Toni and Arlo (1 year on)

Name: Toni

Child: Arlo, 2yrs

Location: Heaton Moor

Previous blog entry:

The last year has been bloomin’ busy. We moved not long after we had our first photos taken for the blog and then we moved again another six months later. At the ripe old age of two, Arlo has now lived in four different houses. As someone who’s on her thirty third home, I know all too well how badly this state of perpetual flux can effect you when you’re growing up. My parents were forever moving, and this rootlessness had definite repercussions for me, in terms of establishing friendships, and creating the stability a permanent family home can bring. I really wanted to make sure that we found somewhere completely perfect that we could happily stay in until Arlo reaches at least the Surly Teen phase and in this one, I think we’ve found it. 

Motherhood can be defined for me in one word – sacrifice. The absolute focus for me now is Arlo – whether in time, money or social activities. In everything I do, I think of him first and pursue his happiness with an almost military-like zeal. As a result, there’s no time for being as self-preoccupied as I was before and I’ve also stopped being quite so bothered about what other people think. As a formerly painfully insular person who was pretty much crippled by social insecurities, this has been a massive change of seismic proportions. I spend much of my day now crawling through cardboard tunnels & blanket-covered dens and am perpetually coated in PVA or whatever substances we’ve been playing with that day (currently it’s our homemade play dough – There’s no place in my wardrobe for the high maintenance, dry-clean only types of clothes I used to adore.

While gleefully getting myself up the duff, I had no concrete concept of what I’d do after the birth. I airily assumed our family would help shoulder the burden of childcare and had vague concepts of childminders and the like. When it came down to it, the fact that my meagre window dresser’s salary of peanuts couldn’t support childcare costs, and our family weren’t in a position to help either, came crashing down on my vague ideas of returning to work part-time like a concrete block. Living on my other half’s salary is just about keeping us going; we don’t bring in enough income for holidays or treats. I hate that. 

I spent my childhood watching my parents try to buy stuff with post-dated cheques and hiding from debt collectors. I had the brainwave of setting up my own business, selling the handmade things I make for Arlo to generate extra income (and also as a means of trying to keep my brain ticking!). It’s a lot of fun, but definitely a temporary solution for while I’m a stay at home mum. In the long-term, I’m planning to retrain in my spare time, so I can attempt to get back into full-time work (with hopefully a somewhat better salary than what I was on before!). 

Probably the worst part of motherhood for me was how I wasted a lot of time in the beginning. I’d rage against the suffocating feeling of having only (on average) fourteen hours a week to myself (including time asleep, as we share a bed), and debating whether I was doing the right thing, continuing breast-feeding and co-sleeping. 

After accepting that this is only temporary things have got easier. My reasoning is that this is the only time in Arlo’s life that I’ll be able to ensure he feels utterly secure, and if it takes an hour of my time each night to hold him until he sleeps, then that’s what he’ll get. I appreciate that the ‘Cry it Out’ solution works a treat for billions of other people, but I’m afraid I’m a soft sod and it’s not something I can personally do. Plus, I love the intimacy of having our entire family unit all in one bed. It has meant we’ve needed to create a Mega Bed system (using a king size bed plus an attached cot-bed), but we’ve got a huge bedroom so it works fine. 

The best parts of being a mother for me are all the shared moments I have with my son. His head lain on my shoulder, his arms giving me a big squeeze and a reassuring little voice whispering to me in the dark: “Mummy’s got you. Mummy’s ALWAYS got you” (it’s what I say to him when he’s hurt himself or he’s scared). 

I’m hoping the strength of our relationship will be the base-line that he can build himself and his confidence upon. I hope to be my son’s foundations and scaffolding, equally as much he has become my own. Motherhood has helped to ground me; it’s given me the stability that I missed when I was growing up, along with the confidence that I’ve always lacked. With these, it’s like a floodgate has opened on both my creativity and on my openness to other people, and it’s been amazing.

Arlo is also my license for lunacy. We have a zillion ridiculous games we play together and are already establishing those shorthands and in-jokes that make up a family’s secret vocabulary. I also spend a lot of time creating him things to play with – partly due to being massively skint, but mainly because my brain feels like it’s on fire with a thousand ideas of crazy things to make. Most recently, I’ve stitched a pirate parrot (onto a shoulder pad with an elasticated strap), a gaudy neon superhero cape for his dressing up suitcase and hand-carved stamps for his personal stationery set. I make something pretty much daily and, after suffering a creative block throughout my entire Design degree and making very little at all, it’s ironic that my creativity has finally found an outlet now thanks to my tiny Muse.

One of the things I wish I’d known beforehand was that becoming a mum would make me mentally revisit my own childhood and break my heart all over again. Both my parents were alcoholics and I had a bit of a weird upbringing that was very isolating, mainly due to their behaviour basically repelling all their friends and our family. I also never had any friends round, knowing instinctively that my home wasn’t normal. I look at the sombre eyes of myself as a little girl in the very few remaining photos that exist, and I feel angry. As a parent I can see the selfishness of decisions made when bringing me up. 
Now, as (pretty much) the only man left standing from my own family, I feel like some strange kind of pioneer leading my small band of three into the uncharted territories of stability. Breaking the family cycle of disfunction and self-annihilation has taken a lot of hurt and no small amount of balls to do, but for Arlo – it was worth it. 

My two penneths of advice for other parents to-be: 

– Remember everything is finite. There are an awful lot of random stages that roll in, turning your world upside down, only to then wane out again just as fast as they arrived. 

– Say sorry. If you raise your voice at your offspring or you’re in the wrong, don’t be afraid to admit it. I apologise most days, I’m only human.

– Have a laughter quota. I aim to make Arlo do a minimum of one laugh per day (tickling does not count). You’d be amazed what good it does you both. A bit of silliness is good for the soul.

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