When the mornings aren’t quite dark enough

It is difficult to recall a time when our country has faced a more diverse set of challenges. A period of post-Brexit economic uncertainty was quickly eclipsed by the global pandemic and, in addition to the heavily publicised failings of the Metropolitan Police, the last few weeks have seen widespread disruption caused (in part) by a shortage of HGV drivers, but also by the subsequent panic-buying of fuel.

Those members of our family who continue to live in the Southeast of England, frequently regale us with stories that would strongly suggest that many local councils are close to breaking point too. One such council has had to suspend its garden waste collections – despite its residents having already been hit with paying an additional subscription for this particular service – and I’m told that its household waste and recycling collections are currently somewhat sporadic too. I gather that hospital appointments around the region are also something akin to gold dust at present, with NHS trusts working flat out to cover staff shortages whilst also trying to meet the ever-increasing demands posed by the ongoing pandemic. It would certainly seem that (in this respect at least) the North-South divide is currently tipping ever so slightly in our favour because, since relocating to Derbyshire in 2014, we have been fortunate enough to see little or no reduction in either the quality or availability of our local service provision. Any medical concerns have been promptly dealt with (to the point where my husband saw his GP one morning and, rather impressively, attended the local hospital for a range of tests the very next day) and our various bin collections have continued without disruption – and, better still, with no hint of a surcharge either.

Much to the relief of us all, I might add. Especially this week.

For half term week (regardless of location) is challenge enough for any family. With countless sibling disagreements to mediate, a range of interesting activities to mastermind, unpredictable weather to surmount, and one’s own last few shreds of sanity to retain, there is one household collection that positively NEEDS to take place. And boy, did our neighbour take full advantage this week…

As I reluctantly stepped from the shower cubicle this morning, I was met with the (all too) familiar sound of clinking glass and falling dustbin lids.

‘Grown-up’ cordial evidently forming part of this week’s coping strategy for other households too!

But this raucous ‘dawn symphony’ lasted well beyond the expected 4 movements, eventually culminating in an elaborate cadenza of aluminium cans too. And as I chuckled to myself (noting that perhaps a wine box or two might have been the wiser option here) I caught a brief glimpse of the ‘conductor’ surreptitiously wheeling their recycling bin towards the pavement. The irony being, of course, that in less than 48 hours (when the UK reverts to GMT) their identity would likely have been well and truly protected.

Ploughing one’s own furrow

As one’s life gallops inexorably towards the next significant milestone, it’s funny how certain phrases resonate more emphatically than others – and I wish that I could say that I had done this particular one even a modicum of justice! However, being naturally rather cautious in nature, I have repeatedly demonstrated a propensity for choosing the ‘safest option’ and this is possibly why I am so admiring of those who’ve bravely refused to wear the cloak of self-doubt, choosing instead to adorn their outer garments with that boldest of emblems – individuality.

Having witnessed the enormous amount of sibling rivalry that pervades our household (on an almost hourly basis!) I am constantly trying to encourage my boys to ‘be themselves’. The very idea that they should simply be carbon copies of one another is something that I work tirelessly to refute because (for two males born of the same parents) they couldn’t be less alike! From their outward appearance, right down to their inner persona, they are very much the proverbial ‘chalk and cheese’ and yet I would willingly adopt a range of traits from each, in order to set about achieving that much-coveted ‘happy medium’.

In my professional life too, I have gained something of a reputation for ‘championing the unusual ’ and I’ll admit that I am prone to developing a ‘soft spot’ for those pupils who evidently struggle to conform but possess a unique ‘spark’ of one kind or another. After all, these are the very ‘individuals’ who are most likely to end up igniting our future with their genius.

Of course, I can see how a class full of 35 ‘individuals’ might not be to everyone’s taste – something akin to the ‘Krypton Factor of the teaching profession’! Nevertheless, the temptation to quash individuality (simply to achieve compliance) is one that we should all try desperately to resist. Because whilst uniformity within the classroom undoubtedly makes things ‘easier to manage’, it is likely that it will also be responsible for choking those first fragile tendrils of brilliance too.

So, by all means equip each child with the best ‘tools’ for the job, but don’t worry if those initial ‘furrows’ resemble rather elaborate crop circles instead; there is more than enough time for some gentle refinement.

What doesn’t kill you…

I’ve touched upon the subject of ‘resilience’ before, and I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of us will have been forced to develop this ‘in spades’, following confirmation that the UK’s first case of COVID-19 had been recorded on 31st January 2020.  

However, ‘Risk and Resilience’ has long been a focus for businesses around the globe, both in terms of determining technological or financial vulnerability, and assessing the extent to which teams of employees possess the emotional resilience to deal with a range of challenges.

The popular saying ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ (albeit originally rather more eloquently expressed by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche) is one that I am particularly fond of uttering, and I don’t mind admitting that (at least nine times out of ten) it is accompanied by a cursory rolling of the eyes too! The very notion that the only feasible alternative to ‘coping’ with the additional stress of a challenging situation is ‘certain death’ would (to my mind at least) seem to be a rather extreme means of testing one’s adaptability. And anyway, ‘broad shoulders’ are arguably something best left condemned to the 1980s…

On the other hand, it could be argued that it is only by ‘pushing the boundaries’ that we learn the true extent of our capabilities and there is definitely something to be said for trying new things and embracing fresh challenges from time to time.

Last Sunday, we ventured once again to our happy place.

The Peak District (with its steep limestone valleys, dramatic gritstone ridges and stark moorlands) never fails to provide us with some much-needed breathing space, and our boys love nothing more than to scramble unreservedly amongst the numerous rocky outcrops. Having first consulted ‘ViewRanger’ (our Sunday app of choice) we had chosen a circular walk in the Upper Dove valley area of the Peak District taking in a line of pinnacles said to resemble the ‘plates’ along the spine of either a dragon or a dinosaur. The very mention of such dramatic imagery certainly piqued the interest of our youngest and it was with great relish, therefore, that he scampered ahead like the proverbial mountain goat.

Very quickly the going became incredibly tough with steep inclines, scant paths, and a variety of uneven surfaces that had a habit of crumbling at the most inopportune moments. Two legs were quickly exchanged for ‘all fours’ as we kept our centre of gravity close to the ground and (desperately clutching at anything that might lend some kind of support) leaned into the mountain in a fervent attempt to steady not just our bodies, but also our nerves.

Needless to say, with several more pinnacles still to navigate, this was an ordeal that was to be repeated more than once and I’ll admit to succumbing to brief periods of panic each time our boys vanished from view. I needn’t have worried though, because they were infinitely more agile than either of their parents – and in their element at being able to assist their old and feeble mum in her increasingly tentative attempts to conquer the rugged terrain.

We were ultimately rewarded with spectacular views, looks of admiration (from seasoned hikers with rather more specialist equipment than the humble trainers that we were sporting) and a well-earned (and deliciously peppery) pasty at the summit. Even the boys agreed that this was a winning combination, worthy of deserting the Xbox for a few hours at least. High praise indeed!

Once we were safely back at our car, the journey home offered ample opportunity for quiet reflection. Stiff legs and a sense of elation were proof enough that some risks are definitely worth taking.

And the best bit? ‘Death’ was cheated out of one more day!

New chapters

First days are seldom easy and, regardless of the setting, there always seem to be a fair few hurdles to climb. Most of us do ultimately survive them though, and the general consensus is that ‘things will get easier’ as time goes on.

With secondary schools starting back this week, there will no doubt be a large number of Year 7 children who feel incredibly nervous. This poem is for them. Be brave, be positive – and please know that ‘lunch’ is sometimes still the highlight of my day! 

‘First day nerves’ by Gaynor Hall

The waiting’s almost over, there’s only a few hours left,
The Summer passed so quickly, he hardly caught his breath,
Uniform named and ready, school bag neatly packed,
Bus route walked and memorised, timed both there and back.

He knows this is just the way of things, done countless times before,
By children who’ve felt just as scared as him when they stepped from their front door,
And yet a hundred butterflies seem to dance inside his belly,
What he wouldn’t give for one more day snuggled up in front of the telly!

The bus arrives, he scrambles on, not sure quite where to sit,
And then he spots an empty seat and gratefully seizes it.
He watches as the trees go by and drizzle strikes the window,
Relieved to have managed at least one ‘tick’ in this game of first day bingo.

The bus departs and the day begins with numerous introductions,
Each member of staff (all nice enough) reeling off a host of instructions.
He feels his head begin to spin and starts to get a hunch –
That the highlight of today, at least, might end up being lunch.

With his stomach full (and old friends found) he feels his spirits swell,
Just Art and History still to come and then the final bell.
The journey home flies quickly by, there’s a spring in this young man’s step,
What a shame that it’s only Monday then; there’s a while ‘til the weekend yet!

Defying belief!

Most people will be familiar with the phrase “Never work with children or animals” coined by W.C. Fields all those years ago. However, I’m willing to bet that (following an extended period of COVID driven home schooling) an even greater proportion of adults now have a better understanding of the potential pitfalls of even trying to achieve something useful whilst the ‘ankle biters’ are around!

As a mum of boys, I discovered quite early on that my children needed ‘exercising’ in almost the same way as a dog. Any fleeting thoughts of spending a ‘lazy day at home’ were usually swiftly dispersed upon realising that there would almost certainly be ‘pay back’ – in one form or another. If we were lucky, it might simply be under the guise of incessant bickering and the joyful refrain of “it’s not fair!” being emphatically chorused on auto repeat. On a bad day though, the afore mentioned arguments and protests would gradually escalate into the damaging of toys, furniture, or (much to my husband’s annoyance) the paintwork. And so, a genuine love of the great outdoors developed (amongst their parents at least) and with it, tangible improvements to behaviour, sleep quality – and (I’ll admit it) home décor!

Having moved to Derbyshire in 2014 we have been fortunate enough to have acquired an enormous natural playground, right on our doorstep. Many a Sunday is spent happily exploring the astonishing beauty of the rugged terrain and majestic rocky outcrops of the awe-inspiring Peak District. Bracing climbs and spectacular views do wonders for one’s physical and mental wellbeing and only the most appalling weather conditions can generally dissuade us from heading out there.

Shortly after Christmas then, ever mindful of the usual post-turkey resolutions, we took the decision to brave the snow and head out to the Peaks. We had chosen a circular walk from ‘The Fox House’ in Longshaw and (at just over 4 miles and supposedly well within our capabilities) headed confidently in the direction of Higger Tor.

All went well to begin with, both boys happily running ahead and delighting in trying to shatter some large sheets of ice that were dotted about at the edge of the trail. In no time at all we had reached the first proper ascent, stopping only to watch a handful of intrepid motorists do battle with some horribly icy country lanes. As we picked our way carefully amongst the rocks, my husband became aware that his phone battery was almost flat and that since this was our only means of navigation (coupled with the fact that an ominous mist was threatening to obscure the landscape altogether) there might be genuine cause for concern. Without a feasible alternative though, there was no real choice but to carry on – and besides, our youngest was making short shrift of the rocky ascent, emulating only the most experienced of mountain goats!

Eventually, (and after an undignified fall on my part that ironically followed a plea to ‘be careful’ to my two infinitely more agile children!) we reached the summit and discussed the quickest route down. The snow had fallen more heavily on that side of the tor and so it was quite difficult to gauge (with any certainty) what lay below. The mist was closing in more rapidly now too and so we promptly chose our ‘path’ and began our descent.

Having negotiated countless twists and turns (largely of my ankle joints) and numerous precarious screes, we stood at the bottom, peering into the distance. We knew the general direction of our car’s whereabouts but a veritable minefield of boggy land and grassy tussocks (blanketed in snow for additional challenge) lay between us and welcome refuge.

And that’s when it happened.

My husband (very much pack leader on such occasions) literally disappeared into the marshland letting out a cry of anguish as he began to sink deeper into the quagmire. I, of course, was expected to leap to his aid but, having now been utterly paralysed with laughter, could do nothing but crumple in a heap and giggle inanely from afar. Fortunately for him, our eldest (upon realising that his father was not in the least bit amused by his wife’s shameful behaviour) swiftly regained his composure and rushed to my husband’s assistance.

Just as we were taking stock of the collateral damage to both my husband’s clothing, and his dignity, we heard a mighty splash nearby. All three of us whipped around to see what on earth had happened now. There, only a matter of yards from where my husband’s ‘rescue’ had recently taken place, was our youngest – up to his waist in bog and waving his arms frantically above his head as a means of attracting our attention. This time (mercifully) the maternal instinct kicked in and (instead of giving in to helpless laughter) we all rushed to hoist him out. The fact that there was a sort of tide mark just above his nipples was a clear indication of just how deep the marsh had become now that the thawing process had begun in earnest.

But before you devote too much sympathy to our ‘little man’, I feel that I should tell you that he later confessed to having in fact ‘chosen’ to launch himself into the bog… Apparently, the reasoning behind his actions was that because he knew that he was considerably lighter than his father, he “thought (he) would just skid along the surface of the ice and not sink in at all”!

Nice one, kiddo!     

The quest for anonymity

The extent to which one’s perspective can change over time, is nothing short of extraordinary. What seemed desirable just a few short years ago can suddenly seem rather alien to us as we strive to understand the many different stages of our own ‘metamorphosis’.

Of course, some stages are easier to detect than others, conveniently highlighted by physical changes that are instantly identifiable. And whilst humans do not undergo the sort of conspicuous or abrupt change to their basic structure that occurs in insects (for example), subtle changes are often afoot – not least in terms of the developing personality. 

I recently took a trip down memory lane and spent a couple of hours thumbing through a series of photographs from my childhood. It will come as no surprise to learn that (rather than simply focusing upon the happy faces of the subjects captured within) I spent most of the time cringing at the various outfits on display – presumably fashionable at the time, but now nothing short of bizarre! From shell suits to rah-rah skirts, quilted dresses to satin bows (that were almost as big as one’s head!) I unwittingly modelled them all. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why I feel so grateful to be a mum of boys – unashamedly flaunting my right to fill their wardrobes with jeans and t-shirts that are both uncontroversial, and likely to stand the test of time. Hurrah!

As the new academic year begins to come into focus, the inevitable flurry of shopping trips and internet sessions (in an attempt to meet the increasingly stringent requirements of the secondary school uniform list) has begun. Trying to achieve the perfect balance between buying clothes that will last for more than a term, and clothes that look as though they were at least intended to be worn by a Year 7 pupil (as opposed to someone sitting their GCSEs) has not been without its challenges. The overriding consideration though (certainly from my son’s point of view anyway) has been to ensure that all purchases render him utterly inconspicuous so that he can avoid the unwanted attention of older pupils and blend seamlessly into the background.

I’m pretty confident that this is something that we can all relate to. After all, schools haven’t changed that much and neither, sadly, have children. That ‘pack mentality’ of looking for difference, weakness – or indeed anything that is likely to get a reaction – is as prevalent now as ever it was. However, I have to admit to having been rather taken aback when a friend told me that her daughter (a thoroughly personable young girl) had been going through a difficult time at school and that her circle of friends had started to alienate her. I suppose that I assumed that the age-old suspects (such as hair colour, poor complexion, budget clothes brands or unsightly braces) would be at the root of their cruelty. Imagine my incredulity then, when I discovered that it was because her daughter didn’t wear braces that she was being ostracised! I didn’t see that one coming… 

So, when does individuality become acceptable? And at what particular stage in a person’s development is it ‘OK’ to stand out from the crowd?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that there is a definitive answer to either of these questions. What I do know, however, is that I’m eternally grateful to have left the uncertainty of youth behind – and reached an age where, quite frankly, no-one feels the need to pay me very much attention at all!

Moving on

Life is rather like a novel, consisting of a series of different chapters that vary in both length and intensity. Of course, some chapters are more compelling than others, but each one has its part to play in the ‘novel’ as a whole, either endorsing what went before or striking out in an entirely new direction.

Yesterday afternoon, my eldest son’s primary school ‘chapter’ drew to a close and it won’t be long before he finds himself embarking upon the next one. He is by no means unique in having reached this particular milestone, and the wide range of emotions that he has been exhibiting over the past few weeks will have been typified by countless children around the globe. Nevertheless, he is the first of my children to have reached this stage and (quite apart from having made me feel incredibly old!) it has spurred me on to record my own feelings on the matter. After all, in a vain attempt to ‘keep all the balls in the air’ we sometimes neglect to give our children the resounding endorsement that they so desperately need.   

‘Moving on’ by Gaynor Hall

You’ve learnt so much already, achieved things great and small,
Managed each disappointment, risen bravely from every fall.
You’ve nurtured each tendril of friendship, and shown that you understand
That laughter and humour don’t always suffice, so instead you’ve offered your hand.

You’ve laid the best of foundations, established healthy routines,
You know your strengths (and your weaknesses) and appreciate the value of dreams.
You’ve experienced the shame of wrongdoing, and faced your punishment well,
Each one an important learning curve, not something upon which to dwell.

Step boldly forth on your journey then, and embrace the next new phase,
(You’ll be shocked to learn just how fast it goes, that 7-year ‘secondary’ haze!)
Embrace every opportunity with courage, good humour, and joy
But don’t forget to have some fun – after all you’re still a young boy!

Believe in yourself, be honest and true, stand firm in all your endeavours,
Success is by no means guaranteed, there’ll be plenty of storms to weather.
But know that whatever befalls you – be it fortune, or perhaps a low tide –
We’ll always be right there beside you, ‘midst a surfeit of devotion and pride.

