A Proper Christmas

Last Christmas I was totally skint. It was the first time I can remember admitting defeat and not buying anyone presents (apart from the new small child I found myself with). My mum made me a food hamper as a present. The Christmas before that I was skint. I was desperately saving for an impending baby while her hapless father spent all his spare cash on cigarettes. I bought everyone socks as presents. The Christmas before that… I can’t even remember. Something along the lines of being skint. And the problem with having no money at Christmas is that you feel somehow excluded from the whole thing. You can’t buy those 3 for 2 presents in Boots, or that Christmas jumper that’s suddenly (boringly) trendy, or all the cool lights for your garden, or the gingerbread men cookie cutters, or all the cheese. You feel sad. You love Christmas. But you feel like Christmas is a club you’re no longer a member of. So Christmas can pretty much just sod off.

This year the toddler will be 19 months old at Christmas time. Our current favourite activity is murmuring “woahhhhhhhh” at the Christmas displays in garden centres. She demands “more! lights!” every time we spot some Christmas lights on the 40-minute drive home from nursery. And as I thought about the scraggy 10-year-old tinsel I usually drape half-heartedly over pictures, I realised that the toddler and I are rapidly approaching the stage where I can no longer coast through the very early years of motherhood because she won’t remember any of it. I need to start thinking about the kind of childhood I want her to have and the memories I want to create for her.

I grew up with tradition and moderation at Christmas. We had a real Christmas tree that didn’t go up until a couple of days before Christmas and stayed up for the full 12 days. My mum picked greenery from the surrounding fields and tucked it behind pictures, although not until the 23rd for some other traditional reason that I’m not even going to guess at. Church on Christmas morning. Phil Spector’s Christmas album blasting out from the record player while mum cooked as I sat cross-legged on the kitchen side eating Pringles for breakfast (at the age of 22). No presents until after lunch (apart from stockings, obviously). A genuine belief in Father Christmas until I was 11. It was WONDERFUL. Christmas came to mean so much to me that I was fully prepared to break up with any boyfriend I happened to be seeing if he insisted we spend Christmas Day with his family instead of my mum and brother.

Because we live so close to my mum, her Christmas traditions will likely become the things my daughter remembers about Christmas. Which is fine by me, because as far as I’m concerned my mum has got Christmas spot on. But I am fed up with my miscellany of rubbish Christmas decorations that make the house look messy rather than festive. For a couple of weeks a year I want our funny little house to match the traditions that are so important to me. In five years’ time I want this little girl to come home from school, see the twinkling lights on the garland on the stairs and feel that frisson of excitement that Christmas is nearly here. I’m fed up of waiting to not be skint before I can do Christmas properly. I want to get it right for her.

The fact remains that I still have very little money. But I’m determined to make it work. I’m going to concentrate on buying things for one room each year. Not go overboard. Keep it classy. A few choice pieces. And after a couple of years of doing the same my Christmas collection will be complete.

I spent a whole evening Googling Christmas decorations. I walked around my living room. I made a list. Me and the toddler had one of my favourite days yet touring round The Range, Homebase, B&Q, etc, gazing at sparkly things, giggling and eating cheese sandwiches. I bought a wreath. Better tinsel. Some glittery twigs. Hanging paper shapes. GARLANDS. And I felt that frisson of genuine childlike excitement that has been missing from my Christmas for the last few years. Suddenly I was part of the club again. And I loved it.

And, yeah, maybe the toddler won’t remember this Christmas, or next Christmas, but I needed an excuse to spend money I don’t have on sophisticated grown-up decorations and this is the one I’m going with, okay?

This post wasn’t supposed to support the idea that money is everything at Christmas. I also have no handy money-saving tips to share. But I think that the most important thing about all this is that you create the kind of Christmas you want for you and your children. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing or how they’re doing it. This is the kind of Christmas want, and I’m going to do my best to make it happen on my own terms.

Anyway, I was so excited about my new decorations that all plans of being restrained and waiting until at least the 14th to put them up went straight out the window. Well. One garland, the wrong type of lights and a fight with some glittery twigs later and I was ready to opt out of Christmas all over again. It’s possible that being festive is harder than I thought…

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A Normal Mum

Tonight, as I watched fireworks from my bedroom window, I pondered how strange it was to be essentially imprisoned in your house after 7pm every evening. No option to pop out. No-one to fetch anything for you. I started to think about it too much and was gripped with a claustrophobic tightness that spread across my chest.

