Tag Archives: Parenting

The week in stuff

 

Photo 18-04-2016, 3 27 40 pm (1024x1280)

I don’t know if I’ll do these regularly or even if I’ll keep the name: I’m just reading/watching/listening to quite a bit at the minute and like talking about it. And I LOVE other people’s weekly round-ups, so here’s mine. 

Nearly the end of April. Yikes. I spent the past week solo parenting while Tim was in Houston getting flooded and eating steak (and oh, alright, doing work as well). The way I work when Tim is away goes a bit like this:

days 1-4 – I am a BOSS PARENT I am the most EFFICIENT ON EARTH this human society cannot HOLD ME AND MY CLEAN KITCHEN SURFACES

day 5 – we all hate each other; I lock myself in the bathroom in order to have forty seconds where no one is asking me to do something

days 6-7 – he’s coming back soon darlings, I’ve got my second wind; do you want ice cream?

Photo 18-04-2016, 6 01 50 pm (800x800)

I have a couple of lighted-up memories from solo week: coming back from a meeting with the boys, past their bedtime, and coming across a sunset over a field of rapeseed;

Photo 17-04-2016, 7 27 25 pm (800x600)

spending a morning with T hunting for bluebells in Sulham woods, finding them, then worrying about the legal ramifications of having a two-year-old accidentally sit on a protected flower;

SAM_4954 (800x639)

running off for an end-of-week sleepover at Tim’s parents’, and dallying round antique shops, cafes and canals on Saturday morning. I wish you all a mother-in-law trained in full-body massage and generous with her Friday evenings. It’s magic.

Photo 23-04-2016, 1 00 04 pm (1024x1280)

The good thing about having evenings entirely by yourself is that you get to set bedtime at 7pm   p r e c i s e l y and then spend three hours watching back-to-back Alias episodes. Have you ever watched Alias? Early JJ Abrams effort, where a lot of the flaws and strengths of Lost and his film work are already apparent. Jennifer Garner is this beautiful, wig-wearing, muscle-bearing spy, and Victor Garber is her Spy Daddy and also the best character ever. It’s bonkers, and I loved it passionately as a teenager, and I’ve been so enjoying revisiting all the outfits and techno beats. I also recorded a video of myself lip-synching to the intro with chocolate ice cream on my jumper, so there’s that.

SO BEAUTIFUL SO 2000s

SO BEAUTIFUL SO 2000s

One afternoon in our local library – which is tiny and quite limited but still a library (PLEASE DON’T SHUT IT DOWN, COUNCIL) – I was chasing a boy past the non-fiction, and found a miraculous hoard of new books. So I have read Caitlin Moran’s Moranifesto (wonderful, hilarious, inspiring) and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl (I think Dunham has done a mighty and important thing with her career, but I didn’t enjoy this much).

Photo 21-04-2016, 2 09 18 pm (800x800)

I also found Poems That Make Grown Women Cry, which (disregarding the slightly off-putting title) is a compendium of famous women’s favourite sad poems. It’s as much an insight into the woman as the poem, so I’ve loved it. And I don’t know if you can read this, but please look it up if you can’t: it’s Jackie Kay’s choice, and I had to put the book down to sob harder. ‘I am a shore rocking you off’. Oh, my goodness.

I was so sad to hear about Victoria Wood passing away suddenly this week. She was a huge part of my childhood and I adored her. I remember my parents’ ancient VHS of An Audience With Victoria Wood, and getting into trouble for singing bits of Let’s Do It out loud. I’ve read a couple of lovely tributes: this one from Lucy Mangan, and this one from Sali Hughes were my favourites. And we watched a retrospective of her career – made when she was still alive, so she’s in it, wonderfully – which is on BBC iPlayer here (you’ll need a British IP address for that one).

victoria wood (800x480)

‘SMEAR AN AVOCADO ON ME LOWER PORTIONS!’

I taught a lesson at church yesterday on the refugee crisis and what we can do to help, and remembered the month when Humans of New York went to Greece to interview refugees. I used one of the stories in the lesson, and greatly appreciated revisiting the rest. They’re all here, and classic HONY: touching, vulnerable, very human, and such necessary reading still.

Refugees 2

Last of all. I don’t care what your political leanings are: if you look at these photos of President Obama meeting Prince George in his dressing gown and pyjamas and don’t melt into a puddle of joy and love, you might be dead inside.

160422-obama-prince-george-1029p_03d3ee60938893c00b1096e96fca7f63.nbcnews-fp-1200-800

That dressing gown though.

Let’s kick our inner smug mums to the kerb this summer

SAM_4529 (800x799)

Some rambly first-draft thoughts I have been mulling over. Let me know what you think. 

Let’s talk about Utah. Let’s talk about Utah and mothers being real.

Not that the two are connected, particularly – or perhaps they are, but I’m not someone qualified to talk about it. I mean that, while we spent a week in Utah, I had a couple of moments where I met people who only really know me, and our kids, from this blog. I absolutely love it when that happens, seriously – I hug it to myself for weeks afterwards – but we were on holiday, we were so far from routine our routine was hitchhiking its way to another state, and the boys were not always on their best behaviour, nor was I always the best version of myself when being with them. I wondered then and I wonder generally: when people see me out and yelling, full-voiced, at my two-year-old to come back (he has a sacred personal rule that he does not come back), does it make the heartfelt and happy-go-lucky stuff I write here seem false?

