The week in stuff

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Hello, you lovely things! You may be out for dinner at a restaurant or clinking glasses together at a swanky bar, but we all know where the REAL action is: here on my sofa, still wearing workout gear from my appalling jog/walk earlier, sporting a fringe that looks like a small, dying patch of forehead bracken, talking about our WEEK IN STUFF.

Half-term week! We spent the first bit of it in the New Forest having a beautiful time (see above), then took the train to Reading Museum, still conquering everything with its collecting policy of ‘strange bits and bobs’, then spent the latter part of the week with grandparents and cousins.

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Today I took the boys to see Zootropolis, which you absolutely must see as soon as possible. It is clever, funny, sharp, poignant; features Idris Elba as a giant, brusque water buffalo (exactly the creature you suspect would be Idris Elba’s patronus, in a different life); and has a scrappy, feminist bunny cop as the main character. Imagine a young Peggy Carter, at the beginning of her career and confidence, with fuzzy ears. Jason Bateman also plays a criminal fox sidekick, and if you thought you only had room in your heartlands for ONE weirdly but unstoppably attractive animated fox, well, think again.

Imagine if this guy and Robin Hood were in the SAME FILM. *dead*

Imagine if this guy and Robin Hood were in the SAME FILM. *dead*

The excellence of this film just about made up for the fact that the boys had to emergency-wee SEVEN TIMES between the two of them, and that during one of these expulsions, I dropped a public toilet seat down too fast and splattered my face with my son’s waste. Let’s pretend that it was just my son’s urine, and not that of several mingled Basingstoke strangers. Let’s also pretend that some of it didn’t go in my mouth. Hashtag motherhood, you guys.

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Our rap name: the Pee-Eyed Peas.

Tim got to choose the film a couple of nights ago, and chose a classic Roger Moore Bond, A View to a Kill. Look. Maybe I just don’t GET Bond when it’s not Daniel Craig being craggy and beautiful. But watching Roger Moore flick random women into his bed every ten minutes, with only an eyebrow and an assumption that it was his due, made me want to flick him into a moving aeroplane propeller. Also Grace Jones wears an eyewatering leotard (google it). I hope they paid her extra for it.

Did you watch the BBC version of Midsummer Night’s Dream on Bank Holiday Monday? (It’s here on iPlayer if you missed it.) I love Maxine Peake with the fire of a thousand suns, but I…didn’t like this very much. The sort-of unwritten rule with Shakespeare is that you get to change the setting and time and costumes and anything else you like, really – except the WORDS AND PLOT. Russell T. Davies has been TARDISing too long. (Didn’t Matt Lucas make an unexpectedly wonderful Bottom, though?)

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I was totally delighted to find a Kate Atkinson book, When Will There Be Good News?, at the library last week, and got through it in a day. Whenever I do this I feel like writing a new serenity prayer: Grant me the strength to stop reading excellent books in one go after midnight, the courage to stop reading terrible books before that, and the wisdom to know the difference. Anyway, I was thrilled to find that one of my all-time favourite authors took a detour into crime fiction, and it was just, oh, completely worth staying up till 1am for. I wanted to give it a standing ovation, but I knew Ted would be waking up in five hours and didn’t want to push my luck.

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Speaking of books: did you go through a phase in your early teens where all you read was dystopian fiction set after nuclear disasters, where the main characters ate the limbs of their siblings and such? I did, and still remember the covers – all grey landscapes and orange hazmat suits – with a kind of chilly horror. BBC Radio are having a dystopian fiction moment at the minute, and have serialised Brave New World and Never Let Me Go. I’m listening to the latter while houseworking this week, and it’s great. 10/10, would dystope again.

I looked these up specifically for this post and NOW I WANT TO CRY.

I looked these up specifically for this post and NOW I WANT TO CRY. I’m pretty sure he eats that kid he’s holding.

On in our Sesame Street car this week: the CD letter is T, so The Beatles, The Feeling, The Killers, The Postal Service. The number is 72, i.e. the number of times the boys yelled Yellow Submarine all around Tesco *face palm*.

Our real soundtrack is constant, unstoppable chatter, of course.

T: I wanna tell you a story.

Me: Ok, great.

T: Once there was a little boy called Mummy…

Me: I might need to stop you there.

***

H: This car is made in China, right?

Me: Yes.

H: Then why does it have shiny wheels?

Me: What do you mean, why? Toy factories in China can make anything.

H: No, but China just has horses and carriages and things.

Me: *wondering if this is going somewhere problematic* What? No, it doesn’t.

