Even Further West

This is a post I’ve been looking forward to writing, but also putting off – because I’m going back to one of my favourite places, but I’m also not sure I can do it justice.

When I went to Cornwall in 2002, I stayed right at the very end. Ok, not the very end, but in one of the last villages before Land’s End.

It was one of those holidays memorable not solely for idyllic and relaxing moments – I remember a lot of mist, fog and rain – and a holiday barn which you might call bijou and atmospheric, but could also have accurately been called basic and somewhat uncomfortable.

But something about the far west of Cornwall got under my skin, and it hasn’t ever really left me. This time round, when we stayed squarely in the centre of the county, I noticed a difference – we were surrounded by cornfields, not to mention acres of cauliflowers (if we’d got cut off from Truro and Waitrose by a flash flood, we could have survived quite well on caulis).

It was charming and scenic and bucolic and so on, but it wasn’t the wild, rugged Cornwall I remembered – where the recall of magical names like Sennen, St Buryan, St Just, Lamorna, Treen and Mousehole can still cast a spell over me.

So, with only a couple of days left in Cornwall, I wanted to go back to my favourite place. The weather didn’t look promising, but crucially it did look like it would improve the further west we went – so we set off, and as we passed St Michael’s Mount and Penzance, I felt my spirits rising (and the sun did come out!)

It is impossible to put my finger on it, but beyond Penzance, the landscape did change subtly. Narrower lanes, definitely, less trees, (and those there were more obviously shaped by the wind). Houses seemed to get smaller and more hunched into the ground.

Everything slightly less lush and green, as if all the vegetation had been scorched by salt. We drove slower, the roads got narrower. I was convinced we’d missed a turning: it didn’t feel like a place I ought to be using a smartphone. Back in the day, I would have had a road atlas on my lap, but some of these lanes were too tiny to be on an atlas.

Then, finally, the lane turned abruptly downhill and we got a glimpse of the beach I lost my heart to all those years back – Porthcurno, home of the famous Minack theatre.

I hadn’t visited the theatre last time, and we didn’t plan ahead well enough to arrange to see a play this time, but we could pay to look around, so this is what we did first. The cliff top location is every bit as dramatic as I imagined, the sheer scale of it impressive – and quite terrifying if you have any problem with heights or cliff edges.

Quite how you’d manage to watch a play there without being completely distracted by the surroundings – let alone the issue of audibility, which is often a challenge for me – but there was a fascinating exhibition on the site explaining how theatre companies deal with the, um, unique performance conditions.

Then, we went to the beach. I’m not sure I can quite explain why I love Porthcurno beach so much, but these things probably contribute:

– it’s a perfect horseshoe curve of a bay with the dramatic Logan Rock (see far right in the picture above) at one end, and towering cliffs on either side.

– the sea is the colour above (ok probably not in February) and the clearest water I’ve ever seen in Britain.

– it is simply the best beach for swimming outside of the Caribbean I’ve ever been.

The waves are not so huge that you can’t get into the water easily, but once you’re in, the ground shelves away quickly and you’re comfortably out of your depth (just enough for it to feel slightly thrilling, but not dangerous, provided you’re a confident swimmer).

I must have spent a good hour, on and off, with my feet up, sculling with my hands, bobbing up and down in the waves and feeling in complete heaven. (Btw the last time I was there, a shark swam into the bay. It was exactly like Jaws, the speed with which everyone got out of the water. This time, fortunately, no shark).

The other joyful moment was taking the big girl for her first proper swim in the sea. (The toddler’s verdict was that the waves were ‘too scratchy’).

The big girl loved it, though, and I hope that she remembers the first proper time she went in the sea was at Porthcurno, the one of the best beaches in the world, and her mum’s favourite place in England. (Not my favourite place in Britain – that can be saved for another day).

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So, children, what have we learned?


Day out at the Horniman

It is almost the end of half-term, our first term of the Big Girl being at school. The week has gone by in a flash, bringing back memories of half term holidays gone by – the big rush to get everything done which we no longer have time to do during a regular week, buying vests and winter coats, the homework hanging over you, the frantic washing of school clothes – but it has also been a brief respite from the new regime and a chance to catch my breath.

