The Art of Choosing The Right Gift
I’ve never really considered myself a particularly high maintenance wife or girlfriend. I’m not the sort of woman who expects or desires diamonds on anniversaries or grand gestures at Christmas.
I don’t give a shit whether you spend £5 or £500 on my birthday present. What I get a kick out of most is being given a really thoughtful gift. Something that shows that someone has considered who I am and picked out something they knew I liked or was interested in.
My husband usually nails this type of gift. Whether it’s been tickets to a gig, a specific book, or a box of a particular type of chocolates he has often come up trumps with his gift choices, giving me all the feels and ticking all the boxes.
The Tipping Point:
Picture the scene: I have given birth to our 3rd child precisely one month ago. We are happy but exhausted. Sleep addled. Things are a bit foggy, but we are beginning to settle into life as a family of 5.
I am on that bonkers emotional seesaw that all Mums have to ride in those first weeks postpartum. I’m all boobs and squidgy midsection and still a bit sore from the cesarean. I spend most of my waking hours on the sofa nursing and trying to shepherd my eldest two through their daily routines.
Today is my birthday.
Pete has been talking about the awesome present he’s got for me and this, I think, may have been the precise trigger for what was to come…
… You see, he’s really chuffed with his present choice, he thinks he’s nailed it. I’m thinking “Ooh he’s got something really special. He’s got something to show how much he loves me, maybe something exciting, something really personal, really *me*.”
With this in mind, on the big day, I opened the box with excited anticipation to find….
I pick it up out of the box, befuddled. “A slanket?” I say in an artificially high pitched voice, failing miserably at my best light-hearted casual tone.
“Yeah, whaddya reckon? I thought, you know, seeing as you spend most of your time on the couch these days… Do you like it?”
“It’s …Umm, not what I was expecting…” I say, trailing off.
“Do you like it?” and then, after looking at my face (a bit more defensively) “…You don’t have to say you like it if you don’t…”
I feel guilty for hating it, but I’m equally horrified. Is this what I’ve BECOME?!?
…Just some COUCH POTATO?!?
“Umm… I just… Why would you think I’d like it?…. HOW did you think this would be a good idea?” I blurt out, and instantly hate myself for sounding so ungrateful and wording it all wrong.
“Well, I was trying to think of what to get you, and seeing as you spend all your time on the sofa watching telly these days I thought you’d like it.”
I’m crushed. Is this what he thinks of me? I’M JUST SOME BORING SOFA BLOB?!? Is this the sum total of how he sees me, of all my likes and interests?!?!
My NAN has one of these!!!…
“You really couldn’t think of *anything* else I like doing except sitting on the couch?…” I then ask, my tone a bit too sharp.
“I even bought it in teal.” He says frostily, “Your favourite.”
Therein began the row which was henceforth ever known as Slanketgate.
Stuck In The Mum Zone
A good year on, and with my hormones and bra size restored to their original status, I feel sorry for blowing up at Pete. Although he might admit that in hindsight perhaps the slanket wasn’t the best idea after all, he was fairly blindsided by my enpassioned response. His heart was in the right place. He wasn’t to know what was going through my head.
You see, with receipt of this particular gift choice came the crushing realisation that I had lost all concept of who I was.
Gone is the free spirit of old who loved nothing more than a good festival, hungover Sundays in the pub and the occasional spontaneous excursion to random places. I am no longer able to spend entire weekends playing PS4 and ordering in pizza, or book tickets to see our favourite stand-up comedians off the cuff.
And, as much as we know we shouldn’t give ourselves a hard time and embrace our post-baby bodies, we are all irrevocably changed once our bodies have gone through this process. So, as much as I was willing to accept it, it didn’t change the fact that this physical change had affected my self image profoundly.
And beyond the bewildering sadness at leaving much of what appeared to make me “Me” behind lay the question….
…Who The Hell Am I These Days Anyway?
We Mums talk about the things that we no longer are since having kids. I am no longer a size 8. I am no longer prone to
getting riproaring drunk and rolling in at 3am being a social butterfly. I don’t read much anymore.
And yes, that’s all very sad and it’s a shame it had to end (although my liver probably wouldn’t agree), but at this point I am more interested in working out who the hell I have become?
