almost-3, if wanting to gain my attention, employs one of two plans. Plan a: shouting “mummy mummy mummy mummy mummy”- no commas. That would suggest drawing of breath. And plan b: crying which lands at an assortment of decibels – those worthy of the Richter Scale through to those ridiculous silent shudders with accompanying hiccups. And when I finally get there? It’s usually because his sock has fallen off, his juice bottle has rolled 3 cm away from him or there is a teeny tiny crumb on the carpet messing with his equilibrium. Give. Me. Strength.

But impatience is not solely the preserve of toddlers. Nothing makes you aware of the passing of time in the same way as when trying to get AN-Y-WHERE with a toddler. And nothing makes you question the meaning of life quite like having to sit through a 6 year olds first foray into the world of joke telling or attempting to reason with a stroppy pre-teen about homework. There are definitely no two ways about it; Parenting needs to be served with a HUGE dollop of patience. And I think deep down we all know this. But, how often do we catch ourselves saying, “come on, hurry up” or “quickly now, we’ll be late” or “get a move on, we need to be there”? Well here’s the thing: as much as our children seem to be the least patient organisms known to humanity, in complete contrast, they do in fact need US to be the most patient people in the world – the most patient people in THEIR world.

It’s tough. I know. I really, really know. Especially 4 weeks in to the school summer holidays.

When boy number 1 is having a meltdown because I haven’t got time to explain myself… I just need him to do what he is frickin told the first time I ask for once. Or when it’s tipping down with rain, and boy number 4 wants to see EVERY. SINGLE. Slug. (Passing comment about its position and general state of mind)… I just want to get in the car. NOW. Or when boys number 2 and 3 are arguing AGAIN over something I recently sorted out. Like 2 minutes ago. And all I want is for them to play nicely for 10 minutes so I can have a cup of tea in peace. In these moments it’s a challenge to not really lose my shizzle and, to misquote Miley Cyrus, crash in like a wrecking ball all over their needs. Their need to be heard; Their need to learn and discover and delight in the world around them; Their need to pursue justice and resolution.

So here we are then. People with an average amount of patience, needing to scrounge together more patience than a… er… gathering of saints (do they have gatherings?) or something. And, if by some miracle we manage to own such a quantity of patience, we also need to be ready to throw it out at a moment’s notice, in a variety of settings. Much like someone throwing out chicken feed I imagine. And I wish I could tell you all the answers. I wish I had a handy list of things to do or not do that would unlock the magic solution to. But really, the only thing I know for certain is this: You will fail. I will fail. We all will fail. From time to time, we will all forget to have patience. In fact sometimes, it will become obvious that we haven’t just misplaced our patience, we took it out for a long walk and lost it years ago – probably somewhere up a blind alley. But I do have one tip to offer for what it’s worth…

During those wanting-to-stab-your-eyes-with-a-fork moments, or in the if-I-have-to-do-this-again-I’m-going-to-scream scenarios, try not to take it personally. Seriously. If your child is taking a painful amount of time to tell you a story it’s because they need to be heard – and they need you to hear them. If your child is taking a ridiculous amount of time pointing out the most inane things on the pavement, it’s not because they are deliberately trying to make you late, it’s because every trip out is an opportunity to learn. And if your child is pushing back, testing the boundaries, it’s because they are trying to work out how secure they are – How secure YOU are.

Have you ever noticed the amount of patience you have to offer is like a gazillion times more with other people’s children than your own? Well I think it’s because with our own children it DOES seem personal somehow. Listen. I’m not an expert. But I do know that my children have rarely read my schedule and are usually far too wrapped up in their own needs to work out manipulative ways to disregard mine. For some reason we can accept this a whole lot easier when it comes to children who don’t belong to us. When it comes to our own it’s really tough to circumnavigate the pressing-of-every-single-button sensation and find the patience we so desperately need to provide. But if we choose to not be personally offended or frustrated by what our children need from us in that moment, if we choose to step into their world with them rather than get annoyed that they won’t step in to ours with us, then I reckon that illusive patience might be easier to pin down. Oh. Lord. Have. Mercy.

Just two more things.

Number 1. Do not beat yourself up about losing your patience. It will happen. It will probably happen A LOT. Although learn to apologise – yes, even to your children. We need to normalise this stuff of getting it wrong and moving on from it.
Number 2. Do not judge other parents for losing their patience. We’ve all been there, in a supermarket, feeling uncomfortable as a struggling mum finally snaps at a curious toddler who is being less than helpful to the task in hand. And I bet we have all BEEN that struggling mum (or dad) too. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Lend support if appropriate. Offer a kind word if there is an opportunity to do so. Or simply go on your merry way, safe in the knowledge that in the not too distant future there will be a perfect opportunity for you to throw all of the patience at all of the situations yourself.

So there we are. The second note in my parenting mood music: Patience. I know these words are coming at you slower than a toddler walking in the rain observing every slug in their path, but next up is my third and final and most definitely favourite one in the composition. So hang on in there. I promise you, the crescendo is coming.

See you on the front line… and if you see me stabbing my eyes with a fork, please don’t judge. Possibly remove the fork though. And I promise I’ll do the same for you. OK?

Helen – x –

fork in eye

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Confession time. My name is Helen and I am a rubbish blogger…

Excuses –

  1. I have four kids. Some days it’s a bonus I manage to leave the house fully clothed, with everyone who should be with me actually, well, WITH me. (I have totally only left my child behind once. And only for a few minutes. In his car seat. At the entrance to a swimming pool. I realised AS SOON as I got in the changing room. Well. I *might* have been part way through getting changed. But the important thing is that I DID remember. Eventually…. And hey, fourth babies need to learn mummy can’t be everywhere at once, right….?)
  2. We moved house. Most. Stressful. Thing. EVER. Given the nature of number 1, coupled with the nature of husband’s ability to suffer a migraine at the slightest hint of anything major happening in our lives, it’s a small miracle the move actually happened. Indeed, for some time, the fact we are now in a new home accompanied by all our stuff has formed the basis of my entire faith-based meta narrative of the world.
  3. For about the last 9 months I have been unwell. Not something I have been shouting from the roof tops. But unavoidable to admit no longer. Might go into it more in future posts, but for now it’s enough to say that these days my health is not in the state I wish it was.
  4. Do I need a number 4? Do you forgive me yet? Well in case I do, because you don’t, I might also add that our home computer has been having THE most epic meltdown ever since we moved house (PTSD I wouldn’t be surprised) meaning it’s been really difficult to get it to even make eye contact with me, never mind be persuaded to publish anything.

