All I want for Christmas is ……a hamster!

‘You don’t know fear till you’ve seen a 4 year old trying to fist bump a hamster’

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‘You don’t know fear till you’ve seen a four year old trying to fist bump a hamster’

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Since meeting Rex, our brown-and-white Syrian hamster, several of our friends children have asked Santa for a hamster of their own.  Consequently, we’ve been asked whether we would recommend one as a pet.  The answer to that is a definite ‘maybe’.  Here are five things you should know before taking the plunge and introducing a hamster to your family.

1. They just want to escape

If you want cuddles and unconditional love a hamster is not for you.  They spend the majority of their waking life hiding food, gnawing the cage and trying to escape.  When H, my 4 year old, picks up Rex I say ‘Ahh, look he’s nuzzling you!’.  This is a lie – he is looking for the exit.

This tendency was highlighted quite dramatically when Rex recently spent 5 days living underneath the house.  One evening  I commented to my husband (aka the ‘man-child) that I hadn’t seen Rex for a while.   That turned out to be because he was no longer in his cage. Over the following days the self-sacrificing man-child stayed up until the early hours  ‘listening for Rex’ (drinking beer, eating dark chocolate and watching Amazon Prime) to no avail. I was convinced Rex was in the kitchen Cupboard of Crap whereas the man-child had his money on the small hole in the gravel by the front door.    H’s grief had waned somewhat, partly due to there being guinea pigs in the nursery that week.  ‘Mum, if Rex is still missing can we get a guinea pig instead?’                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 On Saturday night the man-child discovered the outdoor humane trap had sprung.  Behold, the intrepid Rex was inside, apparently dead with a severed foot.  Fast-forward five minutes, the severed foot was a piece of carrot and Rex was much alive, just frozen with fear and surrounded by slugs and snails.  Yay, the King hamster had returned!  The following morning Heath is pleased (though not as delighted as we had hoped) to see that his pet has returned.  On a positive, it has forced us to clear out the dreaded Cupboard.

2. They might be an excellent first pet for an only child, teaching them compassion and responsibility

However, they might provide your child with new ways to demonstrate how feral they are.  You don’t know fear until you’ve seen a 4 year old try to fist bump a hamster, get it to dance or ‘help’ it to pilot the Batmobile.  As for compassion, my boy’s opening gambit to our friend’s daughter was ‘This is Rex.  When he dies, we’re getting a dog’.

3. They are nocturnal

This might sound very obvious but we didn’t appreciate it until spending several nights huddled round a cage in dim lighting praying Rex would get up so Heath could see him then go to bed.  However, he has gradually changed his pattern and is up and about in the  morning and at dinnertime, adjusting to our routine.

4. They are a relatively cheap and low maintenance pet

They are a relatively cheap and low maintenance pet.  Rex himself was the cheapest item at £10, the cage about £30 and more than I care to think about spent on hamster toys for him to try and escape through.  Ongoing costs are low though, just bedding and food (mixes from the pet shop, bit of fruit and veg and a seed or sweetcorn stick to gnaw on).

5.  They are very, very cute

They have soft fur, little pink claw-hands, round beady eyes and a bumbly gait (though the males have startlingly large balls once developed).  They don’t smell if you clean them out regularly – bonus points if yours will use a litter tray like Rex does.  With regular handling, they can become not exactly friendly but tolerant.  Rex has quickly seemed to accept being ‘boy-handled’ as a fact of life.

All in all we’re pretty glad we’ve got him, despite me being the only one who cleans him out or buys anything for him.  I’ll leave you with H’s verdict…

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I want to be alone…the joys of solo weeing

When I was single I aspired to be one of those people who is happy on their own.  However, I didn’t achieve it.  I’d entertain workmates with my anecdotes from the dating front line while secretly worrying that I would die alone, unloved and unwanted.

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Fast forward ten years and I now relish the rare occasions where I am alone, unloved and unwanted.  As we aren’t fortunate enough to have parents who are well enough or nearby enough to help out, there is precious little opportunity for ‘me-time’.  Instead, I have to seize it wherever I can.  Going to the toilet at work or at someone else’s house?  Fantastic!  Being able to sit in private and scroll mindlessly through Facebook without having to shout repeatedly ‘Not now, Mummy is pooing!’ or enduring conversational gems such as ‘Mum, are you sad that your penis is all squashed?’.

Even ‘Infliximab day’ every eight weeks where I receive an intravenous infusion of drugs in hospital hold a certain appeal.  Despite the obvious negatives (needles, other ill people etc) I have discovered the guilty pleasures of sitting quietly and watching a downloaded episode of something on my tablet, writing a blog post, doing the competitions in Take a Break.  Hello, new found joy of tea and biscuits all to myself! Reading a library book! Wearing a poncho!   It’s a bit like a spa day.

The activities that we manage to squeeze in can tell us a lot about our priorities in life.  Much as I’d like to have a presentable home and a calm mind, I never find time for meditation, cleaning and getting round to reading my parenting books.  However, I miraculously shoehorn in dance classes, reading fiction, painting my nails, the very occasional night out and guiltily trawling Facebook groups such as Mrs Gloss and the Goss.

Although becoming a parent has changed me in many ways, my fundamental traits remain the same.  The introverted, disorganised pre-baby me is still an introverted, disorganised Mummy.  Which is unfortunate since parenting, particularly of an only child where we feel under immense pressure to build them a social life, seems to be very much a role for an extroverted, organised person.

I seem to have become uncharacteristically philosophical, sorry about that.  Normal service will be resumed in my next post about willies or something.  In the meantime, what do other mums do when you manage to find some spare minutes?

(Thanks to Ladybird books for the original words and image).

Morning work day routine before and after kids…or why you should be kind to mums first thing in the morning

I have a confession to make.  Before I had my son, I couldn’t understand how it was so difficult for some mums to get into work in the morning.  Surely it was just a matter of being a bit more organised?

My pre-motherhood morning routine on a work day went something like this; wake up either refreshed from long sleep or mildly hungover from fun times the night before, lie in bed for a while with my husband (AKA the man-child), get up, drink tea and eat breakfast while doing a bit of reading, have a leisurely uninterrupted shower, apply make-up, select an outfit, get dressed, dry and straighten hair, get in the car and drive to work.

My mum-of-a-wilful four year old routine is more like this;

7.10 am: Wake up feeling mildly hungover despite having consumed no alcohol the night before, due to permanent state of exhaustion and my husband’s nocturnal writhings and mumblings.  Me: ‘Did you have a bad dream? You were moving about loads’.  Him: ‘I dreamt I was go-karting with Idris Elba.  Except the go-karts were like little trains and you had to run to get on them, so maybe that’s what the moving was.  Idris wanted a burger that was all meat, with haggis and gammon. My burger had an egg on it, it was immense.  I’ve never put an egg on a burger.’  From the other bedroom a voice pipes up ‘Mummy! I’ve looked outside and it’s morning’.

7.20: The Man-Child looks up ‘wetsuits’ on Amazon and measures Heath.

7.45: Man-Child goes to work, with Heath thoroughly measured but not washed, brushed, dressed or fed. I take him downstairs, put the telly on, give him toast for breakfast then dash upstairs and get in the shower.

7.50: Heath: ‘Mummy!  I want some cereal with milk in a bowl!’  Me: ‘OK poppet, here you are’.

7.54: ‘Mummy, I need blackcurrant!’

7.59: Hastily trowel make up over my spots, blotches and eye bags. ‘Mummy, I want hot chocolate!’

8.06: Start drying hair.  ‘Mummy, it’s an emergency!’  Run downstairs to discover My Little Pony is on the telly.

8.08: ‘Mummy, it’s an emergency, I’m not actually kidding!’.  He has dropped a toy on the floor about a foot away from the settee.

8:11:  ‘Mummy, I want two packets of Haribo in a bowl’.

8:13: ‘Mummy, are dolphins wild?’

8.15:  Clothed but with partially made up face, frizzy / damp hair, I bring clothes downstairs for him to put on.  Resistance is met.  ‘No Mummy, I want to wear cool clothes’.  As he is now too big for me to physically wrestle clothes onto him, we go upstairs so he can select something to wear.  Looks through drawer…’Not that one, not that one…’.  Several minutes are spent with him discarding most of his wardrobe for increasingly obscure and incomprehensible reasons. Eventually he is dressed in a nylony combination of a Manchester United t-shirt, white Scotland football shorts with his Spiderman pants showing through and Batman socks.

8.30: I brush my teeth and clip two hairgrips to the neck of my dress so I can deal with my damp hair when I get to work, then gather the bags and lunches together.  I brush his hair and coax him into brushing his teeth while cramming his trainers on.

8.35:  Finally, we are at the front door fully loaded up and ready to go.  ‘Mummy, I need a cool hoody!’ ‘There’s one in the car’

8.36: ‘Mummy, I need to get my golden time toy!’ ‘Go and get one then, quickly’

8.37: ‘Mummy, I want juice in the car’ ‘You’ll get juice at nursery’

8.38: ‘Mummy, I need my Batman glasses!’  ‘FUCK OFF!’ (said my internal voice)

8:40: Stuck behind bin lorry

8.46: Lurk furiously in nursery car park waiting for one of the 4 x 4’s to vacate parking space

8:50: Physically hand over my clinging, sobbing, protesting son along with his lunchbag, spare clothes, golden time toy, Batman glasses and tablet to one of the nursery workers. Screech away to work.

8.58:   Abandon car wonkily in multi-storey, run down the hill and through the passageway to work.

9.01: Arrive at work 1 minute late, sweating, dishevelled, laden down with bags, sans eye make-up, with hair like Monica in the Hawaii episode of Friends.  Me ‘ Sorry I’m late, I’ve had a bit of a bad morning with Heath.  It’s almost as though he’s deliberately trying to piss me off!’.  Lovely work colleague ‘ He is.  That’s what they do. And he’s making a really good job of it.’

So the moral of the story is;

  1. Karma may well come back and bite you on your judgy-panted arse
  2. Be nice to mums in the morning when they arrive at work
  3. If you have lovely colleagues, don’t take them for granted
  4. If you’re a mum or mum-to-be who is planning to go back to work, pretend you haven’t read this.  Erase it from your mind and remain in blissful ignorance for as long as you can.

To my son, on your 4th birthday

This time four years ago you emerged into the world purple, too stunned to breathe and surprisingly wrinkled and hairy.  I loved you instantly and thought you were much more beautiful than any other newborn baby, the most perfect, miraculous thing I had ever seen (though photographic evidence suggests otherwise, and I was still wrecked on diamorphine).

Ever since I saw that pink line emerge in the toilet of a ferry terminal in Oban, I discovered that parenthood is a time of monumental adjustments, of large and small gains and losses.

The losses;

  • Sleep – so much sleep
  • The ability to watch depictions of birth on TV or film without sobbing pathetically about the miracle of life
  • Tolerance for alcohol
  • Two cup sizes and the possibility of having a flat stomach ever again
  • The art of conversation in person, by text or on social media without mentioning you
  • A social life
  • Any sense of style I may have once possessed
  • Solo, uninterrupted toilet and shower trips
  • Large chunks of my vocabulary
  • Did I mention sleep?

Gains;

  • Fantastic mummy friends
  • An increased awareness of my priorities
  • The ability to multi-task
  • A newfound respect for single parents and step-parents

However, the most important gain is of course you, my amazing boy.   You’re shaping up to be a funny, cute, stubborn, loving, determined, sensitive, wild, bright, astute and eccentric little fellow and I can’t find any words to express how I feel about you that haven’t already been said a million times before.

I know I’m not the perfect Mummy – I let you eat too much sweet stuff because you can get around me with your cheeky smile and calling me ‘lovely’.  I haven’t finished reading any of my books about parenting toddlers. I hate playing with action figures, cars and Lego and often on a Saturday morning I’ll tell you I’m sending work e-mails when I’m really reading a book on my Kindle app.

Despite my shortcomings, I want you to know you are always loved by me and your dad, unconditionally. It still amazes me when I peek into your bedroom as you sleep and there’s this little living, breathing person in my house.   We’re both still quite new to this business of being a Mummy (me) and a human being (you) and I think all things considered we’re doing great.

 

 

 

 

‘Twas the first of the snow days…

 

 

Snow day no. 1

‘Well, this makes a pleasant change’ thought Mummy as she started work in her nightwear with a cup of tea as her three year old son played peacefully and contentedly.  She was even able to take a shower while her laptop updated itself, feeling positive about her work-life balance.  After a healthy lunch of batch-cooked home made soup (her) and a balanced, tasty buffet style tray (him), her husband returned from work early.  After a spot of sledging and a quick trip to the local shop to buy some tasty treats, the boys settled down to watch Hotel Transylvania while Mummy caught up with her CPD.  ‘Love a snow day’ she Facebooked happily.


Fast-forward to snow day no. 3 …

snow day

Mummy, Daddy and the boy had been in the house for 3 days now.  Initially Daddy’s presence had pleased Mummy as she thought it would make the whole working-from-home thing that bit easier.  After all, Daddy’s job can’t be done from home, therefore he will have plenty of time to entertain their young son.

In the morning Mummy went upstairs and logged on to her laptop, only to find she was joined by the rest of the family in the first fifteen minutes.  She moved downstairs, which by now looked like a violent burglary  had taken place.  After managing to wrest her laptop from her son who wanted to play games on it, she relocated upstairs, only to be interrupted by shouts of ‘There’s a jobby Mummy!’ as her son locked himself in the bathroom and inexplicably got poo on the bathmat.  Daddy was suffering from man-flu a mystery virus and was ‘resting’, later to be found hiding in the garage and fashioning a shield out of hardboard and gaffer tape for their son.

Deciding to take a break, Mummy and Daddy took their son out for some more sledging, only the snow was too fluffy and full of dog poo so they visited their local shop, which was now devoid of milk, bread, fruit and vegetables.  Mummy caved in and allowed the males to add their chosen items to the basket (the boy – bear ham and Dairylea dunkers, Daddy AKA the Man-Child – beer and wine).  The family dragged their clanking booty home on the sledge while the boy screamed that it was too stormy and he hates snow.

Back to work for the afternoon, Mummy is eventually joined by her young son upstairs.  ‘Daddy is not feeling well’, he pronounces.  Mummy engages him in the wholesome pastime of watching YouTube videos of strangers playing with toys that he already owns on his tablet.  ‘Surely this is a state of emergency and the normal drinking rules don’t apply?’ muses Mummy. Finally, it is clocking off time. The pair venture downstairs to find the ailing Man-Child taping a plastic bowl to the shield to make a ‘boss’, having been inspired by a documentary about the Vikings, and valiantly trying to struggle down a can of lager.    Having decided that the chances of getting a takeaway delivered are slim to none, the family tuck into a dinner of defrosted Irish stew served with baked beans and lager (Man-Child), wine (Mummy) and fruit juice (the boy).  ‘It will be a relief to go to soft play tomorrow’ thought Mummy for the first time ever.  Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Good enough’ parenting – floor picnics, greasy handprints and dog-biscuit potions

Having recently suffered a severe flare of ulcerative colitis, there are times where I’ve had to resort to an it’ll do, good enough, path of least resistance type of parenting.

This has had mixed results.  Some things that we’ve done have worked wonderfully and been enjoyable all round, others I wouldn’t repeat and would urge others to avoid.

When good enough = better than expected

  • Turning mealtimes into a picnic. This involves using a little tray with four different sized wells and putting a different food in each one, served on the settee or floor mats.  Ideal for avoiding mealtime battles and for providing a balanced meal.  Because mini cucumbers cancel out popcorn.  Right?
  • Going to the library.  It’s free, warm, you can spend most of your time sitting down if feeling a bit tired or unwell and there’s lots to keep him entertained.  Last time the coffee machine wouldn’t accept my too-shiny coins so the librarian had to bring his hot chocolate over to us at the computers, much to his delight ‘Mummy, it’s just like a cafe in here!’
  • Art and craft sessions at home.  I use this term loosely as we are terrible at it and don’t own a full set of anything.  However, our last painting session resulted in this unplanned little gem. Heath hands0018 I turned my back for a couple of minutes to tidy the kitchen, during which time he had coated his hands in oily, non water soluble ink from the pad that we use to ID theft proof our mail.  Couldn’t have done better if we tried. His hands were grey for days though!
  • Playing the games from the Tiny Pop website on the laptop and discovering that he now knows all his colours and can almost beat me at memory games (not a difficult feat in all fairness).  Plus he had to sit in front of me on the bed so I got the added benefit of stealth cuddles.
  • Dinner at Morrisons after 3pm – two adults and one child can eat for around £10 and ours has the added benefit of a childrens play area.  We’re all about the glamour, us.
  • Letting your child do ‘free play’ (aka run riot while I rest).  Last weekend he spent an enjoyable hour gleefully mixing dog biscuits and coffee into a potion and putting it on the radiator to brew.  Didn’t smell too great but no harm was done.

When good enough = not good at all

  • Letting your child eat non-breakfast foods at breakfast time.  No matter how ill you’re feeling or how much they pester.  Once they know that cake can be a breakfast food, the genie is truly out of the bottle and there’s no going back.
  • Ditto showing them YouTube videos on your phone in lieu of a bedtime story.  Again, Pandora’s box has been opened and books don’t hold the same appeal.
  • Trying hard to entertain them when you’re really not up to it, resulting in snapping at them then having to explain that Mummy is just very tired.  To which I received the killer comeback – ‘You’re not tired Mummy, you’re just grumpy!’.

I’m not suggesting that we all feed our children crap on an ongoing basis, let them watch YouTube all day or neglect them.  However, I’ve found that not trying so hard all the time, though born out of necessity, can pay dividends in terms of your stress levels and provide some unscripted, spontaneous, no pressure good times together.  Wondering if any other parents fallen upon any low maintenance strategies and activities that have worked well?

Squeeze your toddler’s sturdy little thighs, spend less time worrying about shit and wear the dress that you’re not sure you can get away with

Life has moved on rather dramatically since I last wrote on here.

Following my last blog post, I spent nine days in hospital with an acute flare up of my ulcerative colitis.  This was a terrifying experience which nearly resulted in me having my colon removed and has necessitated me taking not only the immunosuppressant Azathioprine that I didn’t want to take, but also a Biologic medication (Infliximab) which two medical professionals described as being a ‘dangerous’ drug.

Not unsurprisingly, this has given me a lot to think about and plenty of time in which to do it.  It seems that one of the few widely accepted facts about IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) is that there is a connection between the brain and the gut.  This means that stress and your state of mind can impact upon the illness.  After my recent ordeal I have concluded that life will never be the same again.  I’m not just talking about the practical considerations attached to the drugs that I am taking, and the level of uncertainty that I will be subject to, but that my life will need to change.

Here are some of the ways that I want to live my life differently;

  • Savouring those little delicious moments of being a mum to a toddler – breathing in the smell of their clammy little neck when they climb into bed with you at some ridiculous hour, squeezing their sturdy thighs, listening to their questions and thinking about the answers, having a long bath with them. It helps that my son is an incredibly cool and funny child.  I’m sure I would think this even if he wasn’t mine.  Today he sang all the words to the chorus of AC/DC’s High Voltage Rock and Roll in the van. I listen to some of the things my boy says sometimes and I almost need to press my heart back into my chest, he is so adorable.  With having a child comes all this love that you didn’t have before.  So I want to stop and nail those moments down, those memories.  If I die, I’ve had this.
  • living in the moment
  • Getting a babysitter.  We have been out together once since he was born, and he is three-and-a-half today.  Why did we think this didn’t matter?
  • Spending less time worrying about shit.  Like the backs of my hands going wrinkly and that our bedroom looks like a teenager’s even though we are 41 and 48 years old and whether the reason that some parents blank me in the nursery is because I drive a 12 year old Nissan Almera with a squeaking belt and dents in every panel.  Perhaps they just ignore me because they are in a rush.  Or are going through some unspeakable personal crisis and are close to tears. Or hate the English. Or are wankers.  I even entertained thought of buying a new car because of the way I might be perceived.  Yet I’ve never considered the cars that my friends have, or whether their winter boots are 4 years old and past their best, and if these things influence whether or not you speak to me then I don’t want you to.  I also don’t want to be irritated by this.
  • Meditating and resting. I’m not very good at this.
  • Writing and not being embarrassed about it.  I’ve talked about starting to write again for years, but am worried about being talentless.  I then decided to start an anonymous blog to flex my writing muscles but this makes it very difficult to promote.  I then thought I didn’t have anything cheerful to write about like the Unmumsy Mum and others.  Thanks Raimonda for pointing out that people might relate anyway.
  • Spending less time feeling let down by people for being who they are.  For example, my mum will always find a way to be negative and make me feel criticised.  I don’t know why I feel let down every time and need to find a way to stop this happening.
  • Doing more things that I like or fancy doing or I’m attracted to, even if I’m not sure why or see no purpose to them.  Wear the clothes that I’m not sure if I can get away with, the over the top evening dress with the velvet and beads and lace, the slogan t-shirt that I shouldn’t wear in my 40s, bold make up or heels at 5 foot 10.  If I end up with surgery and a colostomy bag (which is a possibility at some stage) I will wish I’d worn the tight red dress.
  • Spending less time silently seething / worrying/ anguishing / rehearsing / fortune telling, which will mean that I will either have to start saying or just let it go.  If anyone knows how to do this, I will gladly take advice.
  • Doing less things I don’t like.  I’m 41 years old now and I know I don’t like fairground rides, activities involving water, physical competitive sport and anything that gets in the way of a daily shower.  Although it is a faff at the time, I love the joy of feeling fresh and having clean swishy hair and smelling nice and I don’t want to entertain any horrific scenarios that will get between me and my daily shower such as wild camping (shudder) or festivals without showers.  If loving a daily shower is wrong then I don’t want to be right!
  • Standing my ground – particularly asserting my right not to do things because I feel they are too much and I need to take care of my health.
  • Being grateful for what I have.  My son, my husband who despite his many faults has upheld every single one of his wedding vows, my friends, a job, a house, a car, my colon, my career, having interests, my parents and siblings, my colon which appears to be hanging in there.
  • Remember people have all sorts of things going on that I have no clue about so to be kind and considerate.
  • Giving my time and attention and thoughts to those friends and people who deserve it instead of second guessing why people who don’t matter are funny with me
  • Not feeling guilty for the times when I don’t do all of the above such as when I’m bored and distracted as fuck playing some inexplicable game with my son involving Rescue Bots and a PJ Mask hanging off a helicopter.  Or for ‘unconstructive time’.  Hello Candy Crush and sneaking off to read for 15 minutes.
  • Given that the drugs I am on will basically decrease the likelihood of me being around for my son for a long time, I will devote myself wholeheartedly to bringing him up so he can navigate life if I am not around.  I want him to be able to solve problems.  Most of all, I want him to know how to be kind and to know that he is enough, that he is OK, that he is not lacking or deficient or needing to be different, that he doesn’t have to be everyone’s cup of tea and that is fine as long as he is a kind, considerate and responsible person.

So my point is, even without a chronic illness you don’t know how long you’ve got left and what the quality of your life is going to be like.  It could change in a whisker.  So be more you, do what you want to do, treasure the moments and wear the damn dress.

Oh and if you have any worries about your health, please go to the doctors or the most appropriate medical professional and see if you can get it sorted, don’t just press on through.  Please humour me on this one, I’ve been ill.

https://www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/

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