Category Archives: Baby Diaries

Reasons why none of us are professional models

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If I’ve learned anything in my time as a parent, it is this: you should be prepared to spend literally years smelling faintly of someone else’s urine. ALRIGHT SOMETIMES IT’S YOURS.

No, not that. It’s this: if you want to capture toddlers on camera, particularly if you want them to hold something, most especially if that something needs to be clearly visible, you better be prepared for hair-tearing and bribery and ignominious failure.

The boys are too young – and, let’s face it, too uninterested – to be constructing Fathers’ Day cards of their own. So we do photo cards. This year I had the idea to make them hold up all the letters in ‘Happy Fathers’ Day’ and put them together in a collage. It was a tiny bit ambitious (read: foolishly insane), but I’ve had enough practice failing to make toddlers hold signs and smile simultaneously, and I thought the signs were the easier of the two.

I prepared so carefully this time. I spent days getting Henry excited about pulling funny faces for Daddy’s card, hauled a stool and a tripod out into the woods to minimise escapes, and called in at a shop beforehand for a massive bag of sweets. Sugar bribery will get you anything with this crowd.

Oh, except holding a sign.

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Notice the full mouth? Bribery sweets in abundance.

Eventually T refused to hold anything at all, even for sweeties, so H had to step in for him. He’s pretty sugar glazed by this point too. Dozy look present and correct.

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H was the big surprise, actually. He enjoyed himself thoroughly, and pulled the best faces. OMGOSH, do children actually get to a point where they…understand and follow instructions?! Be still my heart.

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One more reminder of why getting them in a photo together is nigh-on impossible:

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Good try, guys. We got there in the end.

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Writing about your children: how much is too much on the internet?

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I’ve been thinking so hard about something lately – and gone round in so many circles – that it’s squashed my head into a new shape. But I finally made my mind up this weekend, and would welcome your thoughtful discussion. So here goes.

For about six months I’ve been seriously analysing the internet footprint I give my kids. Who knows what the internet will look like by the time they’re old enough to use it deliberately, but they’ve got plenty of teenage years to embarrass themselves online, right? That’s the world they’re in now, and we’ll have to talk about internet etiquette and safety as thoroughly as our parents talked to us about seatbelts.

My thinking has been: they deserve to come to the internet with a fresh slate. I’ve always used their real names here on this blog, without thinking much about it. But by using their names, I’ve given them an internet footprint that’s all about them as babies and me as their mother – through the good times and the less good. Not something they’ve chosen, or something they can control.

Am I making sense at all?

I think very carefully about what I write here, particularly about them. I try to be honest about my feelings as a parent, without exposing them in a way they might find painful or embarrassing later on. I want to be a good mother myself, of course (writing helps with that). And I hope that being honest and kind might help another parent who feels like they’re going a little bit insane. If I could do that, just a little bit, it would be wonderful. I hope too that my boys will love reading about how we grew together, but I don’t want them to find that I’ve undermined their dignity or privacy here. They are too important to me for that.

It’s a bit of a tightrope, and I’m always re-evaluating it as I go along.

Essentially my bottom line is: if a really vile kid in middle school googled my boys’ names with an intent to find something they could make fun of, would they find anything?

This has all come to a point this weekend, because that blasted What to Expect article resurfaced somewhere again. Oh, that article. It feels like the parenting mistake I should never have made and will never get rid of. I feel sick and guilty still when I think about it.

I was so nakedly, emotionally vulnerable, because I was used to doing that here, with a small and supportive audience comprised of people who liked me. But those people don’t live on the internet at large, as anyone could’ve told me. It was such a stupid thing to do.

The worst part wasn’t that I admitted to being wearied by toddler tantrums and attracted a lot of vitriol in return – fair enough, I wrote it. It was that I exposed my two-year-old. Who was only being two. Who didn’t even know what I was doing, but was then set upon by a thousand contemptuous adults who’d never met him, or me.

I brought him into that space. I used his name. I will never forgive myself for it, and I’ve never done it again. I hope to goodness he never finds it, or finds it with a bracing sense of humour and a stack of chocolate biscuits.

ANYWAY. I always know when that post is doing the rounds again, because I get a few nice messages of solidarity on Facebook (hi, nice messengers!), and then a few people contact me, out of the blue, to suggest I start spanking my boy to prevent his nascent personality disorder.

It happened again this weekend, and reminded me of the damage I could do.

(By the way, you’d be surprised how many people genuinely believe their children never had an emotional splurge – or had one once, and received A Single Look, and never tried it again. Because their two-year-olds were superhuman, blessed with the ability to control emotions far beyond their maturity level. Possibly they were Vulcans? I will spare you my thoughts on this, because they are NOT KIND. But you hereby have leave to imagine my laughter.)

So.

I think (I hope!) that writing about parenting – the happiness and the head-against-wall days – is something that builds and lifts and contributes. It does that for me, and I hope it does that for you too. So I’m going to carry on. But I’m going to stop using their real names. And I’m going to go back through my posts since they first appeared (urrrgh) and edit their names out there too. Tim tells me that gradually the search engines will catch up, so that by the time the middle-school snot is making them feel like crap in the hallways, he’ll find it a little harder to get here. BULLIES NEVER PROSPER, MIDDLE-SCHOOL SNOT. REMEMBER THIS.

There’s a lot I can’t do much about and this isn’t a perfect solution, but I can start here. Obscuring them just a little bit, so they can make their internet identities afresh when they’re ready.

PS – I’m going to use their initials. To be honest, it looks weird. But not nearly as weird as the various nicknames I tried. If you wouldn’t mind doing the same in the comments, I’d be much obliged t’ye, marsters.

What are your feelings about kids and internet privacy? 

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 H’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. 

T wrapped up in a bloody towel on our bedroom floor, T’s black Wolverine hair soft underneath my chin, T 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, 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.

***

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 H 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 H and T 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!).

H, 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.

T ran off as many times as H 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? H 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 H 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 H 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 H’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 H are watching something about dinosaurs downstairs. T 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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H 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. T 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 H 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 T’s angry bee hum. He got impatient in the end, and pulled my jumper so hard I almost fell onto his brother. ‘MUMMY. MUMMY. I NEED YOU’.

I got impatienter. And I meant to say ‘Just a minute, love’, or ‘Let me just -‘ or even ‘Scuse me please, darling’. But what actually came out was ‘H. 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, I only diminish myself when I do. Never, ever them.

That 5pm, when I yelled ‘H, 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.

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