After Babies #1 and #2 were born, no doubt still somewhat in denial, I began many sentences in conversation with work colleagues and newly made friends with “We used to / I used to…(insert interesting pre-baby activity here)” Trying to assert the fact that I was somehow still fun / interesting / down with the kids.
It all seemed somewhat desperate. I felt like a bit of a fake, because it didn’t matter what I used to do. What do I do now? What makes me “Me” now?
After Slanketgate I realised; I had literally no idea.
Parenting young children is a weird time. Full of joy and wonder and immensely rewarding at times, granted. I know these years will pass fleetingly and they will be sorely missed when they’re gone. But it’s also hard, tiring, and a time of constant change.
We stumble our way from one milestone to the next, winging it and hopefully wishing that our kids will come out ok at the other end. Life often passes in a fog and it’s easy to see how Mums can lose themselves entirely along the way.
Plus, exhaustion makes a Mama boring AF. I know I’m not exactly brimming with scintillating conversation these days. My conscious mind is mainly filled with thoughts on how many hours sleep I’ve (not) had, random details on how to build a portal in Minecraft, and the soundtrack to Moana.
For me, the turning point in figuring out who the hell I have become began when I accepted that I had changed, and that the change was a one-way thing.
Parenthood has defined me in ways I couldn’t foresee and with bonuses I was initially blind to. These have made me stronger, more versatile, more empathic and more resilient than I’d ever thought possible.
Accepting the changes, and understanding their benefits, is what ultimately helped me feel comfortable in my own skin again.
I realised that I was missing hanging out with my friends. Not rushed cups of tea amidst the post-school-run chaos of two sets of noisy children marauding one of our houses, or chatting at toddler groups, but real, unadulterated conversations over a glass or two of wine without demands for cheesestrings, or toddler’s fingers trying to fishhook my mouth.
I also knew that these days I struggle to stay up past 10.30, can’t handle hangovers with small children, and lack of outings over the past few years has kindled my social anxiety. Going ‘out’ out makes me anxious and I would make arrangements to do so and then regret them bitterly until I’m there (if I actually make it) and two drinks down.
Perfecting the Pyjama Social
My social life has now evolved. We have friends over for dinner / wine / pizza together, and I arrange to see various friends for ‘slob nights’ at one of our houses. In fact I have become quite the Queen of the pyjama social. I get to see my friends but without the stress, often in jogging bottoms. I often turn up with a bottle of wine and my slippers in hand, and it really works.
And as for getting a handle on who I am, I decided to jack in my job and start my own business. I started writing, realised I loved it, and started this blog (which some of you lot actually seem to like reading – who knew?!!) Rather than hanging on to my old clothes and yearning for going-out dresses I would rarely be likely to go out in, I started to look out for every day clothes in styles that suit my post-baby body.
The “Actually Pretty Comfortable Here” Zone
It’s only a recent development, but over the past few months I’ve noticed something pleasantly surprising. I’m getting pretty comfy in my own skin again. I got a new ‘do, which I love. I’ve got exciting new plans for my business, and a new business venture brewing.
Admittedly I’m still not getting enough sleep (baby#3 is a proper shitty sleeper) and I still harbour unrealistic desires to start working out 3 x a week, but I am more comfortable than I’ve been since before I became a Mum.
The Moral Of The Story?
So, what am I really getting at here? I guess the point of this post is a heads up to all the other Mums stuck in the Mum Zone right now.
I get it. The Mum Zone sucks. It’s a horrible feeling – losing all sense of what you are beyond Mumsville.
However: The trick to escaping it is to accept it.
Know you’ve changed and really think around those changes. Because if one thing is for sure, beyond the extra inch or two on your waistband or the fact that you have no idea what “Decent Music” is supposed to be these days, there is very real and very valuable personal growth. You are likely wiser, more patient, more insightful and kinder than you ever were pre-kids.
You are also almost definitely less of a dickhead than you used to be too (although perhaps that’s just my personal experience… Perhaps.)
Make the best of what you’ve got. And then take these new and improved skills and use them to your advantage. You might just surprise yourself.
And then one day, just like me, you’ll realise you’re outside the Mum Zone, you know who you are and actually, come to think of it, you kind of like it.
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