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Appraisal

what-have-you-done-with-your-life1When I came back to work a colleague of mine asked me what I had achieved during my year of maternity leave. This prompted a complete mind blank (but this happens often when you’re sleep-deprived). But she had a point, a whole year had gone by and what did I have to show for it?

Well, firstly there’s a baby who is happy, healthy and loves me – that’s a good start, right?

I finally finished my annoying-never-ending-pain-in-the-ass-bane-of-my-life dissertation and completed my Masters – impressive, I know.

I made it to central London using public transport on my own a few times which was incredibly liberating albeit hair-raising, and we both survived.

I discovered where my kitchen was and cooked new dishes for Mishty – some good, others spat out with venomous force.

I became faster at doing things like applying a full slap of make-up in under five minutes, eating an entire meal without chewing and cramming at least ten household chores during Mishty’s twenty minute power naps.

I finished reading a book [although one in a whole year isn’t a lot, it’s still one more than Hubby over the last five years].

I have learnt how to take Mishty swimming, give baby massages, recite at least fifty nursery rhymes, and multi-task with one hand.

I watched a film once without any interruptions… no actually that was just wishful thinking.

I lost enough baby weight to fool people into thinking I’d gone back to my normal size… just not enough to actually fit into many of my clothes.

I just about managed to keep up with this blog.

We survived a six hour drive to Cornwall and flying with Ryanair to Spain for our first family holidays and despite the initial stress, actually had some fun in the sun.

We impulsively joined the National Trust in order to force ourselves to be more ‘outdoorsy’ and be even more middle-class than we currently are.

And… that seems to be it.

I rack my brains for more ‘achievements’ and feel stumped. What was I supposed to achieve during maternity leave anyway? Non-parents / deluded expectant mothers assume that a year off work must mean that you can do things like learn a new language, take up a hobby or even start a business, all while the baby sleeps most of the day away in his Moses Basket. This could technically happen, but it usually doesn’t happen straightaway.

The massive shock to the system that is having a baby, takes time to get used to. So while you envision swanning off to play groups and coffee mornings with friends, the reality is that sometimes you’re so tired that getting dressed and making it out the door is your biggest achievement of the day. By the time you figure out when the best time to leave would be, you’ve already missed that window because it’s taken you ages to find something that fits and isn’t covered in snot or sick, and inevitably the baby’s nappy has leaked spectacularly and by now he doesn’t want to go to the baby sensory class because he just wants to sleep and somehow it’s got dark already.

Whilst I was no hermit, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough with Mishty. Knowing that you have a finite amount of time with your baby triggers a carpe diem vibe in you to make the most of every day. This can either be really motivating or really burdensome as it pressures you to be as outgoing as possible.

I knew people who attended baby classes/playgroups almost every day just to ensure they got out of the house and had something regular to look forward to. I trialled a few but didn’t commit to anything as I hated the forced cheeriness and constant singing, and they usually clashed with Mishty’s naptime. But no weekly routine meant I could spend the day doing whatever I liked and be spontaneous. Except I wasn’t very spontaneous, so outings usually consisted of a quick trip to Waitrose, the local park or visiting my parents for some respite – not very exciting. I wished I was one of those mothers who would plonk their baby in a sling and go anywhere, anytime, but I was too constrained by my own lack of self-confidence and laziness.

Until you’re on maternity leave, you won’t know what it’s going to be like. Every day is different. Some days are great and others are more… challenging. You may be able to travel the world, climb a mountain and found your own company during this period or do nothing more than waft around the house in your pjs. Either way, who cares, you’ve just had a baby. Ultimately, if you’re happy and the baby’s happy, that’s the biggest achievement of all.

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Don’t Leave Me!

Alg-crying-baby-jpgSending your child to nursery has many benefits. They develop their social skills by interacting with other children, they can play in a safe environment, and also learn new skills through fun activities. More importantly, someone else can deal with their poop, tantrums and mess.

