It’s been six months since I last posted anything on here. Half a year. I wouldn’t have believed it myself, had I not realised the date.

That’s not to say that it’s been lying dormant. I’ve written three-ish posts in that time. I just haven’t actually posted any of them. Last time I blogged, I wrote about how I’d been feeling uninspired and needed to give myself a creative shake. In that time I’ve done precisely nothing to improve on that and I don’t even know why.

The bones of this post have been around for a while. It started off as a mid-year review, to see how far I’d come since the new calendar. Around that time I was preparing for my mid-year review in work. I thought it’d be fun to do the same IRL.

Turns out it wasn’t as fun as I hoped. I compiled a list of promises and goals I’d made at new year, and how I’d either achieved them or not. It worked, in a sense that I got a full post out of it. It just felt… bleh. Like eating Weetabix with the dregs of a carton of milk. Not enough to scrap it completely but not enough for it to be truly great. So I clicked ‘save draft’ and that was that.

The longer this went on, the more I felt embarrassed about not posting anything. I still used blogger hashtags on Instagram, sure. But it felt hollow. I couldn’t talk about blogging stuff because I wasn’t blogging. The more I left it, the harder it got to sit and write. Repeat ad nauseam.

I was mostly embarrassed because my last post had ended on such a determined note. I wanted to steal my time back from self-doubt, to stop comparing myself to others and look for my own positives. Honestly, I had great intentions, I really did.

Great intentions can’t quite prepare you for curveballs though.

This year, this last six months especially, has thrown them in abundance.

I don’t know that I’m ready for discussing the throes of my personal life on the internet (I know that’s basically the purpose of a blog, but I don’t know that I’ve dealt with it all myself, so ssshh). It’s been a difficult few months and at this point in time, there’s not a great deal of change of the horizon. So I put things off and blamed them on other circumstances.

It was this post from the amazing Sian that got me thinking. It’s a lot more succinct and beautifully put than I could hope, so you should probably read that if you’re still combing for the point in this post. I guess I was overthinking a lack of direction on my blog to distract me from a lack of direction elsewhere.

Maybe I was blogging or applying for jobs or planning new hobbies with the wrong intentions, regardless of whether they were good.

Maybe I was holding myself back because I didn’t want to admit that I’m no further forward than I was last time you heard from me.

Maybe I didn’t need to have all the answers or know where things where going.

Maybe all I needed was to deflect the curveballs and toss one of my own.

To get started, I just had to write something down.

So here it is.

Yeah, before you go on, it’s yet another addition to the canon of “questioning my worth as a blogger” posts. Other people have lamented this point and put it better or more succinctly than I could. It’s a post I sometimes think about writing, then worry about being self-pitying or indulgent. Since returning to work, though, blogging has become my biggest shortcoming. The longer I don’t do it, the easier it becomes to ignore. So why now, then?

Well, I guess, when there’s a red alert for weather and the rest of your family are taking a nap, what else can you do?

I’m loathe to use the term ‘blogging community’ because it’s not really, is it? It’s so disparate, dependent on niche, location, regularity, any number of other factors. Still, in some factions, there’s very much a supportive community vibe and in it, I feel like a fraud. I like and comment on posts, agonise over the right amount of exposure and contrast on Instagram updates and proudly boast that my blog is self-hosted in job interviews. I do all of this without actually publishing anything on the regular. I’m not sure how active you have to be, but if there’s a percentage I’m coming up on a deficit.

It’s easy to find reasons and excuses not to blog and subsequently feel down about it. “I don’t have time” is a popular one, followed by “I’m not really saying anything new, so what’s the point?” and “who’s really going to read it?”. I have these at hand so that when I do feel the guilt creeping in, I can shrug it off. Who am I even making excuses to, though? 90% of the time, it’s usually to myself.