Aaand exhale. All good now? Anyway, to update, in case you’re wondering what’s been happening –

  1. My kids are well, y’know, still here. And –
  2. I’d like to say almost a year on everything is unpacked and sorted in our house. But that would be… A big fat lie. However –
  3. I am refusing to let the limitations of my physical body continue to dictate how my soul is nourished. And –
  4. A lovely young man in a technical shop has managed to, I dunno, perform some sort of magic, I guess, on our computer. He’s quite possibly a computer-whisperer (well shouting at the sodding thing never worked out so presumably whispering is the way to go…)

So, basically, I’m *back in the game*. I hope. I realise I’ve said that before. Let’s see. But at least for now, I’m definitely *back in the game* (add your own fanfares).

Moving swiftly on from the fact I used the phrase *back in the game* – TWICE – What is WRONG with me? – it’s seemingly appropriate that I asked you to contemplate whether or not you forgive me for my repeated absence. Not because I’m a desperate sado who needs affirmation. Although possibly that is also true. It’s because this is kind of one of my “words”. You most definitely don’t remember, but last time I blogged (like, a gazillion months ago) I mentioned that I was going to expand a bit more on the words which make up my general “direction of travel” when it comes to parenting. If you need your memory jogging, here is a link . But in case you can’t be arsed to read it (hey, we all have lives…) in summary, I believe parenting advice should generally be welcomed with caution. Or at least received with a hefty dose of salt. And instead, it might be more helpful to create some sort of mood music to which we dance the steps of raising our children. More life nurturing banners and fewer lists of dos and don’ts. Enter stage left, the first of my parenting words (or notes, if you like): Forgiveness.

From when they went in to how they come out… from what you put in their mouths to what you put around their bums… and from who looks after them to how much you spend on them… It seems that from the moment we dare to contemplate starting a family we are bombarded with things to feel guilty about. Accidentally went horse riding before realising you were pregnant? Birth not quite what you hoped or planned? Didn’t manage to breastfeed as long as you’d hoped? Snuck a bottle of formula in to “top up” before bed? Secretly a bit disappointed with your baby’s gender? Actually, on some nights, go to bed fantasising about life before babies? Desperate to go back to work? HAVE to go back to work? In case you’re wondering, tick, to feeling guilty about ALL of those myself at different times. But, and admittedly this took me a while to realise myself, such things don’t require a feeling of guilt. They simply mean that you are a human and a parent. So please, please, please don’t waste time carrying around guilt for things that ultimately don’t matter. Trust me, they really don’t. When your child is 18 do you think they’ll care how you brought them into this world, whether you used a dummy, which nappies you put them in or if you fed them formula? (Yes, I know all things being well, breast is best… But sometimes, life is well, life….).


Admitting you want to give birth with all the drugs known to humanity rather than swinging from a tree in the woods whilst primitive tribes welcome the new life in with pan pipes is…  absolutely acceptable. (Anybody else found themselves in the middle of what feels like a game of competitive birth stories with other mums? Really, however you choose to do it or have to do it, does not require a value judgement from ANYONE.) Using paid childcare is also… totally OK.  I clearly remember having to excuse myself at work on a number of occasions to go and sob like a drunk man in the disabled loo because I felt so bad that I wasn’t with my boys. And yet I equally remember times when I couldn’t wait to leave the house in proper clothes to see proper grown ups to discuss proper things. And in both seasons of parenting, my boys were absolutely fine. More than fine. They thrived.

Feeling sometimes as if you can’t cope or perhaps shouldn’t have bothered with the whole baby thing is ABSOLUTELY normal from time to time. Thinking you could be doing it better is pretty much what we sign up for (or, admittedly, have thrust upon us). Whether it’s the unavoidable things that happen (like the birth or needing to return to work) or making proactive choices to “get you through” (like the formula or the dummy) The best thing you can do is to forgive yourself. In fact the very thing you HAVE to do is forgive yourself. Again. Trust me. I’ve been there. More than you can imagine. But what I found is that carrying around guilt and continually feeling like you have to make up for something robs you of time, takes away joy and is totally exhausting –  and exhausted is not the best note to have in your parenting mood music. What I discovered when I lost the guilt was an experience of parenting which was much more liberating, much more fun and much more gentle both to my soul and my boys’. (Although when I say “lost” I have to admit to the occasional relapse from time to time, which close friends will attest to!)

So. For what it’s worth, these are the things I have concluded over the years about how to get rid of the burden of false guilt to free us up to parent in a much  more life-giving, life nurturing way…

  • Embrace your birth story… if you squatted down in the woods, dropped a baby and went back to the work the next day, fandabbydosey. If you had your legs akimbo on a hospital bed whilst the little blighter was pulled from you with metal instruments, well done you. If you had a c-section to bring your little person in to the world, well thank goodness all was good in the end. In all 3 cases and many more, good for you. Congratulations warrior! You made it! Be proud that you grew an actual person inside yourself and participated in their coming into the world. However it happened, it’s a miracle. And you deserve a medal. Possibly in the form of a VERY expensive present from your partner. Which they might need reminding of! (I settled for his “little procedure” as gift which apparently cost him A LOT – so I’m told…)
  • Make peace with what works for you… sometimes, parenting is about going with the flow and simply doing whatever it takes not to fall of the cliff. Dummies, screens, formula, childcare, informal help, co sleeping, the odd day where all they eat is toast… within obvious boundaries no one is going to die here so it’s ALL GOOD! Move along. Nothing more to see.
  • Don’t read any articles that start with stuff like…”latest report reveals that parents who do ‘x’ Have children who are ‘y’…” This is really important. Reading how babies born by caesarean are apparently more likely to have autism, or how children of mothers who go back to work are more likely to become violent criminals in later life* is not AT ALL helpful or necessary if you are going to chart the parenting years ahead of you well. (*MUST make it clear these are MADE UP EXAMPLES. I am not suggesting either of those things!!) Equally, digesting apparent research which suggests that getting toddlers to eat spinach and learn 3 different languages is the key to their future success, is a recipe for a nervous breakdown before breakfast each day. So, do yourself and you babies a favour and STEP AWAY from the headline/social media click bait. Seriously. You are doing a good job. It will all be fine.
  • Finally, by all means strive for improvement, but not to PROVE you are good enough, only because you ARE good enough. Of course, there are often things to admit we could do better. And good parents are the ones who recognise this. But basically, aside from the very few I have met in a professional capacity or read about in the news, parents I know aren’t doing anything they need to feel guilty about. In fact, on the whole, I find that us parents are doing pretty much OK at all this raising fellow humans stuff. It’s tough out there. So give yourself a break! Pick the brains of others, lap up the wisdom of those around you, accept generous offers of help and agree to keep on keeping on by all means. The best human are, after all, always growing and learning. The same is true for parents I reckon. But, as a tip from me to you, try to approach it as a student of life, rather than as a deranged-hyperactive-zombie who is scared of their own shadow. Learning might well be the wise thing to do. But it is not the answer to neuroticism  and won’t get rid of the sack cloth and ashes approach to perceived mistakes.

