Ashling Dennehy is a writer of short fiction, currently working on her debut novel. She won the Flash Fiction Introduction at the Cork International Short Story Awards 2019 and was long-listed for the Fish Flash Fiction Prize in 2018. Her writing has been published in Ellipsis, Cabinet of Heed, Flash Flood, Paragraph Planet and others. Ashling is the founder and facilitator of Mum's The Word Book Club in Kerry, where she lives with her husband and two small children. Follow her @ashlingdennehy
I have bruises from hitting off the corner of it as I try to get to the back door or pop something in the bin. The room feels tiny in its presence and not being able to walk around it makes me claustrophobic.
But today, I came home and found this.
This table is a hundred and five years old and has been in my family since 1910. The underside of the tabletop holds the scrawled handwriting of my great-uncle (which he scratched into it as a child) along with mine and my brothers’ when we were growing up. My mom brought it out of storage in secret and sent it to a local antique repair company with specific instructions that the underside of the table was to be left as is, so that Austin could add his mark to it when he gets a bit older. How wonderful is that?
Mom – I cannot tell you how grateful I am and how much this table means to me. It’s not just the avoidance of bruised hips and more space in my little home. It’s a physical expression of the wonderful, happy childhood that you and dad worked so hard to give to me and a gentle reminder that my family is the the most important thing in my life.
I try my absolute hardest to be as good a mom to Austin as you are to me but I doubt I will ever top your flair for the grand gesture!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for all of it.
Ha! I thought that title might get your attention. 😆 He actually did make me sick though…
In my last post I talked about a big, dirty, emotional secret that ended with Austin feeling poorly and me giving him big snuggles for the day. (BTW, I can’t tell you how much better I feel after hearing that other moms experienced similar fears and guilt on returning to work. Sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to read and comment on that post).
However, it turns out that letting your 9 month old rub his snotty face on your neck when he’s picked up a bug might actually result in you picking it up too. Clever Mama.
For two days, Austin has been playing with Daddy and toughing it out like a Boss while his weak-ass Mama milks it for all its worth in bed with a steady stream of Lemsips and hot whiskeys.
This is when you know you have married the right guy.
Dave garnished the soup with basil leaves and brought it to me in bed and kept Austin entertained for the evening and put him to bed and watched Fear the Walking Dead with me even though I was a sweaty, shivering mess. And he only commented once on how Austin was handling being sick better than me.
We’re feeling a little better now and I’m taking a random blogging course I bought on Groupon, so I will be back posting in no time – maybe with some improvement! But for now I will continue milking it for a day or two while the Carrier Monkey and I recover…
Yesterday, I picked Austin up from the Childminder. He was flying along in his walker with his Batman cape fluttering behind him. He cried when he saw me and put his arms up for me to lift him, but he couldn’t fool me – he had been smiling. Without me.
At first I was delighted, he had been having a great time. The Childminder told me that she was surprised at how quickly he was settling in. He didn’t cry after nap time much any more and he was eating his food like a horse. He was loving all the older kids and followed them everywhere, trying to get in on the action. I was pleased as punch as I drove him home.
But the more I thought about him being happy with the minder and her kids, the more I realised there was a small part of me that wanted to curl into a ball and cry until I threw up.
Two weeks ago I was terrified that he wouldn’t settle. I worried that he wouldn’t eat if I wasn’t there to play Airplane or sleep without me singing a lullaby first. I focused on organising the house like my life depended on it, because it helped me stop crying.
But he is ok. He is doing fine without me. He is even smiling and having fun. As I pulled into my driveway yesterday, I knew that I should feel nothing but relief and happiness about this.
But I didn’t.
Part of me wondered if he wasn’t bothered by me leaving him because I just wasn’t a very good mom.
Part of me is loosing confidence as his routine changes and I can’t tell what he needs instantaneuosly anymore. Part of me is so angry about having to leave him every day that I want to tear the walls down and scream until the whole world is covering their ears. Part of me wants him to scream and cry until the minder tells me that I will just have to give up work because my baby needs his mommy.
