September. July.

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September. July.

It’s done. It’s all done. There I am, waiting at the school gate for the last time in his first year, next to women I have come to love. And here he comes in a queue of friends, crumpled book bag slung over his shoulder, shirt filthy and untucked, skinny legs tanned in the shorts he insisted on wearing every day in summer term.

We have had anxieties aplenty since September – weeks where he cried every morning at the school gate and raged every evening at home, where I worried about him getting dressed for PE and whether he had anyone to play with. Mostly he has grown. Always a fact-hoarder, he came home every day fizzing with them – ‘Mummy, did you know that cabbages have heads?’ ‘Mummy, did you know that a butterfly would drink your blood because there’s so much sugar in it?’ He is ploughing through reading books and counting to one hundred. He has done Sports Day, costume days, assemblies, school trips on coaches, and has sung his little heart out as a pirate in an end-of-term play.

On the way home from the performance, he asked me – wonder in his voice – whether I knew that he was quite good at singing, actually? His teachers have done that for him, this boy who daren’t draw attention to himself in a crowd: they’ve told him he can raise his voice.

I wonder if every year will be like this, whether I will be as grateful and as awed by his teachers as I have been so far, whether he will continue to make leaps that are beyond anything I have envisioned for him. His first year at school hasn’t been about me at all, but I’ve got something from it all the same: the understanding that he is far more capable than my fears have allowed me to believe; the dawning realisation, breathtaking and lovely, that he has higher, and further, and further still to go.

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Why Trump was the last straw that poked me off Facebook

 

Bless this Scottish legend. We were all with you in spirit.

Bless this Scottish balloon-wielder. We were all with you in spirit.

It was Donald Trump wot did it.

Did what? Oh, well, aside from bringing incendiary fascism into public discourse, cultivating a urine-flavoured candyfloss hairstyle, and delivering all his speeches in a voice that sounds like an old man farting into a set of bagpipes, which you’d think would be enough to be going on with – he was also the last straw that poked me off Facebook.

I don’t mean the Facebook ‘avoidance’ I’ve been practising for a year or so, where I delete the app from my phone and ten minutes later open the page in Safari. I mean that I use it for a couple of essential pages (this blog’s page being one of them) and have ceremoniously deleted everything else. Including my entire News Feed. Oh my giddy aunt, it actually feels good.

I’ve been a loyal Facebooker since its early days, where all your statuses had to begin with ‘Rachel is’ (there’s a grammatical tangle-in-waiting) and that was about all there was to do. It’s been a useful thing for me. For every auto-playing Russian video or SHARE IF YOU TOO HAVE A SON MADE OF RAINBOWS meme, there was a baby announcement from a friend I don’t see often enough. Or a photo album from family halfway across the world. Irreplaceable things. Real things. But then Facebook started putting posts your friends have liked on the News Feed. And that meant an unavoidable crapstorm of opinions.

Surely (I thought) it’s not true that I like people less when I know their take on current affairs? I don’t think it is. It’s just that normally, you find out people’s opinions in very small doses. Face-to-face, and if you happen to be talking about it. Even with your friends, that happens relatively rarely. ‘Oh dear’, you might think. ‘My friend is somewhere else on the political spectrum. Oh well, they have many delightful qualities and, since we’re in conversation, we can find some common ground’. You are both considering what you’re saying, and saying it deliberately. This is how it is meant to be. Unless your friend is a newspaper columnist, that’s how it’s always been.

Then once Facebook changed their algorithms, second-hand opinions were all over the place. At first, this is only mildly annoying: ‘Oh, my friend has a friend I’ve never heard of and that friend is having a baby shower, and my friend has marked this with a Love’, you think. ‘Unnecessary information for me. But good for them’.

Then someone that you knew in high school and didn’t like all that much to begin with has a spouse who went to a party and was photographed in various stages of ‘banter’. She has Liked all these photographs. You have not spoken to your acquaintance in fifteen years. You have never met their spouse. You did not go to the party, though if you had you would have been strongly tempted to whack the spouse in the chops with their own comedy inflatable. Why is this in your News Feed, you think. You have already spent too long thinking about this party. Was the party imaginary? What is the point of your life?

