The First

You were our first, and for so long you were our one and only

But now we’ve added one more to our family journey

Things have changed a lot for you since another came along

I want to say I’m so impressed by how you’re getting on!

You love your baby sister and shower her with kisses

When we are out without her you tell me how much you miss her

And yet I know that sharing me with her can not be easy

You’ve had Daddy and I to yourself for many, many seasons

Sometimes you’ll tell me it was easier to be the only one

When we didn’t have to stay at home until the baby’s feed was done

When we could spend hours making dresses for your dolls

And building towers without me being called away by our baby’s calls

But in time you’ll come to realise just how special it can be

To have a little sister who loves you unconditionally

To have someone there to share things with, to play your little games

To tell secrets to, to build dens with, and to splash in puddles when it rains

You’ll see when you are older that she’s the best thing that we could ever give you

When you’ve got her back and she’s got your’s, no matter what you do

You two will likely fight like cats, but also love each other madly

You’ll cover for each other when you’ve been behaving badly

You were our first, but now you are a wonderful big sis

I loved you first, and love you still even through the baby mist

You climb on me to join in when your little sis needs fed

I hold you both through everything when all is done and said.

The Storybook Mummy xxx

There’s No Use Crying Over Expressed Milk!

So here I am, many weeks pregnant and contemplating childbirth and motherhood for a second time. I’ll be honest, I am looking forward to meeting our baby, but the tricky bits? Well, not so much. I’m 41 and this pregnancy has been challenging both physically and mentally. You would think having been through it all before I would have been prepared, but Mother Nature is a cruel mistress, and with her help, and the passage of almost five years, I had forgotten much of what pregnancy had in store. I’m beginning to fear that my postnatal journey will bring something similar. Nevertheless, I am starting to prepare myself and trying to arm myself with as much information as possible to help me on my way.

When I was asked to review Michelle Bradley new book PANGS: Surviving Motherhood and Mental Illness I was interested to see if, through the book, Michelle could offer me any insight into how I should prepare for the birth and arrival of baby number 2. It has given me so much more than a nudge in the right direction, and here’s just one example of why…

When I first gave birth to Catherine in May 2014 the whole thing felt like a bit of a blur after a long and difficult nine months with constant nausea followed by a long labour. I’ll not go into all the details, but when we left the hospital to return home with our new bundle of joy I had no idea what the months ahead would hold for us. Catherine was a very easy baby, she slept well and was very placid, but I found feeding very difficult. For weeks I struggled with breastfeeding, expressing and topping up. I was so keen to breastfeed, but there just wasn’t any milk. I was expressing every few hours to try and improve my milk flow, but I rarely got more than a trickle. So we found ourselves in a cycle where I breastfed Catherine, gave her the very small portion of expressed milk and then after all that she still needed a bottle of formula milk. I felt like a total failure! No one was aware of how difficult I was finding feeding because I feared if I told anyone they would think I was a bad mummy. Why do we do beat ourselves up like this? With hindsight I can see that all I needed to do was relax! As long as Catherine was fed, did it really matter? Was it worth me losing precious time with my baby, fretting and panicking?

The impact that this experience had on my mental health was huge. It lead to anxiety like I had never experienced, and months of second guessing every little decision and every sniffle or noise that Catherine made that was out of the ordinary. Yet, if you met me then you would never have known. I made such an effort to come across as the perfect mum. I attended baby classes and was so ashamed by my failure to breastfeed that I would hide Catherine’s bottle and remain silent when feeding was discussed. I probably underestimated the people around me by hiding my difficulties, if I had shared how things really were I may have been surprised by the support I received. But anxiety whispers mis-truths in your ear and makes you hide in plain sight.

When I started to read about Michelle’s birthing experiences and post natal journeys I realised that I have never truly worked through the disappointment (at failing to breastfeed) and anxiety that I experienced as a new mum. This book has made me think about how I can protect myself better this time round, and make sure I’m prepared if things don’t go as I hope. This time I won’t beat myself up. This time I’m not going to hide my difficulties. This time I am going to ensure that I take better care of myself while making the most practical choices for our new baby and the rest of the family.

After reading Michelle’s book I feel much more aware of the support available to women who struggle through pregnancy, childbirth and those difficult months post natal. Because there is so much support available, albeit scattered across Northern Ireland, but through PANGS NI Michelle and her team are so well place to point me in the right direction if I stumble into trouble. The Treatment and Resources sections of this book are an invaluable reference point for local mums, and Michelle’s honesty throughout the book is both refreshing and reassuring.

Am I afraid that I will struggle with childbirth, feeding and postnatal anxiety in the months to come? Of course I am, but you know what? I’m ready to take on whatever challenges await, and with a copy of PANGS: Surviving Motherhood and Mental Illness in my changing bag, I AM READY.

The Storybook Mummy xxx

A Christmas Tradition

The Christmas season is full of tradition. There are traditions that we all share, like decorating our homes, sending cards to loved ones, and of course the turkey dinner. Then there are the little traditions that each family has, some passed down through generations, and others built up as families grow. Ours is one of those.

Our little girl is 4 years old, and since she was born we have always brought her to visit the same Santa Claus. If you’re local to Belfast, you’ll probably already know (and if you don’t, you really should) that the real Santa Claus frequents the grotto in Castle Court. This is the Santa that we visit. He is lovely, and there is something special about looking back at the photographs of those annual visits with the same two faces in the frame. This has become a Christmas tradition for our family, and when I look back on these visits to Santa I remember the smiling face of our little girl. It’s magical, truly magical.

I could stop here without telling you the whole truth, but in the interests of full disclosure I’ll elaborate. But please be aware that what follows is not for the faint-hearted among you.

Any annual trip to Belfast in December should only be embarked upon by the most organised and determined of people. Parking alone is an absolute nightmare, especially on a cold rainy Saturday in December, as was the case for us this year. You’ve got to be in town and parked long before any of the shops are open in order to guarantee a stress free parking experience (I’m sure this is the same all across the country in the run up to Christmas).

Don’t even bother if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep! You’ll be in trouble from the very beginning. Belfast at Christmastime requires energy, this year we hit the town on a broken night’s sleep. Never a good idea!

If you arrive at the grotto early and it’s not yet open (and why would it be if the shops aren’t even open yet?!) wait anyway. Be first in line. Don’t wander off the get breakfast or something, because invariably you’ll return 15 minutes later to a two hour long queue of other families united in the common goal of seeing the real Santa. If you do however find yourself queuing to see the big guy please know that it will take every ounce of energy (this is where the good night’s sleep comes in) and motivation that you’ve got not to throw the towel in after waiting 45 minutes just to get to the sign that says ’45 minute wait from this point’. But remember, you’re doing it for the kids. Don’t ponder as to why said kids are sitting comfortably in the food hall playing some form of electronic device while you stand in line, drowning under a pile of coats? It may begin to feel like you’ve been handed the fuzzy end of the lollipop, but try not to fret. Use this time for a little meditation, chant calmly, breathe.

The closer you get to the top of the line the more impatient you may feel. Now you need to gather the kids together, making sure everyone is looking ‘photo ready’ while they bounce up and down excitedly asking repeatedly ‘is it our turn?’. Once you reach the top of the line your mood will surely start to lift again as you see your little ones gather around Santa telling him what they’d like for Christmas and happily smiling for the camera (even though five minutes ago they were swinging from the railings and trying to slap each other with Christmas headgear).

You’ve done it!! Two hours of waiting. Two hours of rocking from one leg to the other, because who can stand that long? Two hours of keeping the kids entertained without ruining their clothes, hair or faces. Two hours to complete a walk of 100 meters (even though it feels like you’ve completed a marathon). Two hours just to see those happy little faces when they step into that grotto to meet Santa.

With all of this in mind, will we be continuing this particular tradition next year? Of course we will!! Over time we’ll forget the stress of parking, the long wait, the disgruntled child, and what will remain is the wonderful memory of Santa (the real Santa), and who wouldn’t wait twice as long for that?

Merry Christmas

The Storybook Mummy xxx

Sitting On the Stair

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I’m sitting on the stair as my baby falls asleep,

She prefers to know I’m here than to count some little sheep.

It’s too dark, too noisy, too scary for me to leave the stair,

I know she’s playing me a bit but I remember being there.

When every noise and movement filled me with such fright,

And I snuck downstairs for comfort almost every night.

For me it was the shadows that crept into my room,

It always felt like morning could never come too soon.

So I sit upon my stair and wait for sleep to come,

Sometimes she’ll peer around the door to check I haven’t gone.

I walk her back to bed and kiss her on the nose,

I tell her that I love her as she settles down to doze.

Then I leave her room and quietly return to my stair,

I’m scared to move too quickly just in case she stirs.

I know by now how long she needs to reach the land of nod,

Then I can slowly slip away knowing she’s tucked in bed.

Sometimes it dark and cold out here upon this lonely stair,

But it brings such comfort to my girl to know that I am here.

One day she will not ask me to do this little job,

Then all thought of how I find it cold won’t mean a thing at all.

These little things we all do when our wee ones are still wee,

The things that bring such comfort now will soon be memories.

Like bedtime tales and lullabies, like the goodnight hug and kiss,

Like dressing her for bed each night and checking her teeth are brushed.

I cherish every time I’m asked to sit and wait,

Even if sometimes it can run on pretty late.

Some day soon I’ll be begging her to spend her time with me,

When she’s off with her friends and prefers their company.

I’m sitting on the stair as my baby falls asleep,

And I’ll sit here every night if that is what she needs.

The Storybook Mummy xxx

An Ode to Mums

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All I ever seem to do

Is run to and fro, then fro and to!

In my desperate quest to be

The bestest mummy that I can be.

I have lots of important things to do,

Like keeping kids company on the loo,

And stretching my (exhausted) brain

To participate in crazy made-up games.

I play with dolls, I play princesses,

I even wear the flouncy dresses!

I play chase and tip and hide and seek,

I build towers and castles that look on fleek.

I cook and clean and slave away

Like Cinderella (some might say).

It sometimes feels like I never stop,

With school runs and messages to the shops.

I’m busy, busy the whole day through

Just like (I’d wager) you are too!

So why do mummies never rest

In their quest to be the best?

It is because we love our tribes

Those kids that fill us with such pride

Are worth it all, every bit

But I think we all should learn to sit.

Sit and rest ourselves sometimes

It will help us help their growing minds.

It will in fact improve all chances

Of their endless questions being answered.

So how and why does it really matter

To sometimes switch off all the chatter?

What if things go off the rails

While of some ‘me time’ mum avails?

But do not fret, it will be fine!

It is vital that we take some time,

To keep our minds and bodies balanced

So we can face any challenge.

A happy mum is the centre of

A family filled with lots of love.

No matter what your family entails,

It’s love that keeps it on the rails.

The Storybook Mummy xxx

Losing Weight Is Such a Chore

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Losing weight is fun some say,
But me I’m not so sure,
I’m fond of the idea of it,
But find it such a chore!

The constant weighing and measuring
Of food and milk and wine
Can become so very tedious
At my weekend cocktail time!

Each day I track my food intake
And list my don’ts and do’s
I stay away from tempting treats
And limit chocs and booze

I argue with myself each week
‘Sure, one more won’t do much harm’
But if I splurge and break the bank
I’ll regret it later on

Losing weigh can be a chore
When you feel that you aren’t able
To make great efforts everyday
Checking small print on each label

But what of all that you will gain
While you’re busy losing weight
And focusing on exercise
To speed the slimming of your waist?

Each week you’ll have a meeting,
Where you step onto the scales.
Instead of dreading it, come on in!
It’s more meaningful when you avail.

Of the massive wealth of knowledge
That awaits you when you attend.
The group of ladies with a shared goal
Will soon become your friends.

You’ll soon start to enjoy the journey that you’re on,
With successes cheered and celebrated,
And slip ups not really frowned upon

Losing weight ain’t easy!
It can sometimes cause distress.
But I bet that you’ll feel differently
When you fit into that dress.

 

The Storybook Mummy xxx

Settling In

So the new school year is well underway and Catherine is settling into Primary One very well. I’m delighted, but getting this little lady out to school in the mornings isn’t exactly how I imagined! I know, I know, nothing ever is, but let me take you through it (a vague understanding of CBeebies morning schedule may be useful)…

My Imaginary Morning

I am woken to the sound of birds singing and sun streaming through the window. I effortlessly glide downstairs looking impossibly fabulous (because I’ve had an abundance of time to get ready). I prepare a gourmet breakfast for my family and they wake to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and bacon cooking. The beds make themselves. Catherine dresses herself. My family appear in the kitchen ready for work / school and we enjoy some interesting conversation over our delicious and nutritious breakfast.

Once Mr McC leaves for work (he skips down the driveway obvs), Catherine and I have time for a game or two before leaving for school. We leave the house on time and enjoy our walk to school, chatting (possibly singing a song or two) as we go. The sun is shining, and everything is well. I hand my daughter over to her teacher and she kisses me and bids me goodbye. I return home to a tidy house and can start my work for the day.