Of course we don’t just need to forgive ourselves. There are others who could probably do with our forgiveness along the way as well, if we are going to truly cultivate this attribute. We might need to forgive our partners for GETTING TO LEAVE THE HOUSE AND HAVE A PEE ALONE for crying out loud. We sometime need to forgive our children for being, well, little sods at times if we’re honest. (The “the little sod” is, I believe, a bona fide child development stage not to be taken personally. Although, feel free to double-check this fact with actual proper childhood development experts). And there might be times we need to forgive those “perfect mothers” we come across, doing it all perfectly with perfect children and a perfect house and perfect hair and a perfect husband and a… need I go on? We all know one or two. Or at least we think we do. I bet underneath it all they might be feeling just as guilty and just as afraid and just as lost as the rest of us mere mortals.

So. Forgiveness: One of my key words and foundational notes. The next word in my parenting mood music is Patience. Hopefully you won’t need as much of it this time before I get round to the blogging malarkey again. But just in case it’s a while: forgive me?

See you on the front line,

Helen -x-








Dancing and Mood Music and Words: An Introduction To Parenting Advice That Isn’t

I was having one of “those” bed time conversations with son #2 recently. You know the ones, where they suddenly, just before saying goodnight, need to know the exact moment you knew you were going to marry daddy, or how you know that the pet fish absolutely definitely won’t have any babies or why poo is brown, wee is yellow and blood is red. Well, on this occasion it was seemingly imperative prior to going to sleep that he knew all about the different jobs I have done in the past. Straightforward you might think. Only it wasn’t long before my job titles became not very straightforward at all – much to my frustration given I was actually aiming to run off a quick list and be downstairs with cuppa for the start of Eastenders. Shop assistant was relatively easy to clarify. As was youth worker. But by the time we got to Participation and Children’s Rights Officer I knew I’d be lucky to make even the end of Eastenders never mind the opening titles..! And then we got to my most recent paid position as a Family Support Worker. So, internally thanking the Lord that my career had spanned a relatively few number of different job roles, I duly set about trying to explain to my son what that meant. I started by saying that some people need a bit of extra help to be the best mummies and daddies that they can be. He looked confused. Trying to give a useful but not too heavy frame of reference for him, I landed on the fact that some parents might not know how to play with their children, for example. He looked horrified. It wasn’t going well. I was concerned he might get the impression that people who needed help with parenting were some how inadequate or intrinsically bad. I desperately wanted to convey something that not only made sense but that also didn’t leave him with the impression that I was somehow better because I knew what to do whilst others didn’t. It turns out that I needn’t have worried. Because when I hastily added that parenting is difficult for all of us sometimes, (trying to avoid conveying a judgemental tone) without dropping a single beat he came back with, “I can tell!”

Gee son, I’ll try not to carry my burden and inadequacies so obviously in future…!!

And my son is not the only one who is all too aware of my failings as a parent. Partly, I am guessing, because I have done the baby thing four times and partly because of my professional life, I have, at times, found myself in conversations which feel worryingly like I am dishing out advice. And at these times I couldn’t hope to express more how many inadequacies I have (just ask boy #2!), how much I am still making it up as I go along and how consistently scared I am of getting it wrong ALL. THE. TIME. And crucially that any “advice” I might offer is done so on the basis that I am harbouring deep down the same fear as everyone else – that I don’t really know what I’m doing either.

When one of the midwives last time around referred to me as a well seasoned mother (making it sound rather like I was a dog in show at Crufts) and followed it up with a comment that was meant to be affirming, I’m sure, about me knowing what I was doing by now, I wanted to shout “no! I really, actually, don’t. Not for sure. You see the thing is that this new small person here is different. Unique. And it’s precisely because I have done it 3 times before that I am all too aware that often parenting isn’t about neat formulas but is more like dancing, with new steps each day and different mood music depending what is going on the lives of me, the small person in question and the world around us. It takes time to learn the steps, and just when you get the hang of one routine there’s a whole new one to learn and the music goes from waltz to salsa in the blink of an eye. As each new little person bursts onto centre stage, the work of parenting needs to adapt, move and develop according to the demands of the music being played at that time. And there’s no guarantee I know how this one goes.” As I looked down at my very new baby #4 I didn’t think, “here we go again, more of the same. ” I thought “yikes, a whole new dance to learn, I wonder what it’s gonna be like this time!”


Having said all that, of course I realise there are general pieces of wisdom that we all benefit from knowing as parents. When it comes to children it’s not a complete free for all. Generally speaking, for example, too much sugar is bad, enough sleep is very important and consistency is paramount in discipline. But having done the rounds with Gina Ford, Penelope Leach, Alicia Eaton, the NCT, my mother in law and channel 4’s Super Nanny I have concluded that parenting advice can, at times, become like failed New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t tend to make those any more because I know I am setting myself up to fail. In the same way, trying to raise children by the advice of others can, if it doesn’t work out, have the same effect. Exhaustion, guilt, shame and a desire for the ground to swallow you up next time the conversation turns to whatever it is that you have tried but “failed” to conquer.

Now, don’t hear me wrong. There is nothing wrong with getting advice, be it sharing tips between friends, reading a book, asking your mum, checking a website or phoning your health visitor.  As long as the advice others offer you doesn’t become something to make you feel as if you are somehow not good enough, that you’re doing it all wrong, that your child won’t ever thrive, others are clearly better at all of this than you because it works for them and when it comes to your parenting skills it’s evidently a lost cause.
moodmusicThere is this thing I do at New Year now which takes the place of all those failed and guilt inducing resolutions. Instead of vowing to make some sort of change in my life, to start or stop doing something, at the start of each new year, I purposefully reflect on a word that I want to try to characterise and focus my energy on for the 12 months ahead. A couple of years ago my word was “thankfulness”. Another one recently has been “connecting” – to others, my husband, my children, my faith, myself…. Etc. So, rather than a set of rules of do less of this, don’t do so much of that, the word chosen becomes instead like mood music, setting the tone and overarching direction of what I hope to be played out in my life for the year to come.

In the same way, I have come to believe that a lot of parenting advice should take the form of words to be mindful of rather than restrictive regimes. Fewer dos and don’ts and many more musical accompaniments to which the specifics of mummying and daddying can be set, dependent upon who we are, who they are, our life circumstances, our family make up, an unexpected event, a particular season in our lives, an additional need or quirk in theirs

So, over the next few blog posts, I have decided to share with you just four of the most prominent words that now feature in my – obviously flawed – attempts at parenting. In doing so I seek not so much to offer specific advice, as to encourage you to lift your gaze from the parenting books, to free yourself from the paralysis of experienced yet conflicting voices and to instead tune in to some mood music – music which has helped me to dance at least some successful steps with my little ones, and accompaniments to parenting that perhaps might help you to do likewise. And hey, if they don’t, maybe come up with your own. Or don’t come up with any at all. That’s the thing about advice… and even encouragement… Some of it will speak to you and some of it won’t. So sure, stick to that well-thumbed book or parenting guru if those things work for you. I guess what I’m trying to do is offer an alternative in case they don’t. But whatever you do, whether you find this impending series of blog posts helpful or not, I will commit to offering you this: if you are a parent please, please know, there is a little one dancing on centre stage right now, longing for you to notice, to tune in to the music, learn the steps and join in. However you do it, just don’t stop the dance.

