Why I’m embracing Mum Guilt (gah)

19 Feb

What do you feel parental guilt about? I bet there are at least three things. Us mums are famous for it. Here are just a few of my guilt-triggers:

  1. I feel guilty that my daughter had several fillings and two tooth extractions before she even turned seven (she’s having another filling tomorrow, and OH, THE GUILT).
  1. I felt guilty for months every time I walked past her big girl’s bike and remembered that she was too scared to ride it and that we didn’t take her out on it enough, to conquer her fears.
  1. I feel guiltiest of all about the times I lose my temper with my two children. That particular guilt is my kryptonite. It brings me to tears. I’m not a shouty person. So why do I shout at these children who are my very soul?

The list goes on. Believe me, it goes on.

In the throes of the day it’s so easy to let things slip. To not get the bikes out and brave the freezing outdoors. To aim to be Super Mum and to end up being Mumm-ra from the Thundercats.

But at night I hold them in their beds before they go to sleep, burying my nose in their hair and pouring out silent apologies that I hope they’ll absorb somehow:

I’m sorry I dumped you in front of the telly so that I could could get stuff done, instead of taking you out – even though it was sunny outside.

I’m sorry I ignored you when you tried to get my attention, because I was pissing about on Facebook.

I’m sorry (I’m so sorry) I shouted at you. I’m sorry I made you cry.

I’ve never met a mum immune from guilt. One friend feels terrible that she has never taken her toddler swimming. Another worries that her kid’s diet of beige oven food means she is a bad mother. And as for the look on the face of the mum who forgot that it was dress-up day at school: the guilt shone from her perspiring, stricken brow.
Recently, there has been a huge movement- and it’s one I celebrate- against the pressure to be a perfect mother, and the crushing guilt we feel when we fall short. It’s played out, with great wit and humour, on blogs great and small. People have sold thousands of books off the back of it. It’s there in the words of solidarity from friends who, when I raced through the school gates late, holding back tears because of the thoroughly crap morning we’d had, and the even crappier way I dealt with it, were quick to tell me “that happened to me the other day”. In the reassurances of friends who tell me that my daughter surely has weak enamel on her teeth; it can’t be my fault.

The message of this movement is: stop with the mummy guilt. Pour another glass of prosecco, put Netflix on, stick some chicken nuggets in the oven and repeat to yourself: I’m normal. I’m good enough.

And it’s supportive; it’s wonderful. It’s like a warm bath of acceptance and ‘thank-god-I’m-not-a-monster’ relief.

But I’ve been reflecting on myself as a parent a lot recently, and dare I say it: I think there’s a danger that we won’t hold ourselves accountable enough. I think some guilt is good. If something is niggling, if something doesn’t feel right- then there’s probably something there that needs to be addressed.

So here’s my new strategy:

Ask myself: why do I feel guilty? If the reason is connected to some form of nonsense societal pressure, forget it. Chuck it in the fuck-it bucket and move on. For example, no pious internet meme or Daily Mail article will ever make me feel guilty about being a working mother.

Ask myself: is it unavoidable? Actually, the telly does need to go on for longer than it should sometimes, so that we can try to hold back the relentless swamp of Lego, shreds of playdough and tiny beads that threatens to engulf the house.

Ask myself: is my guilt based on a decision that I own? There are many decisions we make as parents which may feel controversial, but which we know are right for us: for example, deciding not to breastfeed, opting to work full time, or separating from a partner. If we know in our core that we’ve made the right choice for our family, then we should forget the guilt.

But if none of the above apply, then maybe the guilt exists for a reason. And maybe, instead of lying staring into the dark at 4am thinking about that thing I did or didn’t do that I now feel terrible about, I could do something about it instead.

So, while I truly love to piss about on Facebook, I do not need to do it when my child’s beautiful face is right in front of me, wanting eye contact. There is plenty of time for ignoring my partner to piss about on Facebook, once the kids are in bed.

While it may well be true that my daughter has weak enamel on her teeth, I can still research how to look after her teeth as well as I can; and I can be the boring mum barking “one cupcake!” at parties. I owe her that.

And as for the shouting? That’s a challenge. I’m dealing, day in day out, with two small people who, when I crouch to tie my shoelace, climb on my back even though- in fact exactly because- they know I hate it. Who have bellowing rows in the bathroom while I am having a bath about whose imaginary superpowers are stronger in their imaginary game. Who will not, simply will not, put on their shoes. But if their Dad and I are going to bust a gut trying to teach them to be kind and reasonable people, then the least we can do is to try to model that behaviour.

