The J has spent the last year of her life listening to a bit of Radio 2 (first thing on my clock radio and at mealtimes), but mostly Kisstory when we are in the car. For those of you who do not have a DAB digital radio, unlucky for you. Kisstory is the most amazing mix of old-school garage, pop, RnB, etc. Basically all the songs that were in the clubs when I was a teenager. But, seeing as I don’t want the J’s first words to be “gangsta”, “flava” or “thong”, I decided to buy her a children’s CD for the car. After purchasing said CD, I went through what can only be likened to the five stages of grief (not in the proper order) when listening to it. Here they are:
Stage 1: Anger
The utter horror at how annoying listening to children’s songs are – bring back Kisstory, I don’t care if my baby can rap before she can talk!
Stage 2: Denial
I do not like this CD (or do I?). I think I can blank it out… la la la la. Then all of a sudden you are surprised at how many of the words you know and how fun it is to sing along. I should also add embarrassment when you wind down the window in public or are in a traffic jam and get caught doing to the actions to Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.
Stage 3: Bargaining
How about 10 minutes of baby songs and then 10 minutes of Kisstory? Or baby songs until she falls asleep and then Kisstory all the way…
Stage 4: Depression
Ok, so listening to baby CDs doesn’t make you depressed, but you do feel miserable at the annoying repetition in each song and the stupid happy lady’s voice (who is also Australian on this particular CD).
Stage 5: Acceptance (the best one)
The utter joy when you see your child smiling, clapping and doing the actions to Wind the Bobbin Up – it was worth it after all.
I wrote this blog post last week, but have been really busy and so it is a week late – you will see why when you read it:
When my maternity leave came to an end, I decided not to go back to my old job in London. I was working as a Sub Editor for an interiors magazine, based in Southwark. There were a number of factors that influenced my decision, which included the fact that the other “part-timers” on my team worked four days a week and I only wanted to do two or three days. Add to that the cost of daily train fares (why they haven’t come up with a part-time workers season ticket I have no idea?), the distance/time spent travelling to and from work, and the unreliability of Southeastern trains, and it wasn’t a difficult decision.
I am lucky enough to work in an industry that employs a lot of freelancers. And while there aren’t as many local publishing companies in Kent as there are in London, I was confident I could get enough work as a freelancer. In my experience, unless you have been in a journalism role for a while and ask to cut down your hours, there aren’t many part-time permanent jobs around. It’s really full-time or freelance, and then many freelance jobs are full-week bookings. But I’ve got lots of contacts, so was hoping to utilise them to get some part-time local and remote work.
I am so lucky that I didn’t have to go back to work; I wanted to. We can just about survive on one salary, but if I decided to become a stay at home mum, we wouldn’t be able to go on holiday or do nice things and money would become a constant worry. My earnings will enable us to build up our rainy-day savings and will take the pressure off financially.
So I started freelancing in October last year and got some work quite quickly (see my previous post, Why all new parents should consider ‘swapping jobs’ for a week). Great, I thought, the work will come rolling in. It didn’t. November came and went with nothing, and then December is a write off for job hunting in general. I thought to myself, if I don’t get any bookings for January I will start looking for a part-time job, as a secretary or office admin – anything to earn a bit of cash.
January is apparently the month when every single direct debit I have ever set-up comes out of our accounts: TV license, car insurance, car tax, contents insurance etc, etc. And I didn’t get any work. I started applying for jobs that I felt I was over-qualified for and then became really downtrodden when I didn’t even get interviews for them. I also learned that flexible part-time working for highly-skilled women is a lot more difficult to find outside of London. Then, thankfully, the women’s magazine I worked for in October booked me for some work over Easter and in the summer holidays.
Phew, I was back on track. My husband is a teacher and has the school holidays off work, so I can take on full-time bookings in the hols with the added bonus of free childcare. I decided that I would need to take some full-time bookings to counteract the weeks (or months) when I don’t have any work at all. That also means finding term-time only childcare, which is a whole other subject to talk about!
I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to get any work until Easter and that was OK. Then my friend, who is launching a new business, asked me for some help with her website, which lead to fairly regular work. All of sudden things were looking up. Well anyway, I have come to realise that freelancing is the feast and the famine. I had months of nothing and then last Friday, a whole heap of work came in. Email after email came through that day with future bookings. It was really weird and overwhelming (not that I’m complaining!).
I had a request for 2.5 days work the very next week; bookings from another magazine I had worked for in the past, with loads of work in April, May and June; more bookings for the women’s magazine for the summer, as well as December and January 2018; a meeting about potential work with a local company; and a second interview for regular work from an online news-and-entertainment website. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so of course in a blind panic I said yes to everything.
Things I have learned this week after saying yes to ALL the work:
Don’t take on work when you haven’t got childcare sorted (and when your mother-in-law and chief-babysitter is on holiday).
Working from home with a one-year-old does NOT work. They can sense that you are distracted and then become clingy and wingey, and you feel guilty for being a crap mum and not entertaining them.
Don’t feel guilty when family and friends offer to help you. My mum and dad have been amazing this week and have helped out loads with the J. Thanks guys!
The J has a ridiculous social calendar, most of which I had to cancel this week. I’m not entirely sure how I am going to fit part-time work in with her numerous social engagements.
Your child will sense the nights when you have work the next day and will refuse to sleep and keep you up half the night.
Don’t expect companies to care about you, your child or your schedule. The 2.5 days I was supposed to be working on Monday-Wednesday have basically taken over my whole life this week. Finding a spare hour here and there to get things done and working late into the evening. This is partly due to my limited childcare, but also because they didn’t send me any of the work on time. I had three hours of child-freedom on Monday morning and was ready and waiting to work, and nothing came through until the afternoon – not cool!
So now I need to sit down and review the work I have booked in and whether I can actually deliver everything I have promised. And I need to organise childcare in advance. I’m certainly finding freelancing a balancing act, but it is so nice to have a purpose other than being mother, cook and housekeeper. Let’s wait until April when I’m mega busy and see if I feel the same then.
In this post I’m going to praise the NCT, but not because of their antenatal course content. It was informative, especially the bits about options for giving birth, labour and birth plans etc, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make and, to be honest, I forgot most of it when the baby came and went into a total panic about how to keep my small human alive. But, the one great thing about doing that course was the friends I made. Here’s why…
I remember the first group session, when we all sat around in a circle and introduced ourselves. I looked at these strangers and thought, “I can’t imagine being friends with you. I’ve got plenty of great friends and don’t need any more. This is a load of bollocks.” That sounds really harsh, but it takes me a while to like people. I’m fine with small talk and socialising, but when it comes to proper friendships, I am picky. For starters, I don’t like it when people are too nice to me. You don’t know me well enough to like me yet, why are you being so nice? It puts my back up.
I tend to go through three stages of friendship: polite indifference, annoyance/tolerance and then humour. If I take the mickey out of you it means I like you. So I was a little sceptical about NCT. We did our classes over a number of evening sessions spread out over a few weeks. By the end of the course, I felt I knew some of the people a little better, but we were still at the awkward stage where you don’t want to reveal your true self (in my case my inappropriate, disgustingly rude sense of humour) for fear of being branded a weirdo.
Then one couple had their baby six weeks early, which totally freaked everyone out (including the new somewhat unprepared parents!). The whole group went for a curry after the course had finished and they bought their new tiny baby along. It turns out the most scary thing for a heavily pregnant woman is to see a newborn baby in the flesh and realise that: 1) one of those will be coming out of you soon and 2) that you will be responsible for such a tiny helpless thing.
After that, I was the next mum to give birth, four days before my due date. We had arranged a walk around Knole Park to encourage labour and I had to cancel just before as I went into hospital with suspected waters breaking (see my post about the Week of Wee). After that the babies came thick and fast. Then the Whatsapp conversations began. Usually at 2, 3, or 4am. Random questions, cute photos and general chit chat. We started to bond. Going through such an intense situation at the same time makes you bond much faster than a normal friendship.
Once we had got through the newborn fog (the first two weeks or so), we started to meet up regularly at weigh-in clinics, for coffees, walks and baby classes. It was so refreshing to chat to women who felt the same way as you. Who were sleep deprived, unwashed, stressed, freaked out and stumbling through life like zombies. We were each other’s support network, agony aunts, life coaches and shoulders to cry on. We held each other up and made each other feel that we were doing a good job as mums. We moaned about our husbands, the state of our vaginas, our sore boobs and laughed at our weak pelvic floors. We ate cake and drank hot chocolate by the bucket load (we still do this quite a bit…).
There’s absolutely no way I could have got through this past year without my mummy friends. The women I wasn’t bothered about getting to know are now such an important part of my life. They are always there to listen to my moaning or offer advice when the J has a weird rash/strange poo/random mark on her body. We can sit and moan about how our children are little shites and joke about wanting to send them back. We can be honest and chat without judgement, because we know that we aren’t really being serious, we just need to vent.
So thanks ladies, you are awesome and I’m so glad to have you in my life. Oh and thanks for putting up with my gross jokes and weird banter.
When Grump and I signed up for the NCT course I was astonished at how much it cost – for a baby course! But a few of my friends with kids had said how great it was for making friends and how important that is for a new mum. Well I couldn’t agree more. That £250 (or thereabouts) was worth every penny, because it gave me so much more than a bit of birth and parenting knowledge, it gave me some proper good mummy mates.
So Grump has been meaning to write a guest blog post for me for a while. He actually got around to it the other night when I fell asleep on the sofa at 6pm and left him in peace. He is an amazing father to the J and I am so lucky to have him by my side on this crazy journey that is parenting. I would say that his post is a little bit soppy for my liking, but it made my heart melt to read things from his point of view and to hear how much he loves our little girl (and me, bless him). I hope this post resonates with some of your other halves and encourages them to open up about their experiences as a new Dad.
G and I had been together for about 12 years before eventually tying the knot, but starting a family was something neither of us wanted to rush into. We enjoyed married life for a year or two but, as the old saying goes, ‘time waits for no man’ (or woman’s biological clock for that matter) so we decided to go for it. G actually fell pregnant a lot quicker than both of us expected, and I’ll never the forget the mixture of emotions I felt when she did a pregnancy test and found out that we were expecting. I was of course absolutely thrilled, but at the same time terrified that I would now be responsible for a new little person – this from someone who struggles to put his shoes on the correct feet in the morning…
As G’s pregnancy progressed I developed this deep, instinctive need to protect and watch over her; I worried when she went out that something terrible would happen, that something would go wrong and we’d lose little Peanut. From speaking to other Dads, I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling this. It seems nature is very clever in preparing us for what lies ahead: that need to protect and provide.
Each night before we went to sleep I would rub oil into G’s tummy (apparently, it’s good for preventing stretch marks) and chat to Peanut. Just silly little things, but I began to build a bond with my unborn child that would only grow stronger – especially when I saw him or her (we didn’t want to know the sex) for the first time at our 12-week scan. Then it became so real, and seeing that little heartbeat made me quite tearful. I’ve never been an overly-emotional person, but this was something different; it awakened an instinct in me that I think only expectant Dads can empathise with.
Feeling the first little movements was another great milestone for me, and I’ll never forget the look on G’s face as we lay on the bed together and I felt Peanut move for the first time. I’ve always adored my wife, but moments like that on our way to becoming parents made me love her even more; we were in this together and would enjoy many more special moments like this during her pregnancy that brought us closer than I could ever imagine.
I must admit I was very apprehensive about the birth, and the nearer our due date got the worse it became. This may sound a little stupid coming from someone who was going to be a mere bystander, but I was worried for my wife. I was nervous about seeing the woman I loved in pain, and worried whether I would be a hindrance at a time she would need me most. We had a false start or two, but when things got going it seemed as if I was on autopilot. I’d listened very carefully during our NCT classes and was determined to do my bit by helping G with her breathing exercises and making sure she got help from the midwives when she needed it – quite forcefully on one occasion as it happens!