And part of me, the very worst part, finds office work a little easier than being at home with him. I don’t have to be ‘on’ every moment of the day. I can take a break without fear of a collegue eating something off the floor or pulling the dog’s tail or sticking a finger in a socket. Maybe if I do it long enough, I won’t want to spend all my days with him any more. And that is my dirtiest and most secret fear.
He got the sniffles. All he wanted was cuddles and backrubs and to have a good cry about feeling rotten. He rubbed his snotty little nose on my neck and roared directly into my ear and I thanked my lucky stars that this was my day off so I could sing lullabies at nap-time and play Airplane when he wouldn’t eat.
I’m almost certain there are other mom’s out there with these awful secret thoughts and I reckon the only way to beat them back is to talk about them – to laugh them off. I was upset that he was smiling without me but I am not a bad mom… I’m almost certain…
This weekend Austin cried more in two days than he has in his nine months of life, combined. His teeth hurt. My ears hurt.
In a desperate bid to distract him, Dave suggested a trip to the Wicklow Bowl Kids Zone. Then he sprawled on the couch with the computer and turned on the football, telling me to have fun with the baby. Nice.
But it turned out to be a lovely two hours and Daddy missed a big treat (blows raspberries triumphantly).
The Kids Zone is upstairs from the bowling alley and the first thing I noticed was the indoor pool with boats for the kids to sail around and bump off each other. I’d never seen anything like that so I was blown away. There is a small surcharge of 2 euro which I think is totally worth it – though I may change my mind when Austin is old enough to have a go.
The place was huge and there was a separate area for babies under two, one for toddlers between two and four and a huge area for kids between five and twelve years old. Each section was gated with a high latch which meant that an adult had to open it. Many other places we have visited had older kids hopping over into the baby area and I’m always a little nervous that they might step on Austin as they run around so I found this section much more relaxing as I didn’t have to yank him out of the way as much.
Huge Jigsaw pieces were strewn about and could be attached to the wall so the older babies loved it. There was a little crawl course too but Austin went directly for the toy horses.
He also loved his own private ball pit where he could happily slobber on every single one of them. (Don’t worry, I wiped them all on my jeans which is a natural anti-bacterial agent.)
Best of all, Austin handed me a ball! He never handed me anything before and it really got me. I was so overcome by this spit-covered little gift that, even though I had the phone pointed at him, I forgot to take a picture. So I took a photo of the ball to send to Dave and then I noticed him in the backgound…
He pulled himself up, all by himself! And I have it on camera! And I’m really not certain if this is a great thing or if I should be feeling bad that I was on my phone while he was doing it! Mom-Guilt is weird like that.
Once he found he could do it, it was all he wanted to do.
But eventually we went back to the toy horses and we had a great game of “try to catch me before I chew this guys ears”.
We were there for over an hour, which is much longer than I would usually spend in a padded environment, but when we left there was still more fun to be had downstairs.
The bowling area had a few small rides for kids and, as we didn’t have to pay an entry fee because adults and under 1’s are free, I decided two spend a few euro letting Austin bob up and down hysterically for a few minutes.
Austin had a whale of a time and did I mention it was free entry for adults? (Is it just me who gets annoyed at having to pay entry for kids entertainment?)
The highlight of my day was when I got home and found that Dave had hoovered and mopped the floors while we were out. I would put up with sore ears every weekend if it ended up like this one!
If you’re in the area I highly recommend Wicklow Bowl Kids Zone and you can find more information on their website here.
If you’d like to share any other fun things to do in Dublin and Wicklow I am always grateful for recommendations so please feel free to comment!
This week, I did some research on improving blog content and performance. I thought I’d maybe get a logo and start to promote it on a few different platforms, perhaps even try to guest blog if I was feeling terribly brave. I’ve been reading lots of posts about blogging but most of it has left me with this expression…
Everybody has to start somewhere though so I thought I’d update my Twitter account as the first step. I hadn’t really used Twitter for years so the profile photo and bio were from another life. When I opened my photo, I saw this.
I mean, just look at that! That is actually me. Really. In a backbend. I was reasonably slim, comfortable in my healthy body and creepily flexible (I had just finished a yoga teacher training course). I’m gonna show you again cuz I didn’t believe it either…
As I sit here writing this, I am scoffing a Reese’s Nut Bar and the last time I used my yoga mat was as a crawl-course for Austin. I tend not to put of photo’s of myself on the blog because I am so self-conscious of the extra weight I am carrying and, as Austin is now 9 months old, I can no longer use the excuse “I just had a baby.”
Deep breath – I am four stone heavier than I was in that photo.
I don’t feel that heavy. As I’m going about my day I think of myself as my usual size ten or twelve. Then I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and am completely thrown by what I see. Two months ago, Dave took a video of me playing with Austin and, when I watched it that night, I spent half an hour staring at freeze frames with a giant lump in my throat. And now Twitter has shocked me completely with an entirely different woman in my profile picture.
It is time to get it together.
I’m not changing my Twitter photo. I’ll take another one when I feel as comfortable in my own skin as I did in this one… that’s right, I’m gonna show you again – sorry, but just look at me!
Right, I’m off to re-join YogaGlo and look up healthy recipes on Pinterest… while doing squats. 🙂
I will post updates every now and again – because now that I have put it out there on the big, bad interweb, I feel obliged to ensure my next profile picture isn’t me eating chocolates and sitting on my butt!
I weaned Austin onto solid food when he was 5 and a half months old. He wasn’t yet sitting up without support so feeding him could be a messy job – here’s a video of his first taste of avocado, which we will call Exhibit A.
At the start, we fed him in his bouncy chair or just in our arms. That led to stains that had to be soaked out in every wash. Have I ever mentioned that I hate cleaning?
I do – but I also hate to see the house looking dirty so I find mess-free alternatives for almost everything. Here are some of the things I did to cut cleaning time while Austin learned to eat:
Start with a Bumbo-style seat
I found these little seats brilliant when he couldn’t support himself. He could splash and blow his food on it and all I had to do was wipe it down or tip it into the sink if there were a load of crumbs.
The public health nurse advised that I should have placed it on the floor for safety but I kept mine on the table because I found trying to feed him at ground level impossible with the dog.
However, if you are using a Bumbo style seat at a height you really do need to keep an eye on them as the baby grows because they can be moved if the baby’s feet push off the surface it’s sitting on.
Cover the baby completely during meals
I found all bibs were laughably small when weaning Austin. His clothes were constantly covered in food and everything had to be soaked or thrown out.
To reduce laundry, I tied a muslin loosely around his neck and pulled the sides back over his shoulders. You can use pegs to hold it in place of you need. Once I rolled his sleeves up, only the cloth needed washing.
When he got older I bought the IKEA jacket bib which I found brilliant for food and messy creative play.
Start with shallow spoons
If you have a spoon with a little trough in it you might find that half the food drops off at each bite. Use a shallow spoon and take your time with it. Baby is only learning so incy-wincy bits are all that’s needed at the start. This results in much less droppage to clean up. Score!
Ban cushioned highchairs from your home
We got a loan of a cushioned Mothercare highchair from my brother when Austin was big enough but I found it really difficult to clean. Maybe I’m a little germaphobic (even though I hate cleaning!) but I pulled it apart every night for a week. I bleached the straps and pulled off the cushion to scrub away the dirt that accumulated in the crevices. Then I dried it and put it back together again. The whole process seemed to take forever so I could only really do it once a day after his dinner.
On day three I called Dave and told him I was going to IKEA. There would be no talk of budget or waiting for one to come up on Adverts.ie.
This conversation is over.
Go for a hardwood or moulded plastic highchair
Here’s a short review of the IKEA Blames Highchair we bought for Austin.
I can wipe it clean in less than a minute after breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s a lovely red colour that brightens up my pale-ass neutral kitchen (It comes in Black too).
It’s small enough to fit where a normal chair would against my kitchen table.
The legs holes are big enough to fit a two year old if you remove the tray and pull it against your table so it will last a while.
It’s kinda funky and hipster in design.
It only cost 55 euro so it wasn’t crazy money. (It also helps if Nana buys it as a present!)
It’s a hard wooden chair so you have to buy a cushion to pop between it and the baby’s back.
If you try to put a cushion under the baby’s bum, they tend to slip and cause the baby to tilt forward.
You cannot fold it away like most of the cushioned chairs so you will need to remove a chair from your table.
I see the last Con as a Pro really because I am lazy and could not be bothered putting a highchair away after every meal.
Austin is nine months at the time of writing this and only learning finger foods and self-feeding at this point. I’ll update with any more mess reducing tips as he gets older…
I hope you find this advice useful and if you have any mess-reducing tips you’d like to share, this lazy mama would love to hear them!!!
Austin has been crawling for a few weeks now. At first, this was amazing. I was so excited and proud of him. I set up little crawl-courses for him in the living room and tempted him further distances with toys.
But now he crawls constantly.
All. The. Time.
When I put him down, he will immediately make a beeline, at lightening speed, toward the most dangerous, unhygienic thing in the room. Most especially, the edge of the bed.
On Friday, my second day at work after maternity, I was having a really tough afternoon. Someone did something really lovely for me and I got to see Austin an extra hour. But even that could not deter me from the depressing thought that I only had two days with him before I’d have to leave him again (sob!). So I, very maturely, got rat-ass drunk on a bottle and a half of really good wine. Yum!
Saturday morning, Dave took Austin into bed with us and let him watch a film while we snoozed.
When I’m hungover I don’t move – not at all. I lie still and wallow. But in my semi-conscious state I felt the baby crawl across my legs toward the edge of the bed.
I shot up, spring-like, with a proper yell. I grabbed the little creeper and pulled him into me to save him from falling. Super-Mom.
Until I heard Dave laughing so hard the bed shook. Then I felt fur. It was the dog.
Austin was sitting in daddy’s lap looking at me with his bunny hanging out of his mouth. Gizmo was half wiggling to get away and half pleased about getting any attention at all. Super-Eejit.
The morale of the story is, you cannot drink with a crawler. They will either fall off the edge of the bed or you will make a complete ass of yourself.
Anyone who wants to leave a similarly embarrassing story in the comments will receive the good karma of making me feel less stooopid!
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m lucky. I have a good job with paid maternity and I have spent 8 months with my gorgeous little boy. But going back to work after having a baby is hard, no matter what your circumstances.
Here is what I have found to be the Pro’s and Con’s of Day 1 – Back in the Office:
You will cry. Bring extra make up and avoid mascara unless it’s seriously waterproof. If possible, have daddy drop the baby into childcare. I found Austin settled better that way and I cried a little less hard on the drive to work.
Seriously… you will want to cry a lot. Try to really focus on getting back up to speed and keep your mind off the baby. It also helps to tighten your belly muscles when you feel like you might burst into tears – weird tip, I know, but it really does work… mostly.
You will forget something – passwords, cabinet keys, co-workers names or in my extreme and mortifying case, laptop. Laugh it off and work around it as best you can.
Everything will feel familiar but different. I wasn’t sure if I left yesterday or just dreamed my ten years in the company. Ride it out and ask as many questions as you need to. People will surprise you in their helpfulness.
Everyone will want to know about the baby and how you are finding it being back. Which will make you want to cry. See points 1 and 2 above.
You will find that there are nice things about being back – this might surprise you and make you feel a bit guilty about liking anything about being away from the baby but focus on those things and they will help you get through the afternoon.
Warm coffee – really warm, not lukewarm. And no one screams for attention or pulls your hair in the middle of it. Enjoy.
Catching up. If you’re lucky you will have co-workers that you love to talk to and hear how they’ve got on. Go ahead and distract them but do try to be considerate.
You will find that you remember more than you thought you would. This is encouraging and will go some way to making you feel like you can be productive again soon.
Lunch break – admittedly you might use a few minutes to call and check up on baby, but the rest is yours. Bring a book or a magazine if you’d rather not talk and do your very best to make it Mama Time. I am hoping this becomes a new habit.
To be really honest, I found the evening hardest. In a blink, it was Austin’s bedtime and I was devastated that I didn’t have more time with him. Make sure that you are prepared the night before and have a little plan to do something together so it feels special. Today we played blocks and I didn’t think it wasn’t fun enough so tomorrow I’m planning on yoghurt painting!
I’d love to hear how other moms coped with the first few days back in the office after maternity leave so please do share your experiences and tips in the comments below…
Earlier today Austin went to the childminder for three hours. It was the longest we have been apart since he was born (while he was awake, at least).
Dave is dropping him off in the mornings to save my colleagues dealing with a splotchy, teary mess first thing in their working day.
I am ashamed to say, I never thought about it being hard for him to do the drop-off (my good-wife days are over!) but he found it really tough to leave Austin there.
Rather than spend the childminding time buying lotto tickets so we could afford for me to stay home, we decided to use the three hours to make a run out to IKEA and pick up a replacement lovey for Austin and maybe some baby-proofing gadgets.
This is the haul we came back with.
We just kept buying things. It was like we couldn’t stop. They had sold out of his favourite toy (sob!) so “He’ll like this” became a mantra we kept repeating on every aisle. Usually, Dave stops me from overspending in IKEA, Penny’s and Heatons (anywhere relatively inexpensive is toxic for my wallet!) but, today, he was just as bad – Dad-Guilt.
When we went to pick Austin up, his voice was hoarse from crying and suddenly I didn’t care that parent-guilt had bested us in IKEA. We gave him his new toys and I felt just a little better seeing a small smile on a splotchy, teary face.
I love to cook – yes, even batch cooking. Really, I find it relaxing and satisfying – especially if I have lots of time to prepare and clean the kitchen as I go. I’m not amazing at it (my older brother puts me to shame every time with his Michelin star creations) but Dave has been known fake an argument so I get stressed and start to bake… 🙂
However, when I return to work, I won’t want to cook a dinner in the precious two hours I have with Austin before his bedtime. To prevent meal prep taking much time, I created the following list of batch cooking dinners, just for me and Dave, that can be made and frozen in advance. The prep time for each dish is about a half hour so they can be done at nap-time, on the weekends or during Peppa Pig, if needs be!
For a bit of variety, I created two weeks worth of meals and made doubles of each so I have a months worth of food in the house. Each double week of meals cost only 50 Euro in Aldi so this can be used if you are trying batch cooking from a tight budget and don’t want to spend a million hours working our whats for dinner! I also had a ten euro voucher which was inexplicably satisfying to use.
I’ve split this post into two parts as you would not want to cook the two weeks together on the same day – it would get a bit confusing and messy (or is that just me?)
Here is what’s on the batch cooking menu (and yes, the pizza night is a take-away night – I swear I am starting a diet soon!):
Monday – Lasanga
Tuesday – Chicken Curry
Wednesday – Salmon Fishcakes with Sweet Potato Chips
Thursday – Pulled Pork Baps
Friday – Pizza
Saturday – Chicken and Chorizo Potato Bake
Sunday – Fish and Veggie Pie
Monday – Meatball Subs
Tuesday – Chicken Enchiladas
Wednesday – Seafood Chowder
Thursday – Chicken and Veggie Pie
Friday – Pizza
Saturday – Chilli
Sunday – Ham and Roast Potatoes
If you’d like to give this a go, I have attached the recipes for Week 1 plus a shopping list that is set out, pretty conveniently, in the order which they appear on Aldi shelves (you can thank me after this saves you twenty minutes in the shop0 🙂
Week two will be coming shortly.
I really hope you find this useful!
This is my first post that holds a printable (and my first time writing recipes) so please let me know if there are any errors so I can correct them.
Also, if you have any other yummy dinners that can be made quickly in advance, please do share in the comments below!