So, how has it been so far? The bits which are easier than I expected – the settling in, and the parting at the school gates, not nearly as bad as I feared. We can go right into the classroom, I can hang up her coat and bag and see her settle down on the rug to begin the first task of the day, so it’s a very gentle process. There were a few grumbles the first week, but since then it’s been pretty smooth, and she is (as I fully expected), happy to be there. 

I dreaded the morning routine itself – the slog of getting out on time every single day, the clean clothes, the tidying of hair and cleaning shoes – but once you are locked into the rhythm, it just becomes what you do. I haven’t, as far as I know, left the house with toothpaste smeared on my cheek or in slippers, but hey, there’s plenty of time for that yet.

I expected to feel the anguish of ‘letting go’ of my child at the school gates; I worried that she’d ‘belong’ to school and not to us any more, but this couldn’t be further from the truth – she rushes out of school ready to tell me about the day, (luckily she’s not the classic schoolchild who forgets everything the moment they’re outside the school gate). 

I hear all the news and gossip, what she had for lunch, what happened at break time, what she made that day (so MUCH handmade craft & stuff coming home every _single_ day). 

Most of all, I know she was ready for the big change – she does talk sometimes about ‘missing preschool’, but there is no doubt the challenge of school has been a Good Thing.

Where the strangeness of it has hit me is in the little things – the fact that I had to clear out the Big Girl’s clothes drawer, and realised she hardly needed new clothes any more, just endless school polo shirts, whilst her little sister has an ever-growing pile of hand-me-downs to squeeze into. 

The fact that, even though the school day is so much longer than preschool, the day seems to flash by, and 3 o’clock comes round faster than I ever imagined. 

And I look forward so much to that walk home, her scooting alongside me and knowing we have the prospect of a quiet hour with cup of tea and a sit down waiting. Our days are less busy now, no more day trips or afternoons in the park after preschool, but getting home earlier means a calmer, better paced evening routine, which I appreciate.

The fact that when she leaves school, she doesn’t just tell me about her day, she asks what I’ve been doing with the baby sister, where we went, what we had for lunch, is lovely. She wants to know everything about everything right now, it seems.

Her curiosity about the world is undimmed, her enthusiasm, her own individual self-possessed self remains. I worried that school would be a cookie cutter, stamping out individuality, grinding down children into learning machines, in this bright new world of academies and SATS (or not so new, thinking of Gradgrind), and I know it’s early days, but I hope she’ll get through the system without losing too much of her spark. 

Now, just 7 1/2 weeks till Christmas. Bring it on…


Half term in Wales

The Outside Room

This summer, it has felt like we’ve finally got the garden to work, as a part of the home, rather than just the nice green bit which sits behind glass and occasionally gets tended to. It turns out there are a couple of really simple things you can do to help make this happen, and one of them cost only £40, and the other was free. Let me explain…

Last summer, the first when we had the new living space at the back and the bifold doors, I certainly spent a lot of time sat on the sofa looking at the garden but not much time in it, unless I was doing actual gardening. 

Mostly, though, I was sat on the sofa, with a baby rolling around on the rug, drinking tea, and making grand plans for all the things I was going to do in the garden this year

Now, at the end of the summer, I cannot, hand on heart, say that I have created the den at the bottom of the garden, but it hasn’t stopped the Big Girl doing it for herself – round the back of the silver birch tree is her Ice Palace and there is usually some game being played there or story being enacted whenever a friend comes round to play. 

There is a lot I could do – and hopefully still will do – to make it into a proper child friendly play area, but of course what I should have known all along is that a child’s imagination will do all the heavy lifting – they don’t need lots of money spent to enjoy grubbing around in the soil with a stick.

We did still have the challenge of what to offer the baby sister, though, who was crawling at the start of the summer and walking by the end. As I wrote about here, the big thing preventing me from getting out into the garden during daylight hours was her love of climbing, scrambling and balancing on the edge of the raised bed in terrifying fashion. 

