Are you done? Are you done building your house? It’s been around for a while, it may have a little structural damage, some rooms a little shabby, perhaps some furniture that’s no longer used, but it’s still standing. You live in it, it’s home but you feel sometimes you need to shake things up, rewire, redecorate, renovate, make it a place that makes you happy and fulfilled. I’m talking about houses in a metaphorical sense of course. I’m talking about the house that takes us through life – our skeleton, skin, and bones. Mine is probably more than halfway through its lifetime. I’ve not been kind to it. It’s been filled with mental litter, some spaces are in desperate need of a makeover, others are dark and dusty with no natural light. I’ve welcomed in strangers but didn’t have the strength to make them leave. Others have left their footprint, and I’m happy to call them life long friends. But, I’ve certainly not used my house to its fullest potential, it has weathered a lot of storms, dramatically affecting its worth. I’ve spent too long feeling sorry for it, its value never recognised.
So, in the interests of increasing its value, I’ve started meditating. I have over the years tried it and gave up, not able to quiet my busy, hamster on a wheel mind. A very good friend has suggested more than once that I should try it. I’ve found a meditation I like and it’s having quite a profound effect. I’m less anxious, less irritable, more relaxed, more in the moment. A family member has said that since having Sonny, I’m more present. I’m done living in the past, I’ve made peace with it. I’m so excited about the future, I feel like a new day is dawning. It’s all down to my son, everything I do is because of him, and for him. The world owes me nothing, I owe the world.
As I continue to work on my house, make it a calm, happy place, make it a place I want to live in, I have begun building another. I want that house to be structurally sound, to be wired correctly, to be a place of sanctuary. I want my darling son to know that even when there are storms, he can weather them because he is resilient, like his mum. Building a house is not easy, it’s stressful, it’s expensive, it’s frustrating and sometimes you want to give up. But, you know that eventually, you can look at your house in admiration, proud of what you have achieved and content that you’ve done everything in your power to make it a happy home. I will learn from the mistakes I’ve made in my own house. We are architects of our own fate.
They say life begins at 40. Now I know the true meaning of that. Am I done? I’m just getting started.
Words are my currency so it’s not too often I’m stuck for them. However, I’m struggling to find the right adjectives to describe our three days spent at the newly opened Center Parcs in Longford Forest. We’ve made memories for life and it’s so special to share time as a family in such a magical place. Set in over 400 acres of willowy trees and lush landscapes, Center Parcs offers a wonderful woodland retreat. It has to be seen to be believed. As a permatired mum of a tenacious one-year-old, I’ve been daydreaming about our trip for ages. The danger with that, of course is that nothing can ever possibly measure up to your imagination but in this case, it did. Center Parcs is about a three-hour drive from Belfast, so makes the perfect stay-cay for families, couples and friends.
I was like a giddy kid at Christmas when I saw the Center Parcs sign on the way into the resort. We picked up our wristbands that double as a lock for your accommodation and lockers – what a brilliant idea as I am terrible for misplacing key cards. One of the most exciting things about going away – for me at least – is where you are staying. I love opening the door, running my hand over the crisp white bed linen, admiring the gleaming surfaces of the bathroom and enjoying an invigorating power shower. I was not disappointed, the decor is muted with a relaxing forest scene as a feature wall. We stayed in an Executive Lodge which had ample space for a family of three. There were two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, one with a bath and the other with a wet room. Our fluffy towels were beautifully rolled up on the bed which was a good size and passed the bounce test – that’s not just me, right? We had the most amazing view from our lovely, inviting lodge. There is nothing better than waking up to birdsong and forty shades of green. Sonny, who has taken a few tentative steps prefer crawling like a clockwork toy as his means of (rather effective) transport. He went about inspecting the lodge, stopping to vigorously tap various surfaces (it’s his thing), and he particularly enjoyed a luxurious bubble bath. The showers are amazing too and ladies, even the hairdryer works like a dream. There is even a vanity mirror with a shelf for makeup. I’d have been quite happy to spend the entire weekend in our lodge but I was also keen to experience the best of what Center Parcs had to offer and give Sonny the best time ever.
Everywhere in the resort is walking distance but you can hire bicycles with trailers for nippers so you can be where you want to be in a matter of minutes. Andrew and I had target archery booked so I could channel my inner Katniss Everdeen and Andrew, his inner Robin Hood. We dropped our little darling off in the amazing creche in the Sports Plaza. He immediately got distracted with a piano mat and didn’t even bother giving us a sideways glance as we wished him an emphatic goodbye. This was somewhat reassuring as we made our way to the Outdoor Activity Centre. I have never tried archery before but I fancied trying something new. We were given excellent instructions and it was time to try our hand at it. When you see archers in the movies, they make it look so effortless, it takes quite a lot of effort but it is very exhilarating when you release the arrow. I hit red on my first go, followed by the arrow missing the target completely. I soon got the hang of it and even managed to hit gold – not quite bullseye but I felt very accomplished. Meanwhile, my hubby, who has a competitive streak, did much better than me and even got a certificate for third place, which is going to take pride of place in his study. There are so many things to do, the difficulty is choosing what. You can try Laser Combat, Aerial Tree Trekking, and Stand-Up Paddle Board Tuition. For little ones, there is a Pirate and Princess Adventure, a Wizard Academy and a Chocolate Chef’s Academy – and so much more.
