Standing there alone

Dear dads in the playground,

I see you standing there and I know by your body language that you feel a bit awkward and out of place. Like you don’t really belong, because all around you is a sea of mums. We’ve had some kind of progress over the last ten years, but you’re still a minority here.

Don’t stand there on your own, though. Come and talk to me. Because you might feel like an outsider, but I feel like an imposter.

Sure, I’m the same gender as most of the other parents here, but I don’t think of myself as one of them. We have the same credentials on paper, which is to say that we are mothers and we are here to collect our children. But I look at these other women and I don’t feel like I’m part of the clan.

It’s hard to explain why that is, really. I could say it’s because I’m a “young mum”, but I’m not far off turning 30 now and I don’t really think that applies anymore. Maybe it’s because I perceive these other women to be more successful than I am, both as mothers and in their working lives. It could even simply be the fact that they look like they’ve got their shit together and I don’t feel like I ever will.

Or it might just be the difference between their expensive Ugg boots and my battered Converse.

But the thing is, you dads make me feel at ease. I don’t struggle to make conversation with you. When you’re having a shit time and you’re tired and running out of patience, you don’t grit your teeth and pretend everything’s fine. You own it. You’re not in competition with anybody, but I feel like us mums always are. We are always trying to be better than the mum next to us.

I mean, that’s not the case once you’ve scratched the surface and cultivated a proper friendship with a fellow mum. Then the warts-and-all of motherhood comes out and I feel like it’s okay to admit that some days I struggle. But when you’re just chatting in the playground, you laugh off the fact that your toddler has scribbled all over your linoleum floor, even though you feel like you’re dying a little bit inside every time you look at it. You don’t admit that you’ve ever lost your shit and shouted, or wondered for just a fleeting second if it was such a good idea to have children after all.

But you dads do, and I admire you so much for that. Here are three recent conversations I’ve had with dads:

Dad 1: “I’m so tired I feel like my eyelids are turning inside out. When is he ever going to just sleep through the night?!”

Dad 2: “How was your summer? Ours was looooooonnnngggg.”

Dad 3: “I know all of the parenting books tell you that you shouldn’t do it and it doesn’t work and it’s the worst parenting fail ever… but the only time he listens to me is when I shout at him!”

I’ve never heard any of the mums in the playground say any of those things to each other. And it’s not that I don’t think they ever do, it’s just that they do it in the evening over dinner with their partners or during a rare outing for drinks with their trusted mum confidantes. But I’m not like them; I’m more like you. I don’t see the point in pretending, because I don’t understand why we perpetuate this competitive culture.

So come and talk to me. Tell me you’re tired and struggling and your kids drove you to despair last night when they flatly refused to get out of the bath and go to bed. I won’t judge you; I’ll empathise completely. I love my children. I love them so much that when they hug me, I never want to let them go. I look forward to seeing their faces and hearing their little voices every single morning when I wake up.

But I am not sailing through this and I can’t be bothered to try and keep up the facade that I am.

You’re all brilliant dads, and I can see that you love your children just as fiercely as I do my own. I can see it in their faces when they are so delighted that daddy is picking them up today, and in your own when you sweep them up into your arms. But your honesty comforts me, and I hate to see you standing there alone.

And if you’re reading this as a fellow mum and you feel like you don’t belong, it’s not just you; I’m right there with you. I’ll be the awkward to your uncomfortable, if you like.

We’re all in this together, aren’t we?

Yours,

Davina

Advertisements

The Alternative Motherhood Challenge

Does everybody remember the Motherhood Challenge? That whole thing where you got tagged by a fellow mother (I never did, by the way) and had to post a certain number of photos to social media showing why you loved being a mother? You were then supposed to nominate a bunch of your “awesome mummy friends” to take part as some kind of dubious accolade. Suffice it to say that I didn’t really get it. For me, the real challenge of Motherhood is not found in posed photographs of my offspring (although it is a challenge to get them to stay still), but in the other myriad shit that comes along with the job title. 

So! Without further ado, this is a collection of photographs from my Alternative Motherhood Challenge.

Dry-wipe pens: These bastard things. I know they’re washable, but they don’t come out of the fucking carpet. Believe me. And I can’t even take them away because they are part of a very useful educational tool. Fuck these things. This is why kids in my day only had pencils.
Potties: You wouldn’t think there’d be anything more gag-worthy than a shitty nappy, would you? Especially one of those really sticky, smeary ones. But then there’s the potty, in the bottom of which sits a freshly dropped turd that you are going to have to now watch slide gracelessly into the toilet, leaving a nice, long skid mark. So now you have to wipe the potty and wash it out. Not a whole lot different from wiping caked-on crap off your kid’s bum, really. Even worse when your curious toddler decides to fill it with toys and present it to you like a particularly horrible and unsanitary gift.


Sippy cup valves: You know that moment when your kid tips up the sippy cup, waterboards himself and then sits blinking, spluttering and glaring at you with an impressive degree of loathing? That’s the precise moment when you realise you forgot to put that clever little valve back in the lid of the cup after you spent three hours mucking it out with a pipe cleaner. Just three seconds later than you probably should have remembered.


The Favourite Cuddly: Its bedtime and your kid’s favourite snuggly creature/blanket is nowhere to be found. You’ve looked behind the curtains, under the sofa and in the washing machine. You’ve even gingerly lifted the lid and peered into the toilet, just in case. But the thing has completely fucking vanished. It has left planet Earth. It will never be seen again and your child will never, ever stop crying about it. You’re actually crying yourself as you sink onto the sofa after spending two and a half hours rocking your bereft baby to sleep. Wait, why is this seat so lumpy? Is that…? Ah. There it is. It was behind the bloody cushion all along. Attachment objects are, of course, an absolute essential for any child, but can they just remember where they’ve put them every once in a while? I’m so sick of wandering around the house at 9pm muttering “where the actual fuck is the bloody fucking bunny?!” to myself on repeat every other night. Oh, and don’t even think about washing it. Just accept the fact that your child is dragging a germ-rag around and tell yourself it’s good for their immune system.


Of course, there’re also stickers, tantrums, hidden shoes and when the car seat straps get twisted and you have to take the whole buggering thing apart to fix it, but the four things I’ve chosen here are the ones that get on my tits the most.

It’s a good job they’re cute, isn’t it?


I’d love to hear about your Alternative Motherhood Challenge, so feel free to get in touch on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or leave me a comment on this post.

This is real life

I can’t quite believe that it is November already. It doesn’t feel like more than five minutes have passed since we were last here, gearing up for Christmas and hiding the Argos catalogue from our children.

Our year has passed in a blur of breakthroughs and setbacks, from the triumph of watching O settle gradually into school after a rocky start, to the misery of seeing F continue with his food struggles. This is the nature of family life, of parenting children with different personalities and issues. O can suffer from social anxiety. F may well feel the reverberations of his battle with reflux for the rest of his life. But we do the best we can. As parents, I believe we all repeat the same mantra to ourselves at irregular intervals: It will get better. We tell ourselves that nothing can be challenging or worrying or downright shit forever.

When O clung to me, sobbing, as we walked through the school gates at the beginning of his third week, his anxiety and sadness unchanged from the previous two, I told myself: It will get better. And it did. Now he runs to join his friends with barely a backward glance. He’s part of a trio of boys who are all mischievous, buoyant and sharp as tacks. He is learning to read and write, he brings home artwork and stories of the games he has played and new skills he has learnt. He is happy and settled in his new school, and I am content to have become a background character in this chapter of his life.

It got better.

When I finally realised that F was vomiting during mealtimes not because he couldn’t stop himself, but because he didn’t want the food I had put in front of him, I told myself – through my horror that a child would do such a thing to himself – It will get better. And it has. Ish. Mealtimes are still a battleground and my victories are few, but that there are any victories at all is progress itself. Once there was nothing I could do to persuade him that food was not his enemy. Now he will try new things. Last week he finally started eating porridge and I felt elated. At last, a good start to the day! It was such a small thing. It was the biggest thing in the world.

It is getting better.

Life with children is a kaleidoscope; colourful and changeable in equal measure. There are blissful moments, snapshots of our expectations as parents. A Sunday morning cuddle in bed with both kids, both cats and nobody fighting. A walk through the woods, kicking up the Autumn leaves and collecting conkers to be preserved in a jar as a physical reminder of a magical afternoon. A peaceful hour as my children play happily together while I claw back some time to put the house in order or catch up on laundry. In these moments, we could be a family from a photograph in a magazine. In these moments, we are the family I always imagined I would have.

Our autumn adventures

Then there are the other moments, far less blissful and, currently, much more numerous. My kids rolling around on the floor, beating the shit out of each other as my attempts to referee fall on deaf ears. An epic tantrum in the middle of Sainsbury’s over who gets to carry the receipt back to the car. The flooded bathroom floor. Again. These moments often happen all in the same day and leave me exhausted and wondering if I’m really cut out for this whole motherhood thing. But these moments are also totally eclipsed by the love I feel for and joy I find in my children.

The truth is that I probably recite my mantra at least a few times a day, every single day. Sometimes it is not easy. Sometimes as I close their bedroom doors at the end of a long day, I breathe a sigh of relief. Sometimes I just wish they would stop fucking winding each other up all the time.

But they are still so little. Their emotions and ability to handle life’s complications are still developing. For them right now, being given something different for breakfast than what they were expecting is a big deal. For them, it’s not unreasonable to throw a blistering wobbly because they got Rice Crispies when they blatantly asked for Coco Pops.

This is life with young children.

There will be bad days.

It will get – and is getting – better.