Category Archives: Baby Diaries

Toddlers, tents and big open skies

SAM_2635 (800x589)

I write this while the boys are in the bath. A bath! No one is overbalancing into a puddle of muddy water, or shrieking about having their nappy removed in a strange cold cubicle, or opening the door to a crowd of curious onlookers while you struggle blindly into your underwear. WOT LARKS.

We are home from our camping holiday, in other words, and there is nothing like camping to make you embrace your own house when you get back. It’s so warm and comfortable and waterproof, it’s a bit indecent.

Still. There’s nothing like this, either. There is nothing like this at all.

SAM_2547 (800x532)

This little patch of Dorset is a happy place for me. It means waking up to birds, and cows bellowing so loudly you worry they’ve wriggled themselves into your sleeping bag. It’s the ruined castle gleaming across the valley and then looming, white-walled, over your head. It’s the steam train with Harry Potter compartments and jacquard-patterned seats.

It’s pale sands and paler seas. Little villages. Long heather-purpled moors. Fish and chips with salt and vinegar, so hot you burn your fingers.

Porridge over a camping stove. Rain pattering on a tent roof. Wearing a furry dressing gown with muddy wellies at absolutely every available opportunity.

We had friends come with us this year, which more than made up for the fact that we had more rain than we wanted, and that an unsoundproofed two-year-old in a crowded field is a popular kind of guy. HOLD ON HERE COME THE PHOTOS. I couldn’t even stop myself.

Eating outdoors really does make everything taste better – thanks, Enid Blyton. Holding fire on the tinned tongue though, if it’s all the same.

SAM_2518 (800x532)

We broke with tradition this year, and did the beach first. The boys insisted on carrying their own chairs, which was a-ok with us.

SAM_2522 (842x1024)

SAM_2543 (800x639)

Does it say something about the stage of parenthood we’re in that the reason I love the beach is because it’s so hands-off? Go on, boys! Dig yourself into ditches! Climb up sandy dunes! I sat, read a book, passed out the occasional round of bagels, dug out an amateurish speedboat, and it felt like a holiday.

SAM_2538 (800x640)

Ted, kindly stop making me want to eat you.

SAM_2568 (800x640)

TED.

SAM_2531 (800x598)

PAGING THE BAYWATCH THEME TUNE. YOU ARE REQUIRED ON SET.

SAM_2534 (800x640)

Man oh man, I do love these flinging-sand-at-the-sea, wheel-barrowing boys.

bloggles2 (800x640)

Did someone say steam train? I believe we said steam train. I didn’t get a photo of the Hogwarts-esque compartments we sat in later, as by then our four four-and-unders had started doing things like sticking their heads out of the windows, and swinging from the lampshades. But just picture a steam train with lampshades (!), and you’ll get it.

Daddy love. What a beaut that man is.

SAM_2579 (800x639)

SAM_2580 (669x1024)

Spot the blue steel. That girl spent the whole holiday killing me dead. DEAD.

SAM_2587 (800x600)

Don’t we look happy? Oh, hang on, I mean sweaty. We look sweaty.

SAM_2590 (800x599)

And then there’s a castle to climb at the other end. It was a funny mixed day: hot one minute, overcast and drizzly the next. We’d already had the open air cinema cancelled the night before due to inclement weather – sob! But the thing about castles is, they’re always glad to see you.

SAM_2597 (681x1024)

Don’t tell them H climbed some walls. There was a lady with a loudhailer there for miscreants like this, and she was all over it.

SAM_2625 (709x1024)

SAM_2592 (800x639)

SAM_2601 (1024x1022)

And now I make an inarticulate noise in my throat.

SAM_2631 (710x1024)

It turned out that we’d taken an identical photo last year, so we got to squeal some more. H’s cowlick is keeping its game strong. T’s hair…well. The devil got in it.

bloggles3 (800x640)

It’s not the easiest thing to take little kids away to live in a tent for four days, but I always surprise myself with how much I love it. Take me back to the spaghetti hoops on a camping stove, with that ole castle just visible through the rain cloud! Alright, don’t – I’m nice and warm now – but we’ll be back next year. How on earth could we not?