The weather was balmy too. I almost didn’t pack any sunscreen as the forecast was for heavy rain. The sun shone for the majority of our stay and even if I forgot anything, it wouldn’t matter as there is a brilliant ParcMarket in the village where you can buy groceries, baby essentials and mummy essentials, like wine and chocolate. There are great restaurants to cater for every taste too. I absolutely love that there are Ella’s Kitchen feeding stations in them – with free grub for hungry little infants and toddlers. We dined at Bella Italia which has a delicious array of food including thin and crispy pizzas, lasagne and risotto. It was so tasty and the waiting staff were so friendly. There is a play area for kiddies so you can eat your meal in relative peace. I got all dressed up as I rarely get the chance to anymore. So, I felt pretty damn good. My lovely bubble was burst when I glanced up from my menu and saw another mum wearing exactly the same dress. We studiously avoided each other’s gaze, even though we kept running into each other for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully, we weren’t twinning in The Pancake House the next morning. The pancakes, by the way, were absolutely unreal.
It is so difficult to condense our experience into a blog but I can’t not gush about the Aqua Sana spa. It is quite simply the best spa I have ever been too. Andrew, not one to dole out praise too often said it was “amazing”. Aqua Sana is inspired by the natural world and offers 21 hot, cold, herbal and meditative experiences across four zones: the Nordic Forest, Hot Springs, Volcanic Forest, and Treetop Nesting. Oh yea, and there are outdoor hot tubs, rain forest showers and reflexology foot spas. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a smiling lady who offered us a shot of Prosecco or orange juice. You can probably guess which one I chose. We were given luxurious robes and towels and we padded into this paradise of unparalleled relaxation. We bathed in the outside infinity pool and then enjoyed the views of the forest from the hot tub. I’d recommend the waterbeds. You could easily spend an entire day here, or life.
So, more fun stuff. The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is a jewel is Center Parc’s crown. It is Ireland’s largest water park and features an awesome family wave pool and rides for adrenaline junkies. I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to anything which could be deemed adventurous but recently, I’m developing an appetite for things I would not have previously considered. I knew I had to do something and wasn’t brave enough for the Tropical Cyclone – which Andrew tried and loved. I thought the Wild Water Rapids looked quite fun and something I could handle at a push. With Andrew on Sonny duty, I cautiously teetered over to the slide, the frothy waves waiting to engulf me. I ignored the ‘you can’t do this!’ voice, held my breath and pinched my nose, one down, I survived. About five to go. I saw the next slide. I can’t do it. An attendant saw my sorry plight. I really wanted to get out but I couldn’t. Meanwhile, youngsters a quarter of my age greeted me looking slightly bemused and threw themselves down the steep slide. I was half mortified, half terrified, looking like a stranded sea lion. The lovely attendant spoke to a lifeguard who told me I just had to go for it. I had to swallow my fears and swallow some water as it turns out. He offered to hold my hand, I reckoned that was way too pathetic, even for me. I went for it and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was even quite enjoyable. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. Sonny, meanwhile, adored the water, splashing and kicking, so happy he made lots of high-pitched squeaks. Memories of that sound and his toothy grin will stay with me forever.
On Saturday night, we dined at Rajinda Pradesh. Sonny was pretty zonked from the day’s activities so while he slept in his buggy, our taste buds were treated to mouthwatering Asian cuisine. Some menu highlights are satay-style chicken wings and Malaysian beef rendang. The service was impeccable and the food was superb. We rounded off the night at Huck’s American Bar and Grill with a few gins for me and Guinness for him. Sunday morning dawned and it was time to pack up, or rather, chuck things into bags. I (over)cooked a fry-up in the spotless kitchen, feeling a bit bad for using the gleaming oven. We had a little time before home so we took a rowing boat out on the lake. Sonny was not a fan of his life-jacket, even though he looked utterly adorable in it. Despite Andrew’s protestations that he could row, we hugged the banks for about half the time we were allotted. Thankfully, we were towed out into the middle of the lake and soon we were gliding, Andrew doing all the work while I tried my best to keep Master Sonny calm. Back on dry land, Sonny had a well-earned nap while we had frothy lattes at The Coffee House overlooking the lake. It was nice to reflect on our incredible time, in between batting away wasps. Meanwhile, Sonny enjoyed eating jam directly from the jar. Before hitting the road, we bought Sonny a little memento of his visit – a dragon soft toy from Just Kids.
