Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

Night terrors and trading standards. October 2, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 12:57 pm

There are many parenting phrases that could come to serious blows under the Trades Descriptions Act. ‘Family fun time’ at the swimming pool for instance. Which should actually be known as ‘sitting waist deep in water for an hour while your daughter screams because someone splashed her in the face.’

Morning sickness is another term I take issue with. Apparently midwives have never been under so much pressure – I’m willing to bet that if we called it ’24-hours-a-day-unless-you’re-asleep-sickness,’ the pregnancy rate would drop a little.

Even ‘toddler groups’ are misnamed – giving the impression that they’re put on for the children who attend, rather than the caffeine, sleep and conversation deprived mothers who cling to them for dear life. So much of the language around parenting is softened, or sweetened. As if we’re not quite able to handle the truth.

There are, as always, a few glaring exceptions.

My current favourite: night terrors.

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There’s not a lot of softening or sweetening going on there. Nobody’s getting shielded from that particular brand of nasty. Which leads me to believe that whoever named it had a child who experienced it for themselves. One of the 1-6% of children that are affected. It’s an elite little club. Unfortunately, Elvie has joined it.

In the past, we have come downstairs after dealing with a nightmare, having calmed her back to sleep, and commiserated over her terrible night terrors. Ignorance is bliss. Turns out, nightmares are just nightmares. Unpleasant, and very distressing for Elvie at the time, but nothing compared to this.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to hear your child screaming in her bed, rush in to help her and find a scene from a horror movie. Where she’s screaming your name, but can’t tell that you’re right there in front of her. When she’s dripping with sweat and completely hysterical. Eyes wide open, but looking straight through you. Flinching away if you touch her. And screaming, always screaming. At whatever imaginary threat she’s dealing with on that particular night.

Eventually she’ll stop. Of her own accord. Just stop completely, and pass out in her bed. Occasionally she’ll even open her eyes, smile and ask for a ‘tuck in’, as if nothing has happened. She doesn’t remember any of it. Not in the night, or in the morning. Which is good. I’m pretty sure she’d never go to bed otherwise.

It’s just me that’s completely traumatised by the heartbreaking sound of my daughter screaming for me and pushing me away at the same time. By the knowledge that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop it. And, as happened last night, by a terrified screaming baby who had been rudely awakened by his sister and decided to take all his fear and anger out on me.

Initially I thought she was just having a really bad dream. Anyone would. But now, after four separate episodes, I’m beginning to realise that this is actually ‘a thing.’ Late-night googling has confirmed it. She’s absolutely textbook. The eyes-open, not seeing. The sweating, The screaming. The sitting up and shouting. The not wanting to be touched. The suddenly going back off to sleep again. We’re in the land of night terrors and, even when it’s only once a fortnight, it’s not much fun.

The internet informs me that there’s a strong genetic link between night terrors and other sleep disorders. As usual, it’s probably my fault. Although I never had night terrors as such, I was a definite sleepwalker as a child – I’ve grown up listening to stories of the times I would wander, eyes wide open, into my parents room “looking for the light.”. During my student years there was one morning when I woke up wearing a different set of clothes than the ones I’d gone to bed in. I hadn’t even been drinking.

It would seem that there’s nothing we can do. Other than turn on the light, talk reassuringly, make sure she doesn’t fall out of bed, and wait for the storm to pass. Which is awful. I like to have a plan. Something I can do. Some way I can make it better. Waiting it out doesn’t feel very proactive. But it’s all I can do.

Apparently she’ll grow out of it as she gets older. Which is a relief. Until then, we’ll just have to deal with them as they happen. It won’t make a funny story, but at least I’ll be able to tell her I was there with her. Even when she couldn’t tell.

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Letter to Elvie – Now you are 3! August 8, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:27 pm

My darling girl,

Happy Birthday – 3 years old today! Not that you know it yet. We’re saving the celebrations until Saturday, when Daddy gets home from Birmingham. I don’t think you’ll notice. Or mind. You certainly didn’t last year.

