Mottisfont meets the twos

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DON’T GRAB THE BEES, PLEASE. THEY’RE JUST HAVING LUNCH. THEY DON’T WANT TO BE GRABBED.

Look, I don’t know how I forgot about it. Is it like childbirth, having a two-year-old? You only remember the bits that make you want to have another one?

Ted is now doing what he did for me once before, when the contractions started. Bringing it aaaaaaall back. In technicolour. And in both scenarios there’s a lot of screaming.

Since today was forecast to include some actual sunshine, we took a longer trek than usual down to Mottisfont Abbey, an NT place we’ve been to before and loved, back when only one of our children could move independently. Today there was just me, a pushchair, an almost-four-year-old desperate to complete the Charlie and Lola trail in the gardens, and the Tiny Beast.

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Suuuper good at directing their cheese faces anywhere but the camera

Suuuper good at directing their (admittedly magnificent) cheese faces anywhere but the camera

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No, he’s not a beast, Teddy: he’s a bowling ball. That’s what a two-year-old is: barrelling in one direction no matter how loudly or desperately or sweetly you holler for them to come back. Completely impervious to bribes, disciplines or strategies. On a mission to leap into every large-ish body of water, and climb every high thing, and throw every damn stone within reach. Determined to prove false ye old advice that ‘man cannot live by bread alone’. Oh, but this one can. They are untouchable. And after you’ve cajoled your little heart out and tried every distraction in the book, the only way to make them change course is to pick them up bodily, like a parcel.

(Unfortunately Necessary Internet Disclaimer: of COURSE I don’t let him wander out of sight; of COURSE I don’t let him do whatever he wants; I give him limits and I stick to them as much as I can, completely ignored though they are. None of this changes the fact that two-year-olds are gonna two, and they save most of their twoishness for public places. If you had an angel toddler who stuck to your leg like a limpet, well, tell me more about your wonderful life.)

Today he was in a puckish mood, and ran off gleefully more times than I could count. Some of it was joyous. Watching them make themselves a hideout under a giant tree, far enough away to make them think they were unobserved, felt exactly the way boyhood should be. Once I saw him wandering off the grass section I’d specified, and went to get him. He tipped his head back and laughed too hard to run away. I picked him up and said ‘Ted, you must stay where I can see you. Stay on the grass. It’s not funny’.

‘It IS FUNNY!’ he crowed, legs kicking furiously from under my arm, beaming face flushed with triumph and crusted with bits of cereal bar.

It wasn’t, but in the moment I could see his point.

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In the walled garden they sat for ten minutes, scooping shale chips onto each other’s heads and stirring them to listen to the shirr-shirr noise they made. We sat side-by-side in the little shelter at the end, pointing out spider webs and interesting flowers.

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Then there were the moments where he pounced on flower heads when just out of arm’s reach. Or when we spent five minutes in the disabled loo, during which they took it in turns to unlock the door while I was still sat down, and turn on the tap hard enough to splatter us all with water (the group toilet visit – everything dirty! Everything low enough for a child to reach! – is a particular kind of hell). When we came out a polite knot of mothers and teenage daughters were staring at the door, open-mouthed. It probably sounded like we were skinning a cat or dispatching a corrupt city official in there.

I can’t help but feel embarrassed by this sort of thing. Even though I know it’s what kids this age are like, and the people watching are almost certainly sympathetic if they’ve had children themselves. It makes me feel incompetent. Like if I were a better, more engaged mother, it wouldn’t be like this. When T runs, full-tilt, away from my voice – and H is going in the other direction and I need to go back and get the pushchair and THERE IS ONLY ONE OF ME, WHY IS THIS – it makes me feel like it would be better all round if we stayed indoors.

I don’t believe this, not really. There’s a lot of wonderful things to see in this bright world, things that will make their mouths drop open and their chests hurt, and we won’t see any of them from our living room. And I don’t, either, want him to spend his life in the pushchair when we’re in a deliberately child-friendly place full of families, and he’s desperate to use his legs.

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But, you know, sigh. Just imagine a giant sigh here composed of uneaten sandwiches and attempted scuba-divings and continual soothing and redirecting and much, much sprinting. My legs are tired.

