Instinctively Clueless

My favourite piece of advice is “Don’t be a dick.” It applies to every imaginable situation. It transcends race, religion, nationality and sexuality. As with anything worthwhile in life, it even has its own Twitter hashtag. What better endorsement?

A couple of weeks ago, however, I was a bit of a dick. It’s not an isolated incident. It does happen. I’m only human and I am remarkably good at ignoring my own advice. I say my own, I hardly invented it. In fact, if you look at ‘Just a Normal Mummy’ on Facebook, you’ll see a pretty fantastic article that she wrote a year ago about not being a dick. Anyhow, a couple of weeks ago, I was waxing lyrical about the virtues of the sleep training program we used. I tried not to do it smugly but I genuinely thought we had nailed it. Turns out, had we balls! I shouldn’t have been so goddamn cocky. Jemma, you dick.

Currently, our house is like a doctor’s waiting room. Snot streaming everywhere and coughs and splutters left, right and centre. Hello winter, you germ ridden swine! As a result, Joseph is screaming in the night, which in turn disturbs his equally snotty big brother and it’s all descended into chaos again, with Rob and I completely knackered. To be fair to James, he will just try and settle himself and not get out of bed. He still cries out now and again, so once again the timer starts and the cycle begins. When it comes to Joe, however, I don’t actually have a clue.

I’m assuming it’s because he is full of cold and can’t breathe that he is struggling to sleep. It could be his teeth, it could be the fact that he can only roll over one way and fumes with frustration when he can’t get back. The sleep training guide said that whilst he is ill with a temperature, abandon sleep training and comfort him. He hasn’t got a temperature. He’s just bogeyfied. (yes, I’m aware that isn’t a word) The guide says that when he is teething, to use your preferred method of pain relief and continue with the program. He chews everything from his own fingers to the corner of the couch and dribbles enough to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool but I don’t have any actual evidence that it is his teeth that are causing him upset. He hasn’t got any that I can see! He doesn’t turn to me and say “Mum, these teeth are agony. An Ashton and Parson’s wouldn’t go a miss” or “I can’t breathe, mum, and my head is pounding. A 2.5ml syringe of Calpol and some Snuffle babe on my chest and feet would sort me right out.” Unlike his older brother. James is so well versed in illness thanks to Cbeebies ‘Get Well Soon’ that he has had literally every ailment ever documented by the British Medical Journal. Recently, he’s had a bout of (invisible) chicken pox, a (not) broken arm and a nasty bout of food poisoning (which miraculously occurred without any symptoms, aside from a declaration of a sore tummy). Nice one, Dr Ranj. Your bedside manner may well be delightful, your exceptional eyebrows on fleek and your teeth beautifully white, but you have turned my two-year-old into a hypochondriac. Good job you are fit or I’d be banning you from my TV. (He’s not on the laminated list, like fellow Cbeebies sex god Andy Day, comedian Greg Davies and Umar Siddiqui from Gogglebox, but if we are looking exclusively at the Cbeebies hotties on display, he’s up there with Mr Bloom)

It’s at times like this, we, as parents, have to rely on our instincts. Only I don’t have them. I just exhaust every possibility. For the last week or so, Rob and I have dosed Joe up with Ashton and Parsons teething powders, Calpol, Snuffle babe, saline nasal drops (an absolute bastard to administer). We have even given him gripe water and cooled boiled water, concerned that he is crying because of wind or constipation. (This kid never poos) I’m sure he will be injecting Calpol into his own eyeballs by the time he hits reception class if we keep supplying him with over the counter remedies.

We have paced the floor with him, rocked him, sat on the sofa cuddling him. I even walked around, topless (gross image, sorry), with him on my chest to soothe him. He will, eventually, settle for a couple of hours but it is still agony. Basically, I have paid a small fortune on ignoring the advice of a specialist (great at this ignoring advice business, aren’t I?). But it just doesn’t seem the right time for us to be sleep training him. I don’t know why. Maybe I do have some instincts after all. Instincts or not, I don’t have a bloody clue what to do and this is my second baby. Yay! Motherhood is going well.

Before I had James in February 2014, I thought that when I had a baby it would all just come. Yet when I woke up the morning after giving birth, I just stared at this little wrinkly red haired ball in his glass cot next to my bed. “Oh shit” I thought “What do I do now?” I was literally clueless. I was making a cack-handed attempt to breastfeed. I didn’t know what I was doing so every time he cried I shoved my boob at him and hoped for the best. I didn’t know things like how long you should feed for and I certainly didn’t know what I should do in between feeds. Was there even a time in between feeds? I was struggling to get time to wee.

I don’t want to say that James was a difficult baby. That isn’t fair on him. I was just naïve and he had his share of challenges. He had horrendous reflux which resulted in a day spent in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital with him crying for 8 hours solid. He had colic, breastfeeding was a nightmare, he was clingy. Nothing massively uncommon. I have people close to me who have been dealt far worse hands with their first born. But I wasn’t ready (who is?) and I was overwhelmed.

Most of my friends had their first babies in 2013 and 2014. I was the only one who didn’t make it to six months with breastfeeding. Hell, I didn’t make it past six weeks! Other people’s babies seemed to sleep. Mine didn’t. When other people’s babies were sick or teething, everyone seemed to know what to do. I didn’t. I felt enormous, crushing pressure because when my baby cried, I didn’t always know what to do and sometimes, I even thought it was my fault that my baby cried. People do judge you if your baby cries in public. Arseholes. I have seen the looks, some of disgust and some of pity, if James cried on a bus or in a café. Nothing can make you feel more worthless than the condescending stares of strangers.

I cried a lot during the first three months of James’ life. With hindsight, I definitely think I had undiagnosed post-natal depression. I always felt bonded with my baby but I just didn’t feel like I coped. Everyone else seemed to cope. Everyone else just seemed to know. Why didn’t I just know what to do with my baby?

Since having Joe, I have come to realise that no one actually knows what to do with their baby and even when you have a whole set of babies, each one is different. For example, James took a dummy. James bloody loved his dummy so much, he would shove two in at once. I used to carry at least 6 spares with me in case we lost one, which would result in The End of the World™. Joe won’t take a dummy. I have tried but he gags. Rob and I are left to find an alternative method of comfort. So far, Joe has shown absolutely no interest in anything. Not muslins, not teddies, not blankets. Nope. Kid just don’t a f%&k! When you have your second baby, it is a bit easier in that you know what to expect and you can use bits of the old things that worked for you. Essentially, though, you have a brand new human that you need to get to know and you are back at square one.

When you think about it, it is ridiculous. You have this tiny person, who you have never met before and know nothing about, who only communicates with you by the medium of screaming (interpretive dance would be easier to understand) and you have to provide EVERYTHING for them. You don’t know what they want or need so you have to guess. That is all any of us do, guess. Some of us are just more honest about it than others. Quite often, it feels like I’m ballsing it up. And, of course, I am. Other days it’s all fine and I’m winning because James is actually relatively hysteria free when getting his haircut and he isn’t crying because he wants to wear his dinosaur shoes that are two sizes too small.

Recently, there was an article in the Guardian, claiming an over saturation in “slummy mummies.” The article basically ripped the back out of the women behind blogs such as the Unmumsy Mum and Hurrah for Gin (my absolute favourite. Katie Kirby, if you ever read this, I love you with stalker like enthusiasm. Please be my friend) One source claimed there was “underlying smugness” and “faux self-deprecation.” I got a bit offended. I’m new to this whole blogging thing and I’m not claiming to be at good at it. In the same way, I am not claiming to be good at motherhood. Just because I am not saying I should win Mum of the Year, doesn’t mean that I think that social services should be popping around to take the kids off me any time soon. I certainly wouldn’t think it funny if that was the case and I don’t think that’s what the alleged “scummy mummies” are trying to convey either. (FYI I really resent that title and I don’t think that it should be acceptable to call anyone scummy. Unless they actually are, obviously) The main message behind any ‘Mummy Blog’ (I also hate that title, makes me cringe) that I have read, is that it is ok to mess up sometimes. It is ok not to be doing baby led weaning and attachment parenting and crafting. But if you are doing that, that’s great too.

Here’s the thing; motherhood is hard. There is pressure from everywhere; from our friends, our family, our partners, our kids…. Jesus, society is a bastard. In reality, I don’t think anyone knows what they are doing. These ‘instincts’ are mythological creatures, like unicorns of guilt. They don’t exist. It’s a case of try anything and hope for the best. You may have timetables and routines or you may just go completely by the seat of your (massive granny) pants.  I’m pretty much the latter.

I have found the last few years really difficult. Hilariously funny and filled with love but also really difficult. I have struggled to get through at times. I’m not a ‘Wine on a Friday’ Mummy. I hate wine. I like gin or Bacardi or even a beer but I don’t drink in the house and I never get to leave it so I’m not a booze soaked mum. Instead, I’m a ‘Friday is weigh in day at slimming world so I’m going to eat my body weight in cake’ Mummy. I do occasionally call my kids expletives under my breath. I do let my son have a tablet (electronic, not medical). I did baby led weaning with my eldest. I do like running around the beach with the kids and my baby sensory class. I’m not super mum but I’m not super shit. All those blogs are designed so that we can laugh at ourselves because, sometimes, there is a very real chance we might cry if we don’t.

It’s hard to say anything new about parenting when it’s been happening for millions of years. But it’s ok to struggle. It’s ok to not have an ‘instinct.’ It’s ok to be down and it’s ok every now and then to want to sell/give away your child because who the bloody hell would buy your bratty toddler. It’s also ok to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. If people tell you otherwise or judge you for your choices, they are dicks. I don’t know much about parenting (If anyone knows how to deal with a 5 month old with a cold, do let me know).  But I do know “Don’t be a dick” remains the number one best advice in life.

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