Looks like we made it

Dear F,

It’s been a long road, hasn’t it? There are so many things I remember from the last 18 months.

I remember sitting on a vinyl sofa at a soft play centre, cradling you in my arms as you slept, knowing exactly what was wrong with you and being terrified of the journey that it could take us on.

I remember feeding you in the middle of the night only to have you throw the whole lot back up again five minutes later. I lost count of the number of times I blearily changed bedding in the unholy hours between 11pm and 6am.

I remember how many doctors told me that you were fine and what the hell was I even worrying about because you were clearly getting food into your system. I always wanted to tell them that the only reason you fed at all was because I rocked you – sometimes for hours – until you fell asleep, then switched your dummy out for a bottle when I hoped you wouldn’t notice. But I was too exhausted to think straight and I felt like no one really cared anyway.

I remember spending whole days listening to you cry, knowing there was nothing I could do to comfort you and wishing it would all just go away.

I remember feeling like I had failed you in the worst possible way when I had to admit to myself that I could no longer produce enough milk to keep expressing for you. You were nine weeks old and I cried on my bedroom floor until
I was sick.

I remember our Sunday afternoon in A&E, which ended with me going home without you in the early hours of the following morning and under investigation by Social Services. I remember how, as black as that day was, I finally felt like there was some hope for you. And I no longer cared what happened to me.

I remember when things started to get better. How my heart felt like it would burst the first time you took a bottle without any fussing or crying. You may not have cried, but I did that day.

I remember that sometimes we would have setbacks and I would feel terribly afraid for you, that I wouldn’t be able to help you or that the doctors wouldn’t listen to me all over again. But you had a consultant by then and he was on your side every step of the way. I will never be able to thank him enough for what he did for you, and for us as a family.

Before you were born, I used to think that it mattered whether or not I did something spectacular with my life, like I would have wasted some God-given opportunity if I didn’t. There was always a voice in the back of my mind whispering, “You’re meant for more than this”. But sometimes it turns out that destiny doesn’t look a thing you thought it would. Here’s one thing I know for sure: For the first year of your life, being your mother was the hardest job I’ve ever done. In fact, the same little voice that had once told me I was meant for more began to sneer, “You’re not cut out for this”. There were times along the way when I believed that voice and I felt like I absolutely, definitely wasn’t good enough for you. Because even on the hardest days, I knew that there was something really special about you, and I knew that you deserved better than me at my best, let alone my worst.

Despite everything you’ve been through, you are the happiest, most sociable child I have ever known. You love everyone and everything. Your smile lights a fire in my heart every single time I see it. When you climb into my lap, lay your head on my shoulder and sigh, everything in the world suddenly becomes very quiet. It feels like forgiveness, even though I know you don’t remember the times I sat on the floor in your room and cried with you because I didn’t know what to do anymore. I know you don’t remember the day I asked your daddy, “Why did we think it was a good idea to have another baby?” I know you don’t doubt for one second that I love you – and you shouldn’t. Because I do. So much.

Why am I writing this for you today? Because yesterday we saw your consultant and he told us what we already knew; we are nearing the end of this journey. Everything about you suggests that you are getting better. We’ve spent the last six months weaning you off one of your medications and now we have the green light to start reducing the other. The bottom line is this: EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY.

Do you know what my worst fear was? I was afraid that you would have to deal with this for the rest of your life. I was afraid that you were going to be dogged by this condition forever. Yesterday I finally felt like it was safe for me to hope that your future will have nothing to do with the battle you fought for so many months. Here we are, standing on the other side and I can’t believe how far we’ve come.

So it doesn’t matter how many people try to trivialise reflux. I’ve stopped listening. I saw what you went through and there’s just one thing I want you to know:

YOU ARE MY HERO.

Thank you for teaching me how to be your mother. I thought I knew how to handle motherhood before I had you. I thought I’d learnt everything I needed to know from your brother, but you threw me a curveball and you will never know how grateful I really am for that. No, it hasn’t been an easy 18 months… But I wouldn’t change it – or you – for the world.

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Worries!

As a mother, my worries are abundant. And most of them link back to my children in one way or another, even if the journey is a little – or a lot – convoluted sometimes. With that in mind, here are 12 things I’m worrying about at the moment:

1. Tantrums. How long is this “threenager” thing going to last? Because I am getting really tired of yelling “NO!” And “STOP!” And “WHY did you just do that?!” at O All. The. Time. He’s going to be four soon and this is showing no signs of abating whatsoever. So maybe he’s actually just going to be a tiny tyrant forever? I don’t know.

2. Feeding F. In particular, I am concerning myself with when he is going to understand the difference between “food” and “stuff to play with/throw on the floor/squash into a gooey paste/stuff that should NEVER be eaten”. I mean, he tried to eat a fucking BANANA SKIN the other day. And not only that, but he actually seemed to like it. Is it okay for him to eat banana skin?! Does anybody know?!

3. Fracking. Is it going to happen on the enormous scale that I’m afraid it might, and if it does is my house going to fall down and are my children’s children going to be born with six eyes and 13 toes? Is it going to be like that scene from The Simpsons movie when the lake turns black and all of the animals start mutating? Seriously. It’s terrifying.

4. Fleas. Specifically, do I have them living in my house? I have two cats who spend a lot of their time sprinting around outside, chasing leaves and catching things that aren’t leaves (like the mouse from last Sunday). Every so often – maybe once a month – I will notice that I have a flea on my arm or my hand or something and I will freak out and instantly bypass any reasonable solution to this and go straight to the extreme mental headspace of I MUST BURN THE HOUSE DOWN IMMEDIATELY. Yes, I treat them every four weeks. Yes, the flea-on-the-arm incidents tend to coincide with treatments. And YES; I am definitely neurotic. I don’t really know why this bothers me so much, to be honest; I’m pretty sure there are shitloads of critters living in my house courtesy of my cats and I’ll bet most of them are a whole lot bigger than fleas.

5. Potty training. This is something I panicked about semi-regularly before we started the whole process with O and then abruptly stopped worrying over once we’d had a few dry weeks on the bounce. But F is 18 months old now and I know I’m going to be starting all over again within the next year or so. Will it be easy? Will he be at all interested in using the potty? And will I need a new rug in my lounge when it’s all over? So. Much. WORRY.

6. School. Last Monday we found out which school O will be going to in September and I am over the bloody moon that he got into our first choice. That’s not the issue. The issue is that when he first started playgroup, he cried every time I dropped him off for months. MONTHS. And it was fucking awful. Are we going to have to go through that trauma all over again? Cue panic. And will the other kids judge him if he does cry? Panicpanicpanic.

7. Stomach bugs. Everybody seems to have them at the moment – along with coughs, colds and chest infections – and I am terrified that one of the kids is going to bring one home and infect the whole house. Watching kids battling with profuse diarrhoea and vomiting is awful in any case, but when you throw emetophobia (fear of puking) into the mix it suddenly gets a whole lot worse.

8. Feeling rubbish all the time. I think I’ve been sick with one thing or another for at least the last FOREVER. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I felt anything other than vaguely terrible. Maybe during one of my two days of sort of ish wellness last week? But then I got a migraine, so that feeling didn’t last long. Seriously though; am I dying?!

9. My house and how I never actually feel as though it is clean. I find cat food and abandoned Fruit Shoots and other detritus all over the place all the time and I think the cloths from my steam mop are actually starting to wear out from overuse. It’s like trying to hold back the advancing tide with a leaky bucket. Or attempting to nail jelly to a tree. Or pretty much any other analogy ever used to describe the words “pointless” and “impossible”. I suppose the only upside is that F thinks cat food is actually human food (maybe this explains the banana skin thing), so he just wanders through the house picking up the stray bits and munching them down. Every cloud.

10. Money. I think the only people who don’t worry about money are the fortunate few with an abundance of it. The rest of us are regularly battling with financial freak-outs and, let’s be honest, the immediate post-budget period is usually a pretty troubling and uncomfortable time for most of us. And isn’t it bloody awful when everyone has birthdays and anniversaries around the same time? People are so inconsiderate sometimes.

11. Child-friendly activities. Am I doing enough with my children? Do they enjoy our country walks and mini-adventures or is it only me who’s getting anything out of just not being bored in my messy, dirty house all day? Do they wonder why I keep dragging them out and promising, in a slightly manic tone, that “it will be super fun!”? Surely they must be wondering by now, given how our days out have a tendency to err on the side of disaster, what actually even constitutes for fun anyway and if they should perhaps be a little wary of it.

12. Tiredness. Some days I wonder if there will ever come a time when I am no longer constantly tired. Will I finally wake up one morning and think “wow, I actually feel like I’ve been to sleep!”? I can’t actually remember the last time that happened and I am so fucking tired. My child-free friends drive me crazy when they moan to me about being tired. They don’t understand, bless them, that their tired and my tired exist in completely different dimensions and do not belong in the same room with each other because I will lose my shit if you think you have a right to complain about tiredness when you stayed out until 5am and don’t have small humans jumping on your head half an hour later.

My worries change on a regular basis, but these are the ones that seem to be the most prevalent. Of course, I worry about milestones quite a lot too, which has been made rather a lot worse by a poster I saw during a yoga class a month or so ago informing me that F should be saying 20 words by now. But I find those worries much easier to rationalise these days because I have been a parent long enough to know that every kid is different and they all do things at their own pace and in their own time. And it’s not like F doesn’t say anything; it’s just that a lot of what he says isn’t actual words. Or maybe it’s just not English…

I’d love to hear about your worries or if any of these apply to you too!

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O & his OCD

Is it me or do all children have some degree of OCD? I used to think that O must have some kind of genuine condition because everything had to be done in a certain way or in a particular order. For example, when he first started to take an actual interest in the process of getting dressed – and by “take an interest”, I really mean “decide it was an aspect of his daily routine that he had to have absolute control over” – the entire morning would descend into tantrum-filled chaos at the mere suggestion that he put his pants on before his socks – because, let’s face it, socks before pants is just weird. But if I just got sick of the whole messing about of getting dressed every morning, pinned him down and forced him into his clothes in an order of which he did not approve, I would find him five minutes later standing naked in his room screaming bloody murder. Like, sorry I ruined your day, but we’ve been at this for hours and you’re still only wearing one fucking sock.

Usually these things come and go in phases. We’ve had the “I want to do it!” phase where O threw one of those impressive facedown-on-the-carpet tantrums if I dared to close his curtains for him or put the toothpaste onto the toothbrush without his input. Shortly after that was the aforementioned daily clothing debacle, which meant that getting dressed could, realistically, take about a week. Now we have this thing where he has to win at everything.

If I was late for work in a life before children, I would run like buggery down the stairs and hare out of the front door, throwing myself dramatically behind the wheel of my car and tearing out of the driveway. But these days I have to allow O to go down the stairs in front of me while I work myself up into a state of complete internal panic because if I don’t then he will have an utter fucking meltdown about the fact that he didn’t “win”. This also goes for the following situations:

Finishing a meal first.
Putting F in the bath first.
Walking into any room in the house first.
Getting ready for bed first.

Basically

Doing absolutely anything first.

Seriously. If I sneeze first then I’ve overstepped the boundaries because O wanted to sneeze first. I really fucking hope this phase ends soon. I’d like to win at something in life again someday.

I remember my mother telling me once that my brother went through a stage shortly after potty training when he had to use every toilet he came across, which apparently had something to do with the fact that coloured bathroom suites were A Thing back then. This frankly weird obsession very nearly led to a terribly awkward situation in the bathroom section of B&Q. What a great blog post that would have made, eh? So when O throws me another OCD curveball, I just try to remind myself of that and thank every possible deity out there that nothing that mortifyingly fucking awful has happened to us… Yet.

The thing is though, sometimes I still have absolutely no idea how to deal with these OCD phases. The whole winning thing at the moment is particularly trying because, realistically, I cannot always let him “win”. There are many nights when I’ve given O every possible opportunity to get undressed and into the bath before his brother and he’s still running maniacally around the house, riding his rocking horse naked and generally doing everything he can to evade capture, meanwhile I just want to get both children bathed and into bed so I can collapse on the sofa and stare at the wall for the rest of the night. I also kind of want to explain to him that there will be times when he will not win and that he will find life very disappointing if he believes that winning is everything. And that, in fact, it’s really okay not to win all the time. But I rationalise it by assuming that it’s just a phase and will pass eventually like all the other phases (even though this particular one has been going on forever). Knowing that doesn’t always make it easy to deal with though, and sometimes I am just really fucking late to work and need to get down the stairs first, so I have to leave poor N to deal with the epic tantrum that ensues when the door slams behind me and the screaming is lost in the screech of tyres as I gun the engine out of the gates.

So I’m just kind of wondering… Is it just us, or do you have a small person who insists on turning out the light every night and hates being the last one down the stairs?

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Disastrous Sunday “adventure”

I’ve been feeling pretty smug about my parenting recently. Over the last few weeks, the kids and I have spent very little time together in the house if the weather has been good. Instead, we have been going on adventures. I call them adventures because it makes them sound like exciting outings when I’m trying to drag O away from his train set or his LeapPad. Really, they’re just little trips to the park or into the woods or to the beach.

On Sunday morning the sun was shining. Properly actually shining after a rather shitty, cold and wet Saturday. So at 10am, just as N was getting ready to head out for a run, I announced jubilantly, “Get your shoes on kids; WE ARE GOING TO THE BEACH!”