I’m sure no one we met out there actually thought that. But it did make me think.

Sure, I talk a lot about mothers being real. It’s important that we be real, here on the internet, and that we talk about the bad days. ‘Me too’ is a gift, in this bewildering, relentless and often lonely journey into motherhood. I want to hear ‘me too’ myself, and I want to give the gift of ‘me too’ to others. The antithesis of ‘me too’ is any version of ‘I don’t have this problem because I do things SO RIGHT’, and you know how I feel about that.

But do I really give other mothers enough emotional space to be…less? When I see someone yelling at their child or pulling them away by the arm with a face like a gathering storm – do I honestly make room to remember that they adore that child, and that they’ve just this second been pushed beyond their limits? Do I remember that HELLO, THIS WILL BE ME IN FIVE MINUTES?

Do I allow them to simultaneously be a good mother and have a bad day?

I have this little idea that we can throw smug-mummery (smummery?) in the bin. Starting with the smug-mummery you get from other people, because that’s easier: let anyone who talks to you with a subtext of ‘do it more like me’ slide right off your back as you power on, loving your babies in exactly your own way. A random someone seeing your vulnerable moments will not be around long enough to see your strengths in abundance, so what do they know? Those children were made for you. You were made for them. You’re doing it right.

But also – oh, much harder – let’s kick out the smug mum in ourselves. You know, deep down I feel that my parenting philosophies are the best ones, objectively and forever (whether or not I succeed). Maybe we all do, underneath. But every minute of being a mother has only taught me that that’s not true. When H was a great sleeper and a terrible eater I thought I was excellent at bedtimes and awful at weaning. Then T came along, and I realised that it was only ever H that was good at bedtimes, not me. It wasn’t that I was right or wrong, it was that we found something that was good for them, with lots of trial and error. There’s something freeing in that, right? There’s a measure of grace in admitting to yourself that you’re just a parenting work-in-progress. I change strategies all the time; I fall short of them all the time. My only useful measure of success is whether those boys are happy, and well, and feel loved – though that’s not the only one I use.

But it should be. I want to do better at following my own parenting path without embarrassment, and letting other people mark out theirs. Just a little thing, but I want to be more ‘I get it’ and ‘it’ll pass’ and ‘me too’. Openly supportive and silently supportive. And if I do it and you do it and the person next to you does it too, we could start a little something that kicks all that smug-mummery to the kerb.

I present to you: DON'T PLAY WITH KNIVES two meltdowns a soup burn a refusal to sit on one's bottom a swiftly accelerated bedtime And sometimes dinner goes like that.

One of my philosophies: family dinnertime is important. And I present to you:
‘DON’T PLAY WITH KNIVES’
two meltdowns
a soup burn
a refusal to sit on one’s bottom
a swiftly accelerated bedtime
Because sometimes philosophies suck, and dinner goes like that.

Notes from the Trenches: 8

Photo 29-02-2016, 10 10 57 am (800x798)

Do you know what? My Instagram lies.

Well, not totally, not properly…the same way Facebook isn’t properly evading corporation tax and I didn’t entirely eat an jumbo-bag of Mini Eggs whilst gawping at Tom Hiddlestone on the TV last night. It’s just that my Instagram feed shows our best bits, and when it includes our worst bits it’s just the picturesque ones with a nice filter. That’s what Instagram does, and it’s good at it.

If it’s behind-the-scenes madness you’re after – the blood, the tears, the endless, endless bodily waste – you need my daily ranting text messages to Tim. Ever wondered if your normal was actually normal? Read on, and don’t mind me weeping.

 

30 September

In the five minutes it took to hang up some wet clothes, Teddy has a) got a chair and climbed onto it, b) emptied an entire packet of Ritz crackers onto the hob, and c) crumbled some cheese into the water bottle, I mean WHAT.
I’m actually quite impressed at how much cheese he managed to get into that bottle!
I KNOW.

Photo 17-09-2015, 1 22 15 pm (800x639)

 

1 October

YOU KNOW THAT WALLPAPER

IT’S ON SALE AGAIN.

IMAGINE THIS ON THE FAR WALL.

JUST IMAGINE.

I’m now imagining you shouting ‘JUST IMAGINE’ at me…

You love it when I forcibly demand that you imagine things

 

10 October

I cannot tell Twitter this because I am deeply ashamed; I can only tell you. I just absentmindedly tried to scroll this book with my finger. Now I need to go CHOP ALL MY FINGERS OFF.

 

12 October

Made tomato soup and a crumpet for T’s lunch. Immediately he pours his glass of water into the soup, making it inedible. And refuses the crumpet, even once I put jam on it.

And so, naptime.

Photo 10-11-2015, 9 46 09 am (800x800)

 

28 October

[Getting Cursed Child tickets]

OMGOSH two minutes till it opens! I don’t know how you do eBay all the time – I am freaking out

Aaaaargh

50 seconds so poised so ready

Ok there’s a random queue and I’m number 6902. Wut.

