The strawberry fields are a-calling

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We’re ten days off the beginning of the summer holidays, and I dunno how H feels, but I am raring to go. I get to be in charge of summer these days, and I’m all gleeful about it. I feel like revelling in every day this summer especially, since it’s the final hurrah before H gets swallowed up by school.

He had a day off last week, so we had a little summer trial run, and went strawberry picking. We found a new PYO farm nearer to where we live now, which turned out to be a real gem: masses of fruit and veg to choose from, a little farm shop, picnic tables and a tiny play area.

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Neither of the boys had ever been before. There are some moments that stick in your head with kids, and watching them realise that strawberries were just SITTING ON THE GROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE and we could put as many in our baskets as we liked was the best, best thing. H was all conscientious about it and only picked the strawberries that called to him personally. T went mad.

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‘ANUDDER STAWBEWWY. ANUDDER STAWBEWWY PLEASE’.

After five minutes he looked like he’d been engaging in cannibalism. If anyone knows how many strawberries a toddler can eat before you should offer to pay extra at the till, let me know. He wasn’t exactly subtle about it.

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The sun and sky did its best to ripen everything while we were there, and we accidentally got the sort of neck sunburn that makes you look like a really responsible parent.

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After that there was nothing to do but play in the sprinkler and then make the best strawberry and cinnamon torte in the universe. Some cakes are like holy things. Oh man, this one is.

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Come on then, summer! We’re wearing a decent amount of suncream, this time, and we’re READY.

Angry mummy: hills to die on

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This is the second post I’ve written about trying not to be a short-fuse parent. The first one is here. Let’s face it, there will probably be more. 

We will be glad about the two-year age gap between our boys when they’re older and the best of friends. This is what I weep into my pillow at night. ONLY JK.

Actually, from Peak Insanity of newborn and two-year-old, it’s getting lots better. H can now be trusted to run little errands without calamity. There are spells when they amuse each other and where they play together without someone screeching. I never thought we’d get here, and it’s a testimony to me of the triumph of Grimly Hanging On and Using Chocolate Biscuits As Emotional Salve.

But. But but but. The age gap does mean that they’re now covering all the stress bases between them. If you want someone to be mindlessly destructive, you’ve got T, and H is there for the explosive emotional breakdowns. T will scream the house down when you brush his teeth, but H is ready to bring out the threenager boundary-pushing. I mean, just in case you were missing anything from the last two years, they like to keep it all fresh.

So it’s possible, if you wanted, to spend every minute of the day telling them off. And oh, how achingly dull that is. We are scratchy and irritable on a day where my sentences beginning ‘will you STOP-‘ outnumber all the others put together. Emotionally it’s exhausting too: maintaining that level of irritation uses an awful lot of energy that could be used for better things.

I’ve said before that my inner parent is all Sergeant Major: I am always trying to train myself to be less strict. But someone on this blog once made a comment I think about a lot (thanks! This is why you’re all so brilliant). She said: ‘choose your hills to die on. You can’t pick up on everything, so choose what’s really important to you and go from there’.

I think this is pretty wise. It’s not a case of starting to let things go, but of reacting to things on a scale, from a mild ‘hey, don’t, that’s gross!’ to the intense, theatrical ‘I do not want to see you do that again’. And is there anything I’m getting cross at that I could laugh at instead? I think there probably is.

So I had a good think, and here are my hills to die on, the things I absolutely cannot shift from under any circumstances:

1. Bedtime is bedtime. I don’t mind what they do in their room once we’ve gone – that’s often when they have the best interaction with each other, in fact – but once the light is off, they’re done for the day. The only thing standing precariously between us and insanity is a decent night’s sleep.

2. Kindness to peers. I think you’ll never lose out being a little kinder than people expect. It’s a way of acknowledging everyone’s innate worth and drawing in people left on the margins. I am never happier than when I see spontaneous kindness in my boys, and never more horrified than when they do the opposite.

3. Respect to adults. In the last few months we’ve had to introduce the new idea that there are things you might hear said in the playground, but these are not things you can say to your mother; also, that people can be hurt by the words you use. And I guess this was something we all had to learn for the first time at some point. It’s FUN.

4. Manners. I know ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ don’t seem like huge deal-breakers, but I think they help teach them something deeper: respect, appreciation, remorse…a recognition of other people’s dignity.