I would say that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that could have prepared me for that 12-hour stint at G’s bedside. She was absolutely amazing, and the strength and determination she showed through what is surely the most intense pain a human being can endure not only made me respect her so much, but it made me see her quite differently. Yes, she was still was my wife and best friend, but for the first time ever since I’d known her she was about to be something she’d never been: the mother of my child.
When the J finally put in an appearance, it was by far the most amazing moment of my life. They say you never forget the birth of your children, and now I understood why. I was allowed down at the ‘business end’ every now and again, and it was a strange feeling to see the J’s head emerge and see our child before G did – the person who’d been carrying this wriggling squatter for the last nine months! But the moment she was actually born knocked me for six. The emotion of it all completely overwhelmed me and I became this crying mess of a man who was now realising his world had changed forever. I was in such a state I couldn’t even cut the cord as planned – all the while G was as calm and collected as I’d ever seen her.
When I finally pulled myself together and I held this tiny little girl in my arms I was immediately in love; a love that is unbreakable and like no other, a love between a daddy and his little girl. As a teacher, I’d often got cross with those who I perceived as ‘over-protective parents’ who fussed over their children over insignificant things. But now, for the first time, I saw it from a totally different perspective. I understood from the very first moment I held the J that you’d do anything to protect your child. That in-built need to care and protect, and God help anyone who tries to harm them.
As I’m sure any new Dad will testify, the first few weeks (and months) of fatherhood are a complete whirlwind. I must confess I was a bit miffed at being moved down the pecking order – G’s priority was now the J and I had to fend for myself a lot more, which I genuinely found a struggle. The sleepless nights; the 1am trips to Tesco, searching the shelves frantically for wind remedy; the constant, non-stop stream of stinking nappies; and an ever-decreasing bank balance… not to mention a non-existent sex-life (made all the worse by the fact your wife’s boobs look AMAZING), all conspire to put you off parenthood for life. But I can genuinely say that I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Now that the J has reached her first birthday, things have certainly got easier, but there are now very different challenges as she begins to find her way in the world. The colds, the bugs, the moving of her own accord and the havoc that causes around the house… but it’s those special moments that she and I have together that make it all worthwhile. When she falls asleep in my arms as I rock her off to sleep. The beaming smile I get as I walk in the door from work. The fits of giggles she has as I blow raspberries on her tummy. Every now and again I have to pinch myself and remind myself that this is actually real; G and I actually made her, and not only has being parents brought us closer together as a couple, it’s made me complete. It’s made me a Daddy.
Can you remember your first birthday party? No, me neither. It’s a very special day for us as parents, we kept a little human alive for a whole year – that’s pretty impressive and should be celebrated. But why do we go to all that stress and effort when, let’s face it, our child doesn’t really understand what’s going on? It is nice to make a fuss for yourself and for friends and family, and we all love to brag a bit on social media, but is it really worth the expense and stress?
Let them eat cake
For starters there’s the cake. I have fond memories of all the amazing cakes my Mum used to make. But actually, I don’t really remember them. I just look back at old photographs. There was the hedgehog one with Kit Kat spikes and I’m sure many of you had the one with a Barbie in the middle and the cake was her skirt. There’s no way I have the time or the inclination to make a cake that epic. Perhaps a fun job to delegate to Granny? In fact, I asked my Mum to make a cake for the J’s birthday and she agreed. I’ve since found out that she’s making a plain fruit cake and has asked her friend to make the proper cake. I think she has wised up to the hassle/pressure of icing and decorating.
On another note, we have tried really hard to keep the J from eating too much sugar and salt. I know at some point she will try cake/sweets/crisps and fizzy pop, but is it fair to make her a lovely cake, let her blow out the candles and then not let her eat any? I’d definitely get the hanger if someone did that to me! Should I make a separate baby-friendly cake for the children (when I say I, what I actually mean is get someone else to make) or is that just being a bit too fussy? I feel like it is way too fussy and I don’t have time for that shizz. Obviously when your kids are older they will no doubt be eating lots of cake. But a one year old? I tend to think that if they are only going to have a little taste then bake a full-fat, full-sugar, proper tasty one and let the adults enjoy it. We deserve it!
