5 Ways Uni Prepares You For Parenting

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It may not be on the syllabus, but university is actually great preparation for having a child.

Bear with me, because I can imagine you looking at your computer/phone/viewing implement of choice like “Say whaa?”, but I’m totally serious. I present to you, five ways in which university totally prepares you for life as a parent.

  1. Toddlers and drunk students are basically the same thing. They stagger around. They cry over bizarre things. They may piss, puke and poop at any given moment, with no attempt made to reach a toilet first. If you can handle your best friend on Jaegerbomb Giveaway SU Thursday at the student bar, you can totally handle a toddler.
  2. You make (and eat) some really weird concoctions. Noodle-toast-sandwiches are very much a student creation. It’s also what I had for dinner the other day, after a day of toddler-wrangling left me unable to face cooking anything else. Don’t even get me started on what the toddler eats. Oh, you’d like pasta, hot dog sausages and peas? Yep, eighteen-year-old me agrees with you, SB.
  3. Everyone around you sees you as a nuisance. Whether you’re riding up and down the supermarket aisles in a shopping trolley collecting all the cheap booze, or your toddler is having a tantrum about being strapped in, everyone around you makes it clear you’re not welcome.
  4. Night-time is never safe. Whether you’re being woken up at 2am by a drunken rendition of the Welsh national anthem (I may or may not have done this to one of my best friends in first year) or by a toddler who thinks 2am is the ideal time to start having a tea party with her teddies, you can guarantee your sleep is going to be disturbed.
  5. Your food is never actually yours. The difference is, your child waits until it’s in your hand before they start demanding it. Students just grab it straight out of the fridge. On the other hand, toddlers don’t give a shit if you’ve attached a sticky label saying “MADDY WILL MURDER YOU IF YOU EAT THIS” to every item of your food, whereas it may deter student food thieves (not guaranteed).

So there we have it. When you graduate, not only are you getting a fancy cap and gown and a certificate, you’re also gaining the knowledge that you are totally ready to raise a child, and prepared for every challenge parenting is going to throw your way.

Ha. Yeah, right.

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SB’s 22 Month Update?!

Remember around this time last year, when every update began with “No. No. NO”, because I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that my baby was almost one?

It’s even worse this year. Every month reminds us that SB is edging closer and closer to the “Terrible Twos”, and in April – just two months from now! – she’ll be turning two years old. It’s been a while since I did a development update, so realising she’s 22 months old has taken me by surprise!

I’m torn between “Where’s my baby gone?” and “I absolutely love this stage”.

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I know I’ve said this every single time, but I am loving SB at this stage. She’s so funny. She’s my little buddy – she loves to hold hands (unless she sees something particularly interesting, in which case it’s a game of catch-the-toddler to stop her sticking her hands in dog poo or whatever gross discovery she’s made), she’s a little chatterbox, she is into everything and copies us constantly.

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I call her “my chicken” and she replies “bok bok” (she’s slowly learning animal noises – we’ve mastered “woof woof”, “moo” and what I can only assume is “baa”, because it’s the noise she makes every time I mention sheep…). When Daf tells her off for doing something, she’ll mimic his pose and say “No” very sternly, complete with finger waggling. Phones are the big obsession at the moment – heaven forbid we should try and have a phone call without including her!

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She’s also starting to grasp the idea that family live away from us – she’ll quite often say “nanny?” or “yandad?”, staring out of the window and getting excited because she thinks they’re visiting (cue heartbreak when she realises they aren’t, which is the reason why I’ve made several speakerphone calls to my parents over the last few weeks, so that SB can hear their voices at least!).

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She’s a little sponge and soaks up everything (hence a sudden, rapid improvement in the language Daf and I are using around the house!), and she’s really starting to enjoy imaginary play – the doctors kit we got her for Christmas is getting plenty of use! She’s also been working really hard on her “faces” – it’s something my parents used to do with me when I was her age (probably why I’ve now got a degree in acting!), so we’ve taken to doing it with SB too, and it’s now her party trick!

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Of course, there’s still the odd tantrum – and we know the worst is yet to come, we’re well aware of that! – but by and large, she’s a happy girl. The dummy is being used less and less, she shares nicely and loves to be around others. I think we’re being eased in gently to the ‘Terrible Twos’, as I have a feeling this cheeky girl is planning on putting us through our paces over the coming months!

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Does Motherhood Kill Ambition?

There seems to have been a lot in the news over the last few months about mothers “not being able to have it all” – that is, that juggling parenthood and a successful career isn’t possible for mothers (why fathers can have it all is another question entirely, but hey).

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First of all, isn’t that a lovely lesson to be teaching the impressionable young women who look up to you as a role model? “Sorry girls, but because you have a vagina, you’re going to have to choose between a career or having a family. Men are fine, though”.

Secondly, I thought we were still trying to discourage young people from having kids early – why are we now saying they need to make their choice before they’ve even taken their GCSEs?

Thirdly, I hate this assumption that motherhood is an ambition-killer. You can be a high-flying, big-city, hot-shot worker with an amazing reputation and massive respect in your chosen field – but the second you give birth, you’re suddenly a cooing, mushy mess of a woman with zero career ambition? I don’t think so.

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Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s easy in the long term for two parents to be working full-time as well as raising a family – but I hate the idea that the woman should be the one to give up work, especially when I’m yet to see any real convincing argument as to why. The closest anyone has come is “Because she gave birth” – and what that has to do with working two or three years down the line is anyone’s guess.

It’s taboo to talk about it, but I honestly don’t think I’m cut out for being a stay-at-home parent long term. I like having projects and deadlines, I need to have that routine and focus otherwise my anxiety goes out of control and I lose track of the days. That doesn’t make me a bad parent. We celebrate stay-at-home dads as a “win” for progress at the same time as berating the mother for abandoning her child. Where’s the same backlash when a man goes back to work after his child is born?

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I love spending time with SB. I spend as much time as possible with her, and I love it. Spending time with her isn’t the problem I have with stay-at-home-motherhood – it’s the lack of routine; the lack of structure. I couldn’t cope with it. That’s not a comment on my parenting skills, nor is it a comment on the parenting skills of stay-at-home parents. Daf, on the other hand, was an amazing stay-at-home-dad last summer; really fantastic.

People always seemed genuinely surprised to find out that I was working while he stayed at home with SB, and I just don’t understand why. I know it’s unusual for a man to be the stay-at-home parent, even in this day and age, but surely it’s not that much of a shock?

What I found really shocking was how many people agreed with these statements. “No, mums can’t have it all. They can’t have a family and a successful full-time career”. First of all, what happens when the baby has two mums? Do they both stay home with the baby? Does the mum who gave birth stay at home with the baby? Does the fabric of society unravel as we work ourselves into a tizzy trying to figure out whose ambition is killed by motherhood and whose ambition remains intact?

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Or, we could just let mums get on with it, without over-analysing every little move they make, and declaring that mums MUST have it all, or they CAN’T have it all. Maybe more mums could have it all, if society was a little more supportive of it? More rights regarding part-time work after finishing maternity leave; more information about sharing maternity leave between both parents, less of this expectation that once women return to work after having a child, all they’ll do is talk babies all day. That’s what we need – not to be telling the next generation of women “Don’t bother, because it didn’t work for me”. Surely part of raising strong, independent daughters is to tell them “It doesn’t matter if a thousand other people have struggled – none of them are you, so if you want to try, you give it all you’ve got”?

If women want one or the other, that’s fine. Good for them, for knowing their mind, and knowing what they want, and not being afraid to get it. They’re not immune from this criticism either, though. Working moms are “selfish”, and stay-at-home moms are “lazy”. Mums who want to “have it all” are just plain delusional.

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Motherhood did not kill my ambition. It fuelled my ambition. It lit a spark inside me that so far, nothing has managed to quell. Motherhood made me determined to create the best dissertation piece I was capable of – so I did it, and I got a first. Motherhood made me adamant that I would have a great career – not only did I go straight into work from university, but I’m also on track for that great career. Motherhood made me promise that my family would always be my number one priority – and it is, which is why providing for said family and instilling in them a strong work ethic is so important to me.

I may not have it all yet, but the operative word there is “yet”. I’ll never stop striving to “have it all”, because the closer we get, the better things are.

I will never tell SB that she cannot have it all, just as I’ll never tell any potential future sons that they can’t have it all either. If she doesn’t want “it all”, I’ll tell her that I’m proud of her for making a choice for herself. If she does, I’ll tell her to go for it with all she’s got – she may not achieve it all, but she’s got a much better chance than those who listen to women like Vivienne Durham and Drew Barrymore, and don’t even try.

What do you think? Can women “have it all”? Do you feel like motherhood killed or changed your ambition? Let me know in the comments! 

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Chronically Ill, Chronically Awesome

This post has been rattling around in my head for a while, and unless I do some major editing before I publish it, it may come out like a bit of a stream of consciousness.

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I’ve been tweeting quite a lot recently about a chronic illness I have. It goes by several different names – joint hypermobility syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (commonly abbreviated to EDS) are the most well-known names for it.

What it means in very basic terms is that my collagen – the glue that holds the parts of our bodies together – doesn’t work properly. It results in very flexible joints, velvety-soft skin and the ability to do some really weird party tricks.

“But surely that’s great?!” I hear you say. “As diseases go, I’d love to have one that makes me a soft-skinned gymnast with a great party trick!”.

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Unfortunately, it also comes with regular, frequent dislocations and subluxations of joints, causing pain (and muscle damage if they’re left out of place for too long). The velvety skin gets stretch marks in weird places (inner thighs, chest and under arms, anyone?), doesn’t recover from scars very well, bruises easily and is very sensitive. The party tricks are the reason I’m at increased risk of arthritis and needing knees and hips replaced down the line.

Not to mention postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (where something as simple as standing up can make you very dizzy and prone to passing out), bowel dysfunction ranging from mild to severe including IBS and, rarely, the risk of the bowel perforating or folding in on itself (remember all the complaining I did about my scar when I was pregnant? Well, that’s what the scar is from…), local anaesthetics not working properly, heart murmurs, headaches caused by spinal fluid pooling at the base of the skull… need I go on?

I have to have regular physio for my joints. During an EDS flare up, subluxations happen every few minutes, dislocations once or twice a day. Thankfully the vast majority of these I can pop back in with minimal drama, as they usually affect my hands, ankles or – at worst – my shoulder. Sometimes my ribs slip out, which is really bloody painful. Sometimes – as with my knee recently – I pop them back in, but it doesn’t go all the way in, or I’ve left it too long, and it damages the ligaments and tendons, causing weeks of pain.

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EDS/JHS is an invisible condition. It’s a nightmare to get diagnosed and an even bigger nightmare to get treatment, but the toughest part? Telling other people that you have it. They look at you like they’ve made it up, or tell you that you’re “just double jointed”, or say “There’s always something wrong with you”.

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We call ourselves zebras, because – in medical terminology – that’s what we are. Doctors are told in training, “When you hear hoofbeats, assume it’s horses, not zebras”. Because EDS is rare, doctors will look for the more common, individual causes of symptoms – hypermobile joints, IBS, migraines and so on – rather than putting it all together and seeing that actually, some patients are zebras, and need to be treated as such. The problem with hearing hoofbeats and assuming horses is that doctors have a tendency to forget zebras even exist.

I’ve always tried my hardest not to let it rule my life. I can pop back all subluxations and most dislocations by myself or with Daf’s help. I take a lot of tablets every day to deal with the symptoms, in addition to the regular physio. I feel like I’m at the doctors every few weeks, and a regular visitor to the hospital with one aspect or another. Some doctors tell me there’s no way I have EDS because it’s so rare – despite matching the diagnostic criteria. Others tell me yes, I do, but it’s incurable (which I know). Now that it’s shown up in other family members, and confirmed by a geneticist, there’s no doubt about it.

EDS/JHS has always just been a part of me and who I am – I’m bendy, I have freaky joints, I have chronic pain. That’s fine. I can deal with that.

The guilt came when I had SB. Because EDS is an autosomnal recessive genetic condition, she had a 50% chance of inheriting the condition. I hoped beyond hope that she’d taken after Daf, and even when she started showing signs of hypermobility, I kept my fingers crossed. Most kids are hypermobile until they’re three or four, it’s normal.

Then I noticed the colour of the whites of her eyes. Blue/grey sclera is a characteristic of EDS and similar conditions, and hers match it exactly. I can try and kid myself that she doesn’t have it, but I know I’m lying to myself.

There’s nothing I could’ve done to prevent her getting EDS, and nothing I can do to stop it from getting worse. Mine has degenerated quickly in the last year; I can only hope she gets beyond 21 before she notices real restrictions in her mobility. Aside from that, all I can do is help her to see the funny side, and raise her to know that being chronically ill does not stop her from also being chronically awesome.

It can be hard to remember it when times are tough, but there have been funny times with my EDS. I’ve chased someone around a castle, bending my thumb back to my wrist to freak him out. Telling the doctor how I hurt my foot and watching his eyes widen as I explained my foot was up near my head when I dropped it. Knowing that my physio knows me as “the one with the knees” because they’re so crazily hypermobile. Pictures like this, taken by my mum back in 2010 –

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So if SB has to inherit Ehlers Danlos, I’m glad that I have been through it first. I can guide her, I can help her to see the good bits, I can make sure she gets the diagnosis and the treatment she needs as quickly as possible. We’re lucky that awareness is slowly starting to grow about EDS – when I was younger, my mum did her best, but hypermobility was written off by doctors as “just double-jointedness”, the other symptoms were a series of coincidences. She did all she could, but medical attitudes were against her.

I’m determined that for SB, things are going to be different.

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