I wanted to let you know how incredible we think you are. This year has been hard on you. Since your last birthday you’ve had to deal with a new brother, a new house, new friends, and a Mummy with depression. There was definitely a time when you lost your spark. That beautiful, inexplicable joy that makes you who you are. You’ve struggled, and that’s ok. We all have. It’s been a hard twelve months. But you have done so well. Amazingly well. And I look at you now, so grown up and beautiful and full of mischief and I know that I have my little girl back. Older, wiser and a little bit less naive. But back, and bonkers. I love it.

There are so many things that I love about you. Your imagination being one of them. There are times when I wish I wasn’t called to your bed in the middle of the night to sort out “teenagers on your pillow” or “pebbles with teeth”. Sometimes even you can’t control it. But in the daytime, it is the source of endless joy. To hear you playing, or be invited to take part in your latest imaginary scenario is an indescribable privilege. Every character has a back story, and every tale you’ve ever heard makes its way back into your games. Yesterday you spent the day carrying around a beaker of squash, which you called ‘baby Clara’. You even pushed it down the road in your buggy. I wish I could record everything you say, just for one day. In twenty years time you’ll be, to use your own word, “astonished.”

You are so determined to be your own person. I love that. There’s no changing your mind once you’ve made a decision. Except, occasionally, if we offer you sweets. You’re fairly powerless against that tactic. But for the most part you set your course and you steer it by yourself, regardless of anyone else’s opinion. Or health and safety. At the moment, the only place you want to read your books is perched on top of the cupboard, having climbed up on your Duplo box to get there. This afternoon, on the roundabout in town, you moved from the motorbike to the pirate ship to the bus. While the ride was moving. In spite of the shouts from me, and the lady in charge.

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You’re unstoppable. I really hope that lasts. That you’ll be strong enough to resist the temptations of peer pressure when you get older.

I love your exuberance. There’s no other word for it. The part of you that throws off all your clothes as soon as you see a paddling pool. Wherever you are. That sticks two fingers up at social norms and runs around with no shoes on. Just like your Daddy.

I could watch you dance all day; the joy on your face as you give in to the music – be it real or in your head – and spin around like a whirlwind. Nothing makes me happier than to see you running in the park or in the garden. Singing and throwing your arms around. That’s what makes you really come alive.

That and your drawing. When you grow up, you want to be an artist. You’re in with a good shout. As our eldest, you’re our measuring stick – if you’re drawing fully fledged people, with hair and crowns and outfits and shoes and handbags, holding hands and driving buses, then we assume it’s normal. Turns out it’s not. You’re exceptional. We’re saving every drawing you do. We joke that it’s our retirement plan, and that we’ll auction them all off when you’re a famous artist. Really, we want to show you how much we value your skills and your passions. One day we’ll show you the boxes of childhood drawings sitting in the loft. And hopefully you’ll realise that we’re behind you. Every step of the way. Whatever your dreams.

You are a dreamer. That’s for sure. You’d happily spend all day with your head in a book, creating new stories for the characters that you know and love. Your brain wanders off to some incredible places, and always comes back with questions…”why do whales float?,” “why can’t I see God?,” “how will I discover if there is no world?” I’ve had to resort to Google more than once. Who knew our eyebrows were designed to keep the rain out of our eyes! You keep us on our toes, all day everyday. It’s exhausting, but it’s wonderful. When I was pregnant with you, I told Grandma that I didn’t want a boring baby – I wanted someone with character. You are that. And more. Several times a day I just stand back and look at you – amazed by the amount of character and wisdom and humour packed into your little three year old face.

You have a gorgeous face. Stunning. People stop me in the street to tell me how beautiful you are. I hope you know that. I plan to tell you every day. I know people say that I shouldn’t talk about it. That I should pretend the whole beauty thing doesn’t exist. But clearly, it already exists for you. So we’ll take it one step at a time, together.

Because you are beautiful. Inside and out. And I’m so proud to be your mama.