The first sign of trouble was the fact that it took half an hour to get out of the door. F clocked me picking up his shoes and he made a run for it. He rolled around like a seizing baby shark on the rug in the lounge for the entire time it took me to put his socks and shoes on which, of course, took for-fucking-EVER. Then O couldn’t remember where his shoes were and it turned out that F had hidden one in the playroom and the other in the kitchen. Then I did an undecided dance by the coat pegs in the hallway as I tried to decide how cold it might be and which coats the kids should wear. And, of course, I had to pack the changing bag with drinks and snacks and all of my shit that I usually keep in my handbag because I did not want to take two bags on my solo beach mission (which may or may not have been a good decision, as you will see).

When we got to the beach I locked the front wheel on the stroller so it wouldn’t spin round and dig into the sand, then we set off to find a good place for digging holes and building sandcastles. Of course, the second I let F out of the stroller he ran off in the opposite direction to O, so I had to yell at O to “STAY THERE!” while I chased after and retrieved him. Once the buckets and spades were out, we all plopped down on the sand (which was bloody cold and I wished I was wearing something other than leggings) and I helped F to make sandcastles while O dug a hole and made a pile of sand and jumped on all the fucking sandcastles because I guess he was just in that mood. This mostly happy little activity went on for quite a while until F decided he was bored and wandered off to investigate a pile of seaweed. Eventually he got fed up with that too and toddled over to the promenade wall where the sand was littered with all the shit the sea had thrown up at high tide. He then spent the next twenty minutes handing me cigarette butts and bits of polystyrene cups and ice lolly wrappers – “Dank oo!” “Dank oo!” “Dank oo!” – while I mostly repeated, “No, darling, that’s dirty. Put that down. Please stop” with ever-increasing desperation. O pretty much just carried on digging the whole time until I scooped F up and mildly suggested that we move further along the beach where more hole digging and sandcastle building ensued.

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At least this part was fun!

By this time we had been on the beach for over an hour and F was starting to get hungry and grizzly, so I decided it was time to start heading for home. O was okay with this plan and helped me collect up the buckets. F was not. I reached to pick him up and he threw himself facedown in the sand, then started howling because he was mad and now cold with a mouthful of sand. I wrestled him into the stroller, strapping him in with one hand while I tried to stop him from arching his back with the other. I tried to hand him a snack and he threw it on the sand. Fine. Be like that.

So we walked along the beach and O chattered happily while F screamed bloody murder in the stroller, and then we discovered that the sodding slipway off the beach was closed for building work. Which meant that I would have to drag the stroller up the steps instead. In fairness, the level of the sand against the wall was pretty high, so there were only about four steps. But the combined weight of F and my bag meant that the stroller wheels were digging into the sand and it just wouldn’t budge at all. By this time I was totally done with our little adventure and just wanted to go home and empty the sand out of my shoes. So I grabbed the front wheel, tipped the stroller back and dragged it across the beach. I was just turning it around to pull it up the steps when a very kind man ran over to help. I could have wept with gratitude. So we set off back in the direction of the car and I realised that the bloody wheel was still locked. And the stupid knob wouldn’t turn and I was just about crying with frustration when a different very kind man ran over and offered to help. He got the wheel unlocked and we carried on. More almost-tears of gratitude.

We got around the corner away from the beach and I reached for my phone to give N a call and let him know that we’d be home soon… And my bag wasn’t there. It was just gone. I stopped and looked around and had no idea why it wasn’t there or how I had managed to lose it and not notice while the cold-sweat horror mounted at the realisation that I had no phone, no car keys and no purse. And then I realised that it must have fallen off the stroller handles when I tipped it up to get it off the beach. So we turned around and ran back to the beach – which O thought was a great game – while F continued his yelling and I panicked and tried not to let O know that I was panicking by over-compensating with an eerily calm repetition of “Mummy just needs to go back and get her bag, baby”. After a lot of frantic scanning I finally spotted it on the sand and almost collapsed with relief. I got the stroller as close as possible without taking it back onto the beach then turned to O, said “Stay here, okay?”, leapt dramatically off the promenade and ran/stumbled across the sand in the direction of the bag. As I grabbed it and turned around, I noticed a grumpy old couple standing next to the stroller, looking at the kids and then glowering at me. As I leapt back off the sand and skidded to a stop bedside the stroller, the old guy muttered something about “shouldn’t leave children unattended” and I fumed silently. I pretended I hadn’t heard him, all the while thinking Careful. I will kill you with my Jedi Death Stare.  Seriously. Why do people have to be such dicks sometimes, especially when it’s clearly obvious that it’s the last thing the person they’re being a dick to needs at that precise moment?

The journey back to the car was, thankfully, uneventful, as was our afternoon trip to the farm with my mom. F climbed things he shouldn’t have and made friends with some pigs, O warily avoided the pigs and took the best part of a week to finish his tea. All very standard.

