Bonding and books – reading with Felicity

I always say to people who ask what it’s like being a parent that it is a world of extremes – you’re either bursting with love or want to jump out the window and run away with the overwhelming nature of it all. A few weeks ago I had a bad parenting day. Felicity was going through a clingy and upset phase, I think down to a mixture of teeth and frustration at being able to toddle a bit but not really walking well. She was similarly grumpy just before she got the proper hang of crawling. We’d been to get her first shoes in the morning, which wasn’t a roaring success – she hates shops if not in a trolley where she can peer about – and randomly having her feet prodded did not endear her to shoe shopping either.

I then made the error of deciding to pop into Toys R Us next door to look at potential first birthday presents. I assumed they’d have a little section, like our Early Learning Centre does, where she would be able to have a little crawl and, you know, play with some toys. How naive. I hadn’t grasped the whole ‘it’s a massive warehouse with too much stimulation with nothing she can actually play with to maximise parental stress and likelihood of impulse buys and therefore our profits’ element of the shopping experience.

By the time we came out Felicity was so tetchy and fresh air starved that I decided I couldn’t face half an hour of screaming if I stuffed her into the car so went to get a coffee for me and a snack for her before heading home. This then meant we were late for her lunch, then she wouldn’t nap and was generally quite cross about what a terrible day I’d given her. I was very tired and stressed by the time she had another meltdown when I gently dared to try to get her to nap as she was overtired and unhappy.

I’m sure a lot of parents can identify with these days when there’s nothing overtly wrong, just timings have been off, the baby didn’t want to do what you wanted/needed them to participate in. After all, they get no say on whether they feel like going shoe shopping. You haven’t quite got the magic ratio of doing stuff/going out/food/sleep right. As a result you’re worn down by constant demands on you and feeling like you’re failing as a parent as all you want is to have five minutes of peace. By this point they’re so overtired peace is the last thing they can give you. These days are fairly rare for us but still draining when they arrive, always on a day when I’m least equipped to deal with it as well!

This particular day did get better though  because after failed nap attempt number three I reached for a book: A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown. I inherited this copy from my grandmother as she used to read it to me when I was a little girl. I’d put it on Felicity’s book display although thought it would be one for when she’s a bit older. Will had picked it up after she pointed at the cover and discovered she loved it.

If you’re not familiar with the book it follows a black cat around lots of dark creepy places only to discover (spoiler alert) a very adorable mouse all tucked up in bed at the end. I find it completely charming and it’s a great slightly spooky but not really scary book for Halloween as well. I think it’s generally classed as a book for older children although the one sentence every page turn works well for Felicity as the story moves quickly and there is a lot to look at thanks to the beautiful illustrations. She also gets the point of the plot- the first time Will read it and she reached the end and saw the mouse she squealed with delight. She still grins and points when we get to the last page.

All this is a very long winded way of taking a moment to appreciate how magical sharing books can be for both babies and parents. On this day, still sitting in her darkened ready-for-nap-bedroom we must have read that story five times over as she gleefully squealed at the end. Seeing her enjoy it so much immediately relaxed me as she was happy again, and sharing something I’d loved as a child is a special moment of bonding. The whole day went from tiring and stressful to joyful and content.

I wanted to record it on this space as this isn’t something I explicitly realised would happen when sharing books with my child. I think a lot of people would say they read for pleasure, escape and distraction – and children need that too. I obviously had it in the back of my head that I wanted her to enjoy reading. But I also know I’ve been guilty of thinking too much about the utilitarian and educational ‘you can learn a, b and c’ side of things. It was a much needed reminder of the magic of reading.

Reading with Felicity: She’s got distinct taste  

I am a big believer in letting children decide for themselves what they like in terms of books (within reason, not talking about that really racist TinTin or Lady Chatterley’s Lover aged eight). Keeping children engaged with reading is enough of a challenge without limiting what they read. I remember distinctly the times when I was told I shouldn’t read things because they were too old/not suitable and very rarely was that sort of advice useful. The library was always the opposite as you could borrow anything. I remember a stage where I was roaming round the children, teen and adult section at the same time.
This is one of the many reasons I love libraries, as being a key opportunity for children to develop their own taste in books. Parents don’t have to fork out lots of money for things they wouldn’t choose before seeing if the child likes it.

Although Felicity is still too young to  choose her books at the Library, I have still been amazed at how she already has her own taste in books, and it’s not necessarily my taste in children’s books either.

See the case of Oliver’s Wood by Sue Hendra. We had a copy of this as part of one of those multipacks from The Book People. I’d flicked through it and thought it was a bit dull to be honest. Plot and writing nothing special and cartoonish illustrations. But she loved it, at times when she hasn’t been bothered by stories at all she has shown real interest and delight in this book, even as young as four months. I can’t have been projecting my enjoyment as I wasn’t that enthusiastic about it, she has shown she likes this herself. That’s pretty exciting as a parent. My baby, who just yesterday seemed to be a newborn who didn’t really do anything, now has things she’s decided are good all by herself!

Some thoughts on motherhood six months in 

This is the other side of my baby memories post. Hopefully it doesn’t sound too much like a moan or a rant, I have mainly tried to be honest. It’s a huge privilege to get to know and raise our daughter. It’s a cliche but I think my overarching experience of motherhood has been that it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done combined with the happiest times of my life. I don’t think there are many ‘meh’ moments as a new parent. You are either full of joy or despairing, nothing in between!

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– The sleep deprivation is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I realise if I moan any more about how little sleep I’m getting I am in danger of becoming tiresome. At six months she still doesn’t go down for naps unless rocked a lot in the pram, in the car or on me. At night a three hour stretch is considered good at the moment, with lots of wake ups during the rest of the night. After a lot of questioning of people whose babies do sleep, I’m fairly convinced it is luck whether you get a sleeper or not. There are definitely things you can do to help a baby sleep well, but really it’s up to the baby and you just have to work with that and survive as best you can.

– I have never felt as judged and as guilty since I’ve become a mother. I still half feel that Felicity’s lack of sleepiness is somehow my fault. Logically I know people whose first babies have slept wonderfully and then the second has not, so parenting has nothing to do with it really. But then you hear about other babies who sleep through and whose parents can put them down for naps and you want to cry. Or you get emails from Johnson & Johnson saying about how important it is to put down your baby ‘sleepy but awake’ and in my sleep deprived state I feel like a massive failure if it’s such a simple thing. Note: I’ve obviously tried sleepy but awake many times, generally Felicity immediately gets furious and starts trying to shift about in her cot and then sometimes bangs her head on the bars and bursts into tears (that didn’t happen at about ten o’clock last night, no no no). There are few things I can think of other than motherhood where people outright judge you as much and so obviously. In fairness I should probably widen this out to include parenthood more generally as Will has had his fair share of childless people criticising our ‘spoiling’ of Felicity. If anyone who is about to have a baby were to ask me advice the most important and sanity saving thing I would say is – don’t be afraid to ignore the advice and trust your instincts, even if you don’t think you have instincts yet. Don’t listen to anyone who criticises as there are a million ways to do everything, and your child will respond to some and not others. And that’s fine. Also don’t buy Johnson & Johnson products as clearly they’re judgey <insert swear word of choice here>.

– Motherhood has also thrown me down the rabbit hole of the dizzying array of parenting methods out there. You’re a baby wearer, or a co-sleeper, or you’re determined to get your child into a routine. You do baby-led weaning, or crying it out. You can’t just parent. I loved this article in the Guardian about how all this is just making parenting less enjoyable and parents more anxious. The article made me cheer in recognition as I see yet another post on Facebook about people who never use a buggy or a pram as if they’re some kind of baby torture, compared to slings; or that slings are hippy nonsense. It’s yet another way that mothers can judge each other rather than just having a chat, some cake and some solidarity. I’ve found some lovely mum friends and we’re all muddling along together and taking silly photos of our babies along the way. This is much more preferable than obsessing over extreme parenting philosophies, whichever end of the spectrum they may be.

– Breastfeeding can be one of the most lonely ways to feed your baby. I was very lucky in that breastfeeding was fairly easy to establish (and it absolutely was luck, again let’s not get into a judgey debate about bottle vs. breast here). It is a wonderful way to bond and it is easier to just undo my top rather than sterilise a bottle. But it also means I am unable to have a night off whilst Will does the night feeds, or a night away, unless I’m happy to let her cry herself to sleep, which I’m most definitely not. Due to Felicity’s reflux problems I’ve had to limit my intake of tea, coffee (an added cruelty with the sleepless nights), booze and chocolate; most of my clothes no longer work as they aren’t suitable for feeding. Basically it is like a different version of being pregnant in that your body is not a 100% your own. Sometimes the idea of drinking a G&T, sleeping a whole night in a hotel on my own with a real cup of tea in the morning whilst wearing a normal bra without wet leaky milk patches sounds like heaven.

– I have had more squabbles with Will than ever before since having Felicity. Sleep deprivation and no time to do basic housework and still vaguely have time to do the odd thing for ourselves has had its impact. Yet in most ways I’ve never felt more like he’s got my back than since we became parents, he’s my co-parent and my sanity-saver. He has kept me afloat numerous times by sitting up all night comforting our daughter when needed, then going to work the next day, so I can get some sleep. Or having to rush to get to the office on time because I need to do this and that thing before I’m on my own for the day again. Basically it feels like Pam from The Office can sum up my feelings about my marriage perfectly right now: 

– We have already talked about having another baby, and at this point in time, I’m not sure if we want to add to our little family. I realise I may well change my mind, but I wanted to record it here, we have talked about it already thanks to the question of ‘do we put the tiny baby clothes away for another or get rid of them?’, that pops up fairly quickly as they start outgrowing things. At the moment, I’m not sure I could go through all the pregnancy sickness again, as well as a caesarian (which I’m told would be advised next time), with Felicity running about and needing attention along with a newborn. I’m an only child so it doesn’t automatically seem like a bad thing to me, and I find the idea of sibling arguments quite upsetting. The appeal of more money and time, and less impact on the environment, is floating there tantalisingly at the idea of having only one. Also I can’t imagine not being able to concentrate all my attention on her, or loving anyone as much as her either. At the same time I already miss my tiny baby and the idea of never seeing another little person grow and develop seems sad to me. We might not be lucky enough to be able to have another of course and I’m sure this decision will feel very different as Felicity grows up. Let’s just say at this point I’m keeping my favourite baby bits, but getting rid of quite a lot too. 

– At the same time as all these challenges, motherhood is a marvel. There is such joy in being one of the two people Felicity relies on utterly. When she smiles at me it is the feeling of the purest, most uncomplicated happiness I’ve ever known. I have never tried or wanted to do something as much as being a good mother to my daughter. It’s a miracle Will and I have created this perfect little person with her own strong feelings and personality. I don’t even mind that much when she throws up, poos or wees all over me – surely that’s the ultimate sign of love?! I can’t wait to experience more of being a Mama as Felicity grows and develops even more.

If you’ve made it this far with this self indulgent post then thank you!

Six whole weeks

Since we welcomed our little girl, Felicity into the world. Hence the silence around here! Definitely the most emotional, tiring and wonderful six weeks of my life.

We’re in a little sleep deprived stupor of working out how to keep her alive and happy, how to be parents and being so grateful for the huge outpouring of love from our friends and family since her birth. 

Also spending a silly amount of time marvelling at her and how much she’s changing. She looks so tiny in these photos and has already grown up (not really of course) so much.