H: That’s all they’ve got in Mulan.

Now try explaining the sixth century and contemporary Chinese politics to a four-year-old. You have thirty seconds before the next toilet trip. Good luck.

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We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to tell you this: it’s going to get better

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If you are really struggling with tiny ones right now, please know this.

I know you spend all your time wearing your children’s snot and developing weird, Stockholm Syndrome crushes on Andy from CBeebies. I know that going to the supermarket feels like pushing a ticking bomb that will explode the first time you refuse to wheel it down the toy aisle. I know you think about your ‘old self’ with wistful melancholy, the one that met her deadlines and went out for uninterrupted dinners where she only worried about her own table manners, and it feels like watching a lost, beloved friend you can see across a chasm but will never meet again.

I know you can only see as far as naptime, and that it feels like you’ll be waiting for naptime for the rest of your damn life.

I just wanted to be another person to tell you the thing you need to hear.

It’s going to get better.

Today I took both of mine on a train, to a museum, to lunch and then to a playground before coming home. By myself, with only a reasonably-sized handbag and no pushchair. And it went fine.

They bounced around the museum, laughing and asking questions. They ate what I bought them for lunch without throwing any of it around. They walked around town, got on and off trains and in and out of toilets without meltdown or disaster.

At the playground they played with each other, and with another boy who was there. I sat down. I read sixteen pages of Little Women. SIXTEEN.

Now we are back at home watching Wall-E, where my only role is to hum along to that gorgeously operatic score, and answer H’s ten thousand questions. (‘How did the people make so much rubbish? Why are there dust storms?’ *tries to explain ecological responsiblity and climate change to a four-year-old*).

Days like this aren’t guaranteed but they are getting more frequent. Yesterday, hemmed in by rain, they worked on jigsaws and played in forts, rushing in only to tell me that ‘a group of baby octopuses are singing outside our front door!’ Then (obviously) they made huge fusses about eating what I’d made for dinner and screeched their way horribly through getting pyjamas on. I mean, it’s not plain sailing. As they get older we come across new hiccups (the bickering, THE BICKERING). But more and more now I check the clock and realise that they’ve been playing peaceably without wanting anything from me for half an hour, and even six months ago that was totally unheard of.

They need me less, now. Our interactions are fun, and funny. They are good company. They walk further. They play more. I get more sleep. It’s not easy, but it’s easier, and it’s getting better all the time.

They will not be this age forever. There might be a chasm between you and your old self, but your new self is making it to higher ground inch by inch. And look at the view from up here, you baby-making, toddler-corralling, warrior-woman self. You made this. You created this gorgeously multicoloured life you lead. Just look at the spectacular view, and know that you’re capable and kind and clever, and that it’s getting better all the time.

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Selfie game is getting stronger too, obviously.

Wild things

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Welcome to the danger zone, where your kids are old enough to remember what you’re doing.

I always feel like we get a bit of a free pass for the first couple of years – it’s not actually a free pass, of course, but as you cry through their injections and fail to lovingly home-make their pureed food, at least you can console yourself with the thought that they won’t remember it later. Not so now. Their long-term memory cells are steaming away. We are building a childhood, between us.

There’s nothing like knowing that your children will talk about your foibles in their future therapy sessions to make you regret TOTALLY LOSING IT in a hotel room, one Spring Bank holiday when they were four and two. And, um, all the other times you totally lost it.

I hope they’ll also remember the good stuff. We try so hard. Sometimes it comes off alright.

This was a completely impromptu trip, that started on Friday night when we were giddy with weekend and bedtime and chocolate (always dangerous). One Holiday Inn booking later, we were off to the New Forest for a couple of days. The last time we went, we stayed in a magnificently weird horse-themed B&B and H looked like this.

DEAD

DEAD

When we went back, I wondered why we’d left it so long. Just over an hour away, and so much of this.

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We had gorgeous, gentle sunshine on the first afternoon, and went off on a ramble through the forest. It felt wilder than our woods at home, with lots more to see. Two deer ran across the path and carried on grazing as we walked by, totally unafraid. Tim reached peak Dadness when he made two sailboats out of bark and leaves, and they set them going on the river. Then sunk them with stones. No, maybe that was peak Dadness.

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I would never in a million years think to do this. Dads are the best.

This boy. He walked four miles on both days with no complaining, getting excited about everything. ‘I thought that trail was astounding’, he said as we finished on Sunday afternoon. Then, after a pause: ‘I got that word from The Gruffalo‘.

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You can’t do the New Forest without New Forest ponies. This one was loving all the attention. Emboldened, H approached the next one when our backs were turned. And it tried to kick him in the head. SORRY ABOUT THAT, H’S THERAPIST.

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After a moderately chaotic night in the hotel, we went off to spend the second day in Portsmouth. If you’re ever wondering what to do with your Tesco Clubcard points, I can recommend times one thousand using them for a yearly pass to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. We paid almost nothing for ours at Christmas, have been back three times since and done something completely different. Today we took the waterbus out to the submarine museum, and toured the HMS Alliance (plus a couple of smaller submarines too).

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I just cannot think of anything more suited to small children than a huge iron structure filled with levers, knobs and wheels they can play with to their heart’s content. We peered through giant periscopes, sat in pilot seats in front of blinking screens and dials, and were all in a perfect lather of excitement.

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I’m not saying the best bit was when T embraced a random woman’s thigh, thinking it was me. But it was pretty hilarious.

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After a quick jaunt round the Victory, because you always need a quick jaunt round the Victory, we followed our hearts to some Nutella Krispy Kremes, and then headed home. After we’d arrived and I’d unpacked the suitcase and made them dinner, it only then occurred to me that H is off school for the rest of the week. The New Forest, a giant submarine and no school run for a week. Never mind them: that feels like total joy to me.

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Miss Havisham Mondays

*extreme Long Lost Enemy Returns In Dickens Novel voice*

well well well, if it ain’t our old Monday, come back to ‘aunt us!

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This was taken yesterday, on a Sunday that included a three-hour nap, haircuts, Aladdin (ALADDIN!), and fat, new-bread sandwiches with hot chocolate. If Sunday were a character in a Dickens novel, it would be the delicately beautiful heiress who marries the hero but dies before she can get out a full sentence.

Today, well. Shopping. Cleaning. Gardening centre. Fish-pie-which-we-call-seaside-pie-because-it-sounds-less-gag-reflexy. I bought a climbing rose! I’m very excited! This is adulthood, right?

And this. I would like to tell you that this is not why I had children. It’s totally not why I had children.

Live a little. Like your body.

Text and image via Caroline Caldwell.

Text and image via Caroline Caldwell.

On Sunday morning I got up, showered, and put on tights, pencil skirt, short-sleeved blouse. We were travelling to a family baptism, and while Tim’s family are, without qualification, the nicest people I have ever come across, I get a bit quivery about these things beforehand. My Stress Items that morning included the 100% likelihood that T would dirty his pants at some point during the day, and the Introvert’s Dilemma, i.e., the real possibility that I would forget how to talk and smile like a human when faced with large crowds of people. The clothes were on the stress list too. What did my arms look like, exposed like this? Would my skirt ride up when I bent over small children? Did I look fat? I went out to the car, on edge. I applied lipstick outside the lines as we drove down country lanes.

Anyway, all Stress Items were relatively unnecessary, as always, and we had a lovely time. On Monday morning I got up, showered, and put on a printed blouse, a bright jumper, a pair of skinny jeans, Hogwarts socks and leather trainers. I looked at myself in the mirror and felt overpowering, heady relief. I wear a version of this outfit almost every day. It gives me permission not to worry about belly overhang or wobbly thighs. I can leap to grab a wipe in an emergency and rough-handle a pushchair over tree-roots and mud. I can do anything, and it feels most like being myself. Oh, the buzz of returning confidence nearly knocked me over. I went out cheerfully. I smashed my to-do list.

Accepting how you look and wearing things you love seem to me to be two sides of the same coin. They say: I inhabit this body with appreciation and without shame. I deserve to take up space. I deserve to be happy, regardless of what shape I might see in the mirror. It’s not a message women get from many places. The more I think about feminism, the more I realise that when you don’t find what you need around you, then you have to get on and carve it out yourself.

Accepting how you look and wearing things you love seem to me to be two sides of the same coin. They say: I inhabit this body with appreciation, and without shame.

I would have saved myself decades of Stress Items if I’d concentrated on loving what I saw in the mirror, rather than wishing I saw something else. I felt out of place as a teenager with a slight, flat-chested frame, at a time when my peers were filling bras and having their straps twanged in class (sometimes I think that if teenage boys weren’t necessary for the propagation of the species, they would be caged and quietly sedated). Pregnant-me couldn’t control how much she weighed or how big she got at all, and to my shame – there’s that word again – it was one of the hardest things about it. I don’t want to repeat that mistake if I head towards pregnancy again (a possibility we still haven’t ruled out).

As Caroline Caldwell says, ‘In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act’.

I am ready to be rebellious.

So, instead of Stress Items, I have set out four Items of Body Appreciation for myself.

one, Eat More of the Good Stuff (Along With the Less Good Stuff; I’m Not a Sadist)

Hi, here comes a person who could live entirely on beige foods – bread, cheese, potatoes, custard – and call it good. While I will defend the noble carb to my dying breath, I do feel and look worse (I’m talking flaky nails and spotty skin here, not fat) when I’m not eating a properly balanced diet. I will not hear of cutting out food groups, ESPECIALLY the nice ones, COME ON, but I have been making huge efforts to buy in nuts, fruit, unusual vegetables, fish and spinach, and eat more of the good stuff. The best thing about it is that I feel like I’m taking care of myself. No, the best thing about it is that I’m still eating chocolate. But the first one is the other best thing.

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two, Walk Fast Every Day

I’m not in a running phase right now – the pure hatred has temporarily overcome the benefits – but I love walking and, with the school run, usually get through about five miles a day. The effect it has on me is miraculous: the air, the birdsong, the woods, the feeling of boots in mud, the muscle strain of lugging the pushchair over bumpy ground… I am more relaxed, more expansive, and feel better about everything. When it pours and we can’t get out, I feel basically the opposite of all that.

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three, No Weigh-Ins Unless I Have Excellent and Pressing Reason

I wrote about this here, and I’m sticking to it. If I’m prioritising points one and two, there is no reason on earth that I need to know what numbers are on the scale. How could you – you, with all your history and your loves and struggles and hormone waves and mysterious depths – know anything about yourself from a number? It. Is. Irrelevant. After a lifetime of anxiously totting up each pound, I’m trying so hard to let it go. Like Elsa, but about love handles.

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four, Never Ever Ever Trash Talk My Body In Front of My Kids

H wore just a t-shirt to school the other day, for the first time, but demurred about showing his arms. ‘What on earth’s the matter?’ I asked him.

‘I don’t want people to see these’, he said. Pointing to two minuscule freckles on one skinny forearm. It was the first time I’d ever heard him criticise his body, which in his four-and-a-half years has only ever been something that could run, jump, climb, laugh. For a moment I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I have never trash-talked freckles in front of him – I have approximately seventeen thousand; what would be the point – so it’s possible that he’s got that from someone else. But he has certainly seen me stepping on the scales, and pulling handfuls of chub away from my hips, though I try not to say anything negative out loud. How dare I? How dare I teach him about body anxiety – huffing my discontent about the belly that grew him – before he’s even learned to read?

In a world in which they will learn which parts of them are acceptable and which are not, and very quickly, the only thing I can do is surround them with countermessages of acceptance and love, as strongly as I can. They deserve to love themselves. They can only do that if we show them how it’s done.

I’m going to practise how it’s done.

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I can’t write anything about potty-training you haven’t heard before

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I mean, let’s be real. I am teaching a small human to direct his waste into a pot instead of in his own clothing. Isn’t it weird that this is a skill everyone you know had to learn? And somehow we need to pass it on to our children even though by now we’ve totally internalised it and don’t actually know how we do it? Unfortunately it isn’t the stuff of transcendent storytelling.

Here’s a poem I wrote about it instead.

 

The Pants Are Full And They Need To Come Off

 

It’s like defusing a crap-bomb

with held breath and shaky hands.

It’s like a magic trick

where you whip the tablecloth away

and leave the glasses standing.

Except there’s poo under your fingernails

and no one applauds.

 

(If tips about potty-training are what you’re after, I have only four to offer:

  1. I can’t speak for your situation, etc etc, but basically everyone I know potty-trained their first-born early and hated it, then potty-trained their second-born much later and cried with relief about how much easier it was. So it has been here. I know nappies get tiresome and gross as Two wears on, but the only relevant question is: would you rather clear up faeces from a nappy or from your carpet? If you wait, they’ll get it quicker.
  2. Portable potties with throw-away bags. It fits in your car boot, your supermarket trolley, your pushchair, your nappy bag. You no longer have the fear of public urination with nowhere to run. LIFE CHANGER (I got mine here).
  3. From a friend (advice received gratefully after I wrote the poem above): give yourself a gift, and buy many pairs of cheap, unlovely pants and keep nail scissors in your handbag. So when they poop their pants (in my limited experience, number twos take much longer to get the hang of), you can just cut the pants off them and throw the whole thing away. In a grand act of self-care, I decided that I am not washing faeces out of pants on a regular basis ever again, until I’m eighty or so and they’re my pants.
  4. From me: pull-ups and even pants make my kids feel like they’ve got a nappy on. Naked is the way to go, for a good three days. Put towels on everything you care about, whack up the heating, give them lots of drinks, and alternate between books and CBeebies while they practice.

Good luck, Human Waste Warriors. You got this.)

Towel; nakedness, CBeebies. Present and correct.

Towel; nakedness, CBeebies. Present and correct.

The week in stuff

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I have rice pudding. There is a boy asleep in the room next door (wearing pull-ups, so come what farting may, literally). The time is ripe for a Week in Stuff, my friends.

One day I’ll publish H’s best auditions for King of the Melodramas. This, yesterday:

me: Hen, can you get your socks on, please.

H: I can’t, because COMPLETELY I AM NOT LOVED.

me: …

me: get your socks on.

I never worry about getting enough exercise, because I get so much practise eye-rolling with H it’ll take me all the way to the world championships one day.

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This very week we’re in the middle of is potty-training week, which means we’ve done precisely nothing. More about that later, when I can tell how well it’s gone. Last week, though: the weather was astonishingly good, and T and I spent our mornings rambling around outside and our afternoons walking through woods for the school run. The Roman town at Silchester is just round the corner from us, and it’s a gorgeous circular walk on top of the old walls, with a convenient church bench in the middle for a refreshing biscuit. Or seven.

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I taught a workshop on Shakespeare – my beautiful bearded genius – at a convention at the weekend. They were a jolly bunch, and submitted to acting out the St Crispin’s Day speech and drawing on Shakespeare beards in good humour. Especially appropriate, then, to come home and watch the new cycle of The Hollow Crown, which is the BBC’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s history plays. The old series covered Richard II through to Henry V – perhaps it will be enough for me to tell you that Tom Hiddleston plays Henry V, but if not, Ben Whishaw is the most exquisite Richard II, and Sir Pat Stew knocks John of Gaunt’s speeches out. of. the. park, as is his wont. This new series covers Henry VI and Richard III, and the mighty Cumberbatch plays Richard III. Even if Shakespeare’s not your thing, this adaptation is accessible and savage, and Cheekbones Cumberbatch is a Machiavellian nephew-murdering charismatic sociopath, so, you know, get on down (the first episode of the new series is on iPlayer, here; Benedict isn’t in it till this week).

hollow crown

On the recommendation of a friend, I read Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air this week, written by a gifted neurosurgeon who is diagnosed with cancer. It’s a philosophical, lyrically written book, very powerful. If you’ve only got one cancer memoir in you (and I wouldn’t blame you if you did) I think Kate Gross’ Late Fragments just has the edge over this one for beauty and honesty, but Kalanithi was a fascinating, complex man and his written ending comes like a gut punch.

I am also – with somewhat less gravity – now horribly addicted to Ann Cleeves’ Shetland books, which were made into a BBC series over the last couple of years. You may have seen it: Douglas Henshall prowling around solving Shetland Island murders, in his grandad’s coat. I want him to come and solve my murders. It’s cool, I can arrange for some. Anyway, the earliest books are a bit clunky (‘Perez was very sensitive. He said something sensitively, because he was very sensitive’ YES OK WE GET IT) but get better as they go, and from the first are atmospheric and totally brilliant. My only issue is that the TV version changed a lot of the details, so when a character died from a stabbing yesterday, when I was expecting her to die of a brain tumour some years hence, I was FURIOUS AND SADDENED BEYOND REASON.

Ooh, look at him. Solving murders. On a headland. In plaid.

Ooh, look at him. Solving murders. On a headland. In plaid.

Ben Folds in the car this week. I came to this important realisation about The Luckiest (almost wrote The Lickiest then, which would’ve been a very different kind of song) on about day three:

Book club yesterday. So I made The Cake. You know how Sherlock Holmes calls Irene Adler The Woman? This is The Cake, and is living proof that you can throw absolutely anything into a bundt tin – indeed, you are almost obliged to throw in the easiest cake mix you can find – and it’ll look ornamental and impressive anyway. I use Betty Crocker’s Devil Food mix for this one, flick melted Nutella all over it when it’s out, and add chopped nuts or strawberries afterwards if I’m feeling terribly fancy. It takes almost no time and zero skill. Truly, The Cake, you are a cake for all of us.

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Last thing. Superheros minus their CGI do really fantastic jumps.

View post on imgur.com

 

Leap, tiny Thor! You’re welcome.

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

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I’m here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

April 20161 (800x400)

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

‘Hey, where are you?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo 19-12-2015, 1 07 56 pm

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