End of term report

End of term reportS has had a generally good year with some promising aspects in her development at work and home. There are still some ongoing areas for development which are preventing her from being entirely satisfied with her progress to date.
Work: S has now gained full registration as a doctor. This will come as a surprise to her non-medic friends who thought she already had that. She has had a generally successful year, although we note that her enthusiasm levels have dipped occasionally. Surprisingly, she has shown no interest in doing any of the exams necessary to further her career. This is particularly surprising to her younger colleagues, many of whom are mightily ambitious and energetic! Nevertheless, her bosses seem happy with her progress, her admin skills remain top notch and the people she looks after seem to like her. She continues to worry that this is all smoke and mirrors and, at some point, someone will realise that she doesn’t know half the stuff she knew during her final exams only last year.

Overall: good progress
Parenting: S is finding parenting a sweet-natured seven year old to be thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable. She is adept at hugs, providing cheesecake, praising piano skills and making up silly voices for reading books aloud. She is less good at feigning interest in Minecraft and always listening when he talks about Star Wars/Harry Potter/pokemon/moshi monsters/multiple other all-consuming obsessions. Must try harder.

More challenging is parenting during the maelstrom of early-pubescent hormones that seem to have taken over her ten year old. Despite her best efforts S is currently not succeeding in pleasing said child and there is a great deal of stomping, shouting and sulking taking place on both sides. S needs to remember that she is the adult!

Overall: needs further development
Marriage: There has been a mutual decision to never again go on a camping trip together. 

Overall: happy state achieved despite daily stresses and occasional grumps.

General life: S has not effectively got on top of her domestic to do list. Her living room curtains are still hemmed with safety pins and the decluttering project is still not in progress. Despite the plethora of cookbooks she owns she does seem to serve an awful lot of pasta and her front garden desperately needs weeding. S also continues to occasionally clumsily blunder her way through interactions with other people but is blessed with loyal, tolerant and life-affirming friends who luckily don’t mind if she is sometimes a numpty. She needs to develop more emotional resilience although her lovely friend J says that she also needs to remind people that she doesn’t wear a sticker saying “please tell me exactly what you think of me at all time” because actually she is a bit of a delicate flower. She has been attempting to list on Facebook things to be grateful for each day with varying success. One day she could only list being grateful for soup. Her friends would be more grateful if she posted less on Facebook.

Overall: work in progress

Health: S is the proud owner of a shiny silver stick. She covets a spotty one. Generally she has had a good year health-wise and has astounded her husband by actually being able to run (read plod ungainly.) She is entered for the half marathon which is ridiculous but she can’t drop out now because she is raising money for the NSPCC (running for the MS Society seemed a little self-serving!)
But she is bone-tired and hasn’t been feeling great recently. For three months now her pesky migraines have returned to plague her and scupper her attempts to be ever cheery. This has meant multiple trips to the kindly GPs who, at one point, offered her dementia screening because it was offered to everyone with MS L The new tablets seem to be working but it’s tentative progress. Even more irritating is that she can’t see properly out of one eye and that the fatigue is, at times, overwhelming. Having to sleep during the day affects her mood as she feels like she is unable to do any of the things she needs to to improve all the things listed above. Although the ten year old likes a mummy who lies on the sofa watching TLC because that’s all she wants to do as well – so maybe that’s a bonus.
General summary: S tries hard but is showing signs of really needing a holiday. Unfortunately she doesn’t have one planned so instead she might just treat herself to an end-of-term cider, watch rubbish TV with one eye and pretend it is mindful, ignore the curtains, and maybe have another nap…

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Mothering Sunday

Last week the final year medical students at our university got their exam results and this week they started “assistantships.” This is essentially a period of time where they do the work of a junior doctor under direct supervision. It’s been a great week; we have great enthusiastic, helpful students and I get to be a teacher again. And not only about medicine, I took the opportunity to drone on a little about the history of the British Mothering Sunday – a date in the Christian calendar where you are supposed to attend your “mother Church” and so a date where traditionally domestic servants would be given the day off to return to their families and attend the main Church in their area of birth. 

