Category Archives: Baby Diaries

The funny old thing about time

Time passes.

Everyone told me it would, but of course I didn’t believe them. How could I? The space inside a minute with a newborn seems so very long, because you’re awake nearly all the minutes there are. And there are some images from the brand-new days of my babies that I can still see with pin-sharp, painful clarity.

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The particular softness of miniature fingers curling around one of mine. Long, spindly fingers. Papery nails. Knuckles marked precisely with tiny lines. 

The toe-curling agony of latching, the way I would hold my breath and tense every muscle and let out a noise like a cow going into labour.

The look of focussed concentration on two-day-old Henry’s face as he tried to make both his eyes look the same way, at me. Realising I was the voice and the food and the smell that made everything better for him, and feeling shaken and profoundly moved by it at the same time. 

Teddy. Teddy wrapped up in a bloody towel on our bedroom floor, Teddy’s black Wolverine hair soft underneath my chin, Teddy quietening himself down to ‘Moon River’, no matter how badly I sang it. The wide-open sense of wonder that possessed me every time I looked at him: I can love you too, you are a person as well, this is all going to be fine.

The ragged sobbing and heavy despair, about five nights in, when I realised that there was no end to this tiredness, no point at which someone would say to me ‘alright, my love, you’ve done well, now you can sleep’. Because I would be woken up every two hours, day and night, for the rest of my natural life, which would not be long. (I had this minor breakdown both times.)

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See? I can close my eyes and be back there with no space in between. The ache and the heaviness, the ravenous midnight hunger, the intense needles of brand-new painful love, like shafts of bright sunlight on my face. The fear. The bottle steriliser. The babies. I can feel them, lighter than a sack of sugar in one arm, as I sprint up the stairs. There’s a sheepskin rug under my feet as I bend over the crib to put my hand on their rising and falling chest.

And then I open my eyes again to find two bright-haired boys, big and solid in Captain America t-shirts, scrapping over toys.

‘You can’t HAVE Ferdinand, Teddy, he’s MINE and belongs to ME.’

‘Tetty TURN. MUMMY. HERRY TRAIN. TURN.’

For a second I honestly can’t work out how we got from there to here.

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I’ve been thinking about this today because we went to meet up with a lovely blogging friend and her little boy. The last time we saw them both was two years ago. I brought two-year-old Henry and no pushchair, and was a little ambitious in anticipating how far he’d walk and how interested he’d be.

He kicked off, obviously. He was two; I had never had a two-year-old before; I had a tendency to expect more of him than he was able to give. It was lovely to see my friend and her gorgeous boy, but it was definitely one of those parenting days you keep locked in a vault. (Then I wrote about it for What to Expect, and made it all immeasurably worse.)

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Today I brought Henry and Teddy to see them, and all three of the boys are much taller. I have come through two years of toddler-plus-baby, continually multitasking between them both, battle-hardened and -softened simultaneously. I am stricter about some things now (OF COURSE YOU ALWAYS BRING A PUSHCHAIR) and laxer about others (of course you can have another sausage roll!).

Henry, my heart, walked by the pushchair, asked before he went off somewhere, and sat long-legged and patient on the kerb waiting for the bus.

Teddy ran off as many times as Henry did at his age, but hey, two-year-olds. They’re good at lots of things, but walking in a straight line isn’t one of them. That’s why you bring a pushchair. We had a wonderful day.

I have a lot of compassion, and some impatience, for the mother I was when I started. I hope I’m compassionate in the future about this version of me, too. Expecting more of an almost-four-year-old than he’s able to give. Still bending over their beds at night to put a hand on their chests and smooth down their hair.

Time passes, and I’m sorry, and I’m grateful. I didn’t believe them when they told me it would, but oh, I do now.

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The singing cure

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Monday, Monday/

So good to me/

Monday Monday/

It was the day I took two hay fever tablets instead of the recommended one and felt like a flipping DREAM

 

In case you’re also suffering with the pollen tsunami (it’s a thing in America; I’m sure it’s a thing here too) here’s a tiny boy trying to sing ‘Moon River’ and knocking it out of the park. The almost-twos are fantastic. Apologies for my singing, which is not-so-much.

 

Five books to…make your preschoolers happier

Five books to make your preschoolers happier

One of the best things about having kids is being able to hang out in the children’s section of Waterstones, oohing and ahhing at the picture books, without looking like an idiot. Assuming you’ve remembered to bring your kids with you, which I don’t always.

To parents that are reading the same five-page horror seventeen times a day, fist bumps to you, my friend. I’ve been there. Some children’s books are boring. Some are badly written, and you’d better hope your little loves don’t get attached to a book that’s both.

But just occasionally we find one that’s not only exciting and well plotted, but actively happy-making. A book that shows your preschooler things that will make them a better, more well-adjusted person. Whenever we find one of these I make a note, and buy them in for birthdays and Christmas.

Here are five of the best.

My Many Coloured Days, by Dr Seuss

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‘You’d be surprised how many ways I change
on different coloured days’.

The best of the Seusses, the very best. It’s a gorgeously-illustrated ramble about how different days come with different feelings…which feel like animals and colours too. So on green days you feel cool and quiet like a fish, purple days are like a sad and lonely dinosaur, and on black days you howl and scream like an angry wolf.

Why it’s great:

Is there a better message for the volatile, volcano-ish under-fives than ‘hey, emotions are ok’? They’re like that kid from Mean Girls who ‘just has a lot of feelings‘. I think a lot about raising emotionally literate boys in particular. This book makes them feel like it’s not the end of the world to have a wolf day.

 

Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds

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‘And Ramon lived ish-fully ever after’.

Ramon has a problem: he’s an artist, but he’s so worried about drawing everything perfectly that he can no longer draw at all. It takes a word from his little sister to make him realise that drawing ‘something – ish’ is more than good enough…and all of his ideas come flying out again.

Why it’s great: 

This is a beautifully relatable story about creativity and sibling support…with an extra message about imperfect, messy things being the best of all. The illustrations are lovely, too.

 

Picasso’s Trousers, by Nicholas Allan

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‘He liked BLUE so he decided to paint pictures all blue. “You can’t paint ALL BLUE pictures”, they said’.

I flipping love this book. We just got it from the library, and I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to give it back. A story about Picasso, who did all sorts of brilliant things, because when everyone said ‘no, no, NO, Picasso!’ he said ‘yes!’ and did them anyway. Even when it came to his fashion choices.

Why it’s great:

A hilarious introduction to Picasso, Cubism and painting, plus some good stuff about following your bonkers dreams? Where do I sign up? Henry laughs all the way through, and he can now pick a Picasso painting out of a line up (‘look, Mummy, they are facing front and side at the same time!’).

 

Tadpole’s Promise, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

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‘Where the willow meets the water, a tadpole met a caterpillar’.

At the beginning of this dark and hysterically funny book, a tadpole falls in love with a caterpillar. The caterpillar makes him promise never to change…but, being a tadpole, that’s not so easy. An unusual love story with a jaw-dropping twist at the end. Tony Ross and Jeanne Willis are husband and wife, I hear, and they must have had many a belly laugh cooking this one up late at night.

Why it’s great: 

Seems a bit odd, perhaps, to include a black humour book on a list to make kids happier. Maybe it’s not for the very young or sensitive, but I think it’s great for them to hear stories occasionally where not everything works out at the end. And watching them find out that stories can take them to genuinely surprising places is a delight.

Aside: this couple also wrote ‘Grill Pan Eddy’, which was our best find of last year. Amazing rhymes. 

 

The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water, by Gemma Merino

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‘What he really liked was climbing trees! But nobody else did’. 

This one is a joy from start to finish. A little crocodile tries desperately to fit in with his swim-club-loving siblings, even saving up his money to buy himself a rubber ring, but he just doesn’t like water. Then comes the day when he finds out who he really is. The illustrations work as well as the words: the whole thing is funny and beautiful.

Why it’s great:

I’m about to out myself as a big loser, but when I get to the line ‘And this little crocodile wasn’t born to SWIM…’, and put all the discovery and wonder in my voice I want them to hear, I get a little tear. How many times might they feel like their talents don’t match everyone else’s? What kind of incredible thing might they be born to do instead? Gemma Merino is the writer and illustrator, and it’s her first book – on this evidence I’ll be looking for her second. She dedicates the book to ‘all those who still haven’t found their hidden talents’. AND THE TEAR IS BACK.

I’m planning to make ‘Five books…’ into a new series this year. Hope you like it, and look out for the next one! 

Also, if you liked this (or you just want me to stop going on about it), I’d be mega thrilled if you’d vote for me in the BiB awards Writer category! Click below and look for Make a Long Story Short!

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Parenting Positions Which I Will Defend Until My Death Bed

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It is perfectly OK and not hypocritical for me to give you grapes for dessert, while shoving chocolate brownie into my mouth behind the fridge door. And then to lie when you ask me what I’m eating.

 

One banana a day is good for you. Two, and I’m pretty sure you could die of potassium poisoning.

 

Things that are exciting and not uncool at all: correct punctuation; long words; paintings that make you cry; jumpers; poems; conducting Elgar’s Nimrod with your eyes closed.

 

I know it looks bad when I sit on you in order to forcibly brush your teeth, but you and your enamel will thank me later.

 

Bedtime is bedtime is bedtime. No exceptions. But you can read in your room and I will pretend not to know. Reading secretly under the covers is a noble tradition that will sharpen your mind and ruin your eyes.

 

I can’t even think of a convincing excuse why you can’t watch those Land Before Time sequels. You just can’t. You’ll learn the meaning of ‘abomination’ in a few years.

 

At first I was exaggerating when I said it might fall off if you keep fiddling with it (or using it as a bridge for your cars, or wrapping it around your cutlery, or attempting to swordfight with it). But now I think it’s an actual possibility.

 

‘Santa’ will continue to take any toys that are driving me insane and distribute them to ‘poorly boys’. He’s a philanthropist.

 

When I encourage you to find your own way down from climbing frames and explore by yourself at the park, it’s definitely because I want to nurture your budding independence in a safe setting. And not because playgrounds bore me so much I want to roll myself in urine-soaked wood chippings and go to sleep.

 

Yeah, we totally go to McDonald’s for you.

Rehearsal

April 15

I’m sat with my feet in a patch of sun, watching our Easter holidays burn themselves out. The house is messy and I haven’t started dinner, but I’m sat stubbornly in my chair. I don’t want our normal routine back just yet.

In a lot of ways, these two weeks have reminded me of last summer: clear skies, welcome sunshine, two boys at home to entertain all day as I like. In fact, with no time pressures and my car ready on the driveway, I’ve woken up with the old sense of thrilling possibility I had, in those last weeks before nursery swallowed Henry in the mornings. Day trips. Slightly crappy home-made picnics. I can drive and these boys will think anywhere is cool and we can go wherever we like.

So we have. Playdates and woody walks, bike rides, parks, zoos and National Trust properties. We’ve come home in the late afternoon tired and scorched, piled ice cream into cones and got even messier while we ate them. And throwing all of it into sharp relief has been last Thursday, when Henry got his primary school place.

We are really, really thrilled about the school he’s going to. It’s small, with lots of thoughtful features that seem designed for a four-year-old with wobbly confidence. I feel like he will fit there and thrive there, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted for him at school. Well, that and to fall violently in love with punctuation.

But when I sit down and seriously think about what September means – that school will have the best of him from now on, and we’ll have the weekends and grumpy evenings that are left over – I want to put my head in a cushion and cry. I feel stupid writing this down, because it’s overly dramatic as usual and I think I’ll read it later and laugh, but there it is.

There childhood is, in fact: one blimming hello and goodbye after another. You bash your head against the wall in the middle of every phase and cry for it when you realise it’s gone. He will love school – there is so, so much to come – and I’m excited for him, but there’s always a little twinge of grief for what we’re going to lose. September will open up a few more possibilities for me, too; what I do with them, whether I’m brave enough to seek them and grab on…well, that’s another something to think about.

You will find me here again in late August, as I clear away shrivelled birthday balloons, put new school jumpers on hangers and trap him in as many bear hugs as he’ll allow. At the end of that summer holiday, the end of his toddlerhood, I’ll let him go for real.

Tonight, I rehearse. I’ll crank our evening into motion in a minute: dinner, pyjamas, releasing the too-small jumpers from their hangers for one more term. After I sit here in the last of our Easter, and watch the sun go down.

This one’s for the shy boys

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Little boy, you broke my heart today.

We were at your very first classmate birthday party: a bouncy castle in the corner, cake and balloon plates ready on a table, preschooler shrieks echoing batlike against the walls. You’d been talking about it for weeks. You fidgeted as we put on a shirt and jumper, and zipped ahead of me on your scooter as we walked down to the hall in the sunshine.

You hung onto my hand until two of your friends arrived. They ran off to play without a backward glance at you. You went after them when I prodded you, and came back a minute later, drooping.

‘They don’t want to play with me’, you whispered in my ear. ‘I don’t think they like me’.

Honestly, it cost as much for me to hear it as it did for you to say it.

And listen, I know you’re three, and three-year-old shyness often doesn’t last, and three-year-old squabbles definitely don’t. By the end of the party you were fine. You won’t remember this, though I will. But let me tell you some things, the things I wanted to whisper back and couldn’t. Just listen.

You are fantastic. And though you’re fantastic, maybe because you’re fantastic, you might just spend the next fifteen years feeling too small for your own skin.

Today isn’t the last time you’ll worry that someone doesn’t like you. My love, there are hundreds of halls like this. They will be spaces filled with your peers, and you will walk in and your blood will tingle hot with agony, and your smile will edge towards a manic grimace in your effort to seem normal, likeable, friendly. You might find someone you can sit with. You might not, and crawling into a molehill will seem like the only sensible alternative.

Don’t. Resist the molehill. Resist the idea that your worth is measured by your distance from the cool table, or how many people want to play with you on the bouncy castle.

If you end up exaggerating or inventing new characteristics to fit in better, don’t beat yourself up for it. We’ve all done it, because attracting people feels good, and loneliness is so very, very hard. Eventually you’ll gently shed the parts that feel less like yourself.

But don’t be unkind in your rush to be funny.

Don’t exclude because you know how bad exclusion feels, and you’d rather them than you.

Don’t compromise anything you believe in because you’re afraid of being laughed at.

Perhaps there will be halls that will feel very lonely indeed. If you can, when these come, stand up straight. You are good, and warm, and witty, and any one of those kids would be lucky to know you. You are fantastic. You will find friends that understand you and love you for who you are. I don’t mean to minimise the hurt of these moments, because they do hurt. But they don’t last. And the self you’re building – quiet and kind and flipping glorious – will be yours for a long, long time.

I think there’s a power in being the one standing at the edge of the hall. You never really forget what it’s like to be ignored, even after you’ve found your people. One of my biggest, best hopes for you is that you keep looking for those on the peripheries, and draw them in. You’ll change everything for them, when you do.

I watched you dancing today during the party games – forgetting your self-consciousness for once, for once, and pumping your little fists in the air – and thought my heart would explode for love of you. My opinion will count for much less than your friends’, by the time you read this, but if it helps at all, I will tell you this:

I think you are fantastic. And I’ve known you the longest, so I should know.

I see you, shy boy. I can’t go in front of you and fight your battles, but actually, you know, you don’t need me to. May your halls to come be damned.

Boyhood, free-range

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Happy almost-Easter!

We’ll be decamping to parents later on today for Easter weekend. Right now, some family time: we keep forgetting to schedule Tim’s work holidays with Henry’s school holidays (because, apparently, with a school-age kid you have to do this?) so this long weekend is the only time we’ll have with him.

Tim and Henry are watching something about dinosaurs downstairs. Teddy has squirrelled himself next to me with some Sarah & Duck, chubby forearms resting on mine. I am laughing at videos from my brothers, who are rewriting songs with rude lyrics and recording themselves singing them. This is the purpose of brothers, even at a distance of several thousand miles.

Later, we’ll get out.

The best thing about living here is how much time we spend outdoors. Living next to a busy street had its advantages – Henry’s ninja road safety skills, for one, since the alternative was getting flattened by a bin lorry – but living next to green things has made me happy. If I’d have known that before, we would have made more effort to go places. I don’t think it matters at all where you live or where you take them, as long as it’s green and outside.

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I’ve been surprised by what being out in the woods does for me. The sun falls through the trees in slanted columns. My wellies squelch in mud. I stop worrying about keeping the boys tidy and safely within grabbing distance. I feel like I can breathe easier. Is this a horrible cliche? Do I need to start hugging trees?

Actually, the bark is so wonderfully crusty and light-patterned that sometimes, I’m tempted.

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Children seem ten times more themselves in the forest. (I first wrote that sentence as ‘boys are more boyish’, but any girl of mine will be tramping through leaves and getting filthy too, thankyouverymuch.) It speaks to something instinctive and joyous in them, something that screens can’t touch. They don’t have to be quiet and they don’t have to stay clean. They’ve cautiously poked frog spawn, ridden bikes over dirt mounds, fallen into swampy mud piles and been pulled out, laughing and shivering. They are physically incapable of holding a stick without poking something or seeing a puddle without going in.

And why shouldn’t they? Learning how to get muddy – and that mud washes off – seems to be something worth knowing.

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Henry daren’t speak above a whisper in a room full of people, but we found a fat log balanced over a deep trench and he scrambled over it in a minute. Uncharacteristically fearless. The other Sunday we found piles of cut-down trees and made them into an Eeyore house. I kept wanting to freeze the afternoon  – golden evening light, boys in Sunday jumpers with arms full of sticks – so I could stay there even when the clouds came back.

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And that sort of wish never works, of course. But we can go back and do it again. I wish it hadn’t taken our house move to show me how much we need the mud and sun and air.

Here’s to free-range childhood.

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Angry mummy

It was 5pm. Of course it was.

5pm is when their tiny resources are shot to pieces, when I’m desperately trying to tidy up and get dinner ready, because half of their bad temper is down to the fact that it’s been a long time since lunch. I am busy because they need me to do things, but they also need me to be not busy. In an ideal world I would sit cross-legged on the floor and read to them like they want me to, while Mary Poppins cleaned and cooked. As it is, at 5pm I switch on the TV.

This 5pm I walked back and forth across the kitchen, taking things out of cupboards, picking up crayons, scrubbing the porridge-gritted table so we could eat. Teddy maintained a tight grip on my kneecap and a droning wail, so my walking was more like hobbling and my teeth were already on edge. I could have picked him up, but he was wailing because he was hungry, and I can’t cook with him gaily splashing his hands in hot pans. Dinner, then. Just be quick. Keep hobbling.

Then Henry had a hand on my jumper too. He was asking me something about Captain America (‘Captain OF Amewica, Mummy’) over and over, something I hadn’t quite caught over Teddy’s angry bee hum. He got impatient in the end, and pulled my jumper so hard I almost fell onto Teddy. ‘MUMMY. MUMMY. I NEED YOU’.

I got impatienter. And I meant to say ‘Just a minute, Hen’, or ‘Let me just -‘ or even ‘Scuse me please, darling’. But what actually came out was ‘HEN. GET OUT OF THE WAY.’

My name is Rachel, and I am an angry mummy.

Impatience has always been my particular failing. When I was younger I was never very good at stopping myself broadcasting it over my face, even if I managed to keep my mouth shut. I’ve learned to keep it under wraps more often, but groundswells of irritation still rise up and catch me off-guard.

Here’s a shocker: when you give birth, your vices don’t just slip right on out of your birth canal along with the baby. You’re the same person you were, only running on much less sleep, and torn in half by love so consuming it stings as well as soothes. I was impatient before and I am impatient now. The small, irrational co-workers I have these days bring two significant differences: they provoke loss of temper more often than the adults used to, and they deserve it far, far less.

I read an utterly wonderful article about the ‘difficult empathy‘ of parenthood last yearthat said:

‘Having a child is a series of tiny successes and failures, all microscopic to the onlooker, all specific to our households alone in ways that cannot quite be explained…Failures are the hardest to explain, and yet those are the very instances when we are most desperate for a little understanding, a little empathy.’

I sobbed into my hands when I read it. I can’t even read it now without tearing up. Not only because it talks – with gorgeous gentleness – about our tendency to show our worst selves to our children, but because it made me realise that my own not-so-microscopic failures can be eased by successes. I decided that my efforts could be two-pronged: bite back the impatience, of course; but also shower them in tiny evidences of love. I can show them – long before they’re able to consciously understand – that while I might lose my rag and raise my voice, it only diminishes myself when I do. Never, ever them.

That 5pm, when I yelled ‘HEN, GET OUT OF THE WAY’ in the direction of my unresisting three-year-old, he crumpled immediately. ‘It’s not kind to say ‘get out of the way”, he whimpered, on the verge of tears. I felt my whole self sag with horror. I got down on the floor beside him, held his hands and looked him full in the face (our family language for ‘I really mean this’).

‘No’, I said. ‘No, it’s not. I’m sorry. I was trying to do something, and I got cross, and I shouldn’t have shouted. It wasn’t kind. Will you forgive me?’

This is one of the things I’ve been trying to embed this year: accept his apologies with instant forgiveness, and apologise readily myself. Also, sitting with him quietly during his time-outs instead of pushing him into isolation, letting him dictate the length of them by how long it takes until he’s ready to talk, naming the emotion he’s feeling and asking whether he needs a hug, and honouring any requests for ‘alone time’ (he does ask. He’s my boy, after all).

Then, prong two: we started doing ‘happy fingers’, where I sit him on my lap facing me, and count out things I love about him on his fingers. Usually we get to five and, beaming all over his face, he requests the other hand. And in our general day-to-day I do try to say ‘yes’ when it’s not important that I say ‘no’. I don’t want to over-praise and I am a huge believer in healthy boundaries, but I think it can be pretty hard to be a three-year-old. Having your mother tell you that you’re valued might make all the difference.

Last week – was it after the Captain of Amewica thing, or before? – we had a little ruckus over biscuits. I ate one he’d made for me at nursery without realising he’d wanted to try it too, and he was so disappointed he cried.  And I thought: I can’t take back the times I’ve hollered up the stairs this week, and becoming a calmer parent will take time. I will keep at it, because this boy deserves my best self, not my worst. But it’s not an easy fix. Biscuits, though? And love, and a morning of one-on-one attention? I can do that. I can love him so warmly that it chips away at my microscopic failures. I can love, and be more than angry mummy.

So we strapped on our aprons. I told him he looked super-snazzy. And we baked.

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You must read this article. It was probably the best thing I read on parenting last year; maybe even the best thing I’ve read on parenting, EVER. Go and read it. No really, GO.

This Is Where We Are: a letter to my sons on Mother’s Day (4)

Having read about it here, I wanted to write about how I mother my babies day-to-day, every Mother’s Day. Here’s the fourth. A bit late this year!

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Teddy,

This has been my fourth Mothering Sunday, and you are three-and-a-half and twenty months, respectively. It’s the end of the day, and I’ve just walked out of your room feeling overwhelmingly grateful that you both go to sleep at night without fuss. I have three stains on my shirt and two on my trousers. I am cramming chocolate in my mouth, eardrums ringing from the unaccustomed silence, so tired I feel like a sack of sand. This is how our days end right now. But you both sleep well, and my giddy aunt, I’m grateful.

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Teddy, you’re the first thing we hear in the morning, usually around 6am. ‘MUMMAAAAAY!’ you bellow. ‘OUT. OOOOOOUT.’ One of us comes in to get you, and you’re standing ready in your cot, all that incredible white-blonde hair standing on end (so much of it we could stuff cushions, if we wanted. The haircut bills are killing us).

Somehow in the last year you became a person: lost all your chub, started taking up three-quarters of the bath, grew a little backbone of steel alongside your natural sweetness that still surprises us. You want what you want. First you try charm – and you have piles of it, all huge blue eyes and endless cheeks – then volume. Your lungs, bear. If you want to be an opera singer when you grow up, you’ll make a fortune.

Your talking goes a bit like this: ‘[gibberish], Tedder, BOOTS’. Or ‘[gibberish], Tedder, DRINK’. Saving the important information to the end, to make sure we get it. You love: your bedtime doggy, books, strawberry yoghurt, raisins, Sarah & Duck, Lightning McQueen (‘AAAAA-keen!’), and shuffling along with your tiny balance bike. You hate: a variety of foods on rotation, being made to nap when you don’t want to, being shut out of any room I’m in, and having to sit in the pushchair. Here’s a secret I probably won’t admit later: ‘sweetie’ was maybe your third or fourth word. High on the list. You are obsessed. We are kind of obsessed with you, in turn. It’s hard not to be. You’re an utter, utter delight.

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Henry, I catch myself looking at you these days feeling bemused and proud and sad all at once, because you are shooting into little-boyhood at a rate of knots. Long legs, thin face, wide eyes. You’re my little companion in the afternoons: joking on the way back from nursery, laughing when Teddy does something silly, cajoling me into playing games when I should be doing the hoovering. You talk in complex sentences and heartfelt ideas, to the point that whenever you’re struggling with something three-ish and I’m frustrated, I have to remind myself that you are, after all, only three. You are shy and find social situations intimidating, and you’re also prone to emotional explosion. We’re working on ways to make both things easier for you. While I’d rather step in and save you hurt, I’m learning to let you find your way through.

You love dinosaurs, animal documentaries, fish fingers and chips, milkshake, your bike, and your books. You’re so much better at eating than you were, but need some mild persuasion to get started. You go to nursery five mornings a week, and you’re thriving there. ‘I watched a video about a chameleon’, you told me today. ‘It changes colour and it has a sticky tongue to GRAB flies on leaves, just like THAT’. Then you asked me to list every other insect the chameleon eats, and I chickened out after about ten.

Anyway. I think a lot about you both, as I hope you can see. I worry about being too shouty and too severe, too tired and too switched-off. And I do get used up, sometimes. More than I’d like.

But boys, lovely boys, you’ll read this when you’re too big to crawl onto my lap on the kitchen floor like you did today, both of you jostling for space on my knees.

And I want you to know: I would not give a single minute of this, of you, away. Not to anyone. Not for anything at all.

With much love,

Your mother.

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Previous editions of This Is Where We Are: here (1), here (2), and here (3).

Notes from the trenches: 6

Every full-time parent of small children needs a place to vent.

Vaguely, you remember a time when you worried about deadlines and MOTs and when to fit in the Tesco shop.

You didn’t very often worry about faeces. Or facial injuries. Or how to get through the witching hour without throwing your children down a mine.

Poor Tim is my venting place. And since he’s busy at work, with those deadlines and MOTs I remember, he gets pelted with text messages on the hour. My last six months looked something like this *weeps forever*:

5 August

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Yes, somehow I don’t think all parties are enjoying this.

6 August

Henry, while bouncing on bed – ‘ladies and gent-en-den, welcome to bounce day!’

10 August

Listen, I know you’ve been looking for ways to spruce up our bedroom carpet, and I’ve got it: khaki coloured diarrhoea with raisins! Nailed it.

20 August

Henry cried a bit when you left. Just now I heard him sing to himself, all brokenly,

‘This old man/he played one/
He played knick-knack on my TEARS’

I am dying laughing and also have all the feels.

22 August

Teds:

NO to scrambled eggs.

NO to holding my own tube yoghurt.

NO to your vile fruit pot.

NO to your face.

I will accept your suspicious ‘trail mix’ but only the chocolate chips.
Hashtag teeth.

28 August

Hen, from nowhere: ‘A naked man with long arms put a rope around his neck’
Me: ‘What?!?’
H: ‘He put a rope around his neck and couldn’t breathe’ [mimes suffocating]

No more Horrible Histories for this boy, mm-k?

2 September

Look on these works ye mighty, and despair.

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29 September

Accidentally fell asleep while sorting laundry and had a brilliant nap. Hen downstairs, did the same. Just found him with pants round his ankles (he hadn’t bothered to pull them up after his wee), lying on the floor, using the iPad as a very uncomfy pillow.

[Note: Tim’s response to this was ‘#penisstylus’, which made me laugh so hard I snorted my cheesecake.]

7 October

Meanwhile Teds is giving himself a jacket potato body scrub *cries*

9 October

Teddy vs slide (horror face).

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He is EXTREMELY lucky it missed his eye. Also he is rubbish at first aid.

‘RAISINS YES COLD COMPRESS NO’.

30 October

Had a whole dream last night about the advisability of buying a tartan cushion for the living room. Exciting life, you are mine indeed.

18 November

‘MUMMY, TEDDY’S GOT MY HAIRY BALL’.
Leaving that one alone. Well. Alone.

24 November

A Short Scene From Our Evening:

An hour ago I was changing Teddy’s dirty nappy – he is still producing some abominations. Suddenly Hen dashes past me yelling ‘I NEED A POO, QUICK QUICK!’

I spot the potty just behind me and fling it out into the corridor for him, he starts pulling his shorts down, I glance over…and an entire turd is so close to falling off it’s dangling by a thread. He’s not managed to sit down yet.

So I THROW myself across and manage to move the potty two inches to the left – and catch it, yesss! Alas, not the after-poo, which hits the carpet. So I quickly get wipes to clear everything up, eventually turn back – and find Teddy waving his dirty nappy around like the Union Jack.

And in all this flinging, I pulled a stomach muscle.

END SCENE.

4th December

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That’s Hen’s toothbrush, and he couldn’t get his hand out while holding it, but wouldn’t let it go.

[Tim]: Ah, the satisfaction of knowing that your child has progressed in intelligence to the level of a baboon.

5th December

We just came back in from a walk, wet and muddy. Did the usual strip-down and sent Henry upstairs to find pyjama bottoms. He came down wearing some.

‘Oh well done, you did that fantastically’.

‘Yes mummy. Now let’s get the kettle on and have some chocolate’.

7 December

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‘Oi!’

‘You must not say oi! I dust eating the chocolate!’

16 December

Today Hen has done: 

1 wee in our front garden
2 wees in the toilet/potty
1 wee mostly in pants
1 wee on his bedroom floor
1 poo in the woods
1 poo on the bathroom floor.

A great day.

18 December

There is an Indian fast food place down by Riverside advertising ‘curry in a naan’, like to take away. WHAT. This has the potential to change my whole life for the better.

The naan is bowl shaped, like a taco. My mind is blown.

Also, much more disgustingly, Pizza Hut now do alcoholic milkshakes – ‘hard shakes from hard cows’. This emoji represents me vomiting in my mouth.

6th January

1. Spoon up custard and peach.
2. Chew.
3. Remove peach and put it in a separate container you have commandeered for the purpose.
4. Repeat.

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2 February

Henry: ‘I am very freezing. It’s time to go in a nice warm café and sit down’ #middleclasschildren

21 February

[Tim]: Teddy has had a rough couple of hours.

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[Me]: Haaa. I know that feel, bro. Fist bump.

If you ever think I look like I’m about to skin a cat when you get in from work, that’s why.

Be right back, just running towards that curry-in-a-naan with my arms and mouth wide open, because it’s 10am, we had breakfast four hours ago, and I CAN’T EVEN.

Older Notes from the Trenches posts are here (tiny Henry!), here, here, here and here. It’s good to know that basically my life has been continuously insane for the last three years. 

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