Happy birthday baby girl.

xxxxxx

 

Tonight… August 6, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 6:57 pm

is the kind of night that needs to be guarded. A rare chance for Wes and I to sit down and chat. The last few weeks have been hectic, and the next few look no different. This is our tiny moment of peace. And with that in mind, the post I promised about the christening / baptism / screaming children with wet heads will need to wait until tomorrow. It will be worth it.

In return for your patience, I’ll give you a window into our day today…one which could only be described as ‘mixed’. We started picking blackberries, in the sunshine, by the park. Summertime sibling bliss. Note the berry stained trousers. And the cute baby smile. And the helpful big sister pushing the swing, even if she did insist on referring to her brother as “baby Clara.”

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Then this happened.

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And this.

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He didn’t put those stickers there himself. As I said, ‘mixed’.

We’ll deal with the christening tomorrow. For tonight, I leave you with our quote of the day, after I made the mistake of asking Elvie what she would like for her birthday. Her reponse…

“A real moving chicken that I can twist around and take for walks…or a flamingo.”

Her birthday is on Thursday. Wish me luck.

 

Not-So-Great Expectations August 1, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:21 pm

Expectations are tricky old beasts. Unfortunately, mine tend to be rather high. It’s my imagination that’s the problem. Wes has learnt the hard way not to promise me a surprise. Even five minutes warning is more than enough for my brain to skip twelve miles ahead and plan a candlelit picnic with wine and roses and an amazing gift that I once admired in passing. When in reality, he’s bought me a copy of Time Out from his day in London. Which is lovely. Or it would have been if my expectations weren’t in overdrive. Poor man.

He’s learning to play me at my own game. On my twenty-ninth birthday he convinced me that he’d barely remembered I existed. And then whisked me off to The Fat Duck for lunch. Serious brownie points! Or rather, ‘jam tarts hidden inside chocolate playing cards’ points. Unbelievable.

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At the moment I feel like I’m fighting my expectations every day. And so are the rest of my poor long-suffering family. I’ve been a mummy for almost three years now, but there’s a huge part of me that expects my life to be the same as it was in ‘the old days’. I get frustrated every time I get woken up early. Or when I don’t get time to myself. Or when tiny people demand my attention on a constant basis.

I am usually ‘blessed’ with the ability to forget. If a shopfront changes, I can’t tell you what it used to be. I’m the embodiment of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ One day I came home to find Wes looking very pleased with himself. After a while the look was wearing thin. Eventually he cracked; “Have you really not noticed?” Turns out he’d taken a door out of the lounge. An actual door. I hadn’t noticed at all. It wasn’t there anymore, so as far as I was concerned, it may as well have never existed.

And yet somehow, I’ve not managed to forget my ‘previous life’. Not even slightly. It sounds like a small thing. In reality, it affects my expectations of every single day. And means that I get incredibly frustrated.

So I’m trying. Last week, while Wes was away, Joel was in a bad sleeping pattern. Waking up at five every morning, thanks to a combination of the heat, early sunrise and the disorientation of our weekend away. I knew that it would drive me mad. Unless I adjusted my expectations. So I did. I went to bed every night, expecting to be woken up at five. I went to bed early so that I got enough sleep. And when he was up at five in the morning, it didn’t come as a surprise. When he slept until quarter to six, I felt like I’d had a lie-in. And the time they both slept until seven? It may as well have been my birthday.

It worked. So I’m adopting a new policy. I’ve used all my creative brilliance to call it ‘Low Expections.’ Of me, of Wes and of the children. Not because I think badly of any of us. Because I need to hold on to my sanity. I know that my house is going to be messy. I know that I won’t be cooking gourmet meals for a few years. I know that my children are tiny, and they’re not always going to listen. If I stop expecting all these things to happen, a huge weight will be taken off my shoulders. Goodness knows they could do with a lift.

The fun part is that when your expectations are low, it’s much easier for them to be surpassed. As I’ve discovered today.