And- yes I’m going there- if parents can take their children from Syria to live in a refugee camp in the dead of winter, while retaining some semblance of parental calm, the least I can do is try not to be grouchy with my kids because they’re asking for another snack while I’m trying to make a roux for the béchamel sauce. Right?

All of these things are the least I can do. Keeping on trying is the least I can do. I’m quite sure I’ll fail at times (and then feel guilty about it), but the least I can do is try.

When I feel like I’m going to die or vomit during a run, I keep plodding on. When I’m delivering a particularly heinous work task, I put in the extra hours, and I definitely don’t snap at my colleagues that I will TAKE AWAY THEIR SCREEN TIME IF THEY DON’T BEHAVE. I don’t give up on those things that matter less than my children, so why should I give up trying when it comes to them?

The whole reason we all feel so guilty is because it matters so much. It matters more than we can fathom. That’s why we get so screwed up about it all. So, when we feel the familiar lump of guilt in the pit of our stomachs, maybe we shouldn’t just ignore it and settle for good enough.

We’ve made a real effort to take our girl out on her bike more recently. At first, she still couldn’t quite set off or brake confidently on her own. Then, the other day at the park, I watched her push off as though she was taking off into the air. She flew around the edge of the field, a streak of speed and joy, leaning into the handlebars, her slightly toothless grin visible from right across the park.

I was proud. Of her, and of us. And, for those few minutes, I didn’t feel the least bit guilty.

Four Kid Mondays

29 Jan

Now that I’m back at work (which is fine, on the whole), we’re faced once again with the logistical and financial hot mess that is making sure our children are looked after while we are both working. Leila starting nursery school has opened up a whole new level of complexity. Dimly, I had imagined that your child beginning school meant things got simpler, childcare-wise, but did you know that schools kick out at 3pm? Oh you did? Nobody told me. (After her first full day at nursery, I congratulated Leila on staying for a whole day, and she replied ‘That wasn’t a whole day!’, which was a fair point, all told).

I like to think of childcare as reassuringly expensive, but with two kids, the cost implications are eye-watering. So it made sense to get together with some friends, to juggle at least some of the pre- and after-school childcare merry go round.

And so, each Monday, I have one extra kid before school, and two after school- lovely little people of whom I am very fond. It’s like vodka night at the student union, with as much singing, very loud talking over one another, and falling over. And brawling, of course. Oh, the rows over who gets to go on the buggy board (we have resorted to a regimented routine, in which, at certain landmarks in the walk home, I bark ‘Leila off! Sam on! Anna move round!’) and, inexplicably, who gets to open the front gate. One Monday morning, Leila and Sam battled for the entire journey TO school over who would open the gate AFTER school, ie six hours hence. Still, it kept them occupied on the walk, and I got to feel like I’d outwitted a 3 and 4 year old (and isn’t that just the best feeling?) by not telling them it was actually Anna’s turn, mwa ha haa.

I admit to a certain amount of trepidation at the prospect of omgfourkids each Monday as school kicking-out time looms. Sort of the like the feeling one gets when one is shuffling towards a plane door to take a skydive, perhaps. And yes, it does have it’s less relaxing moments. One week I realised I had dealt with four different types of poo in the space of an hour (dog, child, child, baby), my life fast becoming Fifty Shades of Shit, whilst Gate Wars had reached epic proportions. Then my (I thought) soothing rendition of the theme from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory as I prepared a snack for the drunk students, was met with a chorus of ‘boring! Stop singing!’ from all three.

But it’s also joyful, it really is. Like when, on the walk home, they all started to sing (in different keys, and starting at different times) a song they were learning that day called A Bird’s Eye View. The lyrics had gone awry somewhere along the line (ranging from ‘A Burtside pewwww’ to ‘a bird’s sign blue’), but blow me, it was cute. Sam has taken to calling me, slightly alarmingly, ‘Becky baby’, because he found it hilarious that I call Leila ‘baby’ even though she is clearly not a baby. And Anna will always deliver a pearl of wisdom or two, in a serious voice, a sort of Drunk Thought For The Day: ‘we don’t call them farts, we call them trumps

(Jeez, sorry about all the bodily functions in this post- that’s what happens when you hang out with under fives, whose idea of a hilarious skit is to sing ‘bum bum bum bum bummy bum’ to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle.)

