Tag Archives: Bad Days

Let it grow

This week, a surprise: my rose plant bloomed. Three, four, five pink rose heads, heavy and scented on spindly stems, unfurled themselves within a couple of days. It’s ‘my’ rose plant because I bought it and planted it last year, but that’s about where my involvement ended. We haven’t even trimmed it, let alone fed it or done any of the mysterious rituals people talk about on Gardeners’ Question Time. It has sprawled over the grass, unsupported, in odd directions. Its main claim to fame in the last six months was popping Teddy’s balloon last week when he turned his back on it. (Hilarious.) Honestly, I thought it was dead.

But no, roses. Amazing how life conserves itself under the soil, waiting for just the right season. Our house is pretty chaotic at the moment, but the flowery scent floats in regardless, past the crusty porridge bowls, through the open patio door.

Imogen is two-and-a-half months. She had a cold and her first set of injections a couple of weeks ago, and the two things combined meant that she cried all week. So I held her all week, or put her down for two-minute intervals and then scarpered back when she realised I was gone. She has a very loud cry, like Teddy did, but unlike Teddy she uses it for any and all occasions, not just the dire emergencies. You sprint back, thinking she’s dying, and find her only a bit bored. But you can’t not respond to a cry of that magnitude. You’re hard-wired to sprint, so you do.

She doesn’t realise she’s activating every one of your evolutionary alarm bells whenever she raises her voice. It’s just her voice, and she’s using it. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, given that she lives in a world where a girl speaking up loudly is met with hysterical Twitter threats more often than applause.

(I wrote this before she started with reflux this week, so now I sprint faster and put her down hardly at all.)

She smiles a lot too. It pops up suddenly and takes over her whole face, like a huge wave surprising you from behind. I laugh, delightedly, without being able to help it. That feels evolutionary too, like she’s giving you a mental high five.

There was an evening during the first Crying Week, when I had given up on the idea of a proper dinner and was trying to persuade some leftover pizza into the boys’ bellies. They didn’t like the pizza – decided after they’d picked it to pieces – so I cut them big slabs of bread and cheese and jam, jiggling Imogen under one arm and fretting. Nothing was done, nothing was clean, and they still had a day left of school before the holidays. Suddenly I thought ‘I cannot do another day of this. I cannot wake up tomorrow and do this again’. There was something about the flat hopelessness of it that was terrifying. I wondered whether my parenting was broken. By the time Tim got home, fifteen minutes later, I was crying too. (He found me a Dr Pepper, made me a fat cheese toastie, put me in front of some Brooklyn Nine-Nine and scheduled the rest of our evening into tickable hour-long chunks, because he knows exactly what I need and is a hero among men.)

Then came the May half-term holiday, which is the one I like the best. It’s just long enough to stuff full of exciting things, and the weather’s warmer than February. I took them out on day trips all week, all three of them, after plotting carefully what we needed to take with us and how much they could handle. Released from school schedules and spelling lists, we caught buses and trains, pottered around museums, stuffed ourselves in ice cream cafes, spilled popcorn at the cinema. They had a wonderful time. Rather to my surprise, so did I. ‘Halloooooo’, my last-year self called from across the New Baby ravine. ‘This is what you used to be good at. Remember?’ I’d forgotten, actually.

When I was pregnant I used to think about what it would be like once the baby was here. I thought I would get myself back, like I could map the version of me with two older children directly onto my life with three children, and I would be the same, just with more to do. I don’t know how I thought I could get through the soul-stretching work of pregnancy and a newborn and come out the other side unmarked.

You can’t, you can’t. I couldn’t. And I miss my old self something dreadful, but I thought to myself after that half-term holiday that maybe the best of me was still hibernating under the soil.

There are roses in me yet, and I think the season is coming.


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.

Photo 01-07-2015 03 16 52 pm

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

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Speak up for your bad days

The good, the bad and the bread market

Here is the absolute truth of it. Mothering little people is the most profoundly wearying, profoundly wonderful thing I’ve ever done. It is feeling like I could burst when my boy yells ‘HEY MAMA’ from another room, and feeling like I’ve been vomited on from a large height with the power of scream. Both, always both. Piles of good things and less-good things that succeed each other quicker than I can blink. And blogs tend to accentuate the positive – oh look, another sunshine day of restaurant meals and beaming children – which is lovely and important. But it’s just as important to say that sometimes, there’s scream.

