Tales & images from life as me…

Archive for June, 2014

Facebook Dysmorphia

This should really be called Facebook Like And Compare Identity Dysmorphia – or F.L.A.C.I.D. Yes, I think that works. It certainly sums up the miserable impotence of this phenomenon!

The problem is, just as alcoholism, violence or drugs in a parent often generates similarly damaged children, with the FLACID syndrome we find we are both impacted by others’ behaviour and succumb to it ourselves. And I have discovered that it can be most dangerous amongst new mums, though I think it works on everyone.

What am I talking about?… the smug-posts. The stunning pictures of people having an amazing happy time in their perfect lives. Lives that simply aren’t like mine! Lives that make me feel I must be getting it all wrong.

“Hooray little Joey slept through the night!” Whaaaat? How? Why? Why not me?

Scroll down to sunny shot of family with new baby on the beach – really? They survived the flight with a 3 month old? How did they afford that? Did she have a personal trainer to get her figure back that fast?!

Scroll down to people in bar clinking glasses and smiling in a selfie. Everyone else is out having fun and partying while I’m home being puked on! Great.

You get the idea. I’m not a jealous kind of person but you sure start to sound kinda green eyed. This doesn’t bring out the best in you, particularly when you’re sleep deprived and it’s 3am and you’re scrolling through Facebook as you feed your baby.

But… those Joneses must be kept up with it seems because what did I do when baby was born? Er announced it on Facebook with a super cute pic – obv! And could I resist posting a little shot of baby K on a plane to Rome? Nope!

The fact is, having lived all over the place it’s hard to keep up with all the people I’d like to and this provides a convenient catch-all, so news of the engagement, wedding, baby etc did sort of need to be shared. But I do admit I like the ‘likes’ and I love the comments and who doesn’t want everyone else’s approval? I used to love posting news of my latest safari adventures or updates on which article had just been published. These days I try a little harder to curb my content though.

The thing I’ve realised recently is that there is Facebook and then there is reality. No one is actually living the perfect existence they present on Facebook. I mean obviously I knew that, it’s just that it’s easy to buy into it all in moments of weakness. It was a friend’s little tale of strawberry picking mayhem that really brought it home to me though… She had posted a stunning sunny shot of her blonde boy reaching for a giant ripe ruby red strawberry and it honestly looked idyllic. But the truth behind the image? Well that same little angel got bored in ten minutes, had a tantrum whilst his baby sister pooed all over herself. Mummy marched them all back to the car only to realise she had dropped her keys somewhere in the enormous field of strawberries and also that she’d left her wallet at home and couldn’t pay for the few strawberries they had collected anyway! Now that sounds more like it!

Not too long ago I posted more of a ‘reality’ post that mentioned the misery of a walk I’d taken. While everyone else had been enjoying the sunshine, I had attempted to get my screaming baby and two wayward dogs out of the house. I had ended up with the aforementioned screaming baby mounted on my chest; dogs dragging me across a field; enormous stinky poos in mandatory poo bags (a metaphor for life in some sense – carrying ‘shit’ around with you really stinks up your day …or something!?); and to top it all off copious amounts of vomit down my front. I posted about my misery… and the response was overwhelming. 20 comments and countless likes! I rarely get that many responses to my entire blog write up! Perhaps everyone else is feeling the same, I realised. Not necessarily specifically about walking with dogs and a baby, but about the need to share some of life’s crap! I don’t mean ‘I baked a cake’ sort of crap, I mean the shared experiences or the gone-wrongs – the kind of stuff that provides material for the observational comics. Let’s face it human nature isn’t that nice – we can all get on board and be supportive when something is truly rubbish, but sharing in other people’s happiness is a whole heap more difficult.

On the other hand, writers [are supposed to] have a philosophy about this (I think partly because they’re known for suffering a spot of envy at others’ success!). The fact is that since no one else can write the way you can, have the ideas you have, combine words and sentences the way you would, you are completely unique. There are as many slots for success as there are great writers theoretically. Or at the very least one writer being published doesn’t make it one person less likely that you will be published. With this in mind it’s far better to be pleased for others, build networks of contacts and enjoy learning for each other. For some reason I have found this really easy to adopt and have enjoyed helping others and feeling ok about asking for help myself – spread the positivity. Right?

And there’s a second writing theory that applies here – or will once I’ve explained my thinking. You see a writer is generally attempting to reach a mass audience and in doing so automatically fails since no two people think or feel or experience the same things. The audience is made up of individuals each having their own day, week, life. So what can we do to draw them together? Find the commonalities. We all know what it’s like to have a terrible day, or to struggle with a new role, many of us know what it is to want to put our children on ebay (just momentarily of course!) – and strangely we remember the sting of these difficult moments far longer than the glow of the parts that are closer to the perfection we think we seek. These are the threads that hold us all together.