The real problem is that I’m stuck in a rut, and I’m not doing enough to dig myself out. Begrudgingly I’ve ended up back at work full time, Sunday ’til Thursday. Two days a week I don’t get home ’til 9pm, by which point I’m clocking in at about 15 hours of waking time. On the days I have off, I have baby stuff to do, family to visit, friends to catch up with and an never ending rotation of housework. Blogging feels like a frivolity. No one is going to go without if I don’t and there’s always something else to be done. At the moment, most of my online time is spent job hunting and half-filling application forms until my eyes get tired.

Sitting at a computer all day seems to have sapped any creative energy and means it’s the last thing I want to do at home. If I do have an hour to spare I go to the gym, because I’m sedentary for the majority of my day. That’s my banner excuse but the truth is, it’s a problem that pre-existed long before my return to employment. I have a phone full of photos I’d planned to use, half-written list posts gathering dust in my draft folder and an ever growing sense of apathy about the whole thing.

There are so many creators just now, whom I love, that are killing it with their content and output. Not just in blogging- in vlogging, film making, arts, crafts, running their own side hustles, everything. Many of them have kids, or work full time, or are always on the go. Everyone’s time is precious, we are all time-poor. Despite this, they’re putting in the work and I’m backing further into my corner.

I need to give myself a shake.

Sometimes I can feel myself brimming with so many creative ideas that I can feel my brain vibrate. Rather than do anything I just sit, waiting to begin, and never really doing so. I used to love drawing and lettering to soothe away a day, and now I have a brand new pack of sketching pens unopened and gathering dust.

I spend so much time trawling the internet, scrolling Instagram, avoiding blogger chats and watching other people get on with things. All the while I wonder what my place in it could be, or why it isn’t.

I’ve thought about changing up my content- it’s not hard to see what types of posts are popular, what people are engaging with. But then, it wouldn’t feel authentic. In some cases I wouldn’t know where to begin. I don’t feel like I do enough to review anything. Much of my working week is spent in boring ‘business casual’ dress and, out of that, I’m not much of a shopper. There are a multitude of beauty bloggers embracing cruelty free brands and foodies tapping into vegan culture- the very USP upon which this blog was founded, before being abandoned until pregnancy awoke a need to document things.

Nowadays, I’m more likely to find myself reading posts and thinking about how I wish I’d thought of it, or even kept a note of ideas when they come to me. Let’s be honest, how often have you read a post that’s not particularly well done and thought “I could’ve done this better myself?”.

So then, why don’t I? After a couple of job knock-backs in a row, and a stressful week in work, it all sort of overcame me one night driving home. Not quite a full on ugly cry, but a general feeling of tiredness. Tiredness at my work situation, tiredness of the same routine, tiredness at never allowing my half-formed ideas to come to fruition. The first thing Ally commented when I got home was that I ‘looked sad’. I realised then that, more than anything, I was tired of this being my default mood.

Writing, drawing, planning family days out, taking photos, reading books and going to the cinema make me happy. It might read like the first time CV of a school leaver who still includes ‘hobbies and interests’, but it’s true. Comparing myself to others isn’t working. It’s not inspiring me, it’s not spurring me on to do better. It’s a common problem though- not just with me, but the many bloggers and professionals who write about the dreaded ‘impostor sydrome’. All it does is knock our confidence. What we need to do is remember what we love and to make the damn time to do it. I need to stop making excuses and hold myself accountable for what I do (or more likely, don’t) do.

It’s now March. We’re careering towards the first quarter of the year and thus far it’s passed me by. In January I made goals for the year with an unbridled sense of optimism. They centred around self care- not the bubble baths and candles type (not throwing shade at it, I just don’t have a bath). For me, that meant writing, creating, pouring my efforts into things that made me happy. So far, I haven’t done much of that, so maybe it’s time to start again. New month, new season on the horizon and all that.

So, will I suddenly start blogging to a routine, dropping new posts on the regular with an as yet untapped assuredness? Probably not. To be honest I’m not entirely sure what the point in this incoherent ramble has been. A promise to myself, I suppose, to take time out to indulge what I need to do. To remind myself that, while comparison does nothing for happiness, the real thief of joy is a lack of action. It’s time to steal that time back.

How long after the 1st of January do you keep saying ‘happy new year’?

I always thought you said it to anyone whom you were meeting for the first time since the bells. That was fine when I was younger and more sociable but let’s face it- these days, between working full time and having an increasingly mobile toddler means I’m more or less a social hermit. There are people, despite my best intentions, that I probably won’t see until the first tulips make their tentative appearance.

So, if I do somehow wish you a happy new year in March, it’s because I don’t really do very much.

When I do it usually involves damage control. He’s at THAT age.

Whether your plans involved being asleep before midnight or you saw twelve noon the following day, I hope it was what you wanted to get out of it. The year started off on a sour note for me as, two days beforehand, I found out I was due back at work a week earlier than I thought. My initial annual leave of three weeks got extended until new year and I could’ve sworn I applied for the first week off.

Nope. On the 2nd of January I was right back in the habit. The only upside was that despite a 9am start, I took my car to no interruption. The trains didn’t start early enough, I couldn’t fathom the bus timetable but the normally nose to tail roads were empty. Thanks, everyone, for staying at home with your families, friends and loved ones, and keeping the first commute of the year relatively stress free.

So, not quite the ownership I’d hoped to grab in 2018. I knew that after six weeks off it was going to be hard. I almost found it harder than returning after maternity leave. During my annual leave my son turned one and suddenly started to come on in leaps and bounds. It was a lot more work than the first time off with him, but I felt like we both got so much more out of it.

In the space of three weeks, we had four Christmas parties. We visited museums and soft plays and libraries, sat in cafes and parks, saw lights being switched on, went for long walks with no other aim than being outside. We wandered until we got lost and had to find our way back.

The Hidden Lane, Finnieston.

We celebrated my first birthday as a mum, Lucas’s first birthday earthside, the first Christmas where he was really aware of what was happening. He had his first Christmas dinner and met Santa for the first time. It felt like every day he was learning or doing something new.

I felt like I knew more this time, and was able to plan our time better. Sure, it was tough. He’s not so keen on getting changed or taking medicine or being stopped from jamming his chubby little fingers under the door. There were days where it rained so hard we didn’t leave the house, and the two of us grew bored and cranky. At first it seemed like a vast expanse of days stretching endlessly before us.

Then Christmas came, and it felt like I was being hurtled back to the real world.

The return to work loomed over the last of my leave, casting a cloud through which it was impossible to see there and then. I felt so anxious the night before, and the whole drive in. It was busy, it was stressful and… then it was done.

Ashton Lane Christmas switch-on

The next week came and went similarly. I got into a rhythm again. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It still felt like I was wishing my days away. Somewhere along the way, though, I just… forgot to be so bothered by it.

I guess I was just ready to face the new year head on for a change. When I think back to a ‘successful’ year, it’s easy to focus on what happened, instead of how. We look back on good times, yearn for them and gloss over the stress and work and deadlines and dead space that surrounded them. Sometimes luck and opportunity can land at our feet but it’s rare. Not only that but it’s rarely a sweeter success than that which we’ve earned. Or so I’ve found, anyway.

On that note, I started making some changes. I put the work woe aside and celebrated the bells with my family. I started getting my head down and on with things at work. I signed up for an evening course in web design and web authoring. I’ve put away £3 for every coffee I haven’t bought and read double my book readin’ target for the month. I signed up to Veganuary and I’ve been cooking more, eating more and eating better.

Obviously this was before jumping on the vegan wagon.

I’ve written a list of goals (not resolutions) for the year to finally vent my creative frustration. I have a beautiful new diary and Ally bought me a calendar- an actual, honest to god one which goes on the wall. Usually I’d fill them with the plans I wanted to make, but I’m prioritising the ones I need to make by writing them nicely.

I’m not saying that Doing Things and Making Changes are a one stop solution for all of our woes. I’m not exactly grabbing life by the balls, currently sitting alone under a blanket on a Friday night, blogging and catching up on Mad Men (I’m on the second episode).

