Curses for your worst enemy

May you be the sort of person who forgets to shop online until your cupboards are bare.

May you find yourself here, frequently, despairingly, with sad sense of the justness of fate.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

May you be forced to wrestle your youngest and sweet-talk your eldest into the trolley every time, and those times many.

May they squabble and shriek the whole way round.

May your distraction be such that you buy the half-fat sausages.

May your trolley always be full when your eldest announces the need to relieve his waters.

May you pack and pay like a woman gone mad.

May the disabled toilet always be occupied and disgusting.

May you spend a full fifteen minutes in deathly fear that your offspring will pee on your groceries.

As the door opens and the occupant waltzes out, may your boy turn to you and say, in tones of impeccable surprise,

‘oh, do you need the toilet Mama? I don’t’.

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset

Live a little

Come and sit by me, I want a chat.

Photo 02-11-2014 04 06 30 pm

I feel two-dimensional, often, as the mother of two toddlers.

And I need a better way of categorising them than that, for a start. ‘Two toddlers’ is too brief to convey the sweat and tears and bruises and seesawing emotions. It says nothing about the early mornings, disturbed nights, battleground mealtimes, or constant anticipating and managing of their shifting moods.

It doesn’t talk about how they’re both toddlers, but at different stages with entirely different needs, and yet all of those needs are relentless and all the time, every minute that they’re awake.

It doesn’t get across the joy of it, either – the absolute heart-hurting beauty of their expansion and questioning and love. What a privilege it is to watch. How often I fall short of the trust they place in me, because they have to, because I make everything they know.

It consumes me. I never wanted to be consumed.

Over the summer I started getting twitchy about how much time Tim was spending on his bike. We have always encouraged each other to pursue our own interests: the ones that we fell in love with in the first place, that make us well-rounded people. But I was irritated by his ‘time off’ not because he wasn’t allowed it, but because I couldn’t think of anything I could do for myself in turn. I asked myself what my hobbies were, and came up with a buzzing blank. All of my thinking, writing, talking: all of it, about these boys.

Let me say that I know this time is short, and I will miss it when it’s gone.

Let me say that I believe creating and moulding this family will be the most important thing I will ever do.

Let me say that, despite all that, because of all that, I need to show them that I am their mother with my whole person. There are depths beyond the business of their immediate care. There are places I find joy that no one else can touch. They need to see it. If I do not start by showing them that women are three-dimensional, complex and interesting, how will they believe it of the women they will meet later?

I was revolving this around late one night, yearning for something I couldn’t put into words. What is it? I thought. What is it I want?

The answer came, eventually.

I want a richer life.

***

I’ve had that in my head as summer has deepened into autumn. A richer life. Not a different one, and not a busier one, but one with better things in it. More little things that make me happy. More balance. More connections. More attention to my spirit. If the canvas of my day felt like mostly pastel watercolour, I wanted oils. Have you ever seen a Van Gogh close up? The brush strokes are tiny, but every one of them is richly coloured and meaningfully placed. It’s one of the reasons I love him so much.

Um, I’m getting carried away.

I think it’s worth a shot, though, so I’ve been trying hard to put little dots of richness into my everyday. Here are some of the ideas I’ve been trying out:

- spending more time outdoors, in nature

- expressing appreciation to friends

- starting a book club

- choosing our family activities more carefully, so we’re outside/interacting/seeing new things/performing service

- exercising a couple of times a week (WHAT, I KNOW)

- using the fancy pottery and napkins at dinner

- having flowers on the table

- making my phone harder to reach from bed

- buying the good ice cream

- resurrecting old interests in art, history, music, theatre, and making dates to enjoy them

Not all of them at once. I’m not looking to be more stressed, just better balanced. I am in here somewhere, and so are you. So I am choosing little things, richly coloured, meaningfully placed. To help me feel like I can stand out on the canvas. Life in oils.

I think I’m starting to feel better.

Photo 01-11-2014 10 53 26 am

So tell me, because I need solidarity: have you ever caught yourself being COMPLETELY wrapped up in what you do for your kids? And what weird and wonderful interests do you have (or once have) that make you yourself? I can name the wigs in any episode of Alias you care to mention, and could tell you some things about the Tudor court that would make your hair curl.

We have a TV for the first time in seven years…but what on earth do we do with it?

Super good at proper screen distance.