SAM_2525 (800x639)

PS, I wrote a more practical guide to camping with kids on TalkMum last month: 7 ways to totally win at camping with kids (even if you hate camping). Which may be more your bag than all this gushing. Have a look!

On parenting a mini-me: why similarity is so much harder than difference

11821764_963358007017875_815936537_n

These are some first draft thoughts I think about a lot. Would be interested in hearing yours. 

You know, I thought this would be much easier than it is. I thought that having a child who was very like me would make parenting a breeze. When I imagined the slammed doors and hurtful arguments of the future (still mostly in the future, thank goodness), I pictured an angry teenager whose depths and fathoms I didn’t fully understand, so couldn’t empathise with.

It’s not like that at all.

H and I are cut from the same cloth. When we do the personality tests in my parenting books (more on those later) we come out with the same numbers. We’re not carbon copies of each other, of course, because no two people are. He is only four, and has years of change ahead of him. But when I look at him and see stubbornness, social awkwardness, fear and words and quickness and bossiness and insecurity coupled with an absolute belief in his own authority, I recognise those things in myself. My four-year-old self as well as my grown-up self. The best of me and the worst. Which makes it all rather difficult.

This is what I think it does: it makes parenting a loaded process. It becomes a matter of bias. I’m not seeing his strengths and faults just as they are, in him: they come with a lifetime of feelings already attached. When I find strengths in him that I recognise, I am overly invested in encouraging him in that direction. And that’s not too bad, but when it comes to the weaknesses we share – when I know how much bother they’ve caused me over the years, when I see things in him I would rather not even see in myself – I am desperate for him to cut them loose. I want him to do better than I did. I want this so badly that I am more likely to lose my temper, less likely to be understanding.

Isn’t that strange? Where I should be the most understanding – because these are things I still struggle with myself – I am the most impatient. Because it’s so much harder to be detached about them. Because they mean something to me, outside and apart from what they mean to him.

I am often parenting from a place of fear and anxiety, in other words, not just love.

It’s been interesting to start covering some of the same ground with T, who is a different creature entirely. His energy is all outward and active, his emotions simpler and louder. I find it so much easier to comprehend him, and to be detached about his bad days. His tantrums are exhausting, but they’re not emotional (for me).  They don’t hold the key to a character flaw that will ruin him. They’re just tantrums. He’s two, and they’ll pass.

I’ve never been able to be so blasé with H. Ever. Partly because he’ll always be my learning curve, bless him; that’s the curse of the eldest child. Whatever phase he’s in, it’s the first time I’ve seen it. But partly because I invest every last thing he does with meaning. Which doesn’t tend to be good for either of us.

I would be worried about this pattern (ok, I DO worry), except that patterns can be rewoven, and noticing them is the first step to doing it (right? Right?!).

I think he deserves to make his own mistakes – that aren’t a type of mine, whatever I might think, but his very own. I can’t swoop in and protect him from every difficulty, no matter how much I want to. He needs to grow in his own space, as himself, without the weight of my expectation and anxiety.

I’m going to try harder to let him be himself. If we end up being able to bond over a cheery fondness for semicolons, that’s a good result but not essential. And for T, well: I’m going to buy some earplugs, probably. And hug them both more. And apologise more. And tell them I love them until they get sick of hearing it.

I don’t think it will ever stop being a work-in-progress.

Photo 15-08-2015 10 02 57 am

One thousand four hundred and sixty-one

SAM_2315

Dear Henry,

Today is your birthday, and you are four. We’ve just got you to bed after a long and thrilling day, and I sort of want to run back upstairs and get you up again. Being four is such a serious thing. Your birthday was the last milestone between you and school. As with most things, you are forging ahead while I keep looking back over my shoulder at how much I’ll miss.

