- by Emi
I, like many other women, am always in awe of other Mamas. It can often seem like every other Mama has their life more under control than you. Constant comparisons, for me at least, can sometimes leave me feeling, on a bad day, downhearted, low spirited and like a failure. On a good day, I see these Mamas as... well, not idols exactly, but people to look up to.
However... Although this blog may appear to paint Kendal and I in a hugely organised and tidy way, as women who have time to be attentive to their children, breastfeed, craft for their businesses, craft with their children, maintain loving marital relationships, keep a home, and make all meals from scratch, not to mention all the while photographing and blogging about it... it simply isn't true.
Everyone has their own challenges. In my social circle alone, there are parents with twins, single parents (both male and female), parents with special needs kids, parents with children who have long-term illnesses, parents who have illnesses themselves, parents dealing with one child, three children, seven children...
Kendal and I have been asked how we do it all, how we fit it all in.
Well, here's the thing.
We most definitely, empatically DON'T.
Stephen and I have a philosopy, that it is easier to give to others when your own 'cup' is full. We strongly feel that as a parent, EVERYTHING is easier when you feel happy within yourself. Those toddler meltdowns that make you want to tear your hair out and scream just as loud as they are? Much easier when you've had time for a child-free shower.
Our relationship almost takes turns in who needs more nurturing out of the two of us. The end of last year, and the start of this one, we needed to focus on Stephen, due to some issues relating to Stephen's job at the time. The wheel has now turned to me needing the focus.
It is worth me explaining at this point that I have recently started taking anti-depressant medication, after suffering with depression consistently since my early teens. I have been forced to spend an increased amount of time to do things for my own benefit, to 'fill my own cup', so to speak, for my own physical and mental well-being.
This is one of the main motivations that helps construct our days right now, as well as making sure each other member of our family is fulfilled. We try and take everyone's changing needs into consideration.
Pixie, for example, is at a point in her development where she is desperate for one-on-one activity without having Ru 'helpfully' directing it.
Ru needs rough-and-tumble play several times a day to direct his energy. He also needs calmer afternoons as his mornings at nursery are very stimulating for him.
Stephen needs time to do his music (I jokingly call his studio his 'other wife'), and is always better set up for the day if the house is tidy when he gets up.
I need time for myself, and am finding it hard to accept this. A constant feeling of needing to be doing *something* pervades my days. I don't even sit and watch a film without having some embroidery to do, or cutting out fabric, or my laptop open writing for this blog or doing book-keeping for MamaPixie. Keeping busy has long been successful at keeping my mind off depressive thoughts... The devil makes work for idle hands, after all...
I have been told to stop and just relax, but I'm just not sure I know how to do that. Stephen has long since accepted that I truly am happiest when I'm busy and have something to occupy my mind.
So, let me share our week with you...
Currently, we're still settling in to our new rhythm, as Ru started morning sessions at nursery a month ago which has been a big change for us.
Unlike Kendal's family, we don't have a 'weekend', as such, as Stephen works weekend day time, as well as Monday and Wednesday afternoon to evening.
When Stephen is at work, my focus is the children and doing activities with them. I will manage to get standard housework done (well, most of the time), like emptying the dishwasher and filling the washing machine. I tend to save really messy or time-consuming activities for when Stephen is home as I can easily feel overwhelmed with this on my own. Instead, we choose to read books, colour and draw, do jigsaws or play with whatever toys Ru happens to be into at the moment (currently the dollshouse). We have simple easy meals, like pasta bake and picnic teas.
When Stephen works nights, I bath and bed the kids, and then have a rare couple of hours of doing absolutely, completely NOTHING constructive. I stay upstairs in our family bedroom, watching trashy television on my laptop. Faves right now are Glee (something shared by Kendal!), Hoarders and America's Next Top Model. When Steve returns home, we swap stories about our day whilst he grabs a bath. Then off to bed.
On days when Stephen doesn't work, our standard routine plays to our strengths.
Stephen doesn't work weekday mornings, and so consistently does the entire morning routine for himself and Ru, including breakfast, wash, teeth, hair, dressed and to nursery for 8.45am whilst Pixie and I sleep in.