When I was a child, we used to hang out a lot with two other families who lived on our street. My parents actually did have four children, those crazy hippies (joke, mum and dad, joke!), and eventually were both out at work. The other two families also had four kids apiece. So we spent a lot of time going between the houses of our friends, and with them at ours, in a rabble of up to twelve children. At the time I thought it was all for our own enjoyment. Now I see it was, in part, the delicately poised house of cards that is childcare, which with one ill-timed bout of norovirus can come cascading down, wreaking havoc.

What I’m saying is, despite the juggling act, which involves multiple texts, spreadsheets, graphs and algorithms, I’m glad that my kids will grow up feeling part of a community, and playing with their friends after school. And I’m glad I get to be closely involved with my friend’s kid’s lives, aided by just a tiny shot of neat gin every Monday afternoon.

Chapter Twenty Five: The Right Place

16 Dec

It’s been a tough day, in the very relative sense of the word tough, ie nothing actually, properly hard happened, apart from that I looked after two small children. One of them- Asher- was an adorable bundle of giggles until his nap was curtailed by his own bowels, and from then on his day went downhill, culminating in a screamy bedtime, which we haven’t had for months (yes that’s right, Asher the Non-Sleeping Baby now just tends to float off to sleep the minute you pop him in his cot, and usually sleeps all night *polishes nails on shirt* *wonders why polishing nails on shirt is the universal sign language for ‘smug’*) . The other- Leila- hopped off to nursery school in a state of high excitement, dressed as a robin for the first performance of her nativity play (for the school – parents get to see it tomorrow), and came home from school a screeching, contrary, overwrought grinch of a child, after her momentous day.

So, it’s good to come back to this draft I started putting together a couple of days ago, and remind myself of the magic that is happening at the moment.

You’ll have noticed the words ‘nativity play’ up there. I’ve been saying- and people think I’m joking- that going to see Leila in the nativity feels like the moment my life has been leading up to. But I’m not entirely joking: I don’t mean that it will be the best moment of my life- though I do find those sorts of moments take you by surprise, and not always during some major rite of passage- I mean that  it does feel like a dovetailing, a coming-together of dreams and wishes and the things that are important to me. I dreamed of having children, and I dreamed of seeing them blossom and enjoy life and have experiences. In the scale of Leila’s life, the nativity is a pretty big experience. It is all wrapped up in what she loves, too: singing, dancing, (cough) performing, joining in. She has thrived at nursery school this term; I really feel like she has hit her stride, I’m so proud of her, and I can’t wait to see her (hopefully) in her element tomorrow, at this place she loves, with these kids she has become friends with, having a ball.

Then there’s the Christmas bit. I love Christmas, and pretty much everything about it. It seems Leila has inherited the Christmas gene, too, and she’s been enchanted with the preparations and the general air of festivity. What’s lovely for me is that her take on Christmas is similar to mine: she’s barely mentioned the presents, but she loves her some bauble-threading (note to parents of small craft-loving kids: threading baubles onto a length of ribbon makes a surprisingly effective decoration), and has been busying around saying things like ‘oh, all the Christmas fings are so gold and sparkly, I love it!’ and ‘we’re working very hard to get ready for Christmas: we’ve got the music on, we’re making decorations, we’re all together…’. For the first time, she’s aware of the sense of occasion and expectation in the air, and the customs and traditions (I’m not forgetting Asher in all this, by the way, but neither am I fooling myself that he has any concept of Christmas, or indeed anything apart from ‘where’s my next meatball’ and ‘give us a hug’). It’s so much fun- and we haven’t even put the tree up yet!

There’s something deeper, though, beneath all the tinsel and bauble-ribbons. When my sister died, I didn’t think I could recapture the magic of Christmas, or throw myself into it again. But, even the first Christmas after we lost her, lacerated with sadness though we were, we found we were able to celebrate all the things that really matter at this time of year: family, love, good food, and of course, mulled wine. Inexplicably, red admiral butterflies appeared in my grandparents’ house where we were staying, flitting through the rooms and landing in front of us. I say ‘inexplicably’- I’m sure the appropriate boffin could explain why butterflies should appear indoors in late December- but I prefer to believe in magic.