In solidarity with your up-and-down days, here’s one of mine.


It’s Friday, and we’ve planned to meet one of our favourite ever people in London on her day off. It’s complicated slightly by the fact that I’ve woken up with a magnificent pregnancy cold – it’s just like any other cold, except you can’t take anything that will make you feel better – and there are sub-zero temperatures and freezing winds outside. But I’ve planned our journey carefully. I know what I’m doing. It’ll be fine.

Then, a solitary minute after I leap out of the bath to iron my shirt, I look over and Henry has evacuated what looks like half a sewer into the water. I am astonished by the magnitude of it. Where was it hiding?! No time to be astonished, though: I haul him out with one hand, hose him off with the shower, wrap him up in a towel, bleach his bath toys, let the water drain out and then wipe up the rest with toilet paper. There’s a lot. I am feeling delicate. To conclude the proceedings, I throw up my breakfast into the sink.

Finally we’re outside, wrapped in coats and blankets and, with any luck, not too smelly. We’ve got to walk at least as far as a cash machine and then buy something, because the buses only take exact change. By the time we reach it, my face is numb, but I make a snap decision to walk all the way to the train station anyway. This decision is borne entirely of guilt about the number of chips I’ve eaten recently. It’s ok, though. I know what I’m doing. It’ll be fine.

By the time we reach the train station – two miles away, and much further than I thought – Henry is so cold, even underneath all his blankets, that he can’t stop crying. I feel like the stupidest person on earth for keeping him out all this time. We buy a ticket, work our way down to the right platform (the lift is broken) and squeeze on to a busy train. The pushchair gets stuck and won’t collapse, and I can’t fiddle with it while struggling with a screeching boy. In the end I leave it and go sit down. But poor Henry is now tantruming – full-on, top-of-lungs, arching-back tantruming, and it takes at least fifteen minutes and an episode of Alphablocks to talk him down. By this point just about everyone is staring over their newspapers and grinding their teeth. When I take out my phone, I realise I’ve forgotten to charge it, and it’s about to turn off. Which will be a great deal of help in London all day, won’t it?

I haven’t even started on the Tube yet. This is not ok. And so then I am sat with my frozen toddler and achy sinuses and stupid huge belly on a crammed London train, crying my little eyes out. And people deliberately don’t stare, but don’t-stare worse, if you know what I mean. In between hiccups I think: if they compiled an Oscar reel of my life this would definitely make the cut for my finest hour. Well-played, Jeffcoat. Well-played.


Well. It really was ok. I used the last of my battery to text Timothy, sat at his desk a few miles away, and bless that wonderful boy, he dropped everything and came to meet us off the train. He bought me chocolate, then carried the pushchair across two Tube lines to where we were supposed to be. And then we found Emily, and had the loveliest day. Henry was so good. We ate chip sandwiches as big as our heads, and wandered around Borough Market to gape at cheese wheels and artisan bread. I bought a Hockney print at the Tate Modern for our bathroom. It was all just marvellous.

And here are some photographs. Our piles of good things that made for a joyous day. In the end. Despite the first bit that wasn’t. A lot of our days seem to work out like that.

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Photo 22-02-2013 02 16 10 PM

tate modern

PS: I never think I’m much interested in modern art, and then I always hugely enjoy the Tate Modern. Even if it’s not your thing, the gift shop has the largest and most beautiful collection of children’s picture books I know of, so it’s worth going for that and the view across the Millennium Bridge alone.

Short notes from the thick of it: 2

Dear friends,

Here is a secret:

It would be a lie if I said

that I don’t, sometimes,

think about upturning the bowl onto his head

and going for a nap.

Please don’t tell anyone.


My Living Room Looks Like a Tomato Soup Jackson Pollock.


This is how you lose your sanity on a Tuesday morning

Some baby phases are just phases. Some baby phases are PHASES.

This is one of the latter.

Last week was a teething week. It was, frankly, horrible (molars). But it’s over. In its place, we have this. Perhaps a photo sequence will help illustrate our situation.

We start here. Tra la la. Isn’t the park lovely? I’m just doing a bit of pushchair maintenance, mama; carry on.

Three minutes later, and for no reason at all, we are here.

I can’t put him down, at any point in the day, without him crying. We are not getting anything done. My hip is permanently out of alignment. Every piece of crockery in the house is dirty. Mealtimes – oh, mealtimes. If I can force anything but custard down his throat without him becoming full-on hysterical, I count it as a good day. He developed an unexpected liking for the butternut squash soup I made and we gave each other high-fives. Then I was so distracted I let the whole pan of soup spoil in the heat so we were back to the custard.

I knew it was all beginning to drag a little when I put him down for a nap this morning and wished violent and bloody retribution upon the poor, innocent chap who started using a scythe outside our window five minutes later. I am getting in the shower to prevent it all turning a bit Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It might. It really might.

I suspect there is nothing to do but wait it out. Pls send cake.

A date with a million tissues

There was a point, yesterday, as I crouched stark naked with unwashed hair and half a shaved leg to pick up poop from the bathroom floor, that I really wished myself elsewhere.

It was the sort of day where you don’t see the sky once, find yourself tweeting about faeces and think that that’s ok. Henry woke up with a cough at full pitch, a temperature and a thick-headed, dribbly cold. He wanted to sleep but not for longer than half an hour. He wanted to play with things but not on his own and definitely not on the floor. He wanted, apparently, to poop without catching it in a nappy and then tread it around the bathroom while I tried to shower. I hated seeing him so miserable and not being able to fix it.

In the morning, we mostly looked like this.

In the afternoon, I gave up entirely and sat with him sneezing and groaning on my t-shirt and having fifteen-minute catnaps on my chest. When Tim came through the door in the evening, Henry laughed. I cried. I was so glad to see him perk up a bit, and I’d just remembered I hadn’t brushed my teeth. (What can I say, relief and sadness are emotional bedfellows.)

Well, lucky it was date night, and lucky that the magical appearance of Daddy works a lot better than Calpol. Tim cleaned Henry up and settled him in bed, while I changed and tried to do something with my face. The eye bags weren’t shifting, but I wasn’t covered in snot anymore and I was wearing lipstick. We went out for dinner and romancing, and I got out from under the weight of the day and breathed properly for the first time. Sometimes I need to see myself the way Timothy sees me.

My name is Rachel Jeffcoat, and I am more than a pooper-scooper.

This day is what we call An Outfit-Killer

It is morning, and Henry has a cold. I spent all night traipsing up and down the stairs at two-hourly intervals, and when I finally turn on the light in the morning, there the explanation is: his entire face is covered in crusty nose-mess. He shrieks and thrashes when I wipe it. When he does this in the bath, a great tidal wave of murky water ascends the sides and soaks my pyjamas. He thinks this is hilarious, but then he is currently biting the head off a flannel duck, so there you go.

It is lunchtime, and he has discovered that he cannot close his mouth to eat and breathe through it. He shrieks and thrashes and snots. He waits until I have put a spoonful of orange mush in his mouth, closes his lips tightly, holds his breath and then expels the whole thing in my face with the force of a paintgun. I take off my glasses to wipe them, and find they were already spotted with bogeys.

It is mid-afternoon, and we are in Tesco. I am making a meal for a friend, and need ingredients. So far today he has yelled or blown raspberries or blown raspberries while yelling without so much as pausing for breath. He finds the echoeyness of the supermarket to suit this purpose admirably. I wipe his nose. He shrieks and thrashes. An old lady by the loo roll looks at me like she’s trying to remember the number for Social Services.

It is dinner time, and as I start making my friend’s meal, Henry will not be anywhere but my hip. I can’t hold him and use the oven (hello, Social Services) so I alternate sitting him on the rug (he throws himself back in feigned agonies), on the sofa (he makes a kamikaze dive for the floor) and in the car seat (he flips himself right out again and pokes himself in the eye with a chair leg). As Tim walks through the door, Henry is shrieking and thrashing with such singlemindedness that every conceivable surface has been covered in sneeze or sick. I choose this moment to knock into the cupboard and empty a barrel of maple syrup onto my head. Henry chooses this moment to force orange poop right through his nappy and onto his vest.

It is bedtime. It is an hour earlier than usual, but by Jove, it is bedtime. Henry is not very sleepy. He shrieks and thrashes. I leave him alone and listen to him trying to eat his baby monitor for fifteen minutes. Finally, he sleeps. I go in to check he’s not bent in an awkward position, and find his sheet stuck to his face. I don’t rip it off. It seems kinder.

Besides, I am crispy with maple syrup, and need a bath. Hosepipe ban be damned.

Sound and fury; or, why Tuesdays should be banned from every decent society

I love this child to his bones. But I’d be quite indecently grateful if he stopped making the noise that goes with this cross face. At least for today.

Happily, Daddy’s key in the door is always cause for excitement.

Less happily, Daddy is out tonight.

You don’t say, baby monitor. YOU DON’T SAY.

Oh, and the sleep training: for the past two nights, one of us has had a great night’s sleep, and one of us has had no sleep at all, which may possibly be due to the baby-monitor-to-ear bruise one of us is sporting. He didn’t seem bothered at all by the change of scene, and remembered to do his own breathing and everything. Tonight, I tried to put him to bed at a more baby-appropriate time and terrible things resulted. I picked him up after ten minutes, when he was crying so hard he couldn’t breathe (sorry, dear neighbours), and it turned out he had wind. Um. I’ll collect my bad mother award and go and stand over here, shall I?

Not a Day for Contact Lenses

This morning I put on my glasses. They make me look stern and dorky, and I felt both of those things. It’s cold in our house today, and when I pick up my boy he cringes. I need to start wearing gloves, so my ice fingers don’t offend him as much. Or else just turn on the heating. In the meantime, I’ve wrapped him up in so much blanket he looks like a party-size sausage roll.

I don’t always feel in control of this new stay-at-home life. Last night Henry fought his way out of his blanket after every feed, then spat out his dummy and fidgeted until the next one, because he needed the blanket to get to sleep. (No one ever said that babies excel in logical thinking.) I think I rocked his crib between 1am and 6am. And I don’t do very well on no sleep, but how long can you keep using ‘new baby’ as an excuse for being forgetful and not getting things done? Plenty of people have new babies. Plenty of people have new babies and older children as well. Having one little seven-week-old doesn’t give you special dispensation to be an idiot.

So I have put on my glasses, as a sign that I’m not having a good day. And I’m using this quiet hour to sit under the duvet and eat leftover crumble, and listen to Henry making pterodactyl noises in his sleep, and gather myself for a busy afternoon. I know I’ve got a lot to do. But I think it’s probably ok to sit still and wear glasses for a little while.

He looks better in them than I do.

An Hour in the Life Of

Vomitrocious Henry has been fed, bathed and is already on his third vest of the day. He has bad wind, poor love. I take him downstairs and change his horrid mustardy nappy, then feed him. I rest him on my legs to rearrange my t-shirt, and he throws up all over himself, my legs and the sofa.

I mop it up.

I take off his vest and take it upstairs to the laundry. He fills his nappy. I take him downstairs to change it. As soon as the nappy is off, he pees everywhere, including all over his clothes and in his own hair. While I’m scrabbling for something that’s not already soaked to clean him off, he throws up again.

I mop it up.

I put on a new nappy, a new vest and a new babygro (all of his day clothes are now dirty). He throws up again.

I mop it up. I sit down and cry for three minutes (it helps).

I take him to the weighing clinic smelling of sick and with a urine-soaked mullet. I hope the health visitors do not call Social Services as soon I’ve left the building. I get home, feed him, rock him to sleep, put him upstairs and go to the loo. My watch unstraps itself and falls into the (mercifully empty) toilet. Attempts to fish it out with an old toothbrush are unsuccessful. I use my hand.

We decide that that’s enough of Friday for the time being, and go back to bed.

It’s a good job he’s this adorable, frankly.

Rule no. 1: always put him down on a muslin. Or ten.

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