Sounds wonderful. Except that before you can reach this utopia, you have to go through the hell that is known as the Settling In Period which can take weeks. This is where sending your child to nursery feels like sending them to Guantanamo Bay.

Rather than dumping Mishty in a new place with a bunch of strangers for nine hours, I tried to ease him in slowly with a few taster sessions beforehand. Unfortunately these kept clashing with naptime which was resisted with all might once he saw all the gleaming toys in front of him. Fighting sleep until it was too late, then realising I wasn’t there, led to meltdown. There was a lot of screaming and not much sleep.

Three semi-successful sessions later, it was time for a full day.

Day 1: Mishty wakes up for milk at 6am and then promptly falls asleep again. I get ready at lightning speed and then wonder how long to leave Mishty asleep for. Reluctantly I wake him up by taking his pyjamas off (time being of the essence here). He seems perky enough and we make it out of the flat in record time. Once we are at the nursery, I take him inside and as we approach the baby room, he senses what’s about to come and starts howling. Even me trying to distract him with food and cuddles do nothing. He clings to me and won’t get off. One of the staff takes him and he fights to break free to come to me. Every fibre of his being is saying to me, ‘NOOOOOOOOOO, DON’T LEAVE ME!! With a heavy heart, I walk away slowly. I feel like I have abandoned him. He feels like I have abandoned him. I cry most of the way on the train to work.

At work I log in to the high-tech online parent portal to check on his progress. To my relief, I see a picture of him playing! It seems he stopped crying long before I did. The portal doesn’t have enough updates for me so I resort to calling them to find out all the details. Predictably, he hasn’t slept or eaten much, but he’s doing ok otherwise. I decide to finish work early and go to pick him up. When he sees me, he cries and runs to me.

The rest of day is spent with Mishty impersonating a koala. Clingy is an understatement. He screams all the way home because he is in the pram and not being held. The screams are so intense that a concerned passer-by asks me if my child is ok. By 6pm he can’t hold off any longer and falls asleep. Unfortunately this turns out to be a nap and he wakes up at the time he should be going to sleep. Doh.

Day 2: This time I try to stay a little bit with Mishty but it has no effect. He is still wailing and I am told to leave. I linger in the hallway listening to his cries and feeling bereft. At work, the parent portal is not working properly. I am stabbing my phone repeatedly, clicking refresh and desperately resisting the urge to chuck it out of the window every time the egg-timer of doom comes on screen. I call up again and find out that he is eating well and sleeping a bit better. Hubby has a half day and collects him. This time, he is so tired we manage to get an early bedtime.

Day 3: I am an emotional wreck by now. Starting my day to a soundtrack of distressing cries is taking its toll, no matter how much I tell myself that he’ll be fine or see pictures of him playing and eating happily. My sister in law picks him up today as she has the day off. He is very clingy with her and refuses to come to me. I realise that he is now associating me as the bad guy for sending him away whereas Hubby and SIL are his saviours. This makes me feel even worse.

There is a five day gap until his next nursery session. In this time he goes from being scared and clingy, back to his normal, curious happy self again – only for the whole cycle to repeat once he goes again.

We are in his third week now. I dread the mornings. He dreads the mornings. It’s soul destroying but we live in hope that one day, the tears will stop and he will look forward to it. Here’s to that day, whenever it may be (just please be very, very soon).

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It’s My Party and I Can Cry If I Want To…

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Being Asian, having a party with a hundred people to mark your child’s first birthday is pretty standard. So it was with some surprise that I learnt that a lot of people don’t actually do this. Instead, a small gathering at home or a trip to the aquarium is deemed more appropriate, on the basis that babies won’t remember it, won’t understand what’s going on and will probably be overwhelmed by too many guests. While this makes practical sense, it is inconceivable to me.