Then, heaven forbid, something controversial happens in the political sphere. Someone you know likes a ranty post that makes all the points you disagree with. You feel a bit nauseated. Do they really think like this, you wonder. All the time? People – myself included – will like a post that says things that are more strident or extreme than anything they’d put on their own wall. Sometimes the posts that are liked are racist. Sometimes they are offensive. Doesn’t matter whether your Facebook friend said them or not: all of them appear on your News Feed, with their name attached.

The time this was a bigoted rant by Donald Trump, liked by someone I like in real life, something deep inside snapped in half. YOU ARE A TRUMP SUPPORTER, FRIEND. AND NOW HE IS ON MY NEWS FEED. IT’S LIKE YOU CAME OVER TO MY HOUSE AND SMEARED DOG FAECES ON MY FRONT DOOR AND THEN MADE ME COME AND SMELL IT.

I took a good look at my feed and counted the last twenty posts. Five of them were actual things my friends had written. Fifteen were posts they had liked, that had nothing to do with them or me. So I checked that I was following enough people on Instagram, and decided to jump the blue ship.

I tell you, it’s made me feel so much better. (I didn’t even mention the fact that I have zero self-control when it comes to social media, so I also have a zillion hours more free time.) I thought it would be difficult – and I was lamentably behind on the new Reading IKEA news – but it’s honestly been more of a relief than I imagined.

I kind of miss the Russian dude making his dog lip-sync Happy Birthday. Remind me to look him up on YouTube.

no I'm blooming well not

no I’m blooming well not

 

When a dinosaur comes to a party, it wears its best hat

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Birthday fortnight is over. Well, not really – H’s birthday is still to come next month, though because he’s blown out a glittery ‘5’ candle, he’s convinced he already is. And I say: fair enough. You can be five for a few sneaky weeks. Five is great.

It seemed like a good idea to move H’s party forward to before the end of term, to catch his friends before they went on holiday. He’d asked for a party, after all – unusual for this beloved people-wary child – and since we weren’t sure how many years he’d want one, we wanted to make this one good. Until we realised that we’d scheduled two consecutive party weekends for ourselves, which is the sort of way madness resides.

He chose a dinosaur theme. He wants to be a palaeontologist – he can pronounce this better than I can spell it – and most days I have a scheduled bare-feet run-in with a tiny rubber ceratosaurus and some muffled howling. So I went and drowned myself in Pinterest for a few days, spent a few more days whimpering at the extravaganzas on Pinterest, then chose a few decoration and game ideas I thought I might be able to do. I even made a spider diagram. This was getting SERIOUS.

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A word to the wise: even the simplest home-grown party is going to cost you some money. Party bags, my guys. Party bags. I know for a fact that when H comes home with a party bag full of small plastic bits, he is thrilled to his core while I’m only waiting a couple of days before I can quietly slide it all into the bin. It seems silly to spend money on them. But buy anything twenty times, let alone five or six things, and you’ll be weeping soft tears at the checkout regardless. In the end I was lucky, and found most of what I needed in pound shops and sales. You just have to suck it up.  I got these little paper bags from Party Pieces in red and green, and they were great: sturdy, and not so big that you felt the pressure to over-fill them.

So here we go. We’d hired our local village hall – inexpensive, roomy and with a good stock of child-sized tables and chairs – and arrived there with decorations to set up. I loved these balloon dinosaurs I found on the ole internet, and they really were easy enough to do: I wasn’t sure that sellotape would hold the arms and legs on, but it did. I hole-punched their heads in strategic places, and Tim strung them up in the air with sewing thread. Marvellous.

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I also spent a full hour of my adult life making tiny party hats for our larger dinosaurs. I did kiiind of feel like something had gone a bit wrong at this point – OR WAS IT VERY RIGHT – but hey. We got two helium balloons to tie onto their tiny claws, and they sat as centrepieces for the tables looking like they were terribly glad it was H’s birthday.

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I was lucky enough to find this set of dinosaur tableware – cups, napkins, and lovely straws – on sale a couple of days before. Why do kids get all the best party gear?! We’ve got some straws left over, and every now and again I use one so that my drink can feel ferocious.

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We played four games: a pin-the-horn-on-the-triceratops, a dinosaur egg-and-spoon race, a pass the parcel and a version of musical statues where they danced like dinosaurs and froze into fossils. It all sounded a bit cheeseball on paper, but with seventeen four- and five-year-olds leaping around, it was seriously adorable. Then we finished with a T-Rex pinata – a terrifying, crumpled beast we found on Amazon that was made, apparently and unfortunately, from strengthened steel. No matter. They had a whale of a time beating the heck out of it.

H's new photo face: look like someone's died. Think it'll catch on?

H’s new photo face: look like someone’s died. Think it’ll catch on?

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Making the cake was my favourite part. H has dedicated tastes when it comes to cake, and every year requests a chocolate cake as though he’s never eaten one before. So I used our old reliable standard, the Cake Hunter’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake, and put one of our behatted dinosaurs on top, holding a Happy Birthday sign. It cheered me up for days, honestly. Who knew that festive dinosaurs were such a tonic.

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By the time we got to the party, I’d been thinking about it for several weeks, and was starting to wonder if it was going to be more trouble than it was worth. But his face: surrounded by friends, feeling like the cool kid. I will never forget it. The next morning he woke up and said ‘I wish I could have slept at my party and had breakfast at my party and never left!’ When you’ve sat gluing spots onto party hats for toy dinosaurs and wondered how on earth you ended up here, those are the parts that remind you. Here you are, and here you should be. Pom-poms and all.

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A letter for three (for Teddy)

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Dear Teddy,

Today is your birthday, and you are three. You have just gone to sleep in fuzzy dinosaur pyjamas, so thoroughly squashed in by soft toys that you look like a pharaoh buried with treasure. You haven’t the heart to banish any of them to the toy box, so we come in later to dig you out. How you’ve escaped suffocation before now is, honestly, a mystery.

You’ve been the twoiest of two-year-olds, so it’s been strange watching Three steal over you, bit by bit. You’ve grown out of your rainbow wellies and nappies. You are pulling words from the air, spinning them into sentences that make you sound like a person. You make your toys talk to each other, acting out stories with dinosaurs and fire engines. You have – sorry – atrocious taste in television. You like to reminisce about things we did six months ago, and check whether I remember them too. What a peculiar and lovely thing, to have a memory for the first time, and only to remember the good things. It’s very like you. You love music, and when the song changes on the radio you pipe up from the back ‘hey, I like this one!’ Every time. That’s very like you too.

I can’t write about you without superlatives, Ted: you are the most joyous, most frustrating little thing. All fury and determination and happiness. Wild white-blonde hair, big eyes, a wide, easy smile. You talk and shout and screech and sing, so loudly I cringe for our neighbours. Some days we bash heads from morning till night, and I collapse at the end of it, exhausted. You are energetic, bursting with confidence that life is good and that people are glad to see you. You still burst into rooms shouting ‘I baaaaack!’, even if you’ve only been gone for thirty seconds. When I chat with passers-by on our way home, you grab Henry’s hand and interrupt ‘Um, excuse me, my name is Teddy and this is my brother, Henry’. The other day I looked up at the park to find that you were engaging a ten-year-old in conversation, introducing him to your brother, persuading him to push you on the swings. And I wasn’t surprised.

There’s nursery on the horizon in September. Uniforms, carpet time, new friends and new skills. So much change, so close, and you’ve no idea. I’m not afraid for you in the slightest. Making the best of new things is rather your strong point.

We can’t imagine what we did without you. Everything about us is better with you in it. You don’t let me sing your song to you very often anymore, but it turns out it was well chosen, after all.

You dream-maker,

you heart-breaker.

Wherever you’re going, we’re going your way.