That’s cool, though. It’s not about razing your life to the ground and building a flat pack new build from its ashes (do that if you want, but it’s not my point). Do what you have to in order to forge your own path.

Stirling Arcade before the Christmas lights switch on.

At the same time, don’t forget touchstones or little things that make you happy. I’m a big fan of the idea of change but sometimes the execution can get swamped by self doubt, second guessing and just plain daily life. Plans and goals are exciting, but sometimes being blown off course is where the real experiences are. Fill your reserves to dip back into when external pressures become overwhelming. Things can wait.

That was quite the ramble, wasn’t it? I’m not even sure what direction that was trying to take but here we are. We’re almost a month down in this brave new world of 2018. It’s a curious mix of excitement for the year ahead and enjoyment of the space we’re inhabiting right now.

Do what you will with it, as I will, do what you love and don’t be a dick.

Happy new year.

Shuffling towards the edge of the platform, artificially awake thanks to trite alarms and instant coffee, I estimated that I had roughly ten hours before I’d be getting off at the other side. Until then I’d paid £7 for the privilege of being squashed into standing in an aisle, far closer to any stranger as I like to get. I rooted in my bag to make sure I had my awful, unflattering ID pass and readied myself for the day ahead.

Yup, as of September our little bubble of maternity leave burst and I had to go back to work. In our flat I could walk into town and back, avoiding the cattle trains and turnstiles. Towards the end of my pregnancy I took the train and hated it. I travelled six minutes into town and back, for two weeks, and that was enough for me. Now I’m a fully fledged commuter… and it sucks. No one looks especially happy to be there. People shove and huff and we all get off at the other end, trudging towards our daily destiny.

There’s no sugar coating it. Going back to work after maternity leave is hard. You spend your first few weeks of parenthood in a daze, forge a new normal for yourselves around every new milestone and wrap your days around making a world for a whole new person. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of the parenting thing, the real world comes calling. Before you know it you’re duty bound by alarms, bills and childcare- if you’re fortunate enough to have it.

I don’t doubt it’d be hard even if I loved my job. Of course it is- and I certainly don’t. Before I finished work I always had the finishing line in sight, I had something to look forward to even on the hardest days. Now it’s like… this is it. There’s no end goal. It’s just day in, day out. For me, though, it’s got to be done. My job search has stalled as I get used to the new daily routine. I spend all day at work, commute home, spend some time with my son and maybe have time for dinner. Even blogging has fallen by the wayside. Going back part time isn’t an option that I can afford. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ve ended up going back full time. So what does that make me as a mum?

It’s hard when you’re reluctant about going back. What makes it worse are the sly comments about how you can’t really have it all, the exhalation of SAHM’hood as being a woman’s highest calling, the swathes of Facebook friends with ‘full time mum’ as their occupation. I’m not saying that being a stay at home mum is easy, or even always a choice. Childcare costs can often mean that it’s simply not financially viable to work. When your life revolves around rearing a family it’s hard to ever be yourself. Even in my nine months of it, it was bloody difficult, often stressful and sometimes completely overwhelming. Still, though. The particular choice of ‘title’ can hurt. What, then, does that make me? If I work full time, and say at home mums are ‘full time mums’… am I, then, a part time mum?

The guilt is real when I think about how much I’m missing. The things I didn’t do on maternity leave. The WhatsApp group of mum friends that I don’t have. My son is ten months old, hurtling towards a year, getting more vocal and mobile every day. I know there will be milestones that I’ll miss, and it kills me. But it’s what I have to do for now.

It doesn’t make it any easier when my social media feeds are clogged up with colourful, playful, seemingly non-threatening infographics. You know the type. The ones that play on your guilt, that you could be doing more for your family selling shit from home.

Looking for people to join me on my journey!!!”

Are you a working mum wanting more time at home???!!”

Don’t let other people raise your children for you!!!!111!!111″

Of course when you’re hustling for a place on a crowded platform, anything else seems like a better option. When you have to drop a poorly baby off so you can go to work, the gnawing self-reproach at having to do so can swallow your focus. Going back to work is hard enough. Plying working mums with images of the life they’re not leading- while playing on feelings of maternal inadequacy- isn’t fair.

The truth is, no one has it really sussed. Not that I can see anyway. There are pros and cons of being a working mum and stay at home mum. I long for the endless stretch of days just me and my son, finding fun new things for us to do or having lazy days when it was raining. But I missed adult conversation, having some sort of purpose outside the home and having my own money.

Practically, it’d be selfish of me to stay off work. Ally earns decent money but it’s not enough to support three people. It’s not fair- for us- to let all the finances fall on one person. On a selfish level, I like being able to pick up stuff without worrying too much. I’ve always had my own money. I’d like to keep it that way. Lucas is growing at such a rate of noughts that he needs new clothes all the time. And I can get ’em. Cool.

Some parents are limited in their working choices because they also have to fit in studying around a family.

Some parents just can’t wait to go back to work.

Does that mean they love their children any less? Does it hell.

Just because your child spends more time with someone else doesn’t make you less of a mum. If I leave my son with his grandparents for nine hours a day I’m still his mummy. I’m the one who gets him up in the morning, puts him to bed, takes him to all his appointments. It’s me who takes the hit of his teething grumbles, or drives him to the hospital when he’s got a virus. It’s me that he shouts on and flashes a huge, toothy grin at when I eventually trudge home.

There’s no perfect way of parenting. We’re all just doing the best that we can, with the knowledge and resources that we have. Just like everything fuckin’ else in life, whatever path you’re forging is yours, your family’s, whatever. It doesn’t have to work for other people, if it works for you.

 

Let me clear up one thing, before I go on with the rest of this: I’d never normally re-post or even comment on anything from the D*ily M*il. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you genuinely read it, if it’s your main source of news, I don’t think I want to be friends with you.

However- and it’s a big however- there are some instances in which it’s necessary to draw attention to it. They say the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore it, that they’re looking for attention. I say why should they get all the fun? Sometimes it’s necessary to trump them at their own game. Recently, parent bloggers were in an uproar as ‘journalist’ Anna May Mangan threw up her her hands about the rise of the ‘slummy mummy’.

You probably know the type: ones like The Unmumsy Mum (who was namechecked at length), who proclaim their children to be mini-antichrists, who send said children out as dishevelled riots and rely on chain-smoking, gin and profanities to drag them from sunrise ’til sunset. A parent blogger’s merit, she says, is judged on who can be the ‘most slapdash’. If you dare to say you enjoy motherhood, you’re bottom of the pile. Something is rotten in the state of motherhood, and these scummy, gin-riddled, neglectful wretches are to blame.

I didn’t spend our first child-free date night drinking orange juice

Mangan decries these women, stating that their vulgar lifestyles and constant moaning are an insult to feminism, organised mums and women who can’t have children. There’s nothing funny about being ‘too busy checking Facebook’ to make your children have a proper breakfast. Mangan also throws her hands up at the thought of mothers throwing together frozen meals as a quick fix (sometimes not even defrosted). The worst thing about them, though? They’re not slummy at all. No, in a daring feat of investigative do, she hazards a guess that these women are actually well-educated and middle-class, with well-fed, ruddy cheeked cherubs for offspring.

I can only guess that she did zero research on her subjects if she finds this surprising. Had she ever thoroughly read the books and blogs she was berating, she’d realise that they reek of middle class. Mangan is clearly not someone with an awareness of poetic licence, or indeed exaggeration for comedic effect. I’m not all that enamoured with the phrase ‘slummy mummy’ for one thing. I’m sure it’s meant in jolly japes, but it feels oddly classist. I mean, if the D*ily M*il considered these women ‘slummy’, then what was I? Unmarried, working in customer service, living in a one bedroom rented flat in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow, who took a pregnancy test after a bender in Berlin and- gasp- a bottle feeder? Unmumsy mummies wouldn’t even have looked in my direction to toast hurrah for gin.

Reading The Unmumsy Mum didn’t make me gape in horror. Rather, I felt the opposite. I knew she and I were on an uneven keel when I read that she planned her babies (I didn’t) and was in a good, well-paying, steady career (I wasn’t). No one really thinks of parents like these as ‘slummy’ because they swear and don’t abstain from a drink or three. In the face of most other baby books, though, it was almost a reassurance. It reminded me that it’s OK to be overwhelmed, and have a moan, and swear, and eye-bang a bottle of wine with the kind of lust that got you into this mess in the first place.

Sure, so-called slummy mummy bloggers might not be tanking Tanqueray as soon as they wrestle their little hellions into bed. I seriously doubt that they can’t stay sober long enough to feed and clothe their children. Mangan takes this to the n’th degree, stating that they’re making up the whole damn thing for likes and shares. Umm, hardly. A slight exaggeration for comedy value, perhaps, but wouldn’t it be dull if all they offered was the minutiae of their day? What they have done, though, is offer a different take from traditional parenting books. The kind that enforce routine, order and military precision (Gina Ford, I’m looking at you).

Motherhood has long been an exalted undertaking, a miraculous blessing that we should fall to our knees and be thankful for. God forbid we say anything about feeling scared or overwhelmed, or that the first few weeks with a newborn are anything less than hallowed. The fact that women are making public their fears, frustrations and pitfalls chips away at the veneer of perfect motherhood. It might not be their verbatim experience, but it’s a damn sight more relatable than perfect celebrity mums who snap back into their pre-baby clothes. No one tells the absolute truth of what motherhood is like, but they’re offering a version I can concur with.

I’ve written before about how my initial reaction to impending motherhood wasn’t sheer joy. That scared me more than anything else. The thought of pregnancy, labour and childbirth didn’t faze me. I was terrified of the fact that I wasn’t turning cartwheels at the sight of those two blue lines. What if this was how I’d always feel? What if I resented the baby for what it was? I was at an age where friends were settling down and trying for a family, and some weren’t having much success. I knew of people who’d been so desperate to fulfil their familial wish that they’d opted for IVF. I hadn’t planned any of this. When I thought about all of those people who’d struggled to conceive, I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to be pregnant.

Pregnancy brought with it a resurgence in blogging and I sought out other parenting books and blogs with aplomb. There, I found books like The Unmumsy Mum and How To Have A Baby And Not Lose Your Shit. Sure, there are plenty of mums who are always on the ball, planning meals and appointments and enjoy doing so. The point that Mangan missed was that being one type of mum isn’t a ‘fuck you’ to the other. I eventually want to go back to work, but I have the utmost respect for people who want to be stay at home mums. My house is clean(ish) but untidy, my sink is a permanent rotation of clean and dirty dishes and I sat down to write this after washing butternut squash puree out of my hair. I admire those people who can maintain a child and a home, because I can’t. Hats off to ya. Sure, I get frustrated when Lucas cries endlessly despite trying everything to settle him. I like the (very) rare occasion where we leave him with grandparents and I can get in about a large rosé. It doesn’t make me a bad mum. It makes me imperfect, but what doesn’t?

Bloggers like Sarah Turner help to remind us, in their own way, that motherhood can be hard. More importantly they tell us that it’s OK to admit that. However, for every dirty nappy anecdote there’s another heartfelt one about loving her children, or how hard it was growing up without a mother. Being an imperfect mum doesn’t mean I don’t love my son. He never has to go without. There’s always an abundance of food, nappies and clothes in our house. And at the end of the night, when one large rosé has turned into last orders, I’m the first to get my phone out and flip through the 1500 pictures of him (and counting). After all, children don’t care that your house is clean, whether you’re wearing make up or whether you’re nursing an ‘adult headache’ and bright lights and noise bring physical pain. They don’t care that you have your meals prepped for the week and they could eat them from your sparkling floor. All children care about is that you love them. If you can offer them that, you’re doing OK.