Missing Christmas

I had kind of made a promise – more to myself than anyone else – that I would try steer clear of talking about Covid on here, as much as possible anyway. But I feel there is something I have to discuss and it involves the C word.

Actually, two C words.

Covid. And Christmas.

I am a big big fan of Christmas. Autumn and Winter are my favourite times of year, and as soon as the leaves start to change and the scarves start to come out of hibernation, I start to get excited. Now I will be the first to admit that Christmas, the lead up, the day, all does kind of stress me out a little. I get quite heightened and anxious. What to get people, will they like it, where will we spend the day, will everything go okay. Will someone say something stupid and offend someone else (been there, done that, still wearing the t-shirt of guilt and shame under my Christmas Jumper).

But, once the decorations and lights start to appear, the shop windows start to sparkle and the air gets that crisp chill, my smile starts to widen and I start to break out the glitter.

Yesterday was the first day that I had that flurry of excitement at seeing the lights and sparkle. I walked through the city for some errands after work and spotted the sign on the Brown Thomas window. It read –

We’ll keep you guessing while we’re Christmas Dressing

(I may be paraphrasing slightly). And I remembered hearing that their Christmas Shop was open so I took myself up to their top floor and saw lights! Trees! Sparkles! Decorations! Baubles! Santa! It made my heart lighter. I wandered around, looking at all the beautiful decorations I can’t have because I own the destructive model of Toddler. There was a whole section of Blush themed decorations. I wanted them all!

Christmas is coming! Blush themed decorations in Brown Thomas, Cork.

When I left and was walking through the city, it dawned on me that it is mid-October. The last few years the Christmas themed stuff has been arriving in shops earlier and earlier, with them being full of sparkle and red and white candy stripes from mid-September, competing for shelf space with the Halloween bits and pieces. There doesn’t seem to be as much emphasis this year. And I’ve thought the same with Halloween.

Obviously, Halloween can’t go ahead this year as normal. Trick or Treating isn’t exactly limiting your contacts. But I went looking for some new decorations. We can’t go house to house but we can at least make our house fun to look at and have a bit of a Halloween feel in the place. But the usual haunts I would visit for decorations were lacking. One store at the end of August/early September had a small but gorgeous selection of decorations and I thought, I’ll come back for those on payday. I did and they were no where to be seen. All sold out. And have not been replaced. All that was left was the tacky plastic stuff which, lets be honest, wasn’t going to fit in with my planned decor. Yeah I know, Halloween is tacky and plastic but for one more year let me try be slightly fancier. At least until I have to bend to the demands of the Toddler.

I’ve been on the lookout since and short of ordering online, which I was trying to avoid, I haven’t been able to find anything suitable. It’s almost like the shops have decided its a non-event this year and are doing the bare minimum to get by.

I do feel for the shop owners and workers who rely on this time of year for most of their sales. Christmas is going to be a largely online affair I would guess, and if the Boxed Christmas Card selection is anything to go by, what is available in store is going to feel a bit like they are just emptying the stock room of last years crap and trying to get rid and make space. Like we all did at the start of this pandemic when we thought we’d be at home for a few weeks, a month tops. A clear-out is a great idea! Until we fill all the gaps and spaces we made with more junk bought online at weird hours.

Our original Christmas plan has been largely thrown out the window. We can’t travel to the UK and the Grandparents there can’t visit us. Plan B was to travel cross country to be with the Irish Grandparents but that is currently looking unlikely too. It is very possible that this Christmas it could just be the three of us, and I’m really not sure how I feel about it. All the sparkle and hot chocolate in the world can’t make up for the lack of the people you call family; the laughter; the chaos (we’re a big bunch, its always kind of chaotic). I know in a couple of years when he’s older a quiet Christmas at home with just us will be what is on my Christmas list, but now while he is still so small and the aunts, uncles and cousins are still joyfully willing to take him for an hour, I fear that having it be Just Us will mean it doesn’t feel any different. It’s just going to be another regular day at home. With no one to visit, no one dropping by for a cup or tea or something stronger at 11 in the morning, no mad giggling over silly gifts and piles of wrapping paper, I fear it will feel anti-climactic.

I will keep hoping that things will change; that Christmas will be back as shiny and sparkley as ever. And maybe I am just getting ahead of myself. It is only October after all. But whatever happens, whether I am here with just the toddler and the dad, or whether we get to be with the bigger clan, this is a year that we will be making the most of Christmas. Because being stuck in lockdown has shown me how much I love, need, appreciate and miss my little village. And I am quite lucky to have them.

So glitter! Glitter everywhere!!

A Free Evening

He woke at 5.30 this morning.  He does that a lot, but usually I can get him back to sleep.  Some cuddles while sucking on the boob and he usually drifts off and I can get another hour in bed, if I’m lucky.  But this morning it was not to be. After half an hour of cuddles, my little giggly man was more than ready for the day. Into my room for robe and slippers, past the soundly sleeping oblivious dad and then down the stairs. How he sleeps through the giggling and the chat is beyond me, super powers.

What this meant of course was that by 8.30 am the energizer baby had lost all his bounce and wanted to sleep. He didn’t. He dozed. Finally went to sleep late morning and slept for not nearly long enough.

What I am leading up to say is that by 6.15pm he was tucked up in bed fast asleep.  We had dinner together,  quietly, with some conversation and not many screens between us, and it was nice. And then the prospect of an entire evening to ourselves loomed large.

He took himself off to write,  something he is better at convincing himself to do than I am, and I sat. I watched some TV. I had tea and a muffin. And now it isn’t even 9 o’clock and I am at a loss.

I keep thinking of things I could do, or things I should do. And nothing appeals.  I try to recall what I did for fun for me before all this began and I can’t remember much other than sitting. 

I watch far too much TV and movies.

I could have a bath. But the time it takes to fill the tub plus the knowledge I could be needed to settle a crying toddler at a moments notice kind of add up to putting me off the idea.

I could read. I got a new book recently and am slowly….very slowly…. making my way through it. But my brain is a bit lacking today and I think I would end up not remembering most of what I read. So it would feel like wasted time.

I could sort through the dozens, if not hundreds of photos I have printed of him. I use a site that gives you 50 free prints a month, you just pay postage. And I have used it most months since he was born – 18 months ago.  That’s a lot of photos. An insurmountable task for another night.

A jigsaw was always a favourite in the before days. And I even have one I haven’t made yet. But it won’t be finished in one evening, and the only surface I could make it on is too low, within toddler reach, so there goes that idea. I’d be finding puzzle pieces in the bin, on the floor, in his toybox.  And some would probably be lost forever.  Maybe eaten.

It is so hard to find time that is solely mine. Time that isn’t carved out for something else. Time that I can do with how I wish. It is precious and rare and tonight I feel like I’ve squandered it. I feel on edge all the time. Knowing that he will usually only settle for me makes it so difficult to relax or have an evening off. If I was confident that he would go back to sleep by himself or for his dad then I could have that bath, make the phone call, go for the walk, but I feel like a hostage. On edge just waiting for the next cry. I love that he wants me. I love that I can make his crying stop, I can put a goofy smile on his face just by walking in the room, and I can help him relax. But I would also love to take a night off. Let someone else settle him. Let him let someone else in.

And for those of you talking to your screens right now, telling me that it gets better;  that its hard to see the positives when you’re in the middle of these tough nights and sleep deprived decision making; that the day will come when you get a full uninterrupted nights sleep, I say to you – I know.  I am exceedingly excited about the idea. I am very aware that this is all temporary and that he won’t always need me. That I won’t always be the solution to his problem.

And as much as I am looking forward to uninterrupted sleep, to a night off, to a bubble bath with no one knocking at the door for something, I am dreading how I will feel when he stops giving me that huge goofy grin just because I’ve walked in the room. 

A Dime a Dozen

I’ve been quiet for a few weeks, I haven’t felt like writing anything. I haven’t felt like putting pen to paper – fingertips to keys. To be truthful, I haven’t felt like I’ve had anything to say.

I started this blog as a way to express my feelings when it comes to being a mum. To put my thoughts and ideas and experiences out there. But lately I’ve wondered why should I? There are more mom blogs out on the webisphere than there are half drunk cups of tea in a house with toddlers, why should I add to that infinite black hole? What will make mine any different?

And then yesterday I went looking for ideas for toddler related stuff. Its October so naturally the organised side of my brain starts thinking about Christmas.

Actually, thats a lie, the organised side of my brain has been thinking about Christmas since May. The common sense and logic side of my brain has started allowing the glitter and tinsel to poke through because its Autumn.

While searching for toddler related ideas for Christmas presents I ended up on multiple Mom blogs all with similar ideas and a similar sound. And all with similar picture perfect lives. Or if they’re not picture perfect, they still come out sounding all happy and breezy and a bit of oh isn’t my life wonderful even with its blips? And I get that. I feel that way too. I like my life, I adore my son, I wouldn’t change him. But I can tell you right now we are not perfect. I don’t always like my life, today is a good day. He is not perfect. His bedtime routine has been thrown out the window the last week and I’ve considered throwing him out too. Our lives are messy and have been upended with having a child and then Covid throwing us for a loop. And I do not ever want to come on here and write about how great my life is, especially if I’m having a crap week. And we’ve been having a few of them lately, so I avoided writing, rather than writing the truth.

Don’t let me get away with that again.

All this is to say, I don’t want to be like the Mom Blogs you find when you google ‘Ideas for Stocking Fillers’ or ‘Why won’t my toddler sleep?’. And I hope I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, I have found solice many a night on one or twelve of those Mom Blogs. They’ve given me some wonderful game and food ideas, they have eased my fears, but they’ve also given me extra Mom Guilt. No one needs more of that.

I want people to read this and know that I am a real person. A for real life first time mom. And I worry every day about being good enough for my kid.

And then. Then we go for a walk and he holds my hand for the whole hour we are out exploring and I remember that I am good enough for him. Who needs anything else?

I should add, there are of course Mom Blogs out there that do not adhere to the perfect life rhetoric, and there are some wonderful accounts on places like Instagram that feel real and honest when talking about being a parent (@anxiousmoms being my number 1, she speaks my language). But the hard part is searching for something, usually when you are feeling weak and low and extremely imperfect, and finding the internet takes you to a place that appears full of rainbows and fluffy clouds and sweetness and light. Its tough to stomach, and tough to wade through to get to the honesty. There isn’t a lot of that around these days.

Mom Dating

When my little dude was just over two months old we moved. And not just to a bigger house – because it certainly wasn’t – but to a bigger place. We moved almost cross country with a tiny baby. How you ask? With a hell of a lot of help. Why? Because we might be crazy.