Helen -x-

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The haunting rattles of things-I-used-to-do

So. A *funny* thing happened to me recently. I received an Email from WordPress asking me to renew my Subscription for a blog called Nakedness Dens and Food. I duly searched the deepest crevices of my memory, dusted down the cobwebs in my brain and shone a bright light into the corners of my mind. And would you believe it, that there, right there, just sitting looking straight back at me like a Labrador eyeing up a biscuit in my hand, was a great big yet another something-else-I-used-to-do? I have lots of them up there, floating around amongst all the stuff – mainly things about my boys like birthdays, best friends, favourite Transformer of the moment, which day it’s ok to wear Toy Story underwear and when it has to be the Batman ones because that’s less embarrassing when you’re 7 and getting changed for PE apparently…

“Hmm…. ” I thought, as I read the e-mail. “I do vaguely remember this blogging thing I used to do.” And then I was faced with a choice; to resurrect or to bury. To renew or forget. To pick up or to leave be – along with all the other things that have fallen by the wayside during my years of parenting – and, let’s face it, just adult-ing. Oh yes, as well as all the boy-info, I have quite a few of these things-I-used-to-do lodged in my memory ready to taunt me at the earliest opportunity. They probably have their very own club where they all get together and support each other through existential musings: Guitar playing, Jogging (only did it once but I think it still counts), scrap booking, poetry writing (don’t laugh), reading anything other than parenting books or Aliens Love Underpants… And now, blogging, apparently. And did you know, they rattle? Only faintly. But if I ever stop long enough to hear my own thoughts, the rattling is there, rattling the rhythm of things-I-used-to-do; Moving and shaking to the sounds of a drum beat I once knew well, but one that somehow gets forgotten in the day-to-day. But here’s the thing, the thing that has compelled me to write again. This drum beat. It’s an important one. It’s a vital one. It’s the drum beat of my soul.

So, here’s my reflection about those things we often put down or decide we don’t have time for amongst the madness of family life (which, incidentally, is the only reason for neglecting this blog in recent months, nothing more dramatic than just that).

Fellow parents, as we go about our devoted care-giving and thinking of others and changing nappies and not enough sleep and endless school runs and culinary battles and taxi driving and general cheerleading and dealing with too many other humans’ bodily functions and… Did I mention not enough sleep…? Well, as we go about all of that, it’s so important that we also don’t ignore those sounds we try to bury during particularly the early years of parenting – all those rattles, rattling the haunting rhythm of things-we-used-to-do. To ignore the rattles and the drum beat they are trying to synch with, is to ignore the core of who we are.

Now, I appreciate that you may be reading this thinking it’s all very well, but who’s got time for Pilates, or PHDs when the biggest achievement of the day is to manage a shower, or an acceptable meal not involving nuggets and chips? I know. I really do. I know that it’s not easy to find time for “you” in all the mayhem. I know what it’s like to struggle just to get through the housework each day whilst simultaneously keeping a toddler from breaking his neck jumping off furniture, and then to collapse on the sofa at the end of it all exhausted and just in the need of S-L-E-E-P. And I know what the reality of having a paid job on top of all the parenting does to the levels of stress and the lengths of things to do lists just to get everyone out of the house on time. I know that the thought of fitting in anything else right now to your day, anything vaguely resembling a hobby or vocation seems laughable. But I also know the cost of not doing it is way higher than you probably think. Because it’s not just us parents who need us to feed our souls. Our children need us to do it too.

I read a blog last year which beautifully expresses, much better than I, the importance of what I’m getting at. It’s a piece by a woman called Shauna, now a mother herself, about the lessons her mother has communicated through her own journey of mothering. It’s written from the point of view of a mother to a daughter alluding to the gender stereotypical roles and assumption that women would in a sense put their own lives on hold to have babies. But I know that unless you happen to be getting paid for doing what you love in a vocational sense, rather than just finding employment to pay the bills, both parents whether male or female will feel this squeeze on their ability to follow their own passions whilst so much of their time is spent focused on the hum drum of family life and routine of *survival* (My husband would be the first to complain that he doesn’t go to as many gigs these days or play squash so much for example). So here, for the benefit of both mums and dads, as well as our children regardless of gender, are some of the nuggets shared in the wisdom of Shauna’s and Lynne’s journeys.


Lynne and Shauna

She was an excellent care-giver. An attentive and gentle mother, a loving parent. But in her own words, she was not happy. We had a good, good mom. But we did not have a happy one. Seventeen years after she became a pastor’s wife, she walked into a counsellor’s office and said, “I don’t know who I am anymore. Something has to change.”

This is what she says about it: “What’s so sad is that when women fail to take their lives seriously, nobody wins. Our kids didn’t win. They got a devoted, conscientious mother, who picked up after them and made sure they got their homework done. They got a mother who adored them, prayed for them, always wanted the best for them. But they didn’t get a happy mother. They didn’t get a fun mother. They didn’t get to see, up close and personal, a woman fully alive…”

Little by little, my mom began to look inside herself, to consider for the first time in almost 20 years what it was she really loved, what she was made to do.

This journey she was on began when I was fourteen….Watching my mother while I as a young teenager gave me a front row seat to a hard, messy, important, beautiful transformation. I watched my mother become herself. I watched her come alive. I watched her discover her gifts… And as I watched her, I promised myself that I would follow this new example she was leaving for me, to pay attention to my gifts and passions. The life I was seeing in her for the first time was so inspiring to me. I loved it in her, and I wanted it for myself…

My mom taught me that it’s worth the hard work of rearranging the practicalities. It seems overwhelming. It seems easier, simpler, cleaner sometimes, to opt out entirely for a while, to put my own voice on hold for a while, to sort it out later. But my mom’s voice in my life and her example in my life would never allow me to do that… and part of her fire for that is because she knows first-hand how painful life is when you’re not living out of your passions.

She said, “Don’t wait the decades that I did—decades of depression and exhaustion… it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Just because in one season or another you can’t pour forty hours a week into creative work you love doesn’t mean you give it up entirely. Pour four hours a week into it—or four hours a month. Keep your dreams alive and they’ll energize you.”


And there’s the paradoxical truth we need to take hold of. Right there in the final sentence my friends. Just when we think we’re too exhausted to think about ourselves and what we want out of life, is exactly the moment we must do just that. Whether it’s coffee with a friend, reading a book by a favourite author, taking a course of study, dusting down our old guitar, volunteering in an area we feel passionate about… Whatever it is that makes us tick, whatever it is that feeds our souls, whatever it is that makes us feel more like us… It’s in that place that we find energy. Sure an extra 8 hours sleep wouldn’t hurt either. But the kind of energy that invigorates our very core, that is so explosive it can’t help but make our eyes sparkle and the love of life bubble out of us, could well be the missing ingredient in our parenting.