One of our students was telling me that his mother was excited for his visit home this weekend so she can celebrate her son, the new doctor. And as he was telling me I realised that for many people Mother’s Day is a straightforward day where they go and make a fuss of the woman who loved, supported and raised them.

But for some the day is not straightforward. For me it is not straightforward.

The Internet is not the place to talk about my mother, who is still alive but not a part of my life. Suffice to say that even when we were in contact there was never a verse in a Mother’s Day card that reflected the complexity and difficulty of our relationship. Spam emails about celebrating wonderful mothers are never really welcome here.

And of course I too am a mother. A mother that took a long time to get used to the role. For many years my lovely husband used to treat me to a weekend in a boutique hotel with a huge bath and wonderful food, all by myself, as a Mother’s Day gift. And I needed the escape. I love my children but when they were small I frequently found them overwhelming …  frustrating … exhausting. I wasn’t the patient, perfect mother I had hoped to be (although I now realise none of us are!) and, on occasion, I felt the urge to run away.

Of course they don’t stay young forever and now the great moments of motherhood come every day but I still deal with the bad moments badly. I don’t need to escape any more because life is less exhausting. It is also much more fun and now my gifts are home made and full of little person love. But the day will still be spent trying to keep the eldest in good humour and the youngest off the iPad. Mother’s Day, a day celebrating my role, doesn’t feel real. Perhaps it won’t ever feel that it’s about me while I am still someone’s child. Perhaps it won’t until they are young adults and coming home from university/work/travelling with a bunch of flowers and a hug for their daft old mum (hopefully successful, happy and above all, healthy. I can cope with my diagnosis, I couldn’t cope if they had inherited these dodgy genes.)

So it’s a complicated day for me. But I also know it’s even more complicated for others and so tomorrow I will be thinking also of my friends.

Thinking of my lovely friend who recently lost her mum to cancer. The funeral is on Monday and despite her strength and determination to get on with life I can’t imagine the pain of having to face her first Mother’s Day without her so soon.

Thinking of the wonderful woman who cared for my babies with love and patience at the local nursery who does this work with determination every day despite bearing the unutterable sadness of infertility.

Thinking of those who are both father and mother to their children without help or a break.

Thinking of those struggling hard to keep their relationship with a child a positive one despite all kinds of challenges – external, hormonal and medical.

Thinking of those who mourn for the loss of their children and those who miss their mums.

To all of you I send my top tips for coping with tricky days: a deep bubble bath, chocolate pudding with chocolate custard and an episode of trash TV. And a reminder that you are not alone in finding this day hard – I am thinking of you and send you strength to ignore the interflora adverts and unrealistic expectations.

Room for one more?

This week my baby turned seven. He’s the world’s best little boy, or at least he is to his parents and grandmother, not sure his sister is as convinced.) Every time I look at him my heart swells with love and pride; even last night when he was up through the night cutting a new tooth (at seven?!) and asking me to sing him back to sleep. We really are blessed with two fantastic children and these two children are keen for one more. At Christmas they asked me for a brother or sister as a present. My daughter is vaguely aware that this isn’t physically possible due to Daddy having an “operation” but she tells me that this is fine because we can adopt; as long as she gets a sister and not another little brother, and as long as it’s a baby as cute as her friend’s baby brother, but definitely a girl. I tell them plaintively that we all don’t get enough time to spend together as it is and how would they like it if we couldn’t do the things we like doing together (at the moment watching Cake Boss / playing UNO online depending on the child) because I might have to deal with a crying baby. This holds no sway. The tween fully believes that she is capable of solely looking after a child and therefore I don’t have anything to worry about.