This is where the 'Know Your Strengths' part comes in to play. Stephen doing the entire morning routine whilst I laze in bed may seem harsh. But... I loathe mornings. I am not a morning person. I simply need more sleep to function that Stephen, and I am neither use nor ornament until at least 9am has passed and a cup of tea has made its way into my stomach. I am short(er)-tempered and find myself lacking in patience. It benefits everyone for Stephen to be in charge at this time of day. Fewer tempers are frayed and there is far less shouting.
I can, when needed, be bribed/guilt-tripped into taking over so Stephen can sleep in, or if he's poorly. I'll be honest, this usually involves a promise of cookies.
Once Steve has returned from taking Ru to nursery, we sit down together for coffee and tea either in bed or curled up on the sofa, and decide what to do with our morning whilst Pixie has breakfast. And by 'has breakfast', I do in fact mean, 'smears herself liberally with yoghurt, mushes banana into her hair and attempts to feed toast to the cats'. We both check Facebook, I check email, Etsy, Crafty by Nurture, and my favourite green parenting forum.
Since Ru started morning sessions at nursery, this time of the day is fast becoming a very special time for Stephen and I. After Daddy-Daughter time for Steve and Pixie, giving them valuable time together and providing her with the much-needed one-on-one time I mentioned earlier, she falls asleep till we collect Ru from nursery.
As Stephen's weekday shifts are all afternoon-to-evenings, so we take advantage of Ru-free/Pixie-sleep combo by doing trips into town to purchase MamaPixie supplies, go swimming, once a week we head out for a morning of wandering the local charity shops, coffee and cake together. We also are the keyholders for Natural Nurturing Network (a brilliant crunchy parent-child group), and open up for that every other Tuesday. Sometimes we'll watch a film together whilst I embroider crowns and Pixie naps. We have found that this time is doing wonders for making Stephen and I stronger as a couple. Often though, I will work on MamaPixie orders.
I LOVE making things for strangers. The joy I get and pride I feel in myself are wonderful! MamaPixie is an amazing outlet for me. It allows me to be selfish; it is MINE, something for ME. As a creative person, I have an intrinsic *need* to make things and MamaPixie enables me to throw myself completely and wonderfully into a passion of mine. I find great joy in imagining the children I am making costumes and dying playsilks and embroidering crowns for enjoying them.
I aim to do some work on MamaPixie every day, as I do get a lot of orders. If I don't work on these in the mornings, I will do some on an evening, utilising child-free time to fill the living room floor with pieces of fabric for quilt layouts and not worrying about Littles wandering over it!
Sewing also provides me with a much needed brain-focus, keeping my mind off the depression, and plays a key part in keeping me in a stable place.
We fetch Ru home from nursery shortly before midday, and then he has a snack whilst one of us reads to him and the other prepares lunch. We are four chapters into 'George's Marvellous Medicine' right now. Lunch is often leftovers and salad for Steve and I, and then picky food/sandwiches for the kids. Sometimes we'll have friends of Ru's over for lunch and a bit of a play, though this doesn't happen more than maybe once a week as Ru is usually bushwacked from the busy fun of nursery!
I find it difficult to leave the house with both children on my own, a part of my depression that is something I am working hard on changing. However, right now, when Stephen is home, we go out for a walk in the afternoons, go to the park, or work in the garden; just do something outdoors-y.
We also see lots of our favourite people, with LOTS of visits from godparents (especially Alex and Susana). Kendal and Ava will often drop in during the daytime, and I love popping over to hers on an evening to gossip about Glee and discuss Crafty by Nurture.
Our afternoons cater to Ru's dual needs for aggressive play and calm.
Firstly, rough-and-tumble. As a three year old boy, we find that having several sessions of physical, rough-and-tumble play does wonders for him and helps him work through anything he's been dealing with that day. We feel that aggressive play gives him an opportunity to work through the new ideas, concepts and games he's learning at nursery. Since he started nursery, we've noticed an increase in games that involve a conflict of some sort. This includes dinosaurs fighting one another, using his 'wand' as Harry Potter to cast spells and fight off Dementors, or pretending he's a dragon or monster trying to catch us! Often, he will introduce a resolution into his games; the dinosaurs will discuss good ideas to solve their problem, Ru/Harry will save Daddy/Ron and Mama/Hermione, and the dragon-monster will turn out to just want a friend or discover that he prefers eating cheese to people! If he doesn't bring a resolution of the conflict into his games, Stephen and I will endeavour to do so, as we think it's important to balance the conflicts presented in Ru's games with problem-solving to a happy end.