Shauna speaks so fondly of her mother’s example, but why wait until our children are teenagers? And trust me, I have not got this right yet. So this rally cry is levelled at me as much as anyone else. My boys don’t really know that I play the guitar (sort of!) and they know little about my passion for dance prior to getting married. Jogging aside, there are many things I would like to do that for too long I have let being a parent get in the way of. And this blog was in danger of becoming yet another one of those things. So I’m fighting back! This time I have taken notice of the rattling sounds echoing around my mind of something-I-used-to-do and I am seeking to live, at least a little bit, to the rhythm of the drum beat at the core of my soul, a part of which is this blog. I’m not sure if it is a gift, but it is certainly a passion.

Life is full of seasons, but it is never the season to neglect to be you and everything that makes you, “you”. That is not what our children need. As Shauna’s story illustrates, our children flourish in who they are when they have experienced parents who also flourish in all they are. For some that will be in the tending of the home, for others it will be in the court room as a hot-shot solicitor and for others it may be in the volunteering at weekends in a soup kitchen. Wherever it is, whatever it looks like, remember it, find it, do it! I promise you, far from being one extra chore to fit in to the madness, it will energise you for the ride. And it will show your children LIFE. The very best of our great big fat juicy lives! If you can’t read war and peace, read something… An article here or there, a novel downloaded onto your tablet for the night-time feeds. If you can’t volunteer every weekend, volunteer once a month. If you can’t throw as many parties any more, just throw the odd one (no, your children’s birthday party doesn’t count!).

The jogging I only did once. It turned out not to be me. It doesn’t need to be picked up again. EVER! But blogging… well the rattling has been heard and taken note of. The blog is back people! And the drum beat of my soul is a little louder already. It’s nice to have you join me being me. Now, go and be you!

Helen -x-

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A bit of a fundraising rant


Today is Children In Need which is an awesome charity and a wondrous moment in UK culture where the majority of folk pull together to raise money for some of the most vulnerable amongst us in society. This can only be a good thing and I want to make it absolutely clear at the beginning of this rant that I in NO WAY have an issue with Children In Need. In fact my big three, along with lots of other children, have paid today to go into school not in their uniform but dressed up as a favourite hero. Now, this is where I take issue. Not in the notion of non-uniform days. Or even in dressing up and having fun. BUT here’s the thing. Well a few things really, that have been pulsing through my veins as we have approached today…

Firstly, the cost. Most parents I know have ended up having to spend money on this. And this isn’t money that has gone to Children In Need. This is money that has gone on the outfits that the children are paying a mere £1 to dress up in. In my opinion if the money we spend on the silly costumes totals more than the money we are giving to wear them, something has gone seriously wrong with where our hard earned cash is going. I would certainly rather my resources went directly to Children In Need than the retailers where I have had to buy my material/wigs/outfits/props from.

Secondly, what constitutes a hero? It struck me as we approached today just how many little girls were going as princesses. Now I absolutely appreciate the situation that parents find themselves in when it comes to events like this. Dressing up as a favourite hero for a 5 year old has very little to do with important icons in their tiny little lives, and everything to do with what parents can cobble together from the dressing up box without spending too much money and finding something that “will do”. I don’t judge anyone for doing this. I have done it myself. Countless times. Indeed son #3 went to school today as a generic knight for that exact reason. But isn’t there something concerning if we continue to sleep walk as a society into teaching our children, little girls in particular, that a princess is synonymous with being a hero. A character who is continually paraded in front of our children in most other contexts as someone whose sole purpose in life is to bag the prince and that will make all her dreams come true is now being thrust upon our little ones as a person to look up to – a hero. And likewise, my son instantly believes that a knight is someone who is a hero because he goes into battle rescuing the princess. I don’t know about you, but I want more for my children. I don’t want my sons growing up with the pressure of having to feel like they need to rescue anyone, any more than I want little girls growing up with the belief that they need to be rescued. I want to see girls dressed up as amazing historic figures or authors or sportswomen. And I want to see boys dressed up as men who are known for their kindness, intellect and talent rather than fictional figures known for mystical powers of recuse and brute force.

Thirdly, the learning opportunity. Now I appreciate that the whole exercise has the potential to raise awareness in the hearts and minds of our children about those less fortunate than themselves, which is nothing but an excellent opportunity in my book. The only thing is, that in my house anyway, it appears to have been missed. My boys (and I, if I’m being honest) have been so focussed on the ins and outs of their costumes that there hasn’t been a lot of room left for contemplating the serious nature of the reason and people behind it. If you asked them this week who they were going as today they could enthuse spectacularly. If you asked them why they were doing it they were much less certain. The talk in the playground has as all been about the costume; how cool it is, where it’s from, how it was made, how much hassle it’s been etc. At the risk of sounding like a killjoy, it kind of feels like the whole point of it has been lost somewhere along the way. I’m not saying that therefore we shouldn’t do it. On the contrary. Instilling events like this into the consciousness of our children is a good foundation on which to build with more information later. But I just wonder if we could have a bit less narcissism and a lot more altruism over how we go about stuff like this.

Like I said, I don’t want to knock Children In Need. Or schools for seeking to engage our children in creative fundraising exercises. I just believe there must be a better way to do it. Let’s scrap all talk of heroes unless we are going to do it properly. And whilst we’re at it, why not give parents a break altogether from the dread of having to come up with any costume in particular and just have a simple straightforward non-uniform day. Like I did growing up. And for that… to get rid of the pressure and the need to be creative and/or spend money… I for one would pay a hefty ransom… to Children In Need… the very thing which is supposed to be the focus of today’s efforts.

But the most important thing to say before I climb off my soapbox, is whether you have read this with relief that you’re not the only one that feels this way, or whether you couldn’t be more angry with me for dissing your efforts to do something good, please, please don’t forget that Children In Need is awesome. As are many other charities. So whatever you have taken from my rant, I beg you not to take the message to not be generous at times like this. If you have to do it via spurious attempts at hero costumes then, condolences, but so be it. Just don’t forget the reason for it all in the process. And try to make sure your children know the reason for it all whilst you’re at it. Oh, and if you haven’t given to this year’s Children In Need yet, or even feel like you could give more, you can do it here


Helen -x-

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My Womb-Now-Redundant Crisis

So. That was September then*.