I spent most of those first two months without my partner as he was working in a different city, but I had my village. I lived a 15 minute walk from my parents, my sister was closer still, and I have an amazing group of friends in the vicinity, all eager to spend time with a newborn and help in any way they could. I swapped all that for a bigger city, where I know very few people but we are now living together, the three of us, as a family. 

But this not knowing anyone thing was causing a problem. I like to be busy, to be active. And trying to fill my days with a tiny baby isn’t difficult, but I felt I could do with some adult conversation. And a change of scenery. There are plenty of mum groups in the area but I’ve never been great at joining things like that. I prefer small groups, more casual. So, after a few days of humming and hawing I wrote a post in one of the mom Facebook groups I joined in my new locale. I explained my situation and how I was just looking for someone to chat with over coffee. Well dear readers, it worked. I arranged a first date. And then a second, and a third. Quite a few other mums replied to me, in similar situations, or inviting me to join their girl gang (on Wednesdays we wear pink). Honestly, I was very cautious about writing the post. I wrote and edited and rewrote and revised over the course of an hour, talking myself in to doing it. And for a while I was so glad I did.

The first date went smoothly, we got on well, our kids were only a couple of months apart and the conversation flowed well. We talked about ‘next time’ and we even texted a few times after. But it fizzled out. Bear in mind this was Summer 2019, well before the new normal.

Date number two was similar. She came solo, choosing to leave baby with dad so she could have a couple of free hours. We talked for a long time, got to know each other a bit and there was even a vague dinner invitation for ‘next time’. We parted ways and that was the last time we spoke.

Date number three was a group invite. She and I had texted for hours over the course of a couple of days – constant texting is harder to maintain with a baby or toddler attached to you – and she invited me to her Thursday Morning club. A bunch of moms with babies roughly the same age who had all met through a baby massage class were still meeting up each week for coffee or a walk and a chat. Lovely I thought. A small group, sounds perfect. And they were perfectly lovely. Added me to their group WhatsApp chat, we met and had coffee and gushed over the kids. All of theirs were 5 months older than my guy, give or take. Which if it was about me and a new friend would make no difference whatsoever, but the difference between 4 months and 9 months old is huge, and I felt I couldn’t contribute to the comparing notes section of the conversation. And they as a group had a shared history.

Funnily enough, after that coffee chat, the group chat went silent. Call me paranoid but I couldn’t help wonder had another chat been set up without me? A bit of effort on their part, but lack of sleep and lack of adult company makes a new mom a bit paranoid. There were one or two texts here and there but mostly radio silence. I wonder how they kept up their Thursday mornings without using it?

So that was my last Mom Date. I started back to work , we moved – again, but within the same city this time – and then the world started to crash and burn. But because of the crash and burn I actually may have found some people. We won’t get carried away and say I’ve found Mom Friends just yet, but the new estate we’re in is full of young families, and lockdown has given people the opportunity to slow down, so we actually got to meet some of the neighbours. There has even been socially distant drinks in a front garden some of the warmer evenings, and people wave or stop and have a chat while trying to wrangle toddlers and new babies between car and house.

While I try to be optimistic, making friends as an adult is never easy, and the pandemic (was doing so good at not naming it. Almost got there!) is making it difficult. As the weather got a bit chillier our garden drinks became kitchen table drinks, but they can no longer happen with the current guidelines. And trying to find time for playdates with people heading back to work and the restrictions on who you can and can’t have in your home getting tougher is almost impossible. But I am silently hopeful. Hopeful that the craziness is actually bringing us together. Hopeful that the new world that rises from the ashes will be kinder, friendlier. Hopeful that I might actually make some grown up friends. And if we happen to find friends for himself along the way, even better.

Sleep Habits

I wrote these paragraphs over a year ago.

My baby is a little over three months old (14weeks for those of you who count that way) and he is sleeping with me still. It started at about 7 weeks because he got a head cold and was congested and could get no rest lying flat. We propped up his cot but nothing worked. The only way he could rest peacefully was lying on my chest while I slept sitting up surrounded by pillows in a terrible attempt at merging comfort with safety so I could get some sleep. And this habit has continued, although we are now both lying in the bed, instead of him on my chest. The habit has continued mostly because baby wakes and begins to scream if we try lie him down flat in his cot. But since I’m breastfeeding, co-sleeping is ideal. He will sleep solidly for anything from 8 to 11 hours, not waking fully to feed because his nuzzling wakes me before it wakes him. 

But what bothers me is when people ask how he sleeps and I say great, but with me, the answer invariably forms a version of ‘oh that’s a bad habit. Can’t be doing that.’ Why is it a bad habit? He is less than 6 months old, and 6 months is the prime time to begin any sleep training. Anything before that is just your baby adjusting to the outside world. My inside was his entire world for 9 months. The least I can do is continue to be his entire world for a few months on the outside too. 

Please don’t tell a mother that the choice she’s making is a bad choice, or a bad habit. Every mother is different, every baby is different, and while there are definitely safe choices, I believe there are no wrong choices. I am well aware of the effect that bringing my baby into my bed can have on him, on me, and on my relationship with my partner. But right now, my priority is him. He needs sleep, and where he settles best is with me, so I’m going to continue to let him.

Re-reading these a year later, I still feel the same. If I’m being honest – and that’s sort of the point of this site – he occasionally still sleeps with us. Not often, usually if he’s having a bad night and needs comfort. He has gotten his first, second and third tooth in quick succession over the last two weeks and he is in so much pain. I can see it in his face, in his actions, hear it in his cry. So if he wakes at 1am upset and sore, and if no amount of cuddling or boobs or Calpol will sooth him, then I bring him into my bed. He will feed for a couple of minutes and invariably he will fall back to sleep and settle better because he is with us. But most nights he stays in his cot.

Yes he still wakes regularly, but the length of time between wakings is gradually getting longer and longer. When he was tiny, he would wake almost every two hours, sometimes more. Now, we’re stretching to 4 or 5 hours. I know to someone who gets a solid nights sleep with no interruptions that seems insane, but for us its amazing. I never wanted to use any form of cry it out method. I wanted him to know we are there for him, we will come when he calls, if he needs us we are going to be there. I wanted him to learn that no matter what, Mum and Dad are your safe space, And I do believe that begins at the very beginning.

If you google ‘Baby Sleep’ or ‘Sleep Training’ or ‘Oh Dear God Its 4am Why Won’t My Baby Sleep??!!??!!’ you will find dozens upon dozens upon dozens of people sharing stories, and the same amount again selling something. Gadgets, tips, tricks. Sleep methods, gentle methods, cry it out methods. There are even people out there who will come to your house for a ‘Sleep Consultation’. I kid you not.

There are as many options for sleep as there are names to choose from. And I won’t lie, I gave in. I signed up to a sleep program one night, after trawling through pages of reviews, reading up on the company and finally deciding, at stupid o’clock one night, that yep this sounds like us. They sound like our kind of people and I can get on board with how they do things. I paid for the right age package for my guy (how you train a child apparently is determined by their age – who knew?) and within about three days I had discarded it again. Forty euro down the drain.

I am not a strict person. I know this about myself. I can’t stop myself eating that extra biscuit, why did I think I could stick to a plan that involves hearing my son crying in his room while I stand outside? Instead we kept on as we had been, changing and growing gradually depending on his needs. Turns out, when he is ready to change the routine, he finds a way to let us know. I am still feeding him to sleep at night, a practice I love as being out at work all day it gives us a chance to connect. Up until recently, he would fall asleep on the boob, suck a while longer and then pop off and kind of stretch or starfish out on my lap, letting me know he was done. So, as he slept, I would place him in the cot, he would roll over, get comfy and happily sleep.

Lately, our routine is the same, but he doesn’t always fall asleep. Sometimes he stops feeding, reaches out to the cot to show me he’s ready. So I lie him down, he gets comfy and falls asleep in a matter of minutes. He knows himself when he is ready, and if he’s not he certainly has ways of letting me know.

We are doing what works for us. Every kid is different, every parent is different, every night can be different. Once we accepted that and stopped trying to fit him into a box or a one size fits all routine I think we actually found our rhythm. I have tried to stop feeling the need to explain our sleep patterns to others. The feeling of guilt or that you’re a bad parent because he doesn’t fit the mould – it does go away. Once I stopped listening to the well meaning advice and stopped reading the sleep columns, and started listening to my kid, our nights definitely got easier. There are still really difficult nights, and there are still days I nap when he does. But there are also nights when he sleeps really well, and days when I feel refreshed and almost human again. Parenting is a long game, there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. And I’m in it for the long game.

Birthday Thoughts

It was my birthday last week. I took the week off work, travelling cross country to spend it with my family who I haven’t really seen since the Covid Lockdown started back in March. And it was wonderful. My little guy had a blast hanging with his older cousins and having Grandad dote on him, and we parents enjoyed not having to run after him every waking moment. We actually got time to ourselves, sometimes hours at a stretch.

Most shockingly of all? I read a whole book. Cover to cover. In a week. I haven’t done that in a couple of years. It was lovely. 

I come from a family who celebrate birthdays. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Usually we just gather in a house, whoever is around that day comes over, there’s cake, candles, singing and lots of tea. It’s a tradition I want to uphold as my son gets older, to make sure he knows that birthdays are a celebration. That no matter what else is going on your family are there for you, they love you and they want to celebrate you. This year, everyone who was free came with us to a local pub for food and a drink. We sat outside in the evening sunshine, enjoying the social aspect, having been unable to do so for months. We left, put the baby to bed and then the family reappeared, we had tea and cake – two types of cake – and we sat and talked and laughed.

But this birthday got me thinking about other birthdays. About milestones and opportunities. About dreams and plans, some fulfilled, most not. 

I remember being about 16 or 17 and having a plan for my life. Vague as it was, it was a plan. By the ripe old age of 25 I was going to be working a job I loved (preferably music, theatre or writing related), be married and if not have a child, at the very least be planning on having one very soon. Had I stuck to this plan and tried to bring it to fruition how different my life would be.  

I am now 36 and I can’t tick all the boxes that I laid out for myself twenty years ago. But life isn’t about ticking boxes. For me it has been about taking what comes your way, figuring it out as you go, trying to make the most of it all and having people around you who care about you. 

It is about celebrating every birthday. About making a cake for someone just because you want to. It’s about the little moments. 

Bubbles in the Rain

Playing with bubbles in the rain with your son because he doesn’t know any different, the rain isn’t a problem to him. 

Finding a story someone wrote for you when they were a child and gifting it back to them as an adult, bringing back memories long forgotten, sparking conversations.