I told myself off for being weird then, but that made me think about just how weird I have become as a result of spending the best part of 17 months in my own company night after night. You don’t notice not speaking. Especially in daylight. You can’t believe you don’t utter a single word after the sun sets, apart from perhaps to tell the cat to piss off (because by then you have either been at work all day or looking after a disagreeable toddler all day and you are ratty and tired and every last drop of your sympathy and understanding has been used up). Sometimes spending these too-short evenings alone has been a good thing. In some ways I am more myself than I have ever been in all the years I have spent in ill-fated relationships, consistently failing to work out how to share my space and myself with another person who won’t behave exactly as I want them to. But I am also aware that I am withdrawing. I feel alienated and angry. Sometimes I hate everything and everyone for no good reason. I spend too much time on the Internet and social media, which – although my only real window to the world from my prison – ultimately leaves me feeling dissatisfied, like eating a huge pile of junk food and afterwards wishing you’d had a baked potato instead. I feel like a victim, a trait I absolutely deplore in other people. I have to remind myself that I am not a victim of anything. In so many ways I am the lucky one.

Recently I have wondered whether I would be a happier better mum if I gave up certain things and became a Normal Mum. If, once the toddler was in bed, I did a bit of housework, or cooked something that consisted of more than a packet of microwave rice or a hot cross bun warmed slightly in the toaster, or did some ironing in front of the telly, or planned the week’s meals, or cleaned the mud off the toddler’s shoes, or filled in a bit more of that baby records book, or unpacked and repacked work and nursery bags, or baked something the toddler could have as a snack, or got something out of the freezer to defrost, or did my nails, or ordered some birthday/Christmas presents online, or put the laundry away, or wrote a letter, or watched part of a film with a glass of wine.

Instead, I occasionally load the dishwasher before pretending I can’t see the rest of the mess, getting my pyjamas on and curling up on my bed with my laptop. I hang around on Twitter too long, window-shop on Spotify, send a couple of messages to friends on Facebook Messenger and finally open up the Word document that is my novel. I then spend a couple of hours staring at the screen, desperately squeezing words from my brain. I will sit there, veering from determination to despair, forcing myself to create something, changing the musical accompaniment several times in case that helps, getting sidetracked on YouTube and pretty much constantly thinking about eating. I go to bed too late with that screen haze feeling and a tightness behind my eyes. And the harder I try the more I cannot write this book.

My life is chaotic and untidy and exhausting, but what I feel like I am doing is valuable and important and much more worthwhile than having a relaxing evening doing bits and pieces or nothing at all. I need this: these three or four hours at the end of the day that I have slaved for. My me time. The only chance I get to pursue the one remaining dream that being a single parent can’t stop me from achieving.

But now I’m wondering whether this almost obsessive desire to “achieve something” in my spare time is doing more harm than good.

A week or so ago I was recovering from a sickness bug and not eating enough to get me much past 9pm. One night I went to bed straight after the toddler did and got 12 hours of wonderful blissful sleep. I was so well rested I started waking up at 4am, not tired enough to get back to sleep. I didn’t drink coffee or tea at all for 7 days. I probably looked better. I felt annoyingly cheerful at work. I wondered whether I was a more patient and energetic mum. I stopped feeling like a victim. I sunk into bed with a book and slipped happily off to sleep. Life was about nothing more than doing the mum thing or the work thing to the best of my ability. No aspirations. No projects. No targets. No pressure.

It was easier.

So maybe I should put the novel away for a while. Maybe it doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. Maybe I’ll give myself a break and get some rest. Because maybe the 17-month-old with the diva attitude currently sleeping peacefully in the next room means I am already achieving more every single day than I had ever thought possible.

What Makes You Happy

Someone said to me the other day that her mum knows her better than anyone in the world. It made me think about who knows me best in the whole world. And then it made me question whether anyone knows me that well.

And I came to the conclusion that, actually, I don’t think anyone in the entire world knows the whole of me.

It made me feel two things: sad, and angry, although not at anyone else. Angry at myself.

Now I think about it, I realise I’m a bit of a shape-shifter. Sort of a crowd-pleaser. I have different faces for different people. I actually tell quite a lot of lies.

I’m 29-years-old and I still don’t feel able to be my real true self around anyone. Not the childhood friends I adore. Not the people I work with. Not my family. Not fleeting acquaintances. Not even my mum. I twist and change and omit what I think and feel and like. I play down the things I think are completely awesome or that I am in love with for today. I belittle my own quirks. I make jokes at my own expense. I don’t mention when I’m feeling really sad. I act like the tough guy when really the smallest thing can hurt me. I automatically assume people will judge my interests, or fail to understand my point of view on things that don’t even really matter, and because of that I spend all my time trying to pass off a bland, watered-down version of myself.

The more I think about it I am beginning to wonder – with horror – whether I ever really say what I think or feel to anyone.

No wonder I am not widely popular. I must come across as such a fake. And how awful to realise that about yourself at nearly 30-years-old. If I can’t be myself now, then when? And how am I supposed to set a good example to my daughter when I care far too much about what other people think and willingly paint a false picture of myself to meet their ideals?

I don’t know what I am so afraid of. I don’t know why it matters so much. I certainly don’t know who I am trying to impress and why on earth I’m doing this. I guess I can probably blame the Asperger’s for some/most of it. Maybe if I had attempted at all to grow out of being a teenager at heart then I might feel differently. Maybe if I saw things a bit more like everyone else it might be different. Maybe.

Well today I’ve had enough. I’m cross with myself and I’m sick of the effort of trying to be something I’m not; something I actually have no interest in being. I like who I am. I recognise that I have horrible flaws – I am selfish, and judgemental, and can be pretty mean – but I like the person who emerges when no-one else is around. The person who, it seems, only I really know.

I always thought I didn’t care what other people thought of me. It turns out nothing could be further from the truth.

So what is it that I think others will find so objectionable about the real me? What kind of things are acceptable for a late twenties mummy to think and enjoy?

Well this blog isn’t okay, for a start. Because it’s honest, and probably a little self-indulgent, and I’m consciously trying not to censor myself. I’m actually talking about my feelings. And, surprise surprise, I have only told my very closest friends about it.

What else?

I like boy bands. A lot. Too much. Often obsessionally. Like a teenager. I like pointless catchy pop songs; I like beautiful charismatic boys who set unrealistically high standards for real-life boyfriends. I like the promo and the gossip. I like management approaches and PR strategies. I like the whole damn thing. I spent years being a total music snob. Barely even listening to Radio 1. And then suddenly I was single for the longest time I’ve ever been on my own since I had my first boyfriend at 18, and I started to rediscover all the things that used to make me tick. The novel I’m writing has music as a strong theme so I immersed myself in pop music once more as a kind of research and I began to wonder whether maybe pop music was always what I was best at.

But that’s not to say that the bass solo in Royal Blood’s Figure It Out can’t move me just as much as the way Louis Tomlinson sings “love” in Happily.

Talking of Louis Tomlinson, I watched the new One Direction film at the weekend (because of work, but still) and I got GOOSEBUMPS at certain points. Yeah. Goosebumps. I’m 29-years-old.

I played it off like I was bored half way through when really my mind was stuck on how impossibly and effortlessly cool Zayn Malik looks on stage, and how had I not noticed this before, and now I actually wish I was Zayn a little bit.

None of that’s really okay to talk about, though. I should probably be watching soap operas or something instead.

I painted an impromptu mural on my bedroom wall a while ago. I love it and I’m quietly proud of it, and it’s my bedroom wall after all, but I haven’t posted any photos of it online and when someone sees it in person I jump in with words like “strange” and “bonkers” before they actually have a chance to say what they think.

I don’t have any serious political opinions. I’m not sure how I feel about feminism. But we can have a conversation about Harry Styles’ tattoos if you like.

There are other things. So many other things. They’re not all to do with boys in bands. But I’m a little pre-occupied with One Direction right now to bring them to mind…

That’s not to say there aren’t also some highbrow things about me. I love world cinema, and classical music. I read Chekhov once. (Loads of peasants.) People can be much more than just one thing. We don’t all fit into neat boxes.