Sometimes they’re surpassed in a good way. Friends dropping in for dinner. Elvie sitting on my lap for half an hour putting all the stickers from her CBeebies magazine exactly where they’re supposed to go. Joel going to sleep so easily that I had to check on him to make sure he was alright.

And sometimes it’s the opposite. Joel displaying his incredible wilfulness when I take away the toys he’s trying to eat. Elvie sticking gaffer tape to my forehead when I doze off on the sofa – and then ripping it off to wake me up. Cleaning up the mess after she’s taken off her pull-ups to wee on her pillow at bedtime. It’s possible that the definition of a mother is someone who can say “Thank goodness it was just a wee on the pillow.”. With no sarcasm at all.

I don’t want to let go of my expectations completely. I will always want the best for my children and my family, and I will always expect the best from them. I’ll always want to push myself as far as I can. For now, I need to dial it down. Set my expectations to ‘low’. I’m hoping that this way, occasionally, there might be a few surprises. Good ones.

 

Guilt and muddling through. July 30, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Elvie,Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 10:09 pm

Today has been tricky. Elvie has had ‘one-of-those-days,’ where she doesn’t listen to anything and ends up in a screaming heap on the floor. I feel guilty for over-reacting and making it all worse. Even though I promised I wouldn’t. Joel kept me awake for hours last night with his teething fever, and I’m shattered. I wasn’t even with him – Wes slept in the nursery, but there are no walls thick enough to stop the sound of those lungs. I feel guilty that Wes had a terrible night. And I feel guilty for being short-tempered with Joel, when it’s not his fault that he’s in pain. It’s not my fault either, but that’s another story.

I feel guilty a lot at the moment. It’s a vicious circle. The more exhausted I am, the more stressed out I get. The more stressed out I get, the more I react badly. And then the guilt. Which leads to more stress, more bad reactions, and more guilt. Like I said, I feel guilty a lot. I’m in the middle of my second course of CBT, so I’m familiar with the idea of breaking cycles. Doesn’t make it any easier.

Mostly because, in order to break my particular cycle, I need more energy. Which is hard when a) you’re depressed and b) you have small children. You see my problem.

Instead, I’m dealing with the guilt. I’ve been trying to recognise it. To notice the triggers, in the hope of understanding it a bit better. All too often I find myself muddling through, or going with the flow. Then before I know it, my emotions are out of hand, and so are my children.

This evening I reached the conclusion that all the muddling through is at the root of my problem. I make impulsive decisions and then I have to deal with the consequences. Much to the frustration of my research-heavy husband. I’m very easily influenced. If a friend gives up the internet, I immediately feel convicted to do the same. If I’ve been watching Masterchef, then I’m convinced that my future is in the culinary arts. I’ve never had a job that lasted longer than a year. Unless you count parenting.

I am much flakier than I thought.

There are moments when I have sat down, carefully considered my life, and made decisions based on what was absolutely the best thing for me to do. I can count them on one hand.

Refusing to be another statistic for my all-girls grammar school, and choosing unpaid kids work in Manchester over a degree from Oxford or Cambridge.

Going against all the academic advice I’d ever been given and applying to drama school. Getting in.

Heading off for a month in the depths of the jungle with a spanish-speaking tribe for a second-year outreach project.

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Getting married.

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Choosing to have my babies baptised rather than dedicated.

I don’t feel guilty about any of that.

For the vast majority of the time I’m swayed by other people’s opinions, the urge to keep everybody happy, or whatever will be least hassle right now. It does save time, and occasionally energy. It certainly saves brainpower. But it means that I don’t stop to think. The job may have just fallen into my lap, but is it actually the right one? Everyone else is signing themselves up for the toddler group trip, but do I actually want to go? That article said that there is only one way to raise your child, but do I actually agree? Reading parenting strategies on the internet without ever sitting down to consider your own position will always make you feel guilty.

It’s possible that my guilt is not irrational. It’s possible that actually, I genuinely do feel guilty. But not for the reasons that I suspected. It’s possible that I feel guilty because I’m neglecting myself, and my ideas and my beliefs. Everything that makes me who I am. That I’m not actually investing in anything anymore. I’m not trying. It’s possible that I’ve done this for so long that I’m not sure what has been my own choice and what I’ve just fallen into.