Super good at maintaining proper screen distance.

I have had a very important evening. Mostly I have been Nodding Wisely While Tim Adjusts the TV Bracket. I am taking this task very seriously, because I have it on good authority that wonky TV brackets are the woooorst. And I have never had to think about TV brackets before, because we have never had a TV.

Ok, not never. We had a TV at home, growing up, and loved it like a fifth sibling. I know the Postman dance from SMTV Live, and on Thursdays I had special permission to stay up late so I could record episodes of Buffy onto VHS tapes, which we then watched until they were glitchy.

Tim really did never have a TV at home, a circumstance which has resulted in him knowing everything about everything, being able to play the drums in this incredibly hot fashion, and many exchanges like this:

Me: HAHAHA REMEMBER THAT EPISODE OF THUNDERCATS WHEN -

Tim: no

Me: oh, right.

thundercatsLAUGH

Lolololol

Anyway, by the time we got married I hadn’t had a TV since university, and so we just never bothered. We had a projector, lots of movies, and more catch-up TV than you could shake a stick at, and this made up for not being able to watch Embarrassing Bodies exactly when it aired. Once babies arrived, we had to work a bit harder to find programmes they might like – trying things out on iPlayer rather than stumbling across them by accident – but as baby problems go, that one rated way below keeping Henry in vests that didn’t smell of sick.

This house doesn’t have room for a projector, so for the first time in seven years, we have a TV, and a bracket, and CBeebies, and everything.

Kitted. Out.

But what is this thing called CBeebies? Why is it full of grown-ass people trying to show the camera every last one of their teeth? Why do they all talk like they’ve got an excited weasel bouncing on their diaphragms? What in the actual heck is going on with Grandpa in my Pocket?

There’s this thing called Swashbuckle, and I can’t decide whether I’m excited that the two lead pirate characters are both women, because women can run pirate crews and nick off with jewels too, yay, equality, or appalled at that hideously perky thing they’re all doing with their faces.

swashbuckle

oh my goodness STOP IT

The boys are enthralled, obviously. All this gurning is like toddler crack, and who am I to deny them a bit of harmless swashbuckling? I do, though, want some proper screen rules in place now that we need them. There’s a lot of good onscreen – not least an unlimited supply of Thundercats jokes – but I want them to use it, not have it use them.

At the moment they watch about an hour of TV while I make dinner – though that doesn’t include the emergency Sarah & Duck I put on for Teddy when he doesn’t want to nap, or the 5am Small Potatoes when he decides he’s had enough of sleeping, or the afternoons where I’ve got so behind we binge on Pixar instead of going to the park. I have a rule that we don’t watch anything that makes me feel ill (GRANDPA IN MY LUNATIC POCKET). I have another rule that there are no rules at all when anyone is cutting teeth or (when this was relevant) growing a foetus.

As with most things, I am tweaking and refashioning as we go, trying new strategies, keeping the ones that feel right and trying not to feel like I’m making things up as I go along. As with most things, this is not true.

What are the screen time rules in your house? Can your kids watch TV without having a gale-force meltdown when it’s time to turn it off? And can you get through Swashbuckle without wanting to throw up a bit in your mouth? 

PS, Sarah & Duck is gorgeous. Sarah & Duck can stay on this TV all day long if it wants. Do not mess with Sarah & Duck. 

Bundle o’ joy

This is a catch-up post about bears.

Photo 20-10-2014 11 40 11 am

He is sixteen months old, and this is his favourite face.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

See?

Teddy

As I type he is ‘reading’ Monkey and Me to himself and dancing with glee. In a moment he will get bored of this and push the book at me, honking like a chip-crazed seagull, until I read it. After that, he’ll totter off to find another one. He has already emptied the two picture-book shelves onto the floor to more conveniently find his favourites. I have had to decide that I put them back only twice a day: 1) just before Tim gets home, and 2) once Teddy is unconscious. This is to preserve my own sanity, already hanging by a thread after reading Sarah and Duck Meet the Penguins three times an hour for the past month.

Books are Teddy’s cave of wonders. He can’t stop, because he never knows what might be in the next one. I do not need to tell you how much I love this, Sarah and Duck and the Blasted Penguins aside.

