Children: Joshua 14, Isobel 4
Expectations of Motherhood: When I was about 3 I used to sit in the bath and listen to my mum playing the guitar whilst she sat on the toilet. My mum was a guitar teacher and still is at the age of 79. She would use bath time to practise pieces, but to me it was my own little concert. She used to play ‘green sleeves’ and always finished with ‘puff the magic dragon’ or ‘there was an old woman who swallowed a fly’. I was the youngest of six, so time with my mum was precious. If I look back on old photos of me as a child I probably only ever feature in photos with my eldest sister, apart from one where my eldest brother is holding me and my eldest sister is scowling at him. I always felt I was brought up by 7 parents, but knew that I was loved and had a remarkably happy childhood.
At 19 I became an Au pair and moved to Tenerife to live with a French family (much to the dismay of my closest niece and nephew – one who lived at home, and the other who lived down the road). I took to being an Au pair like a duck to water, so much so, after looking after Eloise in France for 2 months whilst her mum was away, I had to distance myself when we got back to Tenerife as Eloise showed little affection for her mother.
At 23 whilst living in Paris (in the 3rd year of my degree) I found out I was pregnant. I wasn’t worried about being a mum, I thought I knew everything about children as I’d grown up around them. I burst into tears in Asda to the sound of ‘green sleeves’ thinking, ‘If only I can do as good a job as my mum!’
When I fell pregnant with Josh I lived in Golborne with Joshua’s dad and had also taken on the responsibility of his 11 year old son, Tim. I thought I would find motherhood easy – I had so much love in my heart and a wealth of experience at such a young age that motherhood would be natural and a shared experience. I’ve been an auntie from the age of 11 and always babysat for family and family friends. To me being a mum involved caring, talking, sharing, loving but also reining-in your children. I remember being threatened with the slipper a few times by my mum (and remember her breaking her finger on the staircase whilst swiping for my brother when he came home drunk at 14).
Reality of Motherhood: I have seen motherhood from 3 different angles.
Firstly as a step mother; letting Tim into my life has been massively fulfilling. He is a wonderful, strong, caring human being and my life is enriched with his presence. He is a fantastic big brother and has helped enormously over the years, and now I am blessed with the affection of his children. I have always had a huge respect for his mother and often listened to her advice.
Joshua came into this world looking scarily like my older brother he was big and strong from the word go! I had Joshua in the final year of my degree; I did my last assessment on the 18th Dec, gave birth on the 21st and was back at university 3 weeks later – incidentally I did my next assessment presentation with kid poo all down the inside of my finger without realising, and often leaked on Thursdays as the lectures were too long between feeds.
Finishing my degree whilst being a new mum was tough, typing assignments whilst breast feeding was not the easiest thing I’ve ever done but once my degree was out of the way the first few years with josh were relatively easy – I knew everything about babies and little children except for a few weird rashes and the terrible 2’s, I thought i had it covered.
I left Joshua’ s Dad Sept 1st 1999, moved back to Preston and became a full-time, working single-parent. Thankfully I had a strong network and my parents helped enormously, but when you have to parent on your own you question the decisions you make and always feel like the bad guy. I could have spent more time with Josh but I needed to work to build a life for us. For six years I brought Joshua up on my own, he’s a wonderfully affectionate young man and has a massive flare for sport, so I spent an enormous amount of spare time playing football, badminton, tennis and cricket with him as a child. I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy so this was easy and Josh just excelled starting with Man Utd and Blackburn academies – any sport he turned his hand to he mastered quickly.
I met Isobel’s dad when josh was 6 and we married after a year. Josh and Andy hit it off straight away and he took over the sporty part, playing football and cricket with him all the time – so much so I felt a bit pushed out at times. Motherhood took a turn as I didn’t have to be Mum and Dad anymore – although I did become his cricket coach just to keep my hand in!
When josh turned 10 Andy and I had Isobel, she was such a little character with amazing dimples and birth was so easy in comparison to the enormous Josh who had taken 2 days. Isobel was out in 10 mins! I felt so lucky to have a gorgeous boy and a beautiful little girl and for 2 months everything seemed so perfect. Then one day on the way to take Joshua to school he had a strange episode. Luckily I was with my sister who happens to be a GP and she diagnosed it straight away as a form of epilepsy (or possibly a brain tumour!).
Andy and I cried a lot that night trying to get our heads around this but I felt a strength inside that I needed to be strong for everyone. Thanks to my sister he was seen by the Neurologist quickly and had a couple of MRI scans, and so the brain tumour was ruled out. But he kept on screaming, running around in circles and laughing uncontrollably (at one point 19 times a day). I had slightly longer off work with Isobel and so didn’t have to cope with teaching, having a new baby and Joshua’s illness all at once. We went to the specialist and I told her my sister’s diagnosis but she refused to believe it was frontal lobe seizures, and although he had more MRI’ s and EEG’s he was not put on medication and so was having more and more episodes.
Luckily Joshua has a very strong, confident personality and because of this he has been able to cope with this happening (sometimes in front of 200 people) in football matches and on the cricket pitch. It hasn’t stopped him although I can’t say it hasn’t held him back. Joshua changed from the boy I knew – he became a total fidget, couldn’t understand facial expressions and it was almost like he’d been swapped for another child at times. We had to learn how to deal with situations in a different way.
For me I felt like I had to fight to get the diagnosis, luckily when school turned around and said they would not let him play sport any longer the specialist took note and he was taken into hospital for 3 days of EEG’s, and together with the data I had collected they finally decided it was ‘frontal lobe seizures!!!’ Josh started on the medication just as he began high school and in November 2008 his seizures stopped, he came back and we had our son again. We had 2 years seizure free and although he has gone back to having seizures (his size has doubled) and we strive to find the right combination of meds to allow him to live as normal a life as possible. I have to be very organised with his meds and have to remind him constantly to take them. His food intake has to be monitored like a hawk too as his meds increase his appetite (as well as him being 14 and nearly 6ft tall, and being a very talented sportsman).
Motherhood with Isobel has been a different experience again in that this time I have been able to share it with someone else from the beginning – share the decision making, share the responsibility, share the momentous moments and the frustrating ones. Unfortunately although I had more time off with Isobel at the beginning – and as a teacher I do get the holidays – my career has meant having to work long hours and coping with huge stresses. I envy mothers who stay at home with their children, or who pick them up from school/preschool, or the ones who always make sure their children have the most amazing outfits on dressing up days. It’s not like that in our house! Being a bit of a Tom boy and having a really girlie girl is a bit of a shock – I don’t get the obsession with pink or the obsessive desire to wear dresses (no matter what the weather), but having a girlie girl has made me a bit more of an every-occasion mum as opposed to just a sporty-mum!
I did have a skewhiff idea that having children 10 years apart would mean that they got along really well and that Josh would look after his little sister, but they fight like cat and dog – no such luck!
Taking your children home for the first time: 2 totally different experiences; taking Joshua home was one of the lowest points in my life, not because of Josh – he was a beautiful!
I had been in hospital for 2 days after Josh was born. Joshua’s dad had had an argument with the Paediatrician before we left the hospital, we got in the car and then he refused to put the seat belt on Josh, so we drove home unsafe from Billinge to Golborne. When we got home I took my beautiful little man upstairs – I often looked at Josh amazed that I’d had such a gorgeous, perfect boy and I wondered if someone would come to the door and tell me there had been a mistake, and that i had to give him back! How did i deserve such an amazing little man?
As I climbed precariously into bed with my 8 stitches, exhausted but so proud of this gorgeous, chunky baby. Joshua’s dad came storming into the room, “Your mum and dad are arriving in half an hour and you need to decorate the tree!”
I don’t know where the energy came from but I managed the Christmas tree, entertaining my parents and cooking most of the Christmas dinner. Needless to say I didn’t manage staying with Joshua’s dad.
Isobel was a totally different experience. I had Isobel 2 days after a great friend of mine had given birth to her twins in the same ward and we spent the night after Isobel was born sat up laughing till about 2am. Isobel had been really wriggly every night before she was born and now she was in a cot next to me. I missed the wriggle and I remember completely forgetting about nappies – it was only when a nurse reminded me that I remembered! I was just so busy staring at her or holding her to think about the practicalities. Andy came to pick me up in the morning and he held our little bundle of joy, Joshua came to see us before school and everything was as it should be; a happy experience.
Isobel and I had a pleasant journey home and I fell asleep whenever and wherever I needed to, the washing wasn’t done but hey I live in reality, not cloud cuckoo land! I still stare at my children amazed that they’re mine – at least nobody has come to the door yet!
The best/worst advice: Be a parent. It’s hard sometimes to stick to your guns – kids are the best at manipulating (they learn it from a very early age) – but you have to be strong and have clear boundaries. Work together because they will play you off against each other if they find any weaknesses. Don’t befriend your children, they need parents! Befriend them when they’re adults and they’ll respect you more (and you will have less behavioural problems when they hit their teenage years).
Discuss issues with your children and explain your decisions. If they have a greater understanding of why something is wrong, they are less likely to do it again.
Always eat with your kids. Family time is really important to share your daily experiences.
I have friends who insist that their children have to stick to a routine and this rules their lives, I had children to spent time with them, I enjoy their company. They have routines sometimes, but they don’t rule our lives.
Make sure that you instill a sense of optimism in your kids. Be honest with them. Set them achievable, challenging targets that inspire them to learn. Keep learning fun. Optimistic children are more more successful in life.
Talk to them all the time – don’t feel like a fool talking about flowers and clouds with a baby they’re learning vocabulary that will improve their learning and development.
If you feel like you’re going to lose your rag with your kids walk away, calm down and go back when you can sit down and talk about what happened. Teach them about empathy you will teach them to be more emotionally intelligent.
The hardest parts of being a mother: TIME! Not being there all the time. Working full time means that I miss out on different things – cricket and football matches for Josh and different events at pre-school for Isobel, as well as swimming lessons and sports day etc. Sometimes I come home from work after a long tough day and feel like I’m starting all over again having a teenager at home.
The best parts of being a mother: Sharing their lives. My children give me a great sense of joy. I stand watching Josh at a cricket match – a 14 year old boy standing side by side on the men’s team – hitting a fantastic shot or taking a brilliant wicket or kicking an amazing goal at football and the joy it brings him is amazing. For Isobel when she learns something new. Like when she’s concentrating on something in the back of the car and then all of a sudden she’ll have a eureka moment – that’s such a fantastic payback.
Watching my children grow and being a part of it, knowing that I have had a hand in them becoming wonderful people – that’s the best part. That’s what I had children for, that’s why I became a teacher, that’s why I love being an auntie; great auntie; step-grandma.
It’s all about being a positive influence and reaping the rewards.
it’s not money that makes us wealthy.
Hopes for your family: I hope that Josh can get to a point that the Epilepsy is controlled and he can continue to develop his skills in sport and do well in everything he turns his hand to. I hope that Isobel continues to love learning and exploring and continues to be a happy, joyful girlie girl!
Most of all for them to have happiness and success. Some people think success is about the big house, the big car, the fancy job. To me success is being in a happy relationship, being optimistic, having a happy life and doing something that is fulfilling to them. I hope they bring up their children with the values and morals that I have tried to get them to share.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Go to aqua natal – it really made a difference second time around and try baby massage – I’m still reaping the benefits of that 4 years on. Potty train after they start to notice what they are doing. Make sure you make time for yourself. Exercise will keep you sane.