For me, it isn’t about having the same thing that someone else has, the ring, the house. 

It’s about remembering the little details and following up, making an effort to make others feel seen.

It’s about laughing uncontrollably as your child practices a new found skill – blowing raspberries on your belly.

It’s about the little conversations held over tea and cake, the moments that we take for granted. 

I am now 36 and I can’t tick all the boxes that I laid out for myself twenty years ago.

  • In a job I love? Definitely not. Gainfully employed? Yes. Do I enjoy it? No. Are the people alright? Yeah, seem to be.
  • Married? Nope. In a long term serious relationship? Yep. We’ve grown up together, lived in two different countries and had our ups and downs. Officially, we’ve never signed that piece of paper. But he is my partner, for better or worse.
  • Have a child? This box I can tick, although he has only recently turned one. Going by 16 year old me’s plan he should be 10 or 11 by now! 
  • Involved in music, theatre, writing? Nope. Nope. And does this count? This is the closest I’ve come to writing anything in years. 

Real life gets in the way of our plans. 

Let it.

Average Joe

Grabbing my keys I headed for the door, pausing briefly in front of the hall mirror. Would this be it? Would I be able to stop myself? I pulled the door shut and made for the car. Who does she think she is? I said I loved her, not that she could dictate my life. The engine roared to life and I backed out of the drive almost instinctively, almost without looking. 

My job is my life. My identity. Could I change who I am because of one girl? Did I want to?

The streets were a blur. The same streets I’ve driven everyday for almost a decade. Could I stay here if I stop doing what I love? This small town accepted me, accepted my peculiar ways. I have friends but no one questions my absences too deeply. 

“Work,” I tell them, sighing as if it’s a chore. “Keeps me busy, keeps me away longer than I’d like.” Without work I’d have no excuse for missing the barbeques and christenings. I’d need a new elusive job. I turned the last corner that took me out of my little town, took me into the unknown. I grabbed my phone, replayed the last voice message. 

    “Joe, its Sally. I know we haven’t spoken in a while. After what you told me I,” a brief pause, I could hear the slight nervous tremor in her breathing. “Well I didn’t know what to think. I needed some time. And now, if you can promise me that one was the last one, the last job, I can move on. We could start fresh.” Another pause. I know her; knew she was weighing up what to say next. “Call me,” was all she said. The phone beeped, a mechanical voice said “End of message. To delete message, press one. To save it, press two.” I pressed two hastily.

    After my last work trip I had come home, tired, achy, battered and bruised. My clothes were torn and all I wanted was a hot shower. I was so tired that I had forgotten about showing Sally where I kept the spare key. ‘Only for emergencies’ I’d told her. She’d agreed. She had decided to surprise me on my return home. Not a good idea. Waiting in a darkened room almost put her life in danger. Once I had pinned my girlfriend against the wall with a blade to her neck I knew I had to explain my ‘business trips’ to her.

    She had sat in silence as I explained my line of work to her. Explained how it was mercenary, almost necessary really. That was a month ago. She had walked out, seemingly calm and collected, and I hadn’t heard from her again until last night. And her timing was impeccable, as usual. She called just after I’d received word from my boss.

    “Joe. Jack. Tomorrow. Same place. Five o’clock.” End of message. I checked the clock, ten to five. I was going to be early. I slowed the car and eased into the almost empty lot. We’d been using this car park as a meeting place for a few years now. For someone who had to be almost invisible, being a creature of habit was actually a good thing. I spotted Jacks car pulling into the lot behind me. 

    In the movies, it’s always black cars and guys in suits and sunglasses. The reality is much different. I mean I understand the suits thing, no one stands out. No remarkable features. But realistically, and in this heat, a suit would only draw attention. I stepped out of the car and was alongside Jack’s door before he had stopped. 

    “Jack,” I nodded in greeting.

    “Joe.” He opened the door, grabbed something from the passenger seat and stood to meet me. We shook hands. I had never known him as anything other than Jack. Nor did I want to. The less we knew about each other the better. Though, after all this time, I barely remembered what my own name was, before.

    Jack held a file under his arm.

    “That it?” I asked. The question more a formality, more a ritual than anything else.

    “Yup.” Jack handed it over. I didn’t open it. Not here. No need.


    “Midnight Friday.”

    “Anything I need to know?”

    “This one has a flair for the dramatics. Give ‘em a real show!” A smirk appeared on Jacks lips. 

    “Always do Jack, always do.” Most of this conversation was habit, formed over years of repetition. Jack moved to open the car door, the formalities – and his job – complete. 

    “Jack,” I stopped him. “Can I ask you something?” If he seemed surprised at the break from our usual script he didn’t show it.


    “Ever known anyone to get out of the business and survive?”

    “Depends on your definition of survival.”

    “You know, marriage, kids, normal job, all that stuff.”

    “That’s what I thought you meant.” Jack opened a stick of gum and began to chew, staring at the space behind me, not looking directly at me. He almost looked sad.

    “Well, have you? Known anyone to do it?”

    “Not in my lifetime. You can get out of the game but live a ‘normal’ life? Ain’t gonna happen. People like us can’t live a normal life. You’ll always be looking behind you, wondering if someone suspects; wondering if someone recognises you. And as for the tools of the trade? Do you really think you could give those up? Trust me, there will always be something lingering in wait in the boot of your car, just in case.”

