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 Joel – Hello Toddler! September 6, 2013

Filed under: Joel,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 8:10 pm

My beautiful boy,

Happy birthday! Yes, I know, I’m a few days late. Things have been a little crazy round here.

Let’s start at the beginning. I was really scared of having a boy. I wasn’t sure I’d know what to do with you. How to entertain you. What you’d like. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried. You are the sweetest, happiest, least complicated baby there has ever been. Complete strangers fall in love with you every time we go out. It’s that smile. And that laugh. And those eyes.

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You are such a handsome boy. I know I’m biased, but really. We’re going to need some good chats when you grow up. Otherwise there will be a whole trail of misty-eyed girls following you around. I promise you, it won’t be as fun as it sounds.

I don’t think I was prepared for how much of a “proper little boy” you would be. You would happily spend the entire day climbing up and down stairs, or eating mud in the garden. Nothing makes you happier than following a ball around, or turning a wheel. I can’t tell you what it does to my heart to see a basket of cars, diggers and fire engines in the corner of the lounge. Turns out I love having a boy.

And you love your mama. There is nothing quite like that first smile of the morning. Or your big chubby arms squashed round my neck for a cuddle. The sound of your little voice calling “ma-ma.” Delicious. You were poorly last week. Really poorly. The only thing that got me through the sleep deprivation, the worry and the screaming was knowing that every night, too sad and uncomfortable to sleep by yourself, you would be curled up on me. Your arm across my body and your head nestled in my shoulder, fitting so perfectly that I’m convinced that’s what it was designed for.

It’s a good job you are cute, because my word you’re cheeky. There’s a look in your eye that means nothing but mischief. And we see it a lot. When you climb up the stairs, run straight into the bathroom and turn on the taps in the bath, check that we’re watching, and then cackle with glee. Your laugh is just as dirty as your sister’s.

It is such a joy to watch you with Elvie. You’ve adored her from the minute you were born. Before you could move around, you would follow her everywhere with hero-worshipping eyes. Even when she tipped you out of your bouncy chair, or bit you so hard she left tooth marks. You’ve always been forgiving.

Now that you can walk around, you do it together. Holding hands. Sometimes I think my heart might explode. Yes you pull her hair, and steal her drinks, and throw all her clothes in the bath, but you two are going to be great friends. I can’t wait to watch that develop.

You, my boy, are developing so fast I can hardly keep up. Walking, pointing, eating, playing. It’s all going on. You’ve even started talking. Which is an absolute delight. Just today you learnt three new words – ‘uh oh’, ‘apple’ and, of course, ‘car.’ At lunch time you even tried to copy Elvie’s singing. Seriously, you’re killing me.

It breaks my heart that you’re not, strictly speaking, my little baby anymore. That you’ve officially entered the world of toddlerdom. Let’s be honest, in reality, even when you’re two foot taller than me, you’ll still be my baby. I think it’s best we get that clear now.

Happy birthday my boy. The first of many. Here’s to that, and here’s to you.

I love you. Very very much.

xxxxxxx

 

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.

 

If you go down to the woods today… July 25, 2013

Filed under: Depression,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 7:57 pm

You’d better go in disguise!

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Oh yes, today was the Teddy Bears Picnic. One of the many events that the wonderful people of Reading are putting on for the children over the summer. Say what you like about Reading Council (and believe me, I will) but they do like to keep everyone busy. Which is fine by me.

There was mask making…

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soft play…

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obstacle courses…

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and even the chance to help tidy up.

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Not bad for 50p.

It was a lovely morning, and the children had an absolute riot. We had been looking forward to it all week and, for them at least, it was everything they had hoped. For me, it was a real test of my confidence.

Yesterday we had friends round for the day, and spent hours in the garden chatting. As we talked, the issue of confidence came up. Specifically how becoming a Mummy can strip it away. Before the babies arrived I was fairly confident in myself – I may not have been particularly successful but I knew I was fun to be around. I certainly didn’t second guess the way that I looked after myself or how I ran my life.

When Elvie arrived, all that changed. The desperation to do the right thing by my daughter mingled with all the conflicting advice that I was given, and I doubted myself continually. Would people look down on me if I tried to give her a bottle? Would I spoil her forever if I let her sleep in my bed? How many layers of clothing should she be wearing? Etc etc etc

As time has passed, I’ve grown to trust my instincts. She’s nearly three now and is amazing. I’ve clearly done something right. Joel is only 10 months old and he’s walking and chatting – it would seem that he’s not stunted either. Yet all too often, my confidence takes a massive knock as a result of something so tiny that it seems ridiculous.

I had a schedule for this morning. We would go to the Teddy Bears Picnic, then on to the market and home for lunch. I’d packed some snacks for the children to eat, and it was a perfectly solid plan. Until five minutes after we arrived. When we bumped into a couple of friends from our old side of town.

These friends are the definition of yummy mummys. Driving Audis and wearing Tiffany bracelets, with perfectly dressed children, and actual hairstyles. There’s a reason I never really fitted in. They both have daughters slightly younger than Elvie, and sons slightly younger than Joel. We should be a great fit. We’re not.

I was genuinely happy to see them, for about three minutes. Right up until one of them asked “so, did you move house then?” Umm…yes. Six months ago. To the other side of town. Nice to know we’ve been missed. Then the other said, ” I was showing my daughter her birthday party pictures the other day – she didn’t remember who Elvie was.” Oh. Not only have we not been missed, we’ve been completely forgotten. I wonder what happened to “So nice to see you, it’s been ages.”

We didn’t have much else to talk about. But we stood next to each other for a while, which gave me time to notice that, despite their babies being younger than mine, their bellies were flat. Mine is definitely not. I decided that they would probably go home and tell everyone that I’m pregnant again. If they even remembered that they’d seen us.

That wasn’t the worst of it. I wandered off to help Elvie along a balance beam, and came back to find my friends sitting on a picnic blanket, with a picnic. A real one. Not rusks and breadsticks stuck in the side of the buggy. They had sandwiches and fruit and everything. In that moment, I forgot that my plan for the morning didn’t involve eating lunch at the park. It didn’t matter that my children were having a great time. It didn’t matter that I’d done six days by myself without Wes and that I’m exhausted. I just knew that didn’t match up to these other women, and that I was failing.

I almost left for the market right then. We’d only been there half an hour. Thankfully Elvie chose that moment to pull me over to the mask making. We didn’t go back to see my friends. We didn’t say goodbye to them. We sat behind the buggy to eat our snacks, so that nobody would see how badly prepared I had been. I’d even forgotten their drinks.

The irony is, the children weren’t bothered at all. I doubt my friends meant any harm. They certainly didn’t bring a picnic just to spite me. It was all in my mind.

My mind plays a lot of tricks on me. I’m slowly getting better at noticing – that’s the only reason we stayed. I know that I shouldn’t let my parenting confidence be determined by a chance remark from someone I’ve not seen for six months. That I shouldn’t be so worried if my plan is different to everyone else’s. I love that about my family. I love that my children are not the ones who sit quietly on a mat for hours. I love that they’d rather climb into the Play Rangers van or roll around on the floor of the bandstand. I love that they wear their bear masks upside down. I love that often, we do things just a little bit differently. I need to remember that. Especially when I’m bulldozed by ‘perfect.’

It’s all about confidence. I’m getting there.