As we made our way back to our car, my heart hurt a little. I really didn’t want to leave this magical place. I didn’t want to return to reality. But, all good things must come to an end and we made our way back to Belfast. We made some amazing memories which are safely banked. There is nothing better than seeing your little one smile and he did that a lot at Center Parcs. As my hubby said, “We’ll be back.” I will certainly hold him to that. I highly recommend a trip to Center Parcs whether you are a family, couple or bunch of mates. It’s special – you’ll never want to leave.
I was lucky to have an uncomplicated pregnancy. I didn’t gain much weight despite binging on Fruit-tella and doughnuts. I had no morning sickness. My ankles didn’t swell and I didn’t feel uncomfortable until the last few weeks. My darling, lazy son Sonny didn’t come on his due date, preferring to extend his cozy stay for another week, while I waddled around our home looking like a hot mess, cleaning windows (so unlike me) and anxious to see his little pink face. I was booked in for an induction so I prayed for my waters to break, trying the usual things that are recommended, curry, herbal tea, and a little red wine. I waited for signs, had a false alarm, furiously scrolled on my phone, sighing loudly at unhelpful comments “you’ll know”. Heck, was that true. My contractions started in my lower back on Sunday evening. I was on all fours crying like a total wuss while my husband (unhelpfully) massaged my back like he was shown in antenatal classes. As my contractions got closer together I called the hospital, sobbing from the acute pain. That was nothing – mother nature had a lot more up her sleeve – was this some sort of karma for having an easy pregnancy? As a first-time mum, nothing can prepare you for what labour is going to be like, no matter how many hypnobirthing books you read. The pain was excruciating but, somehow, I sort of coped with gas and air. Sonny arrived in the birthing pool at 10.10am on Monday weighing 8lbs and 7 oz. I remember the sun streaming through the windows – Sonny was a fitting name. I had only minor tears thankfully and it wasn’t long before I everything returned to normal. I was lucky. Many, many women suffer complications and experience birth trauma. Many women suffer prolapse with symptoms of bladder and bowel dysfunction, urinary stress incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction and in some cases, fecal incontinence. It’s horrifying. While I didn’t suffer any issues, it doesn’t make any less passionate about highlighting them.
Mind the (tummy) gap
Still, when you have a baby, you feel invincible, like you can face just about anything. I mean, you’ve carried a human being for nine months – and pushed it out. As I climbed the stairs to the clinic where I was to have my Mummy MOT, I thought (and panted) to myself, “well, it can’t be that bad”. Well, you’ll be very glad to know it wasn’t. A Mummy MOT is a specialist postnatal examination for women following both vaginal and caesarean deliveries. Giving birth is an endurance test that requires a massive amount of effort. While it’s a natural process, it’s obvious that giving birth is going to take a massive toll on our bodies. A Mummy MOT assesses how your posture, pelvic floor muscles, and stomach muscles are recovering after birth. Up to half of all women experience weakness in both the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles after pregnancy and up to a third still have a gap in their tummy at eight weeks post birth which can cause instability or poor core strength leading to women developing pelvic pain or bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction. Sobering stuff. Following your Mummy MOT, you are given a personal exercise and activity plan.
I sat down with my lovely physiotherapist Sally Laverty. We went over my medical history and I gave her the details of my birth and if I was having any postnatal issues. My body is fairly unscathed but lately, I have been experiencing what can only be described as a ‘creak’ in my lower back when I twist and some pelvic discomfort when I sit down. I had to perform simple exercises like bending over, squatting and lunging. So far so good. Next was the examination part. I lay on a bed and Sally felt all around my torso, establishing weak, tight spots. Sally also felt around my neck and shoulders, commenting on the extremely tight knots. Yes, I have a bad habit of hunching over when I am nervous or anxious. I knew what was coming. The Mummy MOT includes an internal pelvic exam and so you are required to remove the bottom half of your clothing. It’s really not as bad as it sounds. Believe me, I am the most squeamish, scaredy-cat you will ever meet. For some context, it takes longer than a smear test but it isn’t as uncomfortable. To be honest, the worst parts of the Mummy MOT were my tight muscles being pressed and massaged. An hour elapsed fairly quickly and Sally gave me exercises to do at home to strengthen my body – and even develop a six pack! A few hours later, an email pinged in my inbox and Sally listed her findings. In the interests of openness (and doing Sally justice), I’ve listed them below.
Tight hip muscles, notably hamstrings, piriformis and adductors.
Some increased muscle tone on the left of the pelvic floor.
3.4/5 muscle strength on a pelvic floor contraction.
Poor endurance of the pelvic floor muscles.
Good recovery of the abdominal wall (only a 1cm separation of the rectus abdominus muscles with good tensile strength of the linea alba underneath.
Flaring of the left rib cage.
