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When to call a mum

Sometimes I look at my phone and I wonder when the last time I spoke to some of my friends. We text each other and bemoan how long it’s been since we’ve had a good old chat. Then they ask me when’s a good time to call me. The trouble is, I’m not sure I actually know the answer. When is the best time to call mums?

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Before 8am: Do not call because the day you do will be the day baby sleeps in and it will have been ruined. For everyone!

Before 10am: We can’t answer because we are trying so hard to leave the house. See that door that you can just walk through with your handbag after a quick shower and a leisurely breakfast? For us it’s like a magical portal that we are fighting to reach alive each day. We’re lucky if we make it clean, fed, without being dragged down by bags of everything we may or may not need (just in case). And we’re probably running as that extra nappy change or tantrum has waylaid us yet again.

Between 10am-12pm: You could call but we will literally have our hands full of babies, prams, food and other paraphernalia as well as running after our toddlers who want to poke, jab, grab, suck, kick at something new every three seconds. This is the perfect time to actually come and meet us. However if you expect us to be able to hold a conversation or even offer you eye contact, think again. Just bring tea and cake. But keep both out of reach so it isn’t thrown and smashed across the room. We won’t forget about it – we know it’s there watching and taunting us with its heat and deliciousness. We will down it when it’s lukewarm and practically inhale the cake as soon as physically possible.

12pm-1pm: It’s feeding time at the zoo. If you call, expect the phone to be grasped by the baby who will otherwise scream for it. Not only will you not get any sense but the phone will probably get covered in yogurt and smashed on the floor.

1pm-3pm: It’s nap time. For everyone if we’re lucky. That’s after we’ve scrubbed porridge ingrained on the kitchen floor tiles, picked up a thousand toys, washed up for the umpteenth time, run around with a vacuum. And if we’re really really lucky, maybe eating a sandwich.

3pm-4pm: Prime meeting up time. Phone calls? Not so much. We’re at the park or on the top of a rope bridge at the play centre surrounded by screaming kids. Are you sure don’t want to meet us?

4pm-5pm: Feeding time again. See above.

5pm-7pm: Time for baths, torture time (hair washing), wet babies, dressing, milk, more torture (teeth brushing) stories and bedtime. Military operation required.

7pm-9pm: We’re usually still trying to get the baby to sleep. Of course if we have plans like eating a nice dinner, catching up with friends or leaving the house, baby will have their own plans for us.

9pm: We’ve just sat down for the first time today. Tired and starving.

10pm: We’re in bed. At the latest.

11pm-5am: If we are awake at this time, it’s not out of choice. For the times when sleepless nights are a frequent occurrence, this may be the time we need you the most. Unfortunately, we may only be capable of a rant, a cry or maybe even a scream of frustration at being up all night. There’s nothing like these early hours of darkness where you feel you and your baby are the only people on the planet awake and every fibre of your being longs to be asleep.

Hmmm, I wonder why no one calls anymore!? But please don’t stop calling. All of this doesn’t mean that we don’t want to speak to you – just the opposite. And seeing that you call makes us feel that you care. Just please understand when we can’t answer….

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The mummy dating game

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I’ve been with my husband for more than a decade. I thought my dating days were behind me – and I hadn’t missed them at all. However, when I emerged from the safe cocoon of my house for the first time with my baby, I realised that I was embarking on a whole new era of dating. The mummy dating game.

I was never that great at dating. If I wasn’t slightly interested, the date would be ready to whisk me off my feet. But, if I actually remotely liked them, they’d run a mile. My problem is that I didn’t like games. If I was keen, I showed it. Seems like there’s something in that treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen mantra.

I wasn’t ready to start ‘dating’ again, but I did need some baby friends. Or at least needed to be sociable at the various mum and baby groups held in the area. So…baby as my wingman, I entered the bar playgroup. It was full of mummies all chattering away and laughing as I, the intruder, quietly assessed where was best to take my seat. But who to sit next to?

The leader: she welcomes you with open arms and a huge smile. You feel immediate relief and are smug at how speedy you’ve attracted a friend. But within two minutes, they’ve dashed off to greet the next mum. Warning, they are liable to usher you to the nearest spare seat, potentially miles away from the mummy bounty you had your eye on. And, as I quickly learned, you have to sit strategically otherwise you’ll be trapped next to your polar opposite and there’s no escape.

The know it all: want to actually speak today? You won’t with her. She’s too busy telling you about her brood of perfect children. You may be tempted to be in awe of her apparent awesomeness in raising multiple babies. But it’s just a front. She was a mess in the early days just like you are but she won’t admit it.

The cliche: akin to the popular gang at school, these guys act like they’ve known each other for years. They’ve done they hair AND makeup (bitches, when did they have time for that!?) and you can’t help but long to be their friends. Don’t bother, they may feign interest for a moment but this is their charitable act of the day. Once playgroup is over, they’ll be off for coffee and you won’t be invited.

The advice giver: From the moment you have a baby, actually, from the moment you announced your pregnancy, the advice giver has been everywhere. Sat across from you in the office, in the queue for your groceries, on the bus…EVERYwhere. Mummyhood is hard work and everyone wants to help with a bit of advice. What they don’t remember is how grit-your-teeth-and-smile-and-nod annoying it is as what worked for their baby will not work for any other baby in the world. Fact. Listening to the advice giver will just leave you feeling you’re doing everything wrong and must be a bad mum if you don’t do things their ‘right’ way. Keep your distance.