Photo 26-10-2014 11 15 26 am

He finally started walking at about fourteen months, and watching him schlump into a room, all WHAT UP GUYS, still cracks me up. He’s losing his chub (sob!), but he’s still heavier set than his brother. All flying hair, beaming smiles, bull-in-a-china-shop energy. We call him the human demolition ball.

Photo 29-10-2014 09 45 22 am

He said ‘Mummy’ before ‘Daddy’, and ‘yes’ before ‘no’, and both tell you something about him. No other words yet, though a lot of tuneless singing. Sometimes I think he’s a classic second child: mama’s boy to a fault, robust and easy-going, but with a yell loud enough to make your ears bleed when he really wants your attention. Other times I think that’s just him. He’s started being seriously fussy with food recently, and I’m reassured to know that some things are as constant as the sunrise, and that sixteen-month-olds refusing anything but yoghurt is probably one of them.

Photo 05-09-2014 10 12 57 am

He still wakes up once a night. We do not speak of this. He’s moved house and popped out five teeth in a fortnight, three of them molars (seriously), so we’re holding fire on sleep-training for now.  He loves Henry. He loves wandering around outside and finding dangerous looking stones to put in his mouth. He loves your face, almost certainly. Probably the only thing he doesn’t love is Any Item On A Spoon Which Is Not Yoghurt.

This, we can live with.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Expansion

Processed with VSCOcam with lv01 preset

This is a big deal for him.

He doesn’t like to paint, or make collages, or do anything that means getting his hands dirty. The other children in the class are painting things for him (seriously. Future mob boss?).

I worry a little about where he fits, and what his teachers see in him.

I do not know always whether I am encouraging him to try new things, or squeezing him in a mould that’s not made for him, so that one or both of us will look better.

I am trying to let him be. I keep thinking: no boxes, no boxes, no boxes. No boxes allowed around here.

Today, he made a leaf picture (he’s still picking off the glue from his fingers).

Three breakfasts

Friday

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset

Tim: Do you want any breakfast?
Me: [brushes hair]
[wangs Henry’s shoes over shoulder]
[scrubs at Teddy’s teeth]
[whips open pushchair]
No time no time no time
[door slam]

Saturday

IMAG0645

Tim: Do you want any breakfast?
Me: Ooh, yes please. Toast and a hot drink?
Thanks. I’ll eat it while I’m drying my hair.
[puts plate within easy reach]
What, Teddy? I’m just – just give me a – whattttt?
Come up here, then.
No, that’s my toast.
Alright, just a bit.
Noooo, you got jam on the carpet? Come here. It’s alright. Let’s get a wipe.
[puts uneaten toast on a high shelf, remembers it when running out of the door half an hour later]
Damn.

Sunday

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Tim: Do you want any breakfast?
Me: Ooh, yes please. Toast and a hot drink?
Yes, Hen, I can find your carriage.
Teddy, lovey, can we read this book once I’ve finished – ok. Quick then.
You need a wee? Good boy, let’s GO GO GO.
Well done. Let me finish my breakfast, and then I’ll go run your bath.
Are you being kind? HENRY GILES. ARE YOU BEING KIND.
What’s our rule, mm? If Teddy is crying, he…doesn’t like it. That’s right. Now do you have something to say?
Sorry for what?
Ok, great. Let me go and finish my…
[swigs cold hot chocolate]
Damn.

School jumpers

Desktop7 - Copy

He loves it.

He came out on his first morning, beaming.

‘How did you do?’ I asked.

‘QUITE WEEEELL!’ he shouted back, arms in a victory V.

I see we are raising a classic British child, who uses ‘not bad’ to mean ‘really good’ and ‘quite well’ to mean ‘verily, mother, I have had the best morning of my life so far’.

We are not quite getting to grips with a new routine where half our day is gone with the school run and the other half is taken up by staggered naps. Teddy and my work are getting particularly short-changed. I am also quite terrifyingly awkward at the school gates, as anticipated. But we’re getting there, and we’ll get there better once we’re five minutes’ walk away instead of twenty minutes’ drive (in just a couple of weeks!).

I miss him. I am only just beginning to realise how much of our days will revolve around school from now on. I have lost a time when we invented everything around him, and I’m allowing myself a bit of space to mourn for it. But other things are on the horizon too: library books, history videos, bonkers German nouns, residential trips, PE, maths, piano lessons, friends. Bad days, good days, non-uniform days. I can’t wait to see what he makes of them.