Here’s to more of all of it (except, maybe, the tantrums and the Paw Patrol?). Happy birthday, little bear.

Much love,

your mother.

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If Brexit’s getting a bit much, here are three things you can watch instead

Oh, my loves. We’re all going to hell in a handcart, aren’t we? You could’ve been a junior writer in the tenth season of Lost, and you’d have rejected this weekend as a bit far-fetched. The pound gone off a cliff, the prime minister resigned, the opposition imploding, more money wiped from the markets than we would’ve paid in several decades of EU membership, every single ludicrous promise from the Leave side retracted by Friday lunchtime, and openly racist slurs being reported in their hundreds. I don’t know how it looks to you overseas readers but here, oh, we’re in so much pain. I watch the news, and hard, blind pain settles on my chest like a weight. I’ve remembered why grief is so often described as ‘suffocating’ (you’ll know this yourself, of course: everyone has a grief to call their own). It’s because it comes up suddenly from somewhere dark and deep, and presses on you so heavily that you can’t breathe.

We have to keep watching the news, because it won’t help to pretend this isn’t happening. In particular this ugly, ignorant strain of racism we’ve uncovered, this infestation of maggots we exposed when we kicked over the the old wood that hid them, needs stamping into oblivion. We owe them that, all the thousands of people who came here from other places and now prop up our health service, care for our elderly and generally get their hands dirty for our good.

But I am exhausted from rage and despair and fear. And sometimes you need a break from the news, somewhere to crawl into while your heart slows down. Here are three things to watch when Brexit gets a bit much.

Adele setting fire to Glastonbury

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It’s a difficult time to be proud of being British, but if anyone’s in our plus column, it’s Adele. Her 90-minute set at Glastonbury was total joy: she brought little girls out of the crowd to take selfies, interrupted herself to tell someone he looked just like Brian Harvey from East 17, and restarted a song after two bars because she wanted to sing it better. She’s like the best friend we all want who also happens to sing gorgeously emotional songs. I watched it this afternoon while working, and felt bathed in chummy solidarity. Make You Feel My Love was the bit where I cried. Where was yours?

It’s on iPlayer, here: Glastonbury part 3, and Adele comes on at about 74 minutes in.

A freaking wonderful documentary about the fall of Anne Boleyn

The hair, the HAIR.

The hair, the HAIR.

Give me poorly acted sepia reconstructions in period costume! Give me Fake Henry taking mass in slow motion and looking with dead fish eyes at Fake Anne Boleyn! Give me the Tudor Historians out in force! Alison Weir hates Cromwell with the fire of a thousand suns, so is here as usual going ‘IT WAS HIM, THE SNAKE’. Suzannah Lipscomb dripping with glorious hair and hand gestures. David Starkey rocking tiny yellow spectacles and dropping truth bombs about Henry all over. Hilary Mantel being Hilary Mantel, and the wisest and best creature on this earth. The machinations that went into bringing down Anne Boleyn were diabolical, and I LOVE them. I want to see a remake of the Avengers, only with Tudor historians bursting into buildings to examine old documents. David Starkey drop kicks the librarian while Alison Weir sets fire to Cromwell’s portrait. This treasure is on iPlayer, here.

Kilts and stubbly intrigue in Outlander

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I only knew one thing about Outlander before we started watching it on a whim on Friday night: that lots of people were out-of-their-heads obsessed with it. Now that we’re halfway through Season 1, I know why: it’s like X-chromosome crack. The first hour was a bit rambly and confusing, as gutsy nurse Claire and her husband Frank pootle around Inverness after the end of WW2. Then Claire touches some magic standing stones and they catapult her back to the 18th century, as standing stones do, the dogs! Trapped in a Scotland full of tartan, rolled r’s and misogyny, she ends up marrying a Highlander for Reasons. He’s called Jamie, but he might’s well be called This One’s For You, Female Viewers, with his kilt, canny combination of steel and adoration, and pecs that look like two hearty flesh basketballs jostling for position. He is like a tartan-clad puppy in human form. He is the 18th century’s answer to Channing Tatum. Poor old boring Frank wears mustard jumpers, and cannot compete. And then the vistas are sweeping, the relationships are more thoughtful than your average potboiler, and the costumes are gorgeous. There are rather too many histrionic sex scenes for this viewer – Outlander feels about nipples the way it feels about candles and mead: at least one in every other scene – and I spent the series middle with my finger on fast-forward as a result. But what will happen when we get to Culloden, eh? I CANNAE WAIT TO FIND OUT.