Who do you invite?
When you start thinking about who you would like to invite to your child’s first birthday party, the guest list can grow at an alarming rate. There’s your close family, friends who have babies/kids, NCT couples and their babies, new friends from baby classes/playgroup with babies, extended family (I’m talking our aunties, uncles and cousins), godparents and well-meaning work colleagues and all of a sudden you’ve got 100 people and need to hire a hall. Basically, it’s mine and Grump’s fault for being too darn popular.
Seeing as we don’t have the budget to hire a portaloo, let alone the village hall (totes my fault for launching freelance career and not having enough work…yet), we’ve decided to have a small gathering for the J’s birthday, with our parents, my brother, Grump’s sister and their partners (and the J’s new little cousin). I’m planning a chilled afternoon with a bit of cake and some presents (although my parents have informed me that we should also provide finger sandwiches and crisps, or we are just being rude).
Then, because all of my NCT friends are having gatherings/parties for their children and I felt like a mean old scrooge, I’ve decided to invite them all over for some cake (I bought this one from Sainsbury’s) and to play with the J’s toys, which I know she hates. She will probably sit in the corner sulking and giving them all evils, while five sugar-crazed one-year-olds run riot in my living room. (I’ve written this for dramatic effect – love you guys and your babies and the J loves sharing her toys too…).
Present and correct
Then there’s the present etiquette? If, like me, you’ve got lots of friends who have had babies in the last 18 months, who do you buy for? I’ve worked out that I have around 15 people I could potentially buy a present for if I was being mega generous. And how much do you spend on each child? One of my pals whose little boy is a few months older than the J told me that she had at least seven birthday parties last year. She set a budget of £10 per child, but that’s still £70! Now that she knows who she needs to buy for next year she is going to stock up in the January sales and get toys on 2 for 1 deals. That is savvy parenting! I probably sound stingy, but when you’ve been on maternity pay for months, or if you choose to be a SAHM, money is a little tighter than when you worked up in London full time and would happily spend £4.50 on a fruit smoothie from Crush and eat lunch at Pret every other day.
I have chosen a little plastic tea set for the J that was only £10 from ELC. She gets so spoiled by our families (I’m going on their generosity at Christmas) that I don’t feel the need to buy her lots of expensive gifts. However, after setting my budget of £10, I have since gone on to buy her a unisex puzzle (it’s got tractors on it and ‘boy’ stuff) and some 12-18 months clothes from Sainsbury’s, because I cannot say no to their cute colour-and-pattern combos. Total birthday spend: under £30.
Am I being a Scrooge? Maybe. Perhaps if we had more disposable income, I’d be up for a big party and lots of pressies. But I also don’t want a spoiled child. Or a hyper sugar-high baby who won’t sleep. I’m not having a go at people who go big for their baby’s first birthday. Good for you! I just don’t like the idea of parents feeling that they have to organise something for other children and keep other parents happy. This is your special day (OK officially it is your child’s special day, but YOU deserve a party). In fact, what about an alternative to the traditional first birthday party? How about a party for the parents to celebrate getting through their child’s first year? It could involve a long lie in, full English breakfast, a massage and drinking copious amounts of Prosecco with your pals and then dancing the night away to some old-skool classics, among other treats. I never got a ‘push present’ (to be fair, I find the notion of this slightly ridiculous. Surely the push present is the baby?), so maybe an expensive piece of jewellery. Oh wait, I’ve not been working for the past year and all our money has gone on Aptamil and Pampers… scrap that.
Whether you are going the whole hog with a proper party or just having something a bit more intimate with family, it is important to not to get stressed or overwhelmed and to focus on the reason you are celebrating. Your little bundle of joy is having their very first birthday. Hopefully a wonderful time that is the start of many great years to come. If you have the time, make a nice cake (and finger sandwiches, obvs), decorate your home/hall/function room with balloons and banners, choose a pretty card and fun present (or anything that will keep them quiet for five minutes) and take lots of photos, so that when your child is all grown up they can look back on their first birthday with fond memories.