Confidence has never been my strong point. Not for the last twenty-five years at least. But I’m so fed up of this guilt and this shouting. I need to get some confidence in my own opinions. Whatever they may be. I need to make decisions – good ones – to be honest, any at all.  To stop drifting along down the river of ‘oh well, let’s just.’ I’m pretty sure it’s a dead end.

There will, undoubtedly, be some bad decisions. Maybe even some spectacularly bad ones. And there will be events that I have no decision in. I certainly can’t stop a baby from teething. But at least I will have considered things. I will have thought. I may even make a plan. And I will have tried. It’s hard to feel guilty about that.

 

Elvie – A Birth Story July 24, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:35 pm

In honour of Prince George – here’s the story of Elvie’s birth. As promised yesterday. It’s a good one.

Elvie is my eldest. My very first baby. So, as you would imagine, I had spent most of my pregnancy researching birth and labour. Alternating between terror and a naive confidence in the power of aromatherapy. I had my birth plan written and was going to stick to it. My baby would be born at home, using only a TENS machine. I had planned a water birth, until we put up the pool and realised that there was no space left in the lounge. At all.

I was certain that she would arrive on time. Maybe even early. The due date came and went. So did a few more days. And a few more. I was heavy and frustrated and bored.

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I tried long walks in the forest, a stretch-and-sweep, clary sage oil, curry and raspberry leaf tea. She did not want to shift. In the end I was given a date for induction. That did it.

I woke up at 4am, with strange waves of cramps. Coming at regular intervals. Not too close together, but regular, nonetheless. It’s a source of some amusement in our house that I spent the next four hours monitoring my contractions by myself, despite the fact that Wes was sleeping next to me. When he woke up at 8, I informed him that we were going to have a baby that day. I was almost right.

We were pretty calm. All things considered. We told the midwives. They told us to call them back later. We got up, got dressed, ate a little bit of something and sat down to watch the West Wing. As you do. A few hours later, when Mum pointed out that my contractions were stopping me mid-sentence, we called the hospital again. I had the TENS machine on – using as low a setting as possible. Pacing myself. Sensible.

When the midwives arrived, they did one of their lovely examinations. They said I was doing well. And had some coffee. They left me to it, just as I had asked them. Eventually I was beside myself with pain and completely exhausted from rocking on my hands and knees. Obviously I didn’t want the gas and air though. That stuff is for wimps. Ha.

Hours later, I had learnt the following: Having a baby is really hard work. Aromatherapy is more likely to make you swear than ease your pain. ‘Transition’ is hell.

I was still progressing nicely. All the examinations were telling them that. Until my waters broke. Or rather, exploded. Even in the middle of my zoned-out labouring, I jumped out of my skin when they went. Never knowingly underdramatic. It was about that time that the midwives jumped to attention.

They had, for some time, been making noises about taking me in to hospital. Apparently. I couldn’t hear a thing. Then there was meconium in my waters. Elvie had already done a poo. Which could mean that she was struggling. Being at home was no longer an option. Time does funny things when you’re in labour, and I swear that the second the midwife told me I needed to go to hospital, the ambulance was at the door. No wait at all.

Wes grabbed the hospital bag. I threw on a dressing gown. I hobbled my way to the ambulance and climbed in. Being forced to lie on a bed when you’re in full-blown labour is not fun. Especially not when the bed is moving. Or when the equipment falls off the walls when you turn a corner. Or when the paramedic insists on calling you Sebastian. Or when the French ambulance driver pulls out of your road and asks “so, wheres’s the hospital?” He wasn’t joking. You can’t make this stuff up.

They took me through the wrong doors and onto the wrong floor of the hospital. It didn’t come as any surprise to discover that all the stress, and all the shock of my sudden change of plan, all added to my slight phobia of hospitals in general, had slowed my labour right down. They put me on a drip to speed things up.