Outlander is on Amazon Prime, now, and also on DVD via Amazon.

Keep your chin up, dear ones. I don’t know how this is going to work out, but we’ll make the best of what we’ve got once we know where we’re going. And we’ve still got Adele. Don’t forget Adele.

‘Stop talking with your mouth. Smile with your mouth’ (and more things I said during Father’s Day photos)

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Ah, June. Where skies are clear (lol) and evenings are lazy (wut) and summer feels like it’s really here (OH STOP). And I will be found somewhere indoors or out, flinging sweets at two small boys and trying to make them smile simultaneously for a photo. Who was it who liked to believe six impossible things before breakfast? In June I do that too, and all of them are versions of ‘I’m sure this Father’s Day photo will be done in one take’.

Oh, self, no. No, no, no [kindly shake of head].

This year I saw a brilliant idea on Pinterest, where you cut out a message on thick card, get your kids to hold it up in the sun and take a photo of the shadow (plus their adorable feet). An idea which did not involve them looking and smiling simultaneously. SIGN ME UP. Of course, I forgot that we live in England, truly the damp sock in the holey welly boot of Europe. It rained solidly all week, and we had to take advantage of a ten-minute interval of sunshine, twenty minutes past bedtime.

After a bit of this (classic ‘Teddeeeeee’ face from Hen here)

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…we got this.

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Glory be.

(This is what the card looks like, by the way, if you ever want to do something like this. I used a cheap craft knife to cut out the letters, and spent an embarrassingly long time working out that it needed to be upside down for the photo to work.)

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However, because I couldn’t count on getting any sunshine at all, we needed an alternative. So the day before we’d gone off to the woods with signs, to have enriching conversations like this.

‘Alright, smile and hold up your sign! Hen. HEN. Stop talking with your mouth. Smile with your mouth.’

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‘Ted, darling, hold up your sign. Up. Up near your face.’

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‘No, not behind your face -‘

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‘Ok, that’ll do, that’ll – Hen, nice smile now, please, a nice -‘

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‘No, I don’t want to hear willy jokes. No willy jokes, PLEASE, no -‘

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‘Defo wasn’t that funny.’

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‘Ted, could you show me your sign, darling? Not so hard – oh, yes, broken, yes. Hang on -‘

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‘Alright, one more time with the sign, eh?’ Stay there, though. Guys! GUYS. STAY THERE.’

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Siiiiiigh. Got there in the end.

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Now comes the part where I wait for that modelling gig to roll on happily into our laps.

[waits]

[waits]

[waits]

Or maybe not.

It isn’t much, but it’s all we’ve got

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I am running again. Three times a week I squeeze into Lycra, make sure I have music and a podcast on my phone, and set off. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out, and at first it hurt abominably. My body has got into some poor habits. I barely managed to keep running for the one-minute-long intervals.

Three weeks later, I’m running for three-minute intervals and my times are improving. It doesn’t feel easier – the one time I wore Tim’s heart rate monitor, I spent the entire duration in the Whoa, Death Approaches zone. But, is it possible? For me, of all people. Slowly and steadily, I think I am getting better.

***

Henry is learning to read. He has high-frequency words up all over the house, knows quite a few on sight and can spell out the rest. It’s still laborious work. He gets impatient with things he can’t master immediately (um, I wonder where he gets that from?). This morning we sat in the car before school, and his blue-green eyes roamed over the pictures for clues before settling to decipher the incomprehensible words. I watched him and tried to think back to a time when reading wasn’t as subconscious and effortless as breathing.

He got ‘they’. He got ‘said’. He got ‘Kipper’ and ‘glasses’. Despite progressing in what feels like terribly slow increments, I am amazed at how far he’s come. It’s a tiny miracle, learning to read. He’s working hard, and he’s getting better.

***
The world this morning felt very bleak. In my lifetime I have never known this country in the grip of such a vicious, cruel, divisive strain of politics. We have taken our cues from the party leaders, and become increasingly cutthroat in the way we talk to each other over Brexit. I make instant, unflattering judgements about the people voting on the opposite side to me. The discourse is angry and intolerant both on and offline. What has it done to us, this referendum we never really needed or asked for? Yesterday, a dedicated and compassionate politician, a mother of two young children, was stabbed and shot in the street. Here. Here.

There is one tiny spark of hope I can see in all this, one speck of potential in the wave of revulsion and horror that has followed Jo Cox’s murder. The prevailing mood seems to be that this is unimaginably wrong; this isn’t how we should be. We have gone too far. No one (that I have read) is saying with a sorrowful shake of the head that these things happen, that they can’t be prevented. They can be and they should be. We are more than this. We can do better.

If that’s the only place I can rest my hope for now, then here I stand. The general, optimistic truth that with persistence, people get better. If just one person at a time is willing to put in the work to be kind, to embrace diversity and civility and compassion, to call out intolerance where they see it, then we all get better by degrees.

I will put in the work. I will teach my children to put in the work. We are human, and humans can be better.

It is such a very small hope. It feels so inadequate for the tragedy of yesterday. But it’s all I have for the moment.

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Angry mummy: everything’s not lost

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This is the third post I’ve written about trying not to be a short-fuse parent. Here are numbers one and two. It’s, um, an ongoing series. 

You haven’t lost if you start to laugh halfway through the telling-off. (‘Lost’? Setting boundaries isn’t a wrestling match between you and your toddler, self.) This is what I say to myself, particularly after T has grinned his way through a reprimand, like he’s the gleeful and deliberate loser of a stare-out competition. I have only seen him be serious once, after I caught him drawing on every inch of bedroom wall he could reach with an orange crayon.

I went full-on pantomime villain for that, but you can’t bring out the panto every time.

This is an Angry Mummy post about catastrophic thinking, and how I apply it to lots of areas in life – I am nothing if not an equal opportunities catastrophist – but most especially to parenting. Catastrophic thinking is the habit that makes me obsess over imaginary road accidents and undiscovered tumours, when Tim is driving home late. It’s the tendency to jump immediately to the worst-case scenario, no matter how irrational, and (this is the crucial bit) it starts to affect how you behave afterwards. So in the imaginary-road-accident scenario, I am worrying instead of sleeping. I can’t get the sleep back, even when he gets home safe.

When it comes to parenting, it goes something like this: ‘oh no, I’ve come over all Wicked Witch of the West in Tesco. I’ve ruined this afternoon for them now. I might’s well carry on being snappy’. Like once I’ve raised my voice, or said something with a harsher edge than planned, I’ve used up my parenting credit for the day and no amount of apologising will bring it back. I am Wile E. Coyote, plummeting inevitably and forever off Good Mother Cliff, and once I’m off, I’m off.

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Like all catastrophic thinking, this is a load of rubbish. Bad moments only have to be a moment. Hello, have I ever met my children? You can offer them a moderately-sized piece of cheese and they’ll get over any trauma in a second. They scrap and accidentally wang each other with blocks and not-so-accidentally trip each other up on the stairs, and three minutes later they’re sat in the bath, pretending to be twin shopkeepers in an ice cream parlour and offering each other cups of bubbly water (urgh). They don’t hold grudges. They think in moments, and I can too.

This is what I’m trying to remember. If I can get back my equilibrium – after, say, five minutes, some deep breaths and some medicinal Cadbury’s Whole Nut – and then I can come back and patch things up. If I’m trying to teach them that their sincere apologies mean something, then I have to believe that mine mean something too. Be jolly, and show them that I love them. Do some affection play (I liked the idea of this very much, even if ‘affection play’ sounds weird in a way I can’t work out). Then the love will act as an emotional counterweight to the witchiness.

Love enough, and that will be their prevailing memory.

Love enough, and they’ll understand how superficial and temporary the witch-in-Tesco thing is.

You know the thing about Wile E. Coyote? No matter how big the cloud of dust at his landing, he springs up and sprints his way back to the top of the cliff. You think the Road Runner is the winner in that story – ever cheerful, escaping traps with no more effort than a swerve and a blithe honk-honk. He’s not. It’s Wile E. Coyote, failing hard but refusing to be beaten, trying new theories and inventions with enthusiasm, falling off cliffs and under anvils and always coming back, and back, and back again for more.

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The week in stuff

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Hello, you lovely things! You may be out for dinner at a restaurant or clinking glasses together at a swanky bar, but we all know where the REAL action is: here on my sofa, still wearing workout gear from my appalling jog/walk earlier, sporting a fringe that looks like a small, dying patch of forehead bracken, talking about our WEEK IN STUFF.

Half-term week! We spent the first bit of it in the New Forest having a beautiful time (see above), then took the train to Reading Museum, still conquering everything with its collecting policy of ‘strange bits and bobs’, then spent the latter part of the week with grandparents and cousins.

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Today I took the boys to see Zootropolis, which you absolutely must see as soon as possible. It is clever, funny, sharp, poignant; features Idris Elba as a giant, brusque water buffalo (exactly the creature you suspect would be Idris Elba’s patronus, in a different life); and has a scrappy, feminist bunny cop as the main character. Imagine a young Peggy Carter, at the beginning of her career and confidence, with fuzzy ears. Jason Bateman also plays a criminal fox sidekick, and if you thought you only had room in your heartlands for ONE weirdly but unstoppably attractive animated fox, well, think again.

Imagine if this guy and Robin Hood were in the SAME FILM. *dead*

Imagine if this guy and Robin Hood were in the SAME FILM. *dead*

The excellence of this film just about made up for the fact that the boys had to emergency-wee SEVEN TIMES between the two of them, and that during one of these expulsions, I dropped a public toilet seat down too fast and splattered my face with my son’s waste. Let’s pretend that it was just my son’s urine, and not that of several mingled Basingstoke strangers. Let’s also pretend that some of it didn’t go in my mouth. Hashtag motherhood, you guys.

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Our rap name: the Pee-Eyed Peas.

Tim got to choose the film a couple of nights ago, and chose a classic Roger Moore Bond, A View to a Kill. Look. Maybe I just don’t GET Bond when it’s not Daniel Craig being craggy and beautiful. But watching Roger Moore flick random women into his bed every ten minutes, with only an eyebrow and an assumption that it was his due, made me want to flick him into a moving aeroplane propeller. Also Grace Jones wears an eyewatering leotard (google it). I hope they paid her extra for it.

Did you watch the BBC version of Midsummer Night’s Dream on Bank Holiday Monday? (It’s here on iPlayer if you missed it.) I love Maxine Peake with the fire of a thousand suns, but I…didn’t like this very much. The sort-of unwritten rule with Shakespeare is that you get to change the setting and time and costumes and anything else you like, really – except the WORDS AND PLOT. Russell T. Davies has been TARDISing too long. (Didn’t Matt Lucas make an unexpectedly wonderful Bottom, though?)

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I was totally delighted to find a Kate Atkinson book, When Will There Be Good News?, at the library last week, and got through it in a day. Whenever I do this I feel like writing a new serenity prayer: Grant me the strength to stop reading excellent books in one go after midnight, the courage to stop reading terrible books before that, and the wisdom to know the difference. Anyway, I was thrilled to find that one of my all-time favourite authors took a detour into crime fiction, and it was just, oh, completely worth staying up till 1am for. I wanted to give it a standing ovation, but I knew Ted would be waking up in five hours and didn’t want to push my luck.

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Speaking of books: did you go through a phase in your early teens where all you read was dystopian fiction set after nuclear disasters, where the main characters ate the limbs of their siblings and such? I did, and still remember the covers – all grey landscapes and orange hazmat suits – with a kind of chilly horror. BBC Radio are having a dystopian fiction moment at the minute, and have serialised Brave New World and Never Let Me Go. I’m listening to the latter while houseworking this week, and it’s great. 10/10, would dystope again.

I looked these up specifically for this post and NOW I WANT TO CRY.

I looked these up specifically for this post and NOW I WANT TO CRY. I’m pretty sure he eats that kid he’s holding.

On in our Sesame Street car this week: the CD letter is T, so The Beatles, The Feeling, The Killers, The Postal Service. The number is 72, i.e. the number of times the boys yelled Yellow Submarine all around Tesco *face palm*.

Our real soundtrack is constant, unstoppable chatter, of course.

T: I wanna tell you a story.

Me: Ok, great.

T: Once there was a little boy called Mummy…

Me: I might need to stop you there.

***

H: This car is made in China, right?

Me: Yes.

H: Then why does it have shiny wheels?

Me: What do you mean, why? Toy factories in China can make anything.

H: No, but China just has horses and carriages and things.

Me: *wondering if this is going somewhere problematic* What? No, it doesn’t.

H: That’s all they’ve got in Mulan.

Now try explaining the sixth century and contemporary Chinese politics to a four-year-old. You have thirty seconds before the next toilet trip. Good luck.

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to tell you this: it’s going to get better

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If you are really struggling with tiny ones right now, please know this.

I know you spend all your time wearing your children’s snot and developing weird, Stockholm Syndrome crushes on Andy from CBeebies. I know that going to the supermarket feels like pushing a ticking bomb that will explode the first time you refuse to wheel it down the toy aisle. I know you think about your ‘old self’ with wistful melancholy, the one that met her deadlines and went out for uninterrupted dinners where she only worried about her own table manners, and it feels like watching a lost, beloved friend you can see across a chasm but will never meet again.

I know you can only see as far as naptime, and that it feels like you’ll be waiting for naptime for the rest of your damn life.

I just wanted to be another person to tell you the thing you need to hear.

It’s going to get better.

Today I took both of mine on a train, to a museum, to lunch and then to a playground before coming home. By myself, with only a reasonably-sized handbag and no pushchair. And it went fine.

They bounced around the museum, laughing and asking questions. They ate what I bought them for lunch without throwing any of it around. They walked around town, got on and off trains and in and out of toilets without meltdown or disaster.

At the playground they played with each other, and with another boy who was there. I sat down. I read sixteen pages of Little Women. SIXTEEN.

Now we are back at home watching Wall-E, where my only role is to hum along to that gorgeously operatic score, and answer H’s ten thousand questions. (‘How did the people make so much rubbish? Why are there dust storms?’ *tries to explain ecological responsiblity and climate change to a four-year-old*).

Days like this aren’t guaranteed but they are getting more frequent. Yesterday, hemmed in by rain, they worked on jigsaws and played in forts, rushing in only to tell me that ‘a group of baby octopuses are singing outside our front door!’ Then (obviously) they made huge fusses about eating what I’d made for dinner and screeched their way horribly through getting pyjamas on. I mean, it’s not plain sailing. As they get older we come across new hiccups (the bickering, THE BICKERING). But more and more now I check the clock and realise that they’ve been playing peaceably without wanting anything from me for half an hour, and even six months ago that was totally unheard of.

They need me less, now. Our interactions are fun, and funny. They are good company. They walk further. They play more. I get more sleep. It’s not easy, but it’s easier, and it’s getting better all the time.

They will not be this age forever. There might be a chasm between you and your old self, but your new self is making it to higher ground inch by inch. And look at the view from up here, you baby-making, toddler-corralling, warrior-woman self. You made this. You created this gorgeously multicoloured life you lead. Just look at the spectacular view, and know that you’re capable and kind and clever, and that it’s getting better all the time.

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Selfie game is getting stronger too, obviously.

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