Some hopes for Friday

Photo 06-04-2015 6 00 06 pm

Beloved violas that always, always make up one of my good things. If you are not singing the song from Alice in Wonderland now, I don’t know you.

 

I have just given myself fifteen minutes to write something, while I’m in that part of the day before bed when I decide whether Wednesday was a good one or not. Fifteen minutes ain’t long, so let’s not expect a masterpiece. And yes, I am planning on being in bed by 9.30pm, but you should know that I have been bra-less and wearing a homemade Deathly Hallows t-shirt since 7.23pm, and I am not sorry either.

It can go either way, this good day/bad day thing. At home with toddlers I find that good moment follows bad moment follows baby squeeze follows poosplosion: continuously, breathlessly, so that by the evening you decide what kind of day you had by which moments you scrape together in your hands.

For today? Tim is gone till tomorrow, and I have been fighting off the kind of stomach cramps that aren’t serious enough to banish a person to bed (like that would ever happen with small children high on Easter chocolate anyway), but definitely are serious enough to make you not want to sit still or eat anything, ever.

This is very serious indeed, in my book. I bought a curry for the express purpose of cheering ourselves up in Daddy’s absence, and none of us can look at it without going green. DELICIOUS CURRY. HOW CAN. PLEASE STOP THIS.

On the other hand: the weather has been glorious; the boys are still convalescing from whacking vom-colds of their own, so asked to go for a simultaneous nap at 11am (*jaw drops forever*); I hauled our abject selves into the library to pay a hefty fine and they waived it; my apple cake came off splendidly and made our whole house smell like contentment; no appetite for anyone means no cooking meals, which was unexpectedly liberating; Granny, Mimi and Granny’s dog came for afternoon tea; and I will carry forever the image of E. Bear sitting on the kitchen floor next to Binky, holding up raisins from his pot and laughing madly when Binky licked them out of his fingers.

I spent a nanosecond wistfully imagining all the mad laughter that would occur if we had a dog in our house all the time, before I remembered that I am extremely dog-averse. So I wistfully imagined all the bacteria that were thronging on his baby fingers instead. And then I washed his hands.

On the whole, I think, a good day. I will consign the many times I had to explain that yes, I was going to the loo again and could we please not shout about it to the neighbours, because it’s dinnertime and me weeping into toilet paper is not the mental image they’re after, to the dustbin. Like Morgan Freeman at the end of The Shawshank Redemption – ARE YOU CRYING YET – I hope that tomorrow will be even better.

I hope I can eat the curry and the rest of the apple cake stashed in my cake tin, though not together.

I hope we can be outside long enough to get freckly.

I hope we don’t run out of loo roll.

I hope. *music swells emotionally*

Boyhood, free-range

Photo 09-02-2015 2 10 46 pm

Happy almost-Easter!

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

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

Later, we’ll get out.

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

Processed with VSCOcam with lv01 preset

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.

Forest spam - Copy

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.

Photo 09-02-2015 2 19 23 pm

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

Photo 22-03-2015 4 48 13 pm

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with lv03 preset

Angry mummy

It was 5pm. Of course it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAM_1385

SAM_1387

SAM_1391

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.

A manifesto for being an all-round good egg at thirty

You do not know how hard I had to work to post a photo of me from the side with all my wrinkles intact. It's for a good cause. *sob*

You do not know how hard I had to work to post a photo of me from the side with all my wrinkles intact. It’s for a good, being-more-self-accepting cause. *sob*

I’ve been thirty for a week and I’m not dead yet.

I jest. I’ve been gently bemoaning my age as this birthday has approached, but my heart hasn’t really been in it. The one small moment of panic I had in January, where I sobbed ‘I’M GOING TO BE THIRTY AND I DON’T KNOW IF I’M DOING ANYTHING WORTHWHILE’, felt like it came from the usual insecurities of having small children and no performance reviews, and from the idea that I was supposed to be having a breakdown and had a spare ten minutes to get it done. (Do you ever feel something because you think you ought to? I think I do.)

So far – and it’s early days – I feel like thirty has given me permission to be unapologetic about myself. I spent most of my teens and twenties trying to fit myself in boxes that weren’t for me, like almost every other person in their teens and twenties who aren’t Luna Lovegood. Wishing my body looked different, trying not to resent the pounds I put on in pregnancy, the bagginess, flatness, fullness that came afterwards. Or adapting myself to the company I was in: trying to seem less clever or more clever, less religious, more conservative, less bothered about things that bothered me a lot (and vice versa). Trying to adopt the right parenting philosophies so the mother tribes would let me in. Worrying that being shy made me boring.

That last might still be true. But in the past months I’ve been feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin. I’m a champion worrier so it’s a bit odd: will it last? Is it a temporary madness? I’d like it to stick around. So, it’s election season here in the UK, and I thought I’d get on the bandwagon. Here’s a manifesto of sorts: things I would like to aspire to, most especially when I’m frantic and insecure, now that I’ve hit my one-score-and-ten.

This party would like to remember that its body has had a crazy five years. Sometimes I watch the boys running around and want to yell ‘hey, look at them! This body made them! This one here!’ First there came the growing-and-birthing part, which I need to tell you was not an inconsiderable commitment. Now I spend all my time jogging next to balance bikes, lifting into car seats, avoiding kicking tantrum legs, gathering little bodies onto my lap and rubbing backs while they cry snot into my hair. It’s hard and joyous graft. I’ve come a long way in the last decade, and so has the body I’m in. I want to give it the credit it’s due, treat it well and then embrace it as it is.

This party would like to write, and not be embarrassed about writing. And actually get paid for writing more often, because then I would be living my BEST LIFE.

This party will own what it believes in. I am a Mormon, and a liberal, and a feminist. It can be tricky to be all three. But I love my faith with a passion and I believe in liberal ideologies with a passion and I get very exercised about women’s rights. And, you know, I just don’t feel like playing any of them down anymore. There’s a Mantel quote that I love, and I think I’m going to stick it up somewhere:

‘I cannot unbelieve what I believe. I cannot unlive my life’.

Hear flipping hear.

This party will remember that being sane is important, and hobbies help it to remain so. I have interests both high and low, and it feels like I’m always mentally apologising for one of them. Sometimes I want something that makes me think, and sometimes I want to sit still while my brain dribbles gently out of my ears. I want to exist, unabashed, in the intellectual space I have room for at the time, whether that’s reading a Booker prize winner or an Agatha Christie, listening to symphonies or Heart Radio, watching art documentaries or House.

This party would like to organise its life in such a way that it never needs to take toddlers into a supermarket again. Seriously, it’s a killer. I would like to strike Putting Off Doing The Online Shop Until There Is Literally No Food To Feed The Clamouring Children off my list of special talents, where it reigns supreme.

This party intends to honour its need for space and quiet, but not make this an excuse. I am an introvert, but I never want to use it as an excuse for being rude. The older I get, the more I think that there’s not much more important than fulfilling your obligations and being kind. Or rather, so many things get easier when you’re pulling your weight and being kind first. I want to be someone people talk to because they know I’ll listen. I want to look after the friendships that mean the most to me. I want to be gracious (isn’t that a lovely word? I feel like hugging it to my chest).

This party declares its interest in wearing more shirts and eating more doughnuts. I’m wearing a shirt today with dragonflies on it, and honestly, just looking at my cuffs is filling me with glee. You can’t buy that happiness (actually you can, in TK Maxx. It was a steal).

I love the chap I married, and I love the boys we made, and I love the house we live in. And I know a lot of quite amazing people I can glom onto and learn from. That seems like a pretty solid base to start your next decade. So, um, vote for being thirty? I have doughnuts.

You can also vote for your favourite ever age, in the comments below. Thus far, honestly? My vote would be this one.

Oh, were you wanting a photo that totally encapsulates my life at the moment? Here you go!

Perhaps you were wanting a photo that totally encapsulates my life at the moment. Et voilà, it appears.

Fiction crushes I have had, in order of appropriateness

Mildly odd: Adam Dalgliesh

martin-shaw-dalgliesh-200

(via BBC)

I LIKE A MAN WHO KNOWS HIS WAY AROUND A MURDER SCENE. Dalgliesh doesn’t have my heart like Hercule Poirot does, but he cuts a much more dashing figure in forensic overalls. He’s tall. He’s private. He writes tortured poetry. He drives a Jag. He is so clever it hurts and he lives in a fancy flat above the Thames where he never invites anyone except for me.

Pros: We would solve murders together in between tours of rural England, looking at medieval churches (this is his hobby but I want it to be mine too).

Cons: Like many literary detectives, he doesn’t age: between 1962 (Cover Her Face) and 2008 (The Private Patient, both amazing OH MY GOSH) he’s in permanent, unspecified early-forties. Immortal life partner relationships end in heartbreak or one-sided wrinkles, don’t they Buffy Summers?

 

Wouldn’t really work: Prince Caspian

DF-08962

SWISH (via Buena Vista)

Stand back: this is where I confess to the INTERNET AT LARGE that I spent every night for about five or six years getting myself to sleep by making up new Voyage of the Dawn Treader stories. Prince Caspian! His ship and his armour and his bravery and his touching vulnerability! Tell me he’d still go after the star maiden if I was his adventuress-in-crime. TELL ME.

Pros: Sweet royal lifestyle in what is an essentially feudal society. Dresses, jewels, horses to ride and chat to, castle, surfeit of heroism.

Cons: Since I’d have lived through my teenage years twice (C.S. Lewis never goes into detail about how messed up the Pevensie children must have been, but he should have), we’d have to work through some issues. He’d be constantly trying to prove himself, I’d be dropping in pass-agg commentary about how I used to run Narnia in the golden age.

 

Destined for tragedy: Remus Lupin

Remus-lupin-257x300

via Harry Potter wikia

I know, I know, he’s a werewolf. Also older, emotionally scarred, with a corrosive vein of self-loathing underneath the mild-mannered surface. And there’s also the thing where he marries Tonks, has a baby and then dies in the Battle of Hogwarts. So I think we’d probably just be long-standing friends that knew each other’s in-jokes, and I’d make his Wolfsbane potion without whinging every single month, and he’d drink it without gagging just to save my feelings.

Pros: Good Defence Against the Dark Arts skills. At weekends we’d go hunting Death Eaters and make our Patronuses run races against each other across fields of flowers.

Cons: Werewolf. Issues. Death. We covered this.

 

Historically implausible: Thomas Cromwell

via BBC

via BBC

Yes, I know he can be a cold-blooded power-player. He’s just so good at it. And funny, and sceptical, and he believes in teasing his wife and educating his daughters, and he plays Henry VIII like a fiddle for years, HENRY THE BLIMMING EIGHTH of all people, egotistical vibrant monster that he was, and Cromwell owns him and uses him to make England better. I am attracted to super-human competence (witness: my marriage) and Cromwell makes competence into a gorgeous symphony of getting crap done.

Pros: ability to take simmering revenge on anyone who had slighted me in the past. When Cromwell said, in the TV adaptation that I adored, ‘There’s no need to trouble God, George. I’ll take it in hand’. Did you get a feeling? I got a feeling.

Cons: I’m relying, of course, on Hilary Mantel’s version of Cromwell. In real life the sending-people-blithely-to-their-deaths thing might have got a bit much. Also, as much as I love history, the paucity of baths and abundance of plagues would have been a serious pain.