(*Yes. I’m well aware that a large part of October has also been and gone, but when I first drafted this post it was only the 1st so I thought I’d push on through with the same opener in much the same way that I stick to the whole “no dear, I have NO idea where blanket has gone. Let’s have a look…” line whilst taking part in a fake search for said blanket and simultaneously watching it go round in the washing machine out of the corner of my eye. Anyway…)

Now, two significant things happened during last month. I had a birthday. Which happens every year. I know. But I turned 35. Which is half of 70. Which means I can no longer pretend to basically be late 20s (which everyone knows that’s what you basically ARE when you’re only 32 or 33). It means instead that I’m definitely nearing the top of the hill signposted “middle aged” from which the only way is over the top. The other thing that happened was that baby boy turned 1 and with it, suddenly became much more of a toddler than a babe in arms. He is most definitely walking, climbing, pouting, eating, tantruming* (*made up word alert), teasing, defying, exploring, objecting and loving with great professionalism.

This combined ageing process has forced me to come to terms with the fact that not only are we all getting older, but that with it one season of my life is giving way to the next. I have to admit that I am no longer baby making, baby carrying, baby birthing and baby nursing. I no longer need the crib, the pram, the steriliser, the books on weaning, the breast feeding support line, the muslin squares (although if I was “one of those mums” I would probably use those to make jam…), the baby gym, the tiny vests, the nursing light or the local birth centre in my address book. I have moved on to the next stage. I don’t “do” having babies any more. Now don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely definitely got no desire to have any more of the little munchkins. But equally, moving on is harder to do than I expected it to be. In fact, as much as I am relieved to gain some extra storage space in the house, the only way I have been able to come to terms with getting rid of maternity and baby items no longer required is to sell a lot of them to raise money for a new bed for son number one. Giving a defined purpose to the exercise, one focussed on the children I already have, makes the realisation that I’ll never have any more somehow easier to cope with. And trust me. I really AM done. But still…. It’s kind of sad.

Being faced with this new stage of my life has not only made me feel a little older (perhaps it’s the link between youth and fertility…) it has also forced me to reflect on who I am if I’m not having babies. Yes I know it sounds dramatic. I am after all still looking after my babies – all four of them. And that I anticipate will never stop (My dad is still looking after me 35 years on!). But the looking after and nurturing stuff does start to look different over time. And so this is where I am now. Right in the middle of my womb-now-redundant crisis.

baby thought

I’m very fortunate to have been a stay at home mum for the last few years (fortunate for me I hasten to add as it is what I wanted. I appreciate that for others it would not be classed as so fortunate! Hey, we all do mumming differently.), which only makes this all the harder. With nothing else demanding my time so much of my identity has been wrapped up in having my babies and looking after them that I’ve kind of forgotten who I am when I’m not having them! Plus, it may have taken me four attempts, and whilst I might not be winning any one-of-those-mums medals, I nevertheless finally feel that I’m not too shabby at it – or at least I’ve made my peace with the bits that I struggle with. So what if I can’t do anything else?! What if I’m no good at anything other than HAVING BABIES?! I’m being serious. Whilst I am incredibly grateful to my female ancestors for fighting to achieve a more balanced society (yes more, not totally balanced… but that’s a subject matter for another post…) with opportunities for women to embrace many more roles than “wife” and “mother”, at the risk of sounding like a traitor to my sex, I’m really not sure any longer what other roles I can operate in with any degree of confidence. Just as I feel I’m finding my feet with this one, it appears I am moving on. Not from children obviously. But from the baby thing.

Here I am at 35 then, feeling like I need an appointment with my school career’s advisor! Because I definitely do NOT want to be one of those women who stalk their children into adulthood because they don’t have enough going on in their own lives, or because they don’t know how to function without their children as the main event. Even as a contented SAHM I know there HAS to be more to my life than my children. And thinking about it, I owe it to my future daughter-in-laws (Yep. Whizzing past the huge assumptions in that statement but you’ll get where I’m going with this…) to model to my sons that there IS more to a woman’s life than having babies and staying at home with them. Maybe not right now. Maybe not even next year. But eventually, sometime in the not too distant future, I am going to want to embrace some new opportunities. New, non-womb related opportunities! Indeed for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY I’m going to HAVE to. Otherwise you may as well dress me in black and hang a sign around my neck which reads “WOMB NOW REDUNDANT. PERMANENT PERIOD OF MOURNING IN PROGRESS”. And you most definitely run the risk of finding me weeping into the baby clothes in Debenhams looking at women with baby bumps through melancholic stares.

And that is just about where my reflections have got me. No great conclusions. Just the deep seated, gut wrenching knowledge that one season of my life is coming to an end. Not with any great sense of immediacy. But certainly with a direction of travel that is definitely gaining pace. And I feel completely de-skilled right now to even attempt a new one. Nappies? I’ll change them. Sleep training? I’ve got it. Sort of. Toddler group politics? Well, still working on that one to be honest but much better at navigating it than I used to be. And I don’t have any great answers right now to what the next season looks like. But all joking aside, I guess what I do recognise is that I AM embarking on a period of mourning. And like all grieving processes it’s going to take time. I’m confident I’ll get there. Just as I managed the change from baby-less season to babies-coming-out-of-my-ears season. Eventually. I WILL find those new doors to walk through. I WILL pick up old hobbies again (which people close to me will either be heartened to hear or be running scared, depending on if they’ve HEARD my guitar playing!) and I WILL both remember and add to my skill set. After immersing myself in the world of so many little boys I’m thinking UN peace keeper could be a door to push… or prison guard perhaps… No, that gives the wrong impression of my parenting style… perhaps teacher, nurse, sports coach, chauffeur or PA give a better one… ahem! But whatever it looks likes and whatever it offers, until I fully acclimatise to this new season, if you happen to see me out and about at the shops crying into a rack of baby clothes, please gently escort me to the nearest HE college open day… or give me a slap… or possibly both!

See you on the front line somewhere… but definitely NOT casually browsing a display of cots and booties…

Helen -x-


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A Survivor’s Guide To The Primary School Years


With September well under way, if you have school aged children you will no doubt by now have heralded (with optional trumpets sounded… or tears… or maybe both in a conflicted sort of not-sure-how-I-feel-about-this kind of way) the arrival of a new term within your household. So it seems fitting at this time of year that dealing with the whole school thing is the subject matter of my latest blog post. The other day I was discussing with son #3’s occupational therapist what a sad indictment of our education system it is that his “condition” (as yet unidentified and being investigated) which manifests itself through amongst other things physical tremors, has been exacerbated by the stress of being in the school environment. He is 5. I have alluded in other posts to my dislike of how we educate our children in this country. Indeed I could go on a full scale rant here about 4 year olds having homework, 7 year olds feeling the pressure of SAT tests and 8 year olds crying about workload (just some of the things I have experienced with my boys). Or I could start deconstructing the “helpful” role that Ofsted play in the improvement of our schools. Or I could even write an impassioned essay for you entitled “Children: robots or humans? Discuss.” BUT *everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief* I shall in fact resist from doing any of those things. Instead, I shall take a more (hopefully) helpful route with this one. Rather than an armchair critique of our education system in England, I humbly offer you instead, seeing as it’s the only system that we and our children have, my survivor’s guide to getting through the primary school years. I hope it’s useful, entertaining or at least passes the time pleasantly for you… x

Playground Politics.

playground mums

So. It might not be you going back to school but it jolly well feels like it standing in the playground waiting for your child to go in. Whether you have managed to embrace a proper, grown up and totally well-adjusted social demeanour these days (well done you), or still have that feeling of an awkward 13 year old at the end of double P.E. on your way to the dining hall looking for adoption into one of the “tribes” (like I still do in most situations…. Think Bridget Jones), you need to find a way to survive the long waits in the playground. It’s more likely to be “known each other since toddler group”, “glamour mums” and “P.T.A. parents” than “sporty”, “geeky” and “popular” but there is just a complex system of peer groups to navigate as when you were at school as a pupil yourself. So, if you struggle with this task you have a number of options.

  1. Identify another parent looking equally lost and try to strike up a conversation. This is really easy for the first few days. “Which one’s yours? Are they excited? How do you feel about them starting school?” are all good openers. If you’re feeling brave you can initiate exchanging of names too. But be warned, you will run out of conversation pretty quickly if you don’t end up chatting to someone who you actually have something in common with other than the fact that your children are in the same class. I recommend practising the art of small talk in front of the mirror or at the hairdresser in preparation for standing in the playground. Weekend activities, holiday plans, the weather and the purchasing of uniforms are good topics to get a handle on.
  2. Look for a grandparent who appears to be on their own and offer to be helpful. “Have you put their lunch box on the shelf? Did you see that notice about P.E. today? They usually go in about now so I think it will be any minute” will do. Just make sure you don’t actually mention the grandparent status… in case they are in fact just an older mum! Seriously. I nearly fell fowl of this one once!
  3. If you’re feeling really confident you can try and infiltrate the “loud ones.” You know the ones, the mums all standing round confidently chatting and giggling like the “popular girls” did when you were at school. This is not for the faint hearted and can possibly lead to the same feeling of rejection you felt countless (in my case) years ago trying to fit in as a bumbling teenager. But it can also lead to new friendships forming. Just depends on whether they are “loud and friendly” or “loud and cliquey” or “loud and only to be embraced if you’re happy to end up agreeing to a still-sexy-at-forty drunken Friday night to celebrate Tasha’s latest divorce and the fact that Sandy can still get into her sparkly boob tube from 1999 after 3 kids ”
  4. Keep your head down and pray that the teacher appears at the classroom door to beckon the children in soon! This used to my approach and I found pretending to text someone on my mobile phone worked wonders. Rather like a comfort blanket.

Don’t worry, eventually, assuming you don’t just stick with option 4 you’ll find you’re niche and might even form some actual friendships at the school gates. Just avoid standing next to the “glamour mums” – unless you are one, or you don’t mind feeling like you’ve done the school run via a journey through a wind tunnel wearing in an ensemble put together by your toddler.


homework 2

Ok. So regardless of how you or I might feel about it, our children are going to get homework. Not just spellings, reading, time tables etc. But proper model building, research gathering, project making homework. And that’s on top of the aforementioned spellings, reading, times tables etc. After lots of tears, tantrums and little chats from the teacher (and yes you guessed it, that’s just me) I have sort of hit upon the 3 Rs: Routine, Rewards and Relax.

  1. Routine

We try to keep a routine around homework so everyone knows what to expect. For us it works well to, in the main, assign Saturday afternoons as homework time. This also ensures that we have at least one day in the week (in our case Sundays) where no one in the family has to think about “work”. My boys always come to the table to do their homework individually whilst the others have screen time – computer, ipad, TV etc. This allows one parent to be fully available to offer appropriate one-to-one support. (In case you’re wondering, the other parent splits their time between fielding the baby, refereeing arguments and monitoring the said screen time!)

  1. Rewards (NOT bribery in any way honest coz you shouldn’t bribe your children… Oh ok then maybe it is…!)

We usually accompany homework tasks with something yummy like a biscuit or slice of cake to take the edge off having to do school work at home, and after everyone is done we always make sure we have something to look forward to such as going out to the park, playing a family board game or watching a DVD together. Sometimes we incorporate a trip to the library to complete whatever the task is which can easily be coupled with a milkshake or hot chocolate in a café afterwards and makes the whole thing a little bit more exciting for them (yes, my boys still find the library exciting. I’m sure the novelty will wear off eventually but I’m enjoying it whilst it lasts!).

  1. Relax

This is a reminder to me. I have found the more relaxed I am about the homework, the more relaxed the boys are about it. Children do pick up on stress and tension so the key seems to be not to make much of a big deal of it or be negative about it. Never let them hear you say things like “well this is stupid! Why have they set this?!” even if it’s what you’re thinking. Try to keep it fun and light hearted and see it as something positive that you can enjoy doing together with your child – through internalised gritted teeth if you must… which I do… often… especially over any homework that starts with “research….” Or “using craft materials of your choice…” Grrr!!!

And as a last resort there is always another R: Refuse. Not to be taken lightly but you can decide to simply not do it. If you feel it is just not set at an appropriate level, or you happen to have a good reason such as “Granny died and we have been dealing with heightened emotions instead” then that is your choice. But make sure your child knows there is a proper reason for not doing it and that you’re not just being uncooperative or disobedient (not a great example to set!). Also talk to the teacher about it and explain clearly why your child has not completed the set homework that week. Word has it, some of them are human!

Talking of which…

The Teachers

Hero teacher

Just a quick note about the teaching staff.

  1. I don’t know how they do it! All teachers in my opinion are complete superheroes.
  2. Teacher are in fact NOT superheroes. They are human. This means they make mistakes sometimes. Give them a break! They honestly care about your child. They really do.
  3. Whilst their intentions are always none other than honourable, at times, just like in any job, for any number of reasons things might not go according to plan. If you feel your child is being overlooked or not dealt with appropriately please let them know. Teachers are not mind readers. Never be frightened to fight for your child but also, see point 2.
  4. They spend most of the day talking to children and sometimes seemingly struggle with the gear change. So you will more than likely feel patronised by the way they speak to you on more than one occasion. Try not to take it personally at such times, and see point 2.
  5. Remember they are trying to please lots of different people all at the same time; children, Ofsted, the head teacher, parents, politicians, governors, their own families… this means they sometime set STUPID (subjective assessment!) homework to tick a box or because they simply forget that us mere mortals do not have the same skill set as themselves to support a child through it, which is probably why they have chosen teaching as a profession instead of us. Again, see point 2 and do remember what you would tell your child: “Just do your best”



Yes I know we have a tax system in our country which provides for all the free-at-the-point-of-access primary schools however….

Uniforms, school trips, raffle tickets, costumes, craft supplies for *stupid* homework, sponsored events, cake sales, cooking activities, after school clubs, school photos, 30 presents for children you hardly know who all have class birthday parties, birthday party to invite said 30 children who you hardly know to because *everyone* has a class birthday party for the first few years, fancy dress for charity, the Christmas dinner, countless replacement gloves, coats, shoes, bags etc for the ones that get lost and, if you feel so inclined, a present for the teacher at the end of the year! * HASHTAG Just saying.*

Trust me. You need to budget, budget, budget for those primary school years (admittedly probably for all the school years but I’m not qualified to talk about the next stage yet!).

Lost Property


Make friends with whatever the system is at your child’s school because you are going to spend A LOT of time with it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you have bought those cute little name tags with pictures on to sew or iron into everything that they will not get lost. If you’re lucky, the items *might* end up in the aforementioned system but more often than not they will never be seen again. My advice, learnt the hard way, is don’t bother with expensive sets of hats/gloves etc because the same pair will not come home again after about day 3 of the winter term. Basically, if it can’t be pinned down with industrial strength superglue about their person, ANY item is at risk of being lost by your schoolchild. My eldest even managed to come out of class without his trousers which were never seen again… No. I don’t know either. Oh, and on those cute little name tags, biro on the garment label works just as well you know.

One final thing…

time flies

You remember your mum always used to nag you about getting your school bag packed the night before…? Well the same thing applies now you’re a parent of a schoolchild: Locate the uniform to avoid last minute panic about no clean school shirts in the morning (she says recalling many a time of rescuing an unwashed jumper from the laundry basket and wiping it down with a wet wipe on the way out the door at 8.30am….ahem!) sign any letters that need to be returned (of which there will be many) and get them in the bags and crucially, ensure school shoes are paired and by the door to ensure there’s no “I can’t find my other shoe” performance when you’re already running late because it has been PROVEN by school run parents everywhere, that the last 15 minutes prior to leaving the house ACTUALLY takes about 2 and half minutes in real time. Seriously. Time goes by abnormally quickly when you’re trying to get everyone out with everything they need wearing everything they should be… and no matter how organised you manage to be there is some sort of law in place that means it is the final minute before walking out the door somebody says something like “Oh, it’s my turn to take in home made cakes today for the sale, and did you remember I’m supposed to have my trainers today for PE?”

Ok. So that was more like 6 final things but hey, that’s the thing about the primary school years; there’s always something else you have to remember.

Right then, that’s me off to locate, sign and pair. Good luck my friends. See you somewhere in the trenches… Oh and if you’ve got any survivor’s tips yourselves, I’d love to hear them…

Helen -x-

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Being “one of those mums” Attempt #5 – The Suncatcher

Aaaand… we’ve arrived: the last leg of my current journey to the shores of “one of those mums”. I’ve been so touched by all the encouraging remarks I’ve received as well as by people taking the time to send me their suggestions of things to try. Particularly memorable was someone I last saw many years ago when she was about 13 during my time as a youth worker, who took the time when she was out shopping ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD to take a photo of something she spotted and send it to me via the wonders of social media! And there were many more people who for one reason or another thought enough of me to make contact with possible craft suggestions so thank you all. Really guys. You are all too cute 🙂 I haven’t had time (and sanity… I am only a tourist to this land after all…) to try them all but the 5th craft I did give a go comes from a blog written by a wonderful fellow mum and friend of mine who (now she’ll probably argue with me but she is. Trust me) is simply brilliant at this sort of stuff. Her blog is well worth checking out here From it, I took the idea of making a suncatcher and this week fellow villager Julie and her son were back to join in the fun… oh and it involves everybody’s favourite craft material too: sticky black plastic *cue Blue Peter theme tune*. Enjoy…


The Travel Log –

The first thing we did was go out in the garden to collect various flowers and leaves to use. I gave each boy a tub and said they could pick anything they liked. Whilst this did prove to be a risky strategy when son #3 came back with a whole heap of lettuce leaves from the vegetable patch (My fault I guess as I forgot to specify no veggies!), they quite enjoyed this bit – especially as I don’t normally allow them to vandalise the flowers in this way! We were considering going on a nature walk to do the collecting but in the end the garden sufficed (read “in the end we decided we didn’t have the energy!”). We also collected together a few craft bits (feathers, sparkly jewels, stickers, beads…. etc.) to use alongside the flowers and leaves inside the suncatcher as well as to decorate it externally to extend the activity further.


Knowing the fidgety nature of little boys and the limited pairs of hands that Julie and I had between us to help, we thought it best to prepare the suncatchers a little bit in advance by cutting the centre out of a paper bowl (should have been a plate but I ran out so I used the bowls I happened to have instead, which did the job just as well but you end up with a thinner border than if using plates). In order to make the stuff stick you need to cut to size and attach sticky back plastic (contact paper) to the underneath of the newly formed circle and fasten it around the edge. This we also did in advance but if you only have one or two children there is no reason they couldn’t help do these things or even do them independently if capabilities allow.


The good things about having done this is that it meant that the boys could go straight in to the exciting bit: the sticking! They had so much fun and it was lovely to see how each one was unique as they created their own little designs.


Once they were happy with their work we stuck more sticky back plastic on top, just to make sure everything stayed in place nicely, and then punched a hole in it to thread string through so they could be hung up. After that the boys were able to decorate both the string with beads/craft shells and the border with stickers.


I have to say I was really impressed with the results. They all looked very pretty. The boys were more interested in running around in the garden than posing with their creations for a photo afterwards, and it was also a bit windy for the suncatchers to stay still (see photo 1) but I did my best to display them in their best light for you to see how they turned out.


I’ve waited a while before posting this as I wanted to see how long everything would last before going brown inside the sticky back plastic. It’s a week on now and actually everything still looks really nice. So as I write this I’m not sure how long they will last but so far they’re still going strong. And they look lovely hanging in my kitchen widow (they didn’t stay on the clothes horse!).

🙂 🙂

The Review –

Success Rating: 5/5 – really successful I thought.

Fun Factor: 5/5 – I wasn’t sure how they would take to it as making “pretty things” with flowers could have been seen as being a bit “girly” especially by my Mr 9 year old, but they all really enjoyed it.

Difficulty Level: 2/5 – The hardest part was sticking the sticky back plastic to the circle shape. But apart from that, really easy.

Cost: 3/5 – The sticky back plastic was £3.99 from Rymans. My friend bought the craft bits so they didn’t cost me anything but you may have to buy them. Same goes for the paper plates or bowls. So quite cheap for me but I guess it depends what you already have knocking about and whether you are “one of those mums” who has a permanent stash of things (or have a crafting partner who is!).

Should you try it?: Yes. Just for fun or I reckon they would make a lovely Mother’s Day gift. 🙂


And with that, I am signing off on the final postcard from my journey. I have to admit that I’ve really enjoyed it and it’s proved a wonderful weekly focus over the summer holidays. But now it’s time to tidy my newly acquired “one of those mums” stash of craft bits away and get ready for the new school term. Who knows, with this new found “making stuff” string to my bow, I might even volunteer to make a cake for the weekly raffle! Now, where’s my mixing bowl….?


Helen -x-


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