I’ll admit, I haven’t heard of some of the terms used and I giggled at how much ‘rectus abdominus’ sounds a lot like a dinosaur. ‘Poor endurance of the pelvic floor muscles’ made a lot of sense seeing that during labour, I wasn’t pushing. Well, I was pushing, but I certainly wasn’t using my pelvic floor. On a serious note, I was blown away by how comprehensive the assessment was. Here I was, being smug about how my body had ‘snapped back’ while all these underlying issues were going on. It’s a very serious matter and if I take my health seriously, it’s up to me to be responsible – especially if baby number two was to come along. Sally also recommended that I drink more water (which I’m terrible at) take probiotics, do yoga each evening and use a meditation app like Calm – “body scans are fantastic,” she said. Sally says some women can feel quite emotional after a pelvic exam as it’s a release of tension. I didn’t experience a surge of emotions but I definitely felt a lot lighter.
All mums should have an MOT
Maria Elliot, mummy, physiotherapist, and founder of The Mummy MOT says: “All mums should have an MOT. Pregnancy takes a lot. The body is lengthened and stretched and then you deliver your baby with a person you’ve never met. Pushing weakens the pelvic floor so it’s important to do postnatal rehab exercises.” She says the most common postnatal issues women experience are prolapse symptoms, which is akin to heaviness and dragging and fear of organs falling out, pelvic floor weakness and urinary incontinence. Some women even have pelvic girdle pain up to 12 weeks after giving birth.
Maria’s mission is that women’s postnatal issues are resolved or fixed before going back to work. She recommends that women book their Mummy MOT between six and eight weeks for a vaginal delivery and before 12 weeks for a caesarean. Her message is clear – postnatal rehab works. As a new mum, I couldn’t recommend a Mummy MOT enough, in fact, I’m going to make sure I tell every mum I know about it. Your baby is everything, but so are you. Self-care will make you the best mum you can be, and don’t we and our babies deserve the best?
One of the most challenging obstacles of parenthood is getting your baby into a bedtime routine. For the most part, it’s trial and error, but establishing good sleep hygiene early on will make you and your little one’s life a lot easier (and happier). It really is a lottery as to whether you get a ‘good sleeper’. Some babies can sleep for 12-hour stretches, while others can wake up every hour. Speaking as a first-time mum, my little boy Sonny took about eight months to get into a routine. As a newborn, Sonny was a very noisy sleeper. He was also a colicky baby and used to writhe around his cot, body popping. He fed every two-three hours. As someone who loves their sleep, and would regularly be in bed for 10.30pm before having a baby, this was a major shock to my system. Still, I coped with coffee, napping during the day when Sonny slept and just knowing this phase would pass, although it didn’t feel like that at the time. However, if you already have a toddler or older children in the house, I know naps will be nigh impossible. But, you cope. We’re superhuman like that.
Like any new mum, I hovered over my little bundle, listening for his gentle breathing, placing my quivering hand on his chest, watching it rise and fall. You imagine every worst case type scenario there is. I was hyper-sensitive, worrying about SIDS, questioning every sound. “Is he too warm? Too cold? Is that a rash?” Still, babies survived before guidelines even existed so you do your very best and if you’re not sure, always ask for help. Although those days with my eyes on stalks are a blurry memory, I got through it and could maybe even do it again.
Recently, I brought Sonny to a Settled Petals sleep workshop. It was somewhat fitting, that he dragged his bedtime bunny. Now, a plucky one-year-old, he is sleeping 12 hours at night. Yes, I’m very lucky (for now) but his daytime naps are irregular and some days he doesn’t nap at all. While he goes down anytime between 6pm and 8pm, I would like his bedtime to about 7pm. In our house, Sonny’s bedtime routine begins with drawing the blinds, a warm bottle, a bath (not every night), a book, and then popping Sonny in his sleeping bag and putting on Ewan the Dream Sheep, which we’ve used since the first night he came home. It also has a red light, which is supposed to remind baby of being inside the womb. Sonny also can’t sleep without his beloved Jellycat grey bunny. It’s recommended you don’t put any toys in your baby’s cot before they are six-months-old though.
Certified Sleep Consultant Susan Wallace is incredibly knowledgeable and the workshop was full of mums, a dad, beautiful babies, and curious crawlers – Sonny being the worst offender. Tea, coffee, and buns are offered at the start, the latter was snatched from my hand by Sonny and promptly disintegrated into a thousand crumbs on the yoga mat we were sat on. He spent the rest of the class, being a little nuisance, wrestling me for my notepad and pen. I still picked up on some of Susan’s many excellent points. Susan set up her business just six months ago and has since worked with 231 families who have booked into the service for either sleep, baby yoga or massage.
Susan began the class explaining how are our modern sleeping patterns mirror how our ancestors slept. When we slept in groups, individuals would wake up at 1.5 hourly intervals to check for danger and tend to the fire. Susan says we enter light sleep frequently throughout the night and do a full body ‘scan’, this is to check if we are too hot, too cold or if we need the toilet. If all is well, we’ll just drift back to sleep. Little babes, of course, will scream the house down until their needs are met.
Susan says that we, as adults, use ‘sleep props’, the most obvious being our duvet. It would seem very strange to us to lie down in bed without pulling something over us. Babies need props too. Strategies that we employ include feeding and rocking to sleep. It can be very difficult for a baby to self-settle if they are used to either of these, nonetheless effective strategies. Self-settling is the holy grail. It’s worth pointing out that babies don’t make melatonin for six to eight weeks. And when they do, breastfeeding mums will want to avoid feeding their baby milk containing cortisol at night and milk containing melatonin during the day. Another thing to be aware of is ‘sleep pressure’. And I’m not talking about the pressure we feel to get our babies to sleep! Sleep pressure is an unconscious biological process that makes us want to sleep. without enough sleep pressure built up, we (and babies) won’t be able to settle or sleep for long. This is were nap time comes in. The first nap of the day is the easiest as there is enough sleep pressure built up from the night before. However, if a baby has a really long morning nap, there won’t be enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap, resulting in your baby getting overtired, making them even more awake come bedtime. It really is a quandary. With that in mind, a shorter morning nap is to be encouraged so baby has enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap. Susan says the last nap of the day predicts when a baby will wake up.
As well as understanding the science, there are practical things you can do to help boost your baby’s melatonin. Susan says that night lights aren’t the best idea, especially the ones that emit a white or blue glow. A red glow, she says, is “less detrimental” to sleep so choose lights and light up toys with care. Buy blackout blinds for the nursery and your own bedroom if necessary, play continuous white noise and remove stimulating toys. If you breastfeed, you can buy a Meemoobaby Meelight that attaches to you for night feeds.
If you have a colicky baby, add the bedtime bottle to the start of the routine and keep baby upright for at least half an hour. If you use formula, stir the milk, don’t shake it. This might sound obvious but I always shook the bottle, thinking I needed to do that to mix the formula. You don’t. Susan says to hold your baby over your right shoulder to get gas up.
For the first three to four weeks, Susan says to hold and touch your baby as much as possible – and keep it up. She says that slings are brilliant for keeping small babies close to you. Swaddling is also beneficial for the newborn days – although getting the technique right is very important. A fascinating article by Green Child Magazine highlights a 2017 study published in Development and Psychopathology. It found that infant touch “can affect babies at a molecular level, and the positive results can last for years.” The article also states that babies who do not receive adequate human interaction and especially the loving touch, can become depressed or anxious and are prone to anti-social behaviour in later life.
Creating an environment that is similar to being in the womb is key – which for an adult is like being in a hammock (nice). For the first six months, nothing should in the crib or Moses basket other than a sheet over the mattress, to reduce the risk of SIDS. If you choose to co-sleep, ensure there are no pets in the bedroom and do not drink or smoke. Also, never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa. After six months, you can place a comforter, toy or just a t-shirt you have worn for a few days and tie it up in a knot. Your baby will be immensely comforted by your scent.
You can also look out for sleeping cues like rubbing eyes and looking away, which babies tend to do when they are feeling overwhelmed. Also, Susan says, batting your baby’s bum is a good way to comfort them as it reminds them of bobbing about in the womb.
From nine to 12 months, your baby may experience separation anxiety. You can help combat this with sleep training using ‘The Chair in the Room’ and ‘The Kissing Game’. There is also the ‘Wake to Sleep’ method, which encourages infants to self-settle if they are early morning larks – of which 10% of babies are.
I hope this blog is helpful to new mums or mums who are experiencing sleep issues with their little ones. Susan offers a wealth of information in her workshops and I’d highly recommend them. Susan works closely with families who need a little extra help too. She also offers baby massage, baby yoga, and children’s yoga classes, all of which are known to increase sleep quality in children.
I learned an awful lot from the workshop, it was absolutely fascinating. Yes, all babies are different and unpredictable but having knowledge is very empowering and it’s also comforting to know that you aren’t the only mum or dad going through a rough time.
This blog post will be short and sweet, much like my son’s new haircut. Sonny was born with a shock of black hair. I had really bad heartburn but I don’t know if that’s related or just an old wives’ tale. I thought this fluffy ‘baby’ hair might fall out to be replaced with new hair but it didn’t. It just got lighter. Both my husband are both follicly blessed. I have thick, coarse hair that needs a professional blow-dry to look shiny and bouncy while my husband – now a silver fox – has healthy, thick hair. I too was born with lots of dark hair. As a child, my hair was my crowning glory – or so my mum says. But, it’s been through a lot since then, from bleaching, colouring, ironing (yup – a clothing iron!), then various straighteners until I bought my first pair of GHD’s – a complete godsend. I love getting my hair coloured and see it as a real treat. But, I can understand why little ones might be frightened by someone coming at them with a pair of scissors.