Since having children I’ve climbed well and truly back into the Christmas saddle. Seeing it all afresh through Leila’s eyes (and Asher’s in years to come, if that’s his bag), and wanting to make it special for her and Asher, has helped me to realise that, although I am apt to have a grief explosion by the crackers in Quality Save when ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ comes on, I can still be 100% a Christmas Person. And so I shall! *crams mince pie into face*

This post is a rather incoherent and unwieldly way of saying that, for me, looking forward to watching Leila in her nativity play tomorrow reaffirms what matters, to me and, I think, in life. (I’m trying to temper this with the knowledge that, being three years old, she may yet decide come tomorrow that the stage is not for her, or that her robin costume is unwearable. But, just as with Christmas, the anticipation is large percentage of the joy). As ever, I’m so very grateful to my children- though they conspire to finish me on days like today- for bringing me to where I’m meant to be.

Chapter Twenty Four: Hair Doughnut (aka the one where I go back to work next week)

8 Nov

I have mixed feelings about my return to work after maternity leave: anxiety (how will Asher cope? How will I cope? How the ever-loving heck will we all leave the house by 8am?), anticipation, guilt, indignation that I feel obliged to feel guilty… All the feelings. I have alllll the feelings.

In time-honoured fashion, I have turned to personal grooming in an effort to ignore it all, and thus avoid being flattened by the snowball of emotions as it thunders towards next Tuesday, ever increasing in size.

And so I bought a hair doughnut and some new tights. A hair doughnut, if you don’t know, is used to create a sort of plumptious bun on the head of the wearer. They apparently came into fashion several years ago, and since I am a very late adopter (I expect to start urging people to watch a brilliant new series called The Wire some time in 2015), I have just cottoned on, and am now the proud owner of a doughnut. In (on) my head, by resolving to wear the doughnut, and buff my nails daily, and apply hand cream regularly to my hideous claws (why, the moment you become a mum, do your hands become as dry as sandpaper?), I am somehow seizing control over the very daunting prospect of returning to work.

I’ve done this since high school. Each new term would be met with a fresh set of stationary and a list of grooming-related resolutions jotted in my diary:

buy and use eyelash curlers
pluck eyebrows every week
buy and wear clear lipgloss

(Traumatic memories of my year nine crush saying, thrillingly, ‘Becky your lips are all shiny’ and then in the next breath, ‘it’s all over your chin as well’)

Then when I was very pregnant with Leila and suddenly seized by birth- and baby-related anxiety, I performed some quite impressive contortions to pursue my belief that as long as my legs were smooth and my toenails painted, it would all be fine.

This makes it sound like I am some beautifully-coiffed style and beauty blogger, about to admonish my readers, with a simpering frown-smile, that ‘there is no excuse for tatty cuticles’ or ‘you owe it to yourself to look your best’. Far from it. Maternity leave has seen my standards of personal grooming (though not, thankfully, hygiene) spiral downwards. I’ve failed to apply make-up for all but a handful of school runs, and hence am probably known amongst my fellow nursery parents as ‘you know, the tired one, looks sort of ill’. I don’t actually know where my hairdryer is (where IS it? How do you lose a hairdryer?). Ivana Trump I am not.

[Side note: I’ve held Ivana Trump up as the epitome of grooming, ever since I read, in around 1990, her then-husband Donald declaring in response to a gossip mag story that she had a ladder in her stockings (those were more innocent times) that this couldn’t possibly be true, as she changed her stockings every hour or so. This seemed impossibly glamorous.]

But if I am unsure about pretty much everything about going back to work, at least I can be sure that my brows are tidy and my doughnut bun neatly pinned.

Perhaps this is symbolic. As I re-enter the world of work, am I reclaiming the ‘me’ that is not just Mummy? The me that wears tights and heels, and has hands which feel like human skin, not the scaly hide of a desert lizard, and can wear tops all the way up to her neck because she no longer has to whip a mammary out at any given moment (this being unlikely to happen in the office, despite what you may have heard about the TV industry).

More likely it’s a case of ‘fake it til you make it’. Though I may be a convulsing mass of insecurities inside, I can at least look in control. No matter how frantically I’ve roared ‘put your pants on, put your pants on, PUT YOUR PANTS ON RIGHT NOW!’ five minutes before we need to leave the house; no matter what hour of the night I was standing in the dark with feet like ice, pouring bonjela and calpol into the face of an infant who may or may not actually be teething; and even if I shower my colleagues with ancient shards of breadstick as I pull my notebook from my bag…. My doughnut, and therefore my dignity, will remain intact.

(But I really must check my feet before I leave the house. Somebody- it may have been me- spent the whole day at work wearing odd boots shortly after returning to work following mat leave with their first child. That’s right- one brown and low-heeled, one black and high-heeled. Ivana would have plenty to say about that, I’m sure).

Chapter Twenty Three: Happy and Blessed

3 Nov

‘Asher: Happy and blessed’

I spotted your name in a baby book from the ’70s or early ’80s, found by my Granny at a church jumble sale or similar when I was pregnant with Leila (suggested girls’ names: Roxanne and Doreen). I was flicking through idly one day after Leila was born, not even thinking about planning another baby yet (in fact I was still in the ‘would definitely cry if fell pregnant’ phase, which precedes the ‘it wouldn’t be the end of the world’ phase, followed by the ‘let’s do this!’ phase), when I saw the name Asher and fell in love with the name and its meaning. Must have a baby boy, I thought- not yet, but I must have my Asher, and I stored the name in my heart.

So before you were born, even conceived, I already had ‘Leila and Asher’ in my head. I’d imagine the future with my girl and my boy. And now I have my Leila and Asher for real- or Asher and Leila, as the ‘second child’ in me insists that the first child doesn’t always get to go first.

And today you are one year old *face explodes into mess of tears, snot and great wracking happy-sad sobs*. I still adore the name Asher (even though it is sometimes greeted with confusion over whether it is a boy’s or girl’s name, and once or twice just with a ‘you crazy’ grimace).

And I adore you, fiercely. The adoration makes it hard to resist constantly squishing your fat cheeks against mine until it hurts a little, inhaling your entire head in a single breath, and bellowing baby-talk endearments into the sticky folds of your neck. I only do those things some of the time. Mostly not in public. Luckily you are well up for squishing, chomping and nuzzling, being one of the cuddliest babies of all time, with an especially heartbreaking way of resting your little head on the shoulder of whomever is holding you. You are also pleasingly Mummy-centric, and have been known to dissolve into tragic and furious tears when I have come near you but not picked you up for a squeeze. I say ‘pleasingly’- and I am slightly embarrassed at how pleased I am, sometimes imagining ‘Close To You’ playing as a soundtrack as you scramble in my wake urgently wherever I go- but it does make the prospect of going back to work next week (gulp) a little more daunting, and the process of you settling into childcare a little more delicate. I hope, I trust, that we will both be fine in our new worlds before we know it.

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about Mummy- you’re full of love for ‘Da Da’ too, and dizzy with idol-worship for your big sister. She still drags you around by your neck, but you can pull hair now, and bulldoze effectively and unwittingly through her carefully-constructed soft toy tea parties in a flash, so things are evening up a bit. And today, for the first time, she actually instigated a game WITH you which didn’t involve her body-slamming or love-bombing you until you squawk- a soft toy tea party, as it happens- which pretty much made my year. You spent the tea party eating a small suitcase of doll’s clothes, but it was a glimpse of things to come.

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You are wonderfully cheerful and sunny (apart from when you are ill, when the world ends and we all know about it), often bursting into hysterical giggles merely as a response to eye contact, kneeling up and bouncing eagerly with your two-toothed grin. You dance to music, head bobbing from side to side like a merry little jester. You have just started to learn some words, and spent a chunk of today repeating breathily your baby version of ‘hairbrush’ (all toys are ‘hairbrush’, because you like to play with your hairbrush). When you ARE feeling grumpy, the solution is simple: food. You love to eat with as much ardour as you love to cuddle, and you’re one of those babies who will pretty much eat whatever food they are given. To my joy, the experience of feeding you is relaxed and easy (if a tad frightening in terms of sheer volumes consumed).

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However, lest I seem smug about you being A Good Eater….. Asher (stern face). I cannot let a post marking your first year of life pass without mentioning the sleep thing. It didn’t take long for me to realise, as I lay for the umpteenth time with my feet on the pillow of my bed so that I could reach through the bars of your crib more easily and keep my hand on your tummy FOR THE ENTIRE GODFORSAKEN NIGHT, that you were not A Good Sleeper. You sure put the ‘sh’ in Asher. In your defence, you have, in your life, slept through nine nights, not consecutively. But seven of them were in the last month! These drips of encouragement are nectar to the sleep-deprived parents of a sleep-challenged infant. To be fair, I am dramatising slightly. Your true reign of terror- during which I would avoid other mothers on the street lest they start telling me about their kid’s great sleep and I might actually weep- is far(ish) behind us. The nights are much better now (and not just because my own standards of ‘a good night’s sleep’ have plummeted through the floor).

The good thing about your at times horrifying sleep, is that it has shown me that it doesn’t matter, not really. In terms of unsightly eye-bags, and safety behind the wheel of a car or operating heavy machinery, and sometimes sanity- yes. But not in terms of how 100% fabulous a baby can be; how happy they can make you; how much amazing fun you can have during daylight hours. I’ve always disliked the obsession with good sleep that seems to permeate parent culture these days, with a good sleeper being held up as the ultimate prize. In my sunken and red-rimmed eyes, you can keep that prize and give me instead the prize that stretches his arms up for a cuddle so eagerly that he sometimes topples over, the prize that is so happy to see his Daddy each evening that he gives him a round of applause when he walks through the door. The prize that we won a year ago, and didn’t we strike gold?

So, Asher. You are one. You are happy, we are blessed. Here’s to you, boy of my dreams.

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Chapter Twenty Two: I Won’t

6 Sep

I texted G the other afternoon:

I have no idea what has just happened. Leila is naked. There is ribena and carrot cake everywhere. The two things may be related

Between accidentally-on-purpose spilling her ribena and then helpfully tearing her carrot cake up to feed to the baby (who by the way, had his own carrot cake, and no OF COURSE I don’t feed my kids too much sugar, what are you implying, that the crazy behaviour I am about to describe may be in any way linked to too much sugar? How dare you, there was carrot in that cake, and that is a vegetable, ok?), Leila had managed to get both wet and crumb-coated, which meant that she must immediately shed all of her clothes.

This happened in the very small snack window I had allotted, in between Asher waking for his nap and us leaving to go to the park. It was vital that we left promptly, in order to return in time to give the kids tea before the Red Mist of Tired and Hungry Small People descended.

So I was keen to leave the house quickly. But in true three-year-old style, Leila could sense my weakness in wanting to leave the house quickly (note: to do something that was almost entirely for her benefit), and so, obviously, refused to get dressed.

My girl has a whole range of ways in which to refuse to do things. She’s like the wind. From the upbeat yet obstinate- ‘I won’t!’; to the evasive- ‘I’m just a bit busy putting my animals to bed/dragging my brother around by his neck/spraying the entire bathroom with water’; to the maddening- simply ignoring me with a vague, glassy-eyed expression, as I crouch two inches from her face going ‘come and sit at the table please, come and sit at the table please, come and sit at the table please’ like a malfunctioning robot, before collapsing onto the floor twitching and mumbling ‘table…. table’ from time to time.

So I decided to call her bluff. ‘Okay!’, I trilled in the faux jolly tones of a mother slightly on the edge, ‘you can go to the park naked!’

‘Okay!’ she mirrored, and we began to edge towards the door, double-bluffing each other as went. I put on my shoes, she remained naked. I packed the changing bag. She remained naked. Put on my jacket. Still naked. Opened the door. Naked as the day she was born.

We were in the porch, with the front door open, Asher in his buggy already in the front yard, and me thinking I was actually going to have to walk through the streets with a starkers child on the buggy board, and wondering whether I should at least insist on shoes, when she finally caved in and yelped ‘NoIdon’twanttogototheparknaked!’, before getting dressed faster than I have seen before.

So it occurred to me that in order to master the iron will of a contrary preschooler, reverse psychology is what’s needed. How many times have I bleated ‘come on Leila, come on Leila’ when we’re in a hurry, with the resulting change in pace making it evident that what she is hearing is ‘hang back, slow down, in fact, stop and analyse each piece of gravel!’. Clearly I just need to flip it and reverse it.

With this new approach in mind, our day could look something like this:

Morning: ‘Leila, it’s 5am, wakey wakey, time to get up! Sleep is for the weak! Down with lie-ins! Let’s go!’

Getting dressed: ‘you know what I think we should do? Wear our pyjamas ALL DAY. Let’s absolutely not get dressed.’

Breakfast: ‘I’d really advise you to only eat two mouthfuls of your cereal before getting down from the table. Strictly no more than that’

And so it would continue, and maybe, just maybe, she’d be bluffed into doing the opposite of what I said, and hence exactly what I wanted her to do.

But even as I type I know that it would be futile. Her powers are stronger than that. Three-year-olds (or maybe it’s just my three-year-old, but I strongly suspect not), are wiser than any parent fool. They are not just contrary, they invented contrary. It is a spidey sense to them; they are the Ninjas of Contrary.
She’d know I was bluffing, and bluff me back. We’d end up with a day that was even more mad and topsy-turvy than our days are already. So for now I’ll just accept that my role is to repeat requests/orders ad nauseum, and rejoice in the rare occasion when she does what I ask, when I ask it.

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Chapter Twenty-One: Turn

31 Aug

This weekend we reintroduced forgotten concepts, like jumpers and socks and closed-toe shoes. The thousandth season of X Factor started, which means it’s basically a speedy downhill sleigh-ride to Christmas, and there was a slight nip in the air. All of it gave me the sweet and salty sense of seasons turning, a mixture of nostalgia and optimism and uncertainty.

This summer’s transition to autumn is more bittersweet than usual for me, because this autumn there will be huge changes. Like, turn and face the strain Changes. I’ve been floating preserved in the slightly surreal time-out-of-time that is maternity leave for ten months now (preserved is perhaps the wrong metaphor, given how rapidly this two-kids business has aged me *pulls out another grey hair*), but pretty soon I’ll be back to work. A prospect I can’t really grasp right now so will put in a little box marked ‘la la la I’m not listening’ down here in the sand next to my head.

Leila, meanwhile, is due to start nursery school full time in around three weeks. Which, well. She was only just born the other day, wasn’t she? I feel confident that this is the right thing for her (perhaps her doleful bellows of ‘I’m bored! I want some friends to play with! Not you and Asher! Real friends!’ gave me a clue). But still! Where did this long-leggedy, long-haired girl, who draws angels and cats and whales’ tails rising from the sea, come from? This girl who walks around narrating her imaginary life out loud (‘the prime minister was having a very busy day, she had so much to do’). I know, I KNOW that this is how all parents feel, that their kids grow up mind-boggling quickly. Soon I’ll be urging people earnestly to ‘enjoy every minute’, I’m sure. But it’s a great conundrum of having children, that the two hours before bedtime can last for ten years, and yet in the space of a second, your child goes from a baby who can’t make basic consonant sounds, to telling you that they’re not picking their nose, their finger is next to their nose, so you can’t tell them off.

At least Asher is still a big, dribbly, cuddly, toothless little one, the very essence of Baby. But he is changing too, woah-so-fast. His repertoire of skills may be pretty limited to slithering on his stomach, wobbling round the edge of his cot, clapping, waving and being unbearably cute. But the very beginnings of language are starting to take form (G came in late from work while I was giving Asher his bedtime feed, and kissed his head. Asher looked up at me as G left and said, smiling, ‘dada’), and today he slithered hastily to his highchair when he saw dinner being served, and fixed us with an urgent and expectant stare. Soon he’ll be walking, and going to childcare some of the time, and sleeping through the night! Did you hear that, Asher? Sleeping through the night!. Before we know it, we’ll be wondering whether we can still call him a baby. Oh my heart.

We’ve had, all things considered, a great summer. That’s We, the British Public, what with all the beautiful sunshine; and also we, me and my family. Sure, there have been some extremely knackering and challenging moments- in fact, there probably hasn’t been a day without them. But to be able to spend a large chunk of my mat leave with the kids in such glorious weather has been amazing, especially as it came about just before Leila starts her school life. Hard moments feel less so when they’re bathed in sunshine, and great moments feel fantastic. We’ve had some times. Asher indulged a love of icecream that verges on sinister; Leila finally stopped insisting on wearing a tutu every day and embraced shorts. We had a lovely family holiday and I finally learned that going away with children doesn’t have to be stressful.

And soon we’ll embark on the next stage. Despite none of the changes being bad ones per se, I am me, so I’m partially wracked with a gnawing anxiety. But then, with kids, things are always changing, with or without major life transitions. You’re always leaving something behind, and starting something new, and you’re never quite sure if or how the new thing is going to work out.

Far beneath the constant change, there’s an ever-present tug somewhere inside my heart, that’s sweet and sad at the same time. I think I can sort of name it now. It’s the same feeling I get as the seasons change, only magnified hundreds of times. Leaves turn, and feet grow out of shoes, and the temperature drops, and words form. The world turns russet and gold, and little girls put on grey pinafores and red jumpers, and days get shorter, and kids get longer. There’s nothing you can do to slow any of it, and you can’t wait to see what’s next, but at the same time you still want to stay in this season, right now, for just a little longer.

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