When I talk to other mums I don’t know very well, the whole time I’m thinking how to steer the conversation away from laundry and biscuits and find out what they really care about. How do you ask someone what kind of music they listen to and what kind of films they watch and what books they read without it sounding like some kind of abrupt speed-dating question?

I’m going to The Big Reunion Boy Band Tour next week and I won’t mention it at all to half the people I know. With the half I do mention it to I will probably talk about it using my omg-I’m-ironically-talking-like-a-teenager voice or pass it off as “stupid nostalgia”. But, actually, I’m going to be grinning (and probably dancing) like an idiot the whole way through.

I always used to look down on people like me. When I was 17 and chasing around after a boy band I’d sneer at the “older fans” and think what losers they were, because they should be doing proper things with their lives and have serious interests. (Like biscuits and soap operas?) Being the same age or older than the band was a total no-no. (Hah. I’m not even going to think about how much older I am than the One Direction boys.)

I have a proper job and a mortgage and a small child to look after and none of that has stopped me from being a complete boy band loser through and through. Can’t fight it and I don’t want to. Because the thing is that I can just as easily dance around my kitchen at 6am after a sleepless night with the toddler to Walking With Elephants, Shake It Off or Best Song Ever. And if it puts a smile on my face, why the hell shouldn’t I?

Recently I’ve been trying to appreciate other people more. I feel quite strongly that we should be celebrating people who dare to be different or who genuinely don’t worry what people think about them. I can be a bitch, I know. Snarky comments and raised eyebrows. But I’ve got quite good at not vocalising bitchy thoughts; pushing them away, in fact, and replacing them with a “well good for them!” kind of thought instead. Maybe someone wears something rather figure-hugging when they haven’t exactly got a figure to shout about. I wouldn’t dare. But good for them feeling good about themselves. Maybe someone says what they actually think about something on Facebook or Twitter. I rewrite everything at least twice. But good for them not censoring themselves and putting their thoughts out in the public domain.

I will no longer let myself whisper something mean to a friend about these people for a cheap thrill. It’s probably about time I start showing myself the same kindness.

From now on I’m going to try really hard to make sure the every word that comes out of my mouth is representative of how I really feel, no matter what the subject. I’m not going to put myself down to get an easy laugh and I’m not going to trail off half way through trying to explain why something moves me the way it does. One day I might even tell other people about this blog.

After all, does it really matter what makes you happy as long as something does?

But Enough About Me

I was going to do a post about how having a cup of coffee with a couple of mums I don’t really know made me feel weird today, but then I realised that I haven’t yet talked about the Asperger’s thing so it probably wouldn’t make an awful lot of sense. So here’s some talking about the Asperger’s thing.

2014 has been quite the year of self-discovery for me. At the beginning of January I found out that I have Asperger’s (or a generic autistic spectrum “disorder” as it’s so unhelpfully called these days) following a gentle suggestion by my mum after she witnessed me having what can only be described as a complete meltdown over the baby’s first Christmas not being exactly everything society told it me it should be I thought it should be. She’d seen that kind of meltdown before, many times, when I was growing up and as a stroppy teenager, but admitted she’d always just put it down to my general temperament. Ex-boyfriends and one or two of my very closest friends have also seen it over the years they’ve spent with me, probably putting it down to me sometimes being a “challenging” person to be with. And I am only too aware of the horrible darkness that gathers, uninvited, at the edge of my cognisance from time to time, engulfing me and dragging me to a place I don’t want to be and can’t seem to fight my way out of. I suppose I always thought it was some kind of embarrassing involuntary temper tantrum. Or a tendency towards spontaneous depression. God knows what everyone else thought. But seeing how I overreacted to the point of refusing to open my presents or even talk to anyone until about 9pm on Christmas Day – as someone who is now supposed to be a reasonably responsible adult in charge of a small child – made something click for my mum and, having managed to coax me half way out of the black cloud, she gingerly posed the question of whether I might want to look up Asperger’s Syndrome on the Internet.

As soon as I Googled it I knew. Life as I’d come to know it essentially imploded in front of my eyes as I sped through page after page of information. I found this wonderful reassuring website that made more sense to me than anything had ever made. And yet I’d never been more confused in my life.

I can’t really put into words how it felt to suddenly realise that the way you perceive yourself, all the experiences you’ve ever had, and the world around you, is essentially wrong. It was as if everything I thought I knew about myself and my life shifted just slightly to the right. In the weeks after this lightening bolt of realisation I spent evening after evening sitting on my bed devouring websites and blogs, alternating between excitedly shouting “YES! YES THAT’S ME!” at the screen and just sobbing. Huge racking sobs. At how I’d spent so many years struggling to fit in and be “normal” and wondering why, time and time again, I never quite managed to pull it off. Beating myself up over those quirks in my personality that made me awkward and disagreeable for no logical reason. Desperate to be able to handle a social situation like a “normal” person. Just feeling so bloody weird and different all the time and never being able to explain it to anyone. No wonder I was exhausted. I’d spent my whole life convinced I could fit my square peg into that round hole if only I tried hard enough. I have been so hard on myself. So unsupportive of my own foibles. And so difficult to be around! No wonder friends and boyfriends drifted away. My poor family! I was grieving, in a way, for the kind of life that maybe I could have had if I’d known more about myself and embraced it all rather than battling – fruitlessly – against it. Anger at how it turned out that none of it had needed to be that much of a struggle. And then relief, that finally I had some understanding of why, and that so many of my struggles were not actually my fault and maybe things would be easier from now on

Things didn’t turn out quite as I’d hoped, in the end. It felt like every single person I told doubted what I was saying in one way or another. I found myself anxiously justifying why this was a thing to my very closest friends. The next couple of friends I told expressed an initial scepticism along the lines of “I’ve never noticed any of that in you” and I basically left it at that. My dad and step-mum essentially told me not to be so silly, like it was just an attention-seeking fad. Not one of these people know how deeply deeply hurt I still am by their reactions. And I didn’t tell anyone else. Even the people who do know about it don’t ever mention it. My mum is the only person who brings it up in conversation like it’s a normal established part of my life. I don’t know why it has to be like that. It shouldn’t be a secret. I am not ashamed of it. I thought I would be able to tell everyone and they would instantly write off any of the occasions where I had been “weird” in the past and accept me for who I am in a way they hadn’t before. I thought all the problems I’d had at work would be fixed and people would like me more once they knew that certain things about myself I just can’t help. I thought I’d have more confidence overall just to be myself without trying so hard to be like everyone else. But none of that happened. Nothing much changed, other than my own self-awareness. It still makes me sad that other people have made me feel like I have to keep this to myself. But then there’s always the possibility that my perception of all of this is just the Asperger’s talking…

I’m not going to do a master-post on what it feels like to have Asperger’s. This website, and the one I mentioned before, explain the basics better and more comprehensively than I ever could. There is also this article about being “less annoying” at work, which is worth a read if you’re interested. I don’t know where I pulled this from, but somewhere along the way I made a note of this line of text, which I feel sums up a lot of my life so far:

Many people with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome are spending most of their time in your presence doing difficult and tiring things to accommodate you.

Yeah. And we’re exhausted doing it.

To be honest I don’t really know what it feels like to have Asperger’s. For me, at least, it’s a bit like an optical illusion  – if you look at it straight on you can’t see it properly. I’m aware that it’s there, and but having found out about it so late, when I’ve spent so long trying to work around it and developed so many coping strategies in a bid to be ordinary, it’s not clear where my actual personality and character ends and the Asperger’s begins. To look it in the eye would be to attempt to unpick the majority of my muddled 29 years of life. For now it’s enough just to be able to reassure myself that I’m none of the negative things I’ve spent so long thinking I was.

All My Happy Friends

It started a couple of weeks ago. I had that uneasy feeling that it was coming. I made jokes about it to test the water. And then it happened for real and caught me unprepared. And now it’s just one after the other.

These people who had babies at the same time as me are pregnant again.

First it was a local friend. I hadn’t seen her for a while or I would have noticed before. I happened to glance at Facebook one lunchtime at work and was greeted by a scan photo and a billion congratulatory comments. I did a silent impression of a fish and gushed my (actually genuine) congratulations via text message. I did the good friend thing and offered to take her one-year-old off her hands if she ever needed a rest. I stared at that photo several times over the course of that day and my heart sunk a little more each time.

And then, obviously, this morning it was the Duchess of Cambridge. And I’m only exaggerating a little bit when I say I actually wanted to throw myself from my third floor office window. I was already feeling, shall we say, not the best I have ever felt, and that news not so much tipped as shoved me really hard over the edge. I wished I could just shut myself in a dark cupboard and be on my own. I barely spoke to anyone all day.

My daughter is exactly two months older than Prince George. About a month younger than my pregnant friend’s son. Three months older than a close friend’s son. Someone at work had a baby the same week I did. Another went on maternity leave shortly after. I reconnected with a friend I had lost touch with about four years ago after we found out we’d had babies a few months apart. It seemed like 2013 was the year for people I know to reproduce. And now we’ve all passed the milestone first birthday and our babies are toddling about, of course it’s only natural to think about adding to the family. You certainly don’t want to leave it more than another year. What if it takes ages to get pregnant again? It’s lovely, isn’t it? Seeing a happy couple with a toddler and a baby bump between them. Lovely.

Unless you’re an unexpected single mum, who spent years thinking she would have four children, and their names would all begin with M (Mabel, Maeve, Martha and another I can’t remember now), and they’d all giggle their way around Tesco wearing stripy jumpers. (I don’t actually know why the fantasy involved these specific things, but anyway. It did.) Or that mum who found she didn’t necessarily take to motherhood as naturally as she’d expected and had to try to process the slightly crushing realisation that she might not be able to cope with more than one baby. Ever. Or that mum who wonders quite often whether she’s teetering on the edge of late post natal depression or just needs to pull herself together. Or all of those things.

I used to be no different to everyone else: I had the daydreams about the wedding and the happily ever after. Except not a single one of my daydreams came true. Call me bitter but I haven’t yet found a way to come to terms with that. It was already hard enough to see couples being happy with one baby. To feel the grief of not being a little family unit like I pictured. Now, with all these second babies on the way, these mums are doing what I physically cannot do (with no man on the horizon) and mentally may not even be capable of. 

I can’t bear how much that hurts me. I can’t find a way to come to terms with that, either. Maybe it doesn’t make sense for me to be so upset over the wave of second babies when I’m not sure I could cope with another one anyway, but the thing is that I thought I would be able to cope. I thought I would love it. Throw myself into it. Be delightfully domesticated, surrounded by my little brood. All preferably with a ring on my finger, and all those other clichés. I never in a million years thought I would end up on my own with a baby, and never in a billion years thought I would be one of those people who only had one. Every time I see my daughter play with another baby I feel guilty that she most likely won’t have any brothers or sisters. Every time I enjoy spending time with my brother it is tinged with sadness for what I cannot give to her. My own mum – who also didn’t enjoy motherhood all that much – said that the only reason she had another baby after a truly awful experience with me was so that I was not alone. That is literally the most selfless thing I have ever heard, having heard the horror stories of a baby that barely slept for two years and refused to be left with her own father, let alone anyone else. It makes me feel so unspeakably selfish that I do not think I could voluntarily put myself through more than I have already endured with the one baby I do have.

It’s very hard to explain to someone how hearing that someone you don’t even know is pregnant can make you feel sick. These are ugly feelings that do nothing but make me look petulant and childish. I see the expression on the faces of even very close friends when I say something negative about someone’s happy news. But try to imagine how it feels to not only have your dreams snatched from you by someone else, but to realise that you’re not actually the person you thought you were at all – you are much more selfish and much weaker. And then watch everyone around you enjoying all the things you wanted – less selfish and stronger than you are. Getting it all right while you can only look on and wonder how you got everything so wrong.

The media is not going to stop talking about the new royal baby. It’s going to be unbearable. I don’t know how I’m going to cope with it. Or how I’m going to hide the fact that I’m not coping with it from everyone I know. Maybe I should change the name of this blog to The Things I Can’t Say To All My Happy Friends… Because at the moment it seems like it’s just too much to ask to be one of them.

Not A Perfect Mother

Today it occurred to me that I might actually suck a bit at being a mum.

I had no idea motherhood would be like this. I didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like, but I definitely didn’t think it would be like this. For starters, I kind of assumed that, as the grown-up, I’d be in charge. Ha. Ha ha ha *cries* At this stage in the game, the toddler is calling 99% of the shots. Strangely, our opinions on just about everything seem to differ quite dramatically. For example, I would really like her to be able to appreciate the finer points of Tesco from the trolley. Quietly. And to not be afraid of anything bigger than a chicken when I’ve just paid £15 for us to have a nice day out looking at animals. And maybe just recognise that getting dressed in the morning isn’t the same as being tortured.

There are lovely moments. Like the time I came home from a dentist appointment when she had just learned to walk and she staggered over to me as soon as I came through the door and gave me a big hug. (I should probably point out here that Granny was babysitting and I hadn’t just left a one-year-old to fend for herself). Or times when I laugh despite myself. Like today, when she repeatedly ignored my very serious requests for her not to climb the stairs on her own and, once she had finished throwing herself around the floor in protest at being removed from half way up the staircase, she looked at me with those dark defiant eyes, said “no” and did a fake sad face, which felt an awful lot like she was mocking my telling off face. I have endless boring hilarious mum anecdotes which I merrily wheel out at a moment’s notice (sorry, work colleagues), so we must have some good times together.

But sometimes she whinges for 13 hours straight. Sometimes I am angry and stressed for the entire day. Sometimes it seems that I can do nothing right in her eyes. Sometimes she throws her food everywhere on purpose or pulls a plant pot off the windowsill or hits me in the face with a spoon and I shout at her (and then immediately feel like the worst person in the entire world). My house is a tip by 7am every day without fail. I am never on top of the laundry. My entire life revolves around timing the morning nap right. A car journey that takes longer than 20 minutes is pushing my luck. The only time she stays still is when she’s eating. There is literally no way to make her do something that she has decided she doesn’t want to do. The list of things she does want to do is subject to change at any time with no notice or forewarning. If we are in a shop or a cafe or a restaurant the only direction she wants to toddle in is the first door. I cannot have nice things. My hip hurts every time I stand up because 25lbs of toddler insists on being carried as her primary means of getting around when out of the house. I can’t make a phone call unless she’s asleep. I am essentially a slave to her every whim. More than once I have eyed up the bottle of gin at 3pm. And don’t even talk to me about the gardening.

It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting beyond anything you could imagine. It is the most stressful thing in the world when your child is ill or – even worse – “acting a bit off for no obvious reason”. And it can also be depressingly mundane.

I hate the books she loves the most. I don’t want to sing Row Row Row Your Boat 20 times in a row, every single day for a month. Certain CBeebies programmes make me want to smash in the TV screen with a plastic xylophone. Sometimes it’d be nice to be allowed to hold the spoon myself when I’m eating my cereal. And I can’t remember the last time I went to the toilet without an audience, or with the door closed.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m not actively enjoying motherhood a lot of the time, but when everyone around me seems to be enjoying it so much I can’t help feeling that I’m getting it all wrong. I remember talking to another mum at a baby group when I must have been about four months into motherhood, in the midst of a sleep regression where my delightful baby would wake up every single hour of the night without fail. I’ll never forget the way she looked at me when she asked me, so casually, whether I was enjoying it, and I said quite frankly that I wasn’t. It was like she was mentally dialling social services.

This isn’t the mum I thought I’d be. I wanted so badly to be that happy, smiling, lovely mum that takes everything in her stride, managing to combine motherhood with having actual fun with her offspring (as well as looking just generally glamorous). In reality, most often I look forward to going to work just for a break from it all. Adult conversation that I can actually participate in without simultaneously chasing around after/chain-feeding a stroppy child. The opportunity to use my brain? I’d forgotten I had one! A lunch break?! EVERYBODY JUST CALM DOWN. I don’t know if it’s possible to stop giving myself a hard time for not being that perfect mother. I try to remind myself that if we make it to the end of the day and we’re both still alive I must have done something right. But I always feel I should be doing more with her, feeding her better food, teaching her more stuff. She’s so smart – I feel like I’m wasting her intelligence. The weight of being responsible for the well-being of this entire person is terrifying, especially when you don’t have a bloody clue what you’re doing.

I had a bad day today. She was being difficult and I felt like a failure. We clawed our way to the end of the day. And then, as I stood looking at her mutter “piggle piggle” as she watched In The Night Garden before bed and my heart filled up with love, I realised the most important thing: I might have days that end with me lying face down on the bedroom floor in despair and exhaustion as a whingey toddler climbs on me and throws board books at my head, but it doesn’t mean that I adore my precious amazing beautiful little girl any less than those mums that don’t end every trip to Tesco sweating and swearing under their breath. For all my complaining, I know really that I wouldn’t want to live in a world where she wasn’t with me. And that, I think, is the main thing.

Learning To Read Again

I’ve always wanted to be an author. Well, since I was about 8-years-old, anyway. I spent the majority of my teenage years holed up in my bedroom writing boyband fan fiction and by the age of 22 I had completed a – fairly cringey – novel which no-one wanted to publish. And then nothing. For six years. I took too long a break after finishing the first novel and couldn’t find my way back into it. The kinds of things that had inspired me to write in the past still ignited that urge in me, but I didn’t know where to start. I could have produced so much in those years when I had nothing much to do with my time. And I wasted all of it.

So when I found myself looking after a baby every hour of the day (and night) and there was an actual real barrier to being able to write, of course the ideas came flooding through. And, in November last year, once I’d got the baby sleeping through the night, I made a start. I dug out a long, rambling fanfic that I’d been proud of as a teenager, and I decided I was going to finally finish it, 13 years after I originally started it. Just for me. Just as something to get me writing. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t any good. I already knew the characters inside out so didn’t have to suffer that boring character development stage, and I always hated that it had been left unfinished so that was my main motivation. Tidying up the loose ends of my teenage years.

I was incredibly rusty to start with. I immediately wanted to give up on the whole idea and go and do something easier (like eating). But I made myself sit in front of my laptop regardless. Some evenings I only managed to squeeze out a couple of sentences. Other times it was whole pages. I thought about it on long walks with the baby, car journeys and before I fell asleep. I scribbled down extracts and ideas on whatever was to hand, and mapped out key moments on my phone while I sat in car parks waiting for the baby to wake up. And I loved having all that in my head again. I felt like I’d righted one of the great wrongs in my life. Because I’d always thought of myself as a writer; defined myself by it. And in those years when I wasn’t writing there always felt like something was missing. In the end I added more than 30,000 words to it over a couple of months, and I finished it. It’s badly written and melodramatic and horribly teenage-y, but before I’d even got to the end an idea for a proper book had started to grow in my head, and all of a sudden I was a writer once more.

So I’m writing my proper book now. I’ve got all my characters thoroughly developed and the outline of a plot. I’ve got themes and narrative questions. I’m pretty sure I know what I’m trying to say. I’ve got a title and – already – the closing paragraph. I want to get it right; I want this to be something I’m so proud of that I make everyone I’ve ever met read it. But right now I’m eight chapters in and it’s all gone a bit wrong. It’s meandering. The characters aren’t doing what I need them to do to push the story along. I can’t work out whether what I’ve written so far is too drawn out or whether I’m skipping through it too fast. The whole thing has me a bit confused and I feel like I’m going to need to make a lot of lists to sort it out. And I think one of the main problems is that it’s been so long since I’ve read anything other than a badly written boyband autobiography that I no longer have an idea in my head of what good writing looks like. I can’t remember how proper authors write conversation, or portray relationships, or build sub-plots. Reading is just not something I do any more. I fear I don’t have the patience for it. I can’t even sit through a 40-minute TV programme without checking Twitter on my phone. My attention span is somewhere very close to zero.

I’ve forgotten how to read.

I’m sure that part of my dissatisfaction with everything and everyone at the moment stems from the fact that I’m not writing. I’ve just spent six months with these characters I’ve invented and now we’re not talking any more. I got used to having them around. Once more, something is missing. One of the reasons I started this blog was to give me a reason to write something. And I have to say that – much to my surprise – it’s doing a fairly good job in improving my general mood. But I eventually need to get back to my book, and I think the key to that is spending more time reading. I’ve got shelves and shelves of books in the house. I’ve read most of them more than once, but there are more than a handful that I feel a bit ashamed to say I’ve never even opened. So when I’ve finished writing this I’m not going to spend the next hour loitering on social media or watching Netflix. I’m going to bed. With a book. And I’m going to concentrate on what I’m reading. I’m kind of excited by this prospect; of the places these books might take me. I’m going to admit that the book I’m currently half way through is another badly written boyband autobiography, but after that I promise to read something entirely made up. Fingers crossed it jump starts my imagination and gets me writing again.