By the time the kids had gone to bed I was knackered and I kind of collapsed on the sofa in an exhausted daze and ended up watching reruns of Scott & Bailey. Until about half 10 when I decided it was time to go bed, which was, obviously, the exact moment one of my cats decided to wander in and dump a semi-disembowelled, profusely bleeding, still fucking alive mouse on the rug. Are you for real with this crap?! I half-lifted, half-scooped it into a plastic jug and took it into the kitchen, then just stood and kind of stared at it and wondered what to do. Because I’m a vegetarian and I couldn’t bring myself to kill it. So, feeling totally overwhelmed by the whole bloody day, I called my mom and cried down the phone to her while I paced in and out of the room hoping the poor bugger would just hurry up and die. Which it eventually did. At which point I decided I’d better just go to bed already before anything else happened.

It wasn’t a total disaster of a day and I know the boys actually had a lot of fun, but I was tired to begin with and sometimes I guess you just have to have a shit day to balance out the universe or something. And, actually, I did laugh about it all later. Because seriously, if I hadn’t I probably would have cried. Oh, wait…

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Second child syndrome

Something which strikes me as very typical is happening with my second child; he is growing up with second child syndrome. I mean, I think in general he is just less high-maintenance than his brother, so he isn’t phased when O snatches a toy from him or knocks him down. But I am a second child too and I can see that he is One Of Us.

A couple of years ago, my mom moved house. I was pregnant with F at the time and I helped her to pack a lot of her stuff. In amongst the plethora of random crap under the bed in the spare room we found my brother’s baby book. I leafed through it and it was all meticulously filled in. Photos, milestones, first words… Everything was there. Every tiny little moment of his first 12 months on the planet was documented.

Then I found my baby book. The first few pages were filled in. My name, date of birth and birthweight, the little family tree, some cards from well-wishers.

And then.

Then… Blank. It was all blank. Apparently I stopped doing anything even remotely interesting after my first two weeks of life. I turned to my mom and asked, “Mom, why is my baby book not filled in? Like, at all?” She shifted uncomfortably from her head-in-bottom-of-wardrobe position, eyed me dubiously and replied, “Well, I was a bit busier the second time around. You know, your brother was running around and I just… I just forgot about it.” I was horrified. She forgot about me?! What the fuck?!

I mean, even I knew it wasn’t really like that. I didn’t stop doing stuff and she didn’t stop enjoying the stuff I did. My first words and steps were still as important to her as my brother’s had been… But there was no account of what they were or when they happened. And I swore to myself in that moment that I would not forget to fill my second child’s baby book in.

Guess what?

I forgot. I filled in the first few pages, and then I got busy and put the book away and I forgot about it. Don’t get me wrong; it is all filled in. Retrospectively. There’s a lot of “about 4 months” and “I think it was…”. And there are no photos because putting photos in the book would mean going into town to print photos. Who has time for that with two kids?! To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t even know where F’s 12 week scan photo is. I found the one from his 20 week scan in a drawer a few weeks ago, but the first one could be anywhere.

Also

I don’t iron his bodysuits. Sometimes it takes me a week to get around to putting his clean laundry away. I don’t change the sheet on his bed on the same day every week. His clothes aren’t necessarily co-ordinated and I don’t change them the second he gets them dirty.

I am a terrible mother.

OR I’m just busy and it’s more important to me that I spend time making moments with my kids than documenting every single thing they do.

Second children get a lot of stuff second hand. F sleeps in a cot that used to belong to O (the mattress is new). I push him around in a stroller that I bought for his brother. A lot of his clothes and toys are hand-me-downs. And I’m less neurotic about him too. When he falls down I don’t rush to his aid unless he cries or is obviously hurt. I didn’t worry particularly when it took him until he was 16 months old to walk independently, nor when he showed no sign of wanting to say actual words until he reached the 18 month mark.

So I didn’t fill in his baby book in real time. Does it really matter? Does it mean I love him less than I love his brother? Absolutely, unequivocally, NO. The truth is that you do make a bigger deal of documenting everything with your first child because it’s all new and crazy and, truthfully, fucking terrifying. Documenting the first year of your first baby’s life helps you to reassure yourself that they’re developing at a “normal” rate. And it’ll probably help you out someday when they have their own kids and they want to know when they started talking or walking because they’re freaking out that their own kid isn’t normal.

But I was more relaxed with F (after we got help for that whole reflux thing); I knew that there was a pretty wide range of “normal” and I knew that I could trust my instincts to tell me if something wasn’t right. When I think about it, he has a second-hand mother too, and the fact that I am pre-loved is probably a pretty good deal for him really.

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We do have a lot more selfies!

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Now on Facebook!

This is just a quick little post to unabashedly solicit your likes for my new Facebook page. I’m a bit of a Facebook loser in that I don’t actually have my own account, so I am currently relying on the kindness of N’s friends and family to make me feel like my foray into Facebook isn’t a total fail.

Do you feel sorry for me yet? Even just a little bit?

If you do, you can find (and like) the Motherhoof IRL Facebook page here.

Thank you!

Things that upset my Threenager

Putting clothes on.

Taking clothes off.

His brother.

Me.

His daddy.

Pretty much his whole family, actually.

The word “NO”.

The food that he really loved last week and wants nothing at all to do with this week.

Going to playgroup.

Being told he isn’t going to playgroup.

The Wrong Pair Of Shoes.

Bath time.

The fact that his brother is already in the bath, because he should always be in the bath first EVEN THOUGH he said he wasn’t having a bath anyway.

Anybody else sending the Gro Clock to sleep, switching off the light or saying “goodnight” first at bedtime.

THAT COAT.

Starting an episode of Paw Patrol while he’s still putting his socks on. In the same room as the TV.

Anybody leaving the house without his express permission.

His brother getting into/out of the car first.

Not being allowed to “win” going down the stairs.

SLEEP.

NO SLEEP.

The words “RIGHT! THAT’S IT!”

Everything ever.

Who else is living with a tyrannical threenager? Hit me up! Make me feel normal and human again. Please?

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“I hate noodles. They’re stinky.”

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Wicked Wednesday

It’s that time again!

This week we’ve been wondering why the Easter holidays have gone on for so long this year. O has been asking every morning “is it a playgroup day today?” for the last week. I think he’s as sick of being stuck in the house with us (because it has been mostly raining and soft play is too fucking expensive and soul-destroying to do more than once a week) as we are of having him wandering from room to room, tantrumming and whinging about being bored.

I love spending time with my kids. I really, really do. On the two days when I am at work every week I miss them like crazy and can’t wait to get home to them. But there’s such a thing as spending too much time with one’s children, particularly when they are going through that whole threenager thing and won’t listen to a single fucking thing you say.

Despite this, we have made some wonderful family memories over the Easter break. We’ve visited Tropical World in Leeds, we’ve been to the beach, we’ve fed donkeys and goats and alpacas on a farm, we’ve hunted for eggs and we’ve toured the best playgrounds Scarborough has to offer. And done the soft play thing, of course.

But today O will be going back to playgroup and my house will be 50% quieter again and probably 50% less messy too.

Although.

N did send me this fabulous snap of what F got up to while he was in the loo yesterday…

 

“Hello! Look what I did!”

Have a great week, folks!

I’M SO TIRED

I feel like parents definitely need a designated couple of hours each day for napping. Most days when I’m not working and O is at playgroup, I very hopefully leave the bed unmade when I get up and tell myself I’ll have a nap while F is having his post-lunch snooze. But then the guilt creeps in and Ironing Mountain starts whispering to me from the kitchen while the floors scream in protest over not having been cleaned for two days and I know that mama is not having a nap today.

Adult nap time feels like it should be just something that you do when you become a parent. I’m not talking about going to bed with your significant other and making annoyed noises at him for an hour while he pesters you for nookie, which is what the phrase “adult nap time” seems to unintentionally imply. Like it’s some kind of euphemism for something else. No. I’m talking about climbing back into bed at 10am (or, frankly, any time of the day you get chance) when your small person or people are sleeping/at playgroup, nursery or school, ignoring the house as it hollers for the attention of a duster and Mr Sheen and falling blissfully unconscious for an hour or two. That’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

I remember when I first had O everyone took great delight in telling me that I should sleep when he slept, but the thing about newborns is that they’re pretty constant when they’re awake. They need feeding or changing or soothing pretty much all the time. And as they get a little older and start to take an interest in things, they need you to help them stay interested in a toy or a picture book because that’s your job. That’s what you do. So when they’re sleeping, sometimes it’s nice to do something for yourself, like reading a book or having a bath or spending a few minutes actually putting on make-up lest you should forget how. I read a lot of books while O was tiny and I was recovering from the discomfort of child birth. It was my escape from the total head fuckery of suddenly being wholly responsible for a tiny human and not being quite sure how I was going to manage that for the next 18 years without going crazy from worry. But what I didn’t do was sleep.

You make a lot of sacrifices when you decide to become a parent. As a mother, you’ve already sacrificed your once taut abdomen, probably your breasts for a good few months of feeding your baby and the ability to sneeze without crossing your legs and hoping for the best. Sleep is just another one of those sacrifices. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a guilt-free nap every day, a Bernard’s Watch* like two hours of blissful slumber while the world around you stopped completely and actually allowed you to tend to your ever-increasing sleep deprivation.

The thing I hear more than anything else when I talk to other parents about having children is how fucking tired we all are. At O’s playgroup I have regular chats with one of the dads about sleep deprivation. A few weeks ago I was just passing him on my way out from drop-off while he was talking to one of the play workers. “You know all about being tired too, don’t you?” He said, somewhat desperately, as I stopped beside him to let another mum in with her daughter. “Eurgh, God. YES,” I replied, feeling an immediate connection to and deep sympathy for this other sleep-deprived human. It’s a kind of parental joke, isn’t it? “How are you?” “Ugh. I’m so TIRED. The baby was wide awake at half three and I haven’t slept since.” “Oh, I know. I put my pants on with my eyes closed this morning. I was THAT TIRED. They’re probably inside out. In fact, I’m not even sure that they’re my pants, to be honest with you.” But being tired really isn’t all that funny. It’s actually a scientific fact – apparently – that you will die from lack of sleep before you die from starvation, which probably goes some way to explaining why all parents at some point feel so thoroughly exhausted and utterly drained that they genuinely come to believe they might be dying of some mysterious illness. That’s not just me, is it?

In the parenting world, we can disagree with each other about a lot of things. Schedules, feeding, co-sleeping… But tiredness is a unifying thing. Because we are all blundering around in a state of almost constant weariness. There are parents out there who will wax lyrical about Cherishing Every Moment. Cleaning up a porridge-plastered toddler? Joyous. Fishing shit out of the bath with bare hands? Wondrous. Cracked, sore, BLEEDING nipples? Fabulous. But if you ask them, “But are you TIRED?” they sort of shrug and say (with a smile that looks more like a grimace), “It’s just part of being a parent, isn’t it?” Because nobody likes being tired. Nobody feels like exhaustion is joyous, wondrous or fabulous. Being tired is fucking awful. Being tired while looking after children who never seem to be tired until they’re so far beyond tired that they melt down because you put them in the wrong pyjamas at bed time is nothing short of horrific. It’s like being asleep at the wheel of a tank; bad things will happen in moments of extreme sleep-deprivation because children have an amazing ability to destroy EVERYTHING when not adequately supervised.

I feel like we talk about being tired a lot. It sort of underpins every conversation we have with other parents. But we talk about it like it’s okay and we’re okay with it, because we know that it really is just part of being a parent. I used to think I knew what tiredness was. Sometimes I would go to work after not sleeping very well, sit at my desk (because I had a desk then) and think that I was tired. I was tired. But I wasn’t TIRED. Now I can’t really imagine not being tired. I can’t imagine waking up and bouncing out of bed and thinking how awake and alert I feel.

I think it’s probably okay to wish that I could just not be tired. I can desperately daydream about having more sleep and feeling less mind-numbingly exhausted and that’s fine. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my children; it just means that I acknowledge how detrimental they are to my sleep and accept that I still have a lot of being tired ahead of me. Because hearing “MUUUUMMMMYYYYY!” at 6am after a particularly restless night is truly a horrible, terrible alarm clock. And, unlike an alarm clock, my children have no snooze button and no grasp of the fact that some mornings were made for staying in bed.

I think it’s time for coffee.

*Bernard’s Watch was a TV show I watched as a child about a kid called Bernard who had a magic watch that could stop time. His parents weren’t supposed to know about it, but I bet they secretly stole it sometimes and used it to have a nice, long nap.

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Parenting experience: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED

Sometimes I feel that parenting is a bit like one of those games like WoW or D&D, because a lot of the time it’s random chance. You roll the right number or meet the right player (I once had a boyfriend who was OBSESSED with WoW, but I actually still don’t really understand it, so forgive me if this analogy sucks/is inaccurate) or you… Well, sometimes you don’t. The thing about parenting experience is that it’s fluid, which is not to say that it’s smooth and pleasing to the eye, but that rather like water, if there is a gap or a crack it will find its way through and leave you feeling drained and like you don’t know what the fuck to do now.

So today I’m going to share some parenting level-ups and experience points with you, because maybe it’ll make us all feel a little better about the bad days.

Sleeping through the night: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED
For one glorious week. Under-eye bags are diminishing, elixir of life is returning, you’re about to attend your coronation as the monarch of parenting… Oh wait… Is that?… Yeah. It’s still the middle of the night and the baby is definitely NOT still asleep. FFS.

Teething: EXPERIENCE POINTS +5
The struggle. The tears. The unadulterated anguish. And then… POP. It’s all over. But don’t get excited; you’ve got 19 more to go. Time to restock the Calpol and grit your own 32 pearly whites.

Unswaddling: LEVEL UP
After an hour of watching your baby struggle on the video monitor, they’ve finally passed out sprawled awkwardly across the cot with their arms flung wide. Quite why this is such a pivotal parenting moment is beyond me, but the joy of it is almost unrivalled. Y’know, except for the nagging worry that they might wake up at any moment and beg you through the medium of screaming to be bound back into the swaddle again. They stayed asleep? LEVEL UP, MAMA.

Weaning: EXPERIENCE POINTS +10
That’s 10 points for every food offered that doesn’t end up in your hair. Or theirs. Or the cat’s. Another 10 points if you remain calm in the face of an upside-down-bowl-on-the-carpet incident. More experience points are on offer for the discovery of successful distraction techniques when trying to feed a teething/tired/sick baby. And if you don’t cry the first time your baby spits out the food they loved last week which you have lovingly steamed, blended and stored shitloads of in a huge Tupperware container … Well, then you’re a Weaning Warlock.

Potty training: LEVEL UP/NEW SKILL UNLOCKED
You’ve just stepped in your third puddle of pee of the day and you’re pretty sure there’s a poo somewhere around here too. What do you do? Sigh and locate the poo whilst mopping up the pee, say “never mind; it’s just an accident” and kit your child out with new pants and a subtle reminder of where the potty is and how to use it? +5 Experience points for you. First pee in the potty earns you a level up, as does the first poo. And on the glorious day when puddles and secret poos become a thing of the past: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED. I bet you feel like a parenting paragon, don’t you? As well you should.

Public tantrums: EXPERIENCE POINTS/LEVEL UP
A screaming toddler is a force to be reckoned with at the best of times. In the middle of a busy supermarket it’s just about the Worst Thing Ever. To be honest, I don’t think there’s a wrong or right way to deal with a public tantrum. I’ve tried most things, like getting down to my child’s level and talking calmly to him about why he is unhappy. I’ve also tried ignoring him and walking slowly away in the hope that he will get up and follow me. Bribery has even been attempted once or twice, as has the threat of not buying him the magazine I promised I would at the end of the trip. It depends what kind of mood he’s in. If he’s tired, NOTHING works. I’ve always wanted to be one of those mothers who has The Answer to diffusing every tantrum… But I’m not. If you are, LEVEL UP for you. I’ll be down here building up my experience points.

Disapproval from older generation: EXPERIENCE POINTS/NEW SKILL UNLOCKED
You’re out in public with your baby/child, minding your own business and trying to get on with your day. You hear an older person make a rude comment about your parenting style/child’s behaviour. How do you respond? This tends to be very heavily dependent on your level of sleep-deprivation. The worse it is, the more likely you are to explode or cry. Or both simultaneously. Since it’s generally a comment such as “children in my day were seen and not heard/didn’t have dummies/never cried in public”, you can actually just fucking ignore it. This happened to me at a funeral tea last year when an elderly and distant relative made an observation about “young mothers these days sticking dummies in their babies mouths the minute they make a noise” while watching me try to comfort a tired and refluxing Baby Taylor with his dummy. In hindsight I wish I’d asked her to repeat herself, since she wasn’t actually talking to me directly, and then questioned her about why she felt that it was her place to comment. I didn’t. Experience points for me. Not giving a shit what anybody else thinks about how you parent your children? NEW SKILL UNLOCKED. You know what? You can get a LEVEL UP for that too. You deserve it.

The first outing without a tantrum: EXPERIENCE POINTS +5
Sometimes taking your kids out is easy and sometimes it’s a right shitter. It depends, generally, on how much sleep everyone has had. But if I take my children out somewhere and neither of them has a meltdown, when I get home I feel like WonderWoman. I feel like I could conquer the bloody world. Trouble is, firstly, it hardly ever happens. And secondly, it doesn’t mean the next outing won’t be horrendous. Because, like I said, it’s that whole sleep thing. I don’t know about you, but my kids go through nocturnal phases during which I will hear them singing in the middle of the night. These phases usually last about a week and during that week, everybody is so fucking tired that even I feel like having tantrums.

The thing about parenting is that no matter how you handle any given situation, you will probably always wonder if you could have handled it better. Some evenings I will sit on the sofa after the kids have gone to bed and go over every little thing I think I did wrong with them that day, but being a parent is a live-action experience; it’s happening right now and you have to think on your feet. It’s hard work and it’s exhausting and, no matter what anybody says to the contrary, there is absolutely no way that you can “cherish every second of it”. For every moment with my kids that I wish I could bottle, there’s another one that I just want to forget about. I suppose the only take-home message I have for any parent is this: We’re all at the rookie stage in one way or another and we are all just doing the best we can. The most important thing you can do for your kids is to love them and be there for them. Everything else you do, you do because of that.

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