By this point, I was shattered. It was 7pm. I’d been in labour for 15 hours. And I knew from my research that the contractions the drip brought on would be worse than the regular ones. I had run out of energy, and motivation. I wasn’t sure that this baby would ever arrive. At this point I threw away my birth plan and begged them for an epidural. They said yes.

Getting the epidural is tricky. I had to perch on the edge of the bed, in the full throes of labour, and stay absolutely still while an enormous needle went into my back. I saw one recently on ‘One Born Every Minute’ and nearly passed out. Thank goodness I had no idea at the time. That said, I was fully prepared to marry the anaesthetist. The relief was incredible. I had a couple of hours of absolute peace while the contractions did their work without me. I could see my stomach tightening but I couldn’t feel a thing.

Then they let it wear off so that I could push. That was kind. Problem was, I couldn’t move from the waist down. I ended up with my feet in stirrups, pushing against gravity and doing all the things they tell you not to do at antenatal class. I vividly remember the brilliant military-sergeant style midwife standing at the foot of my bed, telling me “there’s a reason they call it labour my pet.” She wasn’t wrong!

Pushing is hard work. Especially when you can’t really feel what you’re doing. A fire alarm is not what you want. They decided we needed to move rooms, for safety. And wheeled me down the corridor in full view of everyone, drip and all, pushing away on the bed. Dignified it was not. I spent another hour pushing as hard as I could and, fire alarm over, they decided we should move back to the original room. Back down the corridor. Apparently the second room didn’t have the right equipment. Friends of ours lovingly refer to it as “that time they tried to make you give birth in a cupboard.” One of the midwives told us afterwards that it was a good job the fire hadn’t been serious – they’d taken us to the wrong end of the corridor and we would have been completely stuck. Thank goodness they had a trial run with us.

It was at this point that the midwife asked Mum to join us. Wes was fuming over all the changes and moving about. I think they presumed he wouldn’t hurt anyone if his mother-in-law was watching. Either way, it was good to have her there.

This fire alarm had slowed things down again. There were midwives coming in and out. A lot. Including one amazing, no-nonsense midwife with an eyepatch. Even in my state, I could see the funny side of a pirate midwife. Drugs are kind like that.

People started talking about doctors and cutting and all sorts. That was it. The stubborn in me won out. A few minutes later she arrived. There was a tear, and a lot of stitches, and so much gas and air that I couldn’t hold my head up. But she was here.

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It was 1.04am – the following day. But she was here. All 9lbs 2oz of her. And she was beautiful. Perfect. And beautiful. There are no words for those moments.

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I was a Mummy. I had my baby girl.

Nothing else mattered. Not the pirates or the drugs or the ambulance drivers or the shot-to-pieces birth plan. She was enough. More than enough. She was everything. Some things never change.

 

Letting go – and also, well done Kate! July 22, 2013

Filed under: Elvie,Nursery,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 7:41 pm

Let’s deal with the royal baby first shall we? I’m a sucker for babies, and am incapable of watching a birth on television without a little tear. Which is impressive for someone who used to be famous for having no emotions whatsoever. So I’m looking forward to the pictures as much as the next person…unless the next person happens to be Carole Middleton. She might just edge it.

Obviously I’m thinking of Kate, and hoping that everything goes as smoothly as it can. (Sometimes it goes smoothly, right?) Mostly, I’m impressed by the royal family’s dedication to providing an event of national signifiance during every year of Elvie’s life. First there was the wedding…

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then there was the jubilee…

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and now the royal baby.

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We’ve gotten more use than I expected out of that flag.

It’s enough to make you come over all patriotic. I briefly considered making something red,white and blue for dinner. (Then I remembered that it would just be me and two under-threes who don’t care at all. We had curry.)

The world and his wife will be giving advice to poor old Kate over the next few weeks (months?/years?) I’m not sure that I have anything worthwhile to add. All I would say is, keep your eyes peeled, because those milestones creep up fast.

This morning was Elvie’s trial session at nursery. As of September, she’ll be there five afternoons a week. Which means I’ll have 15 hours a week one-on-one time with Joel…admittedly, I’m hoping he’ll have a post-lunch nap. We’ve been going to ‘nursery club’ for a few weeks now – she’s met some of the children who’ll be there with her, and chatted to several of the teachers. But that was at the Children’s Centre – which is her second home. Today was her first visit to ‘proper nursery’. I’ve been crossing my fingers for weeks that it would go well.

And it did. She loved it. She was out of sight within minutes – beside herself with excitement at the trikes and slides and sand pits and buggies and space. She wasn’t bothered at all when the older children came out to the playground. She had a litlte wobble when I went off to the parents meeting, but by the time I returned she was tearing around, hitching lifts on the back of other children’s bikes.

I knew she would love it. I’ve always known. She’s wildly independent, very happy in her own company and not normally worried about new places or strangers. She’s bored of being at home with me and the brother, and needs more stimulation than I can give her. She’s talked of nothing but nursery since she found out it existed, and has been trying to persuade me that she is already “a grown up girl” so that she can start earlier. I’m sure there will be a few bumps along the road – especially when she realises that she has to go every day. Or that not everybody wants to be her friend. Or that she’ll actually need to do as she’s told. That could be tricky.

Today was a formality for Elvie – with some great toys and a carton of milk thrown in for good measure. It was a bigger deal for me. I’d always known that I wanted my children to go to nursery and school and have a ‘normal’ childhood. Until Elvie was born. At that moment I knew that nobody else would ever look after my babies. I wasn’t going to let them out of my sight. I wasn’t going back to work. I told Wes that I had decided to homeschool.

He has a great look that he saves for just such occasions. It’s a very kind look, usually accompanied by an “ok darling”. It sounds like agreement. This is deceptive. What it actually means is “this is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, but I’m just going to sit back and let you figure that out for yourself.” He’s used it a few times over the last seven years.

I was determined. I looked up homeschooling on the internet. I looked on Pinterest for cute project ideas. I checked that it was all legal. I had visions of our kitchen as a schoolroom – with the children sitting sweetly and working on their lessons. Elvie would be wearing a gingham dress. And pigtails.

The problem was – none of this homeschooling plan was about Elvie, or Joel. It was about me. I was terrified of letting them go. Letting them out of my sight. Letting someone else look after them. I was nervous of them meeting ‘undesirable children’ and coming out with choice words at dinnertime. Or that they would be taught things that I didn’t agree with. I didn’t want them to think I was abandoning them.

I’m sure most mums sending their children to nursery for the first time feel the same. There’s a reason for all those tears in the playground. But honestly, that was a tiny part of my homeschooling motivation. Truth is, I just wanted to be the best. I wanted people to be stunned by how brilliant my children were, and how it was all my doing. I wanted to nail the homeschooling, self-sufficient, hippie-chic lifestyle. I wanted to be great at something. And I wanted people to be jealous.

It’s been a long time since I felt like I was great at something. At school, I may not have been the most popular, the sportiest or the prettiest, but I got good grades. I knew that I was achieving, and that I was doing well. Since then, success has been harder to define. I left school twelve years ago. That’s a long time to spend feeling as though you’re muddling through.

I found my feet for a while at Central but, while my classmates are now actors, directors, writers, teachers and magicians, I’m changing nappies and singing nursery rhymes. There’s no interesting answer to “so, what are you up to now?” I figured homeschooling would help. I’d have a purpose. I’d be a bit wacky. At least it would sound like I was doing something. And, when my children turned out to be world changers and artistic legends, I’d be a hero.

People homeschool for great reasons, and I stand amazed by them. I know for sure that it would have killed us. But  still I dream of the schoolroom kitchen and the homemade pasta and the shiny, perfect, awe-inspiring family. Turns out it’s not only Elvie that I need to let go of. Motherhood is not a competition – at least not one that anyone can win.

Perhaps that’s my advice for the Duchess.