I realised we had to find some outdoor toy of some description which could occupy her safely, so that we could all spend time in the garden without having to repeatedly pull her down from the raised bed or patiently re-plant the sedums in my planter which she pulled up over and over again. 

Turns out the solution is very simple. I kept my eye out on Facebook, and when someone local offered a Little Tikes slide – the cube shaped one – for £40, we snapped it up. The first afternoon it was out on the lawn was the first ever I was able to drink a cup of tea while it was still hot, and without having to retrieve a grumbling baby who’d got stuck at the bottom of the garden.


It has been a huge success for her, as she is just the right size to climb up and onto it without help, but even better is how both the children play on it together. The moment the doors are open, they are both out there, sitting on top of it, hauling out trolley loads of toys and setting up tea parties.


I didn’t expect the Big Girl to be interested in it at all, so her willingness to join in has been a great delight. By next summer, I imagine they’ll both be too old for it, but the entertainment that slide has brought them for £40 was money well spent. 

The other thing which helped? Well, that was something we couldn’t have planned or predicted, but one day in early August we spotted a fledgling robin sitting on the garden bench (and using the arm as a pooing post, thanks robin!)

He (or she) was unusually tame and curious for a wild bird, as robins often are, so we started leaving out crumbs, and pretty soon he was a regular visitor.


Over the course of August he’s grown from a speckly, still slightly fluffy fledgling to an almost full-grown bird, and we’ve seen him virtually every day.


Isn’t he a cutie?

Of course he had to have a name, and between us, he was christened Cheerio Bubbles (don’t ask…)

It has been a key element of making the garden feel like a proper part of the house that we live in, knowing there is a friendly small creature interested in us, and busy making our garden his home, too. And of course it’s been a privilege to watch him growing and realise that the children are getting to see wildlife as a daily part of their life. 

Remembering to save some crumbs for him and put them out after breakfast, and looking out to be the first person to spot him that day, have all become part of the daily routine. We hope he’ll be one of the family for a long time to come.

Walks around….the Lake District

Our summer holiday this year was desperately needed by the time July arrived – the end of June had been spent in a post-Brexit state of gloom, and despite the comfort of knowing that in London we were surrounded by many fellow Remain voters, we also fixed on the upcoming escape from the city as a respite from the traffic, trains chaos, muggy air and the general unpleasantness of London in summer.

After our trip to the New Forest last year, we decided to be a bit more ambitious and go for the Lake District – a longer drive, but we took the very civilised and humane route of breaking the journey in both directions overnight, meaning we didn’t have more than 3 hours stretch of driving at a time. To those with small children, I urge you to do the same. It made the journey so much more bearable, and we even got lucky with London traffic in both directions.

We couldn’t replicate the thatched cottage in the New Forest, sadly, and our Lakes barn conversion turned out to be smart and functional but rather dull inside, although the thick walls made it beautifully cool on hot days, and the location certainly made it very special – we were only just outside the tourist honeypot of Bowness, but we were right on the edge of proper countryside.



(This was the view on the first evening we arrived, misty fields after a day of rain. The rain didn’t last!)

Our goal for the holiday was to continue in our hunt for buggy-friendly walks, and helpfully the National Park have a fantastic network of Miles Without Stiles – everything from proper buggy routes up mountainsides to short walks to viewpoints suitable for motorised wheelchairs. It really is a brilliant idea and became our bible for the week when planning days out.


A view from our first walk, Elterwater to Skelwith Bridge.

From the list on the Miles Without Stiles page, I think we did the following: nos 6/7, 8, 11, 13, 17, and 41. Some were circular routes around tarns, a couple we had to retrace our steps, but the most ambitious and exciting was certainly the Windermere Western Shore walk. 

This walk starts with arrival by boat from Ambleside and a climb up to Wray Castle where we had a picnic and a quick nose inside the castle, but not for long, as we had a good bit of ground to cover – this was by far the longest walk we attempted, but being a lakeside path, it was mostly all flat and gentle going, and in shade the whole way.

Windermere from the lakeside path

We did have to put on a bit of speed towards the end as our final goal, the ferry back to Bowness, waited for no man (well, there was a later ferry, but we decided to push on for the 4pm boat rather than be kicking our heels for another 40 minutes, and we still – just – had time for ice creams before we got the boat). 

That walk was certainly the most pleasing in that we didn’t have to retrace our steps at any point, besides the thrill of arriving and leaving by boat, but some of the others had real highlights – our walk along Coniston Water took us past the impressive farm building of Coniston Hall Farm, with its huge chimneys and a grass slope up to the first floor to access the hay barn.


It just seemed incredible that this ancient building is still in use as a farmhouse (though admittedly part of it is derelict). It must surely have some ghost stories attached to it, I feel!

The walk to Skelwith Bridge along Elterwater also had a great incentive – lunch at the half way point at Chesters by the River, a place so chichi it really shouldn’t be allowed in fell walking country, it is so far removed from the traditional hikers cafe, but the fact that the portions of food are HUGE and prices quite reasonable, does make it acceptable to walkers. You must only be allowed to eat there if you are doing some strenuous exercise afterwards to work it off, though.

In terms of keeping the children happy (beyond the regular application of ice cream), we had a couple of big hits up our sleeve – Brockhole visitor centre, which had a very good playground and lovely gardens to wander in… 


Flowerbeds at Brockhole visitor centre

…and, on our one wet morning, I took the Big Girl to the World of Beatrix Potter which was surprisingly endearing and not nearly as annoying as I’d feared – the garden modelled on Mr McGregor’s garden, although teeny tiny and in no way resembling a proper kitchen garden, was a real gem: the fact it had just finished raining meant the whole garden was shimmering with raindrops.


Mr McGregor’s Garden

My other highlight was evening walks down to the edge of Bowness village where, by dint of a bit of searching for the exact best viewpoint, I managed to take some pretty good sunset photos: 


As far as family-friendly holidays go, I think this worked well – we did struggle to keep the almost-walking toddler entertained, true – timing her naps around the activities we wanted to do was tricky, and we had to make sure she got exercise too.

We really didn’t want to resort to soft play just to give her a chance to stretch her legs, so we had to make stops on our walks to let her crawl around – factoring this into the day was a big change from the previous year.

The boat rides were a bit hairy too, with her clambering around; it meant we had to sacrifice the lake views and sit below decks to ensure she didn’t launch herself overboard. That was the moment I remembered fondly the previous summer when she was so much more, um, portable….and immobile.

What I did like was that every single outing we did was within close reach of the Windermere and Coniston areas – we really didn’t have to go beyond the immediate area to find fun things to do. Of course roads were slow & windy in places but nowhere felt *too* far away.

This did mean we didn’t get to the legendary Pencil Museum in Keswick (saved for another day!) nor did we go anywhere close to the part of the Lakes I knew from my childhood, the Duddon Valley – but it was refreshing to find that, even in the midst of what I had dismissed as tourist traps, we could find a bit of peace and quiet – on some of the walks we passed only a handful of other people. 

Of course, it will never be repeated, as we’ll never have a holiday outside the school holidays again, (well, not for years) but it was good while it lasted.


Tarn Hows

Tale of a Shrub

I have big plans for our garden next year! (Adopts megalomaniac pose, arms aloft, boldly gazing at the horizon). I’m going to pick it up by the scruff of the neck and give it a good old talking to.

Actually, no, I’m going to do no such thing – a big garden makeover is just not on the cards, but I do have a couple of slightly more achievable goals I’m working towards: I want to tidy up the shrubbery, and create a children’s play area.

The shrubbery has always been a bit of a conundrum to me – on the one hand, we need to keep a bit of privacy and screen off the view of some ugly garages, but on the other, we have an awful lot of garden space devoted to a tangled mess of trees and shrubs which are, for the most part, not really my taste.

So, what will stay and what will go?

Working left to right (looking from the house), the first thing I’d give the chop to is a ceanothus. It is already being choked to death by ivy, so I’ve cut out loads of dead branches over the years and it’s now in a rather sorry state. It does have nice blue flowers in spring, but it’s also very gnarled and spiky and just not my thing.

However, we do need to keep it for screening off the uglies, so I contented myself with chopping off a low overhanging branch which had been driving me mad. Doing the job myself was really satisfying, too – I haven’t wielded a saw in years. 

  
Next to the unloved ceanothus is a viburnum of some kind – that can stay. Nice dark green glossy foliage, evergreen so it provides privacy all year round, pretty cream pompom flowers. My only gripe is that it’s not one of the scented varieties.

Next to the viburnum is a rowan, which I have no complaint with. It’s my favourite tree by far, beloved for its beautiful orange berries and its place in folklore. It stays!

In the middle of the shrubbery, we have a horrid variegated laurel which I hate and would like to rip out altogether, and various unidentified shrubs and sprawling trees. There’s something that shoots up everywhere which I think is a dogwood, and something that might be hazel. I’ve hacked back quite a lot of this but I don’t quite know what to put in its place, is the problem…we’ll come back to that one.

At the far right hand side is the real ‘problem area’. There was a mahonia, a plant I really can’t love, sprouting everywhere, the ubiquitous buddleia, and a huge tree stump covered in ivy. 

  
This entire corner of the bed I cut right back to the ground (bar the big tree stump) over a couple of intense gardening sessions – the pile in the foreground is only about half of what I cut down in total!

This was all removed by the excellent Green Go Waste, an environmentally conscious waste clearance company who I can highly recommend. Now remains the question of what goes in place of all this tangled shrubby mess I am so glad to be rid of?

The right hand corner has a gap where the mahonia and buddleia were and is an obvious place to put a larger tree, to help screen us better from a couple of the houses that we back onto. The tree we all like most is the silver birch, with its pale bark and golden yellow leaves providing a nice contrast to all the dark evergreens – but at the same time, it’s an opportunity to plant a fruit tree and actually grow something useful. 

Cooking apples would be my preference – pies and crumbles all autumn and winter without having to pay for apples, sounds good to me. But I think aesthetically silver birch will win the day – next step is actually to buy and plant the tree, and I have no clue how to do this, I’ve never planted anything as big as a tree and I’d hate to get it wrong. Job for next year, anyway, she says, deferring having to make an actual decision yet.

There is also a large patch of bare earth in front of the old tree stump and it’s here I’d like to create a play area for children. I freely admit here to being heavily influenced by Sally’s Secret, by Shirley Hughes – I loved playing in dens and Wendy houses as a child, and in the story, Sally makes a perfect den in the shrubbery at the bottom of her garden.

So I want to make space for a den, but I want children to be able to make it their own. A fancy playhouse is not on the cards, but we do want to make a safe surface underfoot – bark chippings or Astro turf, perhaps. Certainly with a layer of matting to keep the weeds down.

Then we need something to give it the feel of a den, to make it feel a bit enclosed. The obvious choice would be a willow structure, which I’d love to have, but the space is tight and I’m not sure it would quite work. 

The finishing touch will be something to use as play furniture – chopped off logs for stools and tables, of course, and maybe a low stretch of fence to make the play area feel distinct from the rest. The other half of the bed, underneath the rowan and viburnum, is my rather haphazard but pleasing shady ‘woodland garden’ where I’ve planted ferns, foxgloves, lungwort, etc – I want to keep this area well planted and hopefully not trampled too much by children. 

There is also the matter of my compost bin which sits, Dalek-style, under the ceanothus – I’d like to screen it from view a bit, but I’m not sure how. I should have positioned it further back behind the shrubs but it’s far too heavy to move now! Another thing to fix one day.

  
That’s the goal for 2016, as far as the garden is concerned – plant a tree, and make a play area. We’ll see how it goes – and I’ll update, if either thing actually happens…

Four Seasons in Morden Hall Park

There’s been a bit of a blogging hiatus – every time this happens, I feel I have to justify it beyond simply ‘life got busy’, but this time there was an amusing excuse, involving a mobile phone dropped by a 3 year old whilst taking a photo on the meridian line at Greenwich. 

At least I can irritate her for years to come by reminding her ‘and then you dropped mummy’s phone on the meridian…’.

Luckily the phone was repaired within a couple of weeks, but various ideas for blogs I’ve been nurturing slipped by the wayside in that time, and I’ve got a bit behind schedule.

A place I’ve been wanting to write about is a favourite park of ours, Morden Hall Park. It’s a bit further afield than our local parks, but it has several exciting things that set it apart from the rest, and make it worth the trip – a really good adventure playground for climbing and scrambling, the river Wandle running right through the park with a mill-race, and a bridge so popular it has been rated one of the best Pooh-sticks bridges in the country, a rose garden, great paths for scooting, a National Trust cafe and a garden centre. Something for all the family, there…(well, provided you like gardens and cake).

What I particularly love about it, though, besides how child friendly and accessible it is, is an otherworldly quality that I don’t quite get in any of our other favourite parks.

We’ve seen it in all four seasons this year – it has been fascinating to see how it changes over the year.

It is still a very urban space – you can hear traffic humming most of the of the time, and pylons march across one edge of the site, and yet as you meander along the river, it feels utterly peaceful.

  
We visited in late winter, hoping to see snowdrops, and I noticed for the first time that what I thought was the far bank of the river was actually an island, with a statue in the middle – I immediately thought of ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn‘, and the mystery of it all was very pleasing. How did the statue get there? I don’t know, and it’s quite nice to not know.

Then we went back when spring was in full bloom, and I photographed this glorious display of wild flowers up against one of the old mill buildings – not there by accident, planted on purpose I’m sure, but still appealingly sprawling and wild, and a lacy white cloud of cow parsley by the river.

   
 
At the height of summer, the rose garden was tranquil (though I’m not sure how I managed to take a photo of it without any people there – it was actually full of picnickers and children paddling in the little stream), and the river in full Wind in the Willows mode. 

I left the big girl being entertained by (or with?) her dad in the adventure playground and had a little quiet walk along the river with the buggy, in total peace and silence a few paces away from where all the kids were charging around – I am convinced if I watch long enough there, I will see a kingfisher one day. It feels exactly the sort of place a kingfisher *should* be.

    
 
Then we came back in early autumn – not quite late enough for full autumnal colour, but everything was just beginning to turn, and it was lovely then, too.

  
Finally (in a rather back to front way), here is another of the views I love – the entrance to the park is through an unobtrusive archway in a brick wall, with roses climbing romantically over the door, a real Secret Garden feel, but no sense when you slip through this small archway of the large park lying beyond. 

I love that it reveals itself slowly, little by little, like a series of rooms opening up beyond that little door – and we haven’t finished exploring the whole place yet.

  
A place full of surprises and delights, and I hope we’ll be back to enjoy it for all seasons next year, too.

Mixed Feelings

I have to confess – I’ve been dabbling elsewhere: I’ve had a blog posted on a site which is collating breastfeeding stories of mums who, like me, have used the Lambeth and Southwark Milkspot cafes, which are now threatened with closure after Kings pulled their funding. (If they do survive, it will likely be as a shadow of their former selves, with the expert clinical staff replaced with health workers who have perhaps had just a few days training in breastfeeding support).

  
I wouldn’t be breastfeeding at all without their help, so the cause is one very close to my heart, but without the threat of closure hanging over them, I doubt I would ever have written about my experience of breastfeeding on a public platform. 

Having been active on parenting forums and Facebook groups since the Big Girl was born, I’m aware that breastfeeding seems to raise heightened emotions and hackles wherever it goes. I follow the threads and read the articles and comment anonymously, but raising my head above the parapet to speak about my own experiences was just a bit too daunting until now.