As for the calm, once Ru's expended all his remaining energy, we then spend the rest of our afternoons playing, reading or watching a film. I've covered the kinds of toys we have in our home in a previous post, so I don't really need to cover it again here.
Like Kendal's family, we chose not to have a tv license either. When we were living with family who constantly, and I mean CONSTANTLY had the tv on as background noise, we would see an increase in Ru's lethargy and lack of interest in activities and playing with us or his toys.
Whilst Ru has a tiny amount of screen time compared to his peers of a comparable age, but the amount is something we're looking at modifying. We are in fact, Stephen and I, going completely TV-free for the
entirety of November, so keep an eye out for posts sharing how we manage
with that! (What will I do without Glee and my XBOX360?!) We will sometimes rent a film to watch together for a special film night, complete with extended bedtime, pizza, popcorn and icecream. Ru adores animals, spending hours poring over the gorgeous animal photography books we own, and loves watching documentaries, especially anything to do with lions! Stephen or I watch with him, answering his questions and paraphrasing the narrator's information into something a toddler will understand. He amazes us with information and stories from these documentaries, happily telling me about how people in really cold places at the top of the world don't have cars and have sleds with husky dogs instead, or telling Stephen that he is silly because dragons *do* exist and live on an island in the sea far away from our house.
We also love sharing classic children's cartoons with him, namely Bagpuss, Mr Benn, and Pingu, supplemented with My Little Pony. Ru loves watching films, and enjoys Harry Potter, How To Train Your Dragon and Nanny McPhee best. Even more, he enjoys acting out and 'playing' his own games, based on the films. My absolute favourite is running round the house yelling spells at one another. Ru's great at Expecto Patronum, whilst I'm pretty handy with a Wingardium Leviosa (the trick is to get the 'swish and flick' movement right). We often incorporate activities that have some basis in the films we've watched or books we've read. We've made our own wands, had Wonderland teaparties complete with playdough cakes, we've eaten Elsa Beskow-inspired Sun Eggs, made Paper Caper airplanes and played with Happy Feet penguins in mashed potato snow.
Films are important to me and my husband. The first thing we bonded over on our first date was a film. Because both Stephen and I love, love, love films, we can't wait till Ru and Pixie are old enough for us to be able to share our most favourite movies with them (though we have a looooooooooooooooooong time to wait as my top three films are 300, Pan's Labyrinth and Perfume, whilst Steve loves the Alien franchise as well as anything to do with superheroes!).
We will never get rid of the tv completely because we love films and I love gaming. I love losing myself in a fantasy character for an hour! Skyrim is the game of choice right now, though I have plans for exploring into Call of Duty once I complete Skyrim. I can only game on a night though, or when Steve takes the kids out for a walk or upstairs for a bath. Because they're so stimulating and intense, it doesn't make sense to expose Ru and Pix to that.
In the months after Pixie's birth, with my post-natal depression at a very very low point, Ru and I watched a lot of films. Sometimes, you need that. I know Kendal has done similar recently whilst she was exhausted from baking that teeny human in her tummy! Whilst this is ok for short bursts, it's not something that we'd encourage for long periods of time. TV, when used properly, is meant to educate and amuse, sparking discussion and imaginative play. It's not a babysitter. (Having said that, if the house is a total bomb-site, I am not above putting a film on so that I can restore order whilst Ru's attention is elsewhere!)
Pixie and Ru will often play together, although we offer Ru the opportunity to play alone upstairs if he feels that she is spoiling his carefully-planned game. He gets very frustrated when he spends time creating an elaborate wooden train track, only to have it broken apart by an interested Pixie!
Don't get me wrong though, we don't always do set activities with our kids. It's so important for them to direct their own play and do what they want, rather than what we think they *should* be doing. Right now, Ru is spinning wooden disks on the floor, much to Pixie's delight!
So, back to our days... Late afternoon, one of us prepares dinner whilst the other tidies with Ru. We feel it is so important for Ru to feel like he is part of this home, and that we want him to learn that everyone contributes to making everyone else happy, and that keeping our home tidy is part of that. Like Ava, Ru loves to help Mama and Daddy. He favours putting cutlery away and sweeping, hates the hoover and handling wet clothes, but seems to find an odd pleasure in folding clean ones - a job he does FAR better than his Daddy! We want him to see the both of us enjoying maintaining our home.
One evening a week, I have a Bokwa class which is yet another opportunity to fill my Mama cup. I get to feel healthy, actively work towards losing my baby weight and feel better in the process. In a similar vein, on days when Stephen doesn't bike the four miles to work, we make time for him to exercise and box.
After dinner, we start on the wind-down to bedtime. Bathtime for Ru and Pixie gives an opportunity for a break from parental responsibility for whoever is most frazzled at that point in the day! Those 20 minutes for Stephen to play with music editing software, or for me to reorganise fabric, does wonders in restoring us to full working order and soothing frayed nerves. I find noisy, loud games with lots of shrieking and screaming the most difficult to deal with, whilst Steve gets easily frustrated by many different toys out at once.
After a bath, the kids have supper and we all head up to bed together. I feed Pixie to sleep and listen to Steve and Ru reading stories to one another. After three or four stories, Pixie will have dropped off in her cosleeper and Ru will be fast approaching a similar state. Once they're both fast asleep, Stephen and I head back downstairs.
At this point, I am at my best and most productive. As a self-confessed night owl, I can often be found (much to Stephen's utter confusion) starting big projects, like completely reorganising the kitchen cupboards, sorting through the myriad of photos on my camera, or working on MamaPixie orders if I didn't do so earlier in the day.
Regular as clockwork, Pixie wakes around 11pm for a feed, Steve fetches her whilst I have a last run round the house, feeding kitties, turning on the dishwasher, finishing up sewing, before we head upstairs one final time for teeth and 'jamas, before snuggling up in bed.
As Kendal said, it is all about what you choose to spend your time doing and what you choose to drop. I will always pick sewing over housework, for example.
The three biggest things that Stephen and I use to make the most of how we choose to spend our time are as follows.
1. Play To Your Strengths - I am not a morning person, Steve is, thus it makes sense for him to take charge then. He also freely admits that he's not hugely inspired in the creative activity department, leaving me to lead those more often than not. You find out what works for you as an individual and as a couple. Even simple things like the fact that Stephen willingly does the sweeping and hoovering because I despise those jobs (that's what years of bar work will do to you!), and I will do the gardening because Stephen simply doesn't enjoy it.
2. Fill Your Cup - Everything is easier when you have some time to nurture yourself and your interests. Nothing seems as bad after a lie-in, a bath or an uninterrupted Glee episode. Or ideally, a lie-in, followed by a bath whilst watching Glee.
3. You Can't Do It All... And That's O.K. - If I choose to work on MamaPixie orders, I'm sacrificing time with my family. If I'm spending time with my family, the bathroom doesn't get cleaned. If the bathroom gets cleaned, then there's probably a bucketful of nappies to be washed and a pile of clean clothes in a neglected corner, waiting to be put away.
Ya simply can't have it all. That's one of the things I love about this blog. Whilst Kendal and I have months-worth of posts planned and detailed schedules, it is flexible. Best example is this post. We'd agreed to post both of ours together, but after a bloody stressful night, I was all out of creative spark, and by the time it came to publish it, I was nowhere near done. At times, we've both posted late, and sometimes not posted at all.
I openly admit that I wouldn't manage a third of the stuff I do if it wasn't for Stephen. I did far less when he worked 9-5. I did far less before I started taking medication.
Please, please, don't ever feel whilst you're reading this blog that Kendal and I are perfect, with perfect lives and perfect children and perfect homes and perfect relationships. It simply doesn't work that way, for anyone. Attempting to attain perfection is such a pointless endeavour, as is unfavourably comparing your life to anyone elses.
In the end, we're all doing the best for those we love, with what and who we have. There's nothing better than that.
Except maybe for luxuriating on your own in a bubble bath that has no plastic sea animals in sight, whilst you watch Glee and convince yourself that Darren Criss really isn't too young for you...