You have such a distinct character, but you keep it under wraps. With most people you are reserved, serious, tongue-tied. With us, with people you trust after a decent half hour has elapsed, you’re funny, fast-talking, spirited and curious. You like to know how things work. You have an over-developed sense of fairness and correctness. You’re our little back-seat driver (‘Mummy, that’s too fast for this road’) and my walking to-do list (‘You said not to forget the pushchair!’). You like your own space, your own things. You feel things very deeply, and often explosively. We work hard on things like ‘I need to spend some time alone right now’, ‘I will share even though sharing is hard’, and ‘will you forgive me’. You’ve come so far this year, with all of it. I want you to be comfortable in your own skin, more than anything, but we are so alike and oh, my love, I still make so many mistakes with both of us.

(‘Aw, Teddy is so cute’, you said last month. ‘Look at his great big head.’)

You love Thomas the Tank Engine, Captain America, bikes, books, being first out of the bath, eating anything that’s not very good for you (sigh) and sleeping longer than your brother allows. We talk about Space and The Animal Kingdom and Vehicles and The Human Body. The last time you had a cold you were tickled pink when I told you about white blood cells. You are fun, did I mention that? You have always been great company. You try hard to be a good and kind brother. We are the best of allies whenever we’re not at loggerheads, which can be some of the day or most of it, depending on the day.

(‘I tell you what’, you told me encouragingly once, when I was sad about something. ‘When we get home, you can have a fried egg.’)

Your nursery teacher told me that you would play with anyone, until they started doing something you knew was wrong, and then you’d quietly walk away until they stopped. I was more proud of that than of anything.

(‘Daddy’s really hairy, like a spider’, you said after a bath. ‘Some of it is called a beard, and that’s very funny.’)

I could go on, trying and trying to get to the essence of you. But it’s no good. You are full of contradictions now, like the rest of us. I love you so fiercely it makes my ribs ache. For your prickly vulnerabilities even more than your blazing strengths. On the days when you’re a beast and I’m a boar I like to remind myself of that: that you are tied to me as I am tied to you, and that love for you goes to the very heart of me, has made me in a lot of ways, and that I will never, ever, ever stop.

Happy fourth, darling boy. I wish you the courage to grab hold of all the wonderful things that come your way this year, and to be your own lovely self while doing it. You never need to be anything else. Let’s smash it.

Much love,

Your mother.

SAM_2486

Laughs

Photo 10-08-2015 10 26 10 am

 

This morning Tim left for his week helping at boys’ camp. I’ve been pretty tired lately – due to my absolutely tragic inability to stop faffing and get to bed – so a week of solo parenting these tiny feral creatures wasn’t really lighting me up.

But we spent half the morning making jokes about earwax in front of the mirror.

And then I decided we should celebrate getting to the halfway point of the summer break, so we ran off to the cinema, for the first time in T’s life (only the third time for H, and definitely the first time with only one parent wrangler on hand).

We saw Inside Out. The boys had little trays of popcorn and Oreos on their laps. T sagged a bit in the middle, but melting a small chocolate bar onto his hands and then licking it off got us to the end.

We only had to visit the toilet once. I sobbed like an idiot basically from the first scene. It was glorious.

‘Bye, TB!’ Teddy called as we tottered back down the stairs during the closing credits.

‘It’s not a TV, it’s a cinema!’ I told him.

‘Bye cimmerma!’ he said over his shoulder instead.

Out in the light we realised we were all coated in Teddy’s chocolate.

Then we went to the McDonalds drive-thru, because cinema + McDonalds was the ultimate, coveted double whammy when I was a kid.

They both fell asleep on the way home.

My library fine was pretty small, after all.

‘Come on Eileen’ came on the radio at one point, and it’s the most perfect happy-making song. Like the Eighties rose up in denim dungarees and enfolded you in soft shoulder pads of joy.

I started to read a book in the car on our driveway, and then chucked it aside in favour of a nap myself.

H came in voluntarily to apologise for a meltdown he had after dinner.

T tucked himself into his own ‘dubey’ when he finally decided to sleep.

Tomorrow we’re off on a couple of adventure days with Mimi.

It feels good, making things special for them. Appreciating the moments your strategies and routines pay off, for once. I like being the treat-dispenser, and the earwax joke-maker, and the one who knows exactly how many pants to pack for a trip away.

I like these kids.

Motherhood is so much more than your milk

Hey, you.