For my own first birthday, my parents hosted a hundred adults and kids, all crammed into their three bedroom terraced house and this was generally the norm back then. Since then, my birthdays have always been A Very Big Deal. This may have something to do with the fact that I am an only child. Anyway, I saw no reason why this trend should not continue with Mishty. Even if he wouldn’t remember or even enjoy it, I still wanted to throw him an awesome party for this important milestone.

So I hired a community hall, made yet another Excel spreadsheet and became a full time event manager for the occasion. We were going all out. We chose an Elmo/Sesame Street theme, invited a ton of people, hired out some soft play stuff for children’s entertainment, and scoured the internet for decorations and party bags. My dad’s primary concern, like all Bengali parents, was food. He was disappointed that we were not doing a formal lunch event with a gourmet three course meal and presumed that finger foods must mean just a meagre offering of crisps and nuts. This Would Not Do. WHERE WAS THE MEAT? Consequently, he took it upon himself to provide enough kebabs, samosas and chicken to feed a small army.

As the day drew closer, my stress levels began to rocket. There was a tense waiting game over the mini rubber duck party favours I ordered online as I hadn’t realised they would be shipping from Hong Kong. Mishty kept emptying all the party bags and chewing on the favour toys inside. My hallway was becoming a trip hazard from too many parcels and packages arriving in the post. Guests were dropping like flies as chest infections and colds did the rounds. Despite daily discussions, we still had no clue over how much food and drink was needed, and somehow I had convinced myself to bake healthy sweet potato muffins for the kids – I was turning into one of those mums.

IMG_5252Before we could blink, the day of the party was upon us and it did not get off to a great start. Mishty predictably did not sleep well (too much excitement?) and then decided to have an early nap just to throw our schedule completely off. As we set up in the hall, we discovered that Mishty had conveniently broken the iPod dock by repeatedly trying to yank the iPod out at home and now we had no music. Still, the venue looked great once all the decorations were done, the soft play area was HUGE and my bestie had done an amazing job on making the Elmo cake.

The guests started to arrive and the children immediately started riding the scooters, jumping in the ball pit, playing with the instruments and generally having a whale of a time. When Mishty arrived with my parents and saw all the toys and guests, he showed his excitement by clinging to my dad for dear life. We put him down to play with the toys and after three seconds of being distinctly unimpressed, he put up his arms and wanted to be held again. When my relatives who had travelled some distance to get here tried to hold him, he just bawled in their face. Out of all the toys, the thing that most piqued his interest was a leaf he found on the floor.

It wasn’t all a write off though, he did tentatively venture into the ball pit, we coaxed him into shaking/licking a tambourine and banging the drums, and even managed to get a picture of him on a scooter before he slid off. We had a lot more success when it came to the cake. In fact, his happiest moments of the day were when he was munching on something.

Time flies when you’re having fun and it was all over too quickly. Despite the stress, it was great seeing everyone and all the children playing together. It may have been overwhelming and clashed with naptime but at least Mishty enjoyed his cake and now has an enormous stash of presents to last him until the next birthday!

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A Letter to My (Almost) One Year Old

Dearest Mishty

You are almost one now and I thought I’d mark the occasion by writing you a letter to tell you about some of the things I love about you that make you my most favourite person in the world…

You bumble around like a happy little drunk, tightly grasping as many dangerous objects that you can find (pens, hangers, batteries) and get so excited when you see me that you try to run with your arms outstretched and promptly fall flat on your face at least a hundred times a day.

When you walk into something I brace myself for a wail, but you just rub your head and carry on like a brave little man. Thankfully, it seems you don’t take after your father…

If you see my phone, you will grab it and walk off, holding it to your ear and saying something that sounds like hello but is closer to “Adaaaa”.

You love to lie on my chest sucking your thumb and playing with my ear as your comforter, and just when I think you’ve gone to sleep, you suddenly sit up and wriggle down, babbling “DADA” extremely loudly.

You will stare at a new person with suspicion until they offer you food and then you will be their best friend. You love cake.

When I read to you in an attempt at being a good mother all you want to do is shut it and then throw it away. The only book you like is the one with Dudley the hand puppet and you only like him when he sneezes and grabs your hand rather than anything related to the story.

When I play with your tiny toes you laugh and it’s the best sound in the world.

You hide behind the sofa and peep out to the side to play peekaboo and your gorgeous smile makes me melt. Then I play, hiding behind the door and shouting ‘Boo!’ as you enter, laughing at how much you enjoy being startled.

You bypass all the toys and head for the kitchen so you can rummage about in the bin or pull out everything in the drawers and cupboards to play with instead. Nothing says fun quite like Tupperware or toxic chemicals found under the sink.

You follow me everywhere… including the toilet. I have to throw a hairbrush out the door to entice you out but then you come straight back with a happy grin that says, look what I found Mama!

Wrapping yourself around my legs in a bear hug makes me worry that I’ll topple over and crush you. But then you look up with a big grin, very pleased with yourself and all worries go out the window because hugs of any kind from you are magical.

Washing machines, electric toothbrushes, hairdryers and my belly button are incredibly fascinating to you.

I love that you love teddies just as much as I do and express this by chewing their faces.

You love swings, balloons, climbing things, unravelling toilet roll, chewing any form of plastic/paper/wire, running, biting, jumping, playing with my ears, yanking my top down, making a mess, tummy tickles, blowing raspberries, being swung around, being chased, my fluffy slippers, pulling off your socks, poking plug sockets, keys, bubbles, emptying my handbag, being pushed around inside a cardboard box, and daddy’s awful singing voice.

You really don’t like bananas, sitting still for a minute, being strapped into anything, having your nose wiped, wearing a bib, strawberries that are cut up (must be whole), cold food, warm water, the shower head, and lying on your back for more than 10 seconds.

You are surprisingly strong.

When you eat you look so busy, concentrating hard on pushing the pieces around, taking it out of your mouth, looking at it and then putting it back in again. If it’s tasty you will make “om nom nom mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm” noises. Otherwise it just gets dropped on the floor with disdain or spat out with great force. Sometimes you miss your mouth or just enjoy squashing it between your fingers and rubbing it into your hair. Then to complete the meal you shake your water beaker and enjoy the puddle it makes.

You take the remote and wander off with it, pressing all the buttons and no matter what, it always ends up on the home shopping channel. Cartoons don’t interest you, but going to the TV and smacking it repeatedly does.

You like to call your Nana on the phone when I’m not looking. When we Facetime you get so excited you end up falling over or spitting.

You show affection by smacking me in the face or kicking my head in bed.

You like to help me with laundry by taking off all the clothes I’ve just put on the line.

Your face gets confused when your father gives me a cuddle and a kiss. You try to join in while giving a look that says, I don’t know what you are doing but get off her! She’s MY mummy!

When I am praying you like to stand directly in front of me on my prayer mat and either talk to me, poke me or tug at my scarf. Then you get bored and try to climb the changing table, giving me a near heart attack.

The way you sing into your musical toy microphone by putting the whole thing in your mouth, rocking to the rhythm and crooning, “oooooooohh” is exceptionally entertaining.

Interaction with other kids  tends to involve eyeing them up warily and then either taking out their dummy, taking their toys, taking their food or hitting them.

You are such a chatterbox. You express yourself by babbling away and earnestly gesticulating with your hand. No idea what you are saying but it’s amazing.

You already dance better than your dad.

You make me smile every day and I will love you forever.

All my love, Mama.

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Back To Reality

ThriveMomma-post-it

I can’t sleep. I am trying to think calm thoughts but my mind is too wired. It’s the night before the day where everything changes. With this one sleep, an entire chapter of my life will come to an end. The time has come to finally go back to work after a whole year off.

Am I excited? No – work is far too dull to get excited about but I am looking forward to having some time to myself at least. Am I sad? Yes – I always am when things come to an end. Now it’s back to reality, but a new reality – one where my career revolves around a whole new person in my life.

Mishty must sense something is up and graciously sleeps through the night in his cot – something he hasn’t done in a very long time. No need for an alarm as he wakes me up at 6am. I feed him and get ready for work. He watches me put my make up on and then carefully throws the entire contents of my bag out one item at a time. It’s still dark when I say goodbye and with a heavy heart, I leave him with my dad to babysit.

I get to work early and it feels surreal. Everything is the same and yet nothing feels the same. Predictably, I spend all day on the phone to IT sorting out computer issues. Afterwards I am left twiddling my thumbs with no sign of any work coming my way. I forgot how boring work could be.

I have so much time. I go to the toilet three times just because I can. I can lock the door and no one will have a meltdown. There is no need to leave it open and wait for a little person to walk in with a big a smile, happy to have found me. I can eat my lunch without having someone tug on my arm for a little bite. I can browse the shops in peace and try on as many clothes as I like without having to manoeuvre around the buggy in the changing room. And yet I end up buying four tops from the baby section. I miss him already.

I call at lunchtime, wondering how my dad is coping alone. He assures me that everything is fine. I can hear Mishty whining in the background because he wants to play with the phone.  He likes to hold it to his ear and babble away, pretending he is on a call. It’s cute until you try and take the phone back – then it’s world war three.

The day passes in a soporific state of clock watching. As soon as it hits 4pm (the perks of working in the public sector) I am out the door. The first day of my new life is over.

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In Sickness and In Health

Baby-Flu-season-Cascades-Tissue-Group-Antibacterial-hand-towelIt’s inevitable that your baby will get sick at some point in their first year. Seeing your baby ill and suffering is truly heart wrenching. When he sneezes and gets the sniffles, you will instantly think he has the plague. Then you will feel responsible for giving him the plague. Your parents and in-laws will ask you how the baby got the plague and you will hang your head in shame as you whisper that it might have been because someone coughed on the baby and you were too slow to leap in between and suckerpunch them in their germy mouth.

Then you will be forced to go to the doctor just to allay the fears of all the hypochondriacs in the family who look at you with patronising eyes that say, “leave it to the professionals, you know nothing, you gave your baby the plague”. By now your head is saying your baby doesn’t have the plague and all he needs is a bit of baby Vicks but no one is listening because you are not a doctor. Then the doctor says the same thing and you say, ‘ha, I told you!’ but no one is listening because they are too busy rejoicing over having narrowly escaped the plague.

Well-meaning advice will be dispensed at every turn by the overly concerned grandparents. A gentle snore from having a blocked nose is translated as wheezing and a sign of a chest infection. The heating should be on full blast and the new-fangled sleeping bag that wasn’t around in their day and can’t possibly be as warm as an old fashioned quilt is treated with suspicion. Your concerns about overheating are instantly dismissed.

Armed with medicine, decongestants and questionable ancient Indian remedies, you look after your baby as best as you can. You do battle with an endless stream of snot which your baby won’t let you wipe – attempts at putting him in a headlock and restraining the rest of his body whilst sucking on the snot sucker are futile, he is just too quick and wriggly. A vapour for the room tastefully masks the ever lingering smell of poo in your house but is ineffective. Calpol will be adamantly refused and the Snuffles tub will get lost somewhere behind the bed, but somehow they start to get better. This will coincide with you starting to feel ill. But before that can happen, Hubby will steam ahead and discover he has man flu and therefore cannot do anything remotely helpful other than go to bed early.

Occasionally, you may be unfortunate enough to experience the additional side effect of diarrhoea. It’s most likely to be from a virus but you will believe that it’s because you have poisoned your baby with your cooking. Or that your inadequate cleaning led to him eating rubbish off the floor. Or your slowness at stopping him lick the aqueous cream was to blame. Ultimately, you will feel like you have failed and your baby is suffering because you couldn’t look after them properly.

Cue another visit to the doctor. This is not a happy visit. Your baby will squirm away from the thermometer. The stethoscope will be viewed with interest until it is actually used, whereupon ear-splitting screams will emerge. This will continue throughout the session. You will then have to leave quickly, whilst reassuring the doc that the screams are normal and not from pain.

The next few days are long and soul-destroying. You have no contact with anyone to prevent spreading germs. You lose count of how many pooey nappies you’ve changed. You can’t do anything because they are so clingy and fractious. The new bland diet seems worse than prison food. You get upset every time you see how sore his bottom is. Thinking it might be good to let some air in down there you leave the nappy off only for him to unload all over your jeans and carpet [epic fail]. IT’S DEPRESSING AND THERE IS NO RESPITE. This is because your baby has infected everyone in your family so they can’t help you because they are too busy coughing up their lungs and wiping their own snot. After several meltdowns you get over it. Eventually your baby gets over it too. You will become elated at the sight of solid poo, something that you wouldn’t ever have thought possible prior to having a baby.

And then the worst is over. Congratulate yourself, you have both survived.

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How to Baby Proof Your Home

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When babies become mobile, toys are of no interest to them anymore. Instead they will find yesterday’s crusty bit of bread on the floor to play with or better still, wander into the kitchen and try to grab something out of the bin. Then in an attempt at clearing up after themselves they will pick up the dustpan and brush and repeatedly smack the floor with it.

Danger is everywhere. Seemingly harmless decorative objects suddenly turn into perilous poking missiles. Pot pouri is now a choking hazard, candles are something to chew on, table corners are for walking into, and don’t even get me started on crystal glassware.

Technology though is the main fascination. Nothing beats pulling out DVD cases and chucking them all over the floor or the lure of a brightly lit iPad/laptop/smartphone. It’s only a matter of time before all my apps are mysteriously deleted and my ringtone is changed to Old McDonald. Mishty has also learnt how to speed dial. On one successful occasion he even managed to phone my mother and have an entire conversation without me knowing. He also enjoys running up to the TV and smacking the screen repeatedly before trying to pull out a HDMI cable – this means he likes what’s on. Sometimes the TV will turn on randomly, the picture will be extra wide, and the volume might go up to level 96… (I didn’t even know there was a level 96).

But they can’t help it, touching and tasting everything they can get their tiny hands on is just their way of exploring and learning about the world. I bet if I was inside Mishty’s little head he’d be thinking the following:

“Ooh a radiator valve cap, this is sooo tasty!”

“Is this spaghetti? I love chewing on it; I just wish it wasn’t attached to this thing in the wall…”

 “I don’t know what this is but I MUST eat it.”

 “Ooh Mummy’s made me an obstacle course under the table just so I can get to her and eat her food”

“Ooh, I’ve found a little door that opens if I pull this small thing! I wonder what bleach means…?”

With these new developments my days are spent mainly snatching things out of his hands before he can put them into his mouth, or pulling him away from things that are likely to fall and crush him. Sometimes he’s too quick for me and I’m left chasing him as he crawls away at lightning speed with a deathlike grip on his object of choice. And what thanks do I get for potentially saving his life? An ear-splitting wail like I’m the worst mother for taking the remote away and not letting him pull the batteries out for example. But silence is far scarier. This will nearly always mean that they have found something they were not supposed to and are hugely enjoying it. [My friend’s mother found her grandson playing with condoms because he was attracted to the shiny foil wrapping – AWKWARD!]

I am also having to clean more than ever to prevent him picking things up off the floor but he still manages to find something I’ve missed like carpet fluff or a bead/sequin, leaving me berating my vacuuming skills and cursing the poor quality of my clothes. I’ve rearranged furniture to move things out of reach and I even bought some baby proofing gadgets but this only attracted more attention to the thing I was trying to stop him going towards in the first place (thanks Well Known Swedish Furniture Store, great help you were).

So after all that, here’s my guide to babyproofing your home:

  1. Empty your house
  2. Wrap baby in bubble wrap