It’s a good job two-year-olds are also so vibrant and adorable you could eat them. And that twoishness passes. And that he wears dinosaur pyjamas like a boss, and that he required seven kisses and three magic blows when he accidentally bit his own finger at dinnertime.

When I was about half an hour past exhausted this afternoon, an old lady smiled at them both, and then me, as they zoomed past her in a cloud of dust. I wasn’t sure whether they should be running in a flower garden, and looked at her anxiously with an apology ready. But she forestalled me.

‘I have two sons too’, she said. ‘Grown up now. They’re wonderful. You’ve done a good thing’.

Honestly, I could’ve cried.

‘Oh!’ I said, so gratefully it was probably weird. ‘Thank you. You give me hope.’

‘There’s always hope’, she said over her shoulder, shuffling on.  (Well-placed fairy godmother? Who says these things to a strange girl covered in yoghurt?)

I crossed absolutely every last one of my digits, and ran.

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Things I want to remember about mornings

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I found this post (and this one) this morning, and they both seem like someone else’s life, as usual. Time for another installment. 

Dear self,

Here are some things you should never forget (even when your eye bags are capacious enough to keep things in):

that the whole street knows when Son 2 has woken up, because he shouts for you louder than a brass band

that Son 1 is curled into your back (all elbows and knees) if he’s been wet in the night, and covering his ears in his own bed if he’s been dry

that they are still putting away adult-sized portions of banana porridge each, while a nation’s oat-farmers tremble

that Son 2 often goes back to the table for a quick punt after getting dressed, to clear up any leftovers

that they both choose a train to set carefully on the bathroom radiator so they’ve got an audience

that their Thomas bubble bath smells like watermelons

that they spend bath time chucking water at each other, making poo jokes and laughing hysterically

that you let the bathtime poo jokes go, because you say ‘no more poo and wee talk, please’ at least 70 000 times a day, and frankly there’s a limit

that Son 1 insists on getting out first, and Son 2 refuses to get out at all because he’s ‘fwimmin, Mummy’

that Son 1 dresses himself for the promise of a sticker, in between claims that he’s ‘feeling a bit delicate this morning’

that Son 2 raises holy hell if you so much as approach him with socks, because he just wants to jump around naked forever

that with all of these shenanigans you have approximately thirteen minutes to get yourself ready

and you spend eleven of them in the shower with the heat whacked up to max

and every morning you stare at the shower tiles, wondering whether you’ve got this

and honestly, some mornings you haven’t

but more often than not, you have.

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September. July.

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September. July.

Note the worn-through shoes, the yoghurt-stained jumper, the trousers that barely fit, and the general sense of a boy who has grown in every direction, more than I can fathom.

Yesterday H had his new school visit, and today he went back for a final week at nursery. I came home and had a big ole cry. I remember being a little sad and nervous when he started nursery back in September, but mostly it was exciting: he was ready for something new, and so was I.

In the months since then, he’s made friends, learned to hold a pen and write his name, tramped out to Forest School every Friday,  started going to the loo without my intervention, done projects on polar animals and Chinese New Year and fairy tales, dressed up as the Very Hungry Caterpillar, gone out for a day’s school trip on a coach, sung in school assemblies, thrown bean bags in Sports Day, grown ten times more ornery and twelve times more hilarious, and emptied that basket of cars and train tracks every. single. day.

His teachers know him, and love him. Which is not down to any specialness in him, particularly, but in them. I never got over that: the fact that he’s not theirs, and yet they care about him as though he were. It astonishes me. I love them for it, to a kind of embarrassing extent. And I suppose I don’t want to start all over again. While putting on a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, deep down I’m dreading it horribly.

This morning over breakfast, I had to break the news, when he asked, that I was already married to Daddy, so couldn’t marry him when he grew up. He burst into tears and sobbed, ‘I do not ever want to grow up and leave you!’ So I guess there’s something in the water this week.

On the whole, of course, he does want to grow up. Because that means getting bigger, understanding more, becoming a richer and more complex person. And I want that too. This has been a blazing wonder of a year for him, and I think the year to come will be another.

All the same, I am saying to myself what I said to him this morning, as I pulled him onto my lap (where he only just fits) and rubbed his little shaking back.

‘It’s alright. You’ll grow up and leave one day, and it will be a happy thing. But it’s not for a while. Not for a good long while.’

How to make a birthday balloon wall

Or, what to do when you love decorating for birthdays but don’t have a crafty bone in your sad little body, and also your budget is small-to-non-existent. Balloon walls tick ALL YOUR BOXES, BABY. Bring it on.

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Start with balloons. Obviously. I got five packs of ten from Hobbycraft, at £1 each. And they were the heavy-duty helium kind, which I thought would be more hard-wearing. There’s also a wondrous wealth of snazzy balloons online.

Then blow them up. I would recommend an electric pump: I only had a bicycle pump, and I have to tell you that this pile took 45 pumps EACH, on average. By the time I finished I was a decent facsimile of Dwayne The Rock Johnson, only quite a lot less fabulous.

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Attaching them to the wall was tricky. I tried masking tape at first, but they floated right off again before I’d turned around. So Tim suggested tying the whole row to a piece of thread, and taping the thread to the wall. Unfortunately we only had black thread, which wasn’t the most inconspicuous on our cream walls, but heigh-ho.

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The easiest way we found was to tie a long piece of thread between two chairs, leaving it fairly slack, then knot the balloons on one by one. I’m not going to lie: it was hella fiddly. Make sure you knot them into position so that they’ll sit comfortably alongside each other when the string is taut, just touching. 

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Then onto the wall! We started at the bottom, over the (switched-off) radiator, so all the others would stack on top of it. They needed tape at each end and then at several points between, but we put the pieces of tape as close to the balloons as possible so they wouldn’t be visible. Once the strings of balloons were up, we did a bit of fiddling: taping some of the balloons together when they were sagging, so that they all sat in a rough grid.

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All done! He was so happy. It made for some great photographs. And it lasted more than a week – in a heatwave! – before some of the balloons deflated. So, I’ll be doing a new one next week then, cool? Cool.

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The strawberry fields are a-calling

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We’re ten days off the beginning of the summer holidays, and I dunno how H feels, but I am raring to go. I get to be in charge of summer these days, and I’m all gleeful about it. I feel like revelling in every day this summer especially, since it’s the final hurrah before H gets swallowed up by school.

He had a day off last week, so we had a little summer trial run, and went strawberry picking. We found a new PYO farm nearer to where we live now, which turned out to be a real gem: masses of fruit and veg to choose from, a little farm shop, picnic tables and a tiny play area.

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Neither of the boys had ever been before. There are some moments that stick in your head with kids, and watching them realise that strawberries were just SITTING ON THE GROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE and we could put as many in our baskets as we liked was the best, best thing. H was all conscientious about it and only picked the strawberries that called to him personally. T went mad.

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‘ANUDDER STAWBEWWY. ANUDDER STAWBEWWY PLEASE’.

After five minutes he looked like he’d been engaging in cannibalism. If anyone knows how many strawberries a toddler can eat before you should offer to pay extra at the till, let me know. He wasn’t exactly subtle about it.

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The sun and sky did its best to ripen everything while we were there, and we accidentally got the sort of neck sunburn that makes you look like a really responsible parent.

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After that there was nothing to do but play in the sprinkler and then make the best strawberry and cinnamon torte in the universe. Some cakes are like holy things. Oh man, this one is.

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Come on then, summer! We’re wearing a decent amount of suncream, this time, and we’re READY.

Angry mummy: hills to die on

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This is the second post I’ve written about trying not to be a short-fuse parent. The first one is here. Let’s face it, there will probably be more. 

We will be glad about the two-year age gap between our boys when they’re older and the best of friends. This is what I weep into my pillow at night. ONLY JK.

Actually, from Peak Insanity of newborn and two-year-old, it’s getting lots better. H can now be trusted to run little errands without calamity. There are spells when they amuse each other and where they play together without someone screeching. I never thought we’d get here, and it’s a testimony to me of the triumph of Grimly Hanging On and Using Chocolate Biscuits As Emotional Salve.