You there, with the tiny baby. You there, slogging on in a dream-haze between feed and sleep and feed. You, mama, with this terrifying new position as Centre of the Universe for the baby you made.

You there, crying tears of bone-deep exhaustion into your five-day-old pyjamas.

You warrior woman. You lovely thing. Look at you.

We’re in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week, something I’m sure you haven’t missed in all your 3am zombie-scrolling on Twitter. Breastfeeding is something that tends to arouse strong emotions in all of us, and especially in you.

Maybe it came easily and joyously to you, and you’re a passionate advocate for a woman’s right to feed her baby.

Maybe you fought for it tooth and nail, latch by latch, and you’re proud of how far you’ve come.

Maybe you’re trying everything, asking everyone, and it’s still not really working, and your baby isn’t gaining weight, and every visit to the children’s clinic turns your stomach into a hard knot of guilt and fear.

Maybe it never worked, and your baby’s been drinking formula from the start, and you still find yourself assembling the bottles at baby group with an apologetic air.

There is nothing more personal than feeding the baby you made with the body you have. No wonder we take breastfeeding personally. We just can’t not.

Well.

I am here to tell you, 3am zombie-woman, that your worth as a mother is not defined by the milk you make. Your motherhood is in a thousand things. It’s the kisses you squeeze onto chubby cheeks, the way you leap up automatically when you hear a particular I’m very hurt cry, the way they quiet themselves on your chest while you soothe them. It’s the floating turds you scoop out of the bath trying not to throw up, and the sick stains on your shoulders, and the way you heave yourself out of bed for the seventeenth time in a single night. And yes, it’s the gathering up of your baby to your breast as he swallows and swallows in rhythm. Or the scoop-tap-scoop-tap of the formula cup into the bottle you just sterilised yet again, before you plop the teat into your baby’s grateful mouth.

Do you know who doesn’t give a damn whether you make milk or not? Your baby. It’s you they want, just you. Most of being a good mother is making sure you are both healthy and happy, yes, both of you together, and you get to decide exactly how that happens.

If breastfeeding works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Spoiler alert: I can’t tell which of my son’s friends were breastfed or bottle-fed. I haven’t really thought seriously about breastfeeding in a while. My motherhood is now in a thousand different things: toilet trips, time-outs, tantrums, responding to the eight-thousandth ‘MUMMY WATCH THIS’ with a smile in my voice and on my face. I think back to the panic-stricken mother I was, sobbing in cupboards about my inadequate milk supply, and I want to gather her up in a fierce hug and tell her that none of that matters a jot.

I promise you, magnificent pyjamaed thing, that one day soon your motherhood won’t be measured in feeds.

But you know it never was, right? It never was.

Mottisfont meets the twos

SAM_2349 (800x639)

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.

Bloggles1 (800x400)

Suuuper good at directing their cheese faces anywhere but the camera

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

Photo 30-07-2015 12 52 49 pm (800x800)

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.

SAM_2331 (817x1024)

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.

SAM_2350 (800x799)

SAM_2333 (800x800)

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.

SAM_2337 (750x1024)

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.

SAM_2358 (800x640)

Things I want to remember about mornings

Photo 31-05-2015 9 03 28 am

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.

Photo 26-05-2015 8 01 53 am

 

 

September. July.

Desktop

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.’

Angry mummy: hills to die on

SAM_1878 (800x640)

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

SAM_1974 (825x1024)

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.

SAM_1933 (753x1024)

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.

SAM_1961 (829x1024)

 

SAM_1973 (749x1024)

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.

Bloggerton1 (800x500)

Heart-eyes emoji may be inserted here.

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.

SAM_2036 (735x1024)

SAM_2027 (699x1024)

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.

SAM_2059 (800x532)

SAM_2079 (747x1024)

SAM_2076 (800x583)

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.

Bloggerton2 (709x1024)

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.

SAM_2125 (819x1024)

SAM_2126 (800x640)

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’.

SAM_2129 (759x1024)

Bloggerton (768x1024)

SAM_2154 (800x640)

SAM_2136 (733x1024)

SAM_2142 (800x639)

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.

SAM_2133 (819x1024)

%d bloggers like this: