Category Archives: Parenting

It’s alright, don’t worry: I’m just going through a phase

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I’m here!

(This is me breaking the log-jam that is two weeks without writing a word, by writing anything. Here’s the anything.)

Everyone tells you that children go through phases, and from my vast sample size of two, I can tell you that it’s true. I mean, I don’t know how useful it is to know that. Sometimes repeating ‘it’s a phase’ on loop to myself (refereeing toy squabble no. 374, maintaining death grip on Dairy Milk) has been immensely comforting. Other times I want to say ‘yes, it’s probably a phase, but that has no bearing on the intense crapness of this phase, since we’re living our lives in the middle of it’. You know the phases I mean.

Funny how we never think of the delightful parts – so many, so many – as ‘just a phase’, though they’re as brief as the negative parts in the long run. T is fast approaching three, and the thought that he will not be mispronouncing ‘grumpy pants’ as ‘scrumpy pants’ for very much longer is something I am dealing with…not so well.

I have also found that motherhood goes through phases too. That time when you have a newborn, every sense blunted by lack of sleep and every feeling heightened by hormones and love, as sharp and vivid as bright colour on canvas.

The phase where your first child finds out they can want things. Oh, man. And you eagerly open up your metaphorical book of parenting strategies, and they screw up the book, and you don’t realise that they are still too young to keep a thought in their heads for seven consecutive seconds, so OF COURSE STRATEGY IS BEYOND THEM, JUST DISTRACT THEM UNTIL YOU LOSE YOUR VOICE.

The phase where you’re wedded to routine, because it anchors you both in a sea of hours from sunrise to sunset. The phase where you prefer to take things as they come. The phase where you’re killing it with the housework and the extra-curricular activities and the washed and ready school uniform. The phase where you’re barely holding your crap together, your former competence so much sand trickling through fingers.

That one where you realise your second child is different to your first, so you’re going to have to use a different book, or write your own.

The phase where you are able to say ‘it’s alright. This is only a phase. He’s not finished. He’s not broken. He has further to go than this’. And mean it.

Mother phases are different to child phases though, because unlike them I seem to revisit mine over and over. One minute T is at a stage I remember from his brother, so I’m able to ease our way through it without worrying. The next minute they’re doing something new, and I feel like I don’t know anything. This is to say, if you’re feeling out of your depth, don’t worry – there are better days ahead. And if you think you’ve got everything sorted forever and ever, well, LOL, this is a grace period, and grace only lasts precisely as long as you absolutely need it.

H has really struggled in school lately, and I have fretted myself silly at home after dropping him off. I couldn’t say ‘this is only a phase’ and mean it – not here, not about this beloved vulnerable boy. I have worried and worried for weeks, and it colours everything else I do.

Now he’s doing better, and I’ve got past some big deadlines, so I’m feeling quite zen about everything. Like I can work hard and without guilt, and even, like, look with benevolence on that awful Transformers cartoon they’re obsessed with, even though my eyeballs melt in protest every time I watch it. I can see the boys and appreciate them for what they are right now, not just what they will be. I can feel lucky. I do feel lucky.

This is my favourite phase. But I wouldn’t get rid of the worry phases either. They feel like the hard, hands-dirty, bloody-minded work that motherhood is made of.

Anyway, I blame this onrush of good feeling for me rashly deciding to potty-train T this week. I was going to wait till after his birthday, but saw a packet of REALLY snazzy Thomas pants in Tesco yesterday morning and just was overcome with optimism. Am I zen enough to avoid eating all of his bribery sweets when he’s not looking? Jury’s out.

Photos from Grey’s Court this weekend, which felt like just the right spot for some appreciation. 

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Marriage and the Magic Question: Who’s Doing the Work?

 

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I sent the text at 6.30, when (according to his schedule) he should’ve been an hour into his ninety-minute journey home.

‘Hey, where are you?’

I hate sending that text – the studied casualness of it, the fact that I’m too tired even to put a smiley face on the end. Wherever he is, he is not here, and we both know that unless the answer comes back as ‘Five minutes away, and bearing a giant pizza with your face on it’, it will not be good news.

When I’m really cheesed off, I miss out the ‘Hey’. It sounds worse, somehow. AND I MEAN IT TO.

After sending the text it occurs to me to check Find My Friends, so I do. He’s still in London. I sigh out a sigh that empties my entire body of breath, and head upstairs to find pyjamas for the boys. Between tubes, trains and taxis, he won’t be home till almost 9pm. I will make a huge effort to remember that he’s had a hard day too. Some days (the 9pm days, when he walks in looking like stepped-on toast) I succeed. Some days (the 7pm-and-I-missed-bedtime-by-five-minutes days) I don’t.

Looking over the landscape of an eight-year marriage – the lumps and bumps and glorious vistas – nothing has stoked our mutual resentment more often than this, this question that only became important once we had children: who’s doing the work? Secretly, I suspect, we both think we’re doing the heavy lifting. Tim earns practically all our money, so is pretty much responsible for keeping four humans fed, housed and comfortable. It’s a high-pressured job that involves early starts, late returns and travelling away for days at a time. He has targets to meet, people to impress, an inbox full of emails to respond to. He can never quite keep up, however long he works. How exhausting.

Then me. While he earns the raw materials, I’m project-managing our whole lives into something happy and functioning. I manage the meals, the schedules, the homework, the outings, the finding of exactly the right pair of dinosaur pyjamas when literally none of the other five pairs of available pyjamas will do. I am always on call. When I want so much as a haircut I have to scrabble around for cover. My coworkers are irrational, demanding and sometimes downright abusive. I do not get paid one whit for any of it. How exhausting.

I’d rather our roles weren’t so thoroughly marked out, and so would he, but they are. Busy office jobs mean long hours out of the house; I’ve neglected my freelancing career enough lately (mostly through necessity, though this is something that hurts all on its own) that I struggle to justify the time it takes away from the boys. So there we are, despite our efforts decidedly not breaking down any stereotypes: the man works, the woman tends the children. We spend weekends recovering from breathless week-days, and at church.

Some days I watch him sail out of the door, on his way to deal with proper adults and get properly remunerated, and it feels like he’s escaping something, and I boil with the injustice of it. Some days I dance around a sunlit forest with a two-year-old hunting for Gruffalos, or watch H’s face light up when he sees me waiting after school, or put T down for a nap and settle to some writing under a duvet, and I know I’ll never be as lucky as this again in my life.

It depends on the day. I expect it depends on the day for Tim, too, whether his work feels like inescapable pressure or blissful, uninterrupted quiet.

Neither of us has really experienced the other’s life (my years of full-time work preceded our very-full-time children so I’ve never done both; the one time I’ve been away without them for a week, he had to work and the boys stayed with various relatives). Maybe one day it would be good for us to try. For now I think we’re where we’re supposed to be, as long as we keep reaching outside of our spheres to help and relieve each other.

We just have to remember (consciously, out loud, and over and over again) that work is work is work. Work, no matter what we’re wearing or which part of the brain we use. Work that keeps our lives, our family and ourselves intact. It’s all work, and it all matters, and we’re doing it all together.

Except for the boys, who are basically freeloading at this point. The rotters.

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Let’s kick our inner smug mums to the kerb this summer

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Some rambly first-draft thoughts I have been mulling over. Let me know what you think. 

Let’s talk about Utah. Let’s talk about Utah and mothers being real.

Not that the two are connected, particularly – or perhaps they are, but I’m not someone qualified to talk about it. I mean that, while we spent a week in Utah, I had a couple of moments where I met people who only really know me, and our kids, from this blog. I absolutely love it when that happens, seriously – I hug it to myself for weeks afterwards – but we were on holiday, we were so far from routine our routine was hitchhiking its way to another state, and the boys were not always on their best behaviour, nor was I always the best version of myself when being with them. I wondered then and I wonder generally: when people see me out and yelling, full-voiced, at my two-year-old to come back (he has a sacred personal rule that he does not come back), does it make the heartfelt and happy-go-lucky stuff I write here seem false?

I’m sure no one we met out there actually thought that. But it did make me think.

Sure, I talk a lot about mothers being real. It’s important that we be real, here on the internet, and that we talk about the bad days. ‘Me too’ is a gift, in this bewildering, relentless and often lonely journey into motherhood. I want to hear ‘me too’ myself, and I want to give the gift of ‘me too’ to others. The antithesis of ‘me too’ is any version of ‘I don’t have this problem because I do things SO RIGHT’, and you know how I feel about that.

But do I really give other mothers enough emotional space to be…less? When I see someone yelling at their child or pulling them away by the arm with a face like a gathering storm – do I honestly make room to remember that they adore that child, and that they’ve just this second been pushed beyond their limits? Do I remember that HELLO, THIS WILL BE ME IN FIVE MINUTES?

Do I allow them to simultaneously be a good mother and have a bad day?

I have this little idea that we can throw smug-mummery (smummery?) in the bin. Starting with the smug-mummery you get from other people, because that’s easier: let anyone who talks to you with a subtext of ‘do it more like me’ slide right off your back as you power on, loving your babies in exactly your own way. A random someone seeing your vulnerable moments will not be around long enough to see your strengths in abundance, so what do they know? Those children were made for you. You were made for them. You’re doing it right.

But also – oh, much harder – let’s kick out the smug mum in ourselves. You know, deep down I feel that my parenting philosophies are the best ones, objectively and forever (whether or not I succeed). Maybe we all do, underneath. But every minute of being a mother has only taught me that that’s not true. When H was a great sleeper and a terrible eater I thought I was excellent at bedtimes and awful at weaning. Then T came along, and I realised that it was only ever H that was good at bedtimes, not me. It wasn’t that I was right or wrong, it was that we found something that was good for them, with lots of trial and error. There’s something freeing in that, right? There’s a measure of grace in admitting to yourself that you’re just a parenting work-in-progress. I change strategies all the time; I fall short of them all the time. My only useful measure of success is whether those boys are happy, and well, and feel loved – though that’s not the only one I use.

But it should be. I want to do better at following my own parenting path without embarrassment, and letting other people mark out theirs. Just a little thing, but I want to be more ‘I get it’ and ‘it’ll pass’ and ‘me too’. Openly supportive and silently supportive. And if I do it and you do it and the person next to you does it too, we could start a little something that kicks all that smug-mummery to the kerb.

I present to you: DON'T PLAY WITH KNIVES two meltdowns a soup burn a refusal to sit on one's bottom a swiftly accelerated bedtime And sometimes dinner goes like that.

One of my philosophies: family dinnertime is important. And I present to you:
‘DON’T PLAY WITH KNIVES’
two meltdowns
a soup burn
a refusal to sit on one’s bottom
a swiftly accelerated bedtime
Because sometimes philosophies suck, and dinner goes like that.

Flying with toddlers: your insanity-proof guide

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We’ve just got back from San Francisco, Oregon and Utah. It was magnificent. Do you know what these boys were most excited about? The flipping aeroplane.

Them, not us, because putting small children in a seat and telling them to stay there for ten hours is Asking For Trouble. Ted can’t stay still for the duration of a medium-sized fart. We’ve done a good few long flights with babies and toddlers now, and I know it’s incredibly intimidating (I nearly ate myself with stress the week before). So I thought I might just share what we’ve found helpful, in case it helps you too.

Toddlers-on-a-plane is a different disaster scenario to babies-on-a-plane (you can check this post for the latter, and send Samuel L. Jackson along to me once you’re done with him). For a long-haul flight with toddlers/preschoolers/H-sized children (what is he?!), here’s our best tips:

give each of them

a small backpack with their own snacks, crayons, and other exciting things. They get their own carry-on, even if they’re still on your lap. I got a small new toy for each of them, from the Pound Shop, and put it in their bags as a surprise. Also new sticker books. Something cheap and exciting that they’d never seen. Don’t forget that –

airports are big, and busy

(obvious, sorry) and toddlers like to run off.  We labelled each backpack with Tim’s name/address on one side, and ‘MY NAME IS ___’ on the other, just in case they got lost. Also, to see them easily at a distance, I dressed them the same, and in the brightest colours they had. Seems a bit silly (and your kids might not be fans of matching) but it did actually help when Heathrow was heaving on the first morning.

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most airlines allow you

to check in a car seat and/or a pushchair. We were lucky: this time we flew with Virgin, and they allow both. Label car seats and pushchair with your name and address too. If your kids are old enough for their own seat they get their own luggage allowance, which means an extra suitcase if you need one. Check the car seat in at the desk with your suitcases and take the pushchair all the way through security to the aeroplane door. Some security desks will ask you to collapse it and put it through the x-ray machine; others will just allow you to wheel it through the metal detector (without your kids in it). But do bring it. Unless you have an angel toddler, there’ll be at least one point where you need them to stay in place.

you will be in

a lot of queues.

I recommend a bag of tiny chocolate buttons for bribery purposes, to be dispensed one at a time.

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but on the plus side

if you have a pushchair or an infant, you do get to board the plane first.

if possible, get

proper child-friendly headphones for each of them. There are tons on Amazon, and we picked up a couple of pairs very cheaply in TK Maxx. Not only does this make it more exciting, they’re likely to stay engaged for longer with the in-flight entertainment (the ones the airline give away are a bit flimsy for heavy-handed toddlers). Also bring a headphone splitter, because…

if you have a tablet

download a selection of programmes onto it and bring it with you. I know there are screens in the back of their seats, but they don’t switch on until you’re well into the air, and there’s SO MUCH hanging around before then. There are no points for screen-free time here. This ain’t a #childhoodunplugged scenario. Put Thomas on for as long as you need it.

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assemble a rough change of clothes

for everyone in separate ziplock bags, and bring them in your carry-on. Nappy/sick explosions in a confined space with only baby wipes to mop up are DEEPLY unfunny. We escaped this time, but last time H got us good.

there are changing tables in all the aeroplane toilets

(they fold down above the loo) but make sure both adults have a couple of nappies and a pack of wipes each, since you’ll be at different ends of the row and it’s easier if both of you are prepared. Also, as queues for aeroplane loos tend to build up after meals and last forever, if you have a nappy-free child with a small bladder (*cough* H *cough*), keep an eye on the time and take them just before the meal comes out.

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if you’re on a night flight particularly,

it’s nice to bring familiar items to help them relax. T brought his cat (called Cat, obviously) and I stuffed blankets for each of them into the bottom of the pushchair (and grabbed them when we collapsed the pushchair just before we got on the plane).

finally, don’t panic if

one of your children tips an entire can of Coke into your shoes. The flight attendants have napkins. You have wipes for your shoes and grossly sticky feet. Told you that change of socks would come in handy.

I WONDER WHICH CHILD IT WAS.

I WONDER WHICH CHILD IT WAS.

Notes from the Trenches: 8

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Do you know what? My Instagram lies.

Well, not totally, not properly…the same way Facebook isn’t properly evading corporation tax and I didn’t entirely eat an jumbo-bag of Mini Eggs whilst gawping at Tom Hiddlestone on the TV last night. It’s just that my Instagram feed shows our best bits, and when it includes our worst bits it’s just the picturesque ones with a nice filter. That’s what Instagram does, and it’s good at it.

If it’s behind-the-scenes madness you’re after – the blood, the tears, the endless, endless bodily waste – you need my daily ranting text messages to Tim. Ever wondered if your normal was actually normal? Read on, and don’t mind me weeping.

 

30 September

In the five minutes it took to hang up some wet clothes, Teddy has a) got a chair and climbed onto it, b) emptied an entire packet of Ritz crackers onto the hob, and c) crumbled some cheese into the water bottle, I mean WHAT.
I’m actually quite impressed at how much cheese he managed to get into that bottle!
I KNOW.

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1 October

YOU KNOW THAT WALLPAPER

IT’S ON SALE AGAIN.

IMAGINE THIS ON THE FAR WALL.

JUST IMAGINE.

I’m now imagining you shouting ‘JUST IMAGINE’ at me…

You love it when I forcibly demand that you imagine things

 

10 October

I cannot tell Twitter this because I am deeply ashamed; I can only tell you. I just absentmindedly tried to scroll this book with my finger. Now I need to go CHOP ALL MY FINGERS OFF.

 

12 October

Made tomato soup and a crumpet for T’s lunch. Immediately he pours his glass of water into the soup, making it inedible. And refuses the crumpet, even once I put jam on it.

And so, naptime.

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28 October

[Getting Cursed Child tickets]

OMGOSH two minutes till it opens! I don’t know how you do eBay all the time – I am freaking out

Aaaaargh

50 seconds so poised so ready

Ok there’s a random queue and I’m number 6902. Wut.

I am going to stare at it until the time passes.

I don’t know what on earth you get to do with a £100 ticket. Like, lick Harry Potter’s face?

 

29 October

Literally thirty seconds after we’ve struggled into our seats at the cinema, having persuaded Teddy to climb the stairs and come sit down when he cannot tear his eyes away from the screen and my hands are full so I can’t grab him, but we get there eventually and get settled with popcorn trays on laps…

‘I need a wee.’

OF COURSE YOU DO. OF. COURSE. YOU. DO.

 

5 November

PS, Ted just bit his tongue, and wanted me to fix it in the usual way: a rub and a kiss. I did the rub reluctantly but I have to draw the line at kissing his tongue.

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19 November

There is no fury like that of a mother who ALMOST got a nap until the blasted postman rang the doorbell twice. Awake, angry, tired toddler. No sleep for anyone. OUTER DARKNESS. OUTER DARKNESS FOR THIS MAN.

 

4 December

Ted is singing Happy Birthday to his jumper. Festive.

***

The ‘we need to stop at Sainsbury’s quickly before lunch’ plan went terribly wrong. He’s sparko, I’m sat in the car park starving to death. WHAT NOW.

Resist the temptation to Drive-Thru!

HOW DID YOU KNOW I WAS RESISTING THAT TEMPTATION WITH ALL OF MY CELLS SIMULTANEOUSLY

I AM SO HUNGRY AND SOMEONE WOULD POST CHIPS THROUGH MY WINDOW IF I ASKED

***

I bought Ted a fish biscuit from Sainsbury’s bakery. Home now, and he’s just eaten the icing eye…and is now freaking out because the fish is blind.

This is a morally conflicted situation.

Update: He has overcome his scruples.

 

29 December

When ur about to captain the Victory to defeat Napoleon and ur getting so pumped

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13 January

H: T hit me!

Me: T, did you hit H?

T: Thomas is a…a big bad naughty engine

Me: Is he? What’s that got to do with you hitting H?

T: Thomas hit H in the head.

Quick thinker slash diabolical genius.

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15 January

H: Who are we going to visit?

Me: A nice old lady called Ma.

H: Ma? Isn’t that a planet where all the aliens live?

Me: What? Oh. No, that’s Mars.

H: Oh right.

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11 February

That moment when you realise your 2YO freakishly knows all the words to Life on Mars.

‘Take a look at the –’

‘Laaaw mayn waitin’ dela wong guy’

 

15 February

[Just after my gum operation]

Twice yesterday T said ‘I smell your mouth’. And not like it was a good thing. 

 

7 March

So I changed T’s disgusting diarrhoea nappy while you were there, right?

Ten minutes after you left:

‘Mummy! I did a poo in the bath and it’s weally nasty!’

Ten minutes after that:

‘Mummy! I sat down on the toilet to do a poo and there’s already some in my pants and now it’s on my finger!’

Just as we were about to leave: another dirty nappy from T.

Monday, I rename thee: faeces day. May all who sail in her have joy.

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8 March

‘I ate my bowg’

‘Your what?’

‘I ate my – I ate my snotty’

‘Oh, don’t do that – that’s disgusting’.

*emphatic suddenly* ‘NO. THAT’S THE RULE.’

 

9 March

I made a fatal error with that cat poo, by the way.

Cleaned the carpet, then got out the hoover, but wasn’t wearing my glasses.

Hoovered over a ‘leaf’ that turned out to be the original turd.

The ur-turd.

And spread it all over the carpet again *horror face*

 

10 March

What a GREAT NIGHT this has been.

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Yes, I was sleeping between them, and T’s feet pretty much reach H’s shoulder in this photo, and it went super well, thanks for HA HA HA.

(Previous Notes from the Trenches are here: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. It’s so weird how, even under the umbrella of Small Children, your life still changes completely all the time. Wonder where we’ll be in another six months? More vomiting, probably.)

How to bake with a toddler without losing it,* in eight easy steps

*totally losing it

STEP ONE: 

look at how freakishly red and shiny your apples are, come over a bit Snow White, decide that today is the day you will bake an apple cake.

‘Do you want to make a cake with me?’

‘Oh, YESTH. I wanna mix it.’

The drums of doom have already begun in your head.

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STEP TWO: 

‘Aprons! Put this on.’

‘I don’ want this on.’

‘It’s your apron, darling, you need it to keep your clothes nice and clean.’

‘I DON’ WANT THIS ON.’

Get it on him eventually by allowing him to dip his finger in the sugar you have already spilled. A good start.

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STEP THREE:

The Dorset apple cake you have chosen is a glorious chuck-everything-in-the-mixer-and-press-go recipe, so you get chucking while the two-year-old busies himself trying to stick his whisk into the moving parts and giving you tiny heart-attacks as you lunge to save his fingers each time.

He distracts you so much you accidentally add twice as much of one ingredient, so have to add twice as much of the other ingredients too, and now you have more cake than a human family can possibly eat without dying, thanks two-year-old.

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STEP FOUR: 

‘I need ter mix it now.’

‘Ok, cool.’

It doesn’t need mixing anymore, especially not ineptly with a whisk, flicking bits of batter hither and yon. He is cute enough that you let it slide.

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STEP FIVE: 

You have thought ahead and cored, peeled and sliced three apples (your least favourite task) before you got the toddler involved. You present him with a bowl of sliced apples and he lets out a tiny scream.

‘I eat the apples. Mummy. My turn.’

‘We’re going to put them on the -‘

‘I WANT THE APPLES.’

You didn’t even know he liked apples, but you let him eat them while you pour cake batter into the tin. You probably have too much anyway. He eats so many his poos are off the pH scale for three days.

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STEP SIX:

In order to get him off the remaining apples, you give him the beater to lick. Shut up. Our grandparents were wrong and it’s totally alright to lick the beater.

No one gets salmonella, because you LIVE IN THE UK AND THE RED LION SIGN MEANS THEY’RE FINE AND SALMONELLA IS MORE OR LESS NOT A THING HERE, SAY SCIENTISTS.

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STEP SEVEN:

Cinnamon through a sieve. He sneezes worryingly near the cake mix. You decide it is naptime.

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STEP EIGHT:

The smell of baking apples wafts seductively through your house. The toddler is asleep. You clean up the mess, and put the kettle on. Just when you’re about to wake him up for the school run, you find a browning apple slice stuck to your left bottom cheek.

Then there is cake, and you and your apple-bottomed, flour-covered, frizzy-haired self are very glad indeed.

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PS: eat this cake warm from the oven, eat it with a dollop of cold custard, eat it with a sense of gladness at being alive.

Recipe here. Step-by-step from the first time I made it here.

Since we’re talking and all – #Timetotalk

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I am having a jolly kind of morning, all things considered. True, I am very bored of this perma-sore throat that has been pinging between us since January. But I had good news from my dentist today, we are squirrelled underneath a duvet watching Cars and eating hot cinnamon roll cake, and we’re going on an exciting holiday quite soon. It’s rather lovely.

So it’s probably a good time for me to post this. I have been sitting on it, not wanting to leave it here while I’ve had concrete things to stress about, because I’d be tempted to write it off as venting. And it isn’t venting: it’s more exposing than that. Imagining sending this out to the internet has literally made me full-body cringe since I wrote it.