The Adolescent

Parenting is undeniably one of the greatest challenges that I have ever faced, and I frequently question why quite so many of us put ourselves through this particular ordeal…

As voluntary jobs go, it is ‘right up there’ in terms of emotional investment and logistical planning and (once the prepubescent hormones kick in) the ‘goal posts’ certainly seem to move with baffling proclivity.  Nothing that I have encountered in either the exam room or the classroom has even come close to the dramatic surges in blood pressure that my own children have managed to induce, and (for a reasonably confident person) I’ll admit to having given in to feelings of utter inadequacy at one time or another.  It is then, as they say, just a happy coincidence that I am writing this now – before my two boys decide that they are old enough to contradict me!

Despite frequently thinking that a user manual might have been helpful, I’ve never been one for reading vast tomes on parenting. Besides, who actually has the time to read that type of stuff whilst frantically trying to juggle the demands of their job with the day to day needs of their offspring? On the other hand, if someone (who has done the necessary research) could please just explain to me how two children from the exact same gene pool can be so utterly different in temperament and outlook, I’d be ever so grateful!

What follows then, is my (deliberately tongue in cheek) ‘Attenboroughesque’ commentary on the ‘Adolescent’ – that most complex of human species!

If one looks carefully into the dense urban undergrowth, it should be possible to pick out a lone adult female scratching her head in bewilderment. The eldest of her offspring (at just over a decade old) is seemingly ill-equipped to take responsibility for any aspect of his existence and looks to her to ensure that his every need is met. Multiple items of clothing lie strewn about the enclosure whilst the parched bristles of a toothbrush show no sign of recent activity. A pair of glasses (the lenses of which look oddly opaque, buried as they are under a thick crust of grime) lie discarded upon the ground, whilst the pages of a book (heavily dog eared from the nocturnal pursuits of the past 11 hours) rest casually within the creases of a hollow fibre duvet. Contained beneath the solace of the cosy bedding, glimpses can be snatched of a bleary pale blue iris, tentatively attempting to take in its immediate surroundings, braving the relative intensity of the new dawn. But alas, this brief display of energy proves utterly overwhelming and (having issued a deep guttural groan for good measure) the adolescent willingly submits himself to the clammy darkness of his natural habitat once more.

Meanwhile, movement can be detected from inside enclosure two. Light streams in through the main observation point revealing meticulously organised sleeping quarters and a spirited young male engaging in the final throes of his morning routine. As he nonchalantly casts his towel over a nearby radiator, deftly selecting a playlist at maximum volume on his Echo Show, it is clear that this young mammal has no intention of awaiting instructions (or seeking approval) from the adult male who can be seen lethargically arriving upon the scene. Hackles rise as the two males begin posturing for supremacy, and the early threads of conversation swiftly escalate into the loud staccato tones of conflict. For now, at least, the young male grudgingly accepts defeat and beats a hasty retreat. From the confines of his den, he sets about laboriously (and vociferously) pacing the perimeter until the call of the alarm clock finally beckons. With a degree of calm temporarily restored, the adult male can be seen lavishly preening himself, as he basks in his first (and probably last!) victory of the day.

0-60 in a matter of seconds

My husband and his family have been staunch followers of Formula 1 for as long as I can remember, and my sister-in-law has even gone as far as to dabble in the world of motorsport herself. As for me, I’m more of a footie fan, liking nothing more than to be able to settle down to a tense match where the action is ‘end to end’, the stakes are high and where the goal tally is (preferably) even higher!

However, whilst I have absolutely no interest in watching a series of emaciated looking cars (that don’t even have room for the weekly grocery shop, let alone the kids’ bikes) race relentlessly around a track, I will at least admit to being quietly impressed by the capabilities of the modern-day racing car. I gather, for example, that cars have been known to reach 0-60 mph in as little as 1.6 seconds, although I am reliably informed that 2.1-2.7 seconds would be a more typical range. Nonetheless, these are impressive figures – by any standards!

As tends to be the way with most things in life though, context is (of course) everything! After all, a child’s proclivity for achieving ‘naught to hangry’ (in the few short seconds that he or she has been made to wait for nourishment) doesn’t quite hold the same appeal, somehow.