 

Special mention of awfulness: Will Parry

3698_original_1

via Knopf

I read The Subtle Knife when it was released, at twelve. Will Parry (the stoicism! The tender care for his mother! The oft-mentioned jutting chin!) was an obvious dreamboat. Of course, when you are twelve and Will Parry is twelve, it’s alright to have a crush on him. It becomes less alright when you are thirteen and he is twelve, and then you are fourteen and fifteen and he is – gag, horror – still twelve.

But why twelve, anyway? The entire readership only got through the love scene at the end by vigorously suppressing the fact that both protagonists were barely out of the H&M Kids section. I’m hoping the long-awaited Dark Materials sequel will have allowed him to get older, because LOVE SCENES BETWEEN TWELVE-YEAR-OLDS ARE WEIRD, PHILIP, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS TO THE DUST AFTERWARDS.

 

Alright, you guys, this is a safe space. Any embarrassing fiction crushes you’ve had over the years? Roll ’em on out. Any Snape lovers in the audience? You can tell me, I won’t judge.

 

BritMums

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

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

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Teddy,

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

Photo 25-12-2014 10 01 02 am

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

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

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

Photo 20-12-2014 1 02 21 pm

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

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

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

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

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

With much love,

Your mother.

Photo 16-03-2015 4 25 51 pm

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

The women that made me

Nana

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my Nanna.

It’s because I learned from her that little things mean a lot to little people.

It’s because I know it’s possible to bear physical limitations and pain with unbelievable grace.

It’s because I believe most problems can be solved with a weekly helping of stew and dumplings.

It’s because I’ve seen the power of small acts of love, repeated over and over, for years.

 

Grandma (2)

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my Grandma.

It’s because I’ve seen how a mother can love better and stronger the bigger a family gets.

It’s because I have hope that I can come out of insane parenting chaos with my sanity and self intact.

It’s because I know I only need a loaf of bread to feed a crowd.

It’s because I learned the power of an unbreakable partnership with the one you love.

 

Grandmothers-in-law

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my grandmothers-in-law.

It’s because I know what it means to be a safe, kind place for someone new and insecure.

It’s because I learned that life is long, and full of adventures.

It’s because I feel the bonds that are made with thoughtful cards on the doormat.

It’s because I have hope that it will all be alright in the end, no matter what happens on the way.

 

mother-in-law

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my mother-in-law.

It’s because I believe that fresh air will solve most toddler problems.

It’s because I want everyone to be welcome at our dinner table, too.

It’s because I’ve learned about unflagging, tireless, practical kindness.

It’s because I’ve seen how to be illuminated by fierce spirituality.

 

Mama

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because of my mother.

It’s because I want to be the mother beloved of my children’s friends.

It’s because I appreciate a good kitchen dance party.

It’s because I’ve watched what it does when you build people up, instead of tearing them down.

It’s because I know that quiet, steady belief in my children will keep them going when nothing else does.

It’s because I want to be the gentle voice in the middle of the night, saying that everything will be ok.

 

If I am a good mother, it’s because I have been beautifully mothered. I am not just made of myself. I’m held up by women I have loved and who love me. And I have much further to go before I’ve learned all the lessons they’ve taught me.

But still, they’re there.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Notes from the trenches: 6

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

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

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

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

5 August

Photo 10-03-2015 10 39 11 pm
Yes, somehow I don’t think all parties are enjoying this.

6 August

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

10 August

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

20 August

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

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

I am dying laughing and also have all the feels.

22 August

Teds:

NO to scrambled eggs.

NO to holding my own tube yoghurt.

NO to your vile fruit pot.

NO to your face.

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

28 August

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

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

2 September

Look on these works ye mighty, and despair.

Photo 10-03-2015 10 23 57 pm

29 September

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

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

7 October

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

9 October

Teddy vs slide (horror face).

Photo 10-03-2015 10 24 56 pm
He is EXTREMELY lucky it missed his eye. Also he is rubbish at first aid.

‘RAISINS YES COLD COMPRESS NO’.

30 October

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

18 November

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

24 November

A Short Scene From Our Evening:

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

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

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

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

END SCENE.

4th December

Photo 10-03-2015 10 38 14 pm
That’s Hen’s toothbrush, and he couldn’t get his hand out while holding it, but wouldn’t let it go.

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

5th December

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

‘Oh well done, you did that fantastically’.

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

7 December

Photo 10-03-2015 10 25 58 pm

‘Oi!’

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

16 December

Today Hen has done: 

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

A great day.

18 December

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

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

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

6th January

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

Photo 10-03-2015 10 39 39 pm

2 February

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

21 February

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

Photo 10-03-2015 10 43 37 pm
[Me]: Haaa. I know that feel, bro. Fist bump.

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

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

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

Seven

Photo 13-03-2014 2 23 16 pm

This guy. It’s our seventh anniversary today, and he’s about to get back from a week away. When he’s gone I feel the lack of him everywhere, from our bed to our dinner table to the text messages I keep having to send because he’s not there to tell things to.

We will pick him up from the airport, me and the boys, and go back to our house. I’ll put a chicken in the oven. The sun will slant through the windows onto the kitchen floor. We’ll set the table with napkins even though no one actually uses them. The boys will dance circles around him, and we’ll eat, and maybe go for a walk in the woods, and come back chilly for hot chocolate and an ‘animal crogramme’ on the telly. He will fall asleep five minutes in, like he always does. This is the space we made, and honestly, some days it blinds me to look at it.

Here’s to more of everything. I want it all.

asked to imagine heaven
I see us [here]
the way we have been
the way we sometimes are

Wendy Cope

I told the story of how we met for our fifth anniversary, here. Prepare for some tiny baby faces and enormous skater jeans.

Bear witness

Photo 25-02-2015 1 27 16 pm

I’ve left him for less than a minute, but I come in to find Teddy out of his high chair and squatting on the table.

His cereal bowl is upside down and the leftover milk is puddling around his bare feet.

He’s wearing a codpiece nappy, groaning with wee, that has popped the buttons on his vest open and forced its way out into the open air. It’s dangling so low between his legs that he looks like a male baboon.

And his bed hair, always spectacular, is better than usual this morning: he looks like he’s poked his finger in a plug socket, which would definitely have been the next thing he’d have tried if he’d managed to get down from the table.

He’s got a bad cold. Overnight his face has been lacquered with snot that has dried and smeared and dried again. There’s a fresh slug of it now, glistening cheerfully in front of his left ear.

He looks up as I come in. I sit down in front of him. ‘What are you doing, Teddy?’

He beams, because he has never had a better morning than this, because at twenty months every good minute is the best one so far. ‘Down? Teder — down?’ His vocabulary is increasing at a rate of knots, but he prefers consonants to vowels.

I think to myself that this must be why mothers love and love to their bones, no matter what their children do then or later. Surely I’ll look at Teddy’s face – as a boy, teenager, adult – and part of me will always know him at twenty months, sticky-haired and poking at puddles of milk around his feet. Toddlers open their heart to you because they don’t know what to do with what’s inside it. They haven’t learned yet to push their hair down or feel embarrassed about what’s on their face. And while they learn, poke things, love and struggle – this intensely vulnerable, fiery process of forging a self in front of you – there you are. Trying your damnedest to help and shape things for them, and sometimes making it harder, and sometimes not. But always there.

It’s not always comfortable and it’s rarely easy. I will never understand them completely, and that’s probably how it should be. But as my almost two-year-old holds out chubby hands and jumps off the table, milk droplets flying, codpiece swinging, abandoning himself to the air and my arms, I think:

I am here, and I see you, and you are making yourself in front of my eyes.

I feel like it’s a privilege just to be the one to bear witness.

Photo 23-08-2014 6 08 02 pm - Copy

%d bloggers like this: