Lessons learned from my Ghost of Christmas Past

So this will be Christmas number 7 as a mother of 4, and with the assistance of my Ghost of Christmas Past, I reckon this year I am going to nail it.

1. The preparations

Ever striving to be an efficient person, with list for everything, normally I am all over it but this year it has taken me a little longer to get into it. I think part of the reason being is that I have been busy finding my ‘somebody’ (or in other words not doing any housework). The other part because I have realised those things I have strived to make perfect over the years, no one else in our house is really that bothered about. My boys don’t care if there is no flower arrangement table decoration, that there is no giant home-made gingerbread men, that the toilets and taps aren’t sparkling on Christmas morning, that their bed sheets aren’t nice and fresh on Christmas Eve…. so I have been questioning whether things on my list actually matter, and whether they need to be done. Which I have found is a much more relaxing approach.

I even bought myself a mug when feeling very un-Christmassy, and at the time thought ‘Pah, as if, I am so not going to get whipped up into the Christmas frenzy this year’.

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But as much as I am trying to tell myself not to, I just can’t help it. No, sorry husband but as much as you like my Christmas cake, I will not be making one this year, because quite frankly I can’t be arsed. After a few weeks of battling with this in my mind, going round in circles, I decided sod this, and the cake is done.

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Just call me Mary.

And now I am running out of time before they finish school and I know my last few days will be spent rushing around like a mad woman doing the things I decided didn’t matter which now I have decided indeed do.

I am trying to accept that my declaration of ‘I am not making mince pies this year’ is ok and ignoring the little voice in my head telling me I have failed.

I have always been like this. When my boys first started school, and I had all this new free time, I did everything homely one could think of – cake, mince pies, flower arrangement, festive wreath, home-made Christmas cards. Why sit down on the sofa, relax with a cup of tea, enjoy the first time in 5 years when you can slowly get ready for Christmas and take it all in, when you can rush around creating things out of the Good Housekeeping magazine. Even when my boys were pre-school years, get this, I made a Jamie Oliver Stollen. Not just one, but also one for my parents, and they were HUGE, filled the oven, and I still get palpitations thinking about making them now….So I have never been one for just sitting there.

But this year I am not making mince pies.

2. Christmas Eve

I always think of Christmas Eve as ‘Ooh it’s Christmas Eve’….but actually it is not really different to any other day until bedtime. The boys still need entertaining and their daily exercise, and this in years before has caught me unaware. The fact that “It is Christmas Eve!” does not mean I can rely on that purely as the entertainment, so this year we have got activities planned. In the evening, when the boys lay their sacks out in the lounge, I try to get a photo of them all with me, because after a few glasses of wine, I want a nice photo of me and my babies next to tree with them holding their Santa sacks. However I need to remember that there is always one that doesn’t want to do it, one that messes around, and well, the magic is lost.

The other Christmas Eve activity is getting the plate ready for Father Christmas and the reindeer. Cue fighting over who carries the plate, and again, the magic is lost a touch. Last year no boy noticed the empty plate till Boxing Day so this year I am wondering if I can just give this bit a miss.

Once the boys are in bed, me and my husband have a nice special tea and a nice bottle of wine. One bottle. Lesson learned after 2 years ago when we went for 2, in quick succession forgetting we had children sleeping upstairs and associated responsibilities, thinking ‘Woo hoo this is brilliant, Merry Christmas to us!’, lights off at midnight, only to have the first call at 3.50am, and to be all be down at 4.30am ripping open presents then straight into intense Lego supervision. We had to take turns to go back to bed for an hour. So lesson learned – no second bottle of wine (ooh but how about a few cheeky cocktails before starting on the wine…).

We have also learned to exchange our presents to each other on Christmas Eve too. After years of having present opening interrupted by general fighting, fighting between those wanting to open our presents, bottom wiping, putting batteries in toys, the pleasure is somewhat lost so we decided we would just do it on our own the night before.