    I had never heard him say more than a handful of words at any one time. This was a shock.

    “I know why you’re asking. It’s a girl, correct?” I nodded feebly. “If you love her, really love her, and if you’re willing to spend the rest of your life – and I do mean until the day you die – protecting her, looking out for her and keeping her safe, then I say try. If you can do all that equally as well as you tackle what’s in each file I give you, then run. That’s what life should be all about.”

    “Thanks Jack.” I shook his hand, he held onto mine with both of his hands, large and scarred. 

    “Listen to me Joe. If you have the slightest doubt about her, or about leaving all this behind, don’t do it. Those fears will eat you alive. And that will be worse than spending your life wondering what if.”

    He dropped my hand and got into his car. I walked to mine and sat in the drivers’ seat as Jack pulled away. I put the file on the passenger seat, unopened. This time I wanted to know as little as possible. I started the car and left the lot, taking a meandering route back to town. Less than half way back I pulled over. I couldn’t concentrate. The papers next to me were taunting me. Part of me wanted to tear the papers in half, scatter them along the roadside like paper petals. My hand rested on top of the file, my fingers tucked under the cover, prised to flip it open. Prepared to tear. But something in me wouldn’t listen. The part of me that loved my job wanted to know what the next hit would be. I had always gained a certain satisfaction from a job well done and now that the file was sitting there, teasing me, I had to know. I flipped the lid and glanced at the photo. Female, black hair, pretty enough. I checked the location.

    “Really?” I yelled at the empty car. “Really Jack? My own town? Come on!” I bashed the steering wheel, blaring the horn. A feeble attempt to vent my frustration. My jobs had always taken me out of town, away from the people I knew, and despite my best efforts, even cared for. I checked the address. Knew the neighbourhood instantly. Kicking the car into life I headed back towards town, the windows down, the wind blowing through the car, causing the paper file to dance on the seat next to me. I pulled my phone and dialled Sally. Voicemail.

    “Sally, I’m sorry. We need to talk. I’ll see you tonight. I’ll cook.” I spun the car into the lot of the department store. I needed to find something. Something special. 

I scanned the aisles until an array of colours were lined up before me. Reds; pinks; greens; blues. But this had to be perfect. Red is traditional I guess, but it just didn’t seem appropriate. There were patterns too, but polka dots or mushrooms just wouldn’t work. Not for Sally.

Sally is a classy girl. Always looks well turned out, always dressed smartly. The kind of girl that wears work out clothes just to work out. 

Purple? The colour of royals the world over. Would it show that I was serious in my intentions? It was a possibility. Girlie but not sickly like pink or magenta.

I scanned the rows, discounting the browns and blacks. For my surprise I needed something that would shimmer and sparkle; something that would glint in the moonlight.

The last night I took her to dinner, as we were walking home, Sally looked like a star that had fallen to earth. Her dress shimmered, sequins glinting, but I couldn’t recall their exact colour, just that her bright blue eyes reflected the starlight back at me.

Would blue do? I fingered the different rolls of blue. Light and dark; thin and thick; striped and spotted; but none of them would do justice to the colour and shine seen only in her eyes. I could lose myself in those eyes. 

But right now I was lost amongst a sea of colour and texture. Who knew there was so much choice when it came to this? But for full effect the ribbon had to be perfect. I always believed that the small details matter and it might be only a ribbon but without it the whole plan would fall apart.

Checking the time, I knew I didn’t have long before I had to start proceedings for the evening. My watch caught the shine from the fluorescent strips above me, showering the ribbons with a flash of light. A golden ribbon shone under the new light. Picking it up, I could feel the silkiness of it against my fingers, how smooth it was, how it glinted. I could almost see it catching the starlight on its sleek surface. Perfect.

Having bought the ribbon, I rushed to Sally’s. She was still at work, so I knew I had about an hour to get everything in place. Sally being Sally, the place was immaculate. I put my supplies in the kitchen and made a start on dinner, but my mind was elsewhere the entire time. I was counting the minutes until I knew she’d be home. With dinner almost ready, I started emptying my bag of tricks. Unrolling the ribbon, I couldn’t help letting it slip through my fingers, enjoying the silky texture. 

Checking the time, I knew Sally was less than 5 minutes away. I got myself ready. Lights off; doors closed. I wanted the full element of surprise as she walked through the door.

I could hear keys rattling. My heart began pounding in my chest. The key turned in the lock. My hands tightened. Her slender form stepped into the darkness, closing the door behind her. I stretched the ribbon taut between my hands, and in one swift movement wrapped the silky golden ribbon around her neck. Pulling it tight, I watched as the gold glinted in the moonlight streaming through the window. Her keys clattered to the ground, clinking against the wooden floor. Her hands went to her neck, attempting to loosen my grip. Nothing could deter me. Even scared for her life, her eyes were glittering in the dark room. I watched and held tight until they began to turn dark. 

I laid her on the floor of the sitting room, a blanket draped over her still warm body, the gold ribbon still wrapped around her neck. I watched the colour slowly drain from her face as I tucked into a bowl of chilli. There was enough for two, but I could only manage my own. I put the remains in a box in the fridge, did the washing up and gathered my things.

Looking at Sally, taking her in one final time, I could just see the bow around her neck, glinting like a present under the tree on Christmas morning.  