I remember as a young girl going to a hair salon for a ‘trim’, as opposed to a ‘cut’. The instructions from my dear mum was to get it trimmed, I should point out. But then, somehow, I ended up with most of my thick, chestnut mane lopped off. I’ve no idea how this came to be but I went from feeling quite grown up to feeling traumatised. Sure, it would grow back but I still felt like I’d lost a limb. I think as adults, we get our hair cut to signify a new chapter in our life, much like the song ‘I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair’, you cut out whatever negativity is going on in your life, such as an ex, for example. Women are emotionally attached to their hair, they wear it like an armour. You’ve heard the phrase, having a ‘bad hair day’. You feel good when your hair is done, my mum would testify to this – her hair is always immaculate, and so would most of the women I know. Most days, my hair is scraped into a top knot, but when it’s done, I feel my best.
Sonny, unfettered by traumatic experiences in the hands of a hairdresser, took his first trim like a man. He seemed completely unfazed by his locks being snipped off at my regular salon Paul Meekin Hair. I looked at Sonny, propped up in the barber’s chair, feeling teary, proud and totally in love. I brought a little bag to collect his tawny hair clippings, which I’ll keep in a little memory box. Later, I came across an article online of things you should do to prevent your baby’s first haircut being a ‘traumatic’ experience. It hadn’t even occurred to me bring an iPad or snacks or some of the things suggested. So, either I got off very lightly or maybe going to the hairdressers isn’t so bad after all. My husband goes to the barber every four weeks while I’m lucky if I get my hair cut and coloured three or four times a year. If Sonny’s hair grows as fast as mine, I’m going to have to sell a kidney… but, finances aside, Sonny getting his first hair cut was a stress-free experience for us both. It did help that Paul’s two cute little dogs were running around at his feet, fascinated by my squealing with delight, grinning baby. They say the first cut is the deepest, but for us, it was the sweetest.
It’s about 7.30pm and I’m sitting with professional blogger and mum-of-two Vicki Psarias before she goes on stage to a full house of creative women to promote her empowering book Mumboss at The Black Box in Belfast. Since hitting the shelves last year, it’s become a No. 1 Amazon bestseller and has been noted in the top ten business books written by women in The Independent. In it, she encourages readers to embrace her mumboss manifesto, explaining how we can balance our work, our passions and, our parenting. Despite sounding a little hoarse (no doubt down to her hectic schedule), effervescent Vicki cuts a striking figure and fizzles with excited energy. She is chatty, confident, honest, funny and just really, really nice. She’s the kind of person that makes you feel better, just by being in her company. Conversation flowed, and I even shared some anecdotes from my short tenure as a mother myself to which she smiled warmly and nodded. She offered me vegan pizza and garlic bread, which I accepted having just come from work, resulting in tomato sauce splashing all over my notes. There’s a first time for everything. This will definitely go down as one of my most fun interviews to date.
The beauty of being a writer is the people that you are lucky enough to meet. I do believe that everyone crosses your path for a reason. As a relative newcomer to the blogging world, it’s taking every ounce of my self-confidence to put my voice out there. I started blogging when Sonny was just nine weeks old. When I think back on those bleary-eyed days, struggling to string a sentence together, I wonder how I even got a chance to sit down at my laptop. But in truth, it was cathartic. It was my therapy. I’ve put myself off starting a blog for many years, for many reasons. Motherhood offers so much content, that people can relate to and I’ve really enjoyed sharing my story as a first-time mum on the cusp of turning 40. Meeting Vicki has come at a time of big change in my life. It’s very serendipitous. So often I doubt myself, I’m a procrastinator, I can be listless at times. But sometimes, you meet someone and you just know what you’re supposed to do. For me, that person is Vicki.
Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum has a two million reach each month on her blog and social channels. She is a multi award-winning screenwriter, director, filmmaker, best-selling author, professional blogger and mum to two young, gorgeous children Oliver (9) and Alexander (6). You will most likely have seen her commenting on parenting issues on the likes of Good Morning Britain (most recently debating whether parents should drink alcohol) as well as Lorraine, BBC Breakfast and Sky News. Vicki has also featured in Vogue, The Guardian and written for Grazia and Closer to name but a few.
The importance of being honest.
Vicki says her mum, husband and closest pals are honest with her. “It’s the only way to be with the ones you love. Considerate but candid.”
How does this entrepreneurial mum juggle work and family life? “My kids are both at school so I work when they’re there, and stop at pick-up where I run around like a headless chicken getting them to and from lessons like swimming and helping them with homework (bloody love it to be honest) and then if I’m on deadline, I work for a while again when they sleep. My husband and I share the load but having a freelance career gives me flexibility. It’s why I left directing and I feel grateful I can be so hands-on, my kids are my life.”
Being a mum defines me but it doesn’t limit me. It makes me better at my job. Through weakness, you discover your strength.
“We all have important stories to tell. Sharing what matters to you. Like a painter with strokes of a paintbrush.”
Vicki started writing her blog in 2010 when her son Oliver was ten months (incidentally the same age as Sonny now). “I had a traumatic birth and I wasn’t being honest about how I felt. I was under a black cloud and was pretending to be strong.” Her blog was light-hearted to begin with. “I wasn’t strong enough to write about it.” Then, at Christmas, she spoke to her parents about how she felt and moved to Leeds and started CBT. “With my blog and being close to my parents, I was able to start healing.” Nine years on and her family live in Windsor.
Being honest is in Vicki’s DNA. She says: “I’m tactful, or I try to be. I’m thick-skinned. It’s the Greek Cypriot in me, we’re culturally honest – and I’m also a Yorkshire girl. It’s not about keeping up appearances.
Therapy helps you unlearn negativity. It is such a gift.
Being honest isn’t always easy though. “It took five years before I could write about my traumatic birth and five months before I could talk about my thyroid operation.” The latter, she describes as the most painful experience she has suffered to date, despite enduring a crash c-section (in part) because of her high pain threshold.
When you’re not well, you need a village.
Talking about those who try to take her down, she says: “I don’t engage with trolls. I’ll maintain a dignified silence. There was an incident in which I wish I had spoken up but I didn’t have the strength as I’d lost my young aunt Zak at the time and was overwhelmed with grief. You have to pick your battles anyway. Therapy teaches you to take a moment before reacting.”
Vicki hates the notion that women need to be ‘ruthless’ or ‘difficult’ to thrive. “Successful women are so often painted as being ruthless or tough to work with, which is for the most part, complete and utter sexist nonsense. That doesn’t mean that some successful women aren’t difficult or ruthless, the same applies to men, but this stereotype, for the most part, is untrue and massively unhelpful. The majority of successful women I know are incredibly generous and sisterly. We are living and working in a limiting, unequal society and workplace where these dated, biased preconceptions need to change – and thankfully, are.”
As women, we have definitely drawn the short straw when it comes to the workforce. We need to unlearn what society has taught us.
“As a film director, I had a meeting with top producers and they assumed I was an actress auditioning for a part. While there’s nothing wrong with acting of course, I was a director. As a woman, you’re expected to be a certain way and look a certain way. When I went to a locum GP about my anxiety, I was told, “you look fine”. “I’ve perfected looking fine,” she quips. “Oprah said that being undermined led to her becoming wealthy and strong.”
Being honest is a key to success.
So why should we buy Mumboss? “Writing Mumboss was like having another child and it was a big relief to get it published. I wish I had had it when I started my blog. Money was never a driving force. I always wanted to work in a caring profession and used to teach. It covers everything from the imposter syndrome, finding your voice, purpose, juggling and self-care. Know your story matters and that everything takes a little time. I remember when I had 200 followers on Twitter and I was blown away. That’s as many people that were at my wedding. The followers I’ve had from day one are still with me today. It is a gift and a privilege to do what I do.”
Vicki is only human, so how does she deal with self-doubt and procrastination? “I talk my worries through with my husband and therapist. I’m learning to trust myself more and to be more compassionate with myself. I don’t really procrastinate that much. I like to be busy! She says she has had writer’s block a few times but she describes herself as a “doer”. “I’ve spent most of my life being creative and being consistent about that creativity.
On a personal level, I find myself hot-wired to catastrophize but Vicki doesn’t believe this is a universal trait of women. “I’m not sure we are built that way to be honest. Many women I know are incredibly calm. I worry less about worst case scenarios these days.”
Vicki says that her family keeps her motivated and doing what she loves. “My family and friends are my roots. My mantra ‘don’t believe the hype, don’t believe the shite’ bodes well. I believe in equality. We’re all human and equal. I hate hierarchy or those driven by ego.
Vicki’s advice to someone wanting to begin a blog but not knowing where to start is to buy Mumboss. “It’s a bit cheeky but I’ve shared everything I know about blogging in it. It’s easier than ever to set up a blog now. You simply need the confidence to start. To trust that your voice matters. Twice a week is ideal when it comes to SEO and building your brand. Also, around 600-800 words minimum per post. Don’t forget to share on social media too.”
So, can wo(men) have it all? “I think men or men have to compromise whatever they do, because that’s life but I do think it’s possible to have a family and a career. You just have to be realistic about your expectations and know that things take time. So, lower your standards when it comes to the home being perfect and share the school run/childcare with your partner and friends and don’t spread yourself too thinly.”
The day you plant the seed, is not the day you eat the fruit.
Vicki likes to relax by practicing yoga, eating dark chocolate and watching reality TV. “I also love getting outdoors with my family as much as possible.”
“Motherhood is a heady mix of joy, unconditional love and frustration,” she smiles. “The most difficult thing is ‘the juggle’. My blog creates experiences but we have a super normal life.”
You don’t need to be a writer. You just need to be brave.
Vicki says: “Unfollow people that don’t make you feel good. I’m lucky that my mum always champions me. Protect your space.”
You need to know that seeking others’ approval will never make you happy.
“I accidentally created this job. But ask yourself, are you having fun? My brilliant manager Jack Freud was the first to ask me to use that question as a barometer, to ask myself if I’m happy doing x, y, z. It’s important to say no to things too.
“The best thing about this job is the creativity. You have to live life to write about your life. It’s not always easy. Just work smarter.
“I do let TV babysit where I have a pressing deadline here and there. Guilt is futile. Cut yourself some slack. Self-care is so important. Go on a night out and enjoy some guilt-free fun with your pals.”
I think we’re bloody superheroes. We have peripheral vision. Our maternal instinct is strong.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help and accept help. It is a job and you’re not going to be great straight away,” she grins. “Kids are really pure joy.”
The future is bright for Vicki but she likes not knowing what’s around the corner. “That’s the beauty of what I do, it keeps me on my toes. Every day, something new pops into my inbox but it’s not magic, it’s the product of hard, hard graft.”
Although I only met Vicki for a short time, she’s left a lasting impression on me – and given me a much-need confidence boost.
I’ll leave you with this quote Vicki has posted on her blog.
By doing what you love, you inspire and awaken the hearts of others.
Quick fire round!
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Wine or Gin? Wine
Cat or dog? Both
Night out or night in? In mostly but love a night out. I’m rubbish at this game!
Heels or flats? Flats but I prefer how my legs look in heels.
Sweet or savoury? Sweet
Primark or Prada? Neither, can I have Zara please?
Morning lark or night owl? Night owl but in training to be a morning bird.
Battles, dragons, permanently on the Night’s Watch and fighting for a moment on the (porcelain) throne. Here are nine reasons motherhood is a lot like the fantasy epic.
You need to plan everything with military precision.
Every day’s a battlefield. Just getting out of your castle, erm, house. It used to be just your handbag, which amongst scrunched-up receipts, old lipsticks and out of date mints included your keys, purse and phone. Now you have a changing bag, containing nappies, nappy bags, wet wipes, teethers, teething gel, food pouches, milk bottles, dummies, snacks and Calpol. I don’t even carry a handbag anymore. I use the changing bag as my bag too. So chic, eh?
You just want five minutes to yourself in the porcelain throne room.
Gone are the days you used to go to the bathroom on your own. The definition of luxury is having an uninterrupted shower, or time to do your business without having to attend the whims of your babe. If I don’t get a shower before Sonny gets up, it means a shower with his nose pressed against the shower doors, while he bangs it with his tiny fists. In Game of Thrones, there is a lot of competition for the (Iron) throne. But, whoever gets to sit on it at least has time to do their business…
Babies are a lot like dragons (cute ones).
They’re noisy, demanding, messy and have an insatiable appetite, and that’s just babies. Yes, dragons and babies have quite a lot in common. Your baby, though you love them dearly, can be a little monster, stopping you sleeping, eating and showering and generally, having a life. Still, much like Daenerys, no matter how big and annoying they get, they’re still your children and you heart them to the moon and back.
You’re always on the Night’s Watch.
Okay, the Night’s Watch is no more, thanks to a certain Ice Dragon, you know what I mean if you’re a mama. No more snuggling beneath the sheets and not waking up until the alarm goes off. You hear every snuffle and rustle. You check if they’re warm enough or that they haven’t pulled their favourite bunny over their face. Then, if you don’t have a sleeper, you need to dig deep to get through the night.
You always need to be prepared for the unexpected.
Life in general throws lots of curve balls. When you’re a mum, these usually come in the form of your baby’s bodily fluids. But, other than that, babies are unpredictable, and when they get mobile, you need eyes on the back of your head. Much like the GoT characters, it’s handy to have a third eye like Bran.
You’re always in danger of losing your head…
Not literally, thankfully. But, motherhood is stressful, emotional and exhausting. Be sure to get some you time, whether that’s a power walk with your head phones full blast, a catch up with your bestie, or just having the house to yourself for a few hours. It’s important to feel like the you before you became a mama too.
You must trust your instincts at all times.
This is the best advice I can impart. You will get lots of advice, but you know your baby best. It’s great to take everything you hear on board, but, as I’ve said again and again, your instincts will never lead you far wrong. Sansa eventually came good on trusting her instincts, and she’ll be a better woman for it. So, trust yourself but by all means, ask for advice when you need it.
You get through a lot of wine…
Cersei is rarely seen without a goblet of grape juice, nor is Tyrion. In fact, most of the characters enjoy a tipple or ten. When it gets to 7pm, your thoughts will drift to that lovely chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge. It might just be one glass (totally going to get myself a goblet though), but it’s mummy medicine, and you deserve it after a day of nurturing a little dragon, I mean, baby.
You’ll protect your kingdom with ferocity.
You’re a mama dragon, and you’ll do anything, and I mean anything to protect your brood. They’re you’re everything and nothing is more important than family. Just ask Arya. Oh, and don’t forget, being a mama makes you a queen and you deserve a crown (and a huge goblet of wine).
Catch Game of Thrones on Sky Atlantic tonight at 2am or tomorrow night at 9pm.