I also came up with a list of things that are way higher up on my hills than they should be, and need taking down a notch (or seven):

1. Not being bothered to go to the toilet on time. Urrrrrrgh. I look forward with hope and gladness to a time when I don’t have close and personal dealings with faeces. But H is a last-minute toilet-goer; there it is; he needs reminders but I don’t need to be furious about it.

2. Brotherly scraps. I intervene when they’re hitting, or T is at a disadvantage because of his size, or one of them is at absolute meltdown point. But I’m trying to remind myself that, you know, brothers gon’ brother. And they’re learning, by very small degrees, how not to provoke people to wrestling point. Useful life skills.

3. Stupid voices. This is a weird personal idiosyncrasy, but if you can TALK with REAL WORDS then USE REAL WORDS THAT’S WHY WORDS EXIST TO HELP YOU COMMUNICATE WITH PRECISION. I really need to tamp this irritation down, because I remember using silly voices well into teenage years, and my sister spent a good year in her childhood inexplicably pretending to be a dog. This is what kids do.

4. Not leaping to do what I ask the first time I ask it. This is a sign of how inexperienced I am as a parent. I asked my mother recently, ‘So…when we were kids, did we, um, just ignore you lots of times until you got stressed about it?’ And she laughed and laughed and laughed. Apparently kids do this too. They shouldn’t, and they need reminding, but I’m going to push myself into an early grave getting cross about it.

The great thing about parenting is that we’re all so individual, such a unique mixture of personality and environment and how we ourselves were parented, that your hills and non-hills will be different from mine. But I think I’ll be happier when I’m not slogging up to the summit for every little thing.

So, tell me: what are your absolute must-haves, and what things do you get annoyed about that need to come down a bit?

How a bear does birthdays

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Ok, ok, just one more about T’s birthday, and then we’re done. PHOTO AVALANCHE AHOY, CAP’N. So help me, I cannot narrow them down more than this.

(There’s something about having a birthday midweek and then a birthday tea at the weekend that seems to make it last f o r e v e r. Lucky T. He sees any old open flame these days and yells ‘happee birthdee day!’)

We are in the middle of redoing our little garden at the minute – more about that later – so we wanted to celebrate in ways that would be fun, but also relatively inexpensive. I found this balloon wall on You Are My Fave, and it looked perfect: five bags of heavy-duty coloured balloons from Hobbycraft cost £5, and boom, done. Or should I say, boom, much late night fiddling with tape, bicycle pumps and string, done. I’ll do a quick tutorial for this later in the week, because we tried a couple of different ways that didn’t work before we found one that did.

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You should’ve seen his face when he saw it. His mouth fell into a perfect O.

The thing about being a second child is that basically everything you play with belongs to your older brother. One of the nicest parts of the morning was seeing him overwhelmed by opening new, exciting things just for him.

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We’d given H the day off from nursery, and planned to go into London and visit the Natural History Museum. First though, lunch. On your birthday you want to eat your favourite food, and the problem with this two-year-old is that there aren’t many grape-and-strawberry-yoghurt restaurants. But he does love…curry, of all things. So we found a fabulous curry house just off Covent Garden and had a grand old time. They had a children’s menu, and we introduced T to mango lassi, which as a combination of milkshake and yoghurt (two of his favourite things) blew his tiny mind wide open.

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We will pass over the Tube trains we took on the hottest day of the year. Nothing like marinating in a sardine-tin sauna, air shimmering with the sweat of strangers, hanging on to two overheated and angry boys for dear life.

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H, I bless the day you got yourself a photo face. HAHA.

It all got better once we got to the Emirites cable car. It was like stepping into another world: cool breeze, open sky, and the blue Thames glittering ahead. And I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the cable car, but you MUST. If you have a day travel card you get a discounted ticket, and it is so, so worth doing. The views are incredible, and it’s just thrilling.

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At the other side we found a few splash pads next to the O2, and what looked like a worldwide Salvation Army convention enjoying the sun and spray. The boys were desperate to pull off their shoes and get wet, so we shrugged, and saved the museum for another day. They spent an hour running in and out of the water, soaking their clothes and cooling down before we headed home. Honestly, it was wonderful.

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Then on Sunday we had some family over for a little birthday tea (I am firm in my belief that it’s pointless to plan themed birthday extravaganzas before they can remember it). Most of the food was low-prep and easily done: veg and dips, fruit and chocolate fondue, scones and jam, chips and cookies. I found these brilliant watermelon napkins and cups at the supermarket, along with cocktail stick forks, which I found far too exciting for someone who claims to be an adult.

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The cake – oh, my giddy aunt – was an unmitigated disaster. I wanted to make the cinnamon roll cake we love, but in round tiers rather than a single tray. But the layers were too dense after baking, and became even more so after leaving them in the fridge overnight. The cream cheese frosting I’ve made before with no problems went through a terrifying cottage cheese stage, where the butter refused to mix properly into the rest. Then it wouldn’t set firm. Then there wasn’t enough to cover the cake. I’ve had many a cake horror before (you know this, loves) but never one in which, twenty minutes before guests arrived, I sat in a corner deep-breathing and saying ‘he has no birthday cake. HE HAS NO BIRTHDAY CAKE’.

Anyway, it slapped together with minutes to spare. Good enough for candles. And T was thrilled. He was getting the hang of this blowing-out-candles thing by this time, and kept trying to get it done before we’d finished singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

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That’s the main thing, isn’t it? Happy boy, covered in chocolate, running round the garden with a new helicopter. The balloons are still on the wall. We’re getting through the cake by heating it up into cinnamon roll pudding. The new toys and books are well worn already. It ain’t a bad life.

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Speak up for your bad days: they’re important too

I had every intention of sitting down tonight and writing about T’s birthday. We had a grand day. I’ve got lots of very pretty-looking pictures. But whenever I write something especially appreciative about my children on this blog, the universe intervenes to make sure they’re little horrors the day after. And so they have been.

We are tired after yesterday, and too hot. Early this morning they were both crying over UNMENTIONABLE TRAINS before I’d even made breakfast. Tim leapt around the house looking for work stuff because he was running late for a meeting. I tried to put T down so that I could pick H up, and he cried harder and wrapped his legs around my torso.

That was all it took, just that. I looked at our house strewn with birthday debris; my two hysterical sons I had to somehow soothe, feed, clean and dress in the next hour; my husband who was about to sprint for his train and deal with rational adults all day, like a proper grown-up. A great surge of frustration became fury by the time it reached my throat and I yelled at no one in particular: ‘THIS. IS. MY. JOBBBB.’ Like an actual, pyjama-clad lunatic.

For one minute, you see, I wished so very much that it wasn’t. I used to joke that working with academics made me an ideal candidate for raising toddlers, but no academic I ever dealt with wanted me to carry them on my hip while I made them breakfast and found the one bleeping train that won’t be found.

And I wasn’t going to write about it, because moaning is boring – or worse, entitled and infuriating. There’s always someone who wishes desperately they were in your shoes, even while you’re wishing yourself out of them.  I have two healthy children. I am incredibly lucky to be able to stay home with them full-time while working a little on the side. And Tim would tell you if you asked him (I remember myself) that working full-time has its fair share of stresses and negatives too. I know all this.

So I was going to swallow it down. Pretend it didn’t happen, and post some pretty pictures instead. Smooth down my rough edges for a reading audience. It’s all so much more comfortable that way.

I think women do this a lot. We think negative emotions make us unattractive. We think expressing them makes us nags, or cynics, or bores. As mothers especially, we apologise for them, or we ring-fence them with comedy. We sand down our rough edges to take up less space, to be less objectionable to whomever might be watching.

Today I have decided: stuff that. You can take that idea, and stuff it right into some place you’ll never see again.

You don’t owe anyone a good day. You owe yourself care, and you owe other people empathy and consideration, but you don’t owe them quietness.

I don’t mean that it’s a good idea to ferret out the downsides in whatever situation you’re in, because doing that makes me miserable. Looking on the bright side is good. But I assert my right to take up authentic, emotional space using a full range of feelings, not just the ones that make me seem nicer. I want the ones that make me real. That’s what I’m trying to show and tell my boys, after all: all of your emotions are ok. You need to express them in a way that doesn’t involve disrespect or fists, but it’s alright to feel whatever you feel.

All of my experiences will make me who I am in five years, ten years, twenty. All of them, the guts and grit and glory. Not only the ones that came with a DSLR and coordinating outfits.

Guys, today was pretty hard. Today H ran into the sprinkler and soaked his school uniform just as T slipped down five stairs and banged his elbow, and we were already five minutes late. Today I looked into days and years and YEARS of cajoling lasagne into the mouths of kids who don’t want to eat it, and it felt a little like despair to me.

It was a hard day, and it made me feel bad, and I’m owning it. Tomorrow will probably be better.

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Ironically, since my phone is broken, I only have DSLR photos. So some days are like this. Some days are…not.

Pinterested in this article? Mouse over this bad boy:
Speak up for your bad days

A letter for two

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Teddy,

Today is your birthday, and you are two. Your day is supposed to be over, actually, but you haven’t yet given up the good fight: I can still hear you bouncing and yelling in your room. Most of the street can. You have two volumes: the cracked little fake-sorrowful voice you put on for apologies, and Is That A Jet Engine, No It’s Just Teddy.

You are two, and these last two years have gone before I could blink. You are two, and it feels like you’ve been two forever. You’re a mixed little thing, my love: pure sunshine with a streak of steel through your middle. You are good-natured, big-hearted, puppyish; ready to make jokes in silly voices and then to laugh before anyone else does. You give hugs freely, without the asking. At heart you are happy, and want everyone else to be too. You are also single-minded, stubborn and intensely strong-willed. When you want something, you shout. If you don’t get it, you shout louder. The other day you asked to be picked up in order to more conveniently hit me in the face, and I was stern (‘we do NOT hit’ / ‘sowee mammy!’) but also reluctantly impressed.

You won’t get this till much later, maybe ever, but I’ll say it for myself: like most second-time parents, I wasn’t sure what my love for you would look like before I met you. When you love a child for the first time, it knocks you silly. You’re shaken to the foundations of yourself and built up again into something new. It’s hard to imagine it happening again, a second time, the same but also different. And then it does. You open up, again. Caverns with vaulted ceilings expand, and expand again. With love, and love, and love.

But Ted, this is what I’m trying to explain: you made it so easy. No one has ever met you and not loved you immediately. You are laughably lovable (that hair! those eyes! that ridiculous smile!). You arrived three weeks early, quickly, unexpectedly, and none of us had any idea of the happiness you’d add to our store.

Like grace. Given freely, without the asking. That’s how I think of you, really. And I’m so grateful.

…And you were a pain in the neck on the Tube today, and you drank two mango lassis one after the other, and you wanged a metal train into a poor gentleman’s ankle because I wouldn’t let you leap onto the platform at the wrong stop.

I wouldn’t change you. How could you be anything but gloriously yourself?

I pinch myself when I think about how lucky I was to get you. Happy birthday, Edward bear.

Much love,

Your mother.

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Good neighbours

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This photo is everything. Everything.

That’s when good neeeeeighbours! Become! Goooooood frieeeeeeends!

[saxophone]

Come on, as if you weren’t singing it too.

Sometimes I think about what it would be like, living next door to a family with two children under five. Sharing a wall with two children under five. My conclusion is always the same: it’d be flipping horrendous.

I have always wanted to be part of a Neighbours set-up where we’re friends with the people next door. Cheery waves from the driveway, hanging over the fence to ask after each other’s parents, popping in to borrow sugar, that sort of thing (why is it always sugar? Are people putting so much sugar on their Weetabix that they regularly are caught short?).

This has never happened. For two reasons, I think: first, I am not an easy chatterer. When we come home I am tired from wrasslin’ toddlers, and know I still have to wrassle them inside the house without anyone running under a car, so I would much rather give you an awkward smile than stop to chat. Second, I feel terribly guilty about how awful we must be to live next door to, which inhibits friendly communion.

‘Oh darling, what a lovely dinner you’ve made. Candles and everything. Let’s eat.’

‘Hang on a second, my love. The children next door are having their faces branded with a hot iron again, and it’s ruining the atmosphere.’

I’M ONLY TRYING TO BRUSH THEIR TEETH, NEIGHBOURS, HONESTLY.

I had high hopes when we moved: a bigger house, no one living underneath us, and a brand-new set of people to be nice to. None of them had heard me give birth unexpectedly, which was a huge plus for all of us. Then I realised that having a bigger house only means there are more places in which to scream.

Children are loud. There’s yelling, and crying, and jumping off things, and the accidental droppage of crockery, and screeches of laughter and indignation. There’s the fact that every morning they shriek about having to get in the bath and then shriek again when they have to get out. There’s the fact that they always, always want the same train. And then there’s me, goaded beyond human endurance approximately every twenty-five minutes, shouting things like enough now, and leave your brother’s tongue alone, and stop poking that worm and get your shoes on.

That’s just a normal Monday.

We try hard not to be obnoxious, but obnoxiousness comes with the territory. The first month after we moved in, T cut five teeth. We brought the neighbours a Happy Christmas/We’re Really Sorry present to try and extend their goodwill a bit, but you can’t tell whether someone’s saying ‘oh, we never hear them’ through gritted teeth when you’re looking by the light of a street lamp. I stop the boys dinging matchbox cars against our bed frame at 6am, and park our giant child-friendly car at a respectful distance from next door’s sporty BMW.

But I still have to brush their teeth. And no force in heaven or earth is going to stop them poking a worm when it’s long-past time to get to school.

Chris and Maria, I’m so sorry. Please come over for sugar whenever your Weetabix is lacking. I promise our children aren’t feral. I promise I’m not having a psychotic break.

I can’t promise you’ll never hear me give birth unexpectedly, but let’s cross that awkward bridge if we come to it.

Do they LOOK like the quiet types to you?

Do they LOOK like the quiet types to you?

Five books…with jaw-dropping illustrations

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I always think books for preschoolers have an extremely sensible ratio of words to pictures. And the pictures are everything to the under-five crowd. Have a look at their faces the next time you’re reading one with striking, colourful illustrations. Their jaw drops. They can’t resist touching the page with their fingers, like they want to jump inside (confession: I do this too). Lovely artwork can make up for a lacklustre story, but when the words are good and the pictures transporting, the whole thing comes alive.

I make a habit of hunting out books with gorgeous pictures. I can’t help it. They’re a thing of beauty, and I like having beautiful things on our shelves.

Here are five books with jaw-dropping illustrations we love extra-hard:

Lion and Mouse, by Catalina Echeverri

Lion and Mouse

Lion thought he was much better than Mouse in every way. 

And he said so. 

All day. Every day.’

This is a funny, wise story about an impressive Lion who can’t stop going on about himself, until he needs help from his small friend Mouse. But the pictures! The animals are drawn in a quirky, humorous style, with tons of pattern and colour. The back page is the best, trust me. I always say ‘ooohhhh’. I haven’t seen this book out and about much; we brought it back for H from Paris a couple of years ago. The first-time author-illustrator deserves to be better known.

 

The Heart and the Bottle, by Oliver Jeffers

Heart in the Bottle ‘Once there was a girl, much like any other,

whose head was filled with all the curiosities of the world.’

I couldn’t write a list of illustration books without including one from the mighty Jeffers. His ‘Once there was a boy’ series (How to Catch a Star, Lost and Found, Up and Down, The Way Back Home) is probably the best place to start for younger listeners, and those illustrations are out of this world. But The Heart and the Bottle is just stunning. It tells the story of a little girl interested in everything, until she experiences a deep loss and shuts herself away. The way Jeffers draws what’s happening in her head is touching and lovely. I dare you not to cry. Double dare you.

 

London ABC, by Ben Hawkes

London ABC

We love London. Our boys love going there too, so this is a delight. Fantastic for very young readers, it’s the illustrations that make it. You can follow the penguin as he escapes from the Zoo and tours the city, trying his hand at a bit of Shakespeare (G is for Globe!) and waving a flag at the Olympics (S is for Stadium!) as well as hitting the usual tourist spots like B-is-for-Big-Ben and N-is-for-Nelson’s-Column. On each page there are other things beginning with the same letter, and at the end there’s a long list of London landmarks to visit.

 

The Dark, by Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen

The Dark

‘You might be afraid of the dark,

but the dark is not afraid of you.’

If you were a teenage Lemony Snicket fan like I was, the discovery that he’s moved into picture books might make you a bit dizzy with happiness. This is a cracker: poetic, unusual, and totally unlike anything else I’ve seen on preschooler shelves. Lazlo is afraid of the dark, and one night it comes to find him. The illustrations convey dark and light – angular torch light, the particular orange light at sunset – perfectly. Honestly, the boys can’t keep their eyes off it. GET IT. GET IT NOW.

 

Augustus and His Smile, by Catherine Rayner

Augustus and His Smile

‘He swam to the bottom of the deepest oceans

And splished and splashed with shoals of tiny fish.’

This book won Best New Illustrator in the Booktrust Early Years awards, and you can see why: it’s beautiful. Oh, just so beautiful. Augustus the tiger wakes up and has lost his smile, so he goes exploring all over the world to find it again. Seas, jungles, deserts and rainstorms are depicted in vivid colour, and Augustus himself is a whiskery orange marvel. I can’t really do justice to how lovely this is, but you can put it into Google Images and see for yourself.

 

Go forth and read, book-hunters!

Previous ‘Five Books…’ posts are here.

Reasons why none of us are professional models

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

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

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

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

Oh, except holding a sign.

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Notice the full mouth? Bribery sweets in abundance.

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

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

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

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

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Dads, etc

Son the First was in our bed the other morning. He has a little routine twice a week: wet the bed, strip off, tiptoe into our room and wriggle in between us where it’s warm. We wake up with bony limbs in our back and I marvel, every time, at how much space he takes up. My baby-no-longer-baby, with legs stretching halfway down the bed.

This particular morning I woke up to Tim and H talking quietly. ‘Do you know’, Tim said, when he saw that I was awake, ‘we’ve now had this boy for longer than we’ve been without him?’

Which is something, isn’t it? Those three years without children have already been eclipsed by the almost-four years we’ve been parents. In future years they’ll seem like a funny little oasis at the very beginning of our lives together. Before we’d ever got poo underneath our fingernails, or knew anything about Peppa Pig, or had the smallest inkling of how much parenthood would hollow us out to make room for so many more feelings.

Tim is a wonderful father. I was going to go at it more lyrically than that, but there’s the truth. He is patient and soothing in the times where I’m scratchy and abrupt. He rolls out of bed at six in the morning to rescue bellowing boys and reads stories in funny voices at night. He’s the one cajoling one more spoonful of dinner into H’s mouth, making endless and exciting train tracks, letting them climb ladders and use screwdrivers and generally feel ten feet tall.

They adore him, openly and completely. He gives them something I can’t. He is the steadying presence bookending their day, the calmer voice dampening their fieriest tantrums. Also the parent most likely to be carrying sweets. They like that about him. They like him a lot.

And do you know what, I do too. He’s never felt more like the other half of me than he does now, as we raise these boys together. One parenting style balancing out the other, and providing where the other falls short. Fatherhood looks really good on him. None of us would get very far without him here.

I shouldn’t need an excuse to say it, but it’s nice to have one. So happy Fathers’ Day, favourite. May you always have a pocketful of sweets for the boys who love you.

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You can’t have one without the other

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Hello world! I’m back in the land of the living after a six-day sick bug, and will be embracing this week with a kiss on the mouth. Six days! I feel like Captain [in] America, waking up after a long sleep with frosticles in my hair.

Only in my case they were greasicles.

My happiest days are the ordinary ones that come after an illness. Yesterday we did nothing special, but everything looked new. I restocked our cupboards, took the boys to the park, scrubbed toilets till they winced, and opened all the windows to let some daylight in. I ate three square meals, and saw none of them again. I even ran (to find a place for H to poo inconspicuously in the park, siiiigh). It felt like the first day in the whole world.

Sick bugs give you pause for thought though, don’t they?

The day before the bug arrived, we were driving back up the hill mid-afternoon. The junior school down the road had just let the kids out, so I slowed right down. As we passed the gates, I spotted a little girl in the front seat of a car, with her mum next to her. She was nine or so, talking about something so exciting she had to stop and do a little dance. All I could see were flailing fists and a long ponytail swishing all and sundry. And her mum, trying hard not to laugh and not succeeding.

We passed them in a second, but there was something so particularly mother-and-daughter about it, it hit me like a lance to the chest. I felt the thwack of it and had to take a breath, stunned. I think there were actually tears in my eyes.

I want a girl‘, I thought. The kind of thought that arrives primal in its strength and heft. ‘I want a girl‘.

Then.

Two days later, delirious with migraine, joint pains, a digestive system trying to turn itself inside outI hung my head in a sick bowl. It had been there for some time. Since I couldn’t read, look at a screen or move, I was taking the time to wholeheartedly regret my existence. Regretting it but good.

And the thought came like a lance to the chest.

This is what pregnancy’s like‘, I remembered. ‘Except it lasts for weeks and weeks. And you can’t tell anyone. And this time you’d have a school run to do’. 

The thought nearly made me heave all over again.

So. Well. You can’t have babies without making them. The NHS doesn’t offer a nine-month voluntary coma either, last time I checked.

Now what?

It just took so. much. effort to get here.

It just took so. much. effort to get here.

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