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Routine Schmoutine – the tyranny of parenting Must-Dos

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You know when you read something that makes your heart leap? It was a sentence from a mother that I could have written myself, it just resonated that much. It was Adrienne Rich, a famous feminist mother who has since passed on, on what she experienced when she went on holiday and abandoned the usual routines.

“This is what living with children could be – without school hours, fixed routines, naps, the conflict of being both mother and wife with no room for being simply, myself.

“Driving home once, after midnight, from a late drive-in movie… with three sleeping children in the back of the car, I felt wide awake, elated; we had broken together all the rules of bedtime, the night rules, rules I myself thought I had to observe in the city or become a ‘bad mother’. We were conspirators, outlaws from the institution of motherhood; I felt enormously in charge of my life.”

I have been getting Baby Centre emails since I signed up excitedly when Ramona was but 4 weeks in my womb, every time they ping in to my inbox I open them to read about how absolutely, vitally, extraordinarily critical ROUTINES are. Even when she was 3 months old they were suggesting I schedule in naps and begin a pre-bedtime menu of bath, story, massage, songs.

I have dutifully read this and taken much of it on board. I don’t want to risk my daughter being sleep deprived or feral because of a routine failure! But more often than not, it just wasn’t the be all and end all for us.

I wore Ramona in a sling every moment of every day until she could crawl, this meant she just cat napped throughout the day. People would always ask about her sleep schedule. I was also obsessed, counting the minutes she slept to the SECOND. Paranoid that her catnapping wasn’t right – even though it felt perfect.

Then when she began sleeping less we went more or less down to 3-5 naps, depending on when she was tired. Despite reading of other babies on strict napping plans I felt like I should just let her do her thing. I want her to understand her own feelings- to know that when she is tired, that she should sleep. Not to just do something because it happens to be 12 o clock.

Most nights we do have a bit of bookreading and quiet time before she drifts off to sleep at my breast. But it could be anytime between 7:30 and 9. It just depends on how much she has napped, and what time she wakes up. If I try putting her to sleep 12 hours after she woke up in the morning, having had a 1.5 hour sleep, she will be like “Whhaaat? You kidding me?”

But the best nights, the times when I feel so easy and relaxed and liberated, when I feel we are just like an ancient wild Tribe of Camberwell, is when she just falls asleep on the way home after dinner out, or snuggles down on my lap while Tim and I chat in the lounge.The times when any bed time routine soars out the window.

The funny thing is, I still feel kind of guilty when this happens. As if I have let down the Motherhood. As if Ramona might grow up to be an ASBO’d up delinquent.

Because my mind is bursting with wisdom words about routine and rules and schedules, as if it is the ONLY way. Even mamma’s who I respect so much that I feel sorry for Ramona that she isn’t THEIR daughter, even they hold fast and tight to routine.

I understand that for lots of mummies it is their key to sanity, and that for lots of children it works really well.

But what if it isn’t for everyone?

What if some children were just born to be a bit untamed?

It feels to me to be a bit of a feminist issue. Because I am sure these great grand parenting must-dos are oppressive and patriarchal in nature. They chip away at a mother’s natural instinct, cause us to question what we feel to be right. They undermine our inate, empowered, motherhood.

I have wanted to get this off my chest for a while. In the hope that writing about it would help purge me of any guilt for not following the Must- Dos. I hope I haven’t offended anyone, PLEASE don’t see it as a critique of your own parenting- we are all just loving and bringing up our children in the way that is best for us. But there must be other mamma’s whose best ways aren’t the Must- Do ways? Do you rebel against any Must-Dos?

I would like to be liberated from this parenting tyranny, to embrace life with Ramona as unfettered, guilt-free.

Perhaps the first step is unsubscribing from those Baby Centre emails.

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My tiny tyrant? Feminism and attachment parenting

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Er. Ramona has a new thing. It involves calling my breasts baps. “BAPS! BAPS!” she yells as she pats my mammary glands.

It isn’t particularly pleasing – clearly she is spending too much time in the company of those objectifying truck drivers and sweaty sexist builders. (Must get new baby sitters.)

I am currently wrapping my aching brain around the concept of feminist motherhood. (Yeah. One who loves a dash of fashion, who staggers towards bra-off-o-clock every evening, because, shiver my timbers, I do have to wear that thing most of the day.) I am wrapping; embracing it, wrestling with it, assuming it.

For these first 17 months of Ramona’s life I sat a little uneasily- kind of comfortable on the sofa of my new mummydom, but with a pesky toy car under my thigh- this small sticky sense that being a mother was gobbling me up;  my other identity, my desires, ambitions, hobbies.

Credit: The Radical Housewife

It is AMAZING that becoming a parent does that to you- you suddenly realise that you think NOTHING of yourself in comparison to your baby, without one single doubt you would put aside everything just to love them. Knowing that you have an intrinsic goodness, an inherent ability to sacrifice all of you– that is a pretty incredible human experience.

But, in practice it is the mother that actually tends to do that. Especially so when practicing attachment parenting, I genuinely do reckon that the first year of a baby’s life is like a second gestation. They need us, they want us, to be there every moment, our nipples in mouths. For most, daddies just don’t cut it. (Although, there is one society where moobs/ daddy breasts will dosome even lactating?!)

And in practice is really does have an impact on our empowered selves. This nurse all night, lugging on backs, mothering option we choose can seem to subsume who we are, our newborn tyrants rejecting the space we have carved out as Women with Rights .

Yet at the same time, there is a freedom in it -it allows us to get on with life. To go where we need to go, heedless of nap time and nursing  schedule. Attachment parenting turns its back on normal parenting structures, built by “experts” and imposed onto already guilty and harassed parents.

Blue Milk (brilliant blog, must read!) suggests another place that attachment parenting and feminism meet. Attachment parenting is about treating your child as if they too have rights, respecting their personhood, regardless of anything (in a child’s case, them being so small) – an idea central to feminism.

There isn’t quite enough nuance involved in mothering conversations, don’t you think? I am an attachment parent, I buy whole heartedly into the principles and have practiced nothing but. However, a lot of non-nuanced attachment parenting  philosophy would despair at me going back to work. When in fact, despite it being one of the hardest decisions to make, turns out to be one of the best I have made.

I work 2.5 days a week, my husband the same, and we share work and parenting equally, an ideal situation. And something I never thought would ever, ever happen has happened I am enjoying it as much as I used to pre-Ramona. For real, I didn’t think it could happen. Maternity leave was AWESOME, I felt fulfilled mothering but had the opportunity to get involved with Occupy London and spent days hanging out with other activist mamas. Being a full time mother has huge, under rated, potential for world changeyness.

And yet here I am now, loving my days at work as much as I love my days at home. I love my colleagues, the activists I work with, the campaigns I work on.

And it allows me to be who I am- which is exactly the person Ramona needs me to be.

A recent F Word article by Jane Chelliah heralded a new groups called Outlaw Mothers – “An outlaw mother is an empowered mother who believes that her personal self-fulfilment is a key enabler of her child’s happiness”. I love that – I am so in.

I am going to be thinking about this a bit more… with some posts in the pipe line imaginatively called “Routine Schmoutine” and “Rules Schmules”. Hehe.

Meanwhile I am off to see if I can teach Ramona how to say “Mamm-a- ry gl -an ds

Avoid porridge – and other Do’s and Don’ts for when your toddler’s in a plaster cast

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Ramona got her cast taken off her broken leg this morning. It couldn’t have been better timing as she has become a total wriggle monster in bed these past two nights. Feet in the face whilst cosleeping is one thing, being biffed in the eye with a whopping cast cladded leg is quite Next Level. So, my bruised brow and I are quite celebratory.  Cue the triumphant trumpet chorus and rara skirted can can girls. (That’s how you celebrate, yeah?) And more importantly, cue the bath. She hasn’t been really clean for the whole month she has had that puppy on.

We have learnt a few things, things which I think may help others who find themselves on the treacherous road littered with broken toddler limbs. Sooo..

DON’T

Apply the law of thrift and create makeshift waterproofing out of bread bags for bath time. We had the cast sopping wet three times then gave up bathing.

Use google to (mis)diagnose chicken pox and then cover child in porridge. No good. Especially when boycotting baths.

Leave the house. Unless you want the all the coals of motherly judgement and disdain heaped upon your head in the playground. (When I told my neighbour, usually the kindest soul in town, she exclaimed “Where WERE you?” as if I had left my darling climbing wheelie bins behind the Peckham Plex. I was toughened to this response by then.)

DO

Buy a waterproof cast, they are not cheap but in hindsight, probably worth it. Someone even tweeted me a link. I mean really, why would you not, you old penny pincher, you.

Keep giving them baths.

Avoid porridge rub downs.

See, haven’t we all learnt alot.

But for real, I did feel this was a bit of a lesson in the resilience of kids. I was SO  devastated when Ramona broke her leg, really, soap opera devastated. Yet she barely batted an eyelid. After 5 days she was crawling, 1 week climbing and after 2 weeks she was walking with the cocky confidence and limpy swagger of every chap round these ways.

Ramona kicking back in the park today with monks and minus cast

One broken little leg

I looked up just in time to see her fall from the window ledge, straight as an arrow to land on her feet, to watch her crumble into a ball. I was close enough to scoop her up just in time to get the gale force scream of pain, to register how much more primal this scream sounded, how much more panicked her scrabbling feet against my stomach were. I was quick but not quite quick enough.

She was still crying after 20 minutes, I hoped she was just tired. After  a quick snooze she was still crying but this time it was obvious she didn’t want to stand up. We thought we had better take her to the A and E, just to be safe. It would of course be nothing, just tiredness, a bit of a shock. It had only been a small fall, half a metre, she’s always climbing, and always falling.

Goodness, this optimism of mine can get a bit ridiculous sometimes.

Even as I sit here writing, my girl fast asleep, her little broken leg in a tiny cast, my brain is still piping up “It is only a fracture, just a toddler break, they happen aallll the time” as if I’ve ever seen a tiny kid in plaster. As if broken toddler bones are as common as nits.

It was one climb too many after a tiring playful day, a window ledge too tempting a challenge, a bit of kids furniture too wonky, a fall too awkward, a tibia bone too supple. As I lay in bed last night after her midnight cast, grabbing at puffs of sleep that teased me with their coming and going my mind was on loop, replaying the child size electric piano lurch from under her feet, my heart lurching with it.

But it was only when the Doctor at the Fracture Clinic this morning said “six to eight weeks recovery” that a tear escaped. But this little one! This funny little one with her running! Her dancing! Her climbing!

She climbs all day. I’ll come in the room to find her on top of a chair, her hands in the air, face to the ceiling, as if worshipping the lightshade. She takes on the ladders in the playground with fierce determination. Tables, drawers, toys, gates, bins, walls; all are just challenges to ascend.

I’ve never hovered, always certain that she’ll be fine. They know their limits (and she will be limitless!) and they are robust little rascals (pity that tibia didn’t get the robust memo.)

Gosh, as she pats her cast and looks at me in anguish, I regret this attitude. I should have been hovering!!!! (Shouldn’t I?)

Not letting her climb, of all things, while helping her big cousins put on a Show. (It was going to be a Spectacular Show too, with jumpings and heroes and flying boys.)

To think I was there, a metre away. But not quite there enough.

Golden Rule for Mothering

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We got on the bus, both of us exhausted. As I slumped into a seat Ramona decided she wanted to have a little trundle around the lurching vehicle. Thinking that wasn’t the greatest plan I popped her on my lap. In turn, Ramona thought that idea was right up there with the worst of them and promptly decided to let the bus know it. She opened her mouth and ROARED. She turned purple and arched her back. She even started wacking her head on the window. I was pretty embarrassed to say the least,  and began a fairly typical reaction; I laughed with an “Oh, Really?!” and almost rolled my eyes towards other passengers. Fortunately I stopped myself just in time and tried to pull out from the depths of my harrassed mind a better, more respectful way of responding to my daughters angst.

Above her screaming I tried to catch her eye and validate with my voice; “I see you are so angry because you wanted to walk around the bus. It is okay to be angry. I understand that it is frustrating to not be able to go wherever you want to go.”

I could almost hear the inward collective groan of everyone on board. (And honestly? Pre -Ramona? I soooo would have been inwardly, collectively, groaning.)

I am always surprised by how easy I find it to treat Ramona as a non-person, as if her supersized feelings are minor, as tiny as she is. I want to laugh off those times her feelings are so big it makes her bang her tummy with her hands like Tarzan. Rather than help her deal with how cross she is that I dare put a cardigan on her.

I go through my life trying to treat others how I would like to be treated. This guides me in loads of facets of my life – in my work, my relationships, even my consumption.I fail constantly, of course. But it is my aim.

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

(It has a ring to it, eh? I think it could catch on. I might get some World Religions involved with that one.)

And it is how I am trying to mother Ramona. To listen to her as I would want to be listened to, to respect her needs in the way I respect my own needs, to not force her to do things simply because I want her to do that/ go there/ come here.

I think I am just on the cusp of really needing to do this. Only in the last few months has Ramona expressed a will which doesn’t always match my own. Public meltdowns have just happened a couple of times so far in her 15 months (far more in my own three decades.) I know the coming few years will be quite tiring and will contain a few frustrations. I know that the parents that yell/manipulate/make fun of their kids wake up only with a heart filled with love for them but weariness  has left them frazzled.

Which is why I have got to start practicing this. So that when a potential head butting situation arises (Ramona’s vs my own, or a window) my first response is to act in understanding, kindness, gentleness – the way I hope people will respond to me when I next get chest beatingly cross. (Really, I don’t know WHERE she gets it from.)

Emerging Mummy is holding a marvellous carnival of “Practices of Mothering”. I have blogged about those very practical practices like cosleeping, babywearing, breastfeeding, breastfeeding while babywearing (bahaha) but this got me thinking more about those intangible practices – my mothering ethos. I’m hoping to post a few more over the next wee while.

It would be lovely if you could share some of your own Practices of Mothering too…

My whole heart just walking around out there

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I read this quote today (Elisabeth Stone? But who really knows who says anything these days, eh?)

I know that it is completely and utterly cheeseballs, but it sums up exactly how I feel about Ramona. It is like becoming a mother just tore my whole soul open, made my feelings raw. To hear her laugh means heart exploding joy.  And heart aching sadness when her snot and tears dampen my shoulder.

I’m just going to crunch up her happy little self right now.

This picture is Tim and Ramona on Cooks Beach, New Zealand. Fish n chips, sand castles, ice cream. (All gave Ramona equal eating pleasure.) Lush memories.

Nakey bum at one: the highs and lows of a nappyfree baby

Oh me, oh my. I just wandered into the spare bedroom to find Ramona sitting on the bed with poo smudged around her, a huge turd sitting atop the box she used to climb up.

Now seems to be the perfect moment for a 9 month summary of Elimination Communication (EC). The highs. The lows.

Clearly, crap on the bed is a low.

Three wee’s on the floor in the lounge within the first day of having new carpet put in. Also a low.

A wee on my lap on the bus. Hmmm, probably a low. A poo in her trousers in the park. I’d go a low.

As you can see being on a nappy free journey with a tiny tot isn’t a ride free of bumps, we get quite a few bumps. But there are some great, even exhilirating, times too.

When we go a whole day with everything in the potty. When she points to the toilet when she needs to go or when she grabs her baby girl bits before she needs to go. It is nice not having to clear smeary nappy poo up each day. Even clearing it up from a bed or other non-loo (these misses happen around once a month)  seems to be less work than changing a nappy (Pick up sheet, bung in washing machine). And even though we have some tricky times (most commonly if she is teething, as if she looses sense of her bowel movements- that is when we get rogue poos) they really seem just a minor part in the whole scheme of it. And if those lows I mentioned above happened more commonly than once a month I think I would struggle! But keeping her in touch with her bodily functions from babyhood through EC  just seems kind of natural to me.

I appreciate it is not for everyone though, certainly not for the faint hearted. You have to have a certain un-fazed-ness to whip your babies trousers down in public to give her a wee opportunity in a bush, or to laugh off a sneaky public shart in the trousers.  And doing it with more than one child on the scene would be a bit of a challenge, although one I think we’ll probably have a bash at, as millions of big families manage in this way in other places.

I guess, back in the day, or in the villages of rural China, adults would all be keeping an eye on the whipper snappers, not leaving it just for Mum to watch out for baby’s toilet need signalling. The other day we were all up in London at the Occupy protest having a big fun family day- Tim and I were caught up doing games with some of the big kids. My mum was there and spotted Ramona’s “wee face”- and took her outside for a successful tree pee. It made me think how much our small, isolated lives make this kind of natural parenting a lot trickier. The more we head along this journey the more I realise how lives have moved on from that tribal parenting, and how lifethese days is just set up harder to do these kinds of things with your baby.

So there we go. Nakey bum at one, a short review. NOT a “Woohoo!! Everyone should do this!!!” parenting post. In fact, it probably made some of you vomit in your mouth a little. Sorry about that.

We don’t actually have her nakey bum hanging out like this all the time. Ramona just happened to have these ridiculous baggy bloomers on that slipped down just as she reached round to attack Daddy’s specs. Just look at that tiny rotund bum!