Yup. So now I think it’s time to apply these two theories to our Facebook lives… First to be more positive about celebrating others’ successes and second to throw in some reality checks! So this is my appeal – people post your happiness as much as you like, let’s spread it far and wide and share in each other’s fabulousness, but let’s include some reality posts too and have a good laugh sharing some of the really crappy things in life. Examples from the past week of my life would include having to leave a christening early because I was covered in milk; a bottle of fake tan exploding all over my [rented] bathroom – I mean ceiling to floor; and finally fitting into a pair of old favourite skinny jeans only to find I had a builders bum exposed for the entire day! Hope you’re all feeling better 🙂


Baby Giggles

Hi everyone, sorry I’ve been quiet for a while – I’ve been working on a project that, quite literally, shits all over the poo diaries: A tiny human being who can out-poo an elephant after a curry! In fact I have a whole new set of poo stories for the diaries collection (or should I say diarrhea collection?!); from the vibrant green variety to the korma style yellow stuff that comes out with such force that it reaches his armpits (no exaggeration) and can be projectile across rooms. Yup, my little man arrived and I guess you could say it really did ‘hit the fan’!

Life has gone from being paid to write about safaris, taking wildlife photographs in the bush and – right at the end – interviewing Bono’s wife and her fashion designers about their interest in TZ jewelry company URU, to… being puked on at least 17 times a day, battling with naps (for him, not me, oh no, definitely not me!), putting on 5 washes a day and occasionally attending a mum and babies fitness class in a futile attempt to shed the big belly I now have. Oh and lots of poo, of course. The shine has gone, there isn’t much glamor in my new arrangement. But just last week we reached the three month mark and he laughed for the first time and I can honestly say it’s the best sound I’ve ever heard in my life (and I consider that I’ve heard some pretty great sounds – lions roaring across an African night, rugby scrums as they engage, the ocean lapping at the shore, I could go on…).

It got me thinking… about perspective, distance, and having a sense of humour. I mean I’ve been in some fairly ridiculous situations since having a baby. At the time I may have cried or allowed my stress levels to bounce off the ozone layer, but looking back, what amazing material for stories to share.

So in the spirit of laughter – and because he’s sleeping (little hands at right angles either side of his head like a pea on a fork!) and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write anything at all since he was born – let me share a few of my experiences as I’ve begun my 18 year training programme in becoming a mum!

I definitely have to start with breast feeding – hmm not all it’s cracked up to be as a natural and simple solution to feeding your baby. They don’t warn you about the pain (for ‘pain’ read ‘agony’) of cracked nipples, the weird sensation of ‘let down’ or the embarrassment of high pressure leakage! That’s definitely caused some humour.

Early on I had managed to drag myself – on time – to one of the many doctor appointments you are expected (by some miracle) to attend after you have a baby. I was so proud of myself for making it but realised that the timing coincided with the need to feed him. I mentioned it to the receptionist. “If you’re happy to feed here then that’s fine,” she smiled and turned away. Hmm… in reception… with other people. I looked about despondently for a chair that offered some slight privacy. Luckily the other receptionist sensed my dis-ease (not my disease!) and rescued me: “there’s an empty office just there, you could use that if you like.” I smiled with relief,moved into the empty room and settled down to feed him, but for some reason the little blighter just wouldn’t latch on. Milk fired across the room like machine gun ammo, spattering the papers on the desk, the back of the leather chair and my little boy’s face just for good measure!

I managed to stealthily remove a couple of top sheets that were just blank headed paper whilst thanking my lucky stars for baby wipes and the fact that I hadn’t been in reception. There, the milk explosion would have resulted in a much more embarrassing moment as innocent sick people were sprayed in the face!

If I thought that was awkward it was nothing compared to my more recent experience. I was preparing for baby K’s christening and feeling thoroughly exhausted, pale and unattractive when my in-laws came to the rescue with a spray tan and babysitting combo. What a treat! Except…

Since this was my first spray tan I was briefed about getting undressed and putting on the disposable pants (fond memories of post-natal joy!). I was standing ready for the beautician to come in and spray me when my thoughts turned to when baby K might need feeding again. This is dangerous when you’re breast feeding, it triggers the milk. Just at the moment the beautician entered in her perfect, light pink top, I began to spurt milk like a crazed cartoon character! And she thought she’d be the one doing the spraying!

She was very kind about it, being a mum herself, and in the end I got tanned wearing my bra! All good, right? Nope!

In my embarrassment, I attempted to get dressed and leave quickly once I was done, throwing my jeans on and making for the door. I had forgotten about the dreaded string knickers… Just as I reached reception my actual pants (large lacy numbers that should not be seen in public and you only wear post birth!) emerged from the bottom of my trouser leg! I honestly could have died! Not only had my knickers been on display for all to see but now everyone was speculating – either I had no pants on or was still wearing the nasty string disposable ones. Neither was good!

You get used to being embarrassed, I mean childbirth doesn’t exactly leave you with a great deal of dignity. Since then I’ve cried in Sainsbury’s, been in town with puke down my back and milk down my front, answered the door half dressed, been weed on several times… Whatever. I clearly have very little shame left or I wouldn’t have publicly shared the stories above! (Luckily for you guys I have just enough to spare you the many comedy moments of my birth story!).

But something that I have found more difficult than sacrificing my dignity is the absolute change. It’s not just physical, though that would be enough. It’s the fact that you will never be alone again; the way you suddenly think differently; time operates in three hour slots, not morning/afternoon or night/day; weird and wonderful brightly coloured things appear all over the house; doing basic housework is a feat of vast achievement; you forget to brush your teeth or put mascara on both eyes; you suddenly are excited about and interested in the most minute and tedious details; you will never go out in public without a car seat and a pram again. The list is endless, and no matter how much you knew and prepared before, it is one hell of a shock. It changes everything about your life and your relationship and you, fundamentally.

The required equipment for a baby is also overwhelming. I swore I wouldn’t bother with most of it. In Africa they survive without prams, car seats, baby bouncers, teething toys, so why would I need it all? But it doesn’t work that way… I mean what kind of a mum would I be if my child didn’t have a bloody Sophie the Giraffe to chew on?! And there you have it. Sucker!

I used to laugh at women desperately trying to exercise in the park with one hand on their buggy and a screaming baby looking on in horror at mummy’s wobbly bum. Again, I have succumbed. Well, let’s face it there’s no going to the gym or getting out for a run with a new baby. What choice did I have?

In fact the buggy becomes your new best friend. But, oh, how I battled at first to learn to get it all in and out of the car, let alone doing it holding a baby at the same time. It’s a whole new level of learning, patience and dexterity. I broke nails, I pulled muscles, I still have bruised legs. The thing weighs a tonne, and I swear the guy who gave us the demo in the shop was a genius! Our pram barely fits in the boot of my car and must be placed precisely at the right angle and the right way round in order to get it in. Add a screaming baby and some rain and it’s a real laugh (note the heavy sarcasm here).

Of course doesn’t stop with the pram. There’s also the baby bath, baby manicure set, change table, change mat, baby bag, bath toys, mobiles, bouncer chair, Moses basket, baby gym, bottles, steriliser, travel cot… You should see how full my car is when I head to my parents’ place for a couple of days. And this from the girl who spent a year living out of one 20kg back pack!

And on top of this, the logic of guidance for mums is as flawed as our brain function post-birth. I mean, let’s take the steriliser as just one example.
1. Apparently we all MUST sterilise, but as soon as you open the lid of the steriliser everything in it is no longer sterile anyway.
2. The steriliser collects nasty brown stuff in the bottom that must be cleaned out every time, generally with the dish cloth which is surely less than sterile!
3. Nothing dries in there so when you put milk powder into a bottle ready for adding water later it sets into nasty lumps, but you can’t dry anything as the drying up cloth would contaminate it (it took me 3 months before anyone mentioned the solution to this!)

And the greatest irony of all is that if you over-sterilise you risk your baby not developing a strong enough immune system! Oh well, once they’ve pooed on the change mat, been sick on their hands and then shoved them in their mouths, and been licked by the dog a few times I guess we’re even!

As a new mum there is so much to learn. It starts with the feeding and the sleep training and then first aid and health care, play and development and into teething/dental care and weaning. I feel like I’m studying for another degree, and yet it is all fairly mindless and mundane and warrants no certificate at the end of it all.

Plus, there’s so much that can go wrong: inconvenient feed times
(like at his christening where my planning went wrong and I hadn’t considered my outfit carefully and while everyone else sat down to starters I had removed my dress in the bathrooms and was feeding baby in my underwear sitting on the loo!); mega poos in a public place when you forgot to pack a spare outfit; screaming during weddings/christenings/anything where it’s important to be quiet etc. And the pressure you put on yourself to be the smiling, calm and glamorous super mum of the glossy magazines is incredible. It’s amazing the coping mechanisms and ability to anticipate problems you develop. There should be certificates for those skills alone – maybe like a guides thing where you collect the badges!

And all the while you are mourning your old self: your old body (which I slagged off no end but would now give millions to have back!); old job (where you were respected as an intelligent adult member of society and didn’t feel like an inept learner); old timetable (when staying up at night was fun and the day was not divided into 3hr feeding slots!).

But – just as everyone told me – it does get better and a little personality begins to unfold. First a smile aimed right at you, then learning to grab or lift their head and now a laugh; a beautiful tinkling, rolling giggle that makes tears rise up in my throat and a giant idiotic smile spread across my face.

I haven’t slept in three months, yesterday was a disaster, today I’m doing better. I’m not saying I’m out of the woods, just maybe out of the bear trap! It’s been hell, it’s been joyous and tear-filled and exhausting and incredible. And here I am with a nearly 4 month old – we’re all pretty ok and I’ve actually sat down to write a blog post! Ok, it took me three weeks to finish it, hemce it being a little bit all over the place, but it’s done and you’re reading it. (I hope you’ll be a little bit forgiving if it doesn’t all quite work, and perhaps you’ll even let me have the ‘published it’ badge!) Next target is to return to my book, but it will still be there next month whereas baby K will never be this age again. Did I just say that?!