Before we started our family I wanted four children. This is slightly odd because I really hated having siblings when I was a child. But I am a busy, bustling person and I wanted a busy, big, bustling family. And then we had one. And it was really, really hard. She cried a lot, I cried a lot, I missed work and so I went back early, selling all the baby things as she grew out of them because I didn’t want another.

But then people started having second babies and they were all so much easier than the first. Parents were more relaxed, babies were more chilled, maybe we could manage another. I was ambivalent but thought we could give it a try. And when it didn’t work all ambivalence disappeared and I pursued pregnancy with all the vigour that people know me for. I read, I charted, I consulted real doctors and online forum members and became fixated on the idea of getting pregnant again. My husband was largely peripheral. The goal was pregnancy, and I think I completely forgot about actually having another baby.

It was a long year of trying but eventually it worked and he was born healthy and well at home seven years ago. There was another pregnancy, this time not longed for (or even welcomed) but still mourned for when it didn’t proceed. So why not another?

Reasons to have another baby:

1) The children want one.

2) My husband really likes babies. He doesn’t want another one but he is really good with them nonetheless.

3) I am pretty good at giving birth and breastfeeding. For a woman who has never excelled at physical activity I made pretty light work of childbirth. My body just did what it was supposed to. I take not credit for this, it’s just how it was. I loved (most of) being pregnant, felt empowered by birth and really enjoyed breastfeeding.

4) These two are fab. I’m sure another one will be interesting/exhilarating/lovable etc etc.

and that’s where that list ends!

Reasons not to have another baby

1) Although my son fills my heart with love and joy now it wasn’t always thus. He was ill as a newborn and I was ill as his mother. He ended up being hospitalised and I might well also have done if it hadn’t been for excellent support from my husband, friends and a very intelligent health visitor. Having a second child just because it seemed like we should / I became obsessed with the challenge of becoming pregnant was not a good enough reason to sustain me through the early months of endless screaming and four years of broken sleep. These were barriers to love and I am ashamed that they were allowed to be, but I know that they were and I am that same person. I couldn’t risk that again.

2) I don’t like babies much even when they aren’t crying all day and all night. I’m not a massive fan of unpredictability and chaos.

3) I have just started this new career and although it is tricky managing it with two school-aged children I know it would be even harder with smaller people with earlier bedtimes and more physical needs.

4) Any child I have now has a greater risk of becoming a child carer. This is of course conjecture but one of the fears that woke me in the night when I was first diagnosed was the fear that the childhood of my children would be hampered by the need to care for me. My childhood was challenging, I swore that their’s would be easy. And so far so good. If my daughter’s biggest complaint is that I keep deliberately misplacing her cropped tops we are doing OK. I want them to reach adulthood without having to miss out on anything because of my condition.
Of all my reasons I know this is the least rational. I know people with MS who are much more affected than me and their children are amazing – balanced, compassionate, lively and living life to the full. I know this reason is based in melodramatic nonsense but, as I try to conquer all the fears I have about the future, this is the one that keeps re-emerging. I hope I can be ill and also look after two; I know I can’t be ill and raise three.

Reading this back it looks like I am really miserable about parenting but that’s not it at all. *I* found it hard, other people thrive on it. This decision is all about what I want which is selfish but we played the odds of ill children/PND/a tricky work-life balance and we won so why risk upsetting that balance?

So for us there’s no room for any more. There’s plenty of room for loving my nephew and my friend’s children and the ever increasing number of children of my cousins but we are done. Grateful and complete.

Work, life, balance

While the neighbours enjoy the sounds of the children bouncing on a trampoline and I await the arrival of curry and the start of Strictly I am musing fondly on the joy of family weekends. It must sound odd because we have been parents for nearly ten years, but the idea of a weekend is relatively new around here. When they were little and I was still teaching weekends were often just a more exhausting version of weekdays; small people don’t allow for hanging around reading the papers and pottering which is what I like best. Then, as a student, weekends were spent working (either teaching to try and contribute something to the food shopping bill, or studying) or feeling guilty about not studying. There was no “Friday feeling” because the work didn’t ever end. Now I am enjoying weekends of “nothing to do.” By which, of course, I mean cleaning, shopping, ferrying children around to different clubs, parties and activities, fitting in the Forrest Gump running tendencies of my husband etc etc. But there are also lie-ins, the weekend papers, seeing friends and time to play. There is a sense that I am working hard but that I get proper time off.
My dad will be pleased. He worries about my lack of “down time” and has long been (gently) urging me to try and reach more of a balance. And I have never been balanced (I blame my recent emotional lability on the MS but actually I’ve always been like this!) I have always worked too hard and taken on too much. I am a joiner and never like to say no to an invitation. There’s too much I want to do with each day. I want to be an expert cook, super singer, virtuoso knitter, an active campaigner, a “culture vulture.” Oh yes, and a good doctor/mum/partner/sister/friend. It isn’t always possible and the scales occasionally tip precariously.
And I don’t always balance. I spent a year falling over. I fell off chairs, fell over in supermarkets and toppled in operating theatres. I had an unusual initial presentation of MS – most people seem to have either sudden weakness or eye symptoms which end up with them being reviewed by the neurologist. I remember sitting with a fellow medical student looking up causes of vertigo and seeing MS right at the bottom of the list. Experienced medic friends joined me in dismissing it as a likely possibility, consultants in other specialities told me it definitely wasn’t MS. But an MS weeble I was. I worked hard, did my rehab exercises and can now do a Sainsbury’s shop whilst staying upright but the balance at home still sometimes alludes us. Amongst the issues are:
1) providing balance for a nine year old who is bright and ambitious but who is so busy with sporting activities that she lacks the time/motivation to do the academic work her mother is conditioned to value above all else.
2) allowing a six year old who has no “down time” in the week to spend as much time as he would want at the weekends on some form of screen. He is exhausted by full weeks of school/club/childcare necessitated by the working hours of his parents and fully relaxes with Minecraft or Temple Run. But getting him off the screen can be a battle and none of us have got this balance right.
3) In a world where we are hyper aware of the dangers of Internet bullying and stranger danger how do we equip our children with independence? How do I balance the desire to let my daughter to explore the world, walk home from school, enjoy what the Internet can offer her with the need to make her aware of why she always needs to be vigilant.
4) How can I balance the needs of a boy who tells me he is never cutting his hair and wants to look “different to every boy in my class,” with the anxieties of his grandmother who says his hair makes her weep 😉
5)After five years of putting my “fulfilment” first it’s Mr C’s time. His choice is not career change but proper running. He seems to have a talent for it and is chasing ever better PBs over ever longer distances. But is sure does take up a lot of time and we are ever more time poor.

However, these are essentially first world problems. And in one area we have a balance which has improved all of our lives. When I met my husband we quickly formed a modern partnership based on a 50-50 split of household responsibility, domestic chores and financial contribution. Children, part-time work and then years of study tipped this balance out of whack. He earned the money and I ran the home and family. He did almost the same amount of stuff but I “project managed” everyone – I did the admin, the sorting, the planning, the phone calls, the shopping, the cooking, the laundry; all the stuff it takes to run and home and family and I issued that family with list and instructions to keep it all going (lucky them!) Now I can no longer do it all because I am at the hospital for so many hours a day. Someone asked me this week if my husband “minded” and was surprised when I said he was pleased. Because now we have our balance back. We are both responsible for getting it all done and it feels more natural to share the load (and the costs.) I make fewer lists; he has started knowing when things need doing and who is supposed to be where. I even walk in to dinner on the table some evenings! So while the weeble phase is in remission long may it continue.

Sticks and stones

April is a pretty significant month  around here. In April nine years ago I became a mum for the first time; in April three years ago I woke up with funny feelings in my arm and a vertigo which lasted for months – the first of my relapses. Last April I relapsed three days before my birthday and tried not to frighten my friends by being unable to walk properly at my birthday meal; and this April I have just turned forty. So far I like being forty – I was lucky enough to see lots of lovely friends at a lovely party (with lots of lovely presents!) We chose one where I could pick the music (poor friends!) but there would be no real dancing, thus avoiding my biggest MS regret of no longer being able to strut my stuff on a dance floor. And now I have a week off my elective to be with the littlies, doing our favourite thing of not getting out of our pyjamas until we really have to. I got my first choice job for next year, have already managed to get them to agree I can have Christmas day off and have booked up the calendar until work starts with lots of fun stuff. So life is good.

But (why is there so often a but?) the relapse that was due in the autumn and which I have been fighting off with Copaxone can be felt knocking at the door and the whole family is having to come to terms with the persistence of these rubbish leg symptoms. A few weeks ago I casually mentioned to my daughter that I might need to get a stick to use sometimes and the vehemence of her response took me completely by surprise. My daughter is a warm, funny, clever and determined little person blessed with her father’s sporting ability and her mother’s hot-headed stubbornness. She often shows great empathy and care for those less fortunate than herself and has a very healthy attitude towards people with disabilities (largely engendered by the paralympics!) So I was shocked and upset when she angrily told me that if I used a stick she would be too embarrassed to be seen with me. A week later (neither of us having mentioned it in the interim) she tearily told me that she didn’t want anything to change and she wanted me to be the “type of mummy who can just run down to the park” with her. After a cuddle and a joke about how I never go to the park anyway (watching children at the park features in my list of things I could happily never do again) I had a think about how confusing this must all be. Some days I am whizzing around as I always have and on other days I am limping and too tired to do much more than hand them both a screen and have a snooze. We are all learning how to deal with this and the lesson I am struggling to learn is the lesson of moderation. At the moment, when I have energy and my muscles aren’t in spasm I am raring to go – grabbing opportunities to see friends, occasionally getting out on the bike, hosting two birthday parties in a week and even orienteering (this weekend I fell down a rabbit hole whilst cutting across undergrowth trying to beat Mr C and my dad.) Yet the consequence of this is days where I am limping around or so fatigued that I can’t even speak to the children coherently, never mind play endless games of Cluedo and Harry Potter lego (and going to the park would be akin to climbing Everest.)

So what to do? The way I see it I have two choices: 1) Keep grabbing hold of the pockets of energy, exploiting the times when I can do things and accepting that for a few days afterwards I will struggle or 2) Pace myself – don’t do anything too strenuous, build in regular rest, live a calmer life so that there is less pain and fewer moments where I can’t find the words to explain the concept of infinity to a curious (and impatient) six year old. Those of you who know me personally know that the only option I will accept at the moment is number one. And that means a stick. Which is scary for all of us. In an attempt to make it less scary for our daughter I agreed that she could choose the colour and pattern of the stick. This was almost more terrifying for me as she has really quite awful taste and I could imagine her finding a leopard-print stick with added bling. Luckily we have agreed on a red one. I have my eye on a spotty one but it’s quite expensive so we’ll see how this one goes first. So if you see me with it please act as though it is a positive thing – firstly so that she can feel its no big deal and feel confident to brush it off if any of her friends mention it, but also because if you see me using it you know I’ve been doing something un-sensible recently and surely that’s worth celebrating!

 

I don’t know how she does it.

Six years ago today I handed in my PhD thesis with an emotional flourish only found in those who are 38 weeks pregnant. With a toddler at home and still teaching full-time I was determined to get it done before the new baby arrived and indeed I did. As soon as I’d finished, after finishing with the weeping, I swore blind to my husband that I was done with studying … Since then I have done a specialist diploma in adult education and am almost ready to sit my medical school finals and I am WELL AND TRULY FED UP WITH STUDYING.

The library is now full of my colleagues looking wide-eyed and anxious, or anxiously reassuring each other that there is nothing to be anxious about. They arrive first thing and leave last thing at night, or they don’t leave at all as the libraries are open 24 hours. This frenzy of studying and revision will reach fever pitch over the next couple of weeks and some of them will look at me and the smattering of other parents on the course and gasp “I don’t know how you manage it … with children!”

Because of course it is different. I can’t work for hours on end, I work until the clock says I need to pick them up to take them somewhere to do something, or feed them, or just spend some time with them. This can be frustrating when there is lots of work to do and I want to finish a train of thought, but it does make you very disciplined. I work smart because I have to. I also cut corners because I have to; I hope I will be a good doctor but I won’t be a doctor with a detailed understanding of some of the more difficult scientific concepts or a memory of exactly how all these drugs work because I have to skip over them. I will cram knowledge into my head for the exams and hope I retain the important stuff for afterwards but I know some will fall out instantly, or get pushed out by the fact that I simply choose to give home more of my attention.

Because however much I want to be a doctor I want to be a good mum more. I want my children to grow up secure in their parents’ love for them and for each other, to be happy, honest and healthy and to develop into balanced, fulfilled adults. Of course I also want them to excel in all that they do and be kind to each other at all times but this is obviously a work in progress!

But I have never felt that I needed to stop working to do this. What I need to do is be very good at loving them, very good at multi-tasking and ridiculously organised. And I am. And it is exhausting. But it works, and it works because I realise that to “have it all” you have to cut corners at home as well as at work. So my house is not very tidy, and sometimes my kids don’t eat enough fruit, and my son has occasionally slipped a 12-rated film under my radar. And sometimes I am not the parent I want to be – I am the shouty, irrational woman I swore I would never be and although I always say sorry, I wish it wouldn’t happen. But it doesn’t happen often and I have an excellent “wing-man” to keep me on the straight and narrow and to remind me that the children don’t need it to be perfect, they just need it to be done with love.

There is a scene in the book “I Don’t Know How She Does It” by Allison Pearson where the main character, a working mother, is up at midnight bashing shop bought mince pies with a rolling pin to make them look homemade. She is doing this to impress upon the “schoolgate mums” that she can do “it all” – work full time and be a “proper” hands on mother. The scene makes me smile but it is not something I recognise. Don’t get me wrong, the stream of requests from school for cakes/donations for tombolas/outfits can seem relentless but frankly the children don’t seem to care if my efforts are sometimes a bit crap as long as I remember. Shop bought is often fine by them. Shop bought is the only option in their eyes if it involves a packed lunch – homemade bread is apparently a social disaster when you are eight. I have only forgotten once and luckily the lovely teacher covered my tracks. So there’s not much point knocking myself out to bake the best cake or sew the best Victorian costume, just as there is no point me missing a family dinner time to learn about the finer points of immunology.

At the moment we mostly get the balance right but of course there is the nagging doubt about the future balance. Fatigue is the biggest threat at the moment because fatigue makes me foggy and grumpy and neither of those help with the necessary hyper-drive. The fatigue of MS is overwhelming when it strikes, but a combination of Capaxone, high dose Vitamin D and Vitamin B complex seems to be helping. And anyone with small children lives life with fatigue – when I started medical school my son was still waking four or five times a night, a legacy of neonatal illness, and I still managed to go in every day and learn some stuff. So although it’s not fun, it’s doable. But what if, when, it gets worse. Reading about rehabilitation and disability this week I learnt that the average MS “patient” progresses from diagnosis to disability in 5-8 years. But that 31% are only “mildly disabled.” When I started this course, full of optimism about healing the sick, and ignoring the look of panic on my husband’s eyes about the financial implications of giving up paid work for years, I didn’t think that my hope at the end of it would be for “mild disability,” but there we go!

So, in the spirit of good parenting I have a decision to make about my children. Recent information from the MS trust http://www.mstrust.org.uk/information/opendoor/articles/1311_10_11.jsp suggests my children have a 1/40 chance of developing MS, a chance that “might” be reduced if they take high dose Vitamin D too. But there are no trials, no evidence about potential harm and no real guidance so what to do? I actually have no idea so I shall add pondering about this to my list of procrastination techniques (currently includes Candy Crush, True Blood, detective fiction and cleaning out cupboards) over the next month. Would be interesting to hear what people think…

Rebooting

Today finds me three weeks into a four week break from the university and life is good. The children and I have had a fortnight of adventuring – going to the seaside, visiting friends and family, listening to LOTS of Harry Potter in the car, Alton Towers, bike-riding, outdoor theatre and slobbing about in front of screens for a while. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it and it really has been lovely – the best summer we have ever had together I think. And I am well – my body is generally working properly, and despite the irritation of the daily injection and the mid-afternoon fog of fatigue, I feel better than I have done for months. I even allowed myself one rollercoaster in the week and am happy to report that I could still walk/drive/see afterwards.

This afternoon the children are with their grandmothers and Mr C is away at a festival watching bands I have never heard of so I have a day of pottering and time to think. I’m sure my mind should be pondering the difficulties of the situation in Syria or clever, cutting replies I could make to the rude tweets I have attracted from the EDL and supporters of Page Three recently but instead I keep returning to a comment made to me last week about being a mother.

At a summer activity class an acquaintance of mine sat with me to tell me how brilliant her children are. Now I don’t mind a bit of this – I am guilty of occasional gushing and the tiger mother growls constantly within so I understand the impulse to encourage children to do lots of activities and to be proud of their achievements – but what interested me was the unwillingness to concede that they were ever less than brilliant. I wrote above that I have had the best summer ever with my children, but I have had them with me for TWO weeks. We have had something planned every day, I have spent too much money and made too many sandwiches. I know from past experience that I can’t keep this up for more than a fortnight and when the activities/money/energy runs out I don’t have the reserves to keep positive in the face of complaining, squabbling children. I couldn’t manage six weeks of it and, from talking to other parents, I know the long holidays are challenging for many parents.

So, in the spirit of conversation, I asked my companion whether she was looking forward to her children going back to school. She looked entirely puzzled and then replied “but I love the company of my children – this is what I was born to do. Motherhood makes me who I am.”

I have met women who have said similar before when the children were smaller. At toddler groups you would often find me shell-shocked and virtually mainlining Dr Pepper staring wide-eyed at women who told me they had never been so fulfilled and joyous in their entire lives. Whereas I felt panic on a rainy day with nothing to do with a refluxy baby and headstrong three year old, they would tell me all about the wonderful creative activities that would keep their children entertained for hours. Rainy day craft at our house still involves me getting all the stuff out, them making a mess for precisely three minutes, then me wiping up splashes of paint and glue to a background of “can we please put the tele on NOW?” So for many years I have known that I have lacked the patience, creativity and imagination to be a full-time stay at home parent. Even before having my own family there was a reason why I trained as a secondary teacher rather than primary – small children are exhausting!

But I wonder about the “motherhood makes me” stuff. Becoming a mum has made me a better person – I have to be less selfish, more patient … and I eat a lot better than I used to – but it has also meant that the less attractive characteristics are also closer the surface – I have a short fuse, I shout more than I ever thought I would and I am often bordering on tyrannical about schoolwork. I can categorically say that this was not a role I was “born to do” – frankly, some days I am rubbish at it. I envy those who are calm, nurturing, gentle and always in control.

Yet this woman, exuding calm, will always be an acquaintance rather than a friend. And this is because of the nagging suspicion that, for whatever reason, she just isn’t telling the whole truth.

So now I will go and label new PE kits and choke the cat with the protective spray Clarks have convinced me ALL school shoes need. While I am doing it i will continue to be grateful that I have friends who will always acknowledge that sometimes this mothering lark can be less than entirely fulfilling and joyous…