It’s a pity really that I don’t live in my head, because the reality is totally different. Here goes…

My Morning Reality

I wake impossibly early to the sound of little footsteps coming across the landing. I lie still. Maybe she’ll think it’s still nighttime and go back to bed. She doesn’t. She decides to climb on my head and pull my eyes open (just in case there’s any danger I may still be asleep after she climbed on my head). I give in and open my eyes. We head downstairs for breakfast to shouts of ‘I’m starving / no I’m not eating that’. Cereal is thrown in the general direction of the kitchen table, but then carried into the living room and eaten in front of Hey Duggee.

Mr McC heads off to work and I return upstairs to run a brush through my hair and put on a bit of make up (so as not to scare any children in the playground). I’m barely at the top of the stairs when I am summoned downstairs again to shouts of ‘Mummy I really need you / can you help me with something important’. I decide to investigate, just on the off chance that she’s managed to master Pythagoras Theorum, she hasn’t, she’s dropped a piece of cereal on the floor, it’s dirty, can I pick it up? For my life!! I head back upstairs and we repeat this little routine a few times before I actually manage to lift the hairbrush.

I hear the opening credits to Biggleton closely followed by the sound of Catherine charging upstairs. She can’t do her biggle wiggle if she’s not dressed (if you know, you know). I’ve been asking her to get dressed for at least half an hour, it’s almost as if she didn’t hear me (funny that). We have a heated discussion about why she had to wear her uniform to school and not her Elsa costume (but why?). By the time Catherine is dressed I am a shell of a woman. Justin’s House has started and we really need to bounce!

The walk to school is a slow and challenging one. Catherine doesn’t want to walk, so decides it’s best that she reminds me of this fact repeatedly. I am losing the plot! When we arrive at school Catherine is looking pretty grumpy (being dragged to school will do that). Her teacher asks what’s wrong and Catherine says ‘my mummy isn’t being kind’. Oh dear! I get a look that says (I hope) ‘don’t worry, I won’t call Social Services!’. I run home before she changes her mind!

The morals of this story? Nothing ever goes to plan when kids are involved, little girls consider walking to school as some sort of punishment and sometimes you’ve just gotta go with the flow, because as long as they get there and enjoy their time at school the rest is a bonus.

Let’s face it, we are all muddling through to one extent or another. No one has it all ‘together’, I certainly don’t, and that’s ok.

The Storybook Mummy xxx

Slipping Through My Fingers

She’s slipping through my fingers as I dress her up for school.

Soon enough hugging mummy at the school gate just won’t be cool.

She’s only four and looks so small in this ‘big girl’ uniform.

I can not understand where these four years have gone!

The days went by quite slowly when my little girl was wee.

It couldn’t imagine a day when she would no longer need me.

Well, she needs me still, but it’s not the same as when she was very small,

Now I help with cuts and scraps and cuddles when she falls.

I’m excited for her, of course I am, she is ready for this new step.

I’m just a little sad that I can’t be there to offer her some help,

If she struggles with her lunchbox, or making friends at school,

If she doesn’t hear the teacher, or decides to break the rules.

I keep saying ‘you’re a big girl now’ as if trying to convince her

That she should stand tall walking through those doors to her big P1 adventure.

But really, who am I trying to kid? She’s still my baby girl.

And handing her over to Miss C will be harder for me than her.

So what to do with all these fears and worries that are mounting?

Do I tell my girl that I’m crying inside, while outside I am smiling?

That’s not fair on her I think, so what I plan to do,

Is smile and waves and let her go to enjoy her days at school.

Of course, I’ll always be there to listen to her tales,

Of friends and games and spelling tests and what to bake for the cake sale.

She’s slipping through my fingers a little everyday,

But if I let her go a bit she’ll do me proud I’d say.

The Storybook Mummy xxx

A Guide to Moving House

Moving house, the most stressful of stressful things that a family can endure. We are on the other side of it now, so the stress is all forgotten and what remains are the lessons learned from moving house. Here’s my guide to moving house (you can thank me later)…

> Get organised. Pack early and pack often, live with boxes piled up in your living room for weeks before necessary in a bid to be organised. Who cares if you can’t see the TV, you are packed and organised and that’s what counts.

> When packing do remember to ensure that the boxes you are filling with your most fragile possessions are properly taped together so that the bottom WILL NOT drop out of them in transit, or even while they sit in your living room waiting to move. Sh!t happens and you may never find out who is responsible. No wait, it’ll be blamed on the person who packed the box, not on the one who put it together, so that’s you, not the husband. It’s your own fault, and that’s that!

> Remind all members of your family and anyone visiting that, although your home may look like an obstacle course, that is not the case, and no one should be climbing on or playing hide and seek in you beautifully organised boxes. To this I would also add that packed boxes are not for sitting on. If someone (say a child) does sit on a box and gets stuck, that is entirely their problem, and they should be expected to replace and repack the box in question.

> Don’t discuss moving dates with your other half, they don’t care. When the time comes just point them in the direction of the pile of boxes and ask them to arrange a removal company, which brings me nicely onto my next point…

> Hire a removal company. It may cost a bit more, but it’ll be worth it, here’s why… removal companies provide a professional service, they will handle your belonging with care, they will not damage antique family heirlooms with the same disregard as your own family members, nor will they dump everything outside your new abode and clear off, leaving you to sort through a massive pile of stuff looking for pillows and bedding on you first night in your new home.

> Buy wine. Buy lots of wine. You. Will. Need. It.

> Plan to eat out for a bit. The stress of trying to find plates, knives, forks and spoons on your first day in might just tip you over the edge. Buy Pizza. You don’t need cutlery or dishes for pizza (and it goes well with the wine).

> Make sure you know where the glasses are (see my previous point about buying wine).

> Make sure you know where the corkscrew is (see my previous point about buying wine).

> Make sure the fridge is installed and switch on ASAP (it’s the wine again!).

And lastly, unlock the front door. This one is truly genuine and very important. You will be overwhelmed by the amount of visitors, neighbours and well wishers that call you see you in those first few days. They will offer to help, bring treats, ask for a tour, but most importantly they will sit for a cuppa which gives you a very good excuse to sit for a well earned cuppa. Because if you’re moving house you will be tired, drained, stressed, excited, proud and totally absorbed in unpacking that you will definitely deserve a beverage of some kind. Whether it’s tea, coffee or wine I’ll leave that up to you.

The Storybook Mummy xxx

Packing Up

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you’ll know that the McCann family are on the move, off to pastures new. Less than half a mile away, but in some ways this is a long road with many twist and turns, because although the physical move is highly anticipated and well planned out, the emotional shift that will take us away from our home of 14 years is something else entirely.

As we prepare for our move, packing, decluttering, cleaning, I am in two minds about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, this is the right move for our family and I am very excited for what is to come. I’m excited for more space, for the work we want to do to make the new house into our home, I’m excited to be closer to family and friends, and to become part of a new community. I am however a bit sad about all the things that we are leaving behind.

Mr McC and I bought this house in 2004, we were just one year into married life and full of enthusiasm for this lovely little terrace cottage. There was no central heating, the windows and front door were in need of replacement, as were the kitchen, bathroom, skirting boards and doors and the garden was more like a jungle than the well manicured lawn we wanted. We hit the renovations head on, and moved into our fully renovated house just 8 weeks after getting the keys. I remember feeling relieved that all the work was behind us and we could get on with enjoying our new home. I never expected that ‘the work’ would never end, and as our lives changed so would our home.

In the early days we had parties without too much concern for our cream carpets (or the neighbours) and our house was the ideal after party venue because it is so convenient. We took a 3 year break from the house while living in London, but it was still ours, and we were delighted to move back in when we moved home. This time when we say goodbye we won’t return. We can drive past all we like but it won’t be our house anymore.

We have so many wonderful memories in this house. We have spent many happy hours train watching and looking for frogs in the garden. Catherine has grown here, she rolled over, sat up, crawled and took her first little steps in this house. She was sitting on my knee in the living room and said ‘dog’ when she was just 9 months old. She fell down the stairs and thankfully avoided injury. She has drawn on the walls and smudged the windows with fingerprints and kisses. She’s only 4 and I’m worried that she won’t even remember her very first haven.

This house has been everything to us. We are so proud of what we have achieved here, both in terms of the improvements we have made and the direction our lives have taken.

So as we pack up all of our worldly possessions and clear the decks for someone new, we are taking pictures as we go. Pictures of nothing in particular, but of everything that has helped shape our lives as a family. We will miss this wee place, but we are ready for a new adventure.

The Storybook Mummy xxx