I Wish I’d Known

Someone asked me a few months after I had him, what’s the one thing about childbirth I wish I’d known before hand?

God, there are so many things I wish I’d known. And not just about childbirth, but the after effects too. 

For the actual childbirth part, I wish I’d known to ask more questions. I was induced, which was briefly explained, but little did I realise I would start having pains immediately. Or that my partner would be sent home. 

I wish I’d known that our hospital has a ‘no overnight guests’ policy. I was induced at 8pm on a Sunday evening, he was sent away around 10pm. I spent two nights alone and in pain, my partner only able to be with me during the day. Then on Tuesday night at about 9.30pm our little man arrived, and a few hours later my partner was again sent away. I wish I’d known this sooner as I found it very emotional having to say goodbye to him. In such an emotional, painful situation, the one person who could calm me, keep me level, the person who would be my voice when I couldn’t speak, was not by my side. 

I wish I’d known how scared I would feel. When the midwife leaned her head out of the door to yell, and I mean yell, for another midwife to come, I was briefly terrified. Suddenly there were 6 doctors and midwives in the room all looking at monitors and talking back and forth in what felt like code and I was spread out between them all. It felt calm and panicked at the same time. 

I wish I’d known how scary it was going to be for my partner. He was sitting on a chair, watching this unfold, feeling like he was in the way. Sitting watching me in pain, watching the monitors and hearing our baby’s heartbeat drop. Feeling helpless in that moment, being unable to provide any help to me or our soon to be baby. 

I wish I’d known my son was going to be quite lazy about coming into the world, he definitely wanted to do it on his terms. A character trait that has merely gotten stronger as he has gotten older. And he didn’t seem to like being rushed. The medication they gave me to speed up the labour only annoyed him and caused his heart rate to drop. Which was the cause of the yelling and the multiple doctors. He did this twice over the course of a few hours, the second time giving the doctor cause enough to decide to perform an emergency c-section.

I wish I’d know how quick an emergency c-section can be. From making the decision to cut, to me holding my son was 45 minutes, maybe an hour? And it all moved so quickly and felt so blurred.

I did know how many people to expect to be in the room for a c-section (thank you antenatal class) but I was still surprised at the number of people in masks (before they were fashionable)  that were floating around me. I sat and moved as directed, leaning forward and holding on as they injected my lower back, all the while thinking ‘my son’s birthday is April 23rd’. I repeated that statement in my mind over and over as they moved me, lay me down. ‘My son’s birthday is April 23rd.’ As my partner was brought into me. As he held my hand and I could feel, well, nothing honestly ‘cause the epidural was doing its job amazingly. Honestly, nothing from the boobs down. My head, neck and arms were all I could feel. It was freakish and tremendous.

I wish I’d known how little all of the before would matter once he was lying on my chest. 

Afterwards, I wish I’d known not to google or research every little thing. Especially not in the darkest hours of the night. I wound up down some dark rabbit holes on google, which only led to me feeling even more terrified and incompetent.

What I did know, is that my family and friends are amazing, but I didn’t know just how amazing. They called with food for the freezer, or to take baby for half an hour so I could shower. They did the washing up while I fed him. They ignored the mess of me, the state of our house and the torrent of swearing that was coming from me as he fed. They were simply there to be there, to support us and be an extra pair of hands once my partner had to go back to work.

What I did know, is that all my baby needed was to be safe and loved and fed. Like us all really, but at a very base level. And so long as we could give him that and can continue to give him that, the rest of it can all fade away.

Breastfeeding Trials & Tourettes

It can’t just be me, surely? Other women feel this too, right?

When I was pregnant, I never really made a conscious decision to breastfeed. I did some research but I didn’t go excessively down the rabbit hole of breastfeeding forums and infographics and all the other stuff you can find if you start looking. I didn’t want to be too prepared. In actuality, I was like that with most areas of my pregnancy. I would read the minimum, the bare edges, the headlines. I think I was scared to delve too deeply. My brain was already on overdrive with what if’s and I didn’t need the internet giving me more fuel for the fire.

When the day came and my son was born, the nurse placed him on my chest as they sewed me up beyond the curtain. He managed to wriggle his way up my chest until he was practically on my neck. They took him away for all the checks they do. His dad went with him, I couldn’t bare for him to be without one of us when he was mere minutes old. And then there he was, back on my chest, cuddling into me. A nurse? Midwife? I’m really not sure. Someone guided him towards my breast and he started to nurse and I remember thinking ‘Wow, that was easy.’ Oh how wrong I was! 

Because I had a caesarean I had to spend 5 days — 5 long days — in hospital. Every evening someone would pop into the room and check in to see if you had enough milk for the baby. If you’re not breastfeeding, they give you small bottles of pre-made formula with twist off tops and plastic wrapped sanitised teets that twist onto the bottle. I was given advice from family and friends who recently had babies to say I wanted the bottles, even if I was planning to feed him myself. So I ended up with a stash of them in my bedside locker. But we tried to nurse. And failed. And tried. And failed.

That first night, the midwife took him away — both fearful and thankful I let him go — and she fed him a bottle. And he was happy. For a time. I resorted to giving him the bottles, but some dogged determination in me wanted to keep trying to Do It Myself! He’s my son, surely I should be able to provide for him in this basic way?