The mum who’s on a break: You’re a new mum so no doubt you’ve still got baby clutched in your arms or, at the most, laying a millimetre away from you. This mum, however, is a seasoned playgroup goer. She sits and chats, enjoying her free coffee and seems to let their tot run wild. Spotting your vulnerability, this tot will hone in on you, steal the one toy your baby has actually held in their hand for the first time ever (genius baby) and then kick a block flying to hit baby on the head.

What do you do? Can you tell them off? Can you touch their arm to move them off your baby without looking like you’re manhandling them? Can you reclaim the toy which will send them into despair and leaving you as the evil toy thief who makes children cry? This will be the moment that the mum looks over furiously.

This is unchartered ground. There are no rules here. At first, I tried to ignore it, avoiding confrontation and just tend to my baby. But the more times this has happened, I’ve grown a bit tougher. Nobody messes with my baby. So…take a quick look around, make sure the mum isn’t watching and make eye contact with another sympathetic mum (immediately implicating them as a witness) and get that toy back! Tell them firmly but fairly that kicking bricks at baby is NOT nice!Victory can be yours!

So, now you know the main characters at playgroup but where do you fit in? Keep an eye out for mums who look equally uncomfortable and quiet as you are. Dish out the stash of new baby questions – age, name, weight, any siblings, how they sleep, how they eat, probably your birth story, can either of you reach the cake tray etc. Now pay attention. You have approximately 10 minutes before one of your babies will cry. In that time, you have to make a snap decision of whether you want to see that mum again. You’ve both made it out of the house by 10am today. The chance of this happening again next week are limited. Do you like them enough to see them again? If so, it’s time for the dreaded question about a second date – maybe even on your own somewhere. Then it’s the awkward suggestion of swapping numbers. Panic over rejection sets in….But relax, most likely they’ll say yes and be relieved. It took me a while but I discovered that most other new mums were actually keen to meet up with other mums.

I mean, it is the opportunity to talk to another adult who’s going through the same experiences as you. And yes, I won’t deny that it does feel pretty awesome walking out of that bar playgroup with a phone number and a date lined up for tomorrow.

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Do mums moan too much?

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Everyone knows that having a baby is wonderful. Fact. However, as parents cross into this unknown baby territory, we unfortunately find quite a lot to moan about. This doesn’t mean we are ungrateful for our lot or that we’re not experiencing an unfathomable amount of joy, pride and happiness at the same time – we just didn’t realise how hard some of the new moments were going to be.

Before becoming a parent, you expect to be tired. You expect to have to clean up a lot of dirty nappies. You expect babies to cry. You expect things to change. But you have no idea of how much sleep deprivation can turn you into a crazy lady. You have no idea how much poop can explode out of one nappy to the devastation of everything around it (no doubt just as you’re getting in the car). You have no idea that babies can cry inconsolably for three hours. And you have no idea of the scale of how much your life changes.

As I said, it’s not that we’re not happy, just caught out and overwhelmed by some of the harder things that such a tiny seemingly helpless baby can throw at us. Sometimes literally.

What got me starting to think about all of this was when my husband came home from work a couple of weeks ago and my friend and her baby were visiting for a play date. We were laughing over the usual high brow intellectual topics of conversation – how often our babies had pooped in the bath that week, tallying up our night-time wake ups, debating whether to get a steam mop to tackle the porridge that had been formed a rock-hard immovable mass in between the kitchen tiles and eyeing up the last hob nob. Later that evening, my husband teased me about how much we’d been moaning and how it must make me a right hoot to hang out with.

Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t have won an award for the most sparkling conversationalist of the year but it’s conversations like these that have kept me sane for the past year. Who would want to listen to me continually gloating how my baby is THE most beautiful and THE most genius baby on the entire planet?

There are moments as a parent when you feel you almost can’t cope anymore – when the number of hours sleep you’ve had in a week doesn’t even reach double figures or when you wonder what silence sounds like after bouncing/feeding/rocking/singing to a screaming baby for what seems like forever. Or you catch a look at yourself in the mirror covered in baby sick and sweet potato mush with scraggly hair and no make-up and you wonder what you’ve become. The only thing that gets me through some of these moments is knowing that there is a country full of other new parents who are going through the very same dilemmas and being able to share our mishaps together with laughter.

I used to see one particular mum friend weekly on what we described as ‘Moaning Mondays’. We did put ourselves through the mill by attempting to go to TWO half-hour classes in the space of three hours. It doesn’t seem like much but the desperate panic to get babies napped, fed, changed and traveled for two whole activities was exhausting and highly stressful. Afterwards, we’d laugh at how much we’d managed to moan that day but it genuinely made us feel better – happier people and therefore happier mums.

So yes, maybe we do moan quite a lot. But we’re not sorry about it. We need it. Although I do appreciate that I’ve responded to a comment that I moan a lot by moaning…but I’d rather be a normal (and honest) mum who laughs with her friends about her mishaps than one that needs a slap in the face for only gloating about how wonderful and perfect my life is.