But. But but but. The age gap does mean that they’re now covering all the stress bases between them. If you want someone to be mindlessly destructive, you’ve got T, and H is there for the explosive emotional breakdowns. T will scream the house down when you brush his teeth, but H is ready to bring out the threenager boundary-pushing. I mean, just in case you were missing anything from the last two years, they like to keep it all fresh.

So it’s possible, if you wanted, to spend every minute of the day telling them off. And oh, how achingly dull that is. We are scratchy and irritable on a day where my sentences beginning ‘will you STOP-‘ outnumber all the others put together. Emotionally it’s exhausting too: maintaining that level of irritation uses an awful lot of energy that could be used for better things.

I’ve said before that my inner parent is all Sergeant Major: I am always trying to train myself to be less strict. But someone on this blog once made a comment I think about a lot (thanks! This is why you’re all so brilliant). She said: ‘choose your hills to die on. You can’t pick up on everything, so choose what’s really important to you and go from there’.

I think this is pretty wise. It’s not a case of starting to let things go, but of reacting to things on a scale, from a mild ‘hey, don’t, that’s gross!’ to the intense, theatrical ‘I do not want to see you do that again’. And is there anything I’m getting cross at that I could laugh at instead? I think there probably is.

So I had a good think, and here are my hills to die on, the things I absolutely cannot shift from under any circumstances:

1. Bedtime is bedtime. I don’t mind what they do in their room once we’ve gone – that’s often when they have the best interaction with each other, in fact – but once the light is off, they’re done for the day. The only thing standing precariously between us and insanity is a decent night’s sleep.

2. Kindness to peers. I think you’ll never lose out being a little kinder than people expect. It’s a way of acknowledging everyone’s innate worth and drawing in people left on the margins. I am never happier than when I see spontaneous kindness in my boys, and never more horrified than when they do the opposite.

3. Respect to adults. In the last few months we’ve had to introduce the new idea that there are things you might hear said in the playground, but these are not things you can say to your mother; also, that people can be hurt by the words you use. And I guess this was something we all had to learn for the first time at some point. It’s FUN.

4. Manners. I know ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ don’t seem like huge deal-breakers, but I think they help teach them something deeper: respect, appreciation, remorse…a recognition of other people’s dignity.

I also came up with a list of things that are way higher up on my hills than they should be, and need taking down a notch (or seven):

1. Not being bothered to go to the toilet on time. Urrrrrrgh. I look forward with hope and gladness to a time when I don’t have close and personal dealings with faeces. But H is a last-minute toilet-goer; there it is; he needs reminders but I don’t need to be furious about it.

2. Brotherly scraps. I intervene when they’re hitting, or T is at a disadvantage because of his size, or one of them is at absolute meltdown point. But I’m trying to remind myself that, you know, brothers gon’ brother. And they’re learning, by very small degrees, how not to provoke people to wrestling point. Useful life skills.

3. Stupid voices. This is a weird personal idiosyncrasy, but if you can TALK with REAL WORDS then USE REAL WORDS THAT’S WHY WORDS EXIST TO HELP YOU COMMUNICATE WITH PRECISION. I really need to tamp this irritation down, because I remember using silly voices well into teenage years, and my sister spent a good year in her childhood inexplicably pretending to be a dog. This is what kids do.

4. Not leaping to do what I ask the first time I ask it. This is a sign of how inexperienced I am as a parent. I asked my mother recently, ‘So…when we were kids, did we, um, just ignore you lots of times until you got stressed about it?’ And she laughed and laughed and laughed. Apparently kids do this too. They shouldn’t, and they need reminding, but I’m going to push myself into an early grave getting cross about it.

The great thing about parenting is that we’re all so individual, such a unique mixture of personality and environment and how we ourselves were parented, that your hills and non-hills will be different from mine. But I think I’ll be happier when I’m not slogging up to the summit for every little thing.

So, tell me: what are your absolute must-haves, and what things do you get annoyed about that need to come down a bit?

How a bear does birthdays

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Ok, ok, just one more about T’s birthday, and then we’re done. PHOTO AVALANCHE AHOY, CAP’N. So help me, I cannot narrow them down more than this.