Turns out I am happy to admit that motherhood is hard but maybe not the vulnerabilities I carry by myself. But why should we be ashamed of our vulnerabilities? They make us available to each other.

Over the last few months, this is what happens to me at night.

I worry that my children will be taken away from me in a horrific freak accident.

I worry that one of them will get a terminal disease and that I will have to let them go before me.

I worry that Tim will get cancer.

I worry that he will leave me one day.

I worry that I will get cancer, that I already have it, that some brushed-aside little anomaly is an unheeded sign of things to come.

I worry about the people I might have been a jerk to without realising it.

I worry about the times I have been a jerk deliberately.

I worry that I spend too much money and earn almost none of it.

I worry that my faith might crack open like a shell one day and I will roll out of it, alone and abandoned.

I worry about the most vulnerable in my society, and how much they are being damaged and made desperate by our current policies.

I worry about what it does to our children, growing up financially secure and insulated from these real situations. 

I worry that my lifetime might be the one where the NHS, staffed by passionate and devoted people and in my opinion our finest and most selfless institution, is dismantled entirely.

I worry that I have a serious character flaw that everyone knows about but me.

I worry that I will never write anything that is published, that is meaningful, that will mean I can call myself a writer without a half-shrug of embarrassment.

I worry that I am not raising my children right, that I am less than they deserve.

(I am worried that posting this is going to lose me half an audience.)

I don’t know what to tell you: most of the time I’m fine. I’m fine, I’m fulfilled and happy, everything is fine.

But I drive home from meetings late at night and I can’t stop worrying. I’ve never had something I couldn’t switch off, before. I worry about that too. I don’t know what to do about it, but if talking about it helps someone else feel less alone, then it’s worth saying.

I hope it’s been worth saying. Take good care, friends.

This Is Where We Are: a letter to my sons on Mother’s Day (5)

Every year on Mother’s Day, I write about how I mother my babies day-to-day. I think they might like to know how the little things felt, as well as the big ones. Here goes the fifth (late again – will this become part of the tradition? Yes).

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Teddy,

This has been my fifth Mothering Sunday, and you are four-and-a-half and two-and-three-quarters, respectively. And we look like this.

March 2016 (800x600)

In previous years we’ve taken Mother’s Day photos in natural light, somewhere outdoors, possibly with matching outfits. We ran out of time for that, this year, but I’m glad. When I look back at this phase in our lives, this is how it will feel. We are dishevelled and muddy from walking home through fields. I wear those trousers every day despite the giant hole in one knee, which I got from kneeling on asphalt wrestling Teddy into pushchairs. Henry in school uniform – hasn’t that been a transformative, defining part of the last six months – and Teddy wearing a piece of everything he’s eaten today. I need my hair cutting. I always need my hair cutting. We’re a mess, but it’s a good mess.

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Ted, you still wake up first. Will you always? It feels like it. Six am, on the lucky days. We have an unspoken rule that the parent you’re shouting for is the one who has to get up for you. You seem to be favouring Daddy this month (yessss). You are way past two-and-a-half, and it still hasn’t occurred to you to try climbing out of your cot. (Much more cautious than your brother, who climbed high and early and often.) You are getting taller, suddenly. Long fingers, long feet. Still the blue eyes, the half-ton of white-blonde hair. You are quite heart-stoppingly beautiful, altogether. We don’t really know how it happened.

You are also, alas, the twoiest two-year-old that ever lived. Once you had full sentences and strong opinions in your arsenal, we were sunk. You are constantly nattering, shouting, protesting, singing. Singing! That’s a new one for us. You pick up songs from nowhere and sing them to yourself – accurately and in full – in the bath. Your current favourites are Hey Jude (by ‘zer Beatles’), Life on Mars (by ‘Starman’) and the Frozen soundtrack (while you provide an audio commentary to explain what would be happening on screen right now, if we could see it).

You also love: your stuffed dog and cat, your rainbow wellies, books, the ‘little wed boike’ you inherited from Henry this year, Thomas the Tank Engine, grapes and yoghurt, and all the beleaguered pets belonging to our neighbours. You hate: having to get in the pushchair, having to get into your car seat, getting out of the bath, sending Henry into school and not being able to follow, having to do anything you weren’t going to do anyway. You are the best and most exhausting of daytime companions, the teller of terrible jokes, the giver of spontaneous hugs. ‘I baaaaaack!’ you shout, as you run into a room you left thirty seconds ago. We three introverts couldn’t do without you for a moment.

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Henry, my love: isn’t being four fantastic? It feels like a crossroads of an age: we get occasional flashes of toddlerhood, when you struggle with taking turns or decide you don’t like chicken again today; then sometimes I look at you and can see ahead, to the quiet, capable and fascinating boy you’re going to be. So soon, so soon. You are so much calmer, more able to articulate your ideas and feelings. You do a heck of a lot of both, being you: interested in everything, and also hyper-aware of how you and others feel. It’s a funny old (sometimes exhausting) mix. All this emotion makes you a worrier who tends towards melodrama (‘my TEARS are BURNING MY FACE!’ you screeched at me last week). I’m hoping you’ll feel more at ease with time, and that you know you always have a safe place here with me.

You started school in September and you took to it immediately, much to our relief. You like to learn, as I said, and once you had a small circle of friends to call your own, you flew. Writing, reading, solving little counting problems – all new, and you seem to thrive on it. We walk home with you peppering me with facts and questions from your scooter. This morning you asked me to locate and explain all of your major organs, and the kidneys were your favourite. I suspect because they work with wee, and toilet jokes are king. All this is total joy.

Other things you love: dinosaurs, sausage and mash, your scooter, your books, your dinosaur trainers, your red Oxford hoodie (worn so often you’ve broken the zip), and our giant box of Duplo. You eat well and you’d sleep for much longer if it weren’t for Teddy bouncing on your head. You’re growing out of all your trousers simultaneously, again.

So there we are. I wonder, often, what you’ll remember when you’re older, now you’re starting to remember. From my vantage point I can see it all, of course, including the hard and terrible days. I know that I am often tired and bedraggled, that I’m not very patient, and that I make dinner too late (does that ring a bell? Like, 6pm at the earliest?).

But we’ve been walking home through the gorse this week. All out, and all blazing yellow. We made up a rhyme between us to remember its name, ages ago, and you always do. You tell me jokes and I laugh because the telling of them is funny even if the joke isn’t (it isn’t, sorry). We take off our wellies and come into the warm and I put the kettle on. I hope you’ll remember that feeling, the same one I get when the kettle starts to boil: I love this, and you – so much I can’t really articulate it, after all this – and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Let’s stay here as long as we can.

With much love,

Your mother.

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Five books…to help your kids love words

five books to help your kids love words (532x800)

I’m trying hard to be casually enthusiastic about numbers with H at the moment. I am naturally a words person, and numbers both bore and frighten me. Which isn’t so bad for me, because my days of mental maths tests are over. But I do not want to pass it on to them, and my coverage of Things You Need To Know tends to be a tad one-sided without me realising it. I am always up for a discussion of Magic E or cat poems, but keep forgetting that at some point he’ll need to be able to count to twenty without missing out fifteen. My bad, my bad.

Still. Just because you’re talking happily about numbers, doesn’t mean you can’t stealthily push your words agenda in other ways. Like, for example, picture books. There are some books, even for quite young children, that are so giddy, so nerdily joyful about wordsmithery, that I feel like it can’t help but sink in.

More importantly, I think if your child is finding reading a chore, these word-obsessed little stories might help put some of the fun back into it.

These are five of the best. MWA HA HA.

This Is My Book, by Mick Inkpen

This is my bookBefore anyone could stop him, the Snapdragon bit off the K, and part of the B of Book. 

“This is my Poo!”

It was a very naughty thing to do.

This was one of the first books – years ago – that we got from the library and loved so much we bought our own. It’s an imaginative riff on storytelling, in terms a two-year-old can understand: the Snapdragon keeps eating the letters on the page, and it’s up to the Bookmouse to find a new, scary word to stop him. It’s clever and it’s funny, and it’s delicious to read out loud. Even better than Kipper, Inkpen.

 

Oi, Frog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field

oi frog‘What about a chair?’ said the frog.

‘I wouldn’t mind sitting on a chair.’

Hares sit on chairs‘, said the cat.

This gloriously colourful, caustically funny little story sees a cat educating a frog about all the things he can’t sit on. No, he can’t sit on a mat, because only cats sit on mats. Only foxes sit on boxes. Only pumas sit on satsumas. You get the idea – and so will your small people, as they’ll take in the rhyming patterns and start guessing as you go along. The illustrations are fantastic and there’s a great twist at the end. Can’t recommend this one enough.

 

Grill Pan Eddy, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

grill pan eddyWe fetched a trap with a snare – Snap! Snap!

Which we baited with brown bready. 

But he tripped the latch with a safety match

Oh, we couldn’t catch Grill Pan Eddy!

Speaking of rhymes! If you like your poems to come with pure joy, this is the book you want. It tells the story of a family trying to get rid of a crafty mouse, in hilarious bouncy rhyme. Like Tadpole’s Promise, another book by this husband-and-wife team, it goes somewhere a little darker than you’d expect, but it’s all the better for that. So much fun to read aloud and clap along to. The boys adore it.

PS, we searched for a copy of this for months a few years ago and ended up with a ex-library copy – but it looks like it’s back in print via Amazon. I don’t usually recommend buying books from Amazon, but in this case go go goooooooo.

 

On Sudden Hill, by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies

on sudden hillSometimes they’re dragon-slayers,

side-by-side house dwellers

and skyscraper dancers. 

But Birt feels strange.

You know, now that I think about it, it’s very rare to find a picture book for young children that is truly, lyrically beautiful. I suppose the urge to simplify and make the story accessible is (rightly) the priority. This book is that rare thing: the illustrations are sensitive and lovely, the story is heartfelt, and the language is gorgeous. ‘One Monday (it’s cramping cold)’: I think of that description every time I come out into a frosty morning. The story – about two best friends who become three, making one feel pushed out – is something real and important for this age group. I think basically everyone should have it on their shelves.

 

The Book With No Pictures, by B. J. Novak

book with no picturesHere is how books work. 

Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. 

No matter what. 

You might have seen the video of the author reading this to a group of children laughing so hard they can’t sit up properly. I can tell you it’s not an act: one of my boys has actually thrown up from laughing at this. Which might not sound like much of a recommendation, but it is. The concept is a clever one: no pictures, just silly words and sentences the grown-up reading the book has to say, even when they don’t want to. Words can be mischievous! Words can create character! Words can make you laugh so much you throw up onto your mother’s jumper! What better lesson is there?

Happy reading, nerds-in-training. Much love.

Anyone who says their two-year-old wasn’t a tiny insane tyrant is lying

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That day he did well, until he didn’t. Story of a toddler’s life.

Dear toddler parent hanging on by skin of teeth:

Anyone who says their two-year-old wasn’t a tiny insane tyrant is lying.

Let me say that again.

ANYONE WHO SAYS THEIR TWO-YEAR-OLD WASN’T A TINY INSANE TYRANT IS LYING.

Alright, toddler parent, just let me put you on hold while I talk to whoever’s now offended.

Yes, I mean it, and yes I mean you as well, yes, you. Come at me, bro. If you tell me, either in person or from the safe distance of the internet, that your blessed toddler only needed one look from you after one tantrum and they never tried it again, or they never ran off because of your awesome discipline routines, or any variant of ‘when my kids were little’ – sit back down. SIT ALL THE WAY BACK DOWN. Shall I tell you what’s happened here?

  • Unless you nurtured a child prodigy (I am willing to allow this variant in rare cases), you had a two-year-old like any other.
  • Two-year-olds spend a lot of time wanting what they can’t have, and wrestling with giant emotional reactions they don’t have the bandwidth to process appropriately. This has been studied. It is normal. It is true.
  • This leads to: screaming meltdowns in public and private, lots of ‘I don’t WANT to’, long days of struggling over every. little. thing, much exhaustion on all sides. You might have had a toddler who did one of those things more than the other, but all of them will have been present and correct.
  • You dealt with this in the best way you could. I’m sure you’re a nice, normal person, so probably this was: you set limits that were often ignored, you wheedled and cajoled and comforted and warned and picked them up like a parcel, legs flailing, and shouted when you really lost your rag, and tried again the next day.

THEN (this is the important part):

  • Your two-year-old got older, more able to cope with emotions and respond to parenting strategies. And as the years went on, and because two-year-olds are also delightful and hilarious and wonderful beyond belief,
  • You forgot the bad bits.

I wouldn’t mind, but this idea of ‘my toddler was an angel because of how super disciplined I was’ – the sort of thing that comes in well-meaning or less-well-meaning droves when you mention your children online – does serious damage to those of us still in those two-year-old trenches. Do you think it’s easy, trying to cajole your child off the floor of a supermarket because you’ve refused to let them get inside the ice cream freezer, cringing and embarrassed by the volume of their yells and the certain knowledge that someone watching thinks you’re a failure?

The only thing that would be worse is if some random stranger who didn’t know you at all, didn’t know how hard you worked or how much you worried about being a good, kind, fair, decent parent, told you that yes, your worst fear is true: this is your fault. If you were better, your two-year-old wouldn’t act like this. Because mine didn’t. Not ever. I only had to give them a look.

I know how awful this feels, because it’s happened to me, and because I get messages all the time from mothers battered by public judgement and unrealistic expectations. It makes me furious.

Toddler parent, you still there?

Listen. Two-year-olds are gonna two. Sooner or later they’re going to want something you can’t give them in a public place, and all your careful distraction techniques won’t work this time, and they will scream and someone will sniff and you will feel like scraping yourself out of the carpet. It might even happen rather a lot (*hand raised*).

It is not your fault. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You can’t give your children emotional maturity beyond their years by force of will. If you’re trying hard, setting boundaries and struggling for a routine that suits you both, well – everything else will pass. I promise. Enjoy the wonderful bits, buy in chocolate digestives for the terrible bits, and don’t let anyone, ever, tell you that your child would be better if you were.

And one more thing for the internet warriors.

Next time you’re tempted to write a ‘back in my day’ response to a mother struggling with things you’ve let go: maybe just write ‘hang on, it’ll be ok’ instead. Just that.

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?

 

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