The ‘Claridges breastfeeding’ story actually began on one of my local Facebook parenting groups, and I remember reading the thread late at night and thinking ‘I bet this will all kick off in the morning’ – and indeed it did. The story took on a life of its own, and the mum originally involved seemed to disappear – I hate to think she was hounded by people who thought she was attention-seeking when clearly she was very upset by the experience.

In my case, I am sure it was my difficult experience of breastfeeding that has influenced my own strong opinions – as a mixed feeder (both my children have had  breast milk and formula), I have a foot in both camps.

I am a pro-breastfeeder through and through, and I struggle with those who find the idea of it ‘icky’. I was raised by a biology teacher mother, human bodily functions hold no particular fear or hang-ups for me. It seems completely natural to me that we should feed our babies the way other mammals do – the clue’s in the name. (Incidentally, the thing that really blows my mind is that underwater mammals produce milk and suckle exactly the same as we do – the idea that whales and dolphins produce milk, I just can’t get my head around).

  
(Mare and foal in the New Forest for illustrative purposes. I don’t have a photo of a dolphin nursing its young, surprisingly…)

At the same time, I am under no illusions that breastfeeding is easy – and luckily thanks to the advice of a good friend who was a few months ahead of me in the parenting lark, I was prepared for it to be hard, for pain, for the fact I might need to express or use formula. 

Once I’d got over the initial disappointment of having to offer formula the first time, and worked out that I could mix feed, I had no problem with there being formula in the Big Girl’s diet, provided I could still breastfeed too. I was not part of the club that is exclusive breastfeeding mums, but I realised that, personally, I didn’t need to be. 

I didn’t feel judged or criticised at the breastfeeding cafe as a mix feeding mum; rather I was supported in my goal of trying to reduce formula and sustain breastfeeding, whilst keeping my baby fed and happy. Formula was a safety net which meant I no longer had to worry about her weight – when I had stopped stressing about that, I felt more relaxed, and feeding got easier.

The second time round was much harder, as I discovered giving too much formula too early could lead to a  baby losing interest in breastfeeding, and that was a whole different kind of hard. It was only then, when I was days away from having to give up with a baby who refused to feed, that I really realised how much I was judging myself, and how much of my self image as a ‘successful’ mother was predicated on me being a breastfeeding mother.

However – and this is the really important point – the only person I was judging myself against was me. Everyone has their own limits and measures of what constitutes ‘successful’ parenting and to try and rank us against each other is a pointless exercise. 

For every mother that makes it to the magic goal of 365 days of breastfeeding and feels good about it, there will be one who makes it to 366 days. She has every right to feel good about it – getting to beyond a year is an amazing achievement – but there is no ranking order of ‘better’ parenting for every day longer you breastfeed. And my early breastfeeding woes are nothing compared to those who’ve had repeated bouts of mastitis – I’m sure I would not have been able to continue through that and I’m lucky never to have experienced it.

In terms of my personal goals, if I had stopped feeding either of my children before six months, I think I would have felt terribly disappointed – but I stopped feeding the Big Girl at 10 months, and there was no huge feeling of let down (pun intended) at that point. It would have been nice to make it to 12 months, when I was so close to it, but I didn’t feel in any way like it was required of me. Our feeding was slowing down gradually and it came to a natural stopping point – there was no regret. 

The same applies to Baby Sister, now gloriously six months old and just starting weaning – we carry on, we feed as long as she wants to, but I judge myself by nothing but my own expectations and hopes, I have no fixed goals or rigid rules to stick to. 

I am proud to be a breastfeeding mum – because I know how hard I worked to get this far – but I know that for others it’s even harder, even more painful, even more heartbreaking than it was for me. I don’t place myself on any pedestal, I compare myself only with me. 

There are no medals or prizes for parenting except those we award ourselves – and if breastfeeding is that for me, great, I can award myself a big invisible rosette and throw myself a tickertape parade. Go me. But I’m not entitled to say that makes me a better parent compared to anyone else. We all have our own mountains to climb, and up them we must go. This just happens to be my personal mountain, my story.
  
Milky baby