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew it could take time. So after a very long night the midwife on duty the following day offered to help; to give me a lesson in how to use my own boobs. She grasped his head in one hand, my boob in the other and shoved us together, wiggling my nipple in his mouth. And yeah, it was about as comfortable and dignified as it sounds. While this was going on, the grandparents arrived which gave the midwife the excuse she needed to leave. ‘I don’t perform in front of an audience’ she said. She promised to come back later. 

I got lucky and he nursed for a good 15 minutes, so when she reappeared — as charming as ever – I informed her we were getting there and she left us to it. But what followed was another long night where I resorted to giving him bottles. No one wants their child to go hungry, and while I wanted to provide for him, giving him the bottle was doing just that. If we didn’t connect on the breastfeeding then so be it. 

The following day, we met a woman who changed our lives. The midwife on duty – if memory serves her name was Grace, and she was appropriately named — asked how we were getting on with the feeding and I was honest with her. We’d had more failure than success. She told me she was the lactation specialist on the ward so the next time he was due a feed to call her and she’d come sit with us.

The fifteen minutes she sat with me were life-changing. For both of us.

She explained clearly and calmly, she talked me through it. Talking about it later I said that before Grace’s attention, my son and I were on the same topic but not reading the same book. Afterwards, we were reading the same book and were even on the same chapter. Though maybe not quite the same page. 

Getting to the same chapter was only the beginning of the battle. And my god what a battle.

He latched well, but the pain, sweet Jesus! Going back to the hospital when he was seven days old to have my stitches checked and dressing changed, I asked the midwife about the pain in my boobs. Sore nipples? Check. Cracking? Check. Bleeding? Check. Pain when he latches? Searing shooting pains through your boob? Check, double check, left and right check!

Stick with it. Use the lanolin cream. Pump if you can. She told me to rub them with a rough towel. The thought of it still sends shivers down my spine, a mere 15 months later. I know, she said, last thing you want to do. But it will help.

I didn’t believe her. If I barely tapped a soft towel against them the pain was excruciating. And all the wonderful breastfeeding clothes I had eagerly purchased now felt restrictive. I was walking around the house in a button up pyjama top that was open most of the time, the cool air a blessing to the boob.

I started suffering what I lovingly referred to as Breastfeeding Tourettes. I would leave the room to feed him if we had visitors, not to spare them the sight of me feeding, to me that is perfectly natural, but to spare them the torrent of verbal abuse that spewed from me when he started to feed. I started writing down the random things that flowed freely from my mouth. Such as –

*Crap *Fuck *Jesus Christ *Holy Moly

Normal enough? I got more inventive.

*Fuck nuggets *Shizers *Buggeration *Crud Buckets

I also remember telling him ‘Good boy, reduce the pain in Mommy’s boob.’ Feeding was about the only thing that actually helped, even though it was painful to start. It always lessened after he fed for a couple of minutes. And gradually, over time, feeding got easier. We started reading from the same page of the same book. We enjoyed our time together. Breastfeeding got comfortable and easy. Well, easier. The pain comes back from time to time, we have our battles and moments still. But that’s a story for another day.

Seven Weeks In as a New Mum.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

During the first few months of my new life with a new life, I wrote random pieces and snippets. Small glimpses into the mind of a new mother, trying to deal with the realities and pain that is all part and parcel of the journey. I plan to edit, compile and share them. This is the first one.

Tuesday 11th June 2019.

I have a seven week old. This day, seven weeks ago, I was in hospital, in labour.

Nothing about those sentences seems real to me. As I write this, a little man in a lion coloured onesie is asleep on my chest and I still feel like this is a dream, or just a temporary arrangement. But no, he belongs to me. He is my responsibility. And that is scary.

Seven weeks ago, after two days of pre-labour pains, a doctor checked my baby’s heartbeat and decided it was safer for me and the baby to cut me open and remove him vertically, as opposed to pushing him out horizontally as had been the plan. Honestly, in hindsight, I am relieved I had to have a C-section as I can only imagine how drawn out my labour would have been, if the first few – read 12 – hours were anything to go by.

During the second half of my pregnancy I was diagnosed as borderline for gestational diabetes. That meant I had to watch my diet, exercise a bit more than a pregnant woman wants to, and stab myself multiple times a day to check my blood sugar levels. I say stab, it was a pin prick, seven times a day. My fingers actually started to bruise. It also meant I was brought in to see a diabetes consultant regularly alongside my pregnancy consultant, meaning I was spending more time inside the walls of the hospital than I spent at my desk in work.

The main fear for women with gestational diabetes is that the baby will be huge – massive – and cause all sorts of pain if left to find its own way into the world. My baby was within the normal parameters that the consultants like to see, but my doctor still felt a desire to not let me go over my due date. So three days before that date, I am sitting in a small room with a doctor who I’ve learned likes to joke a bit, trying to take in what he’s asking me. ‘Can you come in Sunday?’ baby’s due date was Easter Sunday, and this man in a sandy jacket was asking me to come to hospital and be induced on the day I had hoped to be drowning in chocolate.

As he calls through to the labour ward to see if they would have room for me that weekend I could just listen, slightly shell shocked. I knew women with GD are often induced, but I thought I’d have more time. At least a couple of days. What hospital was going to accept a pregnant woman on the eve of a bank holiday?

My one, it turns out.

But still, now I sit here wondering when this temporary arrangement will change. But no one is going to come and relieve me from these babysitting duties or tell me there’s been a mistake. Which is good, cause I kind of like him.

Think I might keep him.