I am going to stare at it until the time passes.

I don’t know what on earth you get to do with a £100 ticket. Like, lick Harry Potter’s face?

 

29 October

Literally thirty seconds after we’ve struggled into our seats at the cinema, having persuaded Teddy to climb the stairs and come sit down when he cannot tear his eyes away from the screen and my hands are full so I can’t grab him, but we get there eventually and get settled with popcorn trays on laps…

‘I need a wee.’

OF COURSE YOU DO. OF. COURSE. YOU. DO.

 

5 November

PS, Ted just bit his tongue, and wanted me to fix it in the usual way: a rub and a kiss. I did the rub reluctantly but I have to draw the line at kissing his tongue.

Photo 21-01-2016, 3 40 57 pm (800x800)

 

19 November

There is no fury like that of a mother who ALMOST got a nap until the blasted postman rang the doorbell twice. Awake, angry, tired toddler. No sleep for anyone. OUTER DARKNESS. OUTER DARKNESS FOR THIS MAN.

 

4 December

Ted is singing Happy Birthday to his jumper. Festive.

***

The ‘we need to stop at Sainsbury’s quickly before lunch’ plan went terribly wrong. He’s sparko, I’m sat in the car park starving to death. WHAT NOW.

Resist the temptation to Drive-Thru!

HOW DID YOU KNOW I WAS RESISTING THAT TEMPTATION WITH ALL OF MY CELLS SIMULTANEOUSLY

I AM SO HUNGRY AND SOMEONE WOULD POST CHIPS THROUGH MY WINDOW IF I ASKED

***

I bought Ted a fish biscuit from Sainsbury’s bakery. Home now, and he’s just eaten the icing eye…and is now freaking out because the fish is blind.

This is a morally conflicted situation.

Update: He has overcome his scruples.

 

29 December

When ur about to captain the Victory to defeat Napoleon and ur getting so pumped

Picture1 (800x640)

 

13 January

H: T hit me!

Me: T, did you hit H?

T: Thomas is a…a big bad naughty engine

Me: Is he? What’s that got to do with you hitting H?

T: Thomas hit H in the head.

Quick thinker slash diabolical genius.

Photo 15-12-2015, 3 07 23 pm (800x800)

 

15 January

H: Who are we going to visit?

Me: A nice old lady called Ma.

H: Ma? Isn’t that a planet where all the aliens live?

Me: What? Oh. No, that’s Mars.

H: Oh right.

Photo 22-11-2015, 11 11 48 am (800x800)

 

11 February

That moment when you realise your 2YO freakishly knows all the words to Life on Mars.

‘Take a look at the –’

‘Laaaw mayn waitin’ dela wong guy’

 

15 February

[Just after my gum operation]

Twice yesterday T said ‘I smell your mouth’. And not like it was a good thing. 

 

7 March

So I changed T’s disgusting diarrhoea nappy while you were there, right?

Ten minutes after you left:

‘Mummy! I did a poo in the bath and it’s weally nasty!’

Ten minutes after that:

‘Mummy! I sat down on the toilet to do a poo and there’s already some in my pants and now it’s on my finger!’

Just as we were about to leave: another dirty nappy from T.

Monday, I rename thee: faeces day. May all who sail in her have joy.

Photo 19-10-2015, 9 11 13 am (798x800)

 

8 March

‘I ate my bowg’

‘Your what?’

‘I ate my – I ate my snotty’

‘Oh, don’t do that – that’s disgusting’.

*emphatic suddenly* ‘NO. THAT’S THE RULE.’

 

9 March

I made a fatal error with that cat poo, by the way.

Cleaned the carpet, then got out the hoover, but wasn’t wearing my glasses.

Hoovered over a ‘leaf’ that turned out to be the original turd.

The ur-turd.

And spread it all over the carpet again *horror face*

 

10 March

What a GREAT NIGHT this has been.

Photo 10-03-2016, 6 18 09 am (800x641)

 

Yes, I was sleeping between them, and T’s feet pretty much reach H’s shoulder in this photo, and it went super well, thanks for HA HA HA.

(Previous Notes from the Trenches are here: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. It’s so weird how, even under the umbrella of Small Children, your life still changes completely all the time. Wonder where we’ll be in another six months? More vomiting, probably.)

This Is Where We Are: a letter to my sons on Mother’s Day (5)

Every year on Mother’s Day, I write about how I mother my babies day-to-day. I think they might like to know how the little things felt, as well as the big ones. Here goes the fifth (late again – will this become part of the tradition? Yes).

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Teddy,

This has been my fifth Mothering Sunday, and you are four-and-a-half and two-and-three-quarters, respectively. And we look like this.

March 2016 (800x600)

In previous years we’ve taken Mother’s Day photos in natural light, somewhere outdoors, possibly with matching outfits. We ran out of time for that, this year, but I’m glad. When I look back at this phase in our lives, this is how it will feel. We are dishevelled and muddy from walking home through fields. I wear those trousers every day despite the giant hole in one knee, which I got from kneeling on asphalt wrestling Teddy into pushchairs. Henry in school uniform – hasn’t that been a transformative, defining part of the last six months – and Teddy wearing a piece of everything he’s eaten today. I need my hair cutting. I always need my hair cutting. We’re a mess, but it’s a good mess.

Photo 19-12-2015, 2 53 25 pm (817x1024)

Ted, you still wake up first. Will you always? It feels like it. Six am, on the lucky days. We have an unspoken rule that the parent you’re shouting for is the one who has to get up for you. You seem to be favouring Daddy this month (yessss). You are way past two-and-a-half, and it still hasn’t occurred to you to try climbing out of your cot. (Much more cautious than your brother, who climbed high and early and often.) You are getting taller, suddenly. Long fingers, long feet. Still the blue eyes, the half-ton of white-blonde hair. You are quite heart-stoppingly beautiful, altogether. We don’t really know how it happened.

You are also, alas, the twoiest two-year-old that ever lived. Once you had full sentences and strong opinions in your arsenal, we were sunk. You are constantly nattering, shouting, protesting, singing. Singing! That’s a new one for us. You pick up songs from nowhere and sing them to yourself – accurately and in full – in the bath. Your current favourites are Hey Jude (by ‘zer Beatles’), Life on Mars (by ‘Starman’) and the Frozen soundtrack (while you provide an audio commentary to explain what would be happening on screen right now, if we could see it).

You also love: your stuffed dog and cat, your rainbow wellies, books, the ‘little wed boike’ you inherited from Henry this year, Thomas the Tank Engine, grapes and yoghurt, and all the beleaguered pets belonging to our neighbours. You hate: having to get in the pushchair, having to get into your car seat, getting out of the bath, sending Henry into school and not being able to follow, having to do anything you weren’t going to do anyway. You are the best and most exhausting of daytime companions, the teller of terrible jokes, the giver of spontaneous hugs. ‘I baaaaaack!’ you shout, as you run into a room you left thirty seconds ago. We three introverts couldn’t do without you for a moment.

Photo 19-12-2015, 1 47 36 pm (800x639)

Henry, my love: isn’t being four fantastic? It feels like a crossroads of an age: we get occasional flashes of toddlerhood, when you struggle with taking turns or decide you don’t like chicken again today; then sometimes I look at you and can see ahead, to the quiet, capable and fascinating boy you’re going to be. So soon, so soon. You are so much calmer, more able to articulate your ideas and feelings. You do a heck of a lot of both, being you: interested in everything, and also hyper-aware of how you and others feel. It’s a funny old (sometimes exhausting) mix. All this emotion makes you a worrier who tends towards melodrama (‘my TEARS are BURNING MY FACE!’ you screeched at me last week). I’m hoping you’ll feel more at ease with time, and that you know you always have a safe place here with me.

You started school in September and you took to it immediately, much to our relief. You like to learn, as I said, and once you had a small circle of friends to call your own, you flew. Writing, reading, solving little counting problems – all new, and you seem to thrive on it. We walk home with you peppering me with facts and questions from your scooter. This morning you asked me to locate and explain all of your major organs, and the kidneys were your favourite. I suspect because they work with wee, and toilet jokes are king. All this is total joy.

Other things you love: dinosaurs, sausage and mash, your scooter, your books, your dinosaur trainers, your red Oxford hoodie (worn so often you’ve broken the zip), and our giant box of Duplo. You eat well and you’d sleep for much longer if it weren’t for Teddy bouncing on your head. You’re growing out of all your trousers simultaneously, again.

So there we are. I wonder, often, what you’ll remember when you’re older, now you’re starting to remember. From my vantage point I can see it all, of course, including the hard and terrible days. I know that I am often tired and bedraggled, that I’m not very patient, and that I make dinner too late (does that ring a bell? Like, 6pm at the earliest?).

But we’ve been walking home through the gorse this week. All out, and all blazing yellow. We made up a rhyme between us to remember its name, ages ago, and you always do. You tell me jokes and I laugh because the telling of them is funny even if the joke isn’t (it isn’t, sorry). We take off our wellies and come into the warm and I put the kettle on. I hope you’ll remember that feeling, the same one I get when the kettle starts to boil: I love this, and you – so much I can’t really articulate it, after all this – and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Let’s stay here as long as we can.

With much love,

Your mother.

Photo 07-03-2016, 7 17 20 pm (800x640)

Anyone who says their two-year-old wasn’t a tiny insane tyrant is lying

Photo 23-12-2015, 2 41 30 pm (800x800)

That day he did well, until he didn’t. Story of a toddler’s life.

Dear toddler parent hanging on by skin of teeth:

Anyone who says their two-year-old wasn’t a tiny insane tyrant is lying.

Let me say that again.

ANYONE WHO SAYS THEIR TWO-YEAR-OLD WASN’T A TINY INSANE TYRANT IS LYING.

Alright, toddler parent, just let me put you on hold while I talk to whoever’s now offended.

Yes, I mean it, and yes I mean you as well, yes, you. Come at me, bro. If you tell me, either in person or from the safe distance of the internet, that your blessed toddler only needed one look from you after one tantrum and they never tried it again, or they never ran off because of your awesome discipline routines, or any variant of ‘when my kids were little’ – sit back down. SIT ALL THE WAY BACK DOWN. Shall I tell you what’s happened here?

  • Unless you nurtured a child prodigy (I am willing to allow this variant in rare cases), you had a two-year-old like any other.
  • Two-year-olds spend a lot of time wanting what they can’t have, and wrestling with giant emotional reactions they don’t have the bandwidth to process appropriately. This has been studied. It is normal. It is true.
  • This leads to: screaming meltdowns in public and private, lots of ‘I don’t WANT to’, long days of struggling over every. little. thing, much exhaustion on all sides. You might have had a toddler who did one of those things more than the other, but all of them will have been present and correct.
  • You dealt with this in the best way you could. I’m sure you’re a nice, normal person, so probably this was: you set limits that were often ignored, you wheedled and cajoled and comforted and warned and picked them up like a parcel, legs flailing, and shouted when you really lost your rag, and tried again the next day.

THEN (this is the important part):

  • Your two-year-old got older, more able to cope with emotions and respond to parenting strategies. And as the years went on, and because two-year-olds are also delightful and hilarious and wonderful beyond belief,
  • You forgot the bad bits.

I wouldn’t mind, but this idea of ‘my toddler was an angel because of how super disciplined I was’ – the sort of thing that comes in well-meaning or less-well-meaning droves when you mention your children online – does serious damage to those of us still in those two-year-old trenches. Do you think it’s easy, trying to cajole your child off the floor of a supermarket because you’ve refused to let them get inside the ice cream freezer, cringing and embarrassed by the volume of their yells and the certain knowledge that someone watching thinks you’re a failure?

The only thing that would be worse is if some random stranger who didn’t know you at all, didn’t know how hard you worked or how much you worried about being a good, kind, fair, decent parent, told you that yes, your worst fear is true: this is your fault. If you were better, your two-year-old wouldn’t act like this. Because mine didn’t. Not ever. I only had to give them a look.

I know how awful this feels, because it’s happened to me, and because I get messages all the time from mothers battered by public judgement and unrealistic expectations. It makes me furious.

Toddler parent, you still there?

Listen. Two-year-olds are gonna two. Sooner or later they’re going to want something you can’t give them in a public place, and all your careful distraction techniques won’t work this time, and they will scream and someone will sniff and you will feel like scraping yourself out of the carpet. It might even happen rather a lot (*hand raised*).

It is not your fault. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You can’t give your children emotional maturity beyond their years by force of will. If you’re trying hard, setting boundaries and struggling for a routine that suits you both, well – everything else will pass. I promise. Enjoy the wonderful bits, buy in chocolate digestives for the terrible bits, and don’t let anyone, ever, tell you that your child would be better if you were.

And one more thing for the internet warriors.

Next time you’re tempted to write a ‘back in my day’ response to a mother struggling with things you’ve let go: maybe just write ‘hang on, it’ll be ok’ instead. Just that.

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world?

 

Just take the damn nap

My littlest goes to sleep with a fluffy cat and dog, one under each arm. And his Own Thomas train (I still don’t know which one this is), and a rubber killer whale, and usually a giant plastic crane, which he talks to for forty minutes before dropping off.

I don’t need such elaborate sleeping rituals. Over the last few weeks, whenever I’ve been home and free during his naptime, I’ve just crawled under a duvet and got my head down. All the way down. Sometimes with my boots still on. Always with a sense of righteous glee.

I haven’t had opportunity for daytime naps since T arrived and H stopped taking them. It’s been a long dry spell. And I used to avoid them out of guilt, mostly because I kept comparing my day to Tim’s. He doesn’t get a brief kip after his lunch (or does he? I used to schedule a sleep on the library desk at college. Set an alarm and everything). He’s not hiding in the kitchen with a sneaky brownie because his toddler won’t stop asking him to press the same two buttons over and over. He’s working hard, earning money. Cycling ludicrous distances. Generally acting like Superman, or at least a decent grown-up.

At some point I realised that was a bagful o’ nonsense. My day is hard. Do you know how much naked charisma I need to get two small children through a brief supermarket trip without either of them wandering off or breaking down? More than I’ve naturally got, I can tell you. It takes intense effort; every last cell of me focussed on distraction techniques, danger signs and Mary Poppins voices.

Yesterday afternoon, after I’d picked up H from school, taken them both to Sainsbury’s with T wailing in the back, got them out of the car and into the trolley, bought precisely two items, strapped them both back in the car, opened their bananas, driven all the way back home, got them back out of the car again, emptied the car of our assembled rubbish including discarded banana pieces, shooed them back in the house and taken off shoes and coats, I tried to set the dishwasher going and it broke. I attempted to google the error code, praying it wasn’t something expensive. Meanwhile, H was having an intense personal meltdown, because the brownie I’d started to make wasn’t for him.

My every minute is like that. Every single minute, except for that MAYBE hour and a half where T naps after lunch. Yours is too, I bet, or something similar. Honestly, why would you not get extra sleep if you possibly could? Your kid could stop napping ANY DAY NOW.

In September mine will be in nursery for five half-days a week, and though I think I’ll be getting more done when the day’s bisected by four school runs instead of two, HA HA HA is how that’s going to turn out.

In ten years’ time I’ll be back in an office, probably, watching some guy across the way eat his cheese and pickle sandwich and dribble bits onto his keyboard, and I’ll pretend to be enjoying a rice cake and dump seven sugars in my cheap hot chocolate and wish to high heaven that I could put my head down for ten lousy minutes.

Will you regret, even for a second, taking those daytime naps while you had them? I will not regret it for a second.

Not a second.

If there’s a brief, shining interlude in your life where you’re alone enough to lie down under a duvet with your boots on, luxuriate in your excellent fortune and take it. TAKE IT.

Just take the damn nap.

Just so not sorry

Just so not sorry

What it’s like

Maybe there’s something about having a houseful of people in their twenties, long before they start thinking about kids, that makes you concentrate on all the things you can’t do now you have children.

(Like staying in bed beyond 7am. Like popping out to the cinema spontaneously. Like, I don’t know, eating a meal and only having to think about your own table manners.)

Anyway, I can’t help doing that occasionally. But I find it useful to remind myself what motherhood is, as well as what it’s not.

For me, this month, it’s

having your two-year-old burst into a room full of people and search every face, anxiety all over him, until he finds yours, and his whole self relaxes.

sitting outside their room reading while they watch a Thomas film, and having them come out to check on you, one and then the other, every thirty seconds.

listening to your four-year-old read a book, his stubby forefinger pointing to the words as he makes the sounds, and feeling like a proper adult parent, doing this Real Parenty Thing, and also that you might die with pride and also that it’s almost time for Enid Blyton, surely.

carrying your too-heavy toddler through the crowds at Buckingham Palace, explaining when he asks that yes, the Queen is probably inside, and she’s probably eating some toast. He looks pleased with this answer. He tells his auntie. Suddenly he gasps, pats both hands solicitously on your cheeks and says ‘Mummy! You’re so cold! Where’s your coat?’

holding your four-year-old’s hand during a long muddy walk, and talking about dinosaurs. He tells you the difference between two dinosaurs you’ve never heard of (one has four claws, the other has two). You have no idea how he knows this. You envision a future, oh, very soon now, where his entire interior life will be joys, interests and complexities that have very little to do with you. The thought makes you feel excited, and a little bereft. Which makes you feel like an idiot but, after all (you reason), becoming less important to someone is hard to do, no matter who it is.

walking to school, one of them in the pushchair, the other scooting next to you, and a grey squirrel runs up the nearest telegraph pole in a flash of fur. For once you all see it, and all at the same time. You watch it up the pole, along the cable. It makes a leap sideways, three feet to the nearby tree. Tiny feet splayed against grey sky. All three of you – two-year-old, four-year-old, thirty-year-old mother – let out a delighted ‘oh!’ as it jumps.

Photo 28-12-2015, 2 28 53 pm (800x799)

When motherhood means impersonating furniture

Photo 27-11-2015, 1 28 24 p.m. (800x800)

Our heating chugs into life at 5.30am. The whole house groans and shifts, boiling water trickling into radiators and pushing out hisses of warm air. Getting ready for us all to wake up with our alarms an hour later, even though in this darkest winter month the sun won’t rise until nearly eight o’ clock.

About twice a week the noise wakes Teddy up. He’s a light sleeper anyway, not like his dead-to-the-world brother who topples off the toilet regularly when we wake him up to pee. As soon as he’s awake he yells for one of us in a croaky voice, and I get up sharpish to rescue him, since a Teddy unattended is one that will soon rouse half the street.

We pad back to the big bed, through the dark and the new warmth, and I lie him between us, As soon as I’ve settled myself he wriggles over determinedly and wedges himself into my side. It’s a bizarre thing that a boy who needs strapping down during the day (if you want him within sight) only wants enclosure at night. He sleeps best in his cot, jammed up against the bars. When he’s not in his cot, he likes to pretend I’m one. I don’t usually sleep well with fierce little elbows under my ribs and a hoarse, admonitory ‘Mummeeee, I need a cuggle‘, floating out of the dark every time I move away. So I don’t sleep much during that last hour, as you wouldn’t if you were pretending to be a cot. But it feels like hibernating in endless cosy blankets with a tiny, fluffy, indignant animal, and if this is what it is to be a cot then I never want to move anywhere at all.

***

At half-past three we roll in from school, cold and wet. We’ve never done full school days in winter before, and this stormy November has severely cramped our style. No walks and no outings: just school, a snack, and then – since H is too frazzled for homework and too damp and exhausted to play – we put on a film. Old-school Disney, new-school Pixar, Harry Potter with the proviso that we stick to ones that are almost age-appropriate.

I have been in two-year-old mode all day, and switching abruptly back to four-year-old interaction is jarring and wonderful. I can’t eat chocolate sneakily and pretend it’s grapes, but we can have proper conversation. So he tells me about his day while I turn on the radiators and hunt for the remote and the rain batters the inky windows in bursts. Then as I find it and sit down, he curls right against me like a cat. The music starts up, T hops to his feet (he can’t sit still under a blanket for a million pounds) and we’re off.

At some point I extract myself to put in some more washing. H immediately whimpers after me ‘Mummy! My neck hurts when you’re not here!’ Meaning, of course, that he’s using me as an armchair and now I’ve left his head to fend for itself. It’s not all that comfortable being an armchair – I’m twisted round the wrong way and I’ve needed the loo for about half an hour – but today I leave the washing where it is and come back. The radiators hum gently with hot air. It’s dark and blustery outside, and my four-year-old only wants to sit with me, and if this is what it is to be an armchair then I don’t want to move anywhere at all.

Besides, I don’t know how much longer they’ll want me as part of their furniture. Not long, probably. Not very much longer at all.

Photo 17-11-2015, 3 54 01 p.m. (800x800)

Five messages to give your tiny introvert

SAM_3207 (820x1024)

When was the last time you read an article extolling the writer’s love for fuzzy socks and a good book over a loud party? About two-and-a-half minutes ago, right? They’re everywhere. Susan Cain’s Quiet seems to have kicked off the season of the introvert. It feels like it’s suddenly quite hip to sit for a while in a toilet cubicle because no one can see you in there.

These are my people. They are also, I think, the people of my eldest boy.

He might not always be this way. That’s fine too. I try to be cautious about applying labels with glue that won’t rub off. But for now I’m working with the hypothesis that an introvert is raising a probable introvert, and it can be tricky for both of us. It’s not easy being a parent of small, sticky children when alone time is important to you. My toilet cubicle moments now come with an audience. At the end of the day, when I’m tired and frazzled, I almost always have someone literally clinging to my coattails.

Have you noticed, though, that being a small child and an introvert is equally difficult? We encourage and reward people-person behaviour almost from birth:

‘Oh, he’s such a smiler! Always chatting away to complete strangers.’

‘Say hello to [this relation you’ve never met], darling. Now give her a hug. Now give her a kiss.’

‘Why don’t you go and play with the other children? Go on, ask them if you can play.’

If you have a child who refuses to play the game, who doesn’t want to talk about himself unless he knows you very well, who finds large groups overwhelming, whoever might be in them: we read that as being shy, or difficult, or not having good manners.

I interpreted it that way too. Me! When actually, if someone made me do the things I make H do in the name of good child-behaviour, I’d be stressed and furious. The day I realised this (*ping* <–that was my lightbulb moment) I knew I had to get over the why-isn’t-he-performing-for-strangers thing and start parenting with an introvert’s head on.

A DISCLAIMER: I am very obviously not an authority in parenting (a whole four years in, steady on). But I am a flipping expert at being an introvert. My badge is in the shape of an unoccupied toilet cubicle and I wear it proudly. And I know it’s easy to make an introverted child feel out of place and wrong, when all they are is wired differently, because I’ve accidentally done it myself.

So from that perspective, here are five messages I think a tiny introvert needs to hear loud and clear.

You will need alone time, so ask for it

Introverts recharge in their own company. How often are small children left alone, particularly when they have a sibling? Little introverts find this confusing, I think: sometimes they need to be clingy and sometimes they want to be by themselves. They anticipate a birthday party gleefully for weeks and then, half an hour in, they’re completely overwhelmed by their friends. I’ve tried to let H know that it’s alright to need alone time. When he asks for it, I make sure we accommodate him.

You can show all of your emotions to me

I can’t think of a better way to push an introvert further in than to let them know, subconsciously or overtly, that you don’t want to see their anger, frustration, jealousy or sadness. They may want to process these feelings independently, especially as they get older, but they do need to know that they always have a safe place with you. The rule in our house is that all your feelings are ok…but it’s not ok to express them with disrespect or fists.

Take your time

Here’s the thing: being an introverted child doesn’t get you a free pass out of good manners, just like being an introverted adult isn’t an excuse for being rude. But it takes them more time to adjust to social situations, so be their ally and give them the time. Let them sit with you for a while before answering questions. Let them know that they can smile instead of saying anything, if that’s easier. Don’t apologise for their quietness in front of them and other adults, in that smiling, passive-aggressive way that communicates to them that they’ve done something wrong.

Be kind, be kind, be kind

They might never be the life and soul of the party. They need to know – because they won’t hear it from many places – that this is alright. There’s more than one way to make your presence felt. There at the edge of the group they will find others. They can be kind, and notice people that don’t usually get noticed. They can make all the difference. What a valuable thing that is.

You are enough: to me, to you and to everyone

Like it or not, schools, work environments and social situations reward people who think on their feet and speak up loudly. Your tiny introvert will get the message from a thousand places: you are too quiet, too slow, too awkward, too boring. Make sure they never, ever get that from you.

There’s nothing wrong with them. To you, they are perfect. Inside a toilet cubicle or out, they are enough. They are enough. Whisper it in their ear. Shout it to the tree-tops if you have to. They are enough.

Photo 23-10-2015 11 34 44 am (768x1024)

How not to be a big fat parenting loser

Photo 02-11-2015 12 25 46 pm (819x1024)

I think about this all the time.

Usually after 7pm.

While standing in a kitchen that looks like King Henry VIII has been on a carbs rampage.

Has today been a success? How do I know when I’ve done alright? Do I get a gold star today, or what?

If you replace ‘gold star’ with ‘piece of cake’ then you’ll understand my anxiety on this score.

Seriously, though. One of the things I mourn the most, in my chaotic child-filled life, is the lack of regular performance reviews. I just want someone to sit me down once a month and tell me where I’m succeeding and where I can improve. I want my tiny children to act as no tiny children do, and say ‘we have a lovely life, mother mine, and what I most appreciate about you is this’. I am an editor to my bones, and I just want someone to put a giant tick next to my name in red pen.

When I was pregnant with T, I spent a horrible, wintery first trimester being a bit of a mess. H was barely eighteen months. It was dark, and it rained a lot, and we spent a lot of time indoors. And I was so sick. So miserably unable to do any of the things that are the fist-bumps-to-self of life, the things that usually communicate to myself that I’m doing a good job. It was a real black hole.

It was an effort to get out of bed, to hold a conversation, to go through the motions of a normal day. It hurt the muscles of my face to smile. I’d never experienced anything like it before, and it was terrifying.

I don’t know why I’m telling you this, really, except that I remembered then, more than ever before, that having children often takes away parts of you that you think are essential – it’s usually the flashy, superficial, performance-related parts of you – and you have to learn to feel right and good and whole without them. One of the things I did, once I realised that this wasn’t just rain and sickness but something more insidious, was to write a list of positive things about myself (Tim had to help) and stick them on my mirror. They had nothing to do with goals, achievements or status, just things that could be true whatever I was doing. I read them out like a robot every morning. Gradually, eventually, by tiny degrees, they started to feel true again.

(I am not saying that lists on your mirror are a cure for depression. They are not, and I was lucky: mine was temporary, tied up with first trimester sickness, and some part of me sensed it. I just dug in and hung on till it lifted, and having positive thoughts around was like a catechism I could repeat till it got better. Lots of people suffer more permanently and completely, and if that’s you: please take and do whatever you need to feel better. You deserve good things, and good care.)

Anyway. I’ve never been anywhere close to that since then, thankfully, but the same question bothers me on a smaller scale. Was today alright? How do I know when I’m succeeding?

Here’s a list of things that make me feel like we’ve had a gold star day:

  • when I’ve been sufficiently busy
  • when I’ve made dinner from scratch
  • when I’ve vacuumed before Tim gets home
  • when we’ve been outside, particularly if the boys have walked a decent distance (what does that even mean?)
  • when I’ve answered my backed-up emails
  • when the TV has been on for less than two hours
  • when I walked or cycled to school instead of getting in the car
  • when I’ve talked about something on social media that is NOT about children
  • when the boys are wearing attractive outfits
  • when my hair doesn’t look like a fuzzball wig
  • when I’ve written something I’m proud of
  • when T has eaten some lunch, particularly if it’s outside the holy trinity of strawberry yoghurt, grapes and raisins
  • when a photo has got twenty likes on Instagram
  • when H shows signs of wanting to read or build things without my input
  • when I’ve had a conversation with another adult person in the playground that did not make me want to curl up and die with embarrassment
  • when H says something hilariously precocious, particularly if it’s about Harry Potter (like that has anything to do with me?!).

They’re like little hurdles I set myself, little imaginary tick boxes for the universe. Bit ludicrous, aren’t they? But I don’t think they’re wrong, necessarily. Or, um, not all of them. A large part of my job is caring for children, after all, and when they are engaged in a variety of activities and eating things containing vitamins, well, that’s very good indeed. And if dressing carefully and putting makeup on makes me feel more together, more competent, then I am all for that too.

But I don’t think the reverse of any of these makes the day a failure. I will say that again so I believe it more: I don’t think the reverse of any of these makes the day a failure. That’s what I sometimes have trouble getting my head around.

Yesterday was the last day of H’s half-term holiday – which I have loved, because we’ve been busy (tick) and it’s been cold enough to wear coordinating jumpers (tick). We waited a few hours for the fog to lift, and it didn’t, so we went out into the woods anyway. I didn’t bring a pushchair so we’d go at their pace, rather than mine, which meant I spent quite a bit of it cajoling them out of streams and back to the car park. We got a bit muddy and made up some rude pirate names and stopped halfway for leftover Halloween sweets and I told them scary witch stories that had terrible flat endings (I tend to run out of ideas as we go along). Then we came home, they ate supernoodles and nothing else (!), T had a nap and H watched two Toy Story films back-to-back.

It was a mixed day. It was a great day. We all found things in it that made us happy. And I think that’s it, that’s where the gold star lives after all: perhaps that’s the only category we really need.

Photo 02-11-2015 11 50 12 am (800x800)

Photo 02-11-2015 11 13 45 am (819x1024)

What are your (silly or serious) categories for having a successful day? You know you can let go of all of them as long as you’re all still alive, right? Yeah, let’s repeat that together and maybe it’ll sink in. 

%d bloggers like this: