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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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

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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

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‘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.

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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.

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[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

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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

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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.

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We’re baaaaack!

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Hello lovers!

Ooh, someone oil me. I’m rusty.

But here we are in the new, improved (hopefully) Make a Long Story Short! The gorgeous header is from my talented bro-in-law, Angus Dick, the fiddling with code comes courtesy of Mr Jeffcoat, and the ums and ahs and helpful suggestions were ALL ME, BABY.

There are still some old posts that have transferred across without their photos, and I’ll be going through the archives gradually to fix them. But if you’re reading an old post and it doesn’t have its images, be a love and drop me a line on Twitter, Facebook or rach.makealongstoryshort – at – gmail.com. Then I’ll fix it. And I’d love any other feedback too.

Otherwise we’re back to business as usual, which I hope will be something like: compassionate motherhood, muddy wellies, and some cake.

I can’t wait. See you back here later in the week with a hot drink and a Twix? You got it.

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!

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Hello dear ones.

Just popping in to wish you a jolly lovely Christmas, with as much sleep and food and love as you might wish. Our presents are wrapped and our festive lunch ready in the fridge (we were due to have lunch with family, but 2014 has been redubbed The Year of the Unexpected Viral Rash, Thanks Teddy). I’m not sure we’ve hit all our Christmas traditions, we’ve got through a tub and a half of chocolates already, so honestly, we’re already winning.

I leave the Christmas Tree 2014 video below, to speed you into the best bits of Christmas Eve. We’ll be back in the New Year with a new look, so come back! I miss your faces.

Rachel x

A little au revoir

So flipping good at this.

So flipping good at this.

You know, blogging is a funny old thing. I started in 2009 because I wrote diary entries from India and couldn’t stop once I got home. I feel about writing the way Harry Potter (aw!) feels about getting on a broomstick for the first time: a rush of fierce joy. Words are such intricate, beautiful things. You can search for exactly the right one and put it in exactly the right place, and all of a sudden you’ve created something that makes people feel. There are lots of things about my writing style I would change, and I’d love to do a creative writing course and get critically slapped into shape. The graft of it, though, fills me up like nothing else. And when you get it right, oh, you soar.

And so to this blog. I started writing about babies once I had them, and it was a way of recording things I might forget, and reaching out to parents in similar situations. It puts shape to the emotional seismic shifts that come with having children. If motherhood is a hopeful, flailing leap into the unknown – and it is, and the unknown includes much faeces – then blogging helps me map out the fall. Where are we now? What does this feel like? Where are you, dear reader? Are we both here together?

Here’s where I am: parenting blogging is sometimes overwhelming to me. We are in an intense phase of mother-and-toddlering at the moment, and it often feels like toddlering is all I can think about. Sometimes I want to read gentle advice articles, and humorous you-know-you’re-a-mother-when-this-sucks blog posts. Sometimes I want to write posts like that. Sometimes – more often, at the moment – I want to write about something else, ANYTHING else, and I scrabble around inside for another topic and can’t find one. And then I am frightened that I am an empty well, scraped clean by dirty nappies, and I have lost my words and they will never come back and nothing I’ve ever written has ever done any good.

I am keeping the melodrama tamped down tight, since you ask.

This means that sometimes the world of parenting blogging is my salvation, and sometimes I can’t bear to look at it another second. There are days I write something that gets picked up by Mumsnet and feel great about it, and days I want to be free from the anxiety that I am not as talented or popular as the people I follow on Twitter. I am very aware that these things are not Real People Problems, and that it ends up with me spending too much time on the internet. It all feels like a lot of bother, over a blog.

So I’ve decided to take a little break for at least the rest of the year, while I decide what it is I want this space to be. It might be a more streamlined place to talk about children, or it might be something else entirely. Or it might be just the same because, like Mariah Carey, I’ve decided I can’t liiiive if livin’ is without you[r stupid blog]. I can’t not write (I know this already) but I’m not sure what I can write that is worth the reading. I’m hopeful that it might, at least, be somewhere where I learn to write shorter sentences.

I’m sorry for rambling on at such self-indulgent length (if you enjoyed this you may also enjoy my sixteen-year-old diary) but I wanted to explain why Make a Long Story Short will be disappearing for a while. Because every single person who has ever read this blog, left a comment or told me they enjoyed it has done something for me I can’t really describe. Off I jumped into parenthood, arms flailing, wondering what in the heck I was doing. But there you were, too. There you were. Thank you.

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It’s all coming up gums around here.

Curses for your worst enemy

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

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

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

May they squabble and shriek the whole way round.

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

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

May you pack and pay like a woman gone mad.

May the disabled toilet always be occupied and disgusting.

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

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

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

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Cake for breakfast

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And so we discover that time, that fickle mistress, halts for no man, and no matter how sunny your good looks are, EVEN YOU WILL BE TWENTY-NINE IN THE END.

Or, in other words, Tim had his birthday this week, which means I’m not the only one in this house officially on the short slide to thirty. HARDEE HAR HAR.

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We had a lovely day. We decided to keep Henry in nursery in the morning, because it would make it more likely that family naps could happen (and they did). But before that there were presents, bunting and cake for breakfast. I don’t know why we haven’t just done cake for breakfast every birthday morning before this, by the way. It makes everything better. Maybe it’s a special milestone in adulthood, being able to decide that cake is a meal without any regrets? If it is, we are there.

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I found this root beer float cake on Joy the Baker’s glorious site some time ago, and bookmarked it immediately for Tim’s birthday. He is the sort of chap who drinks his own weight in the stuff every time we head across the Atlantic. Last year my sister got him a boxful of different brands in murky brown bottles, and he sat us all down and conducted serious taste comparison tests. With a spreadsheet. Love him.

Anyway, it’s a fabulous cake – the root beer comes through quite beautifully, and not too strongly – and I am a convert to bundt tins, because no more ugly first slices. My version was a little rough and ready, mainly due to the fact that a) I made it at 11pm, and b) I can never be convinced that it’s worth the effort of sieving cocoa powder and icing sugar, until my frosting comes out in pimples, and then I remember that it is. To make it a proper root beer float cake I stacked Cornish vanilla ice cream into the hole in the middle, which I think is the best labour saving device invented since I gave up the sandwich and started just eating peanut butter and jam off the same spoon.

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We took the boys swimming in the afternoon, then around dinner time left them with Tim’s lovely mama to go on a birthday date. We tested out some digital radios for our kitchen in John Lewis, then went for obscenely good steak (mine came with beef dripping sauce. Hnnnnggghhhh) and watched Interstellar at the cinema, groaning from our overstuffed stomachs.

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Interstellar is astonishing. It almost tries to cram in too much, and has some usual Nolan problems (some clunky dialogue, a twist a minute). But the visuals, the themes, the scope of the thing, Matthew McConaughey’s beauteous craggy face…oh my. We were overwhelmed.

We have a happy day whenever this guy has a birthday. Like steak and root beer and the great McConaughey himself, he only gets better with age.

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