(There’s something about having a birthday midweek and then a birthday tea at the weekend that seems to make it last f o r e v e r. Lucky T. He sees any old open flame these days and yells ‘happee birthdee day!’)

We are in the middle of redoing our little garden at the minute – more about that later – so we wanted to celebrate in ways that would be fun, but also relatively inexpensive. I found this balloon wall on You Are My Fave, and it looked perfect: five bags of heavy-duty coloured balloons from Hobbycraft cost £5, and boom, done. Or should I say, boom, much late night fiddling with tape, bicycle pumps and string, done. I’ll do a quick tutorial for this later in the week, because we tried a couple of different ways that didn’t work before we found one that did.

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You should’ve seen his face when he saw it. His mouth fell into a perfect O.

The thing about being a second child is that basically everything you play with belongs to your older brother. One of the nicest parts of the morning was seeing him overwhelmed by opening new, exciting things just for him.

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We’d given H the day off from nursery, and planned to go into London and visit the Natural History Museum. First though, lunch. On your birthday you want to eat your favourite food, and the problem with this two-year-old is that there aren’t many grape-and-strawberry-yoghurt restaurants. But he does love…curry, of all things. So we found a fabulous curry house just off Covent Garden and had a grand old time. They had a children’s menu, and we introduced T to mango lassi, which as a combination of milkshake and yoghurt (two of his favourite things) blew his tiny mind wide open.

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We will pass over the Tube trains we took on the hottest day of the year. Nothing like marinating in a sardine-tin sauna, air shimmering with the sweat of strangers, hanging on to two overheated and angry boys for dear life.

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H, I bless the day you got yourself a photo face. HAHA.

It all got better once we got to the Emirites cable car. It was like stepping into another world: cool breeze, open sky, and the blue Thames glittering ahead. And I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the cable car, but you MUST. If you have a day travel card you get a discounted ticket, and it is so, so worth doing. The views are incredible, and it’s just thrilling.

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At the other side we found a few splash pads next to the O2, and what looked like a worldwide Salvation Army convention enjoying the sun and spray. The boys were desperate to pull off their shoes and get wet, so we shrugged, and saved the museum for another day. They spent an hour running in and out of the water, soaking their clothes and cooling down before we headed home. Honestly, it was wonderful.

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Then on Sunday we had some family over for a little birthday tea (I am firm in my belief that it’s pointless to plan themed birthday extravaganzas before they can remember it). Most of the food was low-prep and easily done: veg and dips, fruit and chocolate fondue, scones and jam, chips and cookies. I found these brilliant watermelon napkins and cups at the supermarket, along with cocktail stick forks, which I found far too exciting for someone who claims to be an adult.

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The cake – oh, my giddy aunt – was an unmitigated disaster. I wanted to make the cinnamon roll cake we love, but in round tiers rather than a single tray. But the layers were too dense after baking, and became even more so after leaving them in the fridge overnight. The cream cheese frosting I’ve made before with no problems went through a terrifying cottage cheese stage, where the butter refused to mix properly into the rest. Then it wouldn’t set firm. Then there wasn’t enough to cover the cake. I’ve had many a cake horror before (you know this, loves) but never one in which, twenty minutes before guests arrived, I sat in a corner deep-breathing and saying ‘he has no birthday cake. HE HAS NO BIRTHDAY CAKE’.

Anyway, it slapped together with minutes to spare. Good enough for candles. And T was thrilled. He was getting the hang of this blowing-out-candles thing by this time, and kept trying to get it done before we’d finished singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

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That’s the main thing, isn’t it? Happy boy, covered in chocolate, running round the garden with a new helicopter. The balloons are still on the wall. We’re getting through the cake by heating it up into cinnamon roll pudding. The new toys and books are well worn already. It ain’t a bad life.

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Speak up for your bad days: they’re important too

I had every intention of sitting down tonight and writing about T’s birthday. We had a grand day. I’ve got lots of very pretty-looking pictures. But whenever I write something especially appreciative about my children on this blog, the universe intervenes to make sure they’re little horrors the day after. And so they have been.

We are tired after yesterday, and too hot. Early this morning they were both crying over UNMENTIONABLE TRAINS before I’d even made breakfast. Tim leapt around the house looking for work stuff because he was running late for a meeting. I tried to put T down so that I could pick H up, and he cried harder and wrapped his legs around my torso.

That was all it took, just that. I looked at our house strewn with birthday debris; my two hysterical sons I had to somehow soothe, feed, clean and dress in the next hour; my husband who was about to sprint for his train and deal with rational adults all day, like a proper grown-up. A great surge of frustration became fury by the time it reached my throat and I yelled at no one in particular: ‘THIS. IS. MY. JOBBBB.’ Like an actual, pyjama-clad lunatic.

For one minute, you see, I wished so very much that it wasn’t. I used to joke that working with academics made me an ideal candidate for raising toddlers, but no academic I ever dealt with wanted me to carry them on my hip while I made them breakfast and found the one bleeping train that won’t be found.

And I wasn’t going to write about it, because moaning is boring – or worse, entitled and infuriating. There’s always someone who wishes desperately they were in your shoes, even while you’re wishing yourself out of them.  I have two healthy children. I am incredibly lucky to be able to stay home with them full-time while working a little on the side. And Tim would tell you if you asked him (I remember myself) that working full-time has its fair share of stresses and negatives too. I know all this.

So I was going to swallow it down. Pretend it didn’t happen, and post some pretty pictures instead. Smooth down my rough edges for a reading audience. It’s all so much more comfortable that way.

I think women do this a lot. We think negative emotions make us unattractive. We think expressing them makes us nags, or cynics, or bores. As mothers especially, we apologise for them, or we ring-fence them with comedy. We sand down our rough edges to take up less space, to be less objectionable to whomever might be watching.

Today I have decided: stuff that. You can take that idea, and stuff it right into some place you’ll never see again.

You don’t owe anyone a good day. You owe yourself care, and you owe other people empathy and consideration, but you don’t owe them quietness.

I don’t mean that it’s a good idea to ferret out the downsides in whatever situation you’re in, because doing that makes me miserable. Looking on the bright side is good. But I assert my right to take up authentic, emotional space using a full range of feelings, not just the ones that make me seem nicer. I want the ones that make me real. That’s what I’m trying to show and tell my boys, after all: all of your emotions are ok. You need to express them in a way that doesn’t involve disrespect or fists, but it’s alright to feel whatever you feel.

All of my experiences will make me who I am in five years, ten years, twenty. All of them, the guts and grit and glory. Not only the ones that came with a DSLR and coordinating outfits.

Guys, today was pretty hard. Today H ran into the sprinkler and soaked his school uniform just as T slipped down five stairs and banged his elbow, and we were already five minutes late. Today I looked into days and years and YEARS of cajoling lasagne into the mouths of kids who don’t want to eat it, and it felt a little like despair to me.

It was a hard day, and it made me feel bad, and I’m owning it. Tomorrow will probably be better.

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Ironically, since my phone is broken, I only have DSLR photos. So some days are like this. Some days are…not.

Pinterested in this article? Mouse over this bad boy:
Speak up for your bad days

A letter for two

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Teddy,

Today is your birthday, and you are two. Your day is supposed to be over, actually, but you haven’t yet given up the good fight: I can still hear you bouncing and yelling in your room. Most of the street can. You have two volumes: the cracked little fake-sorrowful voice you put on for apologies, and Is That A Jet Engine, No It’s Just Teddy.

You are two, and these last two years have gone before I could blink. You are two, and it feels like you’ve been two forever. You’re a mixed little thing, my love: pure sunshine with a streak of steel through your middle. You are good-natured, big-hearted, puppyish; ready to make jokes in silly voices and then to laugh before anyone else does. You give hugs freely, without the asking. At heart you are happy, and want everyone else to be too. You are also single-minded, stubborn and intensely strong-willed. When you want something, you shout. If you don’t get it, you shout louder. The other day you asked to be picked up in order to more conveniently hit me in the face, and I was stern (‘we do NOT hit’ / ‘sowee mammy!’) but also reluctantly impressed.

You won’t get this till much later, maybe ever, but I’ll say it for myself: like most second-time parents, I wasn’t sure what my love for you would look like before I met you. When you love a child for the first time, it knocks you silly. You’re shaken to the foundations of yourself and built up again into something new. It’s hard to imagine it happening again, a second time, the same but also different. And then it does. You open up, again. Caverns with vaulted ceilings expand, and expand again. With love, and love, and love.

But Ted, this is what I’m trying to explain: you made it so easy. No one has ever met you and not loved you immediately. You are laughably lovable (that hair! those eyes! that ridiculous smile!). You arrived three weeks early, quickly, unexpectedly, and none of us had any idea of the happiness you’d add to our store.

Like grace. Given freely, without the asking. That’s how I think of you, really. And I’m so grateful.

…And you were a pain in the neck on the Tube today, and you drank two mango lassis one after the other, and you wanged a metal train into a poor gentleman’s ankle because I wouldn’t let you leap onto the platform at the wrong stop.

I wouldn’t change you. How could you be anything but gloriously yourself?

I pinch myself when I think about how lucky I was to get you. Happy birthday, Edward bear.

Much love,

Your mother.

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Good neighbours

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This photo is everything. Everything.

That’s when good neeeeeighbours! Become! Goooooood frieeeeeeends!

[saxophone]

Come on, as if you weren’t singing it too.

Sometimes I think about what it would be like, living next door to a family with two children under five. Sharing a wall with two children under five. My conclusion is always the same: it’d be flipping horrendous.

I have always wanted to be part of a Neighbours set-up where we’re friends with the people next door. Cheery waves from the driveway, hanging over the fence to ask after each other’s parents, popping in to borrow sugar, that sort of thing (why is it always sugar? Are people putting so much sugar on their Weetabix that they regularly are caught short?).

This has never happened. For two reasons, I think: first, I am not an easy chatterer. When we come home I am tired from wrasslin’ toddlers, and know I still have to wrassle them inside the house without anyone running under a car, so I would much rather give you an awkward smile than stop to chat. Second, I feel terribly guilty about how awful we must be to live next door to, which inhibits friendly communion.

‘Oh darling, what a lovely dinner you’ve made. Candles and everything. Let’s eat.’

‘Hang on a second, my love. The children next door are having their faces branded with a hot iron again, and it’s ruining the atmosphere.’

I’M ONLY TRYING TO BRUSH THEIR TEETH, NEIGHBOURS, HONESTLY.

I had high hopes when we moved: a bigger house, no one living underneath us, and a brand-new set of people to be nice to. None of them had heard me give birth unexpectedly, which was a huge plus for all of us. Then I realised that having a bigger house only means there are more places in which to scream.

Children are loud. There’s yelling, and crying, and jumping off things, and the accidental droppage of crockery, and screeches of laughter and indignation. There’s the fact that every morning they shriek about having to get in the bath and then shriek again when they have to get out. There’s the fact that they always, always want the same train. And then there’s me, goaded beyond human endurance approximately every twenty-five minutes, shouting things like enough now, and leave your brother’s tongue alone, and stop poking that worm and get your shoes on.

That’s just a normal Monday.

We try hard not to be obnoxious, but obnoxiousness comes with the territory. The first month after we moved in, T cut five teeth. We brought the neighbours a Happy Christmas/We’re Really Sorry present to try and extend their goodwill a bit, but you can’t tell whether someone’s saying ‘oh, we never hear them’ through gritted teeth when you’re looking by the light of a street lamp. I stop the boys dinging matchbox cars against our bed frame at 6am, and park our giant child-friendly car at a respectful distance from next door’s sporty BMW.

But I still have to brush their teeth. And no force in heaven or earth is going to stop them poking a worm when it’s long-past time to get to school.

Chris and Maria, I’m so sorry. Please come over for sugar whenever your Weetabix is lacking. I promise our children aren’t feral. I promise I’m not having a psychotic break.

I can’t promise you’ll never hear me give birth unexpectedly, but let’s cross that awkward bridge if we come to it.

Do they LOOK like the quiet types to you?

Do they LOOK like the quiet types to you?

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