And neither (frankly) did my own experience, just a few weeks ago…  

A group of children were gathered around a noticeboard upon which was written the names of the three school ‘houses’. A discussion was ensuing about the house leaders (all much-valued colleagues of mine) and the qualities that they each brought to their role. Words such as ‘competitive’, ‘funny’, and ‘encouraging’ all featured quite liberally and the inevitable analogies with Hogwarts were being made. As I deftly moved the children in the direction of their next lesson, I was inevitably asked about my own allegiances and, fully prepared for this eventuality, I did my best to exude an enviable mix of loyalty and diplomacy. So far, so good.

As we rounded the next corner though, the conversation moved seamlessly on to why two (out of the three house leaders) were members of the sports department, and the other was not. I explained that since many of the inter-house competitions were of a sporting nature, this was fairly standard in schools and that the ‘third’ member of staff was, in fact, a keen sportswoman herself, and that her infectious enthusiasm was more than compensation for any lack of specific sporting qualification. As a future member of the diplomatic corps, I was looking indomitable!

And that is when the conversation went from 0-awkward, in a matter of seconds.

In no time at all, I found myself fiercely defending the physique of the afore mentioned ‘keen sportswoman’, firmly pointing out that very few of us browbeaten teachers were any longer ‘in our prime’, and that what the teacher in question lacked in Jessica Ennis style muscle tone, she more than made up for in youthful exuberance.

Now, having spent a significant proportion of my adult life in sedentary jobs (and carrying a fair amount of excess weight) the response I received next was most unexpected…

Having been subjected to a cursory visual inspection from head to toe, I was then informed (rather candidly) that I was:

“in pretty good condition actually, Miss….”
(I felt myself stand just that little bit taller – the decision to start running in my mid-forties had clearly been one of my better ones.)

“…well, for your age, anyway!”
(Ouch! Children can be so cruel…)

Trailblazing (of sorts!)

We’ve all come across them. Those individuals who demonstrate an enviable flair for coming up with ingenious ideas. Or those for whom pushing the boundaries to the absolute extreme, is nothing more than idle sport.

For most of us mere mortals, however, we learn to content ourselves with exhibiting professional competency, and a good day at the office tends to equate to the conquering of one’s inbox (albeit only fleetingly) whilst perhaps managing to snaffle the last Dairy Milk Chunk from that rapidly depleting tin of ‘Heroes’!

Small victories, and all that…

Imagine my surprise then, when almost 12 years ago I unwittingly found myself poised to become something of a trailblazer amongst the ranks of my burgeoning NCT friendship group.

We’d all met during the summer months of 2009 and our babies were due to make an appearance in the autumn. Our group was an impressive mix of professionals, all eager to excel at the next assignment – Parenting. We’d sat through sessions on birth plans, pain relief, relaxation techniques and feeding and we were all now raring to go.

One by one the various bundles of joy arrived (delivered, I seem to remember, with wildly varying degrees of grace and composure!) and the journey began in earnest.

Many an afternoon was spent exchanging tips, sharing concerns, and I don’t mind admitting that a wealth of delicious biscuits and cakes were consumed along the way too. And very quickly, each new mum assumed their vital role within the group. It was almost as if we’d been cherry-picked to provide as broad a skill set as possible because (rather conveniently) we had two teachers, a surveyor, a designer, two amazing creators of ‘all things delicious’ and even a readymade parent in our midst. Surely, we were collectively ‘holding all the aces’…

Now as any new mum will know, the value of having a support network (particularly of friends who are going through similar experiences) should not be underestimated. After all, there is no postpartum handbook (and each ‘model’ seems to throw up sometimes quite literally its own unique challenges!) so being able to talk things through, surrounded by sympathetic company, was an absolute blessing.

Any chance of losing those post pregnancy pounds was looking pretty slim though, my little man being only too content to sleep soundly in my arms whilst I chatted away happily – and indulged (utterly unstintingly) in a wide assortment of pastries!

In the weeks and months that followed, there was plenty of laughter, a few tears and much soul searching over what would be best for our little ones and it was an unexpected honour when I began to sense that my friends might be starting to look to me as a sort of ‘benchmark’ for parenting. My baby had been the last to arrive, and yet it seemed that all eyes were on me when it came to feeding, nappy changing etc.

Was this my chance to shine? Was I to become a much-revered model of motherhood?

Of course not! For when the cake-induced vanity eventually wore off I realised that, far from setting the gold standard for parenting, it was more a case of “Well, Gaynor’s already done that (and her baby is still alive) so it can’t be all that bad”! And so, the gradual shift from breast to bottle, cotton wool to wipes (and oh so many other guilt-ridden adjustments) began.

Trailblazer?
No.
Source of reassurance – albeit tinged with mild dismay?
Let’s hope so!