3. Christmas dinner

In our house, we don’t have people to dinner. Ever. And not really for a cup of tea either. 4 boys generally override us. We are out-numbered. Any mealtime is painful. As in, really painful.  ‘Family teas’ are hideous, generally. They normally go something like this – me staring aghast at my boys eating habits so launching straight into intense table manner lessons, whilst getting them to eat everything I want them to eat, whilst trying to enjoy my own food, perhaps trying to get a conversation going (because isn’t this the time when families are supposed to talk), whilst getting up to get more drinks, wipe up spilt drinks, and getting them to shove it all in as quickly as possible before the post food sugar levels rise and we are faced with teasing and uncontrollable giggling.

So after the last few years of my husband doing Christmas dinner for the 6 of us (I suspect so he can have a job to do as a get-out from having to supervise the boys), us eating it cold, with the boys only being bothered by the Christmas crackers and ‘piggies in blankets’, not surprisingly really after stuffing themselves with chocolate and sweets all morning, we have said ‘No, not cooking it this year’.

So we are off to the local pub to drop crumbs on someone else’s carpet.

Going out for Christmas dinner also gets me out of the Christmas tableware longing. My Christmas tableware gives me a sinking sadness as I long to have what you might see in the John Lewis Home Furnishing Tableware section… I suppose this will come in the years when they have left home and I will be sad and want them all sat back around the table, with our red snowflake PVC table cloth and cheap Santa printed cork placemats.

4. Christmas Day

Once again, I have ignored my Ghost of Christmas Past and gone crazy with the selection boxes, little tubey tubes, Thorntons Special Toffee (ooooh), so completely expect my boys to go crazy too. But as I will be on my second bottle of wine by midday, which is only ever acceptable on Christmas Day, I won’t really notice.

And I do think I have done well to avoid the ‘crafty’ presents this year, as everything I have bought I asked myself ‘Would I want to see this come my way at 5am’… and the only thing that is questionable is a ‘Build-your-own gingerbread house’ and some hot chocolate kits (which I know they will just all go crazy about). Anyway I do think this year we may actually be in the local park at 6am wearing new football kits, with new footballs, and cricket bats…

5. Christmas Day Bedtime

And when we get there, I feel a slight sense of sadness. That the exciting build-up has peaked. And it’s another year until we get that day again. Another year until we see those little faces when they open their presents. Another year and they will be older, and I will wonder if they will still believe as much as they did this year. Another year until it is acceptable for me to be on my second bottle of wine at midday.

And as I tuck them in, I make sure they realise. Realise the usual things you want them to realise and remember. That not everyone is as lucky as them. That Father Christmas has been very kind and we need to say thank you.  And that although at times (well, most of it), our little house is a madhouse, we are lucky because of all the reasons that make it mad.

(And I am still not making mince pies).

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Everybody’s a Somebody

 

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For those of you who have read my ‘Happy Half term’ post, you may have picked up on my feeling that my role in this madhouse has changed. At the end of the summer I reached a point, which to be honest, I suppose I knew deep down would happen one day. My boys are now 8 and 6. I have had 2 years now of them all being at school, giving me the chance to get on with all the jobs and trying out a few new things during school hours, whilst being grateful that I have not had to return to work. I have always been committed to being there for my boys after school and during the holidays. However, they are needing me less, wanting to do things which often don’t involve me (cricket camps, after school sport clubs) and as they move through the school years, into secondary school, they will increasingly need me less. So I have been thinking more about my role in this madhouse. And actually now I need more (not babies, that is).

When I was 29, before I got married, I was just me. Simple. Then I got married, I became a wife. Ok. Then I went on to have 4 children, and for 4 little boys, I became a Mummy. As every Mummy knows, this responsibility at times can be over-whelming. So I was me, a wife and a mummy. Then it came to me one day when thinking about what it would have on my grave stone when I die (is that morbid?). I would be a mummy, wife, daughter, sister, daughter-in-law, auntie, niece, friend…. and crikey, that is a lot of things to lots of different people. And again, it is over-whelming. And in all of that, there is someone else. Me. And it doesn’t have on peoples’ headstones ‘just her’ does it. What about the ‘Me’?

My main role for the last 8 years has been Mummy. I continue to try my hardest at wife and other roles. And occasionally the ‘Me’ popped up in there. If you stay at home with your children, the ‘Me’ may not come out as often as it does if you go back to work. It may be harder to get time on your own, to remember who you used to be. Yes my supportive husband would send me off to the shops at weekends and would take over the milk routines, so I could get out and be ‘Me’, but this is only a fleeting glance at the ‘Me’ side, because after a few hours, I would be back to reality of what it actually is, and that is ‘Mummy’. We had meals out, the odd night away, so I could see my ‘Wife’ side, and again, it was fleeting. The effort to make arrangements so we could go out, then the impact of coming back into the house again, on the back foot because the routine was out of kilter, the house wasn’t how I had it, impacted on how much of the ‘Wife’ side really came out. After all, it is not reality. A night away is simply that. A night away. Then back to it. Back to the reality. The intensity.  So I guess I just rode with it for the years. Being just ‘Mummy’.

Often at bedtime my boys choose a Mr Men book for me to read to them. My favourite is Mr Nobody. It starts with Mr Happy starting his happy day, then bumping into Mr Nobody. Mr Nobody couldn’t remember where he came from. All he knew is that he used to be somebody, but couldn’t remember who, or what, or where, or when. He was convinced there was nothing you could do about a nobody. With the help of Mr Happy, a wizard and a cup of tea, Mr Nobody turned into someone like Mr Happy, and well, ‘Everybody’s a Somebody’.

So whilst I was never really a nobody, as I am such a lot of things to such a lot of people, I possibly have been guilty of forgetting (or most probably not having time to remember) that I was once a somebody. It is hard to find time to remember when you have your head down, managing babies, day after day, week after week. I would have never changed the way I have done things, and can honestly say I happily surrendered myself to my boys. But what I do know now is that whilst I am still a mummy, wife, daughter, sister, friend and all of those other things, I have more time to find my somebody, my ‘Me’.  And that is an exciting if not daunting time.

I always like to think that we all have different hats to wear depending on what we are doing that day, and where we are in our life. We just have to wear which hat we need to that day, recognise we have different hats to wear, and do our best whilst wearing it. So one day, like me, you may get to the stage when you have time to look up and remember your ‘somebody’ hat is picking up dust somewhere in the back of the cupboard. It will always be there, to get out, dust off and wear again. And whilst it may feel a bit funny and daunting at first, it will still fit perfectly.

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Neither here nor there

Neither here nor there

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T2 in his incubator (on the left), and T1 and T3 in a cot on the right. Me in the middle, in that brown top AGAIN….

On Monday (when the babies were 5 days old) we received the wonderful news that T2 was to be transferred back to join me and his brothers. We were lucky that the hospital had the capacity to take him back (because again, there needs to be a ‘spare cot’). The nurses transferred T1 and T3 from their ‘twin’ room to more of a family suite in preparation for T2’s arrival. T2 would still be in an incubator on a ventilator.

Back up on the maternity ward, it was all about to change. At my regular check, the nurse asked me if I was ready to go home yet. I wasn’t. I hadn’t thought through how the process would work and wanted T2 to be back settled before I could think about going home. An hour later the nurse delivered news that I was to be moved onto the general maternity ward as my room was needed for mums in needier situations. Fair enough. After a few hours (well, maybe not that long) of digesting this information, I decided that a move to the general ward was not for me, and actually, I think I am ready to go home after all. Funny how that turned around so quickly. So I packed up my belongings and when T2 arrived back later that day at 5pm, I was packed and ready to go.

We stayed for a while to look at our three boys all back together, the way they were meant to be, and were so happy. People ask what did it feel like to leave them in hospital, did I feel guilty, and I can honestly say I never felt guilty about leaving them. My heart did have a sad longing for them, but I had someone at home who needed me too. Over the last few days it had become apparent that our little boys needed a bit of help to get them ready to come home and I accepted that. The nurses were great and I had got to know their routine and process for looking after our boys over the last few days, and we could telephone the unit at any time, day or night, to get an update.

Now I had the opportunity to get myself in fit working order before their home coming. And I had toddler boy at home who I had missed desperately and he wanted some time with his Mummy too. So we kissed each of our little boys and set off home.

The next stage was to be a waiting game. T2 was to get his breathing sorted and to learn how to bottle and breast feed before coming home. T1 and T3 had to be able to feed completely from bottles or breast, without the odd tube feed when they were too tired. We had no idea how long this would take and I didn’t want to ask as I didn’t want to hear an answer that would make me long for them for a lot longer. The day after I came home we decided that my husband would go back to work, saving any future time off for when the boys came home. He had already used a week of his 2 weeks paternity leave.

The first few days followed a nice routine which saw me express when I got up (7am) then spend a few quality hours with toddler boy, express again at 11am, then my Dad would drive me and my milk to see  T1, T2 and T3 in time for their 1pm feed (as I was not able to drive following my c-section). I would then spend time in SCBU either bottle or breast feeding the boys, and reluctantly admitting that a tube feed may be needed when they were just too tired. I took over their ‘cares’ (nappy change and top’n’tail) when I was there, and tried to look after them as much as I could. I arrived with clean clothes and nappies for them and folded these and put them in their little cupboard. All these things helped me feel I was doing as much as I could.

 

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Spending time with toddler boy in the mornings, before afternoons at hospital with my babies…

During the afternoon I would borrow the industrial breast pump for a few more sessions. The nurses jokingly called me Daisy, given the amount I could get out. I really was enjoying seeing if I could beat my personal best of expressing. On an average double pump, I could get out 260ml, enough to provide the boys with breast milk for half their feeds which the nurses would top up with formula. I labelled all my milk and stored it in the fridge. My husband would then call to see the boys when he finished work at 5.30pm, stay with them for an hour or so, sometimes we would bath them, then we would head home for toddler boys’ bedtime.

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The days progressed well for T2 and he was moved out of the incubator and a lovely nurse found a huge cot to put in our room so that our boys could finally all sleep together in the cot, vertically. I was so overjoyed when I walked in to their room and saw them all lined up.

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We then decided it was time for our eldest to meet his little brothers. What we expected to be a magical moment was indeed a magical moment. He peered into the cot fondly at his brothers. We took each out in turn to introduce them to him, with toddler boy inspecting them briefly then saying ‘Back’, as he instructed us to put the baby back, after each brief introduction. What more could one expect from a 22 month old. Apart from a poke in the eye or swift slap, which his brothers had luckily managed to escape at this stage.

The nurses in SCBU started to prepare me for the boys’ homecoming. The feeds were moving from three hourly intervals to four hourly intervals. The boys were increasingly taking more milk by breast or bottle and the tubes came out. We were getting ready. The SCBU suggested that we stayed in the make shift flat they had for a night to see if we could ‘cope’ with the babies on our own. This was something I was not keen on for various reasons. Firstly we would have to leave our eldest overnight, although this could easily be sorted by my Mum helping out. Secondly, I was feeling refreshed and ready for the homecoming, and a night in a flat with nurses watching my performance would more likely undo any sleep preparation I had had as I certainly would not be sleeping that night,  because if it wasn’t the  boys keeping me awake, it would be the surroundings and set up. Finally, I had had a baby before and surely I didn’t need to do this. It felt like a test and I really don’t think we needed one. We just wanted to get our babies home and get on with it. So it was agreed that if I came for longer days at the hospital and the nurses could see me do all the feeds, then we would be closer to bringing them home.

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